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 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),


Thursday, February 3, 2011

baitee jadeed

This is just a quick update about my homestay, aka my new house (baitee jadeed) and letting you all know that I've finally moved in. My host family is incredibly sweet and nice. the dad and aunt (I don't want to give out their names) are Iraqis, while the mom is Jordanian and Lebanese. And get this - they have a three year old son. That's right, I'm living with a toddler. He's turning four next tuesday and while he is a whirlwind of activity, he is so sweet. His nickname is Fu Fu and he likes to dance.

Tomorrow is family day (it is for everyone in Jordan) so Idk what we'll be doing, but we're definitely sleeping in. Tonight, however, we sat at the kitchen counter in our pj's and ate dejaaj curry (curry chicken) an Iraqi dish that the aunt cooked for us. She does most of the cooking, and it's usually either Iraqi or Turkish in origin. As well, we had this great sesame bread and some of the best tea I've ever had in those little Arabic cups without handles. I felt so legitimately Arabic today.

I'll update more when I have more sleep. Tonight will be the first night since I got here that I can just sleep through the night and not get up ridiculously early for breakfast. Ohibkum wa ma'a salaama.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

OH NA NA shu ismee?

(that one's for you ginny.)

So not as much to update today. The call to prayer just started, which is something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of. It’s this all pervading, haunting call that comes from crackling speakers all over the city – as if Allah himself is yelling in your ear every where you go. It can’t quite drown out the sound of car horns, however ☺

Today we visited the study center for our program and the UJ campus. The campus is huge compared to what I’m used to, but that’s expected for a campus that has to hold 30,000 students rather than just 2,000. Luckily, most of the signs are in English as well as Arabic, so even if I’m lost I get a slight amount of help that way. Classes start Sunday, so I’m glad I have the weekend to just sit, unpack, and sleep. I’m really excited to join the various clubs, however, like culture club or conversation club or calligraphy club. As well, there’s a ladies’ gym across the street from the study center I might join, as many of the girls who’ve been in the program previously think that it’s awesome.

One thing I’m definitely worried about here is learning to take a taxi. I’ve taken a taxi a handful of times in my life, and never on my own. Now, I have to take one every day (unless I want to take the bus, which at this point for me is a bad idea) AND I have to figure it out in Arabic. Luckily, we had an Amiyyah (dialect) class today that helped us understand how to use a taxi and speak with the driver. It was a lot like my Arabic classes at Denison, which are very intense and in your face. I was used to it, but I felt bad for the kids who’d never had an Arabic class in their life, who couldn’t even read the textbook. I don’t think I’d ever be able to travel to a country like that and not even be able to read the signs!

Right now I’m just kiling time until dinner, as usual trying not to fall asleep. I think I might make it today though, which is excellent. Right now I’m just trying to get some forms filled out and ready to be turned in later this week. Once I have a routine, I’ll be a happy camper.

That’s basically all for now. Ma’a salaama!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

my first day.

So my computer officially hates me. I had almost a page of blog typed and then Word froze and didn’t save any of it. So I’ll try my best to recapture some of what it was.

I actually got some sleep, woke up feeling very well rested, then died about 4 hours later. Jet lag is horrible, and right now I’m just fighting off the urge to nap so I can get a whole night’s rest in tonight as well. Other than that, today was excellent. We had to get up in time to get breakfast at 7 (way too early if you ask me) then we took tour buses around the city, heading first to the citadel (Jebel al-Qala’a) and I got a wonderful taste of Jordanian driving. Jordanian driving is an experience. A few rules:

1) There are no lanes. I mean, there are, they’re painted on the roads, but no one uses them. If you want to make your own lane, go on ahead because if you don’t, the guy in front of you will.

2) No one uses street names. Well, at least not the official ones. A couple of decades ago they instituted an official street name system, but everyone just goes by the famous landmark that’s along the road (i.e. King Abdullah al-Husayn or something-equally-ridiculous street becomes University street, since University of Jordan lies on that road)

3) If you are bigger and/or faster, you rule the road. Use horn as seen fit.

The citadel was amazing. It’s at the top of a hill, which gave a great view of the city. Amman consists of 7 hills, much like Cincinnati if the Cinci hills were closer together and on steroids. These hills are huge, and jam packed with housing. The citadel is one of the highest, if not the highest in the city, so you can see almost everything from on top. The ruins are a mixture of pre-Roman, Roman, Byzantine, and various dynasties of Muslim. Some parts were once a temple to Hercules, others were a church, and some were the palace of a former Abbasid or Umayyid prince. There was a museum as well, with artifacts from all over Jordan. The most recent artifacts it held came from the 1st century A.D. let me put this into perspective: you’re not allowed to take pictures of the gate to the royal palace or even the parking lot of the American Embassy, but I can take pictures of scraps of the dead sea scrolls. There were sarcophagi predating Jesus fenced in by a cheap metal chain a foot off the ground. They aren’t even behind glass, and are within easy arm’s length. I even got to see the copper scrolls, which were a new concept to me.

We passed by a starbucks and the Roman amphitheater, since the rain prevented us from going in.

* *
So I fell asleep mid post and I’m too lazy to go back and reread what I said, so I’ll just keep going. Fun story though: totally didn’t mean to fall asleep, in fact I was specifically trying not to, and then my roommate woke up me just after she did and we’re both so jet lagged we got really confused. It was awesome, you should’ve been there. Anyway.

I think the highlight of the day for me was lunch. We went to this restaurant called Jafra, which was filled with trendy, young Jordanians sitting around eating and smoking hookah. It was so fascinating to see how people my age socialize in Jordan; in some ways, it’s so similar, the way they all sit around and talk, laughing, enjoying each other’s company. But it was strange to see almost all the women wearing hijabs, and everyone was in fairly conservative dress. And while they were enjoying themselves, they weren’t very loud (unlike us, to be honest.) I think part of the reason why it seemed so out of the ordinary is that the conservative dress and the hijab is so rarely seen in America, and when it is, it’s usually an older woman and mother, not someone my own age. But it’s not uncommon here to see girls walking down the street in skinny jeans and wearing a hijab. I feel so out of place not wearing one, it makes me want to!

So back to the food. We were served baba ganoush (sp?), a sort of vegetable salad, REAL hummos (trust me, the stuff at home tastes pretty different), a few other salad/sauce type dishes to put with pita, and chicken, steak, and kebab. Oh, and little containers of “cloud water”, which provided my table mates and I with at least 10 minutes of solid discussion over whether cloud water was really just rain. For dessert we had this amazing dish, whose name I can’t remember, which was goat cheese in a sort of buttery, sugary crust with pistachios on top. Apparently it wasn’t that good because it wasn’t hot, but I thought it tasted amazing regardless.

We also had a fairly long cultural orientation session, which was very interesting and very important but very difficult for me to stay awake through. The best example the presenter had was the difference between an American Starbucks and a Jordanian Starbucks. For the record: it is a cultural norm for your Starbucks to take 10 minutes to be made because the worker who handles the money is on the phone and won’t hang up, and cultural hierarchy means that the guy making your coffee can’t take the money. Also, they almost never take plastic, because the internet here is so bad.

There’s not much else to add. I meet my host family on Thursday, and I think that they’re gonna be awesome. I really don’t like small children, but the little boy that they have is the CUTEST thing I have ever seen. And only the mom speaks English, so it’s gonna be an interesting semester. Thank goodness I have a roommate though, so we can struggle through this together (also, she loves children so I don’t have to worry about hanging out with the baby too much.) I’ve made friends here with almost everyone I’ve met – seriously, everyone in the program is just really genuine and laid back. I was talking with one the girls in my program in the elevator and she summed it up pretty succinctly: “you’d have to be pretty chill to be able to study in the Middle East.” So in other words, everything is off to a good start. I will hopefully be posting on a fairly regular (hopefully daily) basis, especially since my homestay has internet.


p.s. don’t worry about the political situation in Jordan. When my roommate and I woke up this afternoon she had like 3 emails about the Jordanian government dissolving. Considering the fact that no one told us during the day, and none of the citizens were talking about it (at least the ones that we ran into) it’s clearly not as big of a deal as everyone in America is making it out to be. Everyone is fine, and nothing’s gonna happen. If you guys found out about the government before anyone in my program did, take that as a good sign ☺