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 (, 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.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

To be, or not to be a tourist.

Global citizenship is a hot topic among a lot of universities in the United States. Students are pushed to study abroad and become “global citizens”. What does this even mean? There are many attempts to define this phrase, but all of them fall short without a lengthy explanation. To me, it has a lot more to it than merely traveling. There are many people who brag about how many countries they have been to. I’m not going to lie, I love adding a new country to my list. In order to be forming oneself as a “global citizen”, though, being culturally aware is more important than just seeing the sites. Spending less than a week in a country or region will not let one see the culture, the politics, history, sports rivalries, and common foods. One will get a quick overview of “this is our favorite food”, but often the favorite food and the daily foods differ by insane amounts. If you aren’t paying attention to how people are dressed, you’re doing it wrong. If you only see the area through a camera (or tablet) lens, you’re doing it wrong. If you aren’t paying attention to hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language, you’re doing it wrong. In other words, to be a “global citizen” one has to accept responsibility for educating oneself on the world, instead of just seeing the world. When it comes to study abroad, many people think that spending four months in a different country will give an all-access pass to not only this culture, but every culture outside of the United States. Can anyone tell me what the differences are between Asia and South America? Between Europe and the Middle East? I have to take a bargain that nobody will have any trouble coming up with a full list of cultural differences. So, how does studying abroad make someone a “global citizen”? Well, it just opens the door. Studying abroad teaches you flexibility. It (in most countries) shows one how to be a minority; how to struggle with a non-native language. Basically, one learns that the whole world is not the same as one’s own neighborhood. That is the ticket to a gate. What is beyond that gate is for each individual to decide and discover. Alas, this can only happen if one does study abroad, “right”. Exactly the same way as traveling right. Here’s a shocker: Did you know that study abroad isn’t about drinking and partying in a different country? Studying abroad is about experiencing a different culture. Having a lot of time to explore the depth of situations – such as political atmosphere, gender equality, the price and availability of basic commodities like food and water, what sort of toilets they use, everything! Although, if someone is drinking a lot, I’m sure they will become acquainted with the toilets at some point… In the end, global citizenship requires one to acknowledge their own bias and privilege. As an American citizen, we have certain advantages. We have English as our native language. We have full access to water. Women are allowed to work in public. Most importantly, we have that blue passport. Here in Jordan, water is scarce. It is one of the countries on the top end of the "Least Renewable Water Supplies" lists. Most homes get a set amount in a tank every week. If you run out before the end of the week, tough luck. I would not say that there is major gender inequality, but the culture is definitely more shy with gender relations than in the United States. There is no problem with women walking the streets alone, working, or speaking with men. Taking a taxi? Make sure you’re in the back seat. Only men can sit in the front. Then that passport. There are so many Palestinians who have lost their homes and hometowns who now reside in Jordan, and can never return to their homes. Many American students here travel to Israel on the weekends or breaks. Upon return, many are surprised by the sheer jealousy of their Palestinian peers. With that blue passport, we can travel to nearly any place in the world without question, as well as being able to expect to be taken care of by our embassies, removed from bad situations (ex: war breaks out), and overall simply able to be protected by our government even when across borders. In the end, I’m not trying to preach or sound like I know it all. I’m just trying to highlight a major difference between traveling and actually learning about the place you’re visiting. There is a lot more to a country, culture, and people than what you can see on a superficial walk-through. Traveling is a vacation from real life. Global citizenship requires a heavy dose of reality. Do you want to be a global citizen or a tourist?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Americans Abroad

Anytime someone is traveling, they should be gaining new insight into their own lives, personalities, and habits. One of the biggest things to reflect on is what you look like to the people around you. More specifically: where you come from. For me, it has always been interesting to talk to foreigners in the United States and people from the countries that I am visiting to see what their perspective is on the United States and Americans. A lot of times, they love Americans and (sadly) American pop culture, but dislike the government. This brings to question though, what is an “American”? Often, Americans are even more overgeneralized than we can even imagine. If you asked someone here in Amman, chances are all Americans are white, Christian, rich, and democracy-loving people. This does not differ much from many conversations I’ve had with people from across the world. Let’s take a moment and look at this: White: As of the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 223.6 million “whites”. This group accounts for 72% of the population, but includes Eastern and Western European groups, Persian, and even the Arab populations. People of African descent account for 13% (38.9 million). Nearly 3 million American Indian and Alaskan Natives, and another half a million Hawaiian Natives are present. The Hispanic population accounts for 16% (50.5 million) of the US total. Christian: In the United States, 78.4% of people identify as Christian. Fifty-one percent of Americans are Protestant, and 23.9% identify as Catholic. Jews account for 1.7% of the population, Buddhists 0.7%, Muslims 0.6%, and Hindu 0.4%. There are representatives from Baha’i, Sikhism, New Age religions, and Native American religions/traditions as well. There is also the 16.1% who is unaffiliated or unreligious. Rich: In 2010, 15.1% of Americans lived in poverty. Thirty-six percent of Americans living in poverty are children. This means that 16.4 million children are living in poverty, in the United States. Some people living in poverty manage to keep a roof over their head, but cannot put food on the table. Some are homeless. Many are not able to afford cars, and must therefore rely on public transportation in attempts to maintain a job. Democracy: People hate war. People support wars. People pay taxes. People evade taxes. People love the president. People want the president dead. Some people vote, most people don’t. Some people know the government system, some people can’t even name the three main branches. There is a broad spectrum of political opinions, knowledge, and activity in the United States. People don’t realize that. How do we teach people about this? Well, do we really need to be teaching anybody anything? The United States has problems, just like everywhere else. Just because we succeed in some areas does not mean that we should dominate all. Every area has their own culture, traditions, problems, and solutions. Perhaps they can teach us something, if the United States ever grows out of our teenage years where we just have the answer to everything. What we need to do is get more representative diversity on the television and in films that are viewed worldwide, and continue to try and level the playing field in education and wealth a little more each generation (clarification: incrementally, not proposing a switch to a full-blown socialist system. This really isn’t a “political” post). We can learn so much from other cultures, instead of always impressing ours upon them. So who is an American? You tell me. Sources:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Great Adjustments

Week one, Thursday: Well, my host family is very nice. The only thing nicer is the weather. Hello blue skies, every day! My host sister (I have a host "sister" and "brother" instead of a "mom" and "dad") is pregnant, and due in April. How exciting?! They already have a 2 (Julia) and a 5 year old (Mohammad). We had our Arabic proficiency exams yesterday. What. The. Heck. Haha! I feel for anyone who has ever had to take a proficiency exam. It was three hours for writing and listening, and only three of us managed to finish. I really think the only reason I finished was because of my awesome skill of skipping questions when I know I have no answer! Right out of that, we did our individual oral interviews. My brain doesn't switch like that! Many of us are pretty sure we failed the speaking part though, so it's not just me. We get our scores on Sunday (fingers crossed). This morning, I saw a guy in a donkey making deliveries (in the city...) and I was proposed to by the taxi driver. " Bedou?" Proposal #1! Who wants to help me keep count? On the way home, I was trying to tell the driver how to get back to my house. We got to the important traffic circle (basically all directions in Amman are given by traffic circle. "Go to this circle", and then direct the rest from there) and I told him to turn right. He said "no, I think you mean left...", and I wasn't too confident so I said okay (none of the taxi drivers know where I live, and I still am not too positive... But I think I am after today!). As soon as we went left, I knew he was wrong so called my brother. He fixed it! Anyways... The point is, I was right! Week two, Thursday: I was going to do an opinion post, but figured you all would be a little bit more interested in another life-post while I'm still bumbling around. So, here it goes. Last Friday, a few students and I went down to the "sooq", or the Friday market in Abdali. Kinda crazy (not in a bad way), but definitely glad we had guys with us. It's basically tents made out of tarps, that fills the area of at least one (maybe two) old-town Detroit city blocks. They sell everything from gummy bears to basketballs, from soccer shoes to abayas. For cheap. And you can barter. It's basically a giant Salvation Army, some shops are new, some are used, and some seem to be old collegiate hoodies from the United States. I met Khadijah and Angie on Saturday to go downtown, and they were showing me all the spots to waste my money. If I go over budget this trip, it will be their faults. Just sayin'! I did pretty well though, these two are Americans and haven't quite mastered the Jordanian peer pressure yet. The first week of classes: I was given my Arabic placement, and I landed two whole levels above what I expected (Intermediate 2 instead of Beginner 2). Needless to say, I've stressed myself out to the end of the earth and back a few times over this. In the end, after talking to the director of Arabic and my professor, I've decided to stay in this level (not that they gave me much of a choice. Jordanians are excellent at peer pressure). In any case, the next few weekends are going to be spent learning 12 chapters of fusha vocabulary and grammar structures. At least the colloquial class is easy (don't tell my Saudi boys that they helped me at all, they might feel too important!) Dealing with taxi drivers continues to be a trip, and I don't suspect it will get any better. I had one the other day who didn't look a day over 15, and the one I had today looked like the most annoyed person on earth. Yesterday I thought the taxi was going to fall apart, to the point I was debating getting out and hailing another taxi! More than once, the drivers think I've said Dwar Al-Awwl instead of Dwar Al-Waha. I can't quite figure it out, other than maybe they assume I'm a stupid American and saying Dwar Al-Wahed! I woke up yesterday morning with a migraine, so when it didn't go away by this morning... I had an adventure to the pharmacy. Thank God most of the pharmacists here speak at least a little English, because "headache" is one of those words I can never remember. Oh well, when I went to my professor's office hours and mentioned I wasn't feeling well, I was offered ZamZam and dates. God is good, even if it just is healing by happiness!