How I’m travelling since coming home by Jane Hosking

Melbourne's skyline from Footscray at the Laneway Festival, 2016

Melbourne's skyline from Footscray at the Laneway Festival, 2016

After over two and a half years overseas I'm back in Melbourne and learning to live life like a traveller in my own home city.

It’s always hard returning home after being away for so long. I usually find it harder than going away in the first place and often experience more culture shock when I return to what I know than when I’m in a completely different country. I guess it’s because we don’t expect to feel uncomfortable in the place where we grew up. I think part of this has something to do with looking at the world you know and realising that you see it in a different way because you've changed. 

This time on my return I prepared myself for the weirdness of being back and I expected it to be hard, especially because I had been away for so long. But adjusting to being back hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. Sure, I still find it weird and sometimes get the feeling that I want to pick up my life and fly away again, but I have realised that you don’t have to be away from home to live life like a traveller and see the adventure in everyday.

The thing is, when we travel we take on a different attitude to life. While a walk down the street in our home city or the ride into work on the tram is just mundane, when we travel we open our eyes and see the beauty around us. So when we walk through the streets of Rome or travel on a bus in India we are more open to the adventures to be had, the people we could meet, and the simple wonder in every little thing.

It’s funny how travellers sometimes see more of a city that the locals themselves. When I lived in Jordan I knew many Jordanians who had never been to Petra, the ancient Nabataean city carved out of a rose-coloured rock face, and one of the wonders of the world—or as some may know it: the setting of Indian Jones and the Last Crusade. Disappointingly, in real life there’s no swinging axes inside that cut off heads, or invisible paths that lead to the holy grail.

But you don’t have to be a traveller to see the world with all its opportunities. It is certainly harder when you’re at home; we live our lives on autopilot, ignore the strangers on the bus, and let the wonders pass us by. Everything is normal and seems unexciting. But it doesn’t have to be. We can choose to look at the world with fresh eyes. I've often observed how kids have a natural ability to do this, while most adults have forgotten. So I’ve been trying to remember since I’ve come back home and have realised that if I came to Melbourne from another country I would see it as it truly is: an incredible city full of so much colour in so many ways.

Now I’ve been to Europe I know that we have a similar vibrant culture here. I love the streets of Melbourne with its bars and cafes, the graffitied alleyways, the mix of people from all corners of the world, and restaurants of every cuisine. You can visit any country in the world in Melbourne in a night. We may not have Sydney's Opera House, or a great landmark of any kind, but we make up for it in other ways. 

It’s also been easier returning home because I live in Coburg, which is like the Middle East of Melbourne. This has meant that leaving Jordan and coming here has been less of a culture shock. I love how when I drive down Sydney Road now and see the Arabian restaurants and shops that I can read the Arabic writing on the windows. The sights are the same but I am different.

Last night I went to the supermarket and when I got out of my car I could hear the blaring sound of Arabian music. When I drove home I went past the source of the sound and saw a large gathering of Arab families, and young people.

Australia can feel very isolated sometimes, like it’s on another planet rather than in the world. But last night reminded me that we’re really not so far away and it’s ok because the world is here in my own home town. I love travelling, having adventures, and meeting people from different cultures. But now I realise that I don’t have to be away from here to do that. There are opportunities and wonders to encounter here everyday... if I just open my eyes.  

A Capoeira wedding in the heart of the Middle East by Jane Hosking

Wedding guests dancing Arabian Dabke

Wedding guests dancing Arabian Dabke

I’ve now lived in Jordan long enough to know that you can find almost anything in this country and that so many things here break from the stereotype of a conservative Arab society. But probably my favourite experience of this so far has been Samer and Jana’s wedding.

The bright light of the car headlights lit the winding road ahead of us as we drove through the dark to the Scandinavian Forest that sat at the top of a large hill, just North-West of Amman. Apparently a Swedish King had inaugurated the land, which is how it got its name.

Being quite familiar with the desert plains, dry grassy hills, and rocky valleys of Jordan I expected that the name “Scandinavian Forest” was just a colourful title rather than a description of what we were to find there. So I was surprised when we arrived and found ourselves standing amidst a slightly scraggly, yet enchanting forest of pine trees.

The reception area was a simple, large concrete circle that lay in a clearing beneath a tall pine with a messy string of fairy lights hanging in its branches. Lamps made of brown paper bags and candles were placed around the concrete circle, which was surrounded by tables and chairs to seat the arriving guests.

When we gazed out from the mountain, beyond the pine trees that circled the clearing, we could see the outskirts of Amman, which was a sea of multicoloured lights like tiny campfires burning in the distance. All these surroundings made it feel like we were in a fairy woodland party, rather than in the heart of the Middle East.

After arriving, I stood awkwardly for a few minutes, looking for my friends who had not yet arrived and preparing myself for the boring small talk you might expect at a wedding. But it wasn’t long before my friends came and I discovered that this wasn’t going to be a pretentious wedding with small talk and frequent glances at our watches.

Samer and Jana have their first 'dance' after the ceremony

Samer and Jana have their first 'dance' after the ceremony

Nothing about Samer and Jana is conventional, in all the best ways. And naturally their wedding was different from any other I had been to in my life. As the proceedings commenced, Samer and Jana stepped into the circle where their marriage contract was read aloud by close friends and family—in line with Islamic legality, yet written to suit them as a couple and their liberal beliefs. Jana is from Germany so this was a cross-cultural wedding. This meant there was a mix of guests present, some wearing conservative Islamic attire, while others wore short dresses. Whether liberal or conservative it didn’t matter. All were welcome and accepted.

Both bride and groom wore crisp, white linen shirts and loose fitted trousers. Samer wore a colourful patterned skullcap and had since changed out of the long traditional skirt that he had been wearing earlier in the evening. His mother had laughed to me about how he had been wearing a skirt while Jana wore trousers. But it wasn’t convention that had made Samer change his outfit—quite the opposite in fact. Instead of dancing a waltz as you may expect at a traditional western wedding, the pair prepared to fight Capoeira.

All guests gathered around the circle and watched on as the couple danced and fought, lunging and suspending themselves on their hands, kicking the air and moving together in harmony to the rhythm. Their Capoeira friends stood by, singing and playing traditional Capoeira instruments.

For those unfamiliar with Capoeira, it is a martial art that hails from Brazil where in the 16th Century, West African slaves combined dancing and fighting to disguise their training to rebel and escape their Portuguese colonist masters. Many Capoeira fighters used the art to break free and form rebellion groups known as Quilombos, outside of colonial control. If only those early inventors of Capoeira could see how far their influence had spread—even to the top of this mountain in the Scandinavian Forest in Jordan.   

Samer and Jana had first met at Capoeira training, so there was no better way to celebrate their wedding than fighting together. But after the Capoeira, there were more dances to come, and more traditions to be shared. Arabian Dabke dancing was next.

The beat of the drum echoed through the trees as a long line of people holding hands were led around the dance floor by a blonde Jordanian wearing a white shirt and bow tie. He had a full but neatly kept beard and short styled hair that was slightly puffed up—not unlike the hipsters of the West. Joining in, I tried to keep up with the dance steps. In a circular motion the line stepped and rocked, two and fro—back-forward-forward-back—the pattern of steps changing from time to time along with the dramatic beat and Arabian tunes. Each song was like a celebration chant or war cry of deep undulating voices.

Shortly after the Arabian music fell silent it was time for the Beatles to shake up the dance floor. We gathered in circles with our friends, throwing ourselves around and moving to the very different beat from before. “Baby you can drive my car. Yes I'm gonna be a star. Baby you can drive my car. And maybe I love you.” We shouted the lyrics of the songs as we danced and laughed.

And finally, the evening wouldn’t have been complete without Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. As the song blared from the speakers, we stood with our arms around each other, swaying and singing at the top of our voices: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality…”

Samer and Jana’s wedding was, in many ways, more like a dream than reality. It was a time of fun and celebration, where we were completely free to be who we were. That night will always stay with me as a reminder of the many times Jordan has surprised me and shattered my preconceived ideas of how I had expected the Middle East to be.

At war with ISIS: Jordan's response to the killing of their pilot by Jane Hosking

The march in downtown Amman following the killing of pilot al-Kasasbeh, February 2015

The march in downtown Amman following the killing of pilot al-Kasasbeh, February 2015

Following the brutal killing of Jordanian pilot al-Kasasbeh more people in the Kingdom are against the militant group than ever. But a fear of a threat from within remains.

It didn’t feel like we were at war before. But in the days after the shocking video was released by Islamic State militants (ISIS), showing Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh being burned to death in a cage after he was captured while on bombing raids in Syria, things have changed here in Amman.

As my taxi driver drove me to work the morning after the news, he was listening to the radio about al-Kasasbeh. When we stopped at the traffic lights he held his head in his hands, visibly disturbed by what had happened.

On the following Friday I went with some friends to a market in downtown Amman. The call to prayer from all the mosques was echoing across the valley, but it seemed different this time; more like a cry of mourning. The prayer was followed by the sermons, resonating from the loud speakers of the mosques’ minarets. The Imams sounded more fervent than ever. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but the air felt heavy with sorrow.

We’d heard that there was a march on at the central mosque in downtown so we decided to go and have a look. Hundreds of people were gathered, many wearing their red and white checkered keffiehs and holding posters of al-Kasasbeh. Shops lining the road also displayed his picture and banners were strung up depicting nationalistic statements and pictures of the King alongside the Jordanian flag.

The crowd were standing on the road, listening to a man who stood on a platform shouting into a microphone. There were people there from all aspects of Jordanian society: young and old; rich and poor; Muslim and Christian

While the dust has now settled since the march in downtown, people in Jordan are still angry, upset and shocked by what ISIS did to al-Kasasbeh. When asked about his death, most say that what ISIS did was not human.

While there have been many cases of violence committed by ISIS before this, the burning of Al-Kasasbeh really hit Jordanians hard and opened their eyes to the extent of the militant group’s brutality. Al-Kasasbeh was not only someone that Jordanians could relate to—a young man who looked like their brother, their son or their colleague at work—but he also belonged to a powerful tribe in the Kingdom.

Prior to his death there was talk of ISIS sympathisers in Jordan and reports that thousands of Jordanians had already joined their ranks in Syria and Iraq. But where there was ignorance or sympathy before, it has now been largely replaced by a widespread hostility for the group.

Despite this increase in opposition to ISIS it is likely that there are many people who are angry at the government for its involvement in the international coalition against the militant group. They say that this is not Jordan’s war. However, it is those that continue to silently support ISIS that are of greatest concern to the monarchy. How many there are is hard to say.

In the days after the march, fighter jets could be seen flying over Amman, returning from bombing ISIS targets across the border. Even though we’ve always been so close to the conflict—just a few hours drive away from where people are killing and dying—it all seemed so distant before.

The question on Jordanian minds now is whether ISIS is lying in wait, preparing to bring the battle to Amman. With it’s strong military and international allies, Jordan does not fear an external attack, but it does fear one from the invisible supporters within.

Snow in Jordan at night in pictures by Jane Hosking

While the snow in the Jordan means a bit of fun for those of us living in houses, it means misery for others.

People are often surprised to hear that it snows in the Middle East. Isn’t it the land of hot sunny deserts? Well yes, it is in the summer, but as I am currently discovering, the winters here are extremely cold and it not only snows in Amman but sometimes there's even blizzards.

Without proper heating in our apartment, we have spent the last few days huddled in the kitchen, baking cakes to keep warm, and watching movies on our couch that we squeezed in from the lounge room. It's difficult to go outside, I can’t seem to keep my socks dry when I do, and our pipes froze up yesterday, meaning there was no water to even brush our teeth.

But for us, despite these small concerns, the snow has mostly brought fun, with snow fights, snowmen and late night strolls to marvel at our transformed neighbourhood with its white-dusted palms. Yet throughout these days I can’t help thinking how the people living in refugee camps here in Jordan and other parts of the Middle East are coping.

There have already been accounts of children in the camps dying from the weather. As cold as it may be for me, I don’t live in a tent. I have a means of keeping warm and as much food as I need. Those who have fled their homes due to the conflict in Syria are not so fortunate.

While I was out taking the below photos in my neighbourhood I saw a lonely, shivering cat following me. As I lowered myself to pat her she jumped into my lap. The cats in Amman are rarely this friendly, but the cold had made her desperate. We’ve given her a place to stay for the night, but how many people are out there with nowhere warm to go? And how many more winters will there be with refugees suffering in tents while they wait to return to Syria?

The snow in my neighbourhood in Amman:

The snow experience for Syrian refugees (photos below via Twitter: @PeterMillett1 and @nickcafod):

 

 

 

Surprised by Joy in Oxford: Some direction from C.S Lewis by Jane Hosking

A door in the Eagle and Child, the pub frequented by Lewis and Tolkien, Oxford

A door in the Eagle and Child, the pub frequented by Lewis and Tolkien, Oxford

The other day I went to Oxford. I wanted to see the place where two of my favourite writers, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, used to study, teach and hang out. Going there reminded me of a story that C.S. Lewis tells about his first time to Oxford in his book, Surprised by Joy.

Lewis had arrived at the train station that is on the west side of the town and was not sure which direction to walk in to get to the centre of the city. He set off in the direction he thought was best and as he walked he began to feel very disappointed by what he saw. Oxford wasn’t nearly as beautiful as what he had expected. But he kept on walking, hoping to soon come upon something impressive.

It wasn’t until he had walked past the small houses and came to the fields at the edge of the town that he decided to turn around and reassess the direction in which he was walking. It was then that he suddenly saw the beautiful medieval city behind him rising up over the small town houses. He then realised that he had been walking in completely the wrong direction the whole time. Lewis explained how this story was very similar to his own experience in life and the way he was living and lacking purpose before he knew God and before he became aware of true joy in life.

While in Oxford we went to the Eagle and Child pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to work on the manuscripts of their books. It was an amazing feeling to sit and drink a hot cider in the very place where my heroes once sat, laughed, drank, and wrote their masterpieces that have contributed so much to the world. Thank God Lewis found the right direction in the end.

Riding with Borat by Jane Hosking

Arriving in Turkey and an unexpected taxi ride.

It was with a lot of fear that I left Germany and boarded my flight to Istanbul. This was the real beginning of my extended world adventure. I was stepping out into the unknown and felt anxious not knowing what lay ahead. I had planned to meet my friend Emma at a hostel in Sultanahmet. I’d looked up the details online and felt confident enough as it didn’t seem far from the airport.

On arrival I quickly purchased a local sim card before venturing outside to get a taxi. The next driver in line greeted me with an over enthusiastic smile. He had a striking resemblance to the character Borat: tall and lanky, a long thin face with big features, dark hair, a large moustache, and he wore big reflecting aviator sunglasses.

As we began the drive he started practising his English with me, grinning broadly and speaking loudly—just like Borat. After the basic pleasantries of asking where I was from it turned out the rest of his English knowledge consisted only of swearwords. “F*%K!” he said repeatedly. “F*%K ME!” He seemed very happy with himself. It wasn’t entirely clear if he knew exactly what he was saying. But from his cheeky expression, it seemed he had at least some idea.

After driving for 15 minutes or so I realised that we were no longer in a built up city area but seemed to be heading out into the countryside. As Borat drove on I started to become very worried. “What the hell was happening and why were we no longer in the city?” I thought. I knew I couldn’t ask him because he wouldn’t understand. So I started imagining ways I could escape. If he slowed down could I jump out of the car?

As my palms started to sweat I suddenly had a thought to check our location on Google Maps. My phone sim card had taken a while to become active but had just kicked in. As I loaded the map, I saw that we were very far from the hostel and were—as I had thought—driving out into the countryside. But just before I was completely overwhelmed with terror, I looked closely at the map and realised that there were in fact two airports in Istanbul and I had flown into a different one from what I thought (thanks to my eagerness to get the cheapest ticket possible!).

What a stupid mistake to make. Borat was not driving me to a secluded location where I would never be heard from again. He was driving out and around Istanbul from the Asia side to the Europe side in an attempt to avoid the traffic. I was suddenly both relieved and annoyed at the same time. This taxi ride was going to be expensive! At least I had Borat to entertain me for the rest of the drive and I was soon at the hostel meeting with Emma to begin our adventure in Turkey.

A lesson from Lucki in monsooning Mumbai by Jane Hosking

The unexpected challenges of travel bring the best kind of people across your path. 

The adventure began with a quick, four-day stopover in Mumbai. India had a lesson for me to start me off on my journey. This was not my first visit to India. I had previously spent about one year and four months in the country on four different occasions, for volunteer work and study.

India is like no other country I have ever been, where the only thing that can be expected is that things will be unexpected. It always seems like fate and extraordinary experiences follow you wherever you go in India. Life there is both richer and harsher than anywhere else I know.

This trip was just a quick bonus visit to one of my Indian friends who I used to study with in Delhi. When I arrived, Mumbai’s roads were running like rivers from the monsoon rains. Traffic was more hectic than I had ever experienced before. People from all over India have flocked to the Bollywood city in search of a brighter future, but the growth rate has been unsustainable. As a result, a sea of slums made up of small shanty houses with blue tarpaulin roofs stretch for miles across the city.

On this particular day I had planned to meet my friend Supriya for lunch nearby her office. We had arranged the time and place and as my phone didn't have an Indian sim card Supriya told me to use the pay phone across from her work so I could tell her to come down and meet me. But of course, nothing goes to plan in India.

I travelled almost an hour in the crazy traffic, trying to shelter myself from the rain that poured in through the sides of my door-less auto-rickshaw. I finally reached Supriya’s office gate with only a small amount of difficulty. Fortunately I remembered enough Hindi to help in getting to the right place. I knew even then that it had been too easy so far and that India must have some obstacle in store for me. But I set off hopefully into the rain, with my umbrella clutched tightly in my hand, on a mission to find the payphone.

I went to the shops directly across from Supriya's office. This is where the phone was meant to be. “Bhaiya, payphone kahan hai?”, I asked the shopkeeper where the phone was, all too expectantly. He simply replied, “Phone yahan nahin hai” (There is no phone here). He pointed up the road, as if to indicate that there was a phone not far off. I walked on for a few metres and asked again, ““Bhaiya, payphone kahan hai?”. I had played this game before and knew that it was not wise to trust the directions of one person alone. Again I was waved on and directed by a man who spoke rapidly in a thick Hindi accent that I pretended to understand. This process repeated itself until I was 200 metres down the road, around the corner and standing in a muddy alleyway with no payphone in sight.

In a miserable monsoon-soaked mood I decided to try one more time. I asked a nearby shopkeeper, “Bhaiya, payphone kahan hai? Mera phone kharab hai.” (Brother, where is the payphone. My phone is not working). He looked up at me with a smile and without hesitating he pushed his phone towards me. I took it gratefully and called Supriya. There was no answer. But I had found myself in good hands. The shop keeper, aptly named Lucki, took it upon himself to make sure I got in contact with Supriya, who, as it turned out, was stuck in a meeting. For the next half hour I hung out at Lucki’s shop while he called and messaged Supriya repeatedly with his phone. Meanwhile he chatted to me politely and fed me Mentos, with no expectation of getting anything in return. He kept on saying to me as he struggled to get onto Supriya, “This is India!”. He explained also that although India has some problems there are good things about the country as well. And for me, Lucki was a perfect example of that. We did get onto Supriya in the end and she was very apologetic as we went for lunch.

I know that there are bad people in the world and that, at times, it can be very hard being a traveller. But Lucki was a reminder for me, at the beginning of a very long journey, that no matter where you go, there will always be good people who will help you out when help is needed. I’ll never forget Lucki’s kindness.

The childhood contract that led to an extended world adventure by Jane Hosking

I was 11 years old when I dreamt of traveling the world. At the time I lived in a small country town in Australia, and I spent my days climbing trees and playing barbies with my next door neighbour, Emma. We were an adventurous pair and we always had a sense that there was more to the world than our little town. Watching the adventures of Sinbad and other movies gave us a brief insight into the world outside.

One day we watched a film together called ‘Only You’. The story was about a young woman who searches for her destiny and her true love in Europe. In hindsight, the movie wasn’t great, but we were young, naive romantics, and were inspired to make a pact for the future. When we finished university we would travel to Europe together. We wrote out the details, including the places to go and even the outfits we would wear. We made a copy of ‘the contract’ for us both, signed our names on it, and swore that one day we would fulfill the plan.

The original copy of the contract from 1998. Note the destination of Venus and not Venice.

The original copy of the contract from 1998. Note the destination of Venus and not Venice.

Years went by and Emma left our small country town for boarding school in the city. We didn’t see each other much after that. But still, during my teenage years, when I was sick of high school and our small town, I dreamt of the world beyond and our future adventure. Our brothers told us that we were just dreaming and that we would never fulfill our contract. But Emma and I were determined.

High school came and went, and university too. Then at the beginning of 2013 Emma and I caught up and agreed that the time had come. I quit my job and decided that I wanted to travel for about 6 months. Emma would join me in Turkey (still technically Europe) and we would then travel to Israel together before she left to go back home and I continued my journey.

After learning for years from books I want to learn from the world. These stories will contain the adventures and lessons learnt from my travels with Emma and my extended world adventure.