The Mystique of Eating on the Floor

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Not many photos to show when I’ve been looking for jobs non-stop.
Literally, it’s like a job in itself looking for jobs, not sure how people do this while working. But I’ve done a lot of thinking with what I want to do and what that looks like. Answer is, not settling for what other designers are doing. I know that my new focus involves looking for jobs within graphic design, but for an organization either involved in youth development, or equality, women’s rights, racial justice, etc. I realized, if the organization doesn’t involve me doing something just besides design, then I wouldn’t be doing what I want. It would also be a plus if I was interacting with kids somehow, or people. While I love design, sitting behind a desk isn’t as inspiring to me as interacting with the people I would be designing for. Have some decisions to make but won’t be announcing anything until I know.

So, I’ve been home a lot, however here is some proof of actually going out to a restaurant. The first two are at Yemeni restaurant. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that in 2014 I studied abroad to Qatar and that was the reason for starting the blog. ( Click here for my Qatar entries!)
Anyway, I was exposed to a lot of new food while abroad, but learned about the Khaleej culture and countries that have similar customs and food. Qatar, Saudi, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait and UAE, these countries eat very similar things, in contrast to Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Another thing is all the food was eaten on the floor. This is so interesting to me, especially as a Colombian, because in Colombia you do not eat on the floor. Not that you always eat on the floor in the Middle East, and most certainly not if you are alone, but it’s a communal mindset. More plates are easily spread on the floor than on regular tables. However, these pictures you see were a separated part of the restaurant for those that want to eat on the floor. But, there are also people who prefer tables, which is why it is rare to see restaurants serve you in this way. This restaurant had 90% tables, and 10% section for foreigners maybe or locals that prefer the experience of eating on the floor. The carpeted floors are cleaned after every meal. You also eat on a plastic cover, which picks up most of the mess made from the food. I would think it’s safe to say, if people eat on the floor, it’s usually because there’s no table available, too many people, or it’s in the comfort of their own home. Think about it–sitting on a table is a bit more formal than relaxing with your friends, drinking tea, while sitting on pillows. It’s not for everyone, but I don’t mind.

Baab Al Yemen, one of the several Yemeni restaurants in Amman. Yemeni food may sound far from what you know, but really it is a lot of rice, meat, eggs, salad, and gigantic bread (only one piece shown). One of the main differences between Jordanian food and Yemeni, is how they spice the rice. They even spice their tea, usually with some cardamom and with milk. It’s heavenly!

Me participating in the making of Mansaf by breaking down the chalk-like Jameed, into lukewarm water. Don’t worry, I cleaned my hands!

Second time making Mansaf, but this time, with lamb and not chicken. I like the chicken better because it gets seasoned better, but some people don’t know Mansaf without lamb meat, so it’s preference really.

There should be a user manual for these buses.

Have I ever explained buses in Amman? If living in Jordan were a video game, I think taking these buses gives you some extra points for various reasons.
1. Know exactly where you are going.
Well first, the bus destinations are written on the side in Arabic. Thankfully, the guys working on each bus will shout the name of the destinations so people know where the bus is going, incase it’s different than what’s written. Second, when I say you should know exactly, is because you need to know the name of the stop, not just what it looks like. Let’s say you have an idea of where to stop, if you don’t know what the stop name is, the conductor may take a faster route, if no one speaks up that they need to stop. I used to take the buses last year, when I would visit my friends at their university, so I learned the stop names. It actually isn’t too hard to learn, since they repeat it a lot before the stop, and as they stop. Tricky thing is won’t stop if no one needs get off or get on.  
2. Have the courage to tell the conductor to stop in Arabic, if he doesn’t.
This was never fun for me because I’m shy, especially if I am the only person getting off. What I do is check with the person next to me, if they are also getting off, I ask them to let the conductor know. Or, as I give my bus fare, telling the guy where I want to get off. That way, he’ll let the conductor know and I won’t have to say anything more than a head nod of approval, when he asks me to confirm. That’s not much of a problem anymore for me, thankfully.
3. Know female-male dynamics.
So, as you know Jordan is a fairly conservative society, in many regards. On buses, the guy working on the bus,  usually is the one to asses the best situation for the people getting on. Men always in the back, unless a whole family fills up the seats. Ladies next to ladies, and if there is a guy in a two-seater, he is asked to move to another seat, allowing 2 ladies to sit there. Most guys will know what to do, and even some men will ride the bus standing up, so an older lady sits down. These are unwritten rules, and I know the drill because I ride the bus often.
4. Know Arabic numbers, when you pay the bus fare.
At first it is confusing to understand what the rates are, because they are not written or anywhere at all. I learned the numbers early on, but even then they speak so fast, I would never really understand. They expect everyone to know the prices, so they just ask for the money, not the amount. I know the fares, which is helpful, especially when knowing what to get back.

Making a face when Khaled snaps a photo through the window.

Nothing like a little fire for sweater weather. Add some hot tea, munchies, and you got yourself a nice cozy night.

Hiding behind Valentine’s Day flowers. Khaled knows I don’t like roses, so he got me a bunch of colorful ones instead.

We didn’t have any vases, but we did have old wine bottles. I think they look better this way!

Well, not much else to say, other than I am so sad the other domain I made for my blog didn’t work out. The storage was not unlimited and because I hadn’t posted on that domain yet, I didn’t want to continue knowing I had such strong limitations. Thank you for always reading my blog and keeping updated with me. I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s Day, either with friends, a loved one, or just a night to yourself. Either way, there’s no obligations to celebrate this holiday, it’s just a money-maker for restaurants, for the most part. See you in 2 weeks!

Make sure to follow my Instagram account: @travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from the Middle East!

My love for Goat Cheese and other Foods

Winter in Jordan has been brutal in our apartment. Not only does it feel 10000x colder inside than outside, but it’s rained and hailed a lot. The winds have also been destructive, and since I live on the top floor of my building, I feel and hear everything more.

The past two weeks have been a great exploration of Jordanian and Palestinian dishes.
Mansaf, Musakhan, Mulukhiyah, and Magloobeh. My boyfriend has proved to be quite the cook, successfully attempting traditional Jordanian dishes. Everyday he seems to think of what new dish we can try. It really has been really fun seeing how to cook Jordanian and Palestinian dishes, as well as trying them in the comfort of my home. I always help, but Khaled knows the amounts of things, what exact spices, etc.

Jordan’s wind speeds are trying to show off

First culinary demonstration…Middle Eastern Breakfast! Tomatoes and cucumbers with fresh lemon juice, salt, and sumac on top; goat cheese (I’ve discovered is DELICIOUS); pita bread; scrambled eggs with green onion and tomatoes; Lebneh in olive oil; and black tea with mint. Every culture has its customs about what meals are served when. Some have light dinners, and others a light lunch. In the U.S, breakfasts and dinners tend to be heavy, while lunches are light. In Colombia, breakfast and lunch is heavy, while dinners are light. Generally, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan are countries with similar foods and cultures. So, the picture above has some of the things that you would eat in a normal breakfast in these countries.

Mansaf, one of the most famous Jordanian dishes!!!! It is consists of rice, chicken with spices, and Jameed (soup made from hard dry laban from ewe or goat’s milk). You place flat pieces of bread on the bottom of the serving plate, a coat of jameed, then rice, and the chicken on top with parsley and fried pine nuts. The yogurt is then served on the top of the rice. Because the yogurt is quite heavy, it is notorious for people to take naps after this meal. Usually served on Fridays, on family days for lunch, otherwise for dinner it would literally knock you out. I once ate Mansaf at 6pm and I took a nap right after. When I woke up, my refrigerator was installed in the kitchen, and the noises of men installing it didn’t even wake me, as I opened my eyes at 9pm. Think of the equivalent on Thanksgiving Day, when turkey makes you feel sleepy after you eat it. But, nevertheless delicious!

Third culinary demonstration…Favorite Middle Eastern breakfast item! Manaeesh, the giant pieces of bread you see on the right are not your average bread at all. With Manaeesh you will find a layer of olive oil and za’atar (Middle Eastern herbs including sesame seeds, oregano, Thyme, and more) Other options for toppings on this bread includes eggs, cheese, or a mix of za’atar, egg, and cheese. Always baked fresh in the mornings, and for under $1.00!

Most buildings in Jordan were not made for cold weather. We’ve been experiencing extremely humid and cold temperatures inside our apartment. We walk into the bedroom and we can see our breath. NOPE, too cold. So, this has been our set up for the past 3 weeks. It feels comfy sleeping on the floors and the room heats up quicker, which is why we decided to do this.

Enjoying a lovely night of Sahleb and talking in Arabic with Khaled. It surprises me sometimes how I can manage to have myself understood with such little vocabulary. Of course, I give myself no credit, but I don’t know many verbs. As in, I can form sentences and conversations, but there would be one specific word that I don’t know, and then I get stuck. I am understood by explaining or describing what I mean to the person in Arabic, and then they understand. Usually I struggle to finding a word I learned a while ago inside my brain, and trying to use it successfully. Language learning is really amazing, but hard work.

Fourth food demonstration: What is Sahleb? It’s a warm drink, popular in the winter for its magical warming powers. It’s made from a powder extracted from an Orchid flower, which gives the drink a slight dense feel to it. On top, they usually compliment the drink with coconut and cinnamon. It’s delicious and perfect for a night where you don’t want caffeine, so you go for Sahleb. And super cheap!

Calm, blue hues of my friends neighborhood.

Taken at Abdali Mall, a fancy open mall that continues to house new businesses, and random advertisements with no words, like this one.

This woman risking her life, just to clean a window. She is part of the working class in Jordan. Like in many countries, residents and businesses bring women and men to jobs such as cleaning, nanny, doormen, etc.  As I saw her on my balcony, I told her, “Be careful,” in Arabic. She just smiled.

Walking towards Starbucks on a pedestrian bridge, as I look over Abdoun. Abdoun is an area in Amman, home of the U.S embassy, the largest and fanciest Starbucks in Amman.

Musakhan: A Palestinian dish consisting of onions, sumac spice, chicken, a bit of parsley, and fried pine nuts. First you layer very thin bread called Shrak, sautéed onions and olive oil. You make a few layers of bread, onions, oil, …maybe 3 or 4, depending on preference. Then, you lay on top the chicken, season it with sumac and sprinkle the pine nuts and parsley. We accompanied the meal with chicken soup from the broth of the chicken itself.

This week, I wanted to dedicate my blog to food. It is such an important part of any culture – how you eat, when you eat, and what foods you eat. Having not grown up in Jordan, sometimes break the rules of their food culture. For example, some people would never think of eating Maneesh for dinner. They would look at me weird, and even most bakeries here close early because of the mentality. Magloobeh, which I’ve mentioned a few times, (food with eggplant, potatoes, chicken, cauliflower) can’t be served unless the pot is turned upside down on a larger serving plate. I’ve suggested to serve it normally directly on the plate, but somehow even if there is no larger serving plate, it’s ALWAYS served upside down from the pot. I know the word Magloobeh does mean “upside down,” so I see the disservice I’d be doing to the food, but sometimes I’m just hungry.

Regardless of the rules, it is wonderful living in Jordan and experiencing the culture in its multiple facets: language, Jordanian female and male friends, food, holidays, work, transportation, etc. Some foreigners stay and never learn the language, or only befriend friends of their native language. While that may work for some, I am happy how I chose to live my experience and immerse myself where I can honestly say I understand both the good and the bad of Jordan. I can’t say how much longer I’ll be here. I’m still looking for a job, taking care of my blog, and trying to release some new designs soon that I’m excited about.

Even though I may not have a job at the moment, I am enjoying reflecting a lot about what it means for me to be in Jordan, all the aspects of what I’ve learned from being here, and all the adventures I’ve had. All I can say for sure is I am learning to enjoy the process of figuring things out, and making sure I listen to what I really want.

That’s all for now! Thanks for checking my blog. I update every other Thursday, so make sure to subscribe to receive an email with the updates!

I re-named my blog, let me know your thoughts.
Follow my Instagram: @travelobsesswithvaness

Thank you always, and peace from the Middle East!

Back to Tiny, Delicious Cucumbers and Real Hummus

Leaving the U.S was a bit more difficult than anticipated due to terrible weather. Actually, in all my traveling since at least 2006, I don’t remember ever having flight cancelled. So, yeah that was a first for me. Expected, but nonetheless annoying.

The first two flights were cancelled due arctic weather and snow in Jersey and New York. It reached -13º Celsius and 2º Fahrenheit! Cars were covered, schools were closed, and people were buying everything in the super markets. After calling the airline and being put on hold for an hour, I was rescheduled to our third flight, with another airline and through Canada. So, we had our goodbye dinners, and goodbye breakfasts and last hangouts with my friends. My family drove an hour to the airport, and we were about to check in our bags at the check-in desk. The woman looks up our information on her computer and sees that Khaled is not able to travel through Montreal for a layover, because he needs a visa. Honestly, I had never traveled with someone from outside the U.S, so it was not an issue I had on my mind. Canada only allows U.S citizens or Canadians to enter without a transit visa for layovers, leaving everyone else to somehow know they need a visa for a simple layover. The woman also insisted that I could travel regardless and have Khaled fly to Jordan a week after. HECK NO! We bought the tickets together, we fly together.

With my family literally behind us for support, we pressured the woman to fix the problem, and soon enough she rerouted us on a different flight, a different day, but nonetheless flying together. Now, I have no problem flying solo and I have done it plenty of times. But, it was in their duty to give us the best option. And on our 4th flight, we flew out and made it safely to Jordan. One of our bags arrived late, but we are alive and back! Thankfully I was coming back to look for jobs, so there was no actual rush, other than it was annoying to be in limbo.

At a delicious Mexican restaurant in Jersey, one of many goodbye dinners with my mom. We pretended it was Khaled’s birthday and ordered him a dessert, with all the waiters and waitresses singing to him. Also, they brought him a cool hat with long hair. He was confused.

Looking back at old albums of myself. Year 1999~ Here, my parents threw me a big birthday party when I turned 7. There was a clown, a person dressed as Tweety Bird, Cinderella cake, and outdoor games! I felt like a superstar in my new outfit that day. Next to me is my childhood friend Victoria, who moved to Arizona in 3rd grade, but we kept in contact (even before Facebook). I went to visit her in Arizona freshman year of college, and we remain friends till this day.

Year 2001~ Also with Victoria, and me making faces. In my old house, playing dolls on the floor, as we always did. My room was one of my favorite places to be, and doing everything on the floor was so much more comfortable for me. Maybe because the desk I had was tiny, but I remember spending so many nights creating artwork, painting, collaging, reading, and hanging out with friends, just sitting on my floor. I also had one giant wall full of magazine cutouts and totally collaged from the ceiling to the floor. I do miss that wall.

Year 2018: Last breakfast at my dad and brother’s breakfast spot

In front of my mom’s apartment, before hitting the road for the airport for the 2nd time

View over the Alps, flying near Italy. Thanks to the captain for informing us.

Lovely orange tree I spotted walking to our apartment. Khaled tried to grab one, but it was too tall for both of us. Had we successfully grabbed one, we could’ve been part of Tropicana commerical

I take no credit, Khaled cooked an amazing meal, while I working diligently on a resume. Magloobeh, as described in other posts, contains rice, chicken, eggplant, and potatoes accompanied by a fresh salad and yogurt. Definitely one of his best versions yet! Practice makes perfect! YUMMMMMM Side note: Cucumbers in Jordan are so tiny compared to the ones we bought in the U.S, but they have a sweetness and taste that the ones in the U.S don’t have. Not sure why…but I know that in Colombia the cucumbers are also big, so maybe it depends on the land they grow on? Not sure.

I remember hours before traveling, we had guests over and we were crazy with organizing the apartment that day and the days before. But no matter what we did, coming back from vacation always means going back to clean and organize everything again. And even though the bare floors and limestone walls makes Jordan feel colder than the U.S, it feels nice to be back!

Now, being back has been a slow readjustment. It has been hard adjusting back to the apartment being so cold, even though outside it only 50º-60º degrees outside. We had absolutely no food coming back, and were waiting on one luggage to come a few days late. Thankfully, my boyfriend’s mother rescued us and came over and cooked enough for a week, that gave us time until we bought actual groceries. But now, getting into the groove of things…starting to cook again, and getting back on my chia seeds with fruit. I was happy to eat Lebneh again – a Middle Eastern fresh, cream cheese eaten with drizzled olive oil and bread.
I’m applying to jobs everyday and making sure every application I send out means I get better at writing about myself. Applying to jobs is a slow process anywhere, but I hope to hear back soon!

Stay warm and thank you for keeping up with my blog! Make sure to subscribe to this blog, so you can receive an email every time I post. I update every 2 weeks, but just incase you forget to check. Folllow me on Instagram: @travelobsesswithvaness to see other pictures that I may not post here.

Thank you for your support and I hope everyone in cold weather stays warm.

Peace from the Middle East!

New Year 2018!!!

Happy New Year!!!

Since my last blog post, the days have been quite festive. The Novena of Aguinaldos continued, as mentioned in my last bog post, up until Christmas Eve. In Colombia, as well as other Hispanic countries, we only celebrate Christmas Eve. For me, I divided my time between my mom and my dad. With my mom, she cooked a delicious stuffed chicken, we shared some drinks and spent the day and part of the evening with her. The second half of the evening, I spent it with my father and his family, catching up with cousins, dancing, and opening gifts. Our tradition on Christmas Day, as of a few years ago, we open gifts in the morning, and make delicious empanadas from scratch in the evening. The fun part is to help add the stuffing and mold them into perfectly nice crescents, and my mom drops them in the frying pan. SO GOOOOOD!

Cheers to holidays!

Pre-cooked stuffed chicken, all ready to go!

Christmas Eve dinner: Stuffed chicken with rice, veggies, and meat, (slowly cooked for 2 hours) and baby potatoes with salad.

Christmas Eve dancing with my dad

home-made empanadas for Christmas Day!

Kick-back margarita night can’t be good without some avocados for the guacamole

Michael Jackson Tribute at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village

Happy with my matcha latte from Bibble & Sip, small coffee shop in Manhattan

Since I spend so much time away, I make an effort to see as many of friends as I can. This month, my best friend who lives in Texas took a flight out to Jersey for the New Year to see me! We try to see each other every year, so either I go see her or she comes to New Jersey. Last year, I flew to San Antonio to see her, so now it was her turn. Valeria and I grew up together, living only 91 steps away from each other. When she moved to Texas freshman year of high school, it was hard for both of us, but we tried our best to continue the relationship and see each other at least once a year somehow. Now, 18 years later, and maintain a friendship that I know will be for a lifetime.

And, since I came home for this time of year, I was able to see most of my friends from Jersey. I am so thankful to have so many friends, all from different walk of life–always fill my heart with love when I see them.

Gallivanting on frozen lake in Jersey. After a few days of freezing cold weather, the lakes freeze over a layer of ice thick enough to have all 4 of us walk on it. Though the parts we stepped on are quite frozen, it safe to assume the inner parts of the lake going away from land, might fail at holding us

Doing the Titanic on a frozen lake

Everyone trying to distribute their body weight so the ice doesn’t break. This is Valeria (in the front), we used to go everywhere together and people would always confuse us. We were both similar body types, long hair, pale skin, Colombian and our names started with “V.” Needless to say, some people wouldn’t even try so they called us V #1 and V #2.

Khaled lookin’ like Bruno Mars

Spent the day with my friend Audrey, walking to the Museum of Natural History

Near the Strawberry Fields in Central Park

Penn Station with pigeons who DON’T  fly away majestically like they should.

NYC Metro rides

These two girls give off an energy unlike any other. I always make sure I see them when I’m back home because with these two, it’s pure love.

Happy New Year with these great people!!!!!

Worst storm this winter season, shoveling the first round. After we were done, it was as if we did nothing.

This year has been so amazing for me. I started the year traveling in Europe, with my family and visited my friend in Denmark. I returned to Jordan to finish my U.S Fulbright, and received acceptance into an Arabic Type Design course at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon for the summer. I spent July and August there, and mid-August surprised my parents when I visited the U.S, after a year of not seeing them. During my layover going to the U.S, I spent 14 hours in Qatar with some friends. Towards the end of my U.S trip, my dad paid a ticket for me to see my grandparents in Colombia. Then, I traveled back to Jordan, and returned to the U.S for a whole month with my boyfriend. I am lucky to have my family to spend the holidays with, and I am blessed to have had the opportunities to travel as much as I have. Seven countries this year: Denmark, Spain, France, Colombia, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon…..let’s see how many next year!

Thank you for checking in! I hope everyone spent a new year with a healthy mind or good people (or both!). Make sure to follow my Instagram account: @travelobsesswithvaness 

Peace from Jersey!

Long Majestic Lady Legs and Hiking in Shenandoah

This December has not been that cold at all. It even snowed in Virginia and Texas before it snowed in New Jersey/ New York. Otherwise, days are mostly sunny and above 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
The day we chose to go to the Statue of Liberty was beautiful. We were lucky because I casually mentioned to the ticket lady if we could get access to the pedestal, and once we were on Liberty Island, I overheard the security officers telling some people you need 2-3 weeks reservation in advance to go up to the pedestal. The unlucky part was when the elevator was taking too long, so we decided to use the stairs, not knowing it would be 200 stairs. We managed to make it and take pictures of the view. That night, I had planned with my mom to take both her boyfriend and mine as an anniversary surprise to a Hibachi Japanese restaurant in the mountains, called Mount Fuji. They cook in front of you, and put on a show, and the food is excellent!

First mild snowfall of the season, so naturally we went to Overpeck County Park in the cold snow. I used to come here a lot in high school. The park opened a few years back and I really loved its wide open spaces and its large spider web for climbing.

Coming close to the  Statue of Liberty, as we pass her on our way to Ellis Island on the ferry

Self timer on the Pedestal, the Statue of Liberty above us.

Hibachi Japanese dinner at Mount Fuji in Hillburn, NY

Medieval Times– a dinner tournament that involves real horses and knights competing against each other…and you eat with your hands.

My mom’s Christmas gift to us was tickets to see Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. The Rockettes are a precision dance company that are famous for their Christmas themed show, with colorful costumes, and a talented group of women who put on a fabulous show! They characterized and remembered by their synchronized dancing legs and moving in unison.

Pretending to be the Rockettes. Nailed it

Since I went to school in Virginia, I have a few close friends there, so always make some time to go and see them. We left early to Virginia, because we wanted to avoid traffic. We entered VA around 10am, and my friend and I had planned to meet around 4pm. So, I thought about stopping on the way to eat something and to explore a bit in Baltimore. I remembered a few years back I traveled with some friends to a really cool art museum, so I looked up the same one. The American Visionary Art Museum is the only museum in the US that exhibits only self-taught artists, so none of the artists went to school for artistic studies. It’s an incredible selection of work–very funky, eccentric, and colorful. I definitely recommend to go!

American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore…with its funky exterior you KNOW it’s worth it!!!

On our way to see my friend in Virginia, Khaled really wanted to eat at a diner, like the old ones he had seen in the movies. I decided to take him to Broadway Diner in Baltimore, MD, a place I remembered going to years before, and loving the food. The FRIES were amazing!!

Hiking the Shenandoah National Park, and me in the back

Shenandoah National Park, with an easy 3 hour hike. It was warm that day, so it was no problem hiking without our jackets. We brought them just encase it got colder, as the sun went away

With my long time friends Rebecca and Katie at Belle Isle in Richmond, VA

Soaking some sun on the Pipeline, off of the James River, in Richmond, VA

Natilla– a Colombian traditional dessert that is only made during the Christmas season. It is a custard, made with cinnamon sticks, cloves, whole milk, a touch of rum (or alcohol of choice, or none), and sometimes with raisins and coconut, too. It is usually a delicate process, stirring it enough times, and knowing when it is done. Some people, like my mom, only likes it fresh  (which means a few minutes after making it. After it after a few minutes of cooling down, it becomes jello-like. People love it during the holidays with buñuelos, (made with cheese and flour), that compliments this dessert nicely. Buñuelos are found at any Colombian bakery.

Novena of Aguinaldos- A set of prayers recited 9 days before Christmas, mostly done by Catholics in Colombia and some people in Ecuador. For each day, there are songs, and prayers dedicated to the journey of Mary and Joseph looking for a stable to have their baby. I like attending them because I get to see my family, and each day it’s at a different house, which means fooooooood. Mostly, it’s just something I grew up with, so it brings nice memories. (You also realize which family member sings the loudest, slowest, and most off-harmony. This can be quite funny.)

Khaled helping my dad to make natilla

I didn’t realize how much we’ve done in the last 2 weeks, until I started looking at photos and putting them together! From now on, it’s quite family oriented and we will be more busy with family activities. It’ll be exactly 2 weeks until we leave, and will be back in Jordan. I still have a few things I want to show Khaled; like the Empire State, the Observatory Deck near the Rockefeller Center, ice skating, and walking around more neighborhoods in NYC like Chinatown and Brooklyn. It’s been interesting having someone with me all the time, because when I travel I am usually alone, and when I’m home, I usually go out and about by myself. This was definitely a new experience for both of us, an opportunity for Khaled to see a lot of the Colombian culture through food, and Christmas traditions. He understands now how Christmas is everywhere here and almost injected into your veins no matter if you like it or not. But nonetheless, all has been well. I’m happy to see my friends and to spend time at home eating yummy Colombian food. Khaled has enjoyed seeing all my favorite restaurants, meeting my friends, and getting to know small Jersey towns around us.

I hope to accomplish more in these last 2 weeks of vacation. Also, hoping for a snowy Christmas.
Thank you for reading my update!
Peace from the Jersey!
Instagram: @vanes792

Long Flights and Happy Hearts

I am in the US! But, holy crap..what a flight.
My boyfriend and I landed in Paris, normally, and waited the 7 hours needed to board our next flight. I am excellent at wasiting time in airports, so the wait didn’t seem too long. Once we boarded a TWO story plane, with over 500 people, we sat eagerly, as this was our last plane that would take us to New York. After the plane didn’t take off right away, we knew there was something wrong. An hour later, the captain informed us of a small problem that would be taken care of right away. Then, again the captain spoke to us, but this time he said it was a technical problem larger than expected, not knowing when it would be resolved. This continued on for 4 hours, giving us only coffee and water. After almost 5 hours, and the captain told us we could take off and that there was free champagne for everyone. I’m waiting on confirmation, but I think the airlines will compensate us for the delay….let’s hope they do!

Getting our passports ready to board!

DAMN that’s a big plane!!

The NICEST bathroom I’ve ever had the pleasure of peeing in. Paris, Charles-De-Gaulle Airport

Now that I’ve been home, it’s been surprisingly warm. I had told Khaled to prepare for cold, that Jordan is not cold compared to NYC, but global warming has made me a liar, and it has not been that cold as of now. Also, Christmas season is everywhere, so it’s not hard to make someone feel the Christmas spirit as well. We started by decorating my mom’s apartment, with our tree and setting our nativity set, as Colombians do. The nativity set in Colombia, usually consisting of intricate details with the positioning of the biblical figures like Joseph, Mary, and the 3 Wise Men. My mom moves them everyday, symbolizing when Mary and Joseph started looking for stable for baby Jesus to be born. Then, on the night of the 24th of December, we place a small baby figurine in the stable, that baby Jesus was born. I am not much of a religious person, but these are all very cultural traditions and customs in Colombia.

First thing we do after we arrive…decorate for Christmas! Pictured my mom and Khaled behind the tree

Final results of the tree decorations and my family

Navitity, Colombian style

Liberty State Park…and my brother photobombing

High Line in Chelsea

Chelsea galleries

Graffiti-colored-poster NYC walls

Fort Lee Historic Park by the George Washington Bridge

Enjoying my delicious White Chocolate-Macadamia Nut Cookie with hot chocolate, as we sit in the freezing cold enjoying a nice picnic.

Breakfast with my dad, blurry but cute photo

Khaled first authentic fresh bagel

Times Square red faces, happy faces

Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, watching all the large houses decorated.

Comparing pharmacies in US vs Jordan. Usually, pharmacies in Jordan DONT sell Doritos, house decor, candy or socks. It’s only meant for medicine, shampoo, combs…stuff like that.

Apart from Christmas stuff, I’ve been taking Khaled to discover different neighborhoods in New Jersey, showing him the city, and letting him try new foods. Lots of people do not think highly of New Jersey, so I am hoping an unbiased person can come and see cool things about my home state. Also, YOU CAN’T SEE NEW YORK CITY from NEW YORK. Just saying, for all the haters who say Jersey has nothing to offer. Anyways, for those who’ve asked, yes, there is Christmas in Jordan. BUT, of course, it isn’t as commercialized as it is here.

One last thing….. about the Trump naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Here’s a Youtube video explaining more about why people are upset that Trump named Jerusalem the capital of Israel. People all over Jordan are a bit riled up, and now I keep getting messaged to stay safe abroad, because of what Trump did. To sum up the video, US has always been an ally of Israel. Palestine was the original land in which is currently mostly Israeli land. Because of the Holocaust, Jewish people refuged to a new land, taking over Palestine. With the help of the US, Israel was established, and Israel violently kicked out the Palestinians, causing many of them to flee to Jordan. Over the years, Palestinian lands have slowly diminished, but have conserved the capital remaining as Palestine’s capital. Now Trump officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is denying Palestine its capital, which means they won’t have access to to even East Jerusalem. This means people are quite upset.

I mention this because many of my friends are Palestinian, my boyfriend, and now living in Jordan, I’ve come to understand the situation more.

Thank you for reading my update!
Peace from the Jersey!
Wishing peace in Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine.
Instagram: @travelobsesswithvaness

Friendsgiving and Cheap Thrills

Only a few more days and I’ll be on my way to the states! These days, I’ve been adamantly applying for jobs, hoping to get any interviews before my trip.

Also, preparing for my trip to the U.S! I’m not sure if I said this before, but my boyfriend Khaled is also traveling with me to the states. It will be his first time on such a long flight, and first time in the U.S. This is why we went to Souq al Jum’aa, a Friday market that we knew we could stock up on sweaters and nice button down shirts to layer for the harsh winter of Jersey and New York. The first time I stumbled upon this market, I was heading to Amman Design Week last year, and I passed this place on my way to the event. As I headed out, I walked over to this market, and was overwhelmed by the amount of people and items sold. It’s good to have bargaining skills because you can score great deals on things like boots and sneakers. It’s usually men selling the items, announcing the prices as you walk by, and enticing people to walk over and browse their goods.

Khaled at Souq Al Jum’aa, which translates literally to “Friday Market”. This a large market that sells both new and 2nd hand items. From clothing, to kitchen utensils, to toys…just about anything. Like any thrift store, if you dig, you will find some really nice things for a low price!

Enjoying some shadows and fall colors…as winter approaches. Jordan is about 70 degrees and drops to 50 at night, but it feels so cold without indoor insulation in the apartments!

Enjoying this cool house in my friend’s neighborhood (same friend I met on the bus)

Two posts ago, here, I talked about the new friend I made on a bus. Last week, she invited me over once again, and I learned a lot in one night. We had chocolate cake, a small dance party, and played card games. She invited one of her best friends. She spoke Arabic fluently and lives in Jordan, yet she told me her family was Chechen, an ethnic group originating in the North Caucasus region of Eastern Europe. This is where I realized the word “Caucasian” comes from, people from the South Eastern part of Russia. Chechen people have a very tragic past, one which involves lots of wars, but they still retain their own language, culture and traditions.

This made me think of the U.S census and how ridiculous the category Caucasian is. Caucasian actually refers to people from the Caucasus region, including the countries of Russia, Iran, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Why is the word “white” synonymous with “Caucasian,” if people don’t even know what it refers to? I doubt people think a Caucasian includes someone from Iran or Armenia. Anyways, hanging out with my friend educated me about Chechnya. It’s truly amazing to keep meeting people who educate me and open my mind to learning about different cultures and groups of people.

Transformed my living room to accommodate guests and preparing for Friendsgiving and our incoming guests!

Turkey body made my yours truely, the hand turkeys are the feathers. On the hand cut hands, I made everyone write what they are thankful for…English or Arabic. Some didn’t get a chance, but we had a few do them.

Hand-cut leaves made from left over Amman Design Week promotional materials I had lying around

Friendsgiving with my friends here in Jordan, all mouths full and bellies happy

Always games….always. What they are eating were supposed to be donuts but since “Donuts Factory,” like Dunkin’ Donuts,  is SUPER expensive in Jordan, I found some cake and cut a hole in the middle, and put the string through it. Resourceful? YES

Probably singing to “Cheap Thrills” by Sia

Mandatory end of the night group Friendsgiving photo!

I decided to host a Friendsgiving with my friends in Jordan, for most of them was their first time attending such an event. Since some hadn’t attended a potluck/Thanksgiving before, some brought huge pots of food, leaving lots of leftover for days!
The food yesterday consisted of:
• Roasted Chicken with lemon, onions, potatoes, and spices
• Magloobeh; eggplant and chicken over rice, then turned upside down
• Chicken stuffed with rice and spices
• Mac and Cheese
• Samboosa: savory pastry)
• Mashed Potatoes
• Chicken Fatteh: yogurt, fried bread, nuts, and chicken over rice
• Alfredo Fettucine with mushrooms
• Qatayef: sweet Arab dessert made of cream wrapped with a pancake-like taco, dipped in pistachio nuts

As you saw in the pictures, I took some time to decorate the apartment, and I made sure to keep everyone happy and warm. Quite pleased with the turnout, even though it was a large number to accommodate. We had to take the couch out of the apartment to organize the tables for 14 table settings. It was a success and was happy to see everyone before my trip!!!

Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving, with family, friends, or just by yourself.
Make sure to subscribe to my blog to get updates every time there’s a new post! (Subscribe on the right side, with just your email.)

Thank you for reading my update!
Peace from the Middle East!
Instagram: @travelobsesswithvaness

Sometimes I Want to Eat the Sky

Another two weeks have flown on by, as I continue to design, workout, cook, and enjoy the warm sunshine during the autumn days in Jordan. I do love the fall because it is such a festive time. In September, I remember feeling excited because a new school year was starting  *** I was a nerd. Then, the leaves start changing, people start apple picking, and marks the beginning of the fall festivities. When people aren’t getting into the mindset of Halloween and re-watching Casper or Halloweentown, then it’s all about pumpkin patches, warm colors and giving thanks, and then Christmas hits like a bomb. It’s pretty magical because it’s an ongoing season of festivities, at least for some Americans.
I am guilty in always partaking in such festivities, because I am a festive person by nature.

It’s fun and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. But, Halloween was different this year. This was the first year I didn’t dress up or go anywhere. Having only Jordanian friends means they don’t usually celebrate Halloween. And, I didn’t feel like paying lots of money to go to venues that were hosting a Halloween event. This year, I carved a pumpkin, blasted Michael Jackson’s, “Thriller” and that Ghostbusters song, ate lots of chocolate, and watched a scary movie. It made me happy I was able to do at least a few
Halloween-ish type activities. (My costume was going to be Jason, but maybe I can save that for next year… wherever I am.)

food, cooking, healthy, breakfast, oats

Keeping my daily breakfast healthy….chia seeds soaked in milk, oats, honey, nuts, and dried fruit. YUM!

Halloween, pumpkin, carving

Starting the pumpkin carving operation…it had been while since I had carved a pumpkin, and it was my boyfriend’s first time doing so.

Halloween, pumpkin, carving, weird, couples

Being weird on Halloween

friends, coffee shops, mafia, smiles

At a lovely coffee shop called Zokak, playing mafia and drinking mocha coffee. Yesssssssss

On a lovely Friday morning, my boyfriend and I decided to go on a trip, since the day was beautiful and he also had his work car. We decided to go to Ajloun Castle, I place I had yet visited. As we were driving, we decided to take a longer route, to stop by a mountain side with a view, and to pick up his cousin so he could join the adventure. First, we stopped in Tal-Al-Rumman, a small quiet, suburb. We drove to a dead-end, and to my right was a postcard view! Wow, I must have spent 20 minutes taking self-timer pictures, running down some stairs, into what seemed like a painting.

pomegranate, views, postcard, traveling, sky, middle east

Driving North and stopped in an area called Tal-Al-Rumman, which means Pomegranate in Arabic. I need to come back and see this in the spring, when the trees and flowers are out!

jumping, middle east, jordan, irbidjumping, traveling, middle east, jordan, irbid, friends
Then, we reached Ajloun Castle, and walked the around aimlessly, taking pictures. Each room in the castle, had another room inside of it. And the mountainous area around the castle was full of green trees, and more postcard views.

jordan, tourism, ajloun, midde east, castles

Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle…or time traveling?

The castle was hungry for sky

Blue sky oh so blue, and millenials taking a selfie *classic!

My scarf was crazy, but I liked it. Also, self-timer yay! One of these days my camera will fall off the ledge and I will be so sad…

View from Ajloun Castle

The most expensive coffee and tea I’ve paid for in Jordan, right outside a touristic site. He charged 3x what one is usually. I was searching for gold inside or for the coffee , or for the cup to transform into a human and belly dance…but nothing happened.

Last night, I took a spontaneous night trip to Irbid, just 70 km north of Amman. Irbid has the highest population density in the kingdom, and is just 25 minutes outside of Syria. You can call it a college town– since the area is home to at least two large universities. This means there are lots of local businesses that cater to university students like cupcake shops, cafe’s and gaming centers. It is much more conservative than Amman, as most of the foreigners usually live in Amman. When Peace Corps was still active in Jordan, they would serve in Irbid, because of its prominent population of refugees and lower-income population. Now, people continue to live their lives in the refugee camps, as their whole lives have been there, and some, as refugees from the Arab-Israeli war.
I do like this city, as it doesn’t feel as crowded as Amman, but particularly I love some of Irbid’s public spaces.
>>>>For example, Irbid has really large and cool roundabout sculptures. Each one unique, and some more colorful than others. Some of them reach at least 8 meters high (imagine four Vanessa’s stacked on top of each other vertically). Also, Irbid has beautiful public parks, that stretches out farther than a football field, which in Jordan, is huge for a park. Parks are not really well-designed or cared for here, which is ironic because so many families go on picnics on the weekends, and choose a small patch of grass on the side of the road to rest on. How doesn’t anyone see Jordanians need their parks?! Anyway…One park I visited, there was a great variety of children’s swings, slides, even a giant giraffe slide! There was a turf field, lots of benches, lots of garbage cans, and security officers. Even, there was a mixed range of people at the park, not just groups of young guys. This park made me really happy and I want to come again!!

Giraffe slide!

Just another lovely evening in Jordan, feeling the slight breeze of winter coming. The clouds were so beautiful…I love my balcony so much!

Being silly with my boyfriend’s little brother. He came over unexpectedly, I hadn’t really spent one on one time with him. He spent a few hours with me, speaking to me in Arabic, taking pictures of the sunset, eating popcorn, and bonding over our love for Japan.

sunset, middle east, jordan, travling, balcony, views, colors, ice cream

Rainbow Sherbert sky I would like to eat

I’m excited to start thinking of what to pack and what to do while in the states again. Just a few more weeks and I’ll be seeing my family again. Grateful to have stuck to my workout routine, that the days still have blue sunny skies, and my new-found respect and appreciation for icon design.

Thanks for reading the update! See you in 2 weeks!
Peace from the Middle East!

Daylight Savings Time and Sweater Weather

“Spring forward, fall back.” Jordan also changes time in the fall and spring. It means the seasons are relatively similar to the NYC metro area, maybe Jordan being a bit warmer with each season, but nonetheless, we experience the seasons like the U.S. There are things that Jordan does differently, but throughout the same timeline. Instead of apple picking, this season is perfect for olive picking (common in the Mediterranean countries) and they make olive oil or bottle up fresh olives from their farm or the nearest olive tree. (There are olive trees within the city, people go out to their front door and pick hundreds olives off the trees, first come first serve!) Some people try to get pumpkins (or pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks), and make seasonal sweets, soup, or some try to carve it and use it as decoration. Fall is a time for people to get their last trips to the Wadi Rum desert, Wadi Dana Reserve, Wadi Mujib, or the Dead Sea, before the winter hits and some of the eco-tourism closes for the season. This time of year is the best time to do outdoor activities because you don’t get so over heated, and snuggling up to blanket is so much more cozy than sweating. The desert is very cold at night, but it’s so much better to hike and explore the desert during the day in sweater weather, and not in the dry heat of the summer.

Some of the downfalls of this time of year is starts to rain a bit more, so drying your clothes outside becomes more of a nuisance. Walking or exercising outside is less of an option, unless you have the proper clothing. Your plants start to die! (This is soooooooooo sad, as a plant owner.) The weather can be a bit unpredictable. It rains one second, then the sun shines for a few hours, it becomes dark again, and the nights are usually cold.

Two weeks ago, I met a young Jordanian woman on a bus, on my way back from a job interview in Salt, a city close to Amman. Some might find it strange I make friends with people quite quickly in public spaces, but I tend to do this a lot. We spoke for a bit, I got her contact information before getting off, and I ended up visiting her home the same week. Her family had Mulukhiya for me, a traditional meal the includes large pan of meat over rice, with a side stew of Jew’s Mallow (looks like spinach), which is a bit bitter, but super delicious with the meal. After the meal, we drank tea, had some Oreo cookies and took turns riding her bike around her neighborhood, which was just outside the city, but only a cheap bus ride away. (It is cheaper for me to go outside Amman, than it is to travel within Amman.)

Kareoke with friends!

Exploring my new friend’s neighborhood on a bike!

Trying out new recipes. Pictured: Stuffed peppers with eggplant and onions, topped cheese and an egg on top, over tomato sauce and some parsley on top. It was delicious!

Relaxing on my apartment balcony, on a beautiful night, after a game of Mafia!

Enjoying the last few weeks of drying my clothes outside!

My boyfriend and I at a Halloween event at Weibdeh Heights hotel. It was a pumpkin carving competition with teams, candy, and prizes. I volunteered to help out with set up and judge the competition.

In the last few 2 weeks, I’ve been at my apartment, cooking new things, exploring new personal projects ideas in my head, but most importantly, working as a freelancer. The weekends I try to see some of my friends, so it’s nice to work hard during the week, and then have nice company to see on Thursday night, Friday, or Saturday. Hope to have more pictures for you next week.

Thanks for checking my update!
Peace from the Middle East!

Balance is Key

It has been a crazy packed 2 weeks, and also a difficult 2 weeks. To be honest, it sucks having to be job searching again, especially since I haven’t been without a job for such a long time. Don’t get me wrong, since I finished my Fulbright grant in June, I’ve been traveling and seeing family and friends, as I’ve been posting about, but all throughout still unemployed. And now that I am back in Jordan, I am adapting to having so much free time, while constantly looking for jobs.
What I have been doing is aiming to keep a balanced lifestyle, so I don’t feel extra bad when I don’t hear back from jobs. I workout every day, I try to cook as much as I can (avoid restaurants too much), and I also give myself a quota of how much time I spend a day searching for work.
Yesterday was the first time I had heard back from a freelance job, and I am so happy. It feels nice to get the ball rolling. Even though it’s been uncomfortable, having time to myself hasn’t been bad at all. Honestly, I feel like it gives me a clear head space to think, get some personal design ideas flowing in my head, and dust off some old ideas I have been sitting on for a long time.

One of the best part of these past 2 weeks is I’ve been busy with friends and going out almost everyday. Remember last year’s Amman Design Week? Well, it’s back this year, and it has been wonderful!

Just a few days after my arrival back to Jordan. My boyfriend cooked for us a Jordanian traditional dish called Magloobeh. It literally means, “flipped over,” and it contains eggplant, cauliflower, rice, and chicken (or meat of choice). SOOO GOOOD!

A public event called “Art in the Park,” held a few times a year, and that weekend was one of the last times held before autumn. It is a great way for young Jordanian artists to sell their artwork, eat good food, and listen to live music from 10am until 10pm. Long hours, but the night time was my favorite!

Lots of people at Amman Design Week!

Amman Design Week: same artwork as above, but at night it was lit up really beautifully

Amman Design Week: Eyen Design, vending machine that with just 5 Jordanian Dinars, gives you a beautiful publication made by a well known calligrapher of the region, Fahres Al-Khattat

Amman Design Week: logos, typography, Arabic, and so much color…I am in love!

Amman Design Week: Interactive installation by Anmahian Winton Architects, explores ideas of movement in Wadi Rum desert. We mostly just explored the movements in our chins…

Amman Design Week: Crafts District, showing off practicing artisans doing glass blowing, weaving, felting, mosaics, metal work, and more!

Local Jordanian artisan making these beautiful rugs by hand.

A friend who I met in the Arabic Type Design course in Lebanon (left), was in Jordan for work and had some time to visit design week.

Eating pavilion, and the white parts that you see are made of disposable plates.

Amman Design Week: Spanish guitar trio, every night there was live music played by different Jordanian musicians with instrumental music, both classical and contemporary

Amman Design Week: Sungate by Yanone and Reham Sharbaji

Well, I’m so happy design week happened, to keep me occupied! I’ve gone at least 4-5 times, and I might go one last time before it’s over.

I am excited for what’s to come, for more freelance jobs, and what blossoms out of my personal projects. Overall, feeling pretty good, even if it isn’t always the most comfortable. I am thankful to being sticking to my system of working out and cooking new things.

Thanks for checking in, see you in 2 weeks!
Peace from the Middle East!