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.