Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On the Other Side of the Wall

"You were in Jordan? Jordan is trash, King Abdullah is trash! Egypt is trashier, and Syria is even worse!" said Abdullah as he lounged against the 5 meter wall of graffiti covered concrete. "Lebanon is alright, but only because they support Hezbullah."

I point to the wall behind him which is being constructed illegally by Israel (according to the International Court of Justice, because it crosses the Green Line), "That's trash."

"This? No, this is good. This means that they're finished."

I had this conversation in Arabic about a week ago as I was traveling from Ramallah to Jerusalem (only a 30 minute trip) through a checkpoint in Israel's West-Bank Barrier. Abdullah went on to list all of the heroes he had which included Hezbullah (written above his head on the left), Hamas, Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida. And although most Israelis and Americans would be scared of a youth with such role-models, Abdullah was a really nice guy, and his opinions make sense given his situation.

Besides his support of everyone on the US's list of terrorist organizations, what struck me most about the conversation was the blunt acceptance of reality that his opinion about the wall portrayed. I wrote a research paper about the economic effects of this barrier for a class this spring, and I must say I'm not a big fan of the way that Israel has constructed it, although the case for some sort of border fence may be legitimate. However, for someone who has grown up in the West Bank and had to live in "the world's biggest prison" (as a bit of graffiti on the wall put it), I suppose that it is logical that you would put up with one last injustice if it means that your enemy is finally going to stop advancing and leave you alone.

The wall may be a land grab, but if a just solution can actually come from it, then maybe it is in fact a better step than separate peaces. I don't really agree with Abdullah, but it has been awesome just being here and being able to talk to people like him who you meet on the street. His view isn't representative of anyone in particular, but that is his opinion, and one that is rarely heard in the media.

Also, it is a view that I would be completely unable to hear if I didn't speak Arabic. So that has been a really amazing part of my 7 months here, being able to communicate with people who just two years ago were completely beyond my ability to interact with beyond pantomime and the occasional "Hello, how are you?" I still have a heck of a long way to go with my Arabic, but it is enough to get my point across, and that can go a heck of a long way.

Well, my next post should be about the rest of my trip on the other side of the barrier. Don't worry, much more to come - pictures, stories, and hopefully a video soon. Right now I'm saying goodbye to Amman, and I'll be back home just in time for Christmas, so I hope to see everyone in Chapel Hill soon! (and to any SIT people who may be reading this, I miss you guys and hope you all have a great break before jumping back into school back in the States, or wherever you are).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Checking in from Jerusalem

Quick post while I use up a bit of internet before trekking through the old city for a while. My study abroad program ended yesterday with a beautiful, rushed, and bitter-sweet farewell as people said goodbye and prepared to scatter all around the Middle East before we trickle back home to the states over the next few weeks. For many of the people from the program, it will probably be the last time I see them (at least for a long time), but I'm looking forward to catching up with a handful back in the US (Bonaroo '10?) and wherever our adventures take us in the future (Paris?).

For myself, I will be in Israel and the West Bank for the next 2 weeks, exploring holy sites around Jerusalem, checking out the night life in Tel Aviv, hopefully finding some live music, and hiking a bit in the Golan Heights.

My trip here was like any border crossing in the Middle East, made wonderfully difficult by the strong regional tensions. I took off with a group to try to cross the King Hussein Bridge which is the quickest route to Jerusalem from Amman. Unfortunately, it being the Sabbath, it was closed by noon. So, quick 3 hour detour to the northern border! Here I was held for 2 hours while the others went on. They questioned me extensively about my travel in Lebanon and Syria and my stay in Jordan, and even wanted to see what I was writing in my journal.

Finally, I made it through and continued on to Jerusalem. I met Libi, a wonderfully energetic Israeli girl on my first bus, and we made the transfer to Tel Aviv together. She shared her mango with me that she found on a "foraging trip" this weekend. She is about to start her national service work this week, helping new immigrants adapt to Israel. She declined military service because she is religiously orthodox (and a vegan). I looked incredulous and she pointed out the skirt that she was wearing over her jeans and the red checkered kuffiyah that she wore like a bandanna covering her head.

We sat on a bus for a couple hours surrounded by young Israeli men and women wearing military dress and many of them toting pretty heavy duty weapons. We laughed and sang and they tried to teach me military songs in Hebrew which I didn't really pick up easily. Libi tried the best she could to translate for me since she spoke more English than most of the others.

A strange bond united these young Israelis as we sat together in the back of this crowded bus. For most, they had never met before, but interacted like long time friends. And only a few times did difficult political questions come up:

"Do you love the Israeli army?" asked one man, dressed in civilian clothing.

"I don't love any army," I responded.

He thought for a minute, then looked at me again. "I was in Gaza last year."

I didn't quite know what to say, I smile and nodded. The conversation moved on.

They always say it is important to see an issue from both sides. After 6 months in Jordan, this is my chance to do that, and I'm really interested to see how that goes. My first experience with Israelis was a really good one, but it is definitely difficult to talk politics here, even for someone of a fairly moderate perspective.

Alright, back to the old city for a bit, and the 24/7 prayer house that I found which overlooks the city wall!

Monday, November 30, 2009

We Carve Turkeys With Swords Here, or How I Got Evicted From My Apartment

Despite the relative ease of translation (eid al-shukr, عيد الشكر) Jordanians just don't get the whole Thanksgiving thing. It's not Christmas or Easter and it's not a Muslim holiday, so what the hell is it? And why are 20 unrelated young people of both genders congregating in that apartment? The only answer could be to do illicit things, at 3 in the afternoon!

I like how my friend, Alex, tried to explain the whole thing to his homestay family. "Well, when the Pilgrims came to America they didn't have much food and so one day they had a big feast together with the Indians and they all shared everything, and it was really nice. But that was only the first one. After that, the Pilgrims killed all the Indians." He then revealed to them that the turkey is a separate species and not in fact a special type of rooster. And all this in Arabic, I'm impressed Alex.

For me, I just stuck to saying it is an American holiday where we get together with family and eat a lot of food, and people generally just smiled and looked confused while I went back to roasting my turkey or searching the Safeway in vain for french fried onions.

It was the first Thanksgiving where I actually tried my hand at a number of my family's recipes. With a lot of improvising, mainly from-scratch ingredients, and about 10 hours in the kitchen, I managed to come out with a pretty decent array of food: green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, a roasted turkey, and a massive pumpkin pie.

Add to that the variety of dishes brought by about 20 of my closest friends from SIT and you've got yourself a rather hearty Thanksgiving spread! The party went really well, we all had a ton of fun, and I think for all of us it was nice to have a taste of home for the day.

And then comes the part where I got kicked out of my apartment. Not as bad as it sounds, really, just quite a trip that I wasn't expecting to make this week.

As people were still arriving to the party, a man appeared at the door with the building guard to ask us what we were doing. We explained it was Thanksgiving and all of that, but he meant what we were doing in this apartment period. It seems that he was the owner of the building and had no idea that I was living there (I was supposed to be with my host mother's sister, who never came from America). It was shortly after the man left that I got a call from Ghada, my host mother:

"Don't say anything about the party to anyone. They might call the police. You need to move everyone up stairs (to her apartment) right now, there isn't any time. If anyone asks you were never downstairs."

Strange, but this is daily fare for my homestay. We moved the party upstairs, and like I said it went really well. During the dinner, Ghada pulls me aside to tell me that I will have to leave my apartment in the next two days and move upstairs with Alex (different Alex than earlier in the post) who is essentially my host brother, also from SIT. Apparently her sister is never coming, and so she sold the apartment back to the owner. And no one bothered to tell me this until 2 days before I get evicted. Thanks.

Immediately after the party ended, we started moving all of the furniture out of my flat into the one upstairs (which had no room to take it all). The next morning, I finished the job by packing up everything I own in Jordan and moving up with Alex.

It is still a fine situation, we get along great, but it was a jolt that I wasn't expecting. And I think it was this jolt that really set me loose enough that I am now ready to come back home. I'll be living out of my suitcase for the last couple weeks in Jordan, because there is neither room or need to unpack again before I leave. After finally becoming stationary for a while, I was thrust back into a transitory state, and once I hit that point I have to keep on going.

I've noticed in just the past few days that I have stopped making as much of an effort to see people in Jordan and more of an effort to catch up with friends from back home. It's a strange sensation, and despite being frustrated at times here in the last 6 months, this is the first time that I've really been ready to go. I guess it's good in a sense that I'm experiencing this now, but I've still got 24 days until I actually get home, and I expect to live those to the fullest. Wish me luck, I'll keep you updated on how that goes.

(I'm thankful for Cece and her lovely photos from Thanksgiving that I stole from Facebook)

Up in the Cedars

I took a secret trip recently. Fortunately, my academic director is never going to read this, so I feel it should be alright to divulge a few of the secrets before I get home. Unfortunately, that same logic didn't work out as well when I put a post on couchsurfing announcing our arrival and friends from school decided that day to sign up for couchsurfing (because I introduced them to it) and to check that same message board. Horrible luck, but no harm done.

The main reason for the secrecy of the trip is that I could technically fail my program if they found out about it. Also, we may or may not have been traveling to multiple countries with state department travel warnings and the propensity to break out into civil wars and skirmishes with Israel.

Eh, all in a day's travels.

So throwing all unreasonable caution to the wind (we held on only to the basic sort of caution that you should naturally keep about you when traveling), we jumped on board with Bilal, our fearless international taxi driver, and after a 5 hour wait to enter Syria and a quick drive through the mountains, we found ourselves wandering around with suitcases in tow in the middle of downtown Beirut. Perhaps I should explain that "we" is myself and 4 girls, just so you can get a better picture.

Like any good backpackers, we had done minimal planning and even less in terms of reservations or anything of the sort. Looking rather lost and tired after 12 hours on the road, we stumbled in the general direction of the hostel district and managed to solicit directions from a couple nice bar goers and one friendly Lebanese guy who actually walked us to what he thought was the hostel we were asking about. It wasn't. But it worked out just fine.

That night we went to a classy French cafe filled with locals chatting and flirting over bottles of wine. On the wall was an excerpt from the Little Prince and a lot of quotes about freedom of thought. It was cute, it was out there, it was pricey, it was Lebanon. I felt bad for ordering a bacon cheeseburger (especially traveling with 3 vegetarians), but I haven't had bacon since May and I've been craving it.

It was delicious!

The "reason" or catalyst for our trip was supposedly to see the Beirut Rock Festival. It was three nights of international acts featuring Peter Murphy, Yann Tiersen, Aqua de Annique, an Armenian girl, and a lot of metal the last night which we decided wasn't really worth attending. Overall, good music, especially Yann Tiersen who had a mostly instrumental sound with fantastic musical transitions which frequently involved him rocking the hell out of a violin.

As Beirut is known for it's night life, we of course did a decent bit of going out to the bars and clubs. The second night, a few of us couchsurfed with Danny, and also got to go joy riding with him and his friend Fadi in their convertibles up and down the Corniche by the sea. Also, the last night we went out until about 5am bar hopping and finally heading to BO18 (an underground club with a retractable roof that opens and closes throughout the night to reveal the stars above) to dance away our last few hours in Lebanon.

Despite all the activity, my favorite part of Lebanon was definitely the solo adventure that I took up to Bcharre to see the famous Cedars of Lebanon and to explore a bit of the Qadisha Valley. I have noted before that it is difficult to travel solo for long periods of time, but it is also tough traveling in large groups. So three days in, I took off early in the morning and caught the public buses all the way up into the hills where I found a completely different part of the Middle East.

Snow topped mountains where the ski season will soon be underway, quiet mountain villages full of Maronite Christians, orange trees changing colors in the crisp fall air, and the last remaining grove of Cedars all set this beautiful valley an unthinkable distance away from the daily life that I know in crowded, arid, urban Amman.

I took a taxi up to the Cedars and walked around by myself for an hour in the heavy mist that rolled slowly over the mountains all day. It was cold, it was beautiful, I was all by myself in the grove, it was very holy (the meaning of Qadisha).

I turned on an album that my friend, Richie, gave me of a number of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic prayers and songs. It was peaceful. I listened to a chanted version of the Aramaic Lord's Prayer for a while. I think that something I've missed in Amman is the ability to get away and have an opportunity to just sit somewhere and contemplate away from people. I just want to walk up on a mountain and pray. There are lots of hills in Amman, but not much chance of getting away from people. I need to do this more often.

Eventually, I retreated back to Bcharre by foot, armed with a hot cup of Nescafe to ward off the cold and the potential rain. The fog lifted and the view was beautiful. However, about an hour into my hike I realized that I probably wouldn't make it all the way back down to town before the last bus left for Beirut.

This was a problem.

I stepped off the road to relieve myself and figure out my next step, but heard a car coming and hurried out from behind the barrier to try to flag it down. Too late. It drove off down the road and around a bend, crap. Then the car reappeared coming back toward me and stopped next to me. The driver gave me the normal sign for "what do you want" or "where are you going," which is a quick twist of the hand starting with the palm facing down and ending with it up. I explained my situation as best I could in Arabic and he told me to get in.

In the conversation that followed, I answered the usual questions that are directed at me by most of the Arabs that I meet here (and fortunately I have gotten pretty good at this typical introduction): the incredulous what are you doing here?, where are you from?, what do you do? The one thing that struck me was his response when I told him that I am American.

"What are you doing here? We are Hezbollah."

"You are?"


"No problem. America, Hezbollah, same thing."

He laughed.

It was quite a ride. While I am pretty sure he was not actually a member of Hezbollah as he was a Maronite Christian, I can understand the sentiments and the feelings of animosity that America garners over here. But all political differences aside, you discover when you travel the world the great weight of humanity that binds us all together. And that's a beautiful thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Way Down South (Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba...)

After averaging about 4.5 hours of sleep per night this week because of a few too many midnight adventures scrambling up mountains, I finally caught back up with something like 14 hours last night. And today I have made time before I fall back asleep again to post a little update about those adventures and the events in between them.

Overview: This was a 5 day trip with my study abroad program to the south of Jordan where we visited a ton of sites for educational (read recreational) purposes in a whirlwind tour on our large, yellow bus. Although I really enjoyed all the places we went, it was probably a bit too much to stuff into this short of a trip.
Day 1: Amman - Karak Castle - Wadi Musa
Day 2: Petra - Wadi Rum (4x4)
Day 3: Wadi Rum (Camels) - Aqaba (Snorkeling)
Day 4: Aqaba - Dana Nature Reserve (Feynan Eco Lodge)

In general, the trip was incredibly similar to our Egypt trip: an opportunity for us to forget about school for a bit, adventure a lot, and stay up incredibly late since the curfews that many students have while in Amman are lifted on the road. Highlights include climbing on top of the Monastery at Petra, snorkeling around a sunken Jordanian tank in the Red Sea, and hiking up a mountain at midnight in Wadi Rum by the light of the full moon. After 5 months in the Middle East, it was definitely my most adventurous week by far! Pictures on their way, and I also just finished up a movie for my Arabic class entitled, "She Thinks My Camel's Sexy," so get excited about those being posted soon (check facebook first though).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween in Jordan

It's a blessing and curse of globalization: all the ridiculous things that we do in America have somehow found their way to the four corners of the earth. So even in Amman, you can find people somewhere throwing wild Halloween parties as a good excuse to dress in wild/scary/scandalous costumes and avoid the conservativeness that usually rules in this part of the world.

You begin to realize a bit of the cultural immersion that you've undergone when outfits that would normally go unnoticed (and probably be considered conservative on Franklin Street at Halloween) are suddenly shocking and bring to mind the word "haram" (forbidden) which is so ubiquitously used here.

Also, I noticed the way that the expat world collides here. For instance, twice now I have gone to a party not expecting to know more than a couple people, and when I walked in the door ran straight into Ryan, my roommate from this summer. Similarly, this weekend, I saw about 20 people that I knew from various places all congregated in costumes on a roof on Jabal Amman, and then a whole group of people from my program arrived.

And despite the ridiculousness of it all, I'm beginning to understand the nature of a community living in a foreign country. It's difficult living thousands of miles from family and friends, whether for a month or years, and you have to find things to spark that sense of community that you get at home. So it could be Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, St. Patrick's Day, or Halloween, doesn't really matter what it is, but it's important to find some people to celebrate with and feel a bit of community for a while.

At times I feel that I need to plug in more with locals here, and sometimes I feel like I'm selling out by hanging out with other Americans so much of the time, and both feelings have some validity. But when it comes down to it, being completely removed from your home culture gets stressful as much as it is exciting and being stuck in it leads to closed mindedness even though it is so comforting.

Like everything else, it seems that there is a need for a middle path that balances the tension. That's what I'm trying to find in my last 2 months in Amman. Wish me luck.

ps - I'm off to Petra now, bye.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Party on the Nile

To break up the subtle monotony of Jordan and reportedly so that we could learn about modernization and social change in a neighboring country, my study abroad group took a class trip last week to Egypt! There were indeed lots of learning moments (a couple lectures, a trip to the Arab League, strolling around the National Museum), the normal plethora of tourist attractions (Pyramids, mosques...), and fortunately a decent bit of time put aside for my favorite activity: exploring and learning experientially. While most of our time was spent in Cairo, but I also had a chance to take a day trip to Alexandria. A few stories:

  • I'm slightly impressed by our program's ability to get speakers for us. In Cairo we had a chance to hear from a member of the People's Assembly (Parliament) before he jetted off for a TV interview on al-Jazeera and from the the spokesperson for the General Secretary of the Arab League (at the AL headquarters). I'm not sure if they just have mad contacts or if a group of American students gets special privileges like that. Either way, it's a bit ridiculous. We also have stuff like that happen in Jordan - "oh you need to talk to the minister? let me arrange that for you."
  • The Pyramids: you know, they don't seem so big from up close. Don't get me wrong, they're really awesome, but after a lifetime of building up to it, they are not quite as exhilarating as The Mummy makes it all out to be. I did get to crawl around into one of the under ground burial chambers, and we rode camels for the very touristy photo shoot by the pyramids. What is really surprising about the pyramids is how close they are to Cairo. The city really comes all the way up to them (in large part because of the tourist industry) and there is a whole row of fast food places right across from the Sphinx.
  • Alexandria: one of my favorite days in Egypt was definitely our free day which I spent on the coast in the town of Alexandria. Although it doesn't have the same scale of sites as Cairo or the Upper Nile, it was just a nice opportunity to see another side of Egypt. I especially enjoyed meeting a group of Scout administrators (yes, I'm proud of my boy scout background) from all across the Arab world who had a conference in Egypt. I started talking in Arabic to a few of them from Libya and Oman, and had a great conversation with them and another girl from our group who was also a scout. We also met a Saudi couple there who were incredibly nice and I talked to the wife about visiting her hometown in Syria a few months ago (and now she is facebook friends with Geneva and I). Overall just a really chill day: picnic in a park, sunset over the harbor, and late night catchphrase on the beach.
  • Felucca-ing on the Nile: Our final night in Egypt, about 15 of the students in my program got together and rented out a party boat on the Nile. Usually they are used for wedding parties and such, but ours involved a little more loud rap music and slightly haram dancing. The highlight was probably when a boat full of Egyptians pulled up next to us and offered us cake. That was closely followed by the part where we blasted "I'm on a Boat" while dancing on top of the metal cage that covered the boat's deck. We proceeded to take the party back to the hotel, where it continued at the pool on the roof until about 3am. Good times had by all.
In general, Egypt was a great time, a nice "learning experience," and an opportunity for my study abroad group to let loose a bit after the more controlled atmosphere in Jordan (especially b/c of our Jordanian homestays and frequent curfews). Like lock-ins during high school, we were able to stay up till the early morning talking by the pool or watching Arrested Development in one of our rooms.

I also have been really happy to see that my ability in Arabic take off a ton in the last couple months. I think the confidence that I have gained from speaking regularly for the last 4 months has built up to a point where my vocabulary is limited by I can talk naturally about basic topics. Like I said, one of my favorite parts in Egypt was the opportunity I had to practice my Arabic, especially with people who speak different dialects besides the Jordanian one. That's it for now, enjoy the pictures below, more to come and hopefully an Egypt video in the near future.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back in the Saddle

I can't really blame my lack of posting recently on anything in particular. There is the hectic nature of tramping around Syria for two weeks, the transition back into a new schedule in Amman, the lack of constant internet or a lot of down time to just write...that sort of thing. For the handful of you who actually check this thing regularly, it has meant a lot to hear from you that you actually noticed that I haven't updated in a while. So I'll do the best I can to comply with your requests for more information from my adventure in Jordan.

While I can't fill you in on everything that has been happening the last month and a half, I'll try to do what I can to paint a broad picture in a string of shorter posts so as not to overwhelm.

The first topic is of course my two week trip to Syria. I'll update this post with more information, pictures and stories later, but for now, check out the video that I just posted to youtube from my pictures and video taken during my Syria trip. I would imbed it, but coffee shop internet proves to make that difficult.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

On to Syria! (almost)

I am writing from the office on my second to last day of work. There is a rare silence at the moment (I may have my ear buds in to block out the occasional interruptions / fits of yelling that do break out) and I am left with a bit of time to write up my last blog post about the internship. It has been nearly 8 weeks and a little over 300 hours of work since I began interning (as a requirement for my minor in social entrepreneurship) at the end of June, and I have definitely learned and experienced a lot during that time. Now that it comes to the end, I realize that I am pretty worn out and need this trip to Syria to just relax and unwind. I might go to a Syrian monastery for a couple days and just take it easy before hitting up Ramadan with some friends in Aleppo and Damascus.

One thing that I am definitely realizing more every day (especially the last week) is the impressive difference between a social entrepreneur and a development worker. There are many dedicated workers in Ruwwad, Jordan, and around the world who work in the development field and are great at doing the job in front of them. However, a social entrepreneur isn't satisfied with just the job they are given, they constantly seek innovation, better practices, and a breaking down of all barriers that stand between them and the desired positive social impact.

At the moment, the organization that I am working with is going through an interesting transition of leadership that has brought this issue and distinction to the surface. One thing that I have seen while observing this transition is the force of the status quo and the constant battle that a social entrepreneur must fight to get people on board with their vision. Even if people are doing their job in an organization like this, unless the entire staff understands the ultimate goals and aims (and can act to achieve that mission), the organization will be caught in a constant struggle to bring everyone on board in a coherent manner.

I saw this same problem in my program implementation: because many of the volunteers didn't understand the goals of the program, they improperly implemented the program in a way that seemed logical (or simple) to them. In the end, we ended up with results that were more telling of how people thought during these exercises than they were actually transformational to either the students or volunteers (although there was hopefully some progress, or at least an idea that these issues are important to talk about and act on).

In addition, I have been feeling the effects of office drama and a work environment which has been very negative at times. It seems that the most accepted way to get your way around the world is to yell about it until someone concedes your point. While I don't agree with this principle, it is hard to escape it when it is the reality in your office. In addition, my style of seeking positive change and constant innovation has driven a wedge between myself and some of the other workers (specifically some of the people I work loosely under). I think that my style has threatened and confused some of the workers and resulted in times at verbal abuse from one individual (presented in a joking manner, but you can only take "you are sooooo stupid and lazy" as a joke for so long) and a fear of my constant note taking from a lot of the volunteers.

Some of the fear may be justified because I do not hold punches to protect people, but report as accurately as possible on everything that I see and how it could be improved and innovated upon, this is how my whole "Changemakers" program came about in the first place. It is interesting that my work which has been seen as valuable to our entrepreneurial director has caused such problems for the majority of the staff.

I could go on for a while, but I'll cut it off there for now. Lots more to come on a whole new phase of my time in Jordan: SIT! My study abroad program starts up two weeks from today after my trip to Syria. It is really strange to think that I am still only half way done with my trip and also that I have gone through all of this before my study abroad program has even begun. More pictures to come on Facebook as I get the time to post them, on this blog entry you can see a cliff top shot from my trip to Ajlun/Irbid, a couple pool party pictures, and one from a dance party with other couchsurfers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Economics of Attraction

I had a realization the other day when I began thinking about the economic explanations for everyday things that I see in Jordan (a la Freakonomics). Here you go: the problem of attraction between those pesky twitterpated youth is treated in different ways around the world by social standards. However, social standards can take opposite approaches to the same problem depending on the understanding of the economic factors causing the problem. In this case, conservative Islamic societies (such as a large part of the population of Jordan) view the problem as a supply-side issue while in my own upbringing in America, I was presented the same issue with a demand-side story. This is by no means scientific, just a couple observations about life and the implications of economic decisions on non-economic problems. Let me explain...

In Jordan (as in the US), it is understood that men have strong feelings of attraction that cannot always be controlled (especially when they see an attractive girl). The response in Jordan is mostly to cover up girls in any situations outside of the home or the company of family or other girls. The problem is thus alleviated by reducing the supply (the amount of skin being shown, and thus the amount of male reaction), while not fully tackling the demand side of the equation. Therefore, men continue to stare down girls (especially westerners) and make rude comments (such as "Hey Barbie," which I overheard directed towards my Dutch friends the other day) when the necessary supply side restraints are not in place (and even when they are, they still like staring).

However, the reaction that I have generally seen in the West to this dilemma is that the amount of clothes to wear is considered up to the woman while the reaction of the man should be controlled and restrained, essentially taking a demand-side approach. The idea is to control the demand (demonstrated by visible or even mental actions taken by the male) while allowing complete (mostly, we still aren't nudists) freedom in the supply-side wardrobe. However, you still run into the problem of men not actually limiting their reaction, just the outward signs of it. So it is deemed inappropriate for a guy to obviously notice a woman's low-cut shirt, but not inappropriate for her to wear it. Therefore he must hide his attraction, in quick glances and such, in order to act in a socially acceptable manner while not actually changing his thoughts and only slightly restraining his behavior.

In both scenarios, the actual problem is neither corrected nor solved, just transferred. In fact, I don't think that any social standards will ever stop the twitterpation of youth (as I saw in the back of the bus today, hehe), but we continue to try. I suppose that in terms of visible results there is some definite impact from the social standards put in place, but that is definitely only in the open, there is always a way around any rule.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hitting the Wall

When attempting to approach even the smallest societal problems in this world, I find myself simultaneously faced with feelings of the pressing needs around me and my desire to create positive change and also the futility of my actions and efforts when there remains so much that will "never" change. This has especially been true during my time in Jordan and in my efforts to get this "Change Makers" program through the pilot phase.

I just hit the final week (3) of implementing my program, and have been faced with a number of successes and a whole lot of observations regarding room for improvement (I try not to say failures). While there have been a number of surface level problems regarding properly translating the instructions and the intent of the activities, I have come into even bigger problems regarding the skills necessary to undertake this kind of work. Unfortunately, it is not just the kids who are unable to think about how to create change, but the university student volunteers and a number of the adults.

The biggest thing that has struck me here (especially in the course of this program) is the overwhelming resignation towards the status quo. Whenever I asked kids what they could do about something they threw their hands up in frustration and said, "That's the way it is, you can't change it!" Problems ranging from excessive trash to rude neighbors to corporal punishment were all acknowledged as problems, but were all seen as impossible to improve or solve. Upon further prodding, the volunteers regularly told me that this was too hard for the kids and we just shouldn't worry about it. However, the whole point of the program was just to discuss these issues and start thinking about answers, they didn't need viable solutions for all the world's problems. So while we ended up with a lot of problems writen down on pieces of paper (or not for the volunteers who decided those instructions weren't important), very little was actually done to help the students begin thinking differently.

BUT, this does give me a lot of information to work with. Now, I better understand the problems related to problem solving in this country. I am hoping to begin putting together a plan for a more detailed program which would first run volunteers through it so that they can actually understand the goals and the tools necessary to address issues and to encourage the kids to think creatively.

I could go on, but I'll just give a quick update on my time here before I post this thing. I have 3 weeks left of my internship, after that I hope to travel to Syria for a week and then will be back in Amman on August 31st to start my study abroad program. I went to the Dead Sea last weekend, which was lovely except for the gash that I managed to procure on some rocks while trying to get all the mud off of myself without getting any water in my mouth (that stuff is nasty!). Unfortunately, a number of my friends from the summer are leaving this week, which means it's party time before they go, but also a bit of an ineresting transitional time as I get ready to shift to the fall and a new location and daily routine.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Talking 'bout Religion

I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with a number of coaches and volunteers on the way to Ajloun (about a 2 hour ride). The main topic of conversation of course turned to religion, which, strangely enough, I really enjoy talking about. However, religion is already a difficult issue to discuss properly and cohesively in your own language, but unfortunately much harder when the primary language in the conversation is Arabic, with attempted translation for the vast majority of it which you don't understand. Also, as I learned, the questions that a group of Jordanians (and for the most part Muslims in general I think) will ask you about religion are frequently quite different from the usual questions that I deal with in the US, where even atheists are rooted in a deeply Christian-influenced culture.

I think the first question was something along the lines of: "Why aren't you a Muslim?" OK, good start. I explained that I was a follower of Jesus and believed in the Bible. They reminded me that Jesus was a prophet in the Qu'ran as well, and pointed people to Islam. They also informed me that Jesus never actually died on the cross (apparently a lie that the Jews came up with), but was saved by God. I went on to describe a bit of my belief in the centrality of the cross in Jesus' message, and told them that I believed in what he taught about non-violence and an allegiance to a kingdom not of this world. They kinda laughed at these last points, especially the non-violent part. "What if someone was hurting your mom? What would you do then?"

I was reminded of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 about Christ's crucifixion being "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." My friends wondered why God would allow a prophet to be executed and why Jesus would teach his followers to follow his example and be so weak and foolish? Regardless of the language barrier, it is impossible to logically explain how Jesus "disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Col. 2:15) except by pointing to the resurrection. Yet if you are talking to someone who doesn't acknowledge either the crucifixion or resurrection, then you are a bit out of luck on this argument. So I was stuck with foolishness, which for a follower of Christ seems like a good place to be.

The conversation moved on to the topic of defending the faith when I asked my friends what they thought about the Dutch cartoons depicting the Prophet or the Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses) controversy. They agreed that the artists behind these blasphemies should be killed (after being given a firm warning) for their offenses against the Prophet and Islam. Now this shocked me a bit, because most Muslims that I have interacted with in the US tend to be a bit more liberal and favor free speech over "defending" their religion against the horrible attacks of artists in foreign countries. However, as I reflected on this conversation and some of the fundamental differences between our faiths, some of these issues made a lot more sense.

(Preface to the final bit: frequently the Christianity that I am about to talk about has been lost in the desire for political and religious power which culminated in the idea of Christendom. However, I subscribe to the words of Jesus, who spoke of a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36) and who told his disciples that the world would hate them and persecute them, but that this little revolution of love would win over the world)

One of the greatest fundamental differences between the teachings of Christianity and the other main monotheistic faiths (Judaism and Islam) is the fact that Christianity is the only one in which the founder (I'm looking at Moses more than Abraham for Judaism) was not a political as well as religious leader (not that Jesus was not political, but he was not a "political leader" in the usual sense). As mentioned above, Jesus talked a lot about his Kingdom, but made clear that it was not like the kingdoms of this world. He denounced violence and ruling by the sword, and points out that if he was leading an earthly kingdom, then his followers would have defended him (John 18:36 again).

However, Islam, since the time of the Prophet Mohammad, has been both a religious and a political entity. Granted, the political cohesiveness of the Islamic world was never really been a single entity after the time of the Prophet and the first 4 Caliphs (because of questions over who should take up the caliphate after him. However, the connection between Islam and politics has remained to this day in a very tangible way (not exclusive, but important as can be seen by the historic desire to control the caliphate).

The important part here, related to my analysis, is that Jesus prepares his followers to be insulted, despised, and executed for their faith (and the apostles confirm this with their lives), but yet warns them not to resist an evil man, for the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world. The Kingdom will not spread through conquest (again, the Church regrettably gave up on this vision and lost sight of their savior for about a thousand years of Christendom), but instead through the love and the blood of these "little Jesuses" (Christian was originally a mocking and derogatory term).

However, the political nature of the Prophet within Islam led to a need for Muslims to physically expand the faith through conquest as an earthly kingdom does. In the same way, Judaism was founded and then required a physical place for the Jewish people to dwell in. So it makes sense that assaults on the Prophet or on Islam in general, wherever they occur around the world, are an attack on Islam everywhere, and must be "defended". While I don't agree with the methods of this defense (I kinda support free speech and productive dialogue and criticism), I can see why the nature of the religion would result in this reaction (compared to say a Buddhist freaking out about a fat Buddha statue).

I do not mean for these observations to be perceived as a value statement, but simply as some of my thoughts on a few of the differences between Islam and Christianity and the way that these different beliefs and points of view have come up during my time here. I am painting in broad strokes that obviously miss a lot, and again my argument is contradictory to a lot of Church history (which does not follow what I would define as the message of the Gospel) in the same way that I am sure much of modern "Islamism" is contradictory to what many Muslims would describe as the original message of Islam.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Change Makers, Gender Issues, and No Time to Breathe

In typical fashion for me, I have managed to go from having very little to do here (talking primarily of my internship) to nearly overloading myself with commitments and not taking a full day off from some sort of work in the last three weeks. Granted, I am still only working a bit over 40 hours a week (in office at least), but there has not been a full day off in quite a while now, which starts to take it's toll on you. Part of the problem is that the work week at my organization and at the camp I am helping with are a day off from each other. So after working Sunday - Thursday at the camps, I frequently have to come in to observe or help with some sort of training on Saturday (when Ruwwad does a large part of their community projects because people are off work and out of school).

However, a big reason for my never ending work week is that I continue to make life hard for myself by coming up with new ideas (which are a very dangerous thing). I talked a bit in my last post about how the organization I am working with has asked me to observe everything and give them advice on how to improve some of their programs. With my couple classes in social entrepreneurship, I have begun to see wasted opportunities and resources in organizations more clearly, and really get a kick out of figuring out how to put those inputs together to make useful outcomes.

On Wednesday, I presented a few of my ideas on how to utilize the wasted time of some volunteers and the need for critical thinking development (and not just sports skills) for the students. I was somewhat surprised to be given the go ahead to implement a new program within the summer day camps starting this upcoming week. The program I created, Change Makers, focuses on cultivating the critical thinking and problem solving skills in kids to help identify and propose solutions to problems that they see in the world around them. In general, the focus is less on solving everything than it is on thinking seriously about these issues and working together to address problems. I had Thursday and Friday to actually draft up the program (goals and methods and a lot of the daily plans), and this morning got to train about 10 volunteers to implement the program at all 4 camps that we are running. I'll try to post an update next week detailing how week one of the program goes (only 3 weeks left). It will be very interesting, especially trying to track progress and successful implementation from the Arabic group discussions.

Also, I have had a lot of very interesting interactions with the female volunteers this week after spending last Sunday in Salt (the only all girls camp). When the volunteers are all together, the boys and girls very quickly separate. Occasionally, a few of them will actually talk briefly to someone of the opposite sex (greetings and such are common of course), but it is very rare to see a boy and girl engaged in a longer conversation. At first, I thought the girls were just all very reserved and quite. However, on the bus to Salt, I learned that this initial impression was not true at all. As soon as we got on the road, the music turned on, and the back of the bus turned into a bit of a dance party/sing-along. They got very excited when I started clapping along for a bit. However, this was only possible because the only boys there were the bus driver and myself. Later in the week, I noticed that in a co-ed bus the girls were incredibly quite, and when I tried to get one of them into the music she said "only in Salt, not here."

Besides the bus ride, I was able to start talking to a number of the female volunteers (and a couple of the very talkative and curious students) for the first time last Sunday. The conversations were all in Arabic, most of the volunteers speak very little English, but we were able to communicate a decent bit. The interesting thing is that as a foreigner, it is more appropriate for me to talk to the girls than for most of the guys here. I'm not sure how much of this is me just not being required to be as sensitive to the cultural gender divisions (as a foreigner you have a bit more leeway, but don't try to go too far) and how much is the fact that many times the boys contribute to the division by segregating themselves from the girls and refusing to really talk to them.

It is interesting that Ruwwad has a fairly female led leadership and that men and women work constantly with each other in the office, but for many of the volunteers the division is still a bit deal. I'll keep sussing this out, no conclusions to be made, but many more questions starting to formulate. Wish me luck implementing my program this week. It's gonna be quite an experience!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Out and About

Looking back, I'm not sure I left the city limits once during my first month in Amman. However, this last week I have gotten out nearly every day for my job and for some random adventuring around Jordan. I've posted some pictures of both: camp activites in Zarqa, a couchsurfing picnic in Zay, and a trip to the Roman ruins at Jerash. Granted all of these places are within a couple hours of Amman and I still have a lot to see in Jordan, but I realize that I have 7 months and would love to not burn out by going to Petra 4 times.

Madrasati Summer Camps:
After drafting forms and going over details all last week, we got to start implementing everything this week at the summer camps in Zarqa, Jerash, Ajlun, and Salt (cities relatively near Amman). It was definitely a week of mixed results: from a somewhat rough start and miscommunications in the beginning to a fairly seemless operation by Thursday. However, one problem that has become apparent is that the number registered for the camps is nearly twice the daily attendance, meaning that we prepared for a lot more kids than we are actually serving.

One very interesting problem that this highlights is the difficulty of providing free services that require registration. The kids were able to sign up and attend the camps free of charge, but many do not actually have access to transportation to get to the schools where they are held (and live as far as 10km away). However, there is no penalty to signing up and then bailing, so of course these kids will sign up and decide later that they can't actually go. My theory is that including a small fee in the registration process would reduce the number of initial registrations, but would greatly increase the correspondence between registration and attendance. Unfortunately, it is a little late to do that this year, so we will have to look into other methods to solve this problem, or more likely just continue to receive way too many sandwiches every day. In many of the case studies we looked at last year in my entrepreneurship classes, social entrepreneurs commented that one of their mistakes was offering services free of charge when a small fee would greatly increase their own effectiveness while not being a burden to most of their clients.

Also, this week has seen a couple very nice changes in the nature of my internship in order to incorporate a bit more of my study of social entrepreneurship and not just my skills in English and photography. Currently I am looking a bit into the difference between community development and organization (I would love any input from those of you more experienced in these fields), and will be helping a bit as Ruwwad looks to alter some of their programs and incorporate an emphasis on socially entrepreneurial practices in both their structure and in their teaching programs. However, it is difficult walking the line between observing and consulting on one hand and giving culturally biased advice that will not be easily implemented or accepted on the other. I have heard stories about businesses in the Middle East bringing in consultants to help improve their business practices, but the changes suggested were too drastic and in the end nothing was changed at all. So I understand that while I do have some skills to offer and an outside viewpoint which can be valuable, I still have a lot to learn and will try to be careful to tailor my recommendations to the realities faced in Jordan in terms of cultural norms, development level, and current business practices.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On the Job

Speaking of changes: I started work this week at Ruwwad and moved in this morning to my new apartment (one hill away from work, or about 30 minutes on foot). I've always thought that work is difficult enough when you speak the language, but here I find myself in Jordan spending my days in a fully Arabic work environment, mostly flying by the seat of my pants as I try to figure out what exactly I am supposed to be doing for the vast majority of my time between various tasks that I am given.

My primary task for the week has been creating report forms for the camp counselors and directors, in Arabic of course. Which means that I get to draft an idea of what I think should go on the form, attempt to translate it into Arabic, type the whole thing up, and then get told that asking questions like, "were there any problems that were not solved?" on a final report is too likely to get an honest answer that will get people in trouble. So I've had to scale down my scope of questions a bit and make stuff nice and vague, and figure out how to be tactful in Arabic (mostly people here just tell me what to write and I type it up). After nearly 3 days of work, I have 4 forms to show for my time. Which is impressive considering that I can barely get by on my Arabic in a real conversation, but seems like a bit of a waste of time considering that I could have drafted up all these forms in English in about an hour.

Another interesting dilemma is that my computer isn't fully compatible with the computers here, so I have to finish everything and then save it in pdf format so it can be read, which means the proofreading process is unnecessarily tedious. The good news is that we start the camp next week, and I will be able to get out of the office and see what is actually going on at the camps, which will keep me occupied. Also, while being surrounded by Arabic is confusing at times, it is also the best way to learn it. So shwaya shwaya (little by little) I'm improving, but still a heck of a long way to go with that.

I finally got a chance to get my camera out some this week. The top one is from the roof of the building I'm living in. I have a studio apartment, but the roof top terrace has a wonderful view. The middle picture is from a scenic overlook at the Dead Sea, and the bottom one is from a concert that I went to with my former roommate, Ryan, the singer is Yazan al-Rousan, a Jordanian artist who sings in Arabic but plays music that sounds like a bit like Arabian ska.

Posts to come:
- Back to where it all began: Christianity in the Middle East
- Trashed: what would it take to get people to stop throwing their crap everywhere?
- Economics of Jordan: is it really profitable to drive around all day playing ice cream truck music and selling gas canisters?
- and many, many more

Saturday, June 27, 2009

South Amman

A lot of change can happen in one short week. I am still in the middle of all these changes, but I'll try to give you a snapshot of the transition to my next stage in Amman. First, the last week was my final one at Ali Baba, where I was studying Arabic 4 hours a day for the last month. It was interesting looking back on my progress throughout the month: I picked up a newspaper this week and was able to understand most of the front page headlines (and a couple articles) without a dictionary, I learned a decent number of colloquial words and phrases (but still can't shake my 2 years of formal Arabic in conversation), and managed to perfect my 3 sentence introduction of my name, where I'm from, and what the heck I'm doing in Amman.

My teacher, Sanabel, attempted to help me figure out how to register for residency in Jordan (since I will be here longer than 6 months), but besides help filling out the form (100% Arabic), I was on my own trying to wade through the horrible bureaucracy of Jordan's Ministry of the Interior. Now imagine the DMV, super sized, with no recognizable directions or instructions, in a foreign language which you barely speak. That's basically what I was dealing with. After waiting in 3 incorrect lines, I finally got my number and watched for it to appear on the screen above the long line of windows. When I was called, I had to fight through a crowd of men trying to push forward, and had to shove my number through the mob to be recognized (even after I was at the window I had to ward off intruders trying to stick their faces in the little window hole and get their forms through first). The man seemed confused by my attempt to turn in the form, and called over an English speaking official. He told me that because I'm not in a university program, I can't get residency, but I can come back in the fall when I am with SIT and try again (but having residency for 2 months doesn't exactly make sense). So my efforts failed, I'll just have to keep renewing my visa and pay normal foreigner pries for the tourist destinations.

I'm writing at the moment from one of the stranger sights in Amman: a full fledged Christian bookstore. It is full of Francine Rivers novels, teen study Bibles, various religious accessories, and a whole stack of The Shack. While I couldn't find a bi-lingual study Bible, I did manage to find the Narnia books in Arabic, and actually understood the majority of the first chapter in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. At least it has A/C, coffee, and free internet.

I went this morning to check out what will soon be my new flat in Jabal al-Ashrafiya, in South Amman. I found out about the place from an add on the posting board at the Good Book Shop (above), and it is amazing how quickly you can go from complete uncertainty about where you will be living next week to a done deal for the next two months. I will be paying half as much as I do now for a flat within walking distance (maybe 20 minutes) of my internship. The place is owned by a Jordanian family (mother teaches Arabic to English speakers), and they have 3 separate flats for rent (an Aussie and Brit are in the other flats at the moment). I'll get some pictures next week of the place and especially the amazing view from the roof top terrace. It will also be nice (for my spoken Arabic) living around Arabic speakers instead of an American roommate (despite the great time I've had with Ryan the last month).

On top of that, I start up work at Ruwwad tomorrow. It has been difficult getting specifics on my first week there (the camp starts on July 7th), but I can basically go along with whatever they want me to do. The great thing about my new apartment is that I can drive easily (or walk with limited difficulty) to work and my favorite spots downtown, which will cut out a ton on taxi driving time and cost. I actually just finished walking around for the last hour from the apartment to downtown, and then up the hill to 1st Circle, where a lot of good coffee shops and bars are located. So now I'm hot, fairly tired, and ready to sit and read for the rest of the afternoon. At least I'm getting a good workout here.

Check back for updates on a number of aspects of Jordanian life, and my thoughts on the first week of work at Ruwwad.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pictures! and other odds and ends

By popular request, and due to my free time a couple days ago, I finally have a couple pictures up from my neighborhood. As you can see, Amman is a city built on a ton of hills, which makes walking around town incredibly enjoyable (especially with the added benefit of the rather high temperature). In the top picture, you may notice that Amman is not a desert, contrary to popular belief. In fact, it even snows here in the winter. Granted the large green patch shown in the picture is the University of Jordan which is kept looking pristine by a staff of gardeners, but all around the city you see a decent number of trees and plants struggling to make it through the dry summer. The picture on the right shows the street I live on (I live in a 1st floor apartment on at the bottom of the hill), and another example of the wonderful hills here. Below, you can see me and some friends at a nice pub called Amigos. Pictures should be coming more frequently once I start work in a couple weeks, because part of my job will be documenting a kids camp that the organization I've working with is putting on (more on that below).

I just finished week three (of 4) in my intensive Arabic course at the Ali Baba language center. It always amazing how quickly a month can go by, especially when you are doing something that takes up your whole day and then abruptly ends. Yesterday, I took a field trip with my 2 teachers and 4 other American students to downtown. We had to talk in Arabic (mostly...) and did a bit of shopping and sight seeing. Fun opportunity to put into practice a bit of what we've been learning. I bought a nice black and white kuffiyeh and a Mahmoud Darwish book that I'll try to read (in Arabic of course) when I have some time.

After the excursion down town, I parted from the group and took a cab to the neighborhood of Abdoun to meet my contact from Ruwwad (May) and all the players going into organizing the summer camp I'll be working on the next two months. I finally got a bit of a better description of the camp and of my role in the whole process. Here goes:
  • The camp runs from July 7th until early August. There are four locations around Amman which will host the kids who mostly come from Jabal Nathif, a poor neighborhood south of the city center.
  • About 800 kids will be participating in activities including taekwondo, soccer, art, and dram.
  • My role is to report on the camps and help organize the coordinated reporting efforts of the camp director and all of the staff members. These other reports will all be in Arabic, which makes my job nice and interesting. I also get to help translate all the final reports from Arabic into English.
  • Part of my job includes photo and video documentation of the camp, which means I get to travel around to all the locations and just have fun with my cameras and then slap them together into some interesting videos, which I'll try to put up here if the bandwidth allows me.
  • The camp is sponsored by Queen Rania's School Initiative, so maybe she'll stop by, who knows?
Alright, I think that's enough for this post. Last night I went to church for the first time since arriving in Amman (many churches meet on Sundays, when I have class). I'll write about that awesome experience and my conversation with a couple Iraqi Christians in my next post. I hope everyone is doing well back in NC or wherever you're reading this from. Hit me up on facebook or skype and let me know how the summer is treating you so far. I'm gonna be gone way too long and don't want to lose touch with all of you.


Friday, June 5, 2009

It's been a week in Jordan and I'm getting pretty nicely settled in. It's amazing how much my Arabic has improved in the last week. My two years of studying Arabic at UNC laid a great base, and now being surrounded by it I'm able to finally take off. I'm still working on my colloquial skills however, since a large number of people here don't actually speak the formal Arabic that I've been learning.

At Ali-Baba, my language school, it has been awesome having one-on-one instruction. This week our conversations took some very interesting turns and I had opportunities to discuss some incredibly difficult topics all in Arabic. My second day in class, I told my teacher about a research paper I did on the Palestinian political cartoonist Naji al-Ali (whose character, Handala, I now realize is on about every key chain here), and we launched into an hour long conversation about his work and the Israel-Palestine conflict. More than half the population of Jordan is Palestinian, so it's a pretty hot topic of conversation.

Yesterday, Obama gave his speech in Cairo to the Muslim World. I watched the whole thing, and really liked most of it. I feel like I basically have job security for a while given my interest in the middle east and specifically social entrepreneurship in the region (which Obama promised to support in the future). Additionally, I'm glad that a US president is finally standing up a bit to Israel and supporting a Palestinian state. After the speech, my job for the day was recounting what Obama said in Arabic. Somehow we got on the topic of religion, and I ended up explaining some of the finer points of Christian theology (most notably the trinity and the divinity of Jesus). Wow, it's hard enough trying to explain that stuff in English, try doing it in Arabic. It was a good conversation, and i hope that Senabel and I can have some more talks like that, maybe I'll ask her some questions about Islam. For now though, I'm glad it's the weekend. 4 hours of Arabic a day takes it out of you. Still no pictures, but I'll work on it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

3 nights in Amman

Well I made it to Jordan, and after a couple days my bags decided to join me. I stayed with Tarek, a guy I met on couchsurfing, for the first three nights and yesterday I moved into a nice little apartment closer to my language school with Ryan, another American. I've got a little time before I head off to class for the next 4 hours and I figured I would put up a quick update on here.

Amman has been great so far. My Arabic is enough to get around with limited English (sometimes), and I have made a couple friends in the city through couchsurfing. I'm taking Arabic classes 4 hours a day, and then should be doing homework, but usually end up going out afterward. I'm still figuring out the general schedule here. Back home I'm used to having dinner around 6 and then starting up again around 8 for the evening. Here, it seems that a lot of people go out around 6 and then get dinner when they get back.

So far I have mostly been in the western part of Amman, near the university. This is the rich part of the city: the houses are pretty nice, the streets are decently clean, there are western sytle fast food places everywhere, and a lot of people are pretty well educated. However, in east Amman the conditions are a bit worse, that's where the refugee camps are and other lower class neighborhoods. I'm going on Sunday to talk to an organization called Ruwwad that I might be working with for the rest of the summer, volunteering with them in the camps. Still a lot of details to work out, but hopefully that will work out. I also might work some with my friend Haya who has a program teaching English in a refugee camp, and is currently in the 30 finalists for a contest sponsored by the Queen for social ventures in Jordan.

That's it for now. I'll try to get some pictures up now that I have my camera. I have internet access in my apartment, but it's really slow, so uploading pictures may take forever. I hope everyone is doing well wherever they are this summer. Keep me updated, I'm on facebook daily. I'll try to get some more meaty posts up once I have some things to think about (wait until the speech tomorrow maybe).

سلام (Peace),
ذانيل (Daniel)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

24 Hours to Takeoff

As I prepare to leave for Amman tomorrow, I frantically go over once again my checklists of the various things that I need to do before departing. I've finished my schoolwork for my maymester course, sent off tons of paperwork for my scholarship, I bought a new pair of shoes and a couple other odds and ends, and said goodbye to as many people as I could get a hold of these last few weeks. But I realized that I also needed to get back on here and brush the dirt off of my old posts and get ready to start blogging again for my upcoming trip. So here goes...

I will be in Amman, Jordan from this Saturday until Christmas Eve. My schedule includes a language course during the month of June, an internship for July and August (still working out the details on that), and a study abroad course from September until early December. I'm hoping to do a little bit of travel outside of Jordan during this time: independently to Syria, with my study abroad team to Egypt, and with my parents to Israel/Palestine. Still a lot of stuff to get figured out exactly, but time is running out and I hit the ground running tomorrow!

I'm really excited for this opportunity to live for 7 months in a foreign country. Unlike my past travels, this will be the first time that I am actively working on my language skills while abroad. Right now my Arabic is sufficient to get around (I hope), but come Decmeber I am excited to see where I will be. Academically, I'm looking forward the opportunity to do some research (and also some volunteering) related to the refugees living in Jordan (a ton of Palestinians and over half a million Iraqis). And in general, I'm thrilled to be making a lot of new friends over there, through my programs, travels, and (amazing site, check it out!).

That's all I've got for now, I'll post more once I get there. You can keep in touch with me while I'm gone through facebook, email ( or skype (daniel_acker).
سلام (Peace),

PS - Here are a couple of pictures from my trip with my brother and friends to Mexico over spring break, enjoy. (video from the trip can be found here)