The Other Thing That Happened in Amman…

I had to wait a little while to share this because I didn’t have any photos until just recently, and without any photographic proof I can’t just say “Oh, also, I spent one afternoon on a rooftop in Amman, wearing traditional Muslim clothing, modeling for a fashion oriented photo-shoot for an LGBT Middle Eastern magazine. No big deal.”

Photo by Raneem Al-Daoud title=

Photo by Raneem Al-Daoud

So here is what happened. During a day spent walking round a couple historical sites in Amman, I was approached on the street by Khalid and Raneem, asking if I would be interested in doing a photo shoot. I was ready to say “Yes, absolutely, yes.” but got a few more details first. Raneem is a photographer and the photos would accompany an article concerning religion and fashion for Khalid’s magazine – MyKali. We exchanged emails and set up a time to make things happen, which ended up being our last day in Amman.

The idea of a Middle Eastern LGBT magazine was still a new concept in my head when I got out of the cab to meet up with Khalid. Walking up the stairs to their office space, I had no idea what to expect. The door opened to a room full of people I was soon introduced to. Wardrobe people, makeup people, photographers, videographers, assistants, and the other model- Nadine. A board with my name on it listed three wardrobe changes. Legit.

Wardrobe List

Tea and makeup

I spent maybe half an hour getting my make up done by Luca while sipping tea and listening to Florence and the Machine.  Fabulous. by Raneem Al-Daoud

Photo by Raneem Al-Daoud

This is new.Photo by Raneem Al-Daoud

Blue. Effing. Steel.Photo by Raneem Al-Daoud

Self shot in the changing room

A quick self shot in the dressing room.

Florence and the Machine followed us up to the roof where we spent the rest of the afternoon.

Khalid, Nadine, and Raneem

Nadine, Raneem, and Khalid

Rockin' socks under the dishdasha

Lots of children laughing from the neighboring building at the site of this blonde bearded guy with the bright socks.

Gettin Dressed.Photo by Raneem Al-Daoud

Over the dishdasha, I was outfitted in a black leather biker jacket. Khalid rolled up the sleeves to make sure the tattoos were in full view, but my favorite part was the black and white houndstooth lining, a pattern used for keffiyeh scarves.

Blue SteelPhoto by Raneem Al-Daoud

Raneem shot both Nadine and I as long as there was daylight left. I got to wear some stylin’ clothes and meet some very cool people. Not to mention kickstart my modeling career. Thanks Khalid, Raneem and everyone else I met that day. It was all so unexpected and so much fun. Glad I was able to be a part of it.


See more photos and read the full article “Tastes Like Religion” by Aysha El-Shamayleh.

See the BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO by Ala’a Abu Qasheh and Mustafa Rashed.

Check out Raneem Al Daoud’s incredible photography work

And Jordan’s pioneering magazine, MyKali, “an online social and lifestyle magazine, that fights repressive forms, norms and stereotypes through art therapy, photography and psychology. Tackling issues of women rights, personal politics, sexuality, freedom of speech, media, and LGBTQ.”

Feb 2013



Dust and Color

Colors of Petra

We were thrilled to be able to spend time with Cody and Vanessa in Amman.  We were excited to be back towards the Middle East and to add another country to our list.  We were looking forward to exploring a new cuisine.  And after seeing Venice and Berlin, we really had to finish off our Last Crusade set list with a visit to Petra.

Djinn Block

Tony in the Siq

Canyon light

Canyon colors

Chariot in the canyon

First glimpse of The Treasury

The Treasury

The Treasury

Donkey friend

Cave homes

Bedouin and donkeys

Tony takes a picture


Bedouin minstrel at High Place of Sacrifice

Tony's Ebeneezer

Alicia in her tree

Garden Tomb

Soldier Tomb

More color

All the colors

This guy invited us to tea.

Green valley

We spent eighteen hours over two days hiking the dusty canyons, declining incessant four-legged taxi offers, climbing to the high places in the blazing sun and making our own way through the wilderness to sit and finally understand the phrase deafening silence.  At night, we stayed at a Bedouin camp, stuffed ourselves with our only square meal of the day and drank sugary sage tea by the fire.

Inside our tent at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

View from our tent


7 am

Our second morning was November 7.  As we walked through the kitsch gauntlet at the main entrance, we heard an Arabic radio station say a name we recognized: Obama.  We did an about-face and asked the vendor what the news was.  He paused a moment to find the right English word. “Obama… fortune.”  We hadn’t expected to hear the results until we returned to Amman.  Just a few days earlier we were able to vote by email, thanks to Jordan being on a list of special countries where absentee voting doesn’t require you to obtain and mail back a paper ballot.

Colonnaded Street

Lion Triclinium

Palace Tomb

Goats on a cliff

Sami's stable

Monastery from afar

Destination Unknown

After spending the morning hiking the 900 steps up to the Monastery and back, we ran into a retired Taiwanese couple from Flint, Michigan that we had met the day before. We decided to hike together for most of the day, taking a back trail that would overlook the Treasury. I’m pretty sure by the end of it WE were the ones keeping up with THEM. We had many good conversations and wished we had exchanged contact info!

Alicia and Yvonne

Alicia and Yvonne at the top

four Americans

Sami, one of the many Bedouins who actually live in Petra, makes his home at the very end of the trail.  He made us tea while we played with his kitten.  He showed us a photo album and told stories of racing horses, hunting with his falcon, and about the off-limits trails that only the local people know. Sometimes he climbs straight down the ledge which gets him to the Treasury in five minutes (instead of the long way around which takes an hour).


Confusion the cat

It happened to be one of the few times all year that we remembered to bring our small binoculars with us and remembered to actually use them.  Sami asked to borrow them and leaped to the edge of the drop-off.  Of course he didn’t look at the Treasury; he sees it all day.  Instead, he looked far off in the distance to try to spot his friend who tends goats at the top of another mountain.The binoculars were going to get way more use with this guy, and we’re always looking to lighten our packs, so we left them with Sami, along with our thanks for one of our favorite memories this year.

Sami's binoculars

(Watch our quick video from Petra)

Dec 2012



What We Ate in Amman

Here it comes, another food post.  We often feel foolish reaching for our cameras before reaching for our forks, but we hope you enjoy the results.  This post is a little different than the rest; it’s organized by restaurant.


Quarter Moon Shawarma

Tony and shawarma

Our first meal in Jordan was between Queen Alia Airport and our friends’ apartment.

Quarter Moon shawarma

Can’t beat shawarma for a great late night fast food option.



Hashem Restaurant, a dive-y place downtown that is famous for serving delicious cheap Middle Eastern food.  Sit on their grungy plastic chairs and have a personal revelation.


Matabel, some sort of creamy eggplant wonderfulness.


Fuul - tangy, spicy beans swimming in olive oil and herbs.







Falafel... stuffed with roasted onions and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

More falafel… this time stuffed with roasted onions and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

Hot tea with sugar and fresh mint

Hot tea with sugar and fresh mint.



Al Quds was where our friends decided to take us for some mansaf, Jordan’s national dish.



Mansaf is staple at weddings, celebrations, and for honoring important guests.  If I had to draw a parallel between this and an American dish, it would be Grandma’s perfect Sunday pot roast.  Not at all similar in flavor, but in sentiment.


Mansaf sauce

Wikipedia describes mansaf: ”The lamb is cooked in a broth made with a fermented then dried yogurt-like product called jameed, and served on a large platter with a layer of flatbread (markook or shrak) topped with rice and then meat, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, and then sauce poured over all.”


More matabel

More matabel.


More hummus

More hummus.


Mahashi takeout from Ali’s Mahashi-Al Mashi.


Mahashi al Mashi takeout

The little aluminum boxes aren’t the most photogenic, but there was no way we would skip over this.


Mahashi plated

Mahashi is eggplant, zucchini, cabbage… all stuffed with minced meat and rice and vegetables, stewed in spicy tomato and yogurt sauces. Sides: piles of rice and flatbread and an avalanche of pickled vegetables.  Ali is generous with his portions.


Mawwal Restaurant
– a nice sit-down place with waiters who will be very concerned for the state of your mental health if you don’t order enough meat.


Fire roasted tomatoes and chiles

Fire roasted tomatoes and chiles. Super spicy.


Fattoush salad – greens and vegetables topped with fried flatbread and a vinaigrette dressing.


Kebbeh maklieh

 Kebbeh maklieh – deep fried cracked bulgur wheat stuffed with minced lamb and herbs.



Tabbouleh – loads of parsley with mint, tomato, lemon juice and bulgur.


Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush- roasted eggplant, vegetables and chilis, tahini and garlic, topped with vinaigrette.


Galayet Bandora

Galayet Bandora - stewed lamb, tomatoes and onions.


Kofta Bi Tahini 

Kofta Bi Tahini - ground lamb and herb patties in a velvety sesame sauce.



Habibeh pastry shop.

kunefe cheese

Habibeh (literally, “beloved”) will provide for you na’ama kunefe.  This kunefe is finely chopped pastry dough, topped with soft white cheese, topped with more pastry, drenched in syrup and garnished with pistachios and orange food coloring.


kunefe alley

Best eaten hot, on a styrofoam plate in Habibeh’s alley.


And finally, Bang Bang Bubble Tea House at a mall in West Amman near the Seventh Circle.

Bubble tea and complimentary peanut butter waffles.  Ok, maybe it’s not so traditional, but Amman is a modern city, and that’s what we all had that night.

Nov 2012



Exploring Amman

Homemade Jordanian flag

Our friends Cody and Vanessa moved to Amman in August this year to study Arabic. Back when we were all still in Iowa City, we had talked about maybe going through Jordan to see them on our year of wandering, but it didn’t seem like the timing was going to work out. And then those cheap Royal Jordanian flights started popping up and suddenly our path to Asia took a new direction.

Satellite dishes

Amman is a city of 1.5 million people. About one quarter of its residents are Iraqi, Palestinian, Sudanese, Somalian, and (more recently) Syrian refugees. The terrain is hilly, the climate is desert, and the official religion is Islam. After chilly Berlin, the blue skies, dry air and temperatures in the upper 70′s were so welcome.

Amman side street with blue truck

Rapid population growth means that the city is a constant swirl of dust and traffic with examples of prosperity and poverty elbow-to-elbow. You can buy fresh produce from a roadside stand or a souk or you can buy a value meal from McDonalds or KFC. You might see goats being grazed in an empty lot in the middle of the city accompanied by a shepherd wearing a polo shirt, or you might see a guy with a python around his neck at a street fair.

Python at street festival

urban goats


Everything is tan and square for as far as the eye can see, but that makes the flowers and palms and mosques and rare youthful artistic flourishes seem even more stunning.

East Amman homes

View of the Roman Theater from the Citadel

sand colored city

pink flowers

blue flowers

Amman mosque

Stairway graffiti

Since the city expanded so rapidly, it’s an urban planning nightmare. There are broken sidewalks, curbs two feet high at pedestrian crossings, few traffic signals, and each roundabout approach is prefaced with an official U-turn lane because the most roads are purposefully constructed to allow only right turns. Horns and exhaust fumes are constant. Many travelers spend only a day or two in Amman before heading off to more exotic locations, and you can mostly understand why.

Traffic, downtown Amman

Construction site, West Amman

Late afternoon

The major highlights of Amman can be “done” in less than a day, starting at the top of Jabal al-Qal’a (the Hill of the Citadel) to see the ruined Temple of Hercules and Umayyad Palace, then down to the Roman theater below, on to the souks and shopping streets downtown, then a stop at one of the dozens of Western-style cafes on Rainbow Street.


Temple of Hercules

Tony at Temple of Hercules

Umayyad Palace

Column detail, Temple of Hercules

Alicia at Umayyad Palace

Roman Theater

Ammann souk

Pickled everything

Sugarcane juicer

Shopping downtown

Feather dusters

Downtown Amman

Rainbow Street sign

Juice shop on Rainbow St.

After nearly two weeks in Amman, we were feeling comfortable with the city. Dust, fumes, late night celebratory gunshots, crazy cab rides and all. The sounds seeped into us in a familiar rhythm. The constant jingle of what might be an ice cream truck constantly patrolling the neighborhoods. (It’s actually a truck filled with propane tanks for residential stoves.) The repetitive loudspeaker shouts of another truck slowly rolling through the neighborhoods. Let your imagination run wild and it might be mistaken for an angry tirade of someone inciting revolution. (They’re actually letting you know that they’re selling cabbages and onions and stuff.)

Propane truck

And of course, the most “other” sound of all: the five times daily call to prayer. In Turkey it would vary from city to city and from mosque to mosque. In Amman it had its own aura that, with our limited experience, we can only describe as “not Turkish” yet as beautiful as our favorite call from of The New Mosque in Istanbul. Its a sound that we will miss as we continue our journey eastward.


We really loved our time in the Middle East. All the wonderful food, the sights, the sounds… most of the smells. We hope we can experience it all again someday.

(Watch our video of a rolling vegetable vendor, the souk, and the call to prayer in downtown Amman)

Nov 2012



Our Home Away from Home in Amman

Midnight, about to leave for the airport

Our time in Amman was so refreshing. (This photo was taken at midnight right before we got in the cab to go to the airport, so disregard how tired we all look.  And our matching outfits.) It was fun to be a completely different culture when we left Cody and Vanessa’s apartment, but being in their home was almost like coming back to America for a little bit. We didn’t cram too much busyness into the two weeks. The main activities were just hanging out with Cody and Vanessa and their girls while they went about their daily lives.

C + V's apartment building

Urban goats

Aubie cat

We ate peanut butter and jelly and Kraft mac and cheese and burgers and burritos and watched The Little Mermaid dubbed in Arabic. We did laundry and played with their kittens and slept in late. Alicia participated in many elaborate imagination sessions of Sparkle Princess Sisters.

Sparkle Princess Sisters

Ella's gumball

Ella goofing off on the roof

More Ella goofing off on the roof

Ella and Simone on the roof

Fearless Ella

Besides hosting us for nearly two weeks (with just as much advance notice!), Cody and Vanessa gave us their own bedroom, kept us well fed AND set us up with five hours of private Arabic lessons at their language school, the Latin American Cultural Center (not a typo – you can learn Español and English there, too).  What?  Too, too much, but that’s how they roll.

Arabic notebook

Arabic teacher Nancy

Latin American Cultural Center

We learned about 70 basic nouns and pronouns, including greetings and numbers. It was awesome to dabble in another language and the experience made us really interested in pursuing some sort of language learning when we get home next year. Inshallah!

Foreigners on Parade

Ella's photography

Shukran, Cody and Vanessa! Baaraka Allahu fik!

Nov 2012



Berlin to Bangkok… via Amman

Back when we were Prague, we were trying to figure out flights. Depending on how you interpret the Schengen Zone border control regulations for tourists, we either had to get out by October 29 or by November 30, but we were getting cold were feeling anxious to leave Europe for warmer (and much less expensive) lands.

Mecca on the seatback map

Our favorite airfare search engines, Skyscanner and ITA Matrix, were all pointing to Bangkok as the destination, with the cheapest flights leaving from either Prague or Berlin. Almost everyone we had met over the several months prior said that Berlin was their favorite city ever so that cemented our plans to head to Germany.

A thunderstorm over Turkey altered our flight path

And of all the flights from Berlin to Bangkok, Royal Jordanian had the best prices.  Their flights had layovers in their hub, Amman.

Hey, we have friends in Amman.

One Skype call later to confirm that it was ok to invite ourselves over, and we had our Berlin to Bangkok tickets booked… with a 13 day layover in Jordan.

Almost to Amman

After spending two months of our summer in Turkey, which is a predominantly Muslim country, we thought Jordan would be pretty similar. In some ways it was. In other ways, it was a whole new world.

Amman McDonald's

Nov 2012