Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I got married! ...Sorta

Yes, yes the rumors are true... I got married. And by that I mean, kinda, sorta, not really. Let me explain.

Last weekend a bunch of students and myself took a day trip up to the city of Salt. If you're thinking 'I wonder if there's a city of Pepper' then you're too late...and you're not funny, because that's one of the lamest jokes I've ever heard. I know, because I said it and everyone laughed at me. But that's not important.

So, we traveled as a group up to Salt, which is a smaller version of Amman just 30 minutes outside the city. Interestingly, Salt was once the perceived soon-to-be capitol of Jordan, and up until the 1920s it was the only town of real importance in Jordan. It was a huge center for trade during the Ottoman empire days because its location is in the dead center to Damascus, Jerusalem and Cairo. So it has some awesome history, plus it was nice to get out of Amman for a day to explore.

We started the day doing the typical touristey stuff - we got Turkish coffees at the oldest cafe in Jordan, we went to a couple archeology museums, we went to the oldest school in Jordan, etc etc.


First, we went to see this really, really cool old church. Being the born and raised, Catholic school girl that I am, I was psyched to be in a religious place where I actually knew what things were and was able to use my Catholic knowledge to impress people as opposed to what I usually am: strange, white, blonde, American girl wandering around the streets of Amman. Even better though, this church had some really awesome history. Plus, it was really cool to be in a church in the land where, well, Jesus and Catholocism essentially came from.

The little old man there explained that it is believed Saint George visited the church (which was build over a thousand years ago) and appeared to a blind woman while she was praying... and gave her sight! They also believe St. George left his footprint on the ground of the church (as seen below)

It was very cool to be there, and I loved being in a place that felt somewhat like home. Cheesy or not, it was nice to sit in the pews and see the altar.

After the church we headed to lunch, where I got married..... sorta.

Brief back story: Earlier that morning at one of the two archeological museums, we learned about the traditional weddings that take place in Salt. I forgot to mention earlier that Salt is a very traditional town. Amman is about a hundred times more modern than Salt is and the people of Salt love their traditions. So, they taught us a thing or two about the weddings there by showing us a video about all the ridiculous clothing they wear to get married. The men wear a typical black robe (or thobe as they call it here) and a scarf on their head but women... they're outfit isn't as easy. They wear this big cloak thing that looks like something the dementors from Harry Potter wear. I mean, its huge. But somehow, they wrap it around just right so its not as big and instead, it weighs about 20 pounds and is heavier than a winter jacket. I would know, because I wore one.

Alright, so we're at lunch, I was munching away on some falafal and Pepsi when they start asking for volunteers. I wasn't really paying any attention because I was enjoying my lunch too much, but I thought, hmmm, sure, I'll volunteer myself, that seems like a good idea. Wrong.

They lead me up to this room with 4 other students and they tell us we're about to put on the wedding robes we saw in the video earlier and we're having a pretend wedding. That's when I knew that I would never, ever volunteer for anything again.

All of a sudden this woman is dressing me in this ridiculous black robe, covering me with jewelry, and wrapping this thing around my head. The next thing I know....I'm an Arab woman. Every inch of my body was concealed but my face and I was sweating profusely under the weight of the carpet like material I was wearing.

THAT is what I wore

The wedding party - yes, that's me at the bottom with the red thing around my head

So they led me downstairs followed by my entourage of 'bridesmaids' and my husband Alec and I circled around the room, I was forced to dance around a bit (embarrassing), and then we went back up, they took the robe thing off and... BAM! There was my wedding day. Romantic, I know.

But in all seriousness, while it was very hot and constricting in that robe, it was a pretty cool experience to wear the traditional outfit of a Salt bride. Plus, it made for some pretty funny photos.

After my wedding day, we saw a couple other places and then headed back. But, even better than my wedding... we stopped on our way back to Amman to watch the sunset over the Jordan Valley. Unbelievable. By far the coolest thing I've seen thus far in my trip. We literally sat on this Lion King-esque rock and watched the sun set over the Jordan Valley and near the West Bank. The first of many sunsets to come, I hope!

I head out into the desert near the Syrian border to live in a village full of Bedouins for 5 days tomorrow morning. Things I will not have access to: technology, plumbing, clean water, showering, English. Things I will have access to: scorpions, hyenas, Syria.

Things could get dicey. Say a prayer I come back alive. And if I do...get ready for some entertaining stories.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Can't. Stop. Sweating.

If I could describe Amman in precisely 3 words right now, it would be just that: Can't. Stop. Sweating. (With special emphasis on the pauses...creates a more dramatic effect)

I don't know if its gotten hotter since I've arrived, or if my body has finally realized where it is and gone into panic mode, but it's hot. HOT. The thing is, I think the weather could be bearable, but the whole 'no shorts or bare shoulders allowed, sitting in a classroom all day with no air conditioning, but oh wait, lets just use these pre-historic electric fans to move the hot air around' gig is really starting to take a toll. My persperation levels must be skyrocketing.

It should cool down soon, so I'm certainly looking forward to that day. But, other than the whole sweating all day and night situation, things have been going great over here!

While my home stay family has been my biggest challenge thus far, I have started to become more comfortable as part of the family. Being thrusted into someone's home and becoming apart of their family can still be a bit awkward, but I'm coping with the hurdles.

One hurdle, however, I am not ready nor will I ever be able to cope with are bugs.

I don't deal well with bugs. Ladybugs? Gross. Butterflies? No thanks. Other disgusting creepy crawlers... no no no and, no. But, to my pleasant surprise, my first 2 weeks in Jordan were bug free! The occasional fly here and there, but that was about it. I was on the verge of celebration, when one night last week all my hopes and dreams were eternally squashed. Yes, I came face to face with evil itself.....a cockroach. You may roll your eyes and gawk at my wimpy-ness, but this was no ordinary cockroach. I'm convinced it made its way to Jordan straight from the African jungles where it had mutated into a killing machine. Either way, it found me. Of course, I was home alone when it happened so, I was forced to face the demon myself. I lived to tell the tale, and here it is:

It was late one night last week, just as I was about to go to sleep when I opened the bedroom door to turn off the light. That's when I saw it. He was just moseying down the hallway like he owned the place, making his way to the bathroom. I figured it'd find a home in there far away from me, but of course like me, he got scared of the bidet and decided to take cover in my room. Since no one else was home and I was clearly not going to fall asleep knowing it was creeping around, I was forced to hunt him down, but it wasn't easy. I chased him around for a while, trying to trap him, but he was fast. I lost him at some point and thought all was lost until I saw him try to make a quick escape from out of the closet. I knew it was my only chance so I bit my lip and went in for the kill. Luckily, my host sister's shoe was nearby so I squashed him several times to ensure his death.

It was horrible, as you can imagine. And below is proof of his existence. Try not to shriek at its horror.

I hope it will be the last encounter, but I have a feeling he has siblings who will seek revenge. Lets just hope they go into someone else's room next time.

But anyways...

Apart from the bug, the upside of family life is without a doubt, the food. Lots and lots and lots of good food. Jordanian family life revolves around meals. To paint you a little picture, here is the break down of typical Jordanian meals:

Breakfast: You won't catch people munching down breakfast bars, yet alone doughnuts in Amman. And while it varies in each family, breakfast usually consists of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and breads. The real treat, however, is the Turkish coffee. To put it simply: it is the Although, if you think it tastes anything like coffee in the states then you guessed wrong. In fact, it tastes absolutely nothing like any coffee I've ever had. Its a thick black strong coffee that's served in a wee small cup and served at nearly every hour of the day - a Middle Eastern staple if you will. It's delicious, but if coffee isn't your thing, the tea here is just as tastey and served all day, every day.

Lunch: Usually considered the biggest meal of the day, but since I am at school all day, I usually pop into the little market nearby or, if I'm feeling adventurous, I walk a ways up the street to my personal favorite........ McDonalds. I've gotta say, I've always heard people talk about how McDonalds tastes different overseas and how it isn't as good, but I have found all these things to be lies. It is just as delicious, just as fattening, and just as well worth the calories as I remember in the states. Lunch usually involves another Turkish coffee or tea of some sort to keep the momentum going, which you can conveniently purchase at McDonalds as well.

Dinner: I believe the word 'feast' is more appropriate. Imagine the scenes from Harry Potter where every food item known to man appears on the tables and everyone is fighting for a share...its like that. A lot of chicken, lamb, rice, pita, vegetables, fruit, more pita, hummus, etc etc etc. It varies in each family, but we pretty much have a mixture of that every dinner. The food isn't as spicy as I would have imagined, but its still very good. Dinner is usually topped off with.. you guessed it, Turkish coffee or some flavored Argeela (or hookah, as they call it in the US), which is hugely popular here.

And for snacks: You can never go wrong with some falafal. It never fails and its sold everywhere. Plus, if the Middle East had a sponsor, it'd be Pepsi, which you can find anywhere and everywhere for about 30 cents.

So, in summary: food is good.

Moving on.

Did some pretty neat stuff this past week. The Jordanian soccer team played China in the playoffs for the World Cup here in Amman, and they won! And man, did the city get wild. I think it was an upset, seeing as China has like 10 gazillion people and the Jordanian soccer players can barely run because they smoke cigarettes all day, but either way, people got crazy. My host brother drove me around the city after the game to see all the celebrations. People literally filled the streets, they were honking their horns, and waving the Jordanian flag out of their cars. It was very cool to see the huge amount of Jordanian national pride. Its always interesting to me how sports are capable of bringing so many diverse people together. It was a very fun experience, and I'm already gearing up for the next big game in October!

We also managed to do some more exploring in the city this past weekend. A couple of us explored some of the famous Amman souks (markets) downtown, which is always a fun way to spend the day. Downtown has all kinds of different souks. Some have knick knacks of all sorts - anything from hair scrunchies to watches - and some have art pieces and jewelry. We haggled with some locals and picked up some cool things.

It's always a fun time wandering around downtown. It is Middle Eastern in every sense. People fill the streets selling fresh produce, assortments of nuts, and some parts even sell clothes! Its crazy. But it definitely has the most Middle Eastern vibe of any part of the city I've been to thus far.

After a bit of exploring we finally made our way up to the Citadel - which essentially is a hill filled with all kinds of ruins from different centuries. It has Roman ruins from the Temple of Hercules; Byzintine basilica ruins; and mosque/palace ruins from the Umayyad period. Very cool to see three entirely separate centuries of ruins all on the same hill, yet alone the same area. We took lots of pictures and had great views of the city. Some of which, I shared below.

Other than that, just been doing the whole school thing. We're taking a day trip to Salt this weekend and then spending 4 days in the Badia region next week (the rural area of Jordan) followed by the long awaited trip to the Dead Sea! Lots of fun things to come in the next couple weeks.

On a last note: 9/11. I don't think I could have ever imagined a decade ago that I would be in the Middle East during the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. I still remember where I was and what I was doing on that day in 2001.

It was nice to be able to share my experiences with my peers about 9/11 and growing up in the 10 years after. The staff was very kind as to share their thoughts, perspectives, and memories on that day as well. What really put things into perspective for me, however, was realizing that I am currently living in a region that was arguably affected just as much, if not more, by the events of and after 9/11, than the United States itself. Of course, I in no way mean that in disrespect to those who lost their lives and were affected by that tragic day as well as the war after, but I must admit, being in a region where US influence is both desired and despised, brings a whole new amount of perspective on the past 10 years.

Just some food for thought. Either way, I was happy that the day went smoothly both over here and in the US, and I continue to send my thoughts and prayers to all of those affected around the world by that day, and by terrorism as a whole.

Thinking of you all!

Roman ruins - Temple of Hercules (or whats left of it)

Umayyad palace on the left, Byzintine palace ruins on the right - both built in entirely different centuries

More of Byzintine palace ruins

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Joys (& Woes) of Having a Home

Oh boy. I don’t even know where to begin.

Well, first and foremost, I finally have the internet. Usually 3 days without connection to the outside world doesn’t bother me, but being in a foreign country and being disconnected from the outside world can be quite alarming. But alas, I somehow managed to find the most American café in Amman and thus, free WiFi connection.

Alright. Let’s recap the past couple days, shall we. They have been full of all sorts of entertainment.

To start, I must say I am still in unbelievable awe of this beautiful yet mysterious city – a feeling I do not think will ever fade. Hearing the call to prayer fill the streets of Amman each morning, afternoon, and evening is truly a beautiful and incredible experience. Each time it comes on, I literally have to pinch myself. Like wow, I’m actually here. This is actually happening.

In a lot of ways the Arab world is just as I imagined it would be. While Amman is very modern and Westernized in comparison to its neighbors, there are a lot of obvious differences to Western cultures.

The most obvious and blatant of which is religion, which reigns supreme. From hearing the call the prayer ring throughout the city 5 times a day, to the way both women and men dress, it is obvious that Islam is a very important aspect of daily life for most Jordanians. The division between classes is also very obvious, like in most cities. Don’t let any perceived notions of the Middle East fool you. Yes there is a lot of poverty here, some parts of town are worse than others, but no, people don’t live in tents and roll around town on camels - in some parts of the country, yes, but not here in Amman. There is a large upper class, obvious by the caliber of Range Rovers and Mercedes on the road, but I’d say most of the population is of middle class – just like the states.

Not every woman in the city where’s the hijab either (the head scarf), and not every man wears long flowing robes like something out of a biblical movie. Yes, a lot do, but like I said, Amman is much more westernized than what you may think. Most people here rock iPhones or Blackberry’s and I hear American music on a pretty daily basis. Jordanians are a very proud people and are not afraid to tell you. They are proud that Jordan has remained safe amongst its more violent neighbors and they are very passionate about their country’s progression - as they should be! They love Americans and American culture, its U.S. policies they're not a big fan of – which, in some regards, can you blame them? They may benefit from U.S. aid but they have also been surrounded by the war in Iraq, which was largely brought on by the United States. But, we’ll save that whole discussion for a later date.

Anyways, the past couple days have been a rollercoaster of events. We finally managed to move out of the orientation phase of the program and into the most anticipated/exciting/nerve-racking/potentially-scariest phase: the home stay.

We were given a short description of our family the night before so I had somewhat of an idea what my family would be like…or so I thought.

See, when I received the short description of my family I was on a bus going to dinner, so it was loud and the woman was very soft spoken. I thought she said I had a ‘mama’, ‘baba’, & 4 siblings, but due to the loud atmosphere I somehow managed to miss some very crucial information.

Yes, I have 4 siblings – 2 younger siblings, twins, a boy and girl who are both 21: Muhammad & Ma’ise (pronounced like “mice”); as well as, 2 older siblings in their late 20’s: Ahmed & May (pronounced like “my”). However, the ‘mama’ and ‘baba’ part…not so much. Unfortunately, they both died about a year ago. I’m not sure how, too afraid to ask. But from what I can gather thus far, it wasn’t expected and the 2 older siblings have since moved home. A different sort of family dynamic than previously expected, but I am optimistic nonetheless.

May & Muhammad picked me up from the program base on Thursday – waiting for which, was somewhat similar to be picked up by your parents from grade school…only you don’t have any idea what your parents names are or what they look like. Either way, I got the initial hellos over with and we made our way “home”. They are a middle class family, so it isn’t luxurious living by any means, but it is still a very comfortable and nice apartment.

I live in the neighborhood of Arjan, which is close to a gym, grocery story, & only about 7 minutes away from school. So cheap cap fare each day is a plus. It’s a nice apartment on the first floor of the building complete with: a family room, dining room, kitchen, 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, and a big beautiful outdoor porch & garden, which has a cool view of the city and gives a very Middle Eastern vibe.

Unfortunately, I will be sharing a room with Ma’ise, for the next 4 months. I was kind of bummed about that because I was looking forward to having my own room to unwind, but I’ll make do. After all, I should be a pro at it seeing as I’ve lived in the sorority house for 3 years. Ma’ise speaks the least amount of English, so it’s a bit of a challenge to converse, but also kind of works out to my benefit because now I’m not forced to hold awkward conversations…which I hate. Plus, she’s never really here, or so it seems, so maybe it won’t be so terrible after all.

The bathroom/shower situation is…well, it’s new. If you didn’t know, plumbing is a luxury and never again will I take it for granted. The plumbing in Amman isn’t like that in the states, which means there are some new standards to become accustomed to. Throwing your TP in the toilet is now a thing of the past, as I now toss my TP in the closest trash bin. Yes, trash bin.

Breathe that in for a minute.

A potentially messy situation, but a do-able adjustment.

There is also the issue of the bidet. You know, the odd sink thing that you find next to the toilet in some foreign countries. Well, from what I have gathered, you are supposed to use this strange contraption to, err, “wash” after using the bathroom. And by wash, I don’t mean your hands. Catch my drift?

To be completely honest, that thing scares me. I just can’t imagine having to scoot myself over after using the toilet to “wash”. I just can’t bring myself to do it. So the bidet will continue to be a mystery to me, one that I’m not sure I want to solve.

Apologies if that is TMI (too much information), but these are just a couple new challenges I now have to face on a daily basis. So while you all use your luxurious bathrooms at home…I’ll be here…with my bidet.

The issue of the shower isn’t as problematic, it’s just an adjustment to realize that hot water is a luxury and that water pressure is pretty much non-existent. Only one shower has hot water, so all 5 of us share that one. Fun times. Good thing I packed some shower flip-flops. Nonetheless, showering isn’t a terrible experience by any means. I just won’t exactly be engaging in a long, leisurely shower any time soon.

I have been prepared in almost every way to face the challenges of the Arab world; it’s just the small things like these I have somehow forgotten to give a wink of thought to. And I’m sure there are all sorts of new learning experiences to come.

Okay, so things aren’t exactly ideal, and I’ve definitely had a couple “holy moley, I don’t think I can handle this” moments, but I am prepared to deal with the obstacles and am trying my hardest to view it as a learning experience, because it is. Believe it or not, things like plumbing and hot water aren’t a norm in most parts of the world. And if 4 months without these things is all I have, then I am more than happy to deal. I’m slowly starting to transition from the “holey moley” moments to the “man, I’m really blessed” moments. Something I think all of us should be forced to adopt at some point in our lives.

I’ve had 2 days now to cope with the changes and get settled and I must say, I’m feeling much better now than I was the first day. Because I won’t lie, the first day was a bit of a breakdown for me. The transition was a lot more alarming than I think I had previously expected but I’m now learning to take things with a grain of salt. Hanging out with other American students has really helped me to see that, too, because they all are going through the same things.

Needless to say, I’m feeling much better today and am actually much more optimistic about my home stay family.

My two brothers speak wonderful English and last night I sat with them outside to watch the Jordan vs. Iraq soccer game, which was very entertaining. They informed me that we have many Iraqi neighbors so it was essential we watched it out on the porch so that we could be loud and obnoxious when Jordan scored. Jordan won 2-0 and man, they weren’t lying about making some noise. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole city heard us screaming and making noise!

The two brothers made me feel much more comfortable, as we joked around about my experiences thus far. The oldest brother, Ahmed, used to work for CIEE (a study abroad program) and he now works with tourism so his English is perfect. He also understands that I’m going through a bit of a cultural adjustment and has been very kind in helping me find my way around. He gave me a number of different restaurants, cafes, and bars to visit and was very happy to answer any of my questions.

It’s also incredibly nice that he speaks perfect English. And I mean perfect. It’s a lot more comfortable to speak in English at this point, but I know having a family who communicates primarily in Arabic will be hugely beneficial to my Arabic speaking skills, which is very important to me. I’ve already managed to pick up a few good words thus far, and its only been a couple days!

School starts tomorrow, because the workweek is Sunday through Thursday here, unlike in the states - another different transition. I am actually very excited to get the ball rolling in regards to school. It’s been a while since I’ve really had to use my brain, but I’m ready to dust off the ole cobwebs and get into a routine again.

I’ll be taking Arabic 5 days a week, 3 hours a day, so I’ll certainly be perfecting my skills. Additionally, I’ll be taking 2 seminar courses until the research period of my trip begins. I’m taking a Field Study Seminar, which is essentially a course to assist in my research honing skills. We’ll do some community work as well, which I’m looking forward to. The other seminar course will be for 2 hours a day and is very general – it’s mainly a seminar to discuss a number of different topics about Jordan and the region as a whole. It’ll be a wonderful opportunity to discuss a lot of current topics including the Arab Spring and Arab-Israeli conflict and there will be a number of guest lecturers from Jordan who will come and speak to us. An exciting course, which I’m very much looking forward to!

I’ll leave things at that. Information overload, I know. I hope I didn’t lose anyone back there, but like I said, its been one hell of a past couple days.

I’ll leave you with a couple of last entertaining notes from the past couple days - just a couple short blips of funny things. The first of many to come, I’m sure - Enjoy!

  1. Cell phone: I finally managed to purchase a cell phone two days ago, so I am no longer a roaming nomad of a foreign country with absolutely no means of communication. I will mainly use it to communicate with my student friends and host family, so don’t expect a phone call form me any time soon, but still, it was a relief. After my tearful goodbye to my Blackberry before leaving the states, I was thoroughly looking forward to this moment. Unfortunately, my finances couldn’t afford a new Blackberry while in Jordan, so, while it may not be the hippest gizmo to hit the market, I purchased myself a snazzy Nokia phone. Yes, a Nokia. Remember those? Its key features include: a black and white screen, large brick like shape, and T-9 capabilities. Face Time, 3G, and touch screen features? Who needs ‘em when you can have this state of the art technology?!

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  1. Taxis/Cars: I was a little bit nervous about the whole taxi situation, seeing as it is my main form of transportation throughout the city. But it actually hasn’t been that challenging at all. As long as you know somewhat of where you’re going, the cab should be able to get you there…and if not, well, then I suggest getting out and trying again. As far as roads and order goes, however, well, it’s pretty much non-existent. Cars and taxis literally drive around with no order. If you can cut someone off up ahead, then by all means, do. If you’d like to drive as fast as possible through the streets, then have at it. It is seriously incredible the way the whole traffic system works here. It’s literally every man for himself and it gives a whole new meaning to the word road rage. While sometimes its funny, I have to admit, it can be pretty darn scary, too. According to my Safety & Security information sheet, “In Jordan, road accidents are the second cause of death. There is a traffic accident every 5 minutes, and a citizen is killed every 9 hours due to road accidents.” So, there you have it. Looking both ways before crossing really is important, and they are now words to live by.
  1. Revolution policy: During the orientation phase of the program we went through the standard information: safety and health guidelines, program expectations, course syllabi, and, of course, guidelines and procedures in case a revolution occurs. We’ve been advised that while riots and demonstrations may seem “cool” to our naïve American eyes, they are indeed, not cool in Jordan and in fact, pretty darn dangerous. So yes, Mom, Dad, you can breathe easy knowing that if a revolution of sorts occurs in the streets of Amman, there is a phone tree to alert students to get the H out.
  1. Running: several of us were concerned with being able to, you know, exercise while we are here. Not exactly a modern fad, but running is a pretty frequent event in my life, so naturally I was curious about it. We were informed that there are gyms in Jordan and that we can certainly use them if we’d like. But when we asked if running around town was a possibility, they informed us that it probably wasn’t a good idea. The exact quote was, “Running in the street isn’t encouraged because Jordanian’s first impression is to think that they are running from someone or being chased”. Stick to the gym, got it.
  1. Party Rock Anthem: For some reason, people in Jordan are seriously obsessed with this song. Not only does my younger brother Muhammad play it on repeat at my house, but also I’ve heard it streaming into the streets almost every night. Not exactly the tune I would have assumed they’d be jamming to, but I figured ACD & NWS would appreciate it (code name shout outs).

Alright, signing off for now. Hope all is well in the states!

Love and miss you all!