Snippits from Jordan and "H2O+MF"

June was full of wonderful changes:  new professional chapters and travel adventures.On the former front, I've begun my new role as Director of WaterCredit for Water.org.  What is WaterCredit, you ask?  It's an innovative initiative that applies microfinance tools -- small loans, group-based lending models, etc. -- to the water and sanitation (watsan) sector.  WaterCredit has been underway since 2003, though it's now reaching an inflection point that demands greater outreach and strategic development; hence where I come in.  Expect to see more about water + microfinance issues ("H2O+MF" as I like to call it) in future posts, along with more travelogues.  The travel demands will be intense and fun -- India, Bangladesh, east Africa, west Africa, Europe... I'm not complaining!No sooner did I dive deep into WaterCredit for a few weeks, than it was time to hit the road for IDLO.  Destination: Jordan, for the MENA regional microfinance course.  Jerry and I packed up -- still proud of the fact that the two of us can fit everything for 3 weeks into one bag together -- and headed east.  En route we stopped over in England, for the wedding of a dear friend in the English countryside outside Malvern (Worcestershire).  Perfect weather, copious Pimm's and fancy hats, and some day-after ambling through hillsides that would make Beatrix Potter and Leonardo Da Vinci both proud.  Stunning and memorable!  A few ramble pictures here.The IDLO course was held smack on the Dead Sea, with the West Bank directy across; at night we could see the lights of Jerusalem twinkling in the distance.  As usual the IDLO participants were a lively, diverse group coming from 12 countries/territories including Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Kuwait (yes, there is microfinance in Kuwait).  Days were spent talking about MFI investment, Islamic finance and the impact of the global financial crisis on microfinance (as the temperature soared above 115 degrees F outside), while evenings were spent staying cool in the multiple pools on hand.  And of course, a dip in the salty Dead Sea for good measure -- so fun to just bob and flop around in the buoyancy!Post-IDLO we took some extra time to explore the rest of the country, easily falling in love with its uber-friendly people and marveling at its diverse and magical geography.  (No comment on the searing heat though.) The first leg was by public transport, a hot dusty 6-hour bus ride south to Petra (and the funky tourist town of Wadi Musa right beside it -- it means "Valley of Moses" in Arabic).  Petra did not disappoint, and by all means earns its claim to fame as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.  It's especially magical at the crack of dawn, when you can have the Siq all to yourself, or late at night when the entire Milky Way opens itself up to you amidst thousands of candlelights and Arabian music wafting beyond.  What's more, I've now done handstands at the majority of these destinations; Petra handstand is #4, and #5 (Colosseum of Rome) is slated for later this year.  Hurray!In Petra we rented a car from a guy named Said -- should we be worried about driving in the Middle East? -- and headed down the King's Highway towards the fabled Wadi Rum desert, aka Lawrence of Arabia's backyard.  It was hot, hotter than I could have imagined, but apparently not as hot as it can get (we saw 117F, but "that's nothing" compared to 135F in July I was told).  There were multiple camel traffic jams which were fun to photograph and partake of.  We nearly ran out of gas and that felt really scary.  The landscape is like nothing I'd ever seen -- the best I can describe is a surreal combination of the moon, Grand Canyon, Moab (Utah) and the Sahara.  But even that's not quite right; you've got to see it in person to understand its unique immensity.We baked in Wadi Rum, saw an amazing sunset and feasted on spit-roasted meats grilled over a zerb (Bedouin pit fire). Ah yes, Bedouins -- and ah yes again, food!  The Bedouin culture pervades much of Jordan, and their nomadic-tent lifestyle and extraordinary generosity are present at every turn. I found it difficult to determine what is uniquely Bedouin, but anyone from the tribe will promptly let you know.  The diet consists of staples like camel meat, dates and goat's milk, none of which I got to try (even though I tried hard to find them).  Nevertheless Jordanian cuisine leaves little to be desired -- delicious at every turn.  In addition to staples like baba ghanouj and shwarma, favorite dishes include fuul medames (fava beans with chillies and olive oil), shanklish (a cross between chevre and bleu cheese, doused generously with thyme and cracked pepper) and the divine fattoush (salad of tomatoes and cucumber with deep-fried pitta-like croutons and sumac spice).  It was also a cause of much amusement to ask for pitta and get a quizzical look in reply; there it's not pitta, just khobz (bread).From Wadi Rum we shot due north along the King's Highway again (and beyond).  We visited the Crusader castles and ruins at Shobek and Karak, along with the Dana Nature Reserve (and dilapidated village of the same name, clinging precariously to the side of a cliff).  It truly felt like no-person's land in the middle of the country -- so windswept, even if you whistled it blew away -- though at the same time close and connected to the entire history of humankind.We rolled into Madaba late at night, and the next day explored the city's renowned Roman mosaics (good enough to rival those of Sicily and France), souq and hidden alleyways.  This was followed by an excursion along the Dead Sea Parkway, taking in the Ma'in hot springs, Dead Sea Panorama, Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan (where Jesus was baptized) and Mount Nebo (where Moses saw the Promised Land) en route.  It also brought us full circle, back to where we had taught not long before.  The next morning we were homeward bound (almost -- still had several days in NYC first).  What a great trip.So if you've made it this far, thanks -- and here's the link to my full Flickr album from the trip.  Enjoy, and stay tuned for more H2O+MF plus travel adventures; for starters I'm headed back to east Africa  at the end of this month.And yes, Twitter remains the best way to follow my whereabouts and goings-on more frequently...