After many long hours in the classroom my roommate Jesse and I were ready for a break. Having the day off of school for the Islamic holiday Eid al-adha, we decided there was no better way to relax then to explore the heart of wast al-balad, the downtown area of Amman. This turned out to be one of my favorite days in Jordan. We were exploring the many different stairs that are found in wast al-balad, but we ended up discovering a lot more then simple stairs.
We had heard that there was a mosque in the area that was made entirely of black and white tiles, we had no idea were this mosque was, so we set it as our destination and started walking. One thing about people is they love to help you, even if they don't really know the answers. Each person we stopped to ask how to get to the Abu Darwish Mosque, which we had learned was the name of the illusive checkered mosque, would tell us something different. It was confusing but I loved every second of it, this is a skill I learned on my mission. If we wanted to get somewhere we would ask the people around us for directions, most of the time they had no idea so we would ask different people(who would each tell me something different) and walk around until we had found the place. It is a great way to talk to many different people and to get to know an area well. Who ever said you don't learn anything on your mission?
Luck was with us that day, because of the holiday the streets were overrun with children. All of the young girls eagerly showing off the new clothes they received that holiday morning. And the hordes of young boys with no adult supervision caused cautious walking for all. Every male under the age of 12 in Amman, Jordan was the proud new owner of an air soft gun, much to the horror of all the neighborhood cats. As always, the children were intrigued by the sight of Americans. We quickly had 10 or 12 overly ambitious tour guides snaking us back and forth on the narrow pathways up to the Abu Darwish mosque.
A young girl wearing a new bright yellow shirt with a flower over the right breast and pink shoes seemed to be the leader of this expedition. I could tell she was proud of that beautiful new shirt and was full of holiday excitement. We would walk a few blocks and then she would stop to ask us one more time if we really spoke Arabic. "Aywa, banahki arabi" I am sure things would have gone on like this until we reached the mosque but one of the boys found shooting cats wasn't satisfying enough and turned his sights to our dutiful tour guide. She ran away in tears, I was sad because the holiday excitement was gone from her eyes. Without her the other children lost interest in us and wondered off one by one. We were once again on our own, and no closer to the mosque. We knew the mosque was on the top of the hill so as long as we were heading up we were going in the right direction.
Eid Al-Adha is a holiday of sacrifice. It commemorates the miracle of the ram being provided to Abraham so he didn't have to sacrifice his son Ismael in the Islamic tradition or Isaac in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Every family if they can afford it will buy a goat, sacrifice it and then share the meat with friends and family. Reaching the top of a particular flight of stairs we found a family cleaning up from their recently sacrificed goat, the blood still fresh on the steps of their porch. We stopped and talked to the family and learned more about the process of sacrificing an animal. I love the things you can find just by exploring an area. They invited us in, but we respectfully declined. As much as I felt connected to the people I met in Jordan, sometimes there was something that reminded me that we truly did live in different worlds. This was one of those cases. I could never imagine families in America killing goats in their front yards.
Finally we made it to the top of the hill and found the Abu Darwish mosque. If Tim Burton were ever to design a mosque he would have designed the Abu Darwish mosque. With it's black and white tiles the structure looks more like the doings of a flamboyant millionaire then a mosque in a poor Muslim neighborhood. But finding the mosque was only the beginning of the days adventures, more was to come. Hopefully another post will be coming soon.