Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ma'aslaamah ya Amman

Well, I’ve finished my last finals. We’ve had our goodbye dinner, and our exit-exam for Arabic. I’ve said a lot of goodbyes, and a lot of see-you-laters. I’ve purchased my last souvenirs from Jordan – and I’m heading out. It’s so weird to say ‘bye. It seems like the semester just flew past – where did the time go? There have been good experiences, great experiences, and some pretty ridiculously terrible ones. Life is a game – I’m glad I took this gamble. I have no regrets on coming over here – and really hope I’ll get the opportunity to return one day. Where am I going? First to Kuwait. Then to Lebanon. Then to the United States. I accepted a job in Lansing, Michigan through AmeriCorps that starts pretty soon after I get back. So as soon as I get home, there will be a whirlwind. My brother’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. My cousin’s wedding. My brother’s high school graduation and graduation party. My moving to Lansing, finding an apartment, and buying a car. Seriously – How exciting is all of that? I'll be posting a few tips on where to go, what you should do, what was good, and what was bad. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Random Bread Sightings

So, while spending time in Jordan I began noticing a strange obsession with bread. It was never on the ground. It was never in the trash bins.
People hung plastic bags of bread on the sides of the trash bins and in the trees.
People would throw their coffee cup on the ground, but place the remainder of their bread on the fence.
… or some other elevated place.
Then, I started noticing people picking up bread that WAS on the ground, kissing it, and touching it to their forehead. What the heck? So – the inquisitive side of me decided to do some research. I began asking around, as well as consulting Mr. Internet. The most common response I heard from the Arabs and other Muslims was, “there is a Hadith (saying of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad) that says you must treat the bread well.” Well, I’ve been searching for that Hadith for three weeks now. If someone has it, let me know. The most relevant saying I have found is fabricated, saying: “Said the Prophet (s.a.w.s.): “Do not cut bread with a knife, but give it due honor by breaking it with the hands, for Allah has honored it.”” Okay – but still, bread is important in Arabic culture. One word used for bread in the Arabic language is “‘Eysh”, which is the same root as the word for live, sustain, or exist. Bread is the basic form of sustenance, so perhaps it does require some respect. Interestingly enough, while asking around – I discovered that Poland also has a tradition of kissing the bread. Like in the Middle East, bread is supposed to be consumed and otherwise treated with reverence. [This is relevant to me, because I'm Polish-American. There are many other cultures with similar traditions.] If one drops a piece of bread, they should pick it up, kiss it, and use it to make the sign of the cross. Often, peasants would even trace a cross on the bottom of a loaf before cutting it. I hope you all appreciate the fact that I’ve been that strange American, walking around taking pictures of dumpsters and discarded bread for the past week. Until next time…

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Weekend

I had the opportunity to spend Easter morning at the Jordan River. Pretty cool, huh? Anyways, classes are going well. Less than four weeks left of classes! We were given our exam schedule today. Presentation, presentation, quiz, exam, quiz, presentation, ahhhhh! I think I will have more "final" things in these three courses I'm taking than when I'm taking five or six separate courses. I'll be staying in Amman for approximately two extra weeks after my program ends. Top priority right now is securing a job for when I return to the United States. I'll be going back to my Grandma White at our house, my cousin's wedding, my brother's Eagle Scout Court of Honor, Graduation, and graduation party - all within about the first week. I think my family planned it like that to have an excuse to see me a bunch of times because they miss me so much. That's my rant of the day... I'll just leave you with a relevant Polish wish: "Smacznego jajka oras mokrego dyngusa"

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Losing a Loved One

Well, sometimes life doesn't go quite the way you want it to. On Thursday morning, my dear cousin Renee passed away. I would say she succumbed to cancer - but she never quite gave up. Even in her last days, I was hearing reports of her trying to push Jeff (my lovely cousin, her husband) down the stairs. Renee was a fighter, a strong, ruckus-loving woman. Before I came to Jordan, I was hanging out at her house. She told me, "Mandi, if I got cancer so I would die and go to heaven so I could protect you while you're in Jordan, I will come haunt you." It's strange being so far removed from the "action". My family doesn't do funerals quite right... or perhaps they do them just right. Yes, people are sad at funerals, but at the same time a funeral is a celebration of life. I even remember teaching my friend how to play blackjack at a funeral once. Thanks to modern technology, I skyped into the funeral home to speak with some cousins and one of my uncles. Who says being on the other side of the ocean prevents an appearance? Of course, I skyped into the upstairs room where the 'kids' eat food, play cards, laugh and joke around. I don't mean to make a mockery of death - but I know Renee is in a better place. I also know there was a better reason than me that God wanted her back so soon... I haven't had a giant foot come out of heaven and kick me in the rump yet. Perhaps the angels needed a karaoke Queen. Rest in Peace NeeNee!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Authorized Access Only

I had an amazing opportunity yesterday. Due to a cancellation of a previous day-trip I had signed up for, I was offered to go with another group of Americans (not the ones in my program) on their trip. This went from an Eco-Park, to two restricted military zones, to UnQais. This was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I'm grateful that I took it! First, we stopped at the Sharhabil Bin Hasna Eco-Park. This is one of many parks run by Friends of the Earth: Middle East (http://www.foeme.org/), an organization that attempts to bring awareness and cooperation between Jordan, Palestine, and Israel in environmental matters.
The park is absolutely beautiful! It is located in the Jordan Valley, which is very, very lush. This area is in the ninth year of drought - imagine it after there is a rainy season! After that, we headed to the Peace Island (Baqourah), which is basically a place where the Jordan River meanders and leaves a small peninsula into Israeli territory. This is part of the land that was returned back to Jordan during the "land for peace" efforts. These areas aren't places that can be visited by the public - we were escorted and welcomed by the Jordanian military.
These are abandoned houses from what used to be an Israeli worker housing unit. Not too far beyond this is the "old" border, marked by degrading and rusting barbed wire fences. Surprisingly, the "new" border looks less intimidating than the "old" one, thanks to the Jordan River being the dividing line, we were in a restricted military zone, and modern technology not making big fences or constant patrols necessary. We visited another base and were able to view the Sea of Galilee. It was absolutely beautiful! It is completely within Israel-proper, so not quite easy to visit. The General was pointing out to us the difference between Palestinian towns and Israeli towns, as well as which areas are occupied Palestine/Syria instead of Israel-proper. After the bases, we went to UmQais - a popular tourist destination. It is in the North-West corner of Jordan, close to the borders of Syria and Israel/Palestine. It's an ancient Greek city, around 3rd C. BCE, on top of a very steep hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Around 30 BCE, the Romans took over the city, and by the 2nd C. AD Um Qais boasted the longest aqueduct in the world (which you can still see remnants from). During the 8th C. AD, a large earthquake ruined the city and it was abandoned.
Fun fact: Historical accounts suggest that this is the city that was mentioned in the Gospels where Jesus drove the demons out of the men, into a herd of swine, and into the sea.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mohammad Abdo at the Gym.

Well, I've been wanting to write a note about the gym for a few weeks, but the women this morning definitely gave me a reason. First of all, I would advise anyone who studies in Jordan to get a gym membership. It's not that expensive, ask for a student discount, and you get to take hot showers with excellent water pressure whenever you want. I mean, still be considerate of how much water you use, but it's definitely worth it. Second, I go to a women's only gym. It looks like a typical gym, and upstairs there is a salon. After a little bit of time, I began to notice some differences. For example, some of the older women bring a thermos of tea to work out instead of a water bottle. Also, every American athlete's nightmare: nobody stretches. Not before they work out, and not after. I've become friends with a couple of the women who always work at the same time as me. The gym is almost more like a social club than a typical gym - there is constant conversation on the machines, especially the treadmills. Which brings me to today. I hop on the treadmill and start running - the lady that is normally next to me isn't there, so I was reading while I ran. Two women came in - talking about wanting to marry Mohammad Abdo. He's kinda sorta like the Paul McCartney of Arabic music (especially in the Gulf). "I would marry Mohammad Abdo" "In Jannah habibi" "Turn on Mohammad Abdo!" *Mohammad Abdo song comes on* *halfway through gets turned off* "Whyyy? Why habibiti? Come here, I'll sing it to you!" *Starts singing loudly* *another Mohammad Abdo song comes on* "Thank you, thank you habibiti!" Moral of the story: Mohammad Abdo is not good workout music. In the end, it's all about having fun I guess

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Trip to Wadi Rum and Petra

This past weekend was incredible. We went to Wadi Rum and Petra. What was seen cannot possibly be described (unless you’ll take “there was a lot of sand” as a description!). You always know it was an excellent adventure when the last thing you want to do the next day is get out of bed because your feet hurt so badly! This trip was included in the CIEE tuition, and everything was provided including transportation, entry to Petra, food and lodging. Wadi Rum. We took a bus down to Wadi Rum, and at the end were greeted with a delicious lunch. Come on, how often is the food NOT good? I ate way too much, as usual. After food… we jumped into the back of a “jeep” to go on a ride through the sand. Needless to say, Wadi Rum is incredibly beautiful. We stopped a few times, one of the times to climb an incredibly steep sand dune. That was most certainly worth it, especially climbing up the rocks on top of the sand dune. Of course, being short doesn’t help climbing up, but it’s always worse trying to figure out how to get back down! After the jeep rides, we met up with some camels and a ton of kuffeyahs. They gave us each a kuffeya to put on, because they like making Americans look like a ton of posers! Just kidding (but maybe serious, I don’t know!). Those of us who brought our own continued to wear those, you know – protecting heads, hair, and faces from the sun and sand. This is also when Kim and I started to channel our inner Bedouin. (Ha, we’re both clearly such city-girls). Of course, before getting ON the camels, I participated in a quick pickup game of soccer in the middle of the desert. What else would you expect from me? We rode the camels to our tents, where we watched the sunset and settled in for some music, a little bit of dancing, food, and a couple gallons of tea (I seriously think I may have drank a gallon). They made the bread fresh, right as we were standing there. Woke up early to watch the sunrise and eat another yummy breakfast with more fresh bread, then hit the road to Petra. Petra. It is an indescribable place. One of the Seven Wonders of the World. Absolutely gorgeous. A whole lot bigger than I thought it was! We walked approximately 8km and more than 1,000 stairs. It was hot, but it was totally worth it. At the top of the “best” view at the end of the world, we could see over to the mountains of Palestine. On the way back to Amman, we stopped for a snack break near a Crusader castle. The day closed with an absolutely beautiful sunset.