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Archive for July, 2011

Though the American Voices workshops were cut short this summer, the Jordanian program was a huge success.  It is exciting to see how our presence in Jordan still reinforced the awareness of our work last year in the other countries we visited in the region.  I get daily emails from students eager for us to return next year.  Fingers crossed, kids!

Just as I posted last summer’s epilogue, below are additional pictures and video from some of the highlights of our time in Jordan.

I will continue to use this space to keep people updated on things related to the American Voices experience and mission.  If you have enjoyed reading about our work and my adventures, please consider a small tax-deductible donation to American Voices.  Our work can only continue with the support of music, dance, and theater lovers like you!

Enjoy!

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A special thanks goes to the Alfred Music Company, and Mary Beth Parker of the Waco Piano Center for their generous donation of music to the American Voices program.  Thanks to them, many boxes of music were donated to the Jordanian libraries this summer.  In this picture left to right:  Mark Thayer (St. Louis), Andreh Maqdisi (Syria), John Ferguson (AV founder and Big Boss), and Aram Kawa (Iraq).

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Greg Hurley (East Carolina University) takes command of this Jordanian military orchestra rehearsal.

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Sarah Hamade arrives for the final Gala concert.  The concert sported an audience of 1000 people and live Jordanian TV broadcasts.

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The Children’s group opens the string portion of the Gala program.

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Ira Spaulding (City College of New York) gives final instructions to the children’s choir before they take the stage for their portion of the Gala concert.

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Ira leads the children’s choir in an American favorite.  They have a bit over a week to prepare their performance from scratch.  The children are always crowd pleasers.

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The American Voices string program is huge, consisting of several orchestras.

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The intermediate orchestra prepares to take the stage.

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A student invites us over for traditional “Mansaf”, a delicious dish traditionally eaten with your hands.  Here, we are taught the proper technique.

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A surprise guest.  The man in blue is Jordan’s Minister of Labor.  He was one of the few cabinet members to survive the government’s dismissal in February.

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The family gives me a tour of their home, complete with many antiques from their travels to India.  Bruce gives a nice explanation to the Minister, describing American Voices and our mission.

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A night at a Lebanese restaurant with my “Groupies”.

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Some fun with the locals along one of the street markets.

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Making baked goods and Naan bread at one of the local shops.

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The local cherry salesman takes a breather.

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A trip to the local pastry shop.  Yum!

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Waiting for handouts.

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Heading to Petra.

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At Petra, just looking at these women was enough to give me heat stroke.

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This little guy was always waiting for our return to the hotel.

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The intermediate piano class throws me a farewell party.  I think I need to learn the proper way to wrap the shemagh they gave me.

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See YOU next year!

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“Thank You, Welcome to Jordan.”

I must have heard that phrase a dozen times a day while in Jordan, whether in taxis, restaurants, or buying souvenirs.  The Jordanians are without question the most hospitable people on the planet, which is why I quickly realized what the travel guides meant when they said that I could walk anywhere in Jordan without fear and in confidence…which is why I decided that I was going to see Petra one way or another, even if I had to go it alone.

Indeed, it did look like would have to go it alone.  Ira (voice), Bruce (cello), and John Cramer (violin) all were headed to the Dead Sea on our one day off from teaching in the American Voices workshop (Fridays are holy days in the Middle East).  Marc (violin) needed to chill at the ranch, and John Ferguson had a date with the local TV folks for interviews (grandma used to say that it is hell to be popular).  I had no idea what the few others had yet planned. Regrettably, I scarcely saw Michael and Rick  (Broadway and Dance) since they were working at another venue and not at the Cultural Center.

So, on Wednesday I began looking for ways to get to Petra by taxi.  My first quote was from the hotel front desk, for $150 dollars.  This would include the three-hour trip there and back, and 7 hours to look around.  This seemed like quite a deal for someone who can barely get from airports to a hotel in most cities for less than $50 bucks.  And this quote was for 6 hours of driving through the desert!

By early Thursday I had secured a quote from a taxi for $100 dollars.  Wow, things were looking up!  Then, the night before the excursion, I had discovered the “Jet” bus service (thanks to Omar, my favorite front desk clerk), which would also get me there and back with 7 hours to explore, but for a mere $20 US dollars.  That was it. I was going to Petra, and on the cheap!

As fate would have it (and I do mean fate), the Lebanese students — affectionately known as my “Groupies”, which include Sarah, Pascale (“mom”), Tony (“Toooony”) and Joe — decided that they would join me.  Then, at the 11th hour, American Voices instructor Greg (Viola) decided he would also opt for Petra instead of the Dead Sea.  (The Dead Sea was only a 45-minute drive from our hotel, and we still had hopes of getting out there after work later in the week.)  It looked to be the perfect getaway.

Mistake number one:  Don’t stay up too late the night before the trip.

I woke up Friday morning after a short 4 hours of sleep, and headed with the kiddos to the jet bus station.  No problem, I was too jazzed to even notice being tired.

Mistake number two:  Don’t skip breakfast before you go to Petra.

Since the hotel restaurant didn’t open until 7am, I figured I would not worry about breakfast.  After all, I rarely eat breakfast in the States, and had done so only in Jordan since it was so convenient, and lunches usually consisted of lots of bread and fries…with perhaps a touch of meat thrown in for symbolic reasons.  (They wanted it to appear that we were eating sandwiches.)

Once at the bus station, Rania (my prize student and American Voices volunteer) surprised us by showing up, and the seven of us were on our way at 6:30 am.

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The bus stopped at “Midway Castle”, a chance for snack and souvenirs.  These boys were enjoying a nice game of soccer in the parking lot.

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By 9:30, it was clear that we were nearing Petra due to the drastic changes in terrain.

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The approach to Petra.

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Mistake number three:   Don’t skip a real lunch.

Thankfully, my Lebanese Groupies had the time and foresight to bring some naan bread and cheese.  I had figured that there would be places to get something to eat at the entrance of Petra.  However, there were only a few stands selling snackity items, but nothing with real substance.  I figured we wouldn’t be doing anything so strenuous anyways, so it didn’t bother me at that point.  We hung out under a tree, and put on suntan lotion and ate some of the snacks.

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The third of the series of “Indiana Jones” movies was filmed at Petra.

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As we stood in line to buy tickets for entering the park, I marveled at the cost structure.  If you are Arab, you pay one Dinar.  If you are not Arab, you pay 50 Dinar ($70 US dollars).  I wasn’t amused, as I saw a metal plate on the side of one of the information booths that read:  “USAID”.   But, I was going to see Petra regardless of the apparent injustice.  There would always be time to pester my Senators when I got home.

As we began our trek, it didn’t take long to see the first evidence of the ancient civilization that once thrived here.  Petra is peppered with tombs, which were dug into the rocks.  I could only imagine how much time and effort just one of these tombs must have taken to prepare.  Surely it gave a different perspective to the phrase, “digging your own grave.”

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One of the first tombs along the trail to the “Treasury”.

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Frequently, we were approached by camel, donkey, and horse and cart drivers soliciting us to buy rides to the main attraction, the “Treasury”, and beyond.  5 Dinar was the going rate for the trip to the Treasury (Interestingly, it would become 7 Dinar on the way back).  There was no way that I was going to plop myself on one of those little donkeys.  The sight made it pretty easy to spot the likely Americans, as well.

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I did not take this particular picture, but I could have.  USA…USA!!!

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Just as with dog and cat owners in the West, they say that after a time camel owners begin to resemble their camels.  Matching smiles?

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Mistake number 4:  Ok, in the end, it may be ok to conserve a little energy and to accept a little help up from the “staff”.

As we entered the Siq (“the shaft”) the signs read that we had a 2 km walk ahead of us to reach the Treasury.  But, the sight was so spectacular that the trip seemed to go by in seconds.  Petra is a protected city.  The only practical way in is through the Siq.  The Nabataeans created an elaborate hydraulic system in order to get water into the city.  They also sold the extra water to travelers along the spice routes nearby.  Water was brought into the city via gutters carved along the Siq from aquifers just outside the city.

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The “Siq” (The Shaft).  Note the water gutters carved along each wall.

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Another view of the “Siq”.  Again, note the gutters for water along the walls.
I would learn the hard way that the horse carts aren’t such a bad idea.

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The cats at Petra find a way.

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I happened to glance up just as a bit of the Treasury could be seen through the end of the Siq.  I began filming from this point.  Few experiences have taken my breath away like my approach to the Treasury.

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The detail still visible in the Treasury is amazing.  This was built 2000 years ago.

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A closer view of the detail of the Treasury.

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Mistake number 5:  If you are going to continue past the Treasury, plan ahead.

The Monastery sits atop the highest point in Petra.  From one side of the mountain, you can view the Rift Valley, the spot where Moses pointed out the Promised Land.  From the other side, one looks down onto a large portion of the city of Petra.  (It is estimated that only one percent of the city has been excavated.)  So, my “Groupies” and I did the calculations, and we felt that if we didn’t linger, we could just make it to the Monastery and get back to the bus by the 4:30 departure time.

Mistake number 6:  If you are going to the Monastery, be in shape.

For the next several kilometers, the terrain was relatively flat, hindered mostly by the occasional sand we had to walk through, and the fact that the sun was beginning to take its toll.  Though the air somehow felt cool, the direct sunlight warmed the skin…  a strange sensation, really.  Regardless, I still marveled at the sights.

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A woman rests in the shade along the trail.

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More tombs along the trail at Petra.

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Joe and Tony took off for this temple.  At first, I thought they had mistaken it for the Monastery.

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I must get dropped by AT&T at least twice a day.  Yet, Joe was getting good reception even out here.

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Another cat climbing along the rocky ledges.

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Thankfully, this part of the road was flat, though the sand sometimes made walking more difficult.

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Looking back from where we came, this whole mountain range was carved with city dwellings.

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I had heard about the steps up to the Monastery.  All 900 of them.  At this point, I have to admit that I was somewhat concerned that I spent too much of the year sitting on piano benches, and not enough time riding my bicycle.  As Rania and I pondered our time constraints, we finally decided to make a go of it and head to the Monastery.  At this point, Greg had already turned back, and the others had crept ahead.  I had been worried about Greg (last year he seemed particularly sensitive to heat), so I was somewhat relieved that he wouldn’t be joining us on this part of the journey.  Little did I know that he wasn’t the one for whom I should have been worried.

Mistake number 7:  If you are going to the Monastery, make sure you have time, and do not hurry.

The trail up to the Monastery isn’t terribly exposed, but the cliffs along the trail are a reminder that nothing should be taken for granted.  One wrong step and there will be no second chances.  The thought of sitting up on a donkey seemed rather appalling, even if they are famous for their sure footing.

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Rania and I try to decide if we can get up to the Monastery and back in time to catch the bus back home.

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Along the trail, there was the occasional drink stand manned by Bedouins still living in the mountains, or the Bedouin women selling their crafted jewelry.  (I would have loved more time to buy gifts.  For 2 dollars one can buy a beautiful pendant, or ring.)  The final drink stand again doubled the price of water for foreigners.  This time, I let the sellers know of my displeasure.  I could only imagine that I seemed polite next to what other passers buy might have expressed at this point of the journey.

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Though he had one broken leg, this cat was eager to charge me double what the Arabs paid for bottled water.  I had to resist breaking his other leg.

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It was a struggle, but we made it to the Monastery.  Interestingly, there were few other people around.  Hmmm….

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Standing in the doorway, I add a little perspective as to the size of the Monastery.

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I figure that on the return trip I got within 300 yards of the park entrance.  300 yards, with 20 minutes to spare.  Easy.  Though I was “damaged”, I thought that I was just naturally fatigued.  But, it was also clear that I was shutting down… fast.  Suddenly, the horse drawn carts didn’t seem like such a bad idea.  (I should have noticed that the locals were beginning to offer me free return trips on the donkeys to the parking lot.  I figured that they were just looking for tips.)

Finally, I asked Rania to grab a cart.  Screw it… I had earned the right to relax those last few yards, right?

As I waited in the shade behind a rock, I began to feel strange.  Then, I tried to stand up, and whoop…nope.  Have a seat, Bradley.

The cart didn’t come, and I was really worried about holding everybody up from the bus.  So, I took an offer for a horse.  Note to self…it takes as much energy to stay on a horse as it does to walk.  I figure we made it about 5 steps.  I had to get down.

The next sound I heard was an ambulance siren.  I was really upset at the thought that it was for me.  Greg (who had made it to the Monastery after all… by wisely taking a donkey) and the rest of the gang were already at the bus, joking that the ambulance was probably for me.  They didn’t yet realize that it was.  I was still in denial.  However, by the time I got into the ambulance I knew that I was in some trouble.

The ambulance attendants asked me to sit down so they could take my blood pressure.  Immediately, they became worried, and Sarah was particularly insistent that I needed to go the hospital.  My blood pressure had cratered, and the alarm was going off of the pressure meter.

You remember my post about Bruce and the discussion over Pepsi or Pepsi light?  Well, the next 10 minutes were similar, as the attendants debated with each other (and my Groupies) as to whether I needed rest or a hospital.  One of the attendants was sitting on the edge of the portable bed  generally reserved for patients to lay on.  As I felt myself slipping, I said that I needed to lay down…fast.  The attendant broke off from his conversation with the Groupies long enough to say, “just a minute.”  I think the last bit of energy I mustered was spent politely removing him from that position.

As I lay there, it suddenly dawned on me that heat was the issue.  (Yes, I can be slow) Yet, there was no I-V, my hat was still on, and my shoes were still on.  So, once I realized what I needed, I turned to Rania and whispered…”water….forehead…shoes.”

Sarah made a dash for juice, and Rania sponged my head.  As the attendants explained to everyone that I should just rest there, Sarah returned with juice and asked, “so what happens to him during this ‘rest’?”  At that point, it was a mad dash through the mountains to the nearest hospital.  They never even strapped me into the bed.  It was all I could do not to roll off the cart.  I didn’t see stars, but dollar signs, as I imagined what the bill was going to be for this experience.  I figured foreigners were likely to get charged double, or worse.  Hey, it worked for everything else, why not medical care?  At the lowest point, I remember actually saying my goodbyes.  This was it…I was going to snuff it in Jordan without a chance to say goodbye to my family or friends.

As the cool air of the hospital (a clinic, really) washed over me, I began to feel a bit better.  The doctor saw me, and immediately said, “heat stroke.”  It was hard to walk, but once my vital signs were stable I was dismissed (too soon).  In their usual helpful manner, the Jordanians had already arranged another bus, which was waiting a few miles below.  Though I was gouged by the taxi driver for the trip to that bus (for 20 dollars…a fair price had we been in America), I didn’t argue, and managed to stumble onto the bus for the 3 hours trip home.

This should have been the end of this story, except that the air conditioner on the bus went out about half way back, and for some reason I began to crash again.  The girls were quite worried, as was I.  Rania once again sponged my head, and Pascale (affectionately known as “mom”) did some sort of “reflexology” she learned from girl scouts on my hand.  Sarah fanned me, and gave me juice.  In all, I credit the girls for doing as well as I did.  They are extraordinary individuals.

Rania’s father is a prominent pediatric surgeon in Amman, and he met us at the station, insisting that I go to their flat so he could check me out.  After some rest, and delicious pasta Rania’s mother made (for which I still need the recipe!), I was beginning to feel better.  After some time, I was taken back to the hotel, where Bruce — who had gotten word of my demise — was pacing “like a cat looking for his master.”

In the end, the trip was certainly worth it…for me, anyway.  And the bill for the experience?  Zero…not one Dinar.  When I had handed the hospital attendants my insurance card their only concern was how to spell my name.  When I asked the hospital folks why they weren’t charging me, their response was, “It is our duty.”

And of all the things I will likely remember about this adventure — the Treasury…the Monastery view…the incredible help of friends — perhaps the most memorable will be something the ambulance driver said as I exited the hospital, exhausted, and totally spent.

As I stumbled out to get into the taxi the hospital staff had arranged, the ambulance driver shook my hand and said:

“Thank You, Welcome to Jordan.”

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Ya’ll come back now, ya hear!

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My original plan was to wait until my trip to Petra to finish off this blog entry, but half way through the Petra trek yesterday it became apparent that that little adventure (fiasco) was going to deserve an entry of its own.  So, first things first…

Dear airline companies, I am on to you and I have figured out your plan.  You wait until I go to the restroom, and then deviously add a row of seats to the airplane, thus reducing leg room by an inch or two for each passenger.  This is the only explanation for why I ended my flights eating my knees, and practically needing a wheel chair to deplane.  Thank God for John Cramer.

John is an American Voices board member, and having him along was not only a real treat, but a great distraction from the “pain of the plane”.  We quickly became friends, and felt comfortable enough to talk about everything from the tragic (his mom passed away a bit over a year ago from the Swine Flu…after having a vaccine 6 weeks earlier…for the Swine Flu.) to the adventure ahead of us in Jordan.  This was John’s first trip to the Middle East, so this made me a “veteran” of sorts, even though this was also my first trip to Jordan.

John had the foresight to rent us a hotel room in Frankfurt, where an awkward 12 hour layover awaited us.  The weather was so nice that we had half a mind to stay.  (Anyone ever notice that Germany has a distinctive — yet pleasant — smell?  Bratwurst and Beer, I would imagine.)  The hotel was a lifesaver, because we arrived in Amman after 2:30 am, and did not reach our final destination until after 4 am.  Teaching was to  begin in earnest at 8:30 that morning.  So, the sleep we managed was time and Euros well spent.

For me, one of the great things about this trip was a chance to contrast the cultural customs of Jordan with the other Arabic countries I have visited, as well as those of the United States.  I had just mentioned to John that as crazy as the drivers seem to be in the Middle East, I had yet to see an accident.  The night after that comment, John witnessed a scene that brought up several of those “contrasts” in ways of life.

On our second evening here, John joined a local family, with whom he shared a mutual friend, for dinner at a town restaurant.  While eating, he heard a horrible crash and a scream from just over the wall by his table. A young boy was riding his bicycle when he was struck by a car.  While still conscious, the boy was unable to move.  John was surprised that the first reaction of onlookers was not people screaming at each other to cast blame (as he says would likely be the case in his hometown of Houston), but rather a sense that everyone on the scene knew they had the singular cooperative mission to get the boy help.  In doing so, they moved him to the car…the car of the guy who hit him.  In Jordan, I later learned, the law says that the person responsible for an accident is also responsible to transport to the hospital.  When I asked why they would risk moving the boy for fear of greater injury, the response was that the perceived risk of waiting for an ambulance to arrive was greater than the risk of additional injury.  So, off the boy went. (John also speculated that in Houston there would eventually be lawyers involved with such an occurrence.)  We never learned of the boy’s fate.  I have already noticed that in a crisis, large or small, Jordanian’s rally quickly if not efficiently to solve problems.  Witness tonight’s dinner, which found American Voices cellist Bruce Walker attempting to order the number three combo at Popeye’s Fried Chicken, accompanied by no less that 6 employees gathering around the register, all simultaneously verbalizing Bruce’s distinction between regular Pepsi and Pepsi Light.

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A Coke might have brought a smile.

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I guess some things here are pretty American after all.  (My piano students here also relay that the bodies at murder scenes are also moved by those that find the body, perhaps explaining why I cannot find any current episodes of  “CSI Jordan.”)

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Interestingly, I have seen very few overweight people here, but the few I have seen were within a few hundreds yards of this establishment.

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My first morning here found me surprisingly rested, and once I made the 10 minute and two dinar ($2.40) trip to the conservatory, it was clear that the gathering of teachers and students was energized, and we were all eager to get started.  My two classes, one intermediate and one advanced, are a solid group.  Most have had consistent training, with a couple that would be standouts anywhere.  Rania, one of my best students and the head office assistant for American Voices in Jordan, was a key player in spreading the word around Amman that I would be teaching here.  The few local teachers here are apparently suspicious of us visiting Americans, and they were reluctant to allow their students to attend.  Thanks to Rania’s recruiting efforts, I have all of the students I can handle.

The view out of my hotel window the morning of my arrival.

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My first taxi to work.  By law, each Jordanian must claim a religion at birth.  Even if they ultimately were to become atheists (which is technically illegal) they will retain their religious affiliation.

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The Foyer of the Cultural Center

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John Cramer

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The kids arrive to register for the American Voices workshop

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Bruce setting up in the office.

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The students arrive for my intermediate piano class.

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My intermediate piano class.  A talented group.

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Truth be told, the teaching schedule has made it difficult to do much sightseeing since most worthwhile adventures are out of town…that is, until yesterday’s trip to Petra.  But, evenings are filled with leisurely chats in the hotel lounge, or a quick trip to the spice, tea, and candy store around the corner.

A trip to the store for tea and chocolates is a nice evening stroll from our hotel.

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John Cramer and I relax in the hotel lobby with the Lebanese students.

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Omar, the desk manager of our hotel lived in Dallas for 13 years.  

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For an extra Dinar, I can bribe the staff to open the rooftop lounge after hours.  It has quite a night view.

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My first cat encounter.  This insightful chap resides under the parked Hotel buses.  But, he couldn’t  warn me about what was in store for me at Petra.

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