Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Birdwatching in Jordan

Driving together from Mafraq to Amman yesterday, Tatya warned me (paraphrase), "You're going to cause an accident, between looking on the ground for flowers and looking in the sky for birds!"  Yes, I used to watch watch only for flowers, but now I am noticing the birds as well. Jordan is a great place to birdwatching, and Dear Husband and I have taken up the hobby.

From an Exploring Jordan blog:

"Birding has become a truly international pastime, inspiring an increasing number of enthusiasts to travel the world in pursuit of rare and exotic species, often in fragile ecosystems.

Jordan is an exceptional place for birdwatching. Its geographical position means that it is a hub for migratory species from Europe, Africa, and Asia. The bird life of all three continents pass through Jordan twice a year on their passage between seasonal habitats and sometimes it is possible to see specimens from each at the same time."

Since it is wildflower season, I rarely leave home without my camera. Thus, I've been able to photograph a few birds this week as I've been out and about. I don't have a telephoto lens with the reach I need for most really good bird pictures, but capturing even a slightly blurry image feels like a great accomplishment--birds are hard to photograph! A birding friend helped me identify this first one as some kind of Wheatear.

near Jerash

I'm learning that the bill is the first feature to notice when trying to identify a bird. This bird's beak guided my friend to identify the next bird as a Shrike, and Dear Husband identified it as a Woodchat Shrike.

Woodchat Shrike

I've spotted an number of Hoopoes in Mafraq, but I've never had the chance to photograph one until Friday.


I told Dear Husband that spotting AND photographing this pair of Kingfishers felt like winning a treasure hunt.  We were driving along a country road together--looking for wildflowers--when we spotted the birds on an overhead wire. Dear husband pulled over but we were afraid to open the car door as it would probably scare the birds away. I quickly changed my camera lens, and Dear Husband attempted a few pictures from the driver's seat. Meanwhile I climbed to the back seat and then Dear Husband passed the camera to me. I shot several pictures before the birds flew away.

Nearly all the pictures were blurry beyond recognition, a few had one of the birds, but I was thrilled to find that we had managed to snap one recognizable image of the male and female pair.

White-throated Kingfisher
male and female
Wadi Shu'aib

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Sweet Mother's Day

If you're not in Jordan, don't worry, you didn't miss Mother's Day. March 21 is the day that Jordan celebrates Mother's Day. I have only one child at home, but she made it a very sweet day for me in more ways than one. I awoke to a beautiful handmade card which included Mother's Day greetings from each of my four jewels.

Later in the morning, Tayta prepared a lovely tea for us to enjoy together.

I choose Earl Grey tea--with no sweetener because of the other treats Tayta had prepared.

Chocolate, date-caramel (the latest Pinterest rage) with sea salt. And not just any sea salt: we finally found a use for the fleur de sel I made a few months ago. These were my favorites!

More date-caramel filled chocolates

Mother-daughter selfie for Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all my mothering, life-giving friends. I wish I could share my chocolate with you!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring at Sharhabil Bin Hasnah Eco Park

 After receiving long waited and much need rain last week, we packed a lunch and headed to the countryside on Saturday morning when the rain clouds departed. A couple of friends recommended the beauty of a relatively new Eco Park in the Jordan Valley, so that is where we headed.

The crown daisies were bursting out in bloom all over the Jordan Valley.

 Crown Daisy
Chrysanthemum coronarium L.

Rumex cyprius

Alcea sp.

We enjoyed panoramic pastoral scenes from a vantage point atop the dam. 

If you're looking for a nice picnic spot with walking trails, birds, and beautiful views, I recommend this Eco Park, located in the Jordan Valley near the northern border crossing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"She Is Our Jewel and We Know That God Has Put Her in the Right Place."~Uncle Ibraheem

Last weekend we had the joy of attending our dear sister's engagement ceremony and party. This woman has been a "friend closer than a sister" since she lived with our family for two years some ten years ago. We first met her when I was looking for a creative way to improve my Arabic while being a stay-at-home, home-educating mom of four, and she was looking for room and board while attending seminary. It was a match made in heaven. Our friend spoke only Arabic with us (as she does to this day) even though she speaks and understands English as well. She adopted our family and we adopted her.

We've prayed along with our friend for some years that God would bring her a good man who loved the Lord with all his heart and shared her desire to serve Him with his whole life. Last year that man came into her life, and this winter we had the pleasure of meeting him. After having dinner with them for the first time, we all pronounced them a wonderful match!

After visiting our friend's family,  the suitor was given a green light. Planning for the formal engagement ceremony/party commenced. In the Arab world, an engagement is as important as the actually wedding--in some ways it is more important. It is the joining of two families in agreement that a good match has been made. Unlike our western custom, the engagement is a community event including both sides of the family and other close friends.

The engagement was such a joyful time, such a true vision of the good, that I thought it would be nice to share it here, introducing some to a beautiful tradition of the Arab world.

On the evening of the engagement, Dear Husband and I, our friend's suitor and his father, newly arrived from the US on his first visit to the Middle East, and five other friends, drove from Tiberius to a village outside of Nazareth. We arrived at our friend's family home at precisely 8 p.m. As expected, the stairs up to the house were lined with family waiting to greet us. The men from our contingent first approached and greeted the group of  Arab men waiting to greet and receive them. We then proceeded up the stairs and into the house.

Tayta and I each carried a large vase of flowers, purchased by the suitor, and two other women carried the jewelry: one on a wooden tray, and the other in small inlaid wooden chest. Tayta heard one of the aunts remark as we proceeded up the stairs, "Look, they even have the (expected) flowers and jewelry box!" We placed the flowers and jewelry in front of the our friend and our suitor, the prince and princess of the evening, who had taken their honored place at the head of the room.

The ceremony began with Uncle Ibraheem, a Baptist pastor, giving some words of welcome to the suitor and his father, after which Scripture passages were read in Arabic and English.

  "She is our jewel..."

Next, the suitor's father stood to give his greetings to my friend's family and to formally request her hand in marriage to his son. Dear Husband translated for the father. Despite the meaningful words spoken by all, our hearts were light with joy and so smiles and laughter were never far from us the entire evening.

After this official "tulbeh" or "requesting", an American-pastor-friend-from-Jordan shared some words about marriage and presented the engagement bands. These are also the wedding bands; the engaged couple wears them on their right hands and moves them to their left hand when they are married.

Following the expected presentation of the bands, the suitor rose to say some occasional word and to make an unexpected presentation: he explained that while they were following the Middle Eastern traditions of engagement, he wanted to include an American engagement tradition.

He got down on one knee and asked our friend if she would marry him. Oh, my goodness, the smiles on everyone's faces!

When she said yes, he put a beautiful solitaire diamond engagement ring on her finger. 

 Uncle Ibraheem prayed for the newly-engaged couple...

And our friend's aunt sang some traditional Arabic blessings over them.

Next came the traditional presentation of gold and jewelry. Our friend received a set of white gold: necklace, bracelet, and matching earrings, as well as a double strand or pearls with a matching bracelet--that was from the tray.

The jewelry box was opened, and the suitor's father made a presentation of some family jewelry to our friend and read a personal note from the suitor's mother.

Our friend's mother added one of her own gold necklaces to her daughter's new collection of jewelry. 

The rest of the evening was filled with greeting the engaged couple, visiting with each other...

...taking pictures, and more pictures...

...and of course, lots of food. All these delectable sweets were made by family members.

The baklava, tabbouleh, and stuffed grape leaves kept coming.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding anyone? 

All the good feelings, and more importantly, the new relationships forged and formalized that evening, were sealed with cups of Arab coffee.

Photo credits for all these pictures goes to Tayta, who creatively arranged these and a few more into a wonderful slideshow for the happy couple. I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face.


Alf Mabruuk (A thousand congratulations/blessings) to the happy couple! May God bless you and make you a blessing to all touched by your relationship with each other.

Saturday, March 08, 2014


We made a quick trip to Israel this week to attend a dear friend's--really, she is like family to us--engagement. Quick, as in 20 hours in country, but what a wonderful 20 hours it was!

The engagement took place at our friend's family home in a village near Nazareth, and we stayed in a guesthouse about a half-hour's drive away in Tiberias, right on the Sea of Galilee. Our friend's fiance, an American man, who is fast becoming a good friend of our family's, made all the arrangements for us and what a good job he did; our guesthouse was located next the Church of Saint Peter, and overlooked the Sea.

Arriving in Tiberias at about 2:30pm, we had about five hours to relax before the van arrived to transport us to the engagement. First we slept. Car travel in the Jordan Valley during warm dusty weather is tiring, as are border crossings. Then we spent a little time on the roof of our guesthouse sipping tea and taking in the view.

Since dinner would not be served until about 10pm, we wandered down to the boardwalk to look for something to eat. Dear husband and I settled on Saint Peter's fish.

After dinner number one, it was back to our rooms to get cleaned up and gussied up for the engagement party. (Stay tuned for a post on the engagement ceremony and party later this week...)

We got to bed around 1am--not too late, really, considering how these kinds of celebrations can go--and we had to be up for breakfast the next morning before the dining room closed at 8:30am. The dining room was in a separate building, adjacent to Saint Peter's; on the way to breakfast, I noticed the interesting architecture and art, so returned with my camera after eating to take a few photos.

Dining Hall of the Casa Nova Guesthouse

One of the outside gates of the church complex

Saint Peter

Across the walkway from our guesthouse we found Saint Andrew's Church...

...and the tidy church garden.

Another guesthouse and cafe down by the boardwalk

I like how this cafe preserved these old trees and made them part of the cafe's architecture. And to our left, the Sea of Galilee/Lake Tiberias.

Tayta and I had fun taking pictures of seagulls standing at attention--or so it seemed.

And though we didn't get into the countryside to see the wildflowers, I found this common wild mustard plant growing by the park lot of the guest house. I have to include at least one flower shot!

And these cool trees were growing around the area. Imagine how much fund it would be for kids to play in these trees--Tayta was inspired to enter "the forsest" as a wood nymph.

All the ladies of our traveling party and my friend, the bride-to-be, standing next to me. Still lots of smiles the day after the party as we packed ourselves into the waiting van to head back to Jordan.