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!