Petra By Night – Merry Christmas!

Can you believe how behind in these posts I’m getting? Ok, I probably didn’t need to write five posts about Egypt (and I haven’t even gotten to the part about the pyramids yet!). And yes, life has certainly gotten in the way of my writing lately (not that I’m complaining about our weekend in Joburg!). But really, I need to to get all of these holiday posts up before we head to Ireland next month!

We arrived in Amman on Christmas Eve and ate a fabulous dinner at Sufra – I cannot begin to describe how much our situation had improved from last year’s Christmas Eve debacle. We tried to walk through the city that evening, knowing we had limited time there, but the rain drove us off the sidewalks and into a taxi.

After a gloriously relaxing night at the Amman Rotana (did I mention their spa-worthy bathtub?), we were up for breakfast at Shams El Balad, with plans to go visit the Citadel right after.

Only…it just wouldn’t stop raining! So, we took our time at Shams – the best breakfast I can remember having in recent memory – and then made our way back to the hotel.

We had contacted our hotel in Petra – the Movënpick Resort across the street – and hired an independent taxi to drive us. We took the significantly less lauded Desert Highway because it saved us an hour and a half, as well as 80 Jordanian Dinars ($112 USD!). Plus, we knew we’d be taking the King’s Highway up to the Dead Sea a few days later.

I’ve taken trains in Europe, buses in Africa, and a little bit of everything in Asia. But taxis in Jordan are like nothing I’ve ever encountered. In Amman, they were easy – metered and cheap, just the way taxis should be. But out on the open road…my God. Our driver provided a wifi connection in the taxi, but I was so carsick I couldn’t even look at my phone. From the speeds to the weaving, it is not something I’m interested in ever experiencing again!

Luckily, we arrived in Petra in one piece and our driver helped us pick up our Petra By Night tickets. We were meeting friends from Amsterdam for Christmas that night and we’d be spending our time looking up at the Treasury by the light of hundreds of candles.

Our friends had just gotten back from a couple of nights camping in the desert and were looking forward to a much needed shower and nap, so Chandler and I wandered across the street to the visitor’s center at Petra.

There, they explained that in addition to our 17 JD Petra By Night tickets ($24 USD each), we would also need to show our day passes – which we hadn’t yet purchased. The ticket seller was away at dinner, but we were assured we could come back at 7:00 pm to buy the additional tickets we needed.

Single day passes (without proof of a hotel stay) cost 90 JD ($127 USD), however, if you’re spending a night in town, the price drops to 50 JD ($70 USD) instead. And marginal fees are added for additional days: two days are 55 JD ($78 USD) and three days are 60 JD ($85 USD).

But cost isn’t an issue on Christmas. Right?

We had already decided to eat at the hotel – the city of Wadi Musa, which surrounds Petra, is not exactly known for its culinary skills. The four of us started with a drink at the bar (Jordan is not an easy place to find alcohol!) and then made our way to the buffet.

Normally not ones for buffets (seriously, I can never eat enough to justify their cost!), it was that or a veggie lasagne at the restaurant – and that just didn’t feel festive enough. So we stuffed our faces with cheeses and lentil soup and Chinese food and salads and an assortment of sweet treats/fruits! At 25 JD each ($35 USD) we had begun racking up a hefty bill.

We walked back over to Petra, bought our three-day pass (the reasoning on that later) and marvelled over how much our day had cost us: 100 JD (taxi to Petra) + 34 JD (two Petra By Night tickets) + 16 JD (two glasses of wine) + 50 JD (Christmas buffet for two) + 120 JD (two sets of three-day Petra passes) = 320 JD (or $451 USD!!!). And that wasn’t including our hotel for the night (or the breakfast at Shams El Balad that felt like days ago)!

But soon, all the money we spent would be forgotten. Not immediately, mind you, but soon. (And, perhaps it’s worth mentioning that, after all that, no one asked to see our Petra day passes, only our Petra By Night tickets).

Soon we were walking down a candlelight path, with thousands of stars in the sky. We came to the Siq, 1.2 km of narrow gorge that winds its way to Petra’s most famous ruin, Al Khazneh, or the Treasury. Even with the candles, it was nearly impossible to see, but there was a hush as hundreds of us walked together on what felt like a Christmas pilgrimage.

On a whole, we weren’t a hurried group, with only a few handfuls of people rushing past, always interested in being “the first,” even though, clearly, others had come before to set up the spectacle. The rest of us enjoyed the walk and the anticipation of what was to come.


We arrived to a sea of candles and carefully found our way to a stone shelf that ran along the left side. We tried to photograph the Treasury in the impossible darkness as more and more people filed in.

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The Doors of Egypt

Something that surprised me about Egypt: How quickly I become obsessed with their doors.

Egypt feels like the land time forgot…everything dusty and broken down. Yet, their doors and the objects surrounding them were so often covered in weathered, but vibrant colors. I couldn’t stop snapping photos.

Chandler eventually asked me what I was taking so many photos of, and he rolled his eyes when I told him about my obsession with doors. He would say I have an obsession with photographing anything – and later he used my nearly 1,000 photos from our three weeks in Egypt and Jordan as proof.

I decided to use this vacation to really unplug – which means that while I brought my camera, I didn’t bring my laptop. And so my photos had to stay safe & sound, patiently waiting on my SD card until we got back to Accra.

Now that the new year has begun and we’re home sweet home, I find myself agreeing with my husband. I have an absurd number of photos to edit and organize.

Which is why my first post about our bucket list holiday is starting with photos of doors – they were easy to catalog!

And so, while this may not be the post you were expecting…nothing about the Pyramids or our week-long cruise on the Nile. No photos of the constantly changing and mesmerising colors of Petra or Wadi Rum. Those will come later. Today, you have doors.

My first set of doors were snapped in the small town of Esna, at the start of our cruise. And while I say small town, the bustling port had more to offer than I initially expected. Just 33 miles south of Luxor it is also home to the Temple of Khnum – but those photos will come later!




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Melkam Fasika – My final holiday in Ethiopia

Injera – spongy flatbread, shiro – chickpea stew, eggs, bread, popcorn, tej – honey wine, coke, and coffee. Followed an hour later by rice & tomatoes, potatoes, fresh salad, tomato bread (yes, this is real), a carrot cake-like substance, a beverage composed of barley & sugar, and coffee. Not your typical Easter meals. For Americans or Ethiopians.

Every Ethiopian I know spent the day gorging themselves on doro wat – a spicy chicken stew, now that fasting is over. But I don’t eat meat and everyone here knows that. Which is why I usually only celebrate holidays with my compound family – Ethiopians are very generous and any family I visited would make a feast of food just for me.

But since this Easter is my final “big” holiday in Ethiopia I accepted an additional invitation: my counterpart’s. I’ve spent the last two years working on projects large and small with Elsa, an English teacher at my main school Adare. So a mere hour after my giant meal with my compound family, I found myself once again sitting in front of a mountain of food made just for me.

Both families were kind enough to turn their TVs to CNN while I was with them, so our conversations surrounded the improbability of losing an entire plane, why 100,000 people thought it was necessary to visit the Vatican on Easter, and who’s in the wrong: Ukraine or Russia. Never a dull moment.

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An Ethiopian Thanksgiving: Take two

This year, there was no training to bring all of us together. So instead of having 70 volunteers swarm Addis, we were left to our own devices.

I decided to take part in a Peace Corps Ethiopia tradition – an Assela Thanksgiving. Assela is the hub town all of our training sites were based around, and I hadn’t been back since I left, last August. So I caught an early minibus and began the trek.

Only the first 30 minutes were done solo. I was soon in Shashemene where I switched buses and joined up with a fellow G7 volunteer. We made our way to the next bus station – in Assasa. Another quick transfer and we were finally in the home stretch, only another two hours to Assela.

We arrived, joined some other PCVs and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in the lobby of the hotel that hosted all our trainings a year ago – they had gotten wifi and were seriously moving up in the world! The food off the menu was even tolerable (I don’t think I ate much more than bread and bananas on the days we were forced to lunch there).

That evening we all joined together (there were probably 15 of us) to watch the traditional awesomely bad sci-fi film. This year’s gem? Sharknado…classic. From the moment it started I knew we had struck gold, but what really solidified it was when *SPOILER* Lauren (from Make It Or Break It – don’t know her real name) was pulled out of shark after another cast member had been swallowed whole by the same shark and had used a chainsaw to free himself from the inside out. Awesome.

That night we all went to bed quite content, seriously looking forward to the spread of food we’d have before us the following day. A few of the volunteers used the morning to slave away and cook the food. That, however, included slaughtering a sheep, so my boyfriend and I decided to go for a hike instead.


Miraculously, we managed to find our way back to this tree, a good 30 minutes uphill from Assela proper. You’re probably wondering why it was so important we find this tree specifically. Well, this tree happened to witness our first kiss, and Chandler, being the more romantic of us two, wanted to hike back up to it. It was an incredibly sweet moment.

Then began the hike back down – much easier : ) It was filled with waves of amber…something we didn’t notice on our way up, due to our preoccupation with finding that tree!


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The power of reading


This past week marked the start of my new Reading Program at Adare Primary School. In the span of 4 days I taught 23 classes with a total of 1,368 students, grades 1-8. Each class was held in the library so that students who’ve never held a book of fiction before would get a chance to read for an hour.

The plan (hope) is to repeat this program once every month. Grades 1-6 got an introduction to literature. We read some books aloud and then I passed out books for them to read independently. In the coming months we’ll have more focused readings…a day for fairytales, nonfiction, poetry, etc.

Grades 7 and 8 will be participating in a reading challenge. Anyone remember the BOOK IT! Program sponsored by Pizza Hut? Rewarding reading with pizza? Genius. So with that in mind, students will come in every month and read as many books as they can (and then answer the critical thinking questions I created for each book!), and the student from each class (there are 10 grade 7 and 8 classes) who reads the most/answers the most questions correctly will win a goodie bag at the end of the semester.

Goodie bags will include school supplies (most of which I’ve already been able to collect), games, and books. And that’s where you can help. After all, ’tis the season to be generous : ) You can buy a cheap, used book and ship it to Ethiopia FOR FREE – that’s over 7,700 miles if you’re in Minnesota! (Though of course you can ship from anywhere!)

If you’d like to help Adare Primary School Students, here’s what you do:

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Halloween is the cutest holiday


Halloween was never a holiday I placed a lot of importance on back in the US. But here…well, what’s cuter than preschoolers in masks? In a goal two attempt to share American culture with my students I took over the preschoolers “rest time” and read them Halloween stories and let them try on a variety of masks I brought with me.


Someone ran off with the lion mask almost immediately, but the kids were more than happy to trade off being fairies and giraffes.

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Baby it’s cold outside: Christmas in Ethiopia

It’s January 6th and I’m still listening to my Christmas mix. It’s strange because this is the least Christmas-y Christmas I’ve had and yet I’m constantly reminded that it’s the holiday season – tomorrow is the Ethiopian Christmas and all the hotels/shops are decked out with decorations.

This year I’m missing out on making snow angels, sipping hot cocoa by the fire, and looking for the pickle on the tree, but I replaced those things with some pretty great new traditions.


The weekend before Christmas we treated ourselves to a resort day at the Haile to celebrate a friend’s birthday. That evening we went down to the lake for some fresh fish.


The following day was Christmas Eve and to get in a festive mood, we decided to make paper snowflakes. Some of the ladies had been perfecting this craft over the previous weeks and I was sufficiently jealous of some of their snowflake-making skills.


And then came time for the chicken killing…we perfected the act on the second chicken, my apologies to the first. I grew a little attached to them that afternoon, luckily I didn’t try naming them! Everyone said they were quite tasty.


But I know what you’re thinking…you don’t eat chicken. You’re right, I don’t. But we had plenty of other delicious side items: wild rice soup, salad, glazed carrots, mashed sweet potatoes, and seasoned potatoes. Followed by dessert: chocolate pecan pie. Plenty of food to go around.


We woke up Christmas morning, cleaned the kitchen we had annihilated the night before and then opened our Secret Santa gifts. The 5 birr limit was brilliant and I got a hand-painted pot containing freshly planted cilantro and some memorable photos.


Then we spent the afternoon at the hot springs before getting all dolled-up for dinner at the lodge.


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