Mosque prayer 

Last week we visited the King Abdullah Mosque and observed the afternoon prayer. In order to enter the mosque all of the women were asked to put on a long black cloak with a hood. I did not mind doing so, but while walking into the mosque I noticed that the cloaks really did hold in the heat. However, as I sat in the mosque, captivated by the newness of the experience, the heat became tolerable. Upon our entrance to the mosque, I immediately noticed that the mosque, in contrast to other mosques that I have seen, was beautiful and ornately decorated. I was captivated by the stained glass, the celestial blue and the gold writing and artwork surrounding the building. I noticed a few interesting things about the mosque. I noticed that every third light on the chandelier was turned on, the stained glass seemed to be without a pattern and the light that poured in through the glass beautifully illuminated the building. I also took note that the walls of the mosque were brown, wooden and rather detailed and the carpet was very soft. 

As we waited for the prayer to begin, my eyes followed and traced along the patterning on the carpet. Following the call to prayer men from all directions and all walks of life flowed into the mosque in the name of prayer. I loved watching the men flood into the mosque. Old and young walked into the mosque, construction workers and business men, traditional bedouins, Palestinians and many others to be sure, all stood together before God, praying. I loved seeing all people come together for the worship of God, each of them removing their shoes and leaving their titles behind them at the entrance of the mosque. The communal prayer definitely reveled the Arab culture’s tendency towards collectivism as the community took part in the ritual together. As I observed the ritual and the tradition of the prayer, I marveled at the historic tradition. 

I wondered how individuals could actually focus upon the prayer and not get caught up in the motions and the positions during their prayer. I do understand and see the beauty in their very physical action of surrendering to Allah, but I myself would honestly find it challenging to focus both on God and on prayer during the prayer sessions because of the beauty of the mosque and the motions themselves. It reminded me a bit of my own Catholic upbringing. Many call the motions and the repetitious kneeling and standing that is present in mass, Catholic aerobics. Having this background with the ritualistic prayer motions of mass, I understood the significance of the prayer aerobics or motions but also can testify that such things can be rather distracting.  

Another interesting aspect to the experience was seeing that even after the prayer had begun, many individuals continued to flood into the mosque. At least thirty men came late, many even running to take their place in the direction of Mecca, this reflected the polychronic aspect of the Arab culture. I also find it so interesting that the prayer in Islam does seem rather time oriented though it has origins in the Arab culture which tends to be less time orientated. 

My experience in the mosque was wonderful. I loved seeing all the men, from all different walks of life, come together in the name of prayer. I do wonder if the prayer and the attendance of individuals is because they desire to obtain more deeds so that they can enter the gates of paradise or if it is their desire to grow in relationship with God. I personally would struggle separating the two if I grew up in Islam. I also wonder how individuals can conceptualize God without giving God some sort of image. I do like that Muslims do not label God as a man and do not decorate their mosques with pictures of God, but I personally cannot imagine trying to conceptualize God without the images I was subjected to as a child. I look forward to not only experiencing more Mosque prayers in the future but also learning more about Islam and its notions of God and prayer rituals. I am thankful that I was able to experience the mosque prayer at King Abdullah Mosque, it is something that I will always cherish as it has helped me understand the practice of Islam in personal way.  


Overview of Jordan thus far 

I did not know what to expect when traveling to Amman, Jordan for the Middle Eastern studies program. I came with an open heart and mind and with little to no expectations. 

Upon our arrival we participated in scavenger hunts in Amman that not only helped me to get to know the other students in which I am traveling but also helped me get to know Amman. 

 My time in Amman has been filled with sook visits, tea with shopkeepers, city adventuring, excessive falafel eating, mosque visits, interesting classes on Islam and the Arab culture and various adventures outside of Amman.

Throughout my time in Jordan, I have grown in ways I never imagined and I have cherished every moment in this beautiful, welcoming culture. From the second I stepped outside of the plane I have been greeted with the phrase “Welcome to Jordan” on every street corner and shop I have entered. 

From day one in Jordan, I have fallen in love with the Arab culture and people. Not only are Jordanians friendly, the country is absolutely stunning.

 I am thankful that the program focuses upon understanding Islam and debunking much of the awful images of Islam that are constantly portrayed in the media.
Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.

 In reality, only one tenth of one percent of Muslims are actually violent or participate in extremist groups. Everyone I have met in Jordan has gone out of their way to show me that they condemn violence and that the Qur’an promotes peace. 

Truly, the Muslims I have met here been some of the most faithful, dedicated and welcoming people I have ever met. I am so thankful that I have gotten to experience Islam first hand so that I can see the truth that the American media portrayals of the religion are both inaccurate and unjust.  

In addition to learning about Islam both inside and out of class, I have also learned much about the Arab culture. I have been invited to dinners, given tea by shopkeepers and overcome by the hospitality I have been offered here.

 In addition to this, thus far in our trip we have visited many beautiful places outside of Amman including the Dead Sea, Jerash, Umm Qais, Petra, Jesus’ Baptism Site, Mt. Nebo and Madaba. Each of the trips has been a surreal experience for me. I have dreamed about such places for my whole life, to actually visit and see the sites has been absolutely incredible.
During our day at the Dead Sea, we were able to cover ourselves in Dead Sea mud and float around. I took advantage of this and even read my bible while in the salty water.
 I also participated in the MESP Dead Sea dunk and dive tradition and I withstood the facial and eye burning when I submerged my entire body under the water. The day spent at the Dead Sea was rejuvenating. I felt fully present and whole when floating around, enjoying the sunset and taking in the beauty of every moment. 
A few days after the Dead Sea we visited Jerash and Umm Qais and I was blown away by the incredibly preserved ancient Roman ruins. 

 From the various theaters, preserved shops and city center in Jerash to the gorgeous view of the Golan Heights and Israel-Palestine from Umm Qais, the trip was spectacular. 
 Following this trip, during my day off I enjoyed a visit through the Jordanian countryside to the cities of Salt and Mafraq and was overcome by the beauty of Jordan’s diverse, dry landscape filled with herds of goats, sheep and camels.  

 This past weekend’s trip to Petra is also an incredible experience. The hikes were fairly challenging and the views were breathtaking.

 I loved hiking around the Royal Tombs, the Ad Deir monastery, the great temple, the treasury and walking along the colonnaded street looking at the handmade Bedouin necklaces. While there, I loved talking with the local Bedouins, sunset watching, petting the donkeys and pretending to be Indiana Jones at times.

The day after our time in Petra, we headed to Jesus’ Baptism Site, Mt. Nebo and visited a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba. 

While at Jesus’ Baptism site, I decided to have a renewal baptism which was a significant decision for me. I, along with five other students, decided to renew our baptism again, many of us were baptized as infants and decided to reconfirm our faith as adults. And, we did so in the Jordan River in the region where Jesus was supposed to be Baptized by John the Baptist. I was overcome by the beauty of the experience, it is one that I will never forget. 
Following our time at the baptism sight, we stopped by Mount Nebo where Moses, According to the Torah, first saw the promised land and where Moses eventually died. After Mount  Nebo, we headed to Madaba where we visited a Greek Orthodox Church that holds a mosaic of the oldest map in the Middle East.

This journal that is a chronicle of the events of this trip thus far serves as a beautiful memoir of my time in Jordan. Reflecting upon the places I have gone and the gorgeous sights I have seen reminds me that the most significant experiences of this trip have been the sweet, simple moments and the meaningful conversations that I have had. 

 This trip has been life changing and I am thankful for the opportunity to be here, learning from my experiences with locals within this beautiful Arab country. I look forward to the adventures that are yet to come. Stay true, life justly and always travel on. Peace and love. 

sea glass and summer travels 

I couldn’t sleep last night. I tossed and turned until I finally decided to roll out of bed, grudgingly put on my hiking boots and drive to the beach. I needed to walk, to think, to breathe. I ended up lost in thought and captivated by the cool wind and the sound of the refreshing waves as they caressed the shoreline.  I felt at peace as I walked along the paved sidewalk along the beach. As I was walking I noticed pieces of sand glass had washed upon the shore. 

As I collected the shimmering pieces of softened glass, I noticed something. I am like that sand glass. I, like all people, am broken. I have experienced tragedy, loss and pain. I am a shattered bottle.. Yet like the sand glass, the broken pieces of my life can be refined. As the waves of life thrust me into the gritty sand, my sharp edges continue to be softened through my experiences.  And, over time, each of the shards of glass in my life have become beautiful pieces of art, each being distinct from one another. 

Though I, like all humans, have experienced sorrow which has taught me to cling to the hope of tomorrow, to embrace the collective love we can share, to acknowledge the beauty within the mysteries within life, to be awe struck by the beauty of nature and most importantly, to be empathetic. All this being said, my walk yesterday was full of reflection and presence. One of the reasons I was unable to sleep yesterday night was because of my excitement for my upcoming summer.

Until June I will be living in Amman, Jordan with my university where I will be studying the peoples and cultures of the Middle East. While there I will be visiting the Dead Sea, Petra, Jesus’ baptism sight, Aqaba, Jerash, Madaba, Wadi Rum, and Mt. Nebo among other significant religious sites. I, along with seventeen other students, will be living in downtown Amman for the duration of this four week program. I am actually the resident advisor for the program, or as I like to call myself the mediator or go-to person for my professor and the other students.  

Other than eating tons of fresh falafel, learning survival Arabic, meeting locals and seeing significant holy sites, I don’t really know what to expect with this trip. Though I have traveled through Central America, Europe and detoured into Morocco for a bit, I do not  have experience with a Middle Eastern country. I am entering this trip with little to no expectations and with an open mind. 

Following my time in Jordan, I will fly directly to India where I am meeting one of my close friends, Pauline, with whom I am doing a yoga certification program in the world capital of yoga, Rishikesh. I have dreamed of traveling to India since I was a child. Mother Teresa has always been a key mentor in my life, which has contributed to India’s special place in my heart. In addition to this, my brother Tony traveled to India when he was in college, which has always inspired me to travel to the complex and incredible country myself. 

After spending six weeks in the yoga certification program, I will fly to Kolkata where I will volunteer with the sisters of charity until August. I hope my experience working with sisters of charity will open my heart and mind. We are all impoverished but some of us have impoverished hearts while others experience the devastation of physical poverty. 

I want to experience the poverty that many of my brothers and sisters face. I believe that I cannot possibly work towards fixing a problem unless I have seen it and experienced it. That being said, I hope that my proximal experience with physical poverty this summer will help me work towards empowering others to acknowledge and move forward from their depravity, whether that be spiritual or physical.  In reality, I am sure I will see that I am more impoverished than many of those that I will meet.  I look forward to learning about joy , love and what it means to live, from all those I encounter during this adventure. 

Following my work with the pious religious order, I tenitively fly back to Los Angeles and hopefully, be able to stop by Chicago area to visit my family before I begin my senior year. My summer plans are, though the tickets have been bought and the programs paid for, rather tentative. If I learned anything from my time on the Camino and from my other previous travels, I do anticipate that my plans will change.  

Like my other experiences, I know that this summer will refine me and hopefully soften my edges and help me to become a more compassionate, empathetic individual. Though I do not know what the future holds, I know that we need more compassionate, empathetic people in every occupation.

I know many of you are probably wondering why I am traveling and why I am not staying in the United States and working domestically.  Here are a few reasons.  First, I am an International Studies/political studies major and I have a passion for travel, to understand different religions, cultures and worldviews. Second, I am willing to make sacrifices to travel. Like not eating out at restruants and sticking to eating the basics, like apples and bananas, so that I can save my earned money for travel.  Another reason is that I do not want to desensitize myself to the reality of the world I live in.  So, when given an opportunity to see new parts of the world or live as others do, I will run with it.  

Thankfully, my parents and my family have supported me through much prayer, among other things, during my previous travels and adventures. My parents know that I am like a free bird and that I have a thirst for knowledge and experience.  They also know I have an end goal of promoting justice and working to promote human rights in some capacity in the future, and these experiences are part of my journey towards such work.  Though my dreams may sound audacious, I once thought my dream of traveling the world was rather improbable yet here I am about to begin another journey.  

I did, for those of you that remember my blog as, decide to change my blog domain to I did this because I am captivated by the thought that we are each on a uniquely distinct journey. Whether your journey is composed of travel, raising a family or a nine-to-five job, we are all pilgrims just trekking our way through this beautiful and mysterious life. 

 So, if you so desire, I invite you to journey with me this summer as I travel through Jordan and India. Throughout my travels I will continue, as time and wifi permits, to share my thoughts and photographs with you. Many blessings to each of you.
Stay true, live justly and always travel on.  
Peace and Love.