After the tournament was over, we took all of thejessica2.jpg students traveling around Jordan for three days. It was an extremely amazing experience.

The first day we took a bus to Wadi Rum and camped in the desert. The Royal Court made all of our travel arrangements, so the people who set up our camp sites set it up as though the King would be there. It took them two days to set up our camp site, and it was absolutely amazing. There were several tents that slept two people, and each tent had a cot that was essentially an actual bed, a night stand, a lamp, full bedding, and was carpeted. At the top of the camp, they set up a large tent with several couches and tables. Jessica4-1.jpgEach table had candy, nuts, water bottles, and basically anything a high school student could have wanted if they happened to be camping in the desert, so needless to say the kids were pretty excited about the entire thing. (PHOTO: tent, right)

The people who set up our camp also cooked us dinner, and when I say dinner I mean feast. They roasted goats in the ground, grilled lamb, chicken, and beef, and had bowls upon bowls of vegetables and sides. They also had an entire table of desserts. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was the best meal that I have had in my entire life. It was completely dark when we ate, and the stars were outstanding. I have never seen that many stars. We woke up early to see the sunrise, and that was breathtaking. Jessica5.jpgWatching the sun rise over the rock formations was something that I will never forget. (PHOTO: camp dinner, left)

After Wadi Rum, we went to Petra. Petra was a lot of fun. You have to walk into the city through a walkway that winds through rock. The walk takes at least an hour, and there are donkeys and horses that you can ride down, but we chose to walk. It was definitely worth it. We stopped along the way to climb rocks, take pictures, and admire the carvings that were still visible. When you finally get through the trail, the first thing you see is the treasury that this ancient city carved completely out of rock. Jessica8.jpgIt is gorgeous. I can’t even believe that it is possible for people to create such things.

We kept walking and when we got to the end, we decided to ride donkeys part of the way back. Evidently I am a good donkey rider, because every time I passed one of the workers they said, “Good riding! Good riding!” We actually raced the donkeys through part of the city, which was a lot of fun.

When we got off the donkeys, we took camels back to the treasury. Camels are not allowed to take you all the way back, so that is as far as we could go on them. The other lab leaders and I had made riding a camel our goal for the trip, so it was really exciting to get to do that. Now I can say I rode a camel through Petra! (PHOTO: sunset, right; camel riding, left)

The day after Petra, we went to the city of Madaba to do some souvenir shopping. Madaba is a primarily Christian city, so I was able to get rosaries for my parents made out of olive wood from the Holy Land. Everything is so cheap there. I was able to get a small, handcarved chess set made of marble for my boyfriend for the equivalent of about 20 American dollars, and I got some handmade scarves for some friends for about 3 American dollars.

The shop owners in Madaba were so friendly. I walked into one shop with three other lab leaders and the owner sat us all down and gave us tea and cookies and talked to us about our lives for a while. When I tried to buy something from him, he said, “No, you might find something more beautiful somewhere else. Come back at the end of the day and buy it if you still want it.” He said that he was a banker who just opened the shop when he retired so he could meet people. He buys sewing materials and gives them to the local women to sew pillow cases, dresses, and bags, and then pays them for their labor and sells their products Jessica9.jpgin his shop. It was really interesting to know where the things you are buying came from.

Madaba is called “The Mosaic City” because the Eastern Orthodox Church in the town had an ancient mosaic all over the floor that took an estimated 11,000 hours of work to accomplish. The mosaic was beautiful. It cost one dinar (or about $1.50) to get into the church, it was easily the best $1.50 I’ve ever spent. (PHOTO: floor mosaic, left)

After we finished in Madaba we went to Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo, according to the Bible, is where Moses was given the view of the promised land that God gave to the Israelites. If you stand at the top of the mount, you can see everything from the Dead Sea to Palestine. It is a really amazing view, and it was really interesting to be there.

We also went to the Dead Sea, and that was really interesting. There were puddles of water that had splashed up from the sea, and as they evaporated you could see the salt that had crystalized from the water. A student and I tasted the water (which I’m going to tell you right now you should never, ever do) and it was the saltiest thing I have ever tasted in my entire life. It was awful. The water felt almost oily and took quite a while to dry off your skin. Jessica3-1.jpgThere were people swimming in it, which I can’t imagine doing. If that got in your eyes it would hurt for hours. (PHOTO: Jessica and lab leaders, right)

It was an amazing trip. I am so fortunate to have done that, and to have done that for free. When I tell people, “Oh, I actually got paid to do this,” I can’t even believe it. I am so grateful to the NCPA for giving me this opportunity and trusting me enough to teach high school kids about public speaking, debate, and the Peace Process. I learned so much while I was there that even if I didn’t get paid at all it would have been worth it, hands down.