Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Start from the bottom and work your way up, these uploaded backwards for some reason...

The monestary

Last remnants of an old church

Some Byzantine mosaics

The goats

Part of the Tombs area

The Treasury

first glimpse of the Treasury

Walking into the city

This my friends, will be a work in progress. I need to upload tons of pictures, so this is going to take a while to be fully done (and it might turn into two blog posts instead of one...)

Nick and I woke up at 5:00 am to get down to the JETT station at 5:45 and get our tickets. We left Amman at 6:30 and then spent the next three hours driving to Wadi Musa, the town outside of Petra. We actually got dropped off at the main gate of Petra (aka the visitors center) and took a taxi back into Wadi Musa so we could check in at our hostel (the Cleopetra) and then head back in to explore the Rose City. The first day we wandered up past the tombs and then walked down through the city center and up up up to the Monastery, something I don't plan on repeating anytime soon. It was worth it though, but by the time we'd trekked the 2.5 miles (all up hill) back out to the taxi/bus area, we were pooped. We went back to the hostel, slept from 4-7, woke up to get dinner at a fantastic little Arabic place and then went back the hostel and promptly crashed.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

sort of the last post

This is the last post from Amman. I'm gonna write more and post pictures from PETRA when I get back home and have better internet. I wish I had been able to write more while I was here in the last couple of weeks, but I had exams and then just running around tyring to get stuff together. And I was in total denial that I was leaving. I don't want to leave, but I do. I'm gonna miss Amman so much, and I can't wait to come back. But this post is just to let everyone know that even though I may be leaving Amman in less than 5 hours, I am not done with this blog. There will be probably at least two more posts about Jordan before I am finally done done. So here's to more!


Monday, May 9, 2011

"Don't you just love the things that limit our society?"

This is a legitimate response from a young Jordanian woman who was asked to come to my Arab Women Writers class and talk to us about life and women's issues in Jordan. This is the second discussion we've had this semester, only this time Jordanian men were invited to join as well. While some of the conversation was productive and illuminating, a lot of it was simply frustrating. For instance, the quote that starts off this blog is an answer to the question "What should be changed in Jordanian society?" and this young woman believed that any change would amount to a loss of Arab culture and identity, as she put it, "Becoming just like the rest of the world." Now obviously, I had quite a few issues with this point. One, the rest of the world is just as different and unique as Arab or Jordanian or Muslim culture, all three of which are very distinct from each other - just as American, collegiate, and Christian cultures are different from each other. Secondly, traditions and customs in her culture limit and HARM the people it embodies, which in my mind is not right. The moral of the story, deduced from my studies and my time in Jordan, is that it all comes down to choice. Having a choice in life is a right, not a privilege, and not something to be delegated to your parents, family, society, whatever. I will defend any woman's choice to go around hijab-less in Jordan just as much as I will defend the right for any woman to wear the niqab in France. Yes, individualism is not a stressed role in Jordan, but it is integral to create an identity and is not just some "Western" norm. And in my mind, this emphasis on choice is at the foundation of many issues in Jordan's society, whether it be wearing or not wearing the hijab, pre-marital sex, or simply a woman's right to work.

This element of choice is also the absent voice in conspiracy theories. Almost every single Jordanian, of about 14 in class, didn't believe Osama bin Laden was dead. Either it was because he was already dead, or he wasn't dead, or whatever, the details are not important. The importance lies in the underlying belief that every single news item or media coverage was a lie. CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera. It was all big business, and you couldn't trust anything. And yes, questioning the news (which is a business) and questioning sources is important for anyone. But there's a difference between skepticism and blind ignorance. One of my classmates made an excellent point: "In the age of WikiLeaks, people and the government are held more responsible than ever for their validity." This also is a good time to point out that we live in the age of facebook, twitter, and blogging, meaning that at any given moment there are thousands of eye witnesses to news events around the world. How else are we getting any coverage at all from Syria? Conspiracy theories, a belief in repressive customs being intregal to a societal identity, all of these point to the victimization card. Yes, Jordanians, Arabs, Muslims, many of these people have reason to feel discriminated and victimized. But holding onto that belief, of constantly being the victim and refusing to take a proactive role in correcting these wrongs, only perpetuates the wrongs and customs and traditions and stereotypes that repress and limit their society. Brooke pointed out to me, "There was no point to half of that conversation because it was so immature." For a real dialogue to take place, you have to be able to look at yourself and say, these are my strengths, and these are my weaknesses. If I'm not willing to acknowledge either of those, there is no point in having a conversation. Self-criticism is crucial for forward growth, and that group of students, for the most part, was unwilling to take on that responsibility.

Another thing that drove me up a wall was the conversation on stereotypes. The students were very eager to hear how our stereotypes, whatever they may be, had changed since we'd been in Jordan. For the most part, American students cited positive stereotypes or nuetral stereotypes that were mostly reinforced while abroad. If anything, the negative stereotype I encountered most of all was the role of vicitmization and defensiveness against America and the rest of the world. I attempted to explain this by saying that of all the stereoptypes Americans might hold against Jordanians, it depends on the individual. America is more diverse, and significantly larger both in population and geography, than Jordan is. The opinions and stereotypes of a New Yorker are significantly different than those of someone living in Columbus, or Seattle, or a small town in North Dakota. The stereotypes you are searching for, the negative ones, do not belong to anyone in this classroom - we volunteered to be here because we are interested in Jordan and its people and want to break the stereotypes that limit cross-cultural interactions. The negative stereotypes are found in the people who refuse to leave America, or broaden their horizons learning about other cultures. And to a certain extent, I think this went through. But it's difficult to have that conversation when there are so many negative American stereotypes floating around Jordan based on either media coverage (which they distrust when it comes to ME news, but not apparently when it comes to reality tv) and limited interactions between family members or friends who emigrate to the US. One girl said, "It's not fair that you criticize us for looking and staring at you when you walk down the street in a tank top, but its fine for my sister to be harassed for wearing her hijab in the US." to which we asked, where is your sister from? the answer: "Memphis." Of the three Memphis/Tennessee natives in the room, all said, "Oh. That's why." But more importantly, what we tried to bring across to her, is that it's not fair in the US to be harassed, and it shouldn't be fair here. No one is asking to be harassed, and yes while staring may occur, it happens. a hijab-clad woman in America is out of the norm, just as I as a white, sleeves rolled up to my elbows single woman am out of the norm here. The difference is that I do not victimize myself. I am aware that I draw attention simply by being me, but I do not let it bring me down. I do not chalk it up to intolerance, rather let it lie at mere curiosity.

More than ever, this conversation reinforced my belief that for women's rights and societal change to really occur in Jordan, it has to come from Jordanians themselves. Changing perspectives cannot be forced upon them from outsiders. Not only is there the inherent distrust of Westerners, but without a societal majority backing any change, that change will be hard to implement. If Jordanians continue to vicitumize themselves, acting passively instead of proactively, it will be impossible for anything to change at all. I'm sure there are plenty who will disagree with me, and to that I say: fine. Prove me wrong. Go out and do something about it. Right now.

That's my rant for the day. Potentially more posts like this to come soon. I'm home in two weeks!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

to appease my father

Well at this point I'm just procrastinating. I'm sitting in Turtle Green, a very trendy little cafe on Rainbow Street, sipping my mocaccino and listening to strange mod music. At least they break change here. For those of you who don't know, breaking change in Jordan is a big deal. It literally makes my day when I find someone to break a twenty for me, let alone a fifty. It's damn difficult. And it's not like people don't have change - I've been denied change for a 10 dinar bill at a grocery store while the register drawer was open and I could see stacks of ones and fives inside. People just don't like letting go of their small bills.

Hmm, other things I could rant about...my host brother has taken to calling me "Biss" which to him means Beth, but to the rest of Jordan means cat. It's also a common word used to (quite literally) cat-call girls. So now everytime some random shab leans out of the window of his car and goes "biss biss" I turn around. Thanks fufu.

I am schway sick, yay sinus infections, and my host family knows it, so yesterday when I came home and ate my lunch (green bean stew and rice) and then went to sleep at 6, they didn't wake me up. I eventually woke up at 9, then went out and was offered more green bean stew and rice, which I ate. And then my host mom said, "I know you are full, but here, take this apple and you can eat in your room." I was still a bit hungry, and I rarely get fresh fruit, so I ate the apple right there. I also got two cups of tea with dinner, which is another rarity since tea is usually reserved for tea time (which falls anytime between 8:30 and 11:30 p.m.) Brooke came home, ate, and an hour later it was tea time. So we went out for tea, had our tea and snacks (usually pita and cream for me) and then went back to our rooms. Then our host mom brought us Easter treats - habibeh's, which means they were awesome - consisting of one chocolate egg, one pastry/cookie thing with a fig in it, and one pastry/cookie thing filled with pistachios. Not as good as the fresh stuff, but still tasty. And then 15 minutes after that my host aunt came in with two plates of honeydew, which means brooke and I were each responsible for eating half of one. I didn't finish. I wanted to, and I couldn't. This is how feeding goes for me, quite often here.

What else, what else...it's going to be really nice to take a shower longer that 5 minutes. I've gotten REALLY good at economical water usage, which is a plus, but also means that I just want a chance to bathe in peace. Also, no more dry skin. I hate having winter skin in summer heat. It's just awful.

Basically the past couple of weeks have been my friends and me yearning for American comforts and other things, and while I love Amman, and want to come back here over and over, I miss home right now. I want Graeter's and the chance to wear shorts in public. Is that so much to ask for?

When I feel reflective I'll post a more substantial blog, but this is just to appease my father and to put my rantings in writing. I'm home in 20 days! Even though I'll be leaving a week later...for my internship in Connecticut! Which is really exciting! And I have a place to live! But I still just want to go home first. I can't wait, and yet I can. Ahhh.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

quick update

...to say hi, I"m alive and well, homesick, but also sad to leave here in less than a month. Also, got an internship in Connecticut and will be living there for 10 weeks or so this summer, so I'm only home for a week before I'm off again. I hope to give a more thorough, explanatory update on some things here that have been on my mind, but that comes after I finish my homework. Also, might be going to Petra soon which is pretty cool :)

Oh, and for anyone that was worried: I'm not going to Syria anytime soon. I didn't get a visa before I left (they cost $131) and the borders are closed now anyway, but I'm definitely not going. I know one person who managed to drive through to Lebanon, and he was damn lucky he made it.

Anyway, that's it for now. Off to class!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

pictures that aren't mine (from Beirut)

I was really lucky I got to go to Lebanon when I did. Next week, a report is coming out condemning Hezbollah for its role in the assassiantion of Hariri, and it's not going to be safe to go to Lebanon after that for a while. A lot of my friends are going Easter weekend, basically the last safe day to go. In any case, all of these were taken by Nick. I just pretended that he was my camera. All these pics are Beirut, the ones from Byblos/Jbail, Jeita Grotto, and the mountains haven't been uploaded to facebook so I can rip them yet :)

These are the mountains in either Syria or Lebanon, I can't remember which.

The city.

Our view from the hostel - the port.

1500 Lira = 1 US dollar

Here follows a series of pictures of the mosque near our hostel.

please note the ruins in the forefront. and the Virgin Megastore to the right.

Where we had breakfast every morning in Beirut.

ruins near the souk district.

Downtown shopping - very French.

creme brulee nick and I split - SO. GOOD.

found right outside the downtown shopping area - remnants from the war.

the abandoned Holiday Inn.

So. hopefully more pictures soon. Until then, Ma'a salaama!


Sunday, April 10, 2011


So I'm going to try to make this as complete and thorough as possible. I'm finally done with midterms, done with spring break, and now the only thing standing in the way of me and this blog is my laziness. So if this ends up being a two-parter, I apologize. But I want to give everything that's going on enough credence and detail, so bear with me.

Midterms were two weeks ago. It was a hell of a week, compounded by the fact that my precious, my prized possession, my Macbook Louis, broke. The power cord got caught in the protective case I bought right before I left (oh irony, you cruel mistress) and pulled my computer off the dresser, flipping it screen-side down, and landing on the tile floor. I now have a steadily creeping black spiderweb of cracks inking across my screen, and I don't know how long it's going to last. Inshallah, I fix it when I get back.

In happier news, spring break in Lebanon was incredible. I'd have pictures, but I was traveling with two obsessive (and talented) photographers, so I figure I'll wait until they post theirs for me to steal a few and put them up here :) The first day I woke up bright and early to catch a cab with Nick and drive down south to the airport. We met up with the rest of our group and made it to our plane, taking off at around 10 and arriving in Beirut around 11. It was a short flight, less than an hour, but you gotta fly when you don't want to cross the Southern border of Syria, or pay 131 dollars for a Syrian visa. Nonetheless, we made it into Beirut after trekking up and down looking for a bus, beating off the horrific taxi drivers, and struggling up the hill to our hostel. We ended up staying at this hostel for 5 nights total, since Beirut is so central and it takes only a couple hours or less to get anywhere in the country. On top of that, the hostel was dirt cheap and fantastically located right next to the downtown souks/shopping district, which was all European and French. I didn't realize just how French Lebanon would be, but I was served a number of menus in French with no English or Arabic on them, and I felt incredibly lost. My favorite breakfast place, Paul, is a French chain with all French menus, and the biggest struggle of the morning was always ordering. In any case, we had ample space to explore, and it was completely safe; it's hard not to be when on every corner were concrete blockades and at least 2 officers with M-16s. There are around 4 different kinds of Lebanese police I believe, all with different uniforms, and it took a little to get used to them. In Jordan, you have the regular police and the army, and that's basically it, although the traffic police have got the best hats you have ever seen in your life:

A minor annoyance about Lebanon is the currency. They use both Lebanese Lira/Pounds (1 USD = 1500 LL) and the US dollar. At the same time. I have many checks that I've saved that give the individual price of items in LL, but then give the total in both LL and USD. And oftentimes, we'd have to pay with both at the same time. And get change in both. So it's very difficult to figure out how much change you're getting, if you're paying the right amount, etc. Even worse is that both Lebanon and Jordan do not split checks. The practice is simply unheard of. If you all sit at the same table, you all pay together. And since not everyone takes credit cards, it can be hard to figure out who has to pay who and when and whatnot. So the moral of the story is that not only did I have conversations in Arabic, English, and French, but I also had 3 different currencies in my wallet the whole time.

The first couple days we did nothing but wander around Beirut and eat. On the third day we went to Jeita Grotto, which is absolutely incredible - you're not supposed to take pictures, but I know Nick snuck a few, so if those turn out I'll post them, but if not, I HIGHLY recommend you google image it: it's absolutely breathtaking. The only downside was that we went when a bunch of school kids were doing a tour, and it was mayhem inside. On the lower part of the grotto you can take a boat tour, but since Middle Easterners don't understand the concept of a line (not stereotyping, it's a fact) even when there are metal barricades forcing you into one, it was extra hectic and long trying to get on the boat. People, old and young, kept trying to push past us and some were hopping the fence too. We got an extra 20 minutes of waiting for being natural line-formers.

On the fourth day we went up to Byblos/Jbail, which is a town with tons of ruins dating all the way back to before 1000 B.C. It's one of the oldest continually inhabited towns on Earth, and many of the old ruins aren't actually ruins at all - they still house people and business, especially in the old souk district. The town is right on the coast of the Mediterranean, so we even got some beach time while we were there. Our hotel was rather miraculous - the price was heavily knocked down since it's the off season, and we got breakfast and an ocean view included. For four unemployed students, that's quite a deal. The beach was pretty dirty, covered in trash in parts, but we were determined for some beach time so we went out the following morning. We ended up having a little audience of three random Lebanese men, but they were mostly harmless. They didn't talk to Lindsey or I, but they chatted with Nick when he wandered off and Matthew when Lindsey and I left as well. After the beach, we went and ate lunch at a restaurant Lindsey and I had found the day before. Most of the places to eat are along the harbor, many of them seafood places and rather pricey, but The Cookery was reasonable and served my new addiction, Kinder crepes. If any of you have ever had Kinder Bueno chocolate, you might understand the gloriousness of Kinder chocolate crepes. They are heavenly. We managed to find another crepe place (uniquely called "the crepe factory") in Gemmayzeh, near all the bars. Speaking of which, Nick and I found a bar on our little exploration through Gemmayzeh during our first day in Beirut called, I kid you not, Beavis and Butthead. Needless to say, we went back during the night and had a couple drinks with the bartender, a lovely young lady named Anis who gave us some great advice on where to visit in Lebanon, as well as free internet. We ended up back at Beavis and Butthead 2 more times with different groups of people, just because the bar and this woman and her boyfriend were so amazingly friendly and fun to talk to.

Anyway. Back to Byblos. We spent two nights there then moved back to Beirut and caught a bus to Deir Addine and some other castle whose name I can't remember - after a while, all the ruins just start blending together...in any case, we stayed at this very very French hotel off the side of the mountain road, called La Bastide. When I get pictures, I'll show this little hotel: It had a wonderful view and a very nice, albeit strange Frenchwoman who ran the establishment with her chaffeur and brood of Asian maids. We spent the next day exploring the little village and walking to the castles, admiring the stepped farms along the mountainside. It was raining, and the clouds were sitting in the valley and made everything foggy. We were walking along the road, which probably wasn't a good idea considering how narrow it was, how horrible Lebanese drivers are, and the fact that it dropped away at a staggering rate down the side of the mountain. But, we obviously made it back alive, so all in all a fun adventure. I was disappointed that we didn't get to go see the Cedar reserves, and Matthew was disappointed we didn't get to go to Baalbeck, but over all it was a great trip. Our last day was spent at an internet cafe and our hostel, just laying about and relaxing before heading back to Amman and school.

The one thing that I absolutely hated about Lebanon was the cab drivers. They were vultures, all of them. Aggressive, wouldn't leave us alone, ripped us off, and would hound us in packs and corner us on the street asking us where we were going. I definitely missed Amman with its clearly identified yellow cabs and meters. But other than the taxi drivers, Lebanon was good. I'll probably give another update on a few other things that stuck out to me while I was in Beirut, like the unfinished skyscrapers and the bombed out buildings, but this post is long enough already and I want to go to bed. Inshallah, another update soon.



p.s. I got all the classes I wanted AND awesome housing for next year, so I have things to look forward to at home!

p.p.s. Randomly met a girl in a serveece taxi going through Beirut - she's from Tunisia and very nice, even friended me on facebook, and it just goes to show how friendly people are on this side of the globe.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

صباح الخير

That's "good morning." I'm currently sitting in Gloria Jean's before class, drinking a cappaccino and ignoring my piles of homework. I've had a very American 24 hours: yesterday Julia, Brooke and I went to Mecca Mall and had Starbucks (tiramisu and a cocoa cappaccino) and shopped around at places like Aldo and Forever 21.

alright you all. Chill out. I'm writing a quick update just to let you know that I am alive and happy just really really REALLY busy. I've given one presentation this week, have 3 more, 3 midterms, 2 papers, and 1 book to read before spring break and before I can really sit down and just relax. I also have to work on planning spring break, which is always fun but also very distracting and detrimental to my work ethic. In case you didn't know, I'm spring breaking in Lebanon: first two nights in Beirut, then traveling up north and around to visit Roman ruins, sit on the beach, and (hopefully) a winetasting/cave exploring combo. In case you were wondering: I will be safe. I have a good head on my shoulders, I am a cautious person, and Lebanon is the least of the worries here in the Middle East. My general response about Lebanon is "at least I'm not going to Egypt" - my friends who are travelling to Egypt say "At least I'm not going to Libya..."

Basically, if you weren't aware, to put it lightly, shit has hit the fan in places other than just Libya. Syria is probably one of the least safe places to be right now. I don't know what the media is covering in the US, but some crazy stuff is going down in Syria that the government is trying to hide. All my friends planning to go to Syria are rethinking their plans. So, in essence, I have chosen the safest country outside of Jordan in the Middle East to travel to, so you really need not worry. I'll be fine. And I'm traveling with a good group of people.

I know it's been a while, but not much has happened. The highlights of my past couple weeks include FINALLY going to souk al-juma3a (the friday souk), having lunch with my Jordanian friends, and getting my residency card. The souk was a bit of a let-down, but mostly because it happened to be a really cold (read: 50 degrees) and rainy day, so everything was wet. The souk is essentially a large goodwill/flea market that's set up under tents outside. What struck me most about it was the massive amounts of shoes. Tables and tables and tables of piled up used shoes, all in varying degrees of wear, as well as curtains of hanging shoes that were mostly new. These curtains served as walls, in some instances, and I have to say I never thought I'd see curtains of shoes, of all things. The clothes were much the same: tables and tables of used clothing, most of it from the states, and it's a great game to go through and find the random high schools and colleges that you recognize. As well, we also found an entire rack of 90s track suits. I am almost tempted to go back and buy one, because I'm telling you you've never seen such a glorious mishmash of colors and patterns. They also sell a lot of lingerie there, which was a little odd. I can't imagine bargaining with a random shebab for a pink lace bra and matching thong, but someone must do it because they are clearly in good business.

Last week, on Thursday, myself and six other CIEE girls were invited over to a friend's house for lunch. It ended up being us and about 7 or 8 Jordanian girls, and it was a giant girl party. My friend's mom cooked some of the most AMAZING food ever, and there was so much of it, it was insane. The general rule of thumb here seems to be: invite five people, cook for twenty. As there was 14 or so of us, you can imagine how much food there was. It is so worth getting fat just to eat all the food here all the time. We were there for I think around 3 hours, and of course we were served coffee and tea throughout. We even got to try a little belly-dancing, but most of us failed utterly. All in all, it was quite an eventful afternoon, and one of the best experiences I've had since I've been here.

A small thing that made my day was getting my residency card. It means that I don't have to pay a re-entry visa when I leave the country, and I get into Petra for 1 JD instead of 55, which is awesome. I'm glad I ended up forgoing the CIEE trip to Petra, because 1) it's now super cheap for me to do it on my own, and 2) I'm going to Wadi Rum this weekend instead. We're going to ride camels and camp out bedouin style. You know, no big deal.

Oh, other exciting news: my host mom is pregnant. We found out the day before mother's day (mother's day is March 21st in Jordan) so it was extra special for her. Brooke and I bought soap and sweets from Habibeh's for her and our host aunt, as they are both our mothers here.

So, that's my basic update for you all. Sorry I haven't been more regular, I've just been very busy. Hopefully after next week things will calm down and I'll be able to write more often. Hope America is going well!

Ma'a Salaama!

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Why you not married?"

(My cab driver asked me this on the way home today. It's amazing how this and other similar questions simply don't phase me anymore.)

I know - it's a miracle! Two blog updates in one week! Essentially this is me procrastinating, especially since I didn't realize I had a senior project proposal due on Friday. Alas, mish muskila. I know what I want to work on, it's just a matter of articulating it well enough for the powers that be.

Today I had my blood taken for my residency application. If you want to be a resident in Jordan, you have to take the blood test to prove you don't have AIDS. That's all fine and dandy, but you all know how I am about needles and blood...luckily, I had a fine group of people with me who tried to keep me calm, despite the fact that I knew it wasn't going to be quick and painless because for me and my TINY veins, it never is. And I was right. I was poked twice, once in each arm, and now I have matching holes. But it's all over, and when I got back to campus I went and got myself an iced coffee before heading to class, so I was all better.

For a while now, I've been meaning to discuss the LGBT talk I went to last week. It was hosted at CIEE, and the speaker was the first out man in Jordan. Quite literally, the first. There have been newspaper articles written about him, and he's become the de facto voice for LGBT issues in Jordan. Jordan, surprisingly, is the only country in the Mid East with no laws against homosexuality, and thus many of the area's LGBT community flock to Amman from other countries. However, this isn't a one way street. Jordan is originally tribal based, and that tribe mentality continues even today (remind me to talk about wasta sometime...) Thus, the frequency of honor killings is much higher than it should be. Honor killings occur when a person, usually a woman, does something or is accused of doing something - anything from talking to a man in the street to having an orgy - and thus her blood must be spilled to regain the family honor. My professor in Arab Women Writers makes no secret of the honor killings she's heard of occuring not only in Jordan, but in Amman as well. In fact, she told us that one girl was slashed across the face on the staircase inside the building we have class in, all because she refused to marry her boyfriend. Then her tribe came to school to revenge her by slashing someone from his tribe, and you can see how this can spiral out of control. The man who gave the speech broke it down like this - Jordan has three forms of law: civil law, sharia'a (religious) law, and tribal law. That's a lot to be held accountable to at any given time.

Back to my point though. The man (let's call him Bob) told us that the LGBT community in Jordan is more of a network. Since they can't be an official group (again, law issues) they form a loose net of people all ready to help one another when the time comes. Since Bob is one of the few out people in the country, he gets a lot of calls and messages for help from complete strangers all over the area. You have to understand that there are no words, no lexicon, for the LGBT community in Arabic, and half the battle has been creating that lexicon in order to facilitate discussion for the LGBT community. In short, it's amazing to see how the intricacies of this loose community differ from the loud, proud communities back in America. If you want to know about the talk, feel free to message or call me or whatever, and I'll fill you in. It was quite illuminating, to say the least.

Another thing on my list of things to talk about is the Jordanian school system. If you know more about it than I do, and I've somehow gotten this wrong, feel free to correct me. The basic tenant, however, is the high school exam. This exam is a HUGE deal in Jordan, much bigger than the SAT or the ACT is in America. Unlike the SAT/ACT, the Jordanian exam does not merely test you in various subjects and spit back a number to send to schools. The Jordanian exam creates a cumulative score that is all or nothing - there is no break down to see what you're good at and not good at. I mean, yes, there are separate scores that measure how you did on the various tests, but as separate entities they don't matter. Your score determines what you will study in college. Let me repeat, it determines what you will study. If you are a top scorer, you go to med school. Second to top is engineering, and so on down the list. You cannot move up without wasta (i.e. connections) and it's pretty hard to move down as well. It boils down to ONE test determining your college years, your career, and your future. That's a lot to handle. It also prevents those who are smart in say, sciences, but really suck at reading comprehension, from entering the science field. The lack of choice means all the "brightest" students are in medicine, and there's no one left to be competent at other jobs, like I.T. and other services. There are many people who agree that the Jordanian educational system needs an overhaul, and I think this test is a major reason why.

There's a couple more things on my list to talk about, but I'll save those for another post. I really do need to get some work done, and finish out this senior writing proposal. Hopefully when I write again, I'll have definite plans for spring break.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

a couple of pictures

Some centuries-old mosaic we found in the eastern desert ruins we toured a while back.

This was taken at the Dead Sea at the beginning of Dead2Red.

Brooke and I "near" the Iraqi border.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dead2Red - more like Dead2Dead

Hello all. I know it's been a while, and I actually have a a list of things I want to blog about, but until I reach that list I'll write a short post just to fill you in on what I did this weekend, namely Dead2Red. As you might be able to deduce from the name, Dead2Red is a relay marathon from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, a distance of 242 km (approx. 150 miles) that took place from 4 pm on Thursday until whenever you finished. Basically, the race consists of ten people running through the desert all night. Our team was made up of 13 people - 10 runners and 3 alternates, which is what I was - and 2 people on support staff. Another CIEE team had around the same amount of participants and support staff. Each team had a bus and a car to transport people throughout the night. We ran in shifts, and it worked a bit like this: 3-4 people would get in the car and drive to wherever the current runner was. The car would follow behind the runner until his or her time/distance was up, then drive ahead and pull over to let out the next runner. The first runner would run up and pass off the baton (a glow stick) to the next runner, then hop in the car and wait. Once the last runner had begun running, the car would drive ahead to where the bus was parked a few kilometers away, and reload with fresh runners. Once the runners had passed the bus, the bus would start up and drive a good distance down the road, then park and wait until the whole process started over again. At first, the runners did shifts of 5-10 minute runs, but around 1 am that changed to 20 minute runs so that people would have enough time to try to sleep. At around 5:30, after the sun had risen, it switched again to 5-10 min. runs. I only ran a few shifts, subbing in for those who were too sore or whatever to go for a rotation, but I was one of the main sprinters for the last 9 kilometers into Aqaba.

In short, it was an amazing experience. There were around 20 teams running, I believe, but once we made it deep into the desert, we were spread out enough that we were essentially alone for the rest of the race. Running through the desert at 1 am with no one around is an unforgettable experience. When I was running, the car had driven up to get more runners and I was left alone in the dark with nothing but my glowstick and iPod. There were no other lights, and you could see more stars than I have ever seen in my life. The stretch of desert we were passing through during the night was completely flat, and thus I could see stars that reached all the way down to the horizon. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I wish pictures could convey just how beautiful and awe-inspiring everything was, but cameras simply wouldn't do it justice. How can you capture the feeling of watching the sun rise over the mountains in the middle of desert Jordan? The mountains themselves are incredible, but on film they just look like brown hills. The depth and breadth that they consist of simply doesn't translate into pixels. I did, however, take a few shots, mainly of the Dead Sea, and will be uploading those shortly, along with some Aqaba pictures from last weekend that I stole from my friends.

Oh, but don't let me forget the not-so-beautiful memories. Those of you who have ever been camping know the experience of having to find a suitable place to relieve yourself in the middle of the woods. If you think that's a problem, try attempting to find privacy in the desert. Do you know what's in the desert? Sand, a couple of thorn bushes, and nothing else. I have now peed behind more sand dunes than I care to admit to. It was a lot easier at night though: one simply had to walk off in any direction for a distance of about 50 feet, turn off the flashlight, and drop your pants. During the day, however, when you can see everything for miles in any given direction, the best you can hope for is a slightly raised hill of sand, or a scarce bush, and pray that no one turns around while you're attending to your business.

One of the girls who was support staff for the other team was kind enough to cook us all dinner at 1 am, so we had grilled chicken and vegetables in the middle of the desert. As well, our program director came with us but stayed the night and aqaba, and on Friday morning she drove out to our buses and brought us warm pita, cheese, and orange juice. By the time we all reached Aqaba, we were starving, exhausted, and covered in sand and sweat. We raced the other team the last 9 kilometers (hence the sprinting) but they eventually beat us out by about 2 minutes. Our entire team ran the last 50 feet or so to the finish line, and we all got medals when we finished. We were one of the last teams, or the last team, to finish, but it didn't really matter considering none of us had been training to run a desert marathon - we all just sort of signed up to go a couple weeks in advance. We were, however, the first and second fastest teams from CIEE to ever run, which was pretty cool. I also got to keep my running vest, which is bright yellow and says "Amman Road Runner" on the back. It's pretty awesome, and I don't know where or when but I will definitely be wearing it at some point at home. Maybe it would make a good Snitch uniform...

Oh, another thing: the team that placed first (and wins every year) did the entire race in 100 meter sprints. That's 100 meter sprints for 242 kilometers, between 10 people. I think they finished sometime before the sun rose in the morning (around 4 am, I think) and the team that came in second was all bedouin who ran barefoot. BAREFOOT. for 242 km of desert road. Jordanians are not big on public cleaning, so trash lined the road wherever we were, including a hefty amount of broken glass, not to mention of course the scattering of rocks and sand that covered everything. The moral of the story is that the bedouin are some of the most bad ass people ever.

I think that about covers my Dead2Red experience. Look for another blog post from me soon, covering other things from this week and additional observations that I think are worth sharing. I've been making a list of things I want to talk about, but I want to do them justice, which is why I've concentrated solely on my Dead2Red experience for now. Inshallah, I will talk to you all soon. Yellabye!


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Aqaba and the Red Sea

Hello all. Sorry it's been a while, but I was gone all weekend in Aqaba and didn't bring my computer with me. The only thing interesting happening in my life right now was Aqaba, which let me tell you, was FANTASTIC. Brooke volunteered to find a place to stay, and after a week of searching we found a hostel called Bedouin Garden Village that averaged out to 20 dollars (14 JD) for two nights and breakfast for each person. Basically, it was a steal. And we were pleasantly surprised to find that when we got there, the place was really, really nice. It's down near Tala Bay, which is a few kilometers from Aqaba city proper, but it was nice because it was just across the street from the beach. The place consists of a few low buildings and some square areas with tents pitched for those who want a more "authentic" bedouin experience. The lower level area consists of an outdoor dining area and many patio-like platforms with low couches and rugs for reclining, chatting, chilling, etc. We ended up spending most of our Friday evening sitting in one of these areas, drinking tea and smoking arghileh like true Jordanians. (side note: we were walking on the beach and came to the public area, which was mostly traditional looking guys and their arghileh/hookah set up under a tent. They take this stuff everywhere.)

Allow me to back track somewhat: to get to Aqaba, we took a bus from Amman to Aqaba. The ride was around 4 hours, minus all the stops for the police to come on board and check our ID's - we think the random stops were because Aqaba is a duty-free zone - and the tickets only cost 7.5 JD, which is pretty decent. When we got to Aqaba we ate at a restaurant called Captain's where all the waiters had to wear sailor costumes. I felt pretty bad for them, they were some ridiculous outfits they were forced to wear. It was interesting to eat there because most of the people eating there were tourists who were staying at any of the hotels nearby, and none of them seemed to speak a word of Arabic. The more I'm here the more I realize how little I know, but also how much I know in comparison to the passing tourists. Life is so much easier when you can communicate even on a basic level with the people you're surrounded by. After dinner we went to our hostel, checked in, and then explored the beach. There wasn't a whole lot to see since it was so dark, but we could see the lights on the other side of Red Sea, presumably from somewhere in Israel. During the day, the view is totally different: behind you, in Jordan, you can see these huge mountains, totally brown and uninhabited, and across the sea you can see the buildings of the various coastal cities in Israel and Egypt. Beyond those buildings, more mountains rose up into the constant haze that exists throughout Jordan, and it felt like sitting in the center of a giant bowl. We couldn't see Saudi Arabia, but we were less than 6 miles from the border, which is pretty cool.

Our second day consisted of us sitting on the beach and not moving for hours. I mean, we got up to swim a couple of times, but the weather was just the right temperature for lying out in the sun. We were warned that the beach might be a bit sketchy since it was fairly public (i.e. old Arab men sitting around watching foreign women in their suits) but we were pleasantly surprised to find the beach mostly creeper-free. The water in the Red Sea is incredible, by the way: totally clear, and you can see reefs that begin just feet beyond the shore. We eventually went on a glass bottom boat tour, after the driver heckled us for hours to come do it. The upside was that he ended up knocking the price down from 10 JD to 4.5 for each person, which is a pretty sweet deal for an hour (it ended up being an hour and half) and snorkeling included. I just blame it on the fact that we went during the off season, which was an excellent decision. The tour was incredible. We could see at least 60 feet down into the water, and we'd pass over reefs that were mere inches from the bottom of our boat. We saw tons of fish, some eels, a sunk ship and a sunk army tank. We eventually got to go snorkel around some of the coral, and it was amazing. I can't even describe how awesome it was, but it was SO COOL. Brooke tells me that the Red Sea is one of the best spots for coral and snorkeling in the world, and if you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it.

After the boat tour, we sat on the beach again until we got tired and went in to get ready for dinner. We ate dinner at the hostel, then moved to one of the tent/patio areas to sit back and relax. We got some arghileh and tea and sat around being as lazy as possible. Near the end of the evening we went out to the beach and took a walk. The tide was out, and we found a rock shelf that was fairly dry, and we sat and talked for around an hour until the wind became too much to handle and we went back and sat around and talked some more there. Basically, it was a lazy weekend of sitting around, sleeping, and eating. It was exactly what all of us needed - we've been going nonstop since we arrived in Amman, and we finally got our break. I want to go back every weekend now, it was so relaxing and incredible. When I get the chance to steal some pictures from my friends, I will upload them or email them or somehow send them on to all of you.

This week should pass fairly quickly. Next weekend I'm participating in the Dead2Red marathon and skipping my program's expedition to the Dead Sea. It's pretty cheap to do it on your own, and the marathon seems like a once in a lifetime experience, so I'm really pumped for that. I'm actually in pretty decent shape considering I go to the gym around 4 times a week since it means I get to shower. Other than that, not much else is going on. It's the king's birthday today, so we came home early to avoid traffic, and now we're just sitting in our room watching Love Actually and not doing homework. I'll update you all again as soon as I can :)


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Desert Castles

Hello all. Again, sorry for the change in updates. I know I'm getting at least one out every other day, which at this point makes sense because 1) my life is nothing but school and eating and 2) not much is therefore happening beyond my daily routine. HOWEVER, this last weekend was our first CIEE outing, and on Saturday I went to explore some castles in the Eastern desert of Jordan. I will post some of the best pictures from this particular outing, since not all of you are facebook friends with me and I figure you might want to see some of what you're going to read about.

We went to Hallabat, Azraq, Khrammeh, Amra, and the Azraq wetlands. I didn't take any pictures of the wetlands because, quite honestly, it was too depressing. Calling them wetlands is like calling a street puddle a lake. There used to be tons of water in the wetlands, but constant irrigation toward Amman and the rest of the Jordan dried them up horribly fast. Now it's mostly bogs, with stagnant pools of water here and there and lots of tall, dead grass. The creepiest part are these trees that look like seaweed, rising up out of the dust - and charred black. Somehow they must've caught fire, because they are essentially freestanding stalks of charcoal.

Other than the wetlands, the trip was incredible. Hallabat and Azraq were the two compounds/forts that we saw, and Amra and Khrammeh were more actual castles/mansions. The first two were great because they were huge and open, with tons of spaces to explore. The best part was of course, the free range we had exploring them. I know, I know, it's horrible to let tourists climb all over your ruins that predate 700 AD, but I mean, climbing on top of a millenia old wall to look out and see nothing but desert for miles and miles? That's an experience.

Okay. The internet isn't cooperating and my pictures aren't loading, so I'll compromise: go to www.facebook.com/biz.bailey to see my Eastern desert album. If I captured any of the awesomeness that I saw on Saturday, it'll totally be worth your while to take a look. I'm definitely looking forward to more adventures like this one in the future - like this weekend, when I'll probably be heading out to Aqaba with some friends, inshallah.

I'm hoping that you all enjoy reading this, because at the moment this blog is nothing more than recounting my day. I wish I could provide more insightful comments and remarks on Jordan and the Middle East, but I can't summon the strength to think so hard when I'm already so absorbed in my Arabic homework. 12 hours of Arabic class a week is a lot, and the homework is significantly larger than I am used to, but I'm holding it together. I'm not so worried about grades; I mean come on, I'm in Jordan! So here's to hoping for more regular, if not more insightful, updates from Amman :)


Friday, February 18, 2011

Harry Potter is universal

I've definitely met quite a few Jordanians who love HP and are fascinated that I play Quidditch, so I'm feeling pretty awesome a good amount of the time here simply because I'm a huge nerd.

Hello family, friends, etc. Sorry that I haven’t updated in a while. I am fine, Jordan is fine, no revolution still. You might be aware that there were some injuries in a protest in downtown Amman today, but I was far away from that and everything is still fine. So don’t worry. The only reason I haven’t updated is that I have been really, really busy. Schoolwork is really piling up, and I’m still out and about whenever I can, so between those two I have lost most of my free time. Tomorrow I’m heading out to the Eastern Desert to explore some castles, so I’m not gonna get much homework done tomorrow either. Oh well. Mish Muskila. The point is that I am having fun and loving life and my grades don’t transfer, so all is well. It’s pretty late – I was out with a group at Books@Cafe, the super trendy filled with Americans place to hang out – and I’m tired and just want to sleep since I have to wake up super early tomorrow. Hopefully a more elaborate and fleshed out blog will be coming. But you never know!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rainbow Street

I am tired and so full of potato pizza. Apparently potato pizza is a family or regional thing because my host mom says, "you'll never have this anywhere else." It was good, and I was fed way more than I needed to eat, but I'm getting used to that. Thank god I have motivation to workout because a) it means I get to shower whenever I want and b) I get to train for the Dead to Red marathon, which I really want to do.

Today was the Prophet's birthday, so no class. Instead, Brooke and I slept in, had breakfast, then went out to explore Rainbow Street. This particular section of Amman is downtown and consists mostly of restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops all aimed at foreigners. Most of them have menus in English, and it contained many of the only shops open on this particular holiday. We met up with Julia and headed to a cafe she'd passed the night before when going out for dinner. We found the place, called Old View Cafe, and went up three flights of stairs to the terrace and sat down to a fantastic view of old Amman. We could see all the hills around us, and miles out to the deserted hills just beyond the city. It was absolutely breathtaking. We ordered drinks (cafe latte, lemonade with mint - a huge hit here in Amman - and fresh, and I mean FRESH orange juice for myself) and sat just passed the time chatting. The great thing about eating out in Jordan is that no one is rushing you. Whenever I go out, we sit down, order our food or drinks, recieve our orders, and then don't see the waiter again until we flag him down for our check. None of this constant checking and rushing that you get in American restaurants. Everyone and everything here is generally very relaxed in regards to time, and just sitting around and hanging is not considered wasteful. It's very difficult to be stressed out, because nothing here is ever rushed.

After drinks, we headed out to meet up with Matthew and look for bookstores. I've been craving Margaret Atwood for a few days now, and it's been impossible to find anything by her in any of the bookstores. We stopped in three bookstores, in varying states of content - from a ramshackle, one room hodgepodge of literature to a fairly full-blown store - and couldn't find anything by her. Most of the books we found were of the self-help or religious variety (mostly Christian too, oddly enough) and the fiction was generally relegated to the realms of Jodi Picoult and Dan Brown. The last bookstore we stopped in was Books@Cafe, this wonderful little bookstore/cafe combo with the literature on the first floor and the trendiest little cafe on the top. Again, the cafe opened up to a beautiful view of the city, but the inside was modern furniture and art: low, high-backed lounge chairs and wrap around sofas, blue walls with pop-art murals, and funky chandeliers and lamps. All the people in there were trendy too: clean-cut guys in argyle sweaters and designer jeans, hipsters, and women with four inch heels, skinny jeans, and smart sweaters or chic tops. There were also very few hijab clad women among the crowd, but those who were wore them in an impeccably chic fashion. I'm assuming that most of the women wearing them in the cafe were wearing them due to social custom or familial obligation, rather than religiously; my professor has pointed out that very few women do wear it for religious reasons, and that most of them wear it to protect themselves from discrimination, which I now understand first-handedly.

Everyone in my program it seemed was spending time on Rainbow Street, so we sat and drank milkshakes with a few other students. The milkshakes were 3.5 JD (the orange juice earlier was 2.5) but it was well worth it considering that a) it was the first milk I've had since I've been here and b) it was incredibly delicious. After that, we headed back out and walked around until 5, when we grabbed a taxi at the 1st Circle and headed home.

I've finally started to get into a routine, and I'm really enjoying the way life is unfolding here in Amman. On Saturday, however, is our first group outing beyond the confines of Amman, and I've signed up to head out and explore the Eastern desert. It should be absolutely amazing, and I promise to take as many pictures as possible. Yellabye!


Sunday, February 13, 2011

burnt pita and lady gaga

Burnt pita happened this morning. I didn't know you could burn pita in the microwave, but now I do. And I had to go without pita and peanut butter for breakfast, and honestly I was a bit crushed. Today was just ick, a million little things going wrong and driving my sanity up a wall and over a cliff. I almost didn't post, but I remembered I didn't write a blog yesterday so I figured I owe you all one.

Nothing much has happened. Only Mubarak stepping down, and you know, that's no big deal...well obviously that's a lie. We were actually told to stay in the night he stepped down because people were going crazy, even in Jordan. Our family went out, and we could hear firecrackers and yelling in the street outside our building. It was quite a night for celebration. Now everyone's hedging bets on who goes next. Most people are going for Algeria or Syria, I think, but according to Betsy (who came over to chill and have tea last night) the army in Algeria is against the people and further revolts would create a bloodbath. Not that Egypt wasn't bloody enough, but I suppose it would pale in comparison to some other countries.

Two of the things that went wrong today involved people randomly hitting me up for money in Khalefa, which is strange and was horrendously awkward. A woman carrying subway and wearing the niqab came up to me at the elevator whispering, and I couldn't hear her so I bent closer and she told me, "I need your help my daughter very sick want to go to hospital" and all I could say was "le, asefa" and then stand there awkwardly at the elevator. It's not like I didn't want to help her; if her daughter really is sick, that's horrible, but as a general rule don't give money out to strangers. And then, about 3 hours later, Brooke and I got into the same elevator with a man who ripped two sheets out of a stack of flyers he was carrying and handed them to us. He mimed something about possibly not being able to hear or talk, I wasn't sure which one, and the flyers were in Arabic so we just took them to be nice. However, once we got out he started following us and he was waving after Brooke. We turned around and he rubbed his fingers together, making a face of absolute disgust. When we realized he wanted money, we handed the flyers back and he was incredibly affronted and stalked off to wait for other people at the top of the elevator. Again, I don't want to be rude or turn down charity, but I had no idea what he wanted or what it was for and he had no way of explaining what it was to us, so the only thing we could do was say no. And it didn't help that he had us trapped with him there in the elevator.

Anyway. That's the short version of a day that just went downhill from breakfast until Lady Gaga came on the tv. Fu Fu loves his music videos, and one of the channels randomly decided to do about 5 videos of nothing but Gaga, and then Brooke and I had the lovely occurrence of having to explain Lady Gaga to our Iraqi host dad. Be it in English or Arabic, it was pretty impossible to explain who and why and what Lady Gaga is, especially trying to explain her hold on the American public, despite her craziness. Brooke captured it pretty succinctly, however, saying, "Everyone loves her, but everyone thinks she's crazy."

Oh, yesterday I met my peer tutor. She was pretty nice, and I look forward to meeting with her more. Also, got my fingerprints done today for my residency application. But I lost my cellphone yesterday and haven't gotten it back yet from the bus station, and I left my gym bag at the gym today. Today is not my day. Tomorrow, inshallah, it will be better.


Friday, February 11, 2011

"I LOVE Amreeka"

My taxi driver last night was pretty adamant about loving America, where half his family lives, and told us all about Philadelphia. I'm glad he loves America though, because I had one friend who had a taxi driver who said, "I khate america, I khate obama, I khate america. I love Americans, but I khate America." Mish Mushkila, that's life.

I know I skipped yesterday, but as it is the weekend, I think I'm allowed to let that one slide.

One thing I forgot to talk about a couple days ago was Fu Fu's birthday. We went to my host grandmother's house and got to see her "boys" (aka our host cousins) and the girl who lives with the family upstairs, which was nice. The five of us had a nice chat, and we were invited to go out with Sam and Elliot (our host cousins) which is what we did last night. Fu Fu loves a tv show called "RiHanna" - not Rihanna, btw - and the characters from that show were on his birthday cake. Also on his birthday cake were about 12 sparklers and two firecrackers. All of us had to hold sparklers as well. Did I mention this was all inside? because it was. There were 13 people standing around inside with sparks shooting every which direction. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

So yesterday was pretty eventful. Our only "class" was meeting with our professors to discuss our placement tests. I got a 56% on my exam and was bumped up to Intermediate II, which I was pretty pumped about. After that, a group of us went back to Khalefa Plaza for coffee at Gloria Jean's. Alot of restaurants here have two areas. It's hard to explain, but I'll try. Usually there's one room/area where you go order your food/drink/whatever, with some chairs and tables and what not. However, there's also usually another room/area across from the main one that's only seats and tables. Gloria Jean's is like this; it's at the entrance to the plaza, so the doors into the plaza separate the two parts of Gloria Jean's. When we got our coffee and went to go sit, we went to the other side and up the stairs to this lovely little cozy area where we could people watch. Oh, and let me not forget the music: Jordan seems to be very big on sappy, romantic ballads and late 90s - early 2000s music. It gets to be a bit much, sometimes, but we were content to just sit and chat for a few hours yesterday.

After Gloria Jean's, we decided to head out for City Mall. It was raining again (it has rained almost everyday since I've been here) so we wanted to stay inside for the most part. Matthew wanted to get a suit for his internship, so he, Brooke, Julia, and I headed out to city mall to shop. We of course had to stop upstairs for a bathroom break, since you never know what type of bathroom you'll get here. No one uses UJ's bathrooms - they are regularly protested for being so horrific. We though getting a taxi might be difficult because of the rain, but we got one and headed out.

I should point out that security here is a lot higher than in America. At the entrance to the mall you have to go through a metal detector and have your bags searched (by the gender appropriate person, of course) and at a good number of the stores you're not allowed to take bags in. Instead, a guard will take your bags and give you a number to retrieve them when you leave. It's actually kind of nice if you're carrying a lot around.

City Mall was busy, since that's where people hang out on the weekends. It's very hard to just hang out in Jordan, since it is so family centered and dating is so frowned upon. So the mall was packed with teens, much like America, but there is such a variety of people here unlike in the malls back home. The people there are much more diverse than the ones at the University, and I saw guys rocking styles from America to Japan. Getting out of the mall was pretty difficult though. It was raining, and the taxi drivers kept telling us "traffic too bad, 5 JD" which is a total lie, so we had to wait until we found a driver willing to turn on the meter, which was mostly due to luck. We found one and went home, dropped off our bags, and headed out for Hashem's. Hashem's is the famous fuul place in Jordan, although I can't tell you what it's like because we only met there before we went out to the restaurant/lounge with Sam, Elliot, and Leah. It was my first time heading into Amman proper, where the buildings are fairly ramshackle and close together. An interesting note; the stores are grouped together by type. We passed by a whole row of gold sellers, then a whole row of only men's barbershops, then a whole row of suit sellers. Convienent, if you're trying to find a bargain, but not if you need to buy a variety of things. The section we were walking through was all DVD stores, and after we went the restaurant we headed for DVD Hamudeh's, where every single dvd you could ever want is only 1 JD. They really do have every dvd of anything ever. I saw Donnie Darko, season 2 of Boy Meets World, Kyle XY, Lemon Tree, etc. it was pretty epic, and Brooke and I plan on going back.

Back to the restaurant. We went up two flights of stairs and ended up in this cozy little room with low couches and chairs, and were seated by a lovely woman who I think was from America. Sam knew her really well, since he frequents this place, and she was absolutely pleased to have us there. We were the only Americans in the place, which was nice, since almost everywhere I've been so far has been jampacked with other students from my program. We had sheesha, which was a new experience for me, and Za'ater with cheese, which was a pastry with cheese and thyme and some other herbs, a little like a pizza but much tastier. We sat and talked about just about everything, and listened to music which blasted from the speakers right next to us. We heard everything from typical Arabic music to the James Bond theme song to the Looney Tunes theme song. There were families in there, as well as groups of women and groups of men, and it was fascinating, as it always is in Amman, to see how many varieties of people frequent different places. You'd never see a six year old in a place like that back in America, but it was no big deal here.

After all of this, Sam flagged down a taxi for us which was great. At night, you're never quite sure what type of taxi will try to pick up two American girls, but going anywhere with Sam guaruntees safety. He's a big, full-bearded guy from the Midwest, and no one messes with him. He's a lot like a big brother, and since he's already been here for a semester he knows what he's doing. In short, he's a good guy to have as family.

So we came home, watched a game of yaad, then went to bed. We tried to watch Sense and Sensibility again, but failed. And now it's Friday morning, and I've had my breakfast of fried eggs, pita, and shay, and have my cup of qahua (turkish coffee) sitting here while I type this. I'll update again soon, hope your weekend is as good as mine!


p.s. update on Mubarak and his speech coming soon. That's an event in and of itself.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

pita, peanut butter, and shay

That is my breakfast, everyday. And that rhymed, so I get bonus points.

Not a whole lot to talk about today. I'm just getting into a routine, although I keep forgetting what day and date it is all the time (classes Sunday through Thursday - whaaaat.) Beyond that, I went to the gym for the first time today. It's right across from our study center, up the hill a little bit. It's a ladies gym, so it's sort of down and around a corner so that no guys can accidentally look in. Everyone in there is fabulous, and you can wear whatever you want to work out. Best of all, of course, is the showers. I paid 95 JD to shower for three months. This also means I have to work out, of course, so I will be in tip-top shape for Quidditch, inshallah. What was really interesting is that back in the locker area, there's an open locker with a prayer rug and skirt. I went to work out around six, and I heard the call to prayer while I was going in. So, when I was back in the locker room changing, occasionally a woman would come in and grab the prayer rug and lay it down and start praying, right then and there. And everyone just went with it. I never though a locker would become a prayer room, but apparently it happens all the time. As well, it was interesting to watch the girls put on the niqab and hijab. I think joining the gym was one of the best decisions I've made here so far.

Other than that, not much else is new. My Arab Women Writer's professor is the biggest feminist I've ever met in my life, and she's an activist for women in the ME, and she is AMAZING. Emily, you would love her so much. And I got to make a Rape of the Lock reference, so I think I started the class off on a good note :) I've also made a Jordanian friend, who sits and talks with me every morning before my Amiyyah class. She's originally from New York, so her English is pretty good, but between the two of us we plan to practice English, Arabic, and Spanish, which is her major.

Ma'a Salaama!

p.s. Ginny - What's My Name came on the radio on my way home. Thought of you :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"He'll be like rabbit, not like chickens"

I have absolutely no clue if this is a Jordanian saying or if my host mom is just that brilliant at coming up with analogies. By the way, this is in reference to being quiet (i.e. like a rabbit) in regards to Fu Fu.

So I posted a really long list yesterday, and I'm going to get to some of it now. First I want to recap a little from today. Today was the big exam (imtiHan kabeer) and I felt so stupid by the end, especially the oral interview. But I'm hoping I'll still be bumped up to Intermediate II, inshallah. A group of us went up to north gate (bawaabit shamaalia) to get copies from Jafar and then find some lunch. Copyright laws here are pretty loose, so all our professors just photocopy passages (or whole books) and let us get them for like 2 dinar, which is awesome. We stopped at some shawerma/McDonald's type place ("Big Mac: an Epic Story" is their sign) and just chilled for a bit before we split up. Brooke, Quinn (a newfound neighbor) and I went to City Mall to get some things. OH MY GOD. the mall here is insane. This place is HUGE. They have room for inclined moving walkways - you know, like the ones in the airport? like that, no stairs, just flat and they take you from one floor to the next like an escalator. We also found out that this mall is 90% high end American stores. We found a Starbucks and sat down to have a snack and a chat (btw: java chip frappuccino = 2.65 JD) and it was wonderful. After being here for a little over a week, I was really craving just a little something from home. We've now nicknamed the City Mall our "oasis" because everything there is so American.

Onto the list!
1) The men in storefronts. In American stores, especially boutiques, people wait for customers to come in, but they wait at the counter or sort of lurking behind racks or shelves. Not here. Here, the men stand in the open doorway staring people down waiting for someone to come in. It's funny to pass by the stores in a taxi and see a whole row of guys just leaning in their doorways, silently waiting for people to come in. They don't hassle anyone, they just stand and wait. It's a little intimidating, but more amusing than anything.

2) sharmander and lift together = khalel. Khalel is a jar of pickled vegetables, I'm not sure what they are but there are two kinds: one is white and one is pink, and together they make a deep red/purple liquid that stains everything that color. It is incredibly sour, incredibly healthy, and to me at least, incredibly good. So good, I made the mistake of telling my host family twice. I then had the following conversation:
"Ah, I send some with you to school. In little jar like this" she holds up her fingers to indicate about a cup-size jar "And I will slice them and you share with your friends. Sah?"
"That would be great, shukran!"
This jar was not cup-size. This jar is about two pints big, and she filled the ENTIRE THING. I was carrying around about a pound and a half of pickled vegetables (I still don't know what exactly they are) in my backpack for the entire day. And no one ate any of it, so now I'm hiding it in my room from my host mom so she doesn't get offended. If you ever come to the Middle East, know that food is going to be your biggest cultural obstacle. Knowing when and how to accept, decline, and eat whatever it is that is set in front of you is an acquired skill.

3) Hipster Jordanians would exist if they were in America. As in, there are potential hipsters, but they don't know that. This is especially prevalent with the girls. There exists a sort of fashion scale among the girls. The most Western and liberal are the girls who wear hijab or don't (usually Christian girls, obviously) and wear skinny jeans and sweater dresses and fashionable, sometimes four-inch heeled, leather boots. Every girl, regardless, carries a large purse (much like Denison) and wears lots of makeup. The girls in Jordan, I am convinced, are some of the most beautful women on the face of the planet. Also, some of them wear the flowers (see Jordanian Bump-Its) and sometimes even walk arm in arm with boys, which is INCREDIBLY rare. Guys walking arm and arm, holding hands, or arms around waist, is totally common. And everyone kisses cheeks. It's hard not to stare because that kind of behavior is so ridiculously taboo in America...back on topic. After the skinny jean-clad girls comes the girls who wear more modest hijab and the long coats and dresses that are more typical Muslim dress. However, many of these girls are also wearing jeans and chucks, you just can't see them. After these girls comes the niqab girls, who wear the full hijab and niqab (which covers all the face but the eyes) and all their clothes are incredibly loose and flowing, covering up all of them. Again, however, if you look close enough, you can see jeans and chucks or cute boots poking out from underneath the voluminous skirts. It just goes to show that all the girls here are like American girls, but sometimes more modestly dressed. They all want to look pretty and wear cute clothes, even if they don't show.
Oh, and the guys. The guys mostly look like greasers. Tight jeans, boots, leather jackets, slicked back hair. They pretty much all look the same, there's a lot more variation among the girls.

4) All the buildings here start out with "Koliat al____" but the translated English underneath always says "Faculty of____" instead of department. And apparently there's no good translation from Arabic to English for "Rehabilitation Sciences" which one, I don't even know what that means and two, no one knows where it is.

5) My professor. She spent an hour and half telling us why Arab Women literature is important, and why it's important to be passionate about it. I was afraid I might frighten her with my enthusiasm. Her syllabus looks like every English I've ever taken, and I'm one of maybe two English majors in the class. Also, we have the option of writing a short story instead of a research paper, and the final exam is just like the AP exam. Also, on the recommended reading list were both Mustafa Bayoumi and Geraldine Brooks. I almost cried with excitement.

6) finding this class, however, was not easy. It was listed on our schedule as in the Humanities building, English Seminar room. After about half an hour of walking around looking, we found out that "Humanities" actually means "Faculty of International Studies" and that "English Seminar Room" means "Meeting Room" in the English department. Also, the assertion that people who hang out in the Humanities area study English and therefore know at least some English, is totally wrong. We actually ran into a girl who said "I major in English" and couldn't figure out what "Where English department/area/building/room" meant. That was a little frustrating.

7) Although it's not as cold as Ohio, since this is Amman, no one has central heating. And the buildings aren't insulated. So the cold = constant. I see my breath in the bathroom, my bedroom, and most of my classes. I spend a good chunk of time everyday simply looking for someplace warm.

8) The tea here is excellent, as is Turkish coffee, even with the weird, gingery taste. My host family makes amazing tea (as does my rooommate) and the leaves are loose and they put tons of sugar in it. And we get to drink it out of the fantastic cups they have here. I look forward to shay everyday. I get at least two cups: one at breakfast and one after dinner, guarunteed. And my host mom loves for us to eat in our pajamas (I have no idea why) so I'm also really comfortable when I drink shay, which is just awesome.

9) This wasn't on the list, but I got my first taste of Arabic techno the other day. The taxi drivers typically listen to Qu'ran readings or talk radio, but this one was into techno. This was also the driver who pulled over on our way home, got out of the car and went to get tea. This is totally normal in Jordan.

10) the tunnel. The tunnel passes under a really busy road between the University of Jordan and Khalifa plaza, where the CIEE study center is. The tunnel is jam packed with little kiosks and stores, selling everything from cellphones to snacks, spongebob slippers to hijabs. You can buy almost anything you want in the tunnel, and it's only a 100 feet or so long.

I think that about sums up this addition of my blog. There's so much I want to share, but just not enough time or energy to write it all down. Don't worry, you'll all hear way more than you want to when I get back to the States :) Yellabye!


Monday, February 7, 2011


That's chocolate, if you're Fu Fu.

My computer is on the brink of death, and while I could potentially work in my bedroom, it is way warmer in here and I’d rather type a short entry and be warm than type in my room. I was planning on making a very long update today, talking about a number of things, but as my time is short I think I might just list them out so that I don’t forget to elaborate on them later. If this list makes no sense to you, that’s okay, it will in time ☺

1. guys in store entries. They lean.
2. Sharmander (like charmander!) and lift are my new favorite food.
3. Hipster Jordanians. They exist – I think.
4. Why are they called faculties?
5. My Contemporary Arab Women Writers professor
6. Finding the classroom for Contemporary Arab Women Writers
7. The cold.
8. Shay. I could spend weeks talking about shay.
9. The superbowl is non-existent in Jordan except for the 5ish CIEE boys who rented hotel rooms to watch it at 2 o’clock in the morning
10. Fun story: the electricity went out (ugh, Masr) and so we were just sitting in the living room waiting for it to go back on so we could go sit next to the heater in the other room, and it finally went back on, so we went to our room and our host mom comes in with a bowl of jarred or canned strawberries and says “to heat you up before bed.” And Brooke and I said shukran, took the bowl, and then sat there thinking “wtf” which is becoming more and more a typical reaction for us whenever we are handed food. The gist of the story is: why would strawberries “heat us up?”
My fingers are cold. I promise promise PROMISE to elaborate more later.

p.s. If you are at Denison, go to the Gilpatrick talk on Egypt – I want to know what you all in the States are thinking about the situation in the Middle East!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jordanian Bump-Its

“Don’t Die.”

Those were some of the final words from the US Embassy during our security briefing. He followed these words with “It’s really expensive.” Today was really full, I wish I had taken notes so that I could recap everything completely. It was my first full day of class. Okay, not really. But I had my first class. It was essentially a practice class before we had our pre-test to sort of give us a guide of where we want to go. I knew some people in my class, which was cool. It was really hard to find because the classrooms were divided odds and evens, and on different sides of the floor. So all the odds were grouped together and the evens together, aka not in chronological order. Nothing is in chronological order over here – I live in building 59, right next to building 4. We couldn’t find building 7 the other day, but we found 134. So that’s what it’s like trying to get around. Our first taxi was quite an adventure too. I’d tell more, but my hands are cold and I will tell you all later.

So yesterday, when Brooke and I went to the mall with our family (usratna) we saw a stand that sold hijabs and these really big flowers in neon colors. Brooke pointed to a flower and said, “do you know what those are for?” when I shook my head no, she told me, “Jordanian girls wear them wrapped around their buns, and then put their hijab over it. You see all the trendy, hipster girls wearing them.” I suddenly realized it was true. Some of these girls have HUGE buns under their hijab, and I just thought it was tons of hair. No, it’s more like a bump-it for hijab. Some things truly are universal.
Too cold and tired to type more, so I’ll let you all know what’s up later. Thanks for reading!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

sweet corn and ice cream

two things stick out today as strange sightings: a snack cart selling sweet corn - as in, unpopped, whole kernels, like the kind you eat off the cob - and ice cream, as well as an animated betty boop dressed and dancing like a belly dancer. The mash up of American and Jordanian is everywhere, and I'm starting to just acknowledge it as part of everyday life. I should point out, it's never a melding of the two cultures; they don't seem to flow into one another, but rather squish themselves into the same space or the same object, attempting to coexist but failing. It's hard to explain, I think it's something you have to experience to fully understand.

Today was the first day I ventured out on my own, or at least without a chaperone. Brooke, Julia, and I live in the same neighborhood and decided to go looking for a supermarket to buy things like shampoo (not that we've had a chance to use it) and water. Jordanians don't drink water. No one is served drinks at a meal, unless it's shay (tea) and it's almost never juice, and never water or milk. Instead, you buy water by either the liter or the gallon. If you think water bottles are heavy to carry around now, you have never experienced lugging around SIX Jordanian water bottles. These things are monsters, but lifesaving monsters. The super market also allowed us to break our khamseen dinar (50 dinar bills) into smaller change. Jordanians get annoyed when you don't have exact change, and thus it takes a certain amount of strategic planning to break your huge bills into smaller ones.

After the supermarket, Brooke and I stayed home while the family went out for a doctor's appointment. We watched Red Eye and The Simpsons with Arabic subtitles, Arabs' Got Talent, and Grey's Anatomy in Farsi. I still enjoy watching kid's shows with Fu Fu because they're much easier to understand. They have this weird show like the teletubbies but in Arabic (obviously) and less frightening to full grown people.

Our host mom made us hamburgers for dinner, which were really good. Then we all went to the mall, which was interesting. Lots of grocery shopping and our mom turning and tsking at Brooke and I saying, "arabee, arabee" (arabic, arabic) because we've been talking almost always in English with each other and the family. Already, however, I can sense myself getting better. It helps to learn much more useful words like "wait" (stemee) and "go" (imshee) rather than "longing for one's homeland" or one of the ridiculous al-kitaab words. I've also noticed I've gotten much better at reading signs. Different fonts are MUCH harder to read when you're unfamiliar with the alphabet, but now I'm comfortable, if shwai (slow) at reading them - everything but calligraphy, that is.

Tomorrow is our first class, although it's sort of a practice class, and then a security briefing by the US embassy, and further exploration of UJ and Amman. Brooke and I are hoping to go join a gym (read: daily showers!) and maybe find ourselves a good coffee place for some lattes.

It's currently 11:00, but we've just been told we're eating dinner (although I thought we already ate...) so I guess I'm leaving. I'm going to be killed with food.


interesting news post

Thought you all might be interested in this. Al Jazeera, for those who don't know, is one of the two really big news networks in the ME, the other one being Al Arabiya.


Friday, February 4, 2011

"You're the blonde one"

Today was my first full day with my host family and it was crazy. I mean, it was awesome, but there was a lot going on. Friday is the family day in the Middle East, so Brooke and I woke up around 10:30 (after going to bed at around 9:30) and went and had breakfast in our pj's. Jordanians (and I'm assuming most of the Middle East) is all about food, so for breakfast we had pita, homemade apricot jam, cheese, eggs, and tea. A few comments about breakfast. One, they have pita just stacked in the freezer. Pita for Jordanians is like rice in China (I assume.) Also, had my first instance of being served food without utensils. Have you ever had to eat an omelette with no fork? Well I now know how to. Brooke and I both sat there sort of staring at it before we finally gave in and just started pulling it apart with pita and our fingers. Also, tea/coffee is served in little glasses, many without handles, so you have to be careful not to burn yourself.

After breakfast we sat around and watched tv for a while. Jordanians watch A LOT of tv. Fu Fu loves music videos ("muzzika! muzzika!" - he knows the names of his favorite tv channels; another favorite is "arbiya! arbiya!") so we watched quite a bit of music videos, switching back and forth with the news, which covers only one thing at this point - Egypt. Egypt in Jordan is like 9/11 was in the US - the networks show absolutely nothing but Egypt coverage, 24/7, and I know that's all they cover because the tv was on all day. Eventually, however, Momma (the mom's mom) and her "sons", also CIEE students, came over and hung out. Momma's son cooked lunch, and all of us were handed a filled plate. Mine had: 1 chicken wing/breast - I think it was literally half a chicken -1 chicken leg, there may have been more chicken I'm not sure, two lamb kebab things (it's like sausage), a roasted tomato, half an onion, and 2 pieces of pita. And no silverware. It was a process of pullng the chicken off the bone, rolling it in pita, dipping it in hummos or another sauce, and being told over and over "eat! eat! you chew shwai shwai!" (shwai = slow) and slowly getting so full it hurt to eat more. It's an arduous process eating in Jordan - you want to eat this delicious food, it's polite and almost necessary to clear your plate, but if you finish they give you more. It's difficult to get them to stop feeding you, and it's even more difficult trying not to offend them doing so. Also, they don't serve anything to drink when they eat. Jordanians don't drink water. Almost ever. The water shortage means showers 2x a week, and getting water almost any way other than directly drinking it. For instance, they eat a lot of lettuce. My host mom has a bowl of lettuce just chilling on the counter, ready for whomever wants it.

After lunch (thank goodness we didn't have dinner!) we had turkish coffee and played yad (hand, in English.) it's almost exactly like gin rummy, but with a few different words. We played with Momma's son and the aunt, and everytime someone did something good she said "kish! kish!" and it made me laugh. They truly are a fantastic family. Also, my host mom promised to show Brooke and I how to make turkish coffee, which I'm really excited for, considering I had one cup and I felt like I drank a whole coffee pot. That stuff is LOADED. Again, served in the small glasses, which are so much fun to use.

After Brooke and I lost at yad, we went and sat with our host brothers/cousins, Momma's sons, and had a nice long chat in English. It is one of the most amazing feelings ever to talk in English after being surrounded by Arabic for so long. Both of them were here last semester and promised to show us around if we wanted to. They were both really chill, so it was nice to know that these were the people we'd have to spend a lot of time with (Jordan is all about family, so we'll be seeing them at least once a week.) At one point, Momma was talking to Brooke and I, about half and half in Arabic - she's really good at gesticulating - and told us, first in Arabic and then in English, "the tan one and the blonde one." I was confused, but then Brooke (who looks very Jordanian although not) turned to me and said, "I'm the tan one - you're the blonde one." It was pretty amusing. I also got my hair stroked by my host aunt, which reminded me of some of my friends. There is no such thing as privacy or a personal bubble in Jordan, and luckily I'm fairly okay with that (Olivia, I'd like to see you last one DAY here.)

Overall, it was a very interesting day. Eventful, in that I was introduced to so many different customs, people, and words, but uneventful in that we basically did nothing but sit, watch tv, and eat all day. I'm excited to start classes, explore the city, and get a routine down. Tomorrow Brooke and I plan on going to the store to get things like shampoo and water, and hopefully to find someplace to get change. Jordanians hate being given anything but exact change, which is really frustrating when the ATMs spit out nothing but 50s. I think I'm also going to get some toilet paper, because the UJ bathrooms are notoriously bad, and if I ever to use one, I'll probably need to have a roll with me. A note: no one flushes toilet paper. It clogs up the septic tanks, so it all gets thrown in the trash.

And on that happy note, I think I'll end this blog. Pictures will be going up soon, I promise :)

Bosa bosa (kiss kiss - Fu Fu taught me that one),