One evening in the desert, some girls met the Night Camel…and the adventure continues.
One evening in the desert, some girls met the Night Camel…and the adventure continues.
I brought with me to Jordan Barbara Kingsolver’s, The Poisonwood Bible which ended up being the perfect novel to read during this study abroad experience. As the Price family is transplanted to the tiny village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo, I moved to the, rather larger, city of Amman, Jordan. As they struggled to adjust so did I; and, despite the vast differences between their situation in the newly independent Congo and mine in modern Amman, I felt I could relate to the Price family’s journey. So, three and a half months later I thought I would model my final blog post from Jordan after The Poisonwood Bible.
“The Things We Carried”
I came to Jordan with four stuffed bags, a curiosity and willingness to learn, and the naïve belief that fundamentally all people are the same—have the same values, have the same beliefs, and essentially think the same way. I came to Jordan with a plan to learn Arabic to further my career working abroad in the State Department. I was convinced that I would absolutely love Jordan, because I love Turkey, and Turkey is almost the Middle East. I thought study abroad would mean I would have more freedom and independence; after all, I was in a foreign country away from family and old friends. I could go anywhere, do anything, and make new friends. I expected culture shock—I mean I knew things would be different, but I thought of culture shock in terms of food, music, and language. But most importantly, I came to Jordan with the idea that no matter where someone is from and how their culture has shaped them, I would be able to connect with them because at the basic level we are all just people trying to live our lives.
“The Things We Learned”
I learned this semester that studying abroad was never something I could really prepare myself for, but all the same I learned so much about myself and about the world. As silly as it sounds, in my head studying abroad was always more like a vacation—or at least a break from my normal life. In reality, studying abroad was just learning to live in a different location: a different big city, a different university, and a different way of life. I arrived convinced that I wanted to live and work in the Middle East. I have since decided I don’t think I could live in the Middle East long term; however, I still want to work in Foreign Service. Living in Jordan has only increased my love of travel and my desire to see more of the world—next on my list are Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I learned that I don’t need to love a place to live there; and ultimately, it’s not the place so much as the people that matter. The friends I made while in Jordan, both American and Jordanian are amazing people and wonderful friends. Finally, I came to understand that on a fundamental level people are different—but it is exactly that difference that makes life interesting. If everyone were the same, life in this world would be boring. And despite many frustrating and often uncomfortable conversations with my host brothers, which illustrate just how different people can be, we became fast friends, even family.
“The Things We Didn’t Know”
I didn’t know how personal the Arab-Israeli conflict could become. And yes, I will admit that I was biased to being with and probably am even more biased now. But, taking a class on the Arab-Israeli conflict in Jordan, having a Jordanian professor and getting to know people directly will tend to bias a person. It is hard to collect my thoughts on this subject. The conflict is immensely complicated: both “sides” have made mistakes and committed atrocities; both sides have lost and won battles. I didn’t know much of the history of the conflict, but now after taking a class on it imagining a solution seems almost beyond hope—there have been so many failed attempts. I didn’t know people affected by the conflict, but now those people are my classmates and host family members. I feel like there is still so much to learn, I don’t know as much as I would like about the current politics in Israel and the current, and seemingly failing, attempts at peace. Ultimately, after living in Jordan and visiting Israel, I can only hope for a peaceful solution, because really both sides are made up by mostly normal people trying to live normal lives.
Peace seems far away though and as Leah says in The Poisonwood Bible: “Can’t they be patient?” And Anatole responds, “Could you be? If your belly was empty and you saw whole baskets of bread on the other side of a window, would you continue waiting patiently, Beene? Or would you throw a rock?”
“What We Lost”
One of the biggest challenges I had living in Jordan was dealing with, what I feel like was, an almost complete loss of independence. As a woman, living in Amman (but really any Middle Eastern country), my freedom was severely limited. Part of this was due to the fact that I chose to live with a host family; and thus, had to follow my family’s rules, curfew, schedule, etc… And while living with a host family did make my experience richer and more meaningful, and I would definitely choose the home stay option again, it did put limits on me that were hard to adjust to. But beyond that, it was dealing with the harassment every single day. There was not a day in Jordan that passed without hearing the “shebab” cat-calling me, “accidentally” bumping into me in the tunnel, or simple staring. By the end of three and half months I was so tired of the constant harassment just because I am a woman. I felt uncomfortable going certain places that seemed to be overly populated with guys, being out late in the evening, or taking taxis late at night. Overall, it was mainly annoying that something as seemingly as trivial as getting cat-called could even limit my freedom. Strangely, I felt most free when I was traveling with friends around and outside Jordan.
“What We Carried Out”
Three and a half months later…
Seven countries later: Jordan, Lebanon, Greek Cyprus, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Turkey…
Challenges, crazy adventures
One interesting, difficult, exciting, rewarding, frustrating, enlightening semester later…
…about sums up study abroad…
(But the Saga of the Night Camel will continue)
My last weekend in Jordan, the gang and I went to Jerusalem, Israel and Bethlehem, Palestine for a short weekend trip. It was an experience for sure! I should preface my thoughts with this, however: I originally had no desire to go to Jerusalem. I thought the border crossing would be difficult and an obvious bias against the Israeli government meant the place simply held little interest for me. And yet, I am so glad I went—Jerusalem was an absolutely amazing city and I can’t wait to go back.
Jerusalem: A City in Quarters
Arguably one of the holiest and most contentious cities in the world, Jerusalem had an air of peace that effectively covered the undercurrent of tension only present when yet another gun-toting IDF soldier walked by. The walled Old City was a bustle of shops and holy sites. We walked effortlessly between the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian Quarters of the city. The only noticeable difference is the language you bargain in and a slight variation in the souvenirs sold. We visited the Western/Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Christ was crucified and buried, the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ prayed the night before his crucifixion, and the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque are located. It is simply amazing that some of the holiest sites for the three largest monolithic religions coexists for the most part in relative harmony. West Jerusalem is also beautiful: clean, modern, and walkable. We discovered so great cafes, bars, and bagel shops! Walking through West Jerusalem makes it easy to forget that just a few miles away is Palestine—land consider by millions to be illegally occupied by the Israeli government. As we drove from the border into West Jerusalem, I saw clusters of beautiful, modern apartments and houses. It was only later I realized that those were probably Israeli settlements, also considered illegal by Palestine.
Bethlehem: An Adventure on Bus 21
We also spent a day in Bethlehem, which is located solidly in Palestine. Bethlehem was a busy city that perfectly mixes the modern with what I imagine an ancient Bethlehem would be like. As we arrived on Bus 21, I saw several Palestinians on donkeys—perfect! We got off on Yasser Arafat St and walked down the hectic market street until we reached the Church of the Nativity. Now run by the Palestinian Authority, the Church and the nearby Peace Center was beautiful and spiritual. I had Josh Groban’s O Holy Night stuck in my head (I have been listening to Josh Groban’s Christmas album on repeat for a while now), which provided the perfect mood for the setting.
After exploring the Church, we set off down Star Street to find the infamous “wall”: the controversial Israeli West Bank separation barrier currently being built. The section of the wall we found was covered in graffiti and was an amazing, yet heart breaking site to see. I was impressed to see that while some of the graffiti was negative, the large majority was focused on messages of peace, love, and hope.
Our adventure continued as we tried to get back Jerusalem. Asking for directions in Arabic didn’t work out so well as we were told to just take Bus 21 back to Jerusalem. Well, it turns out Bus 21 is only for Palestinians and takes you to a check point also only for Palestinians. As we stood waiting and trying to figure out why more and more IDF soldiers kept coming over, I for the first time understood what it must be like for Palestinians. While we were safe, the IDF soldiers were perfectly helpful, and we eventually got home (via a different check point and a different bus); it was a confusing hassle. The check points make traveling in an out of the West Bank unnecessarily difficult. I can only imagine what that would be like if you lived in the West Bank but worked in Jerusalem and had to do that every day.
Overall, I still have mixed feelings about Israel/Palestine. Jerusalem was a beautiful city that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting. And really, the people living there, whether Jewish or Muslim or Christian, are just living there lives. They all seemed like normal people just trying to get by in this world. However, every time I saw an 18-22 year old IDF soldier it reminded me that the Arab-Israeli conflict is an ever present reality. And despite a new found love for Jerusalem, I cannot agree with the policies and politics of the Israeli government.
Last night my host grandmother came over for dinner, which has happened many times before. This time however, was extra special. With the weather turning colder, my host family built a fire in the fireplace! So, we enjoyed various types of cakes, fruit, and tea around a crackling fire. Then my host father began roasting chestnuts in the fireplace. He was quite amused that I’d never had a roast chestnut before, saying “but, in America doesn’t everyone have chestnuts for Christmas?” It was a lovely evening, with a Christmas-y flavor despite the fact that my host family is Muslim. Then, this morning we had our final Friday Family Brunch. Next weekend A- and I will be in Jerusalem and our host brother with be in America with his fiancée. The weekend after that, I will be on a plane bound for Istanbul. I can’t believe I only have two more weeks left in Jordan. The time has literally flown by. This morning’s brunch was wonderful. My host mom made it clear she wanted it to be special: we had the full on traditional brunch with hummus, bread, falafel, babaganoush, etc… As I am writing this at 5 o’clock in the evening I am still full! And, with two weeks left I have to make sure I cram in everything else I want to do and see. Oh yeah, and study for finals…
Sometimes in Seattle people seem to forget how to drive when it snows. Sometimes in Amman people seem to forget how to drive when it rains!
For me, December 1st usually marks the beginning of winter and the season of lights, carols, cookies, and Christmas. Clearly, being a Muslim country, there isn’t a whole lot of Christmas preparation happening—although I have seen a couple Christmas tree in shops. In Jordan, things are quite different and now seems like a good time to reflect on some of the cultural differences.
Lines: Lines don’t exist in Jordan. People don’t wait in lines or take turns, they just kind of mob forward while skillfully edging others out of the way. If you have your money out and ready, then you get to pay before some that isn’t ready yet. A similar principle goes for “wrangling” taxis. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been waiting 45 minutes for a taxi on Thursday night, someone might walk up and steal it without waiting. Therefore, I have gotten quite good at stealing taxis. And honestly, I don’t feel bad—if you want to get home you have to be aggressive.
Time: On a related note, time seems to work differently in Jordan. Rarely does anything start on time, including class because usually the Professor is a minimum 5 minutes late. Perhaps this is due to the insane amount of traffic in Amman or the fact that in the summer/fall/spring it is too hot to walk at a faster pace than really slow. However, this is especially frustrating because I like things to start on time—I am busy and if I am prompt I expect others to be as well. Maybe I have learned to slow down a bit here in Jordan, but I will probably go back to my rushed ways as soon as I am home.
Cell Phone Etiquette: Essentially, cell phones can be answered at anytime, anywhere. It is not rude for you to answer your phone in the middle of dinner and then have the conversation at the table. It is not rude for a Professor to answer his cell phone in the middle of class, even when he’s lecturing. Cell phones are everywhere; most young Jordanians seem to have at least two cell phones.
Men Holding Hands: While homosexuality is generally frowned upon in Islam, friendship relations between men are a lot more “touchy feely.” It is not uncommon to see men walking arm in arm, holding hands, sitting with their arms around each other. In general, people in Jordan dress up more than Americans. Many male students at UJ wear business attire to school every day—to me a lot of the men dress in a style I would categorize as “metro.” I really like this aspect of Jordanian society; I think the dressier style indicates a greater degree of respect for oneself and ones Professors, friends, and colleagues. However, it was definitely an adjustment getting used to seeing guys walk around hand in hand.
Feet Etiquette: I knew that in Islam feet are considered unclean (this is why washing one’s feet if part of the ablutions made before prayer). What I didn’t know is the specific etiquette that centers on feet. First, it is haraam, or forbidden, to put your feet on the furniture or to walk around barefoot—everyone wears some sort of “house shoes.” Second, it is rude to point the soles of your feet at another person. This means you have to be really careful of how you sit or cross your legs so you don’t accidentally offend someone.
While there are definitely more cultural differences (such as the obvious food, music, and dance), these are some of the more unique differences. There are many more differences that I hope to write about as my time winds down here and I reflect upon my semester spent abroad in Jordan.
Who knew you could miss American breakfasts so much? Thus, our “Breakfast for Dinner Party” idea was born. We had French Toast, Pancakes (regular and chocolate chip), Potato Pancakes, Fruit, Juice, Madelines…So delicious!