Mama Bare Comes to Jordan

My summer abroad came to a close with a visit from my mom who flew halfway across the world, enduring the same 14 hr layover in Frankfurt and who knows how many crying babies on the plane, to explore with me! She started bugging me to write this blog post on her second day in Jordan, but I’m just now getting around to it… Heads up – this is a long one and another will follow about Morocco… If anything, just scan for the photos! 🙂

My mom arrived to Jordan at 2am on the same flight path that I took at the beginning of the summer. Notably, she arrived on a plane with a Jordanian youth soccer team that had evidently just won some major tournament – they walked into the arrivals hall to a full party with confetti, live traditional music, and plenty of people. It was an exciting start to the trip.

Traveling around Jordan with my mom was an interesting experience because I was seeing everything for the first time through her – I think I spent more time watching my mom for reactions rather than actually watching what was around us. I was delighted to see that she was excited and interested in everything, not put off by some of the less glamorous parts of Jordan, definitely proving herself as a hearty and worthy travel companion. I probably got my wanderlust and love of travel from her anyways, so it’s not too surprising.

The first morning, we went out to brunch at Shams El Balad – an awesome organic cafe featuring traditional Jordanian food. My mom loved it and we even made a friend at the table next to us (only the first of many new friends during our two weeks traveling together). We then found our way to the Citadel after some intense taxi negotiations that definitely impressed my mom. The Citadel is on the highest hill in the city, Jabal al Qal’a, and features ancient Roman ruins, a Byzantine church, and a magnificent Ummayid mosque. There is evidence of occupation starting in the Neolithic period, but most of the ruins are either Roman, Byzantine, or Ummayid. After the Citadel, we wandered down to the Roman Amphitheater and then made our way through Wast al-Balad, the busy downtown area. That night, we ate at the classic Hashem’s where we gorged on delicious falafel, baba ghanouj, hummus, and of course – sweet tea. It was a good first day before waking up early the next morning to leave for Petra.

We took the JETT bus, a tourist bus service that offers relatively reliable service and reasonable prices to travel the length of Jordan. We headed straight for Petra, where after a few comical stops along the way (my mom enjoyed checking out the hilariously huge tourist centers along the way featuring dusty overpriced souvenirs and Turkish coffee or tea to fuel the drive). When we stepped out of the bus, it was already a hot day meaning that our sunglasses and hats were critical. Not to mention my backpack heavy with water and salty snacks to keep us going.

Luckily, the majesty of Petra is worth traipsing around under the hot sun all day… Plus, the first time I visited Petra, it was rainy and cold before we got evacuated for a flash flood…so I could manage the heat if it meant I would get to see more of the park. The walk through the Siq is beautiful itself, I had forgotten how the red of the rocks illuminate green trees clinging on for dear life on the side of the little canyon as you make your way towards the Treasury. We  were greeted by the typical cacophony of sound at the Treasury – tourists taking selfies, young men offering camel rides, donkeys braying, and the clip-clop of horse carriages coming down the Siq to join the fray. Despite the initial flurry of people, the park was relatively quiet. Tourism has fallen dramatically since 2011 and the start of the Arab Spring, adding to the desperation of young Bedouin men trying to sell cheap souvenirs and donkey rides. However, Petra is still a wonder to behold and I loved watching my mom wide-eyed at it all.

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excitement about a Brown excavation site – showing pride for my lil sister’s school

We hiked up to the Monastery, one of the most beautiful sites in the park. I had wanted to see the Monastery on my first visit to Petra, but the heavy rain made climbing the hundreds of rough steps carved into the rock nearly impossible so we had to pass it up. So I told my mom that the climb might be tough, but that we had to go. The Monastery has a massive facade, so large that it is hard to take it in when standing in front of the face. It’s misnamed – the monument was likely a temple to the Nabatean king Obadas I from the first century. Some clever entrepreneurs have set up a tea shop in a cave across from the Monastery, a perfect place to buy cold water and munch on some of our snacks. We passed a decent chunk of time here, just taking in the whole scene – marveling at the Monastery while also observing the range of tourists there with us. We also climbed up to a higher point a little bit past the Monastery to be rewarded with incredible views over the Petra basin and Wadi Araba.

We spent a long day at Petra and while I definitely can’t say that we saw it all, we saw a lot – from the Treasury to the Monastery to the amphitheater to the Temple of the Winged Lion. The park is huge and I feel like there is always more to see. I could definitely picture returning for third and fourth times, especially to do some multi-day trekking to Little Petra and Dana, other wonders of Jordan. I think one of the coolest parts of Petra is the incredible natural beauty, along with the inspiring ancient ruins that demonstrate the power of humankind to build. After taking it all in, with very sore feet, we kicked back and enjoyed some beers to end the day.

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in front of the Treasury 🙂

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dirty desert Petra feet

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post-Petra beers

In the town of Wadi Musa outside of Petra we stayed at a cute bed and breakfast where we were hosted by a kind Belgian lady. Notably, she also has two horses, a donkey, and a cat. So we made some more new friends… My mom wants to become a donkey keeper at some point in the future so she was practicing her donkey-whispering skills with all the donkeys we came across. The roof of the b&b also offered gorgeous views over Wadi Musa that we enjoyed while drinking coffee. It was a great end to our time in Petra and gave us the necessary fuel for our day in Wadi Rum.

It takes about an hour and a half to get to Wadi Rum from Petra, but we took the King’s Highway which offers incredible views over the valley. Our taxi driver was also kind to make a stop to allow my mom to marvel at camels on the side of the road…

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We arranged for a day-long tour of Wadi Rum, plus a camel ride, with a nice guy named Mehdi. We were joined by a solo traveler, an older Spanish guy who was touring Jordan for a couple weeks. He is an incredible photographer and had some interesting stories from past travels so he was a good companion. We had a Bedouin guide named Oudi who was shy at first, but quickly warmed up to our jokes and antics. The first thing of the day was an hour long camel ride out of Wadi Rum village into the vast desert. My mom put a camel ride as one of the top things on her list, as after riding various other creatures it seems like a camel should not be missed. I tried to tell her that it wasn’t a particularly comfortable experience, but I could not dissuade her and so on a camel ride we went!

In the end, it was pretty enjoyable and ended at a little camel watering spot where all the guides congregated for tea and stories before taking people out on tours. Here we got to drink some Bedouin tea, very sweet as always, though the guides did let me in on the secret that they have separate tea for Bedouins and for tourists. The tourist version is less sweet, but they poured me some of their tea – I think my Arabic skills impressed them and it was fun to joke around with them. This experience was very different from my first visit to Wadi Rum – it was summer so very hot, but also being in a small tour group rather than with a large study abroad program meant we could see more and I could talk to more people. For example, my mom convinced our guide Oudi to let her drive the truck across the desert. It took her a few minutes to get her manual abilities up to speed and it was a little more bumpy with her behind the wheel, but she did a great job. I also think the other Bedouin guides were pretty impressed!

After a few hours of driving around, climbing up and down sand dunes, we stopped at a tent for tea with two Bedouin guys – Sami and Abdullah. We stopped for tea and to get out of the sun, but they were just starting to make some lunch so we decided to eat with them. We chopped up tomatoes and onions to make galayah and cut more tomatoes and cucumbers for salad. I tried to be useful, but Sami teased me because I was not as efficient at chopping cucumbers as he was – thankfully, he did say that I should be able to find a husband after I improve my salad-making skills a little bit. The guys were very nice, hardly older than me, and with impressive English skills so we had some nice conversation. There were two young cats hanging around and Sami showed me pictures on his phone of his other kittens at home and his family. We broke bread together, digging into delicious tomato stew, salad, hummus, and eggs. To end the meal, we had tea and some interesting political conversation about the current state of the Middle East. Although I did not hear anything new, I was glad to have my mom hear perspectives about Iraq and Syria from a Jordanian firsthand, as it is more valuable than me just relaying past conversations. Sami then showed off his henna skills, decorating both me and my mom with beautiful curling flowers. Everybody then pulled mattresses to cool spots near the rocks to take post-lunch naps and beat the heat. It was a perfect stop with food, good perspective sharing, and cats!

My mom loved Wadi Rum and I was glad – it’s definitely one of my favorite places. Massive red rocks tower above sandy expanses and dunes, while camels plod in the distance. It truly feels like another world – no surprises that it’s been the site of many films and fantasies. We saw crazy rock formations called ‘the mushroom’ and ‘the chicken,’ climbed across crazy rock bridges, and jumped from dunes. Wadi Rum has so much to offer for anyone who likes the outdoors, it truly is a natural playground.

The long day flew by, as it was filled to the brim with beautiful moments and laughter. After watching the sunset from the top of a warm, red sand dune, we headed to our campsite for the night. The site was tucked in a cove of rocks, making us feel truly alone out in the desert. We feasted on zarb, traditional Bedouin barbecue that is buried in the ground to cook for several hours, and finished dinner with plenty of sweet tea. Oudi entertained us with riddles, games, and songs until darkness was fully settled and the stars came out. At that point, the sky was so illuminated with twinkling stars that it was hard to focus on anything else. There was a new moon, meaning the stars shone brightly with nothing to distract from their light. We fell asleep under a blanket of stars, having dragged our mattresses out into the cool of the open air.

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My mom and I were both sad to leave Wadi Rum the next morning. It was hard to drive away from all that calm and beauty.

The next day we headed to the Dead Sea for some serious relaxation. It was very hot, making the shade of pool umbrella valuable, but few things beat just relaxing by the pool on a beautiful day and reading a book. I was also excited for my mom to experience, the Dead Sea because it is something extremely unique. On the way there, we also passed many military and police checkpoints that monitor the road leading south from Amman. People traveling to the Israeli/Palestinian border from Jordan take the same route, leading to the large amount of military stationed along the way. After passing multiple checkpoints, we made it to the familiar winding road down to the Sea. The day was perfect in its drowsy warmth, providing some necessary R&R after two busy days exploring Petra and Wadi Rum. That evening, after returning to Amman, we made ourselves a little dinner and then set out to see the Friday Market and wander the city. It was a wonderful day.

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the Sea

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our little dinner

The next day, we got up early to head to Jerash – a city about 50km north of Amman. We planned to go by public bus, but after waiting for about 30 min, we were approached by a guy who was sick of waiting for the bus to fill (the only schedule for buses) and offered to split a taxi. We took him up on the offer, willing to pay a few extra JD to get to the city earlier. Jerash is a fertile area of Jordan and the city is surrounded by rolling hills and farms. It is the site of the Greco-Roman ruins of Gerasa, an ancient city that was likely founded by Alexander the Great. It is considered one of the best preserved ancient Roman cities in the region, boasting incredible columns, Hadrian’s Arch, two temples, the Oval Forum, two theaters, and a large Nymphaeum (fountain). The ruins are definitely worth the short trip from Amman and despite the 100+ temperature, we had a great time wandering the ancient city.

That afternoon, after returning to Amman, we had a peaceful afternoon wandering the hills of Jabal Amman and doing a bit of last minute shopping (had to get the lil sis something nice). It was our last full day in Jordan – the next would just include cleaning the apartment, meeting with my landlord, and heading to the airport. In order to celebrate a great first week of travel together, we treated ourselves to a beautiful dinner in an old villa, delighting over traditional Jordanian dishes. That evening I definitely felt a little emotional hearing my last Jordanian call to prayer of the summer. We stopped to watch birds flutter in the evening sky while the prayer rose slowly over the city and I felt a sense of real happiness, so glad that I decided to spend the summer in such an incredible county.

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More pictures may follow from Jordan…also a post about our week in Morocco with many more photos!

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Walking in Wadis, Raving in Ruins

Okay, so it was not exactly a rave that we attended in Jerash, but we did see a live concert in an ancient Roman amphitheater and the alliteration sounds good…

The past few weeks have been great fun, making me sad that my time in Jordan is drawing to a close. After returning from Beirut, Lina and I jumped right back into Ammani life – enjoying the post-Ramadan world where food in public is allowed during the day and bars are open later into the night. We’ve enjoyed plenty of falafel at our favorite late-night place and outdoor movie screenings of an Arab Film Festival. It’s been hot during the day, making evening the perfect time to go out and enjoy the city.

My close friend Jenya is studying in Madaba for the summer and I was lucky to have her visit for a weekend. We shared stories sitting outside in our garden before heading to Bab Al Yemen – a delicious Yemeni restaurant in Northern Amman. We were seated in the upstairs section for women and families, which afforded us a great view over the busy street below. After a few minutes translating the menu, we indulged on a wonderful meal unlike most of the food available in Jordan. Although the flavors are similar, the ful medames was unlike any that I had before and the bread was incredible. Not to mention the aromatic, spiced milk tea….we were happy to receive second and third servings to sip out of the tiny traditional cups. I highly recommend Yemeni food – even for a vegetarian (many of the traditional dishes are meat-heavy)!

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kitten in the garden

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amazing (and massive) Yemeni bread

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sadness at the end of a meal (you can tell we enjoyed it given all the empty bowls…)

Lina and I were determined to fit in some outdoor exploration this summer, though the heat has often deterred us. A few weekends ago, we decided to make our plan a reality and set off for Wadi Mukheires. I had done some research on wadis (valleys) to explore, but many require repelling equipment to navigate the rocky waterfalls. We wanted to go on our own, without the added expense of a guide, so needed to find a hike that wouldn’t require technical gear or knowledge that we did not possess. I found a few options and we decided to go for one located near the Dead Sea, so off we went. Our friend Aboud drove and our other roommate Emily also joined in for the adventure.

It took a little bit of time to find the wadi, as we knew it was approximately across from the Dead Sea Hilton, but that meant parking near the hotel and crossing back over the highway to find the trail. We got some directions from a guard at a solar facility and eventually found the wadi. At first, the water was just a warm trickle and we were a bit worried that our hike was going to involve more drudgery than actual enjoyment. Luckily, the water quickly increased in pace and decreased in temperature. There was plenty of wildlife and after getting past the extensive network of pipes carrying water off to other locations, we were the only people. However, there were lots of frogs, tadpoles, crabs, and birds to accompany us. I’m always amazed at the lushness of Jordan’s wadis, as everything around them is dry and hard. The water brings a tremendous amount of life, not just animals but also plants and flowers that thrive along the edge. It was a perfect escape from the busy city. At the end of the day, we had all gained some color and a few bruises, sleeping well that night after an active day in the sun.

Just this past weekend, we set out on another adventure – to the ruins that I mentioned earlier. Jerash is a city located about 50 km north of Amman, home to the ruins of the Greco-Roman city Gerasa. It’s likely that the city was established by Alexander the Great, but there is proof that the city was inhabited as early as the Bronze Age. Eventually the region was taken over by the Romans, until Persian invasion caused rapid decline of the city. Regardless, it still boasts some incredible ruins including a massive Oval Forum and the Arch of Hadrian, in addition to an amphitheater.

Every year, the Jerash Festival for Culture and Arts is hosted within the ruins, featuring dance, music, and theatre performances. Lina and I decided it would be fun to attend, as you don’t have that many opportunities to see a live show in an ancient amphitheater! So we bought tickets to see Saad Lamjarred on a Saturday night – we chose him mainly because we once wrote a parody to one of his songs and hoped he would be more fun than some of the romance singers also on the program list…

We went to the show with our friend Aboud and his brothers visiting from Abu Dhabi, making the evening more eventful than it otherwise would have been. Aboud convinced the ushers that we were part of the Zain VIP section, meaning we got to sit front-row. We had a good time dancing for a while, but after Saad played his most famous hit for the third time, we decided to head out to spend the eve elsewhere.

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I’ve been enjoying getting to see new places and people in Jordan, building upon my prior time here. As you can tell, I’ve been having an incredible time. I also feel lucky that I can share my experience in the Middle East with people in the US who only see the negative headlines. Although I have enjoyed my time here immensely, there are also moments of reflection and sadness. Driving by Zaatari at night and seeing the few flickering street lamps distributed throughout the  camp…hearing stories about road trips between Amman, Damascus, and Beirut that are no longer possible…frustrations of Palestinians who can never go home…so many questions about why Americans hate Muslims… I want to bring back these memories and the understanding that I have gained this summer to share them. Obama’s comments in his DNC speech last night about people in other countries not understanding the current election could not be more true – more cabbies and friends than I can count have asked me about Trump and his comments about Muslims. It’s hard to explain ignorance and anger that leads to the hateful, dangerous rhetoric found in America and Western Europe these days. Yet, having to do so reinforces the fact that I do not want that sort of America – I want a country that accepts and welcomes my Muslim and Arab friends, while supporting all Americans regardless of race or gender. One that views refugees as people fully deserving of dignity and celebrates what migrants may offer to a country. One that works for justice. I know I have not made this blog political, but often the personal is unavoidably political. Watching the Democratic and Republican Conventions, along with other recent news, drives this point home further. We have work to do. Remind yourself that terror affects everybody – read about the blasts in Iraq and Syria, not just those in France and Germany. Recognize the humanity in others, don’t just think in categories. And ask for a government that does the same.

Some articles that highlight refugee stories:

http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/06/05/480611303/syrian-teens-9-minute-doc-hits-cannes-sundance-l-a-film-fest

http://www.lennyletter.com/politics/interviews/a425/the-lenny-interview-four-women-who-fled-syria/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/world/middleeast/record-65-million-displaced-by-global-conflicts-un-says.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_nn_20160620&nl=morning-briefing&nlid=71458210

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/01/world/americas/canada-syrian-refugees.html

Sorry for the unexpected mini-rant, but I had to write something…feel free to reach out with any questions about my thoughts!

A Few Days in Beirut

If you have the chance to visit Lebanon – definitely go. Over the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of Ramadan, I went to Beirut with my roommate Lina. We had an incredible few days exploring the city and surrounding area. We left Amman late on Tuesday evening (due to a delayed flight – thanks Royal Jordanian) and spent four full days in Lebanon before flying back late on Saturday night in order to get to work on Sunday morning. Warning – this post is long because it details my whole trip in Lebanon, so bear with me or at least scroll through all the photos!!

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Can’t you already tell why I liked Lebanon? 

 

Day 1 : City Exploration and a Trip to Byblos (Jbeil)

We woke up the first morning in our little hostel after a hot night on our way-too squishy mattresses. Despite the beds that leave something to be desired, Hostel Beirut offered plenty of delicious manoosh, NescafĂ©, and lovely friends so I would definitely recommend. Plus it’s located near Mar Mkhayl and Gemayzeh – artsy hipster neighborhoods with great bars, street art, food, and interesting alleys to explore. That morning I was itching to get my bearings in the city, but after a walk around the area we quickly realized that most museums and shops were closed due to the Eid holiday. We did find one incredible art bookstore that was open and spent some time in there!

 

We decided to seek out adventure elsewhere and save wandering the city for another day. As such, we went to the main coastal road to hail one of the mini-buses that constantly run between Beirut and Tripoli. After a few short minutes we hopped on the bus, but that was the only part of our journey that was short….I will spare you the details of the long, hot bus ride up the coast – but riding public transport is definitely the way to learn about a country. At least the views out the window were cool!

Eventually we arrived in Jbeil – the modern name of the ancient city Byblos. It is a UNESCO world heritage site for a reason, as the city has been continuously inhabited since the Neolithic times. Starting as a community of fishermen, Byblos also tells the story of temples of the Bronze age, Persian fortifications, Roman conquerors, Byzantine churches, the Crusades, and the Ottoman Empire. Byblos is most often associated with the development of the Phoenician alphabet. Essentially, the place has an incredible wealth of history and is also located on a beautiful cliff on the Mediterranean meaning it boasts beautiful views, rocky beaches, delicious seafood, and a quaint port.

After our day in the sun, we endured another long bus ride back to Beirut before an evening of cheap beer and late-night snacks. As you’ll notice through photos and my stories of Beirut nightlife, Lebanon is less conservative than Jordan in many ways. As the country is allegedly half Christian and half Muslim (though the last census was in 1932…), many of the conservative elements of culture in most majority-Muslim countries are absent. Yes, some women cover their heads and dress conservatively, but it is also totally normal to bare your shoulders and legs in most parts of the country without fearing heightened harassment. The worst harassment we got in Lebanon was definitely from drunk Western men walking home from bars… But Beirut definitely offers exciting nightlife with fancy cocktails and a vibrant music/arts scene. The city seems full of magnetic energy and we delighted in going out with friends to then return to our hostel to end the night with beers and conversation on the balcony. We met a few Egyptians and a man from Tunisia in our hostel – learned plenty of new Arabic slang words and jokes throughout the evenings.

Day 2: Beach Beach Beach

After a late night, we took our time getting started the next morning but soon fortified ourselves with the typical manoosh (Lebanese savory breakfast pastry, my favorite is filled with zaatar, jibneh (cheese), olives, tomatoes, and onion) and coffee to brave another bus ride. This time we were headed for Batroun, a beach further north than Jbeil but known for incredibly blue water and cool beachside bars.

We spent the afternoon munching on seafood, floating in the waves, and reading by the sea (I just finished Carbon Democracy by Timothy Mitchell – would recommend for anyone interested in the region). As Jordan lacks any real beaches, we delighted in the chance to swim and enjoy the sunshine. We were also happy to make some new friends at the beach and hitch a ride back to Beirut rather than take the bus once again. On the way back, we stopped for ice cream (my favorite part of vacation) and I tried knafeh flavor – not as good as in its original form but I wasn’t complaining!

 

Day 3: Museums, Views, and Brews

As the official Eid holiday ended on Thursday, we were finally able to explore Beirut on Friday. We started the day with a trip to the National Museum where we paid a mere 1000 lira (1500 Lebanese lira = $1, many places also accept USD because the lira is so weak) to enter. Given the location of Lebanon, it has hosted many different empires and cultures throughout its history which makes for a fascinating museum. We were able to see Phoenician, Greek, Byzantine, Egyptian, Arab, and Ottoman artifacts displayed throughout the airy, light halls of the museum. One of the most interesting things there was an explanation of how the artifacts were protected during the Lebanese Civil War. The museum was literally on the line that separated the warring factions in Beirut, so the museum had to shut down and the Director took many steps to protect the artifacts. Mosaics were hidden under layers of concrete, while many items were hidden in the basement which was then totally walled off. Work to restore the museum after the war started in 1995.

 

We then headed to Hamra, the neighborhood near the American University of Beirut (AUB), to meet Ghenwa, an Arabic professor that I studied with at CMC. She is Lebanese and back in Beirut for the summer doing fascinating research on emigration and the Lebanese diaspora. After treating us to a delicious lunch of eggplant fattet, halloumi, and fatoosh salad, Ghenwa took us around AUB. The campus is super beautiful with beautiful views of the sea and plenty of friendly creatures – apparently it doubles as a bird and cat sanctuary.

After AUB, Lina and I wandered the Corniche – a long walkway weaving along the edge of the sea around Beirut. We enjoyed the sea breeze and watching the shabab fooling around on the rocky shore, many of them fishing with these goofy-looking, incredibly long poles. A decent walk took us to the famous outlook over Pigeon Rocks – a cool rock formation right off the coast.

We did a bit more exploring that afternoon – visiting the famous Al-Amin Mosque and wandering the streets of Hamra and Gemayzeh (checking out some cool street art and a neat screen-printing shop). It’s really interesting in Hamra and around downtown Beirut because many of the buildings are dotted with bullet holes and other scars of the Civil War. Although the city is so alive and seems carefree in many ways, the history cannot be easily forgotten. We eventually made it to the Sursock Museum, a neat modern art museum that tells the story of art evolution in Lebanon that is housed in the mansion of the formerly great Sursock family.

That evening we indulged in Barbar – a delicious institution of Beirut featuring amazing falafel and other food served on large silver, lunchroom style trays. The place seems packed at all hours, but one bite of the falafel and you understand why. We then checked out the nightlife of Hamra, around the university, staying out quite late with new friends dancing. We rounded out the night by eating a french fry sandwich, a culinary marvel that Ghenwa insisted we seek out. The sandwich contains french fries, pickles, coleslaw, and ketchup…..definitely not something I can eat often, but after a night out it isn’t too bad…

Day 4: Bekaa, Shouf, and Flying Back to Amman

Making friends at the bach paid off when we got an offer to go see the Bekaa Valley and the mountains of Lebanon. Although public transport is easy up and down the coast, it’s a little more complicated inland so we were happy for the invitation that meant we didn’t need to worry about taxis or trying to rent a car. It was great getting to see more of Lebanon than just the coast, as the country is also known for its incredible mountains and agriculture.

Bekaa is the agricultural valley, situated between two mountains. Its agricultural history began when it served as major wheat production for the Romans. Now the valley supports wheat, corn, cotton, vegetables, vineyards, and orchards. It is also home to plenty of hashish and poppy fields that contribute to the illicit drug trade of the region. We visited a few of the vineyards and sampled some of the wine that Lebanon has to offer. The vineyards are mostly in the style of French production, due to lasting French influence. Driving through the valley was very reminiscent of Europe, one stretch of trees seemed straight out of the Sound of Music!

On the way back, we drove through the Shouf Cedar Reserve though we unfortunately did not get the opportunity to hike. Next time! Lebanon is home to a certain species of cedar trees that are found around the Mediterranean. The tree is the national emblem of Lebanon, found on the flag and in many other symbols of the country. Many trees were used for various industries, but now there is a growing conservation movement.

When we got back to Beirut, we had a few hours before we had to head to the airport. As such, we went out for a last walk, happy hour, and yummy meal before finding a taxi to the airport. All in all, it was a great trip and I am glad that I got to explore another country in the region. Due to the US State Department warning, there are few supported opportunities for students to visit Lebanon which is a real shame. It is a great place to practice Arabic and learn about the history / culture / politics of a complicated region. Yes, there is plenty of evidence of Hezbollah’s presence and the country feels militarized with many checkpoints and soldiers stationed on roads. That being said, the country is also incredibly friendly and the Lebanese people we met were excited to share their country and stories with us. I’m happy to be back in the familiarity of Jordan, but already miss the vibrancy of Beirut.

Interning at INJAZ

So I figure it’s time to write about why I was able to come to Jordan this summer and what exactly I’m supposed to be doing here. In a previous post, I mentioned that I’m interning at INJAZ Al-Arab, but I didn’t write much about the organization or my work. Also, a big shout out to the Kravis Leadership Institute and the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights – two research institutes at Claremont McKenna that are providing me with financial support to be here. Without these valuable campus resources, I would not have been able to travel to Jordan this summer.

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evening view of Amman from a friend’s apartment

INJAZ Al-Arab is the regional headquarters for a global organization – JA Worldwide. JA focuses on youth empowerment, specifically workforce readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship. While youth unemployment is a global concern, it is particularly acute in the Middle East and Northern Africa and makes the mission of INJAZ all the more important. Unemployment in the MENA region is among the highest in the world, with youth unemployment (15-24) years at an average rate of 22 percent for men and 39 percent for women. Combine political turmoil with lack of economic opportunity and you have a dangerous mix that disillusions and disempowers a generation. In order to combat this, INJAZ Al-Arab supports operations in 14 countries around the region to support children and youth to gain the skills and knowledge to create economic opportunity. We partner with each Ministries of Education, along with the private sector, in order to implement workshops and classes in primary and secondary schools and universities. Some programs seek to equip kids with leadership and communication skills, along with practical abilities like how to interview or how to write a CV. Other programs engage youth in entrepreneurship competitions that allow for innovative problem solving, alongside classes that teach basic business skills. Some pretty incredible companies and projects come out of these programs – one cool example is an eco design studio that uses agricultural waste from rice harvesting to make home products like tables, stools, and lighting!

As an intern, I’m working with the business development team. This means that I’m helping to find new private sector partnerships and to cultivate pre-existing ones. My work mainly consists of writing concept notes and proposals for donor engagement opportunities, along with pitching various project ideas to these companies. I have also been doing research into new grant opportunities or foundations that fit with our mission to find new avenues for support. Along the way, I’ve been learning a lot about the type of strategic partnerships that are critical to an NGO’s success, along with effective project implementation.

The past few days, I was able to join my colleague Christian on a business trip to Dubai (thanks Kravis!) for meetings about an exciting new project. We met with representatives from SOS Children’s Villages International, the International Humanitarian City, Teach Me Now, and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Foundation for the Future. Essentially, Sheikh Mohammed (yes, the Sheikh Mohammed, prime minister of Dubai) has a vision to utilize education technology to reach the millions of children currently lacking formal education. Bringing together this list of partner organizations matches the curriculum and volunteer database of INJAZ with Teach Me Now’s ed-tech platform and the access to at-risk youth of SOS. The International Humanitarian City of Dubai provides critical coordination, resources, and vision from the Sheikh to make this project a reality. It was super exciting to get to meet with representatives from these cool organizations and discuss a pilot of the program with Syrian refugees in Jordan that will hopefully allow for future expansion to reach thousands of children across the globe.

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the Emirates Towers, had our meeting in the 3d printed white office in front of the towers (HQ of the Foundation of the Future)

After my last trip the UAE, I swore that I wouldn’t return unless I absolutely had to…but at least being in the city for business provides some purpose, though I still couldn’t imagine living there. That being said, I’m definitely not complaining about the chance to attend the INJAZ meetings and spend a few hours at the pool!

Walk Like a Roman

Summer has officially started and I can definitely feel it here… With temperatures above 30 Celsius every day (trying to improve my ability to talk about the weather in non-Fahrenheit terms), the heat can be somewhat exhausting. It just means that post-work afternoons are prime nap time, while the cool evenings are perfect for going out to cafes around Amman and socializing.

A little more than 3 weeks here and I have settled into a good routine of work, naps, cooking, and exploring. Daily life often involves sitting outside in our garden, particularly because we have become acquainted with our incredibly cute neighbor. She is probably about 2 years old, living in the building across from ours. While we don’t know her name, she can often be found sitting outside in the window sill. She is relatively protected from falling by bars that surround the windows and her family often puts a blanket out to act as cushioning. We frequently exchange waves and she might babble nonsense, particularly if the watermelon (بطيخ) truck is driving by and blaring its call. Our other neighborhood friends include a few cats that hang out around our apartment. Their evening yowls are somewhat annoying, but I find it endearing when they sit in the windowsill of our kitchen window because it reminds me of my cat at home (who does the exact same thing). I must admit, I have a strong desire to adopt one of these cats or find a little street kitten but my roommates advise against it. Probably for good reason, as we would have to find it another home or abandon it at the end of the summer…but still, I definitely wish that we could foster one. I’ve included pictures of these friends, along with a few more photos of our old apartment (excuse my messy bedroom) and our neighborhood.

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our neighborhood friend on her perch

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and the other at the window…

 

Two weekends ago, I went to the Dead Sea with a fellow intern at INJAZ and his roommates. It was nice to have a day just lounging on the beach and at the pool after a busy week in the city. Despite having visited the Dead Sea  (البحر الميت) already, I still think it is a crazy phenomenon. The Sea is 423 meters below sea level, the lowest land elevation on Earth. It’s about 8.6 times saltier than the ocean, meaning it is incredibly easy to float and also incredibly awful if the water gets into your eyes or any cuts. The mud is also supposed to have healing effects for the skin, so it is common to rub the dark mud all over you body before relaxing in the water. Although the Sea is fascinating, I do prefer swimming in the pool and relished the time laying poolside to read my book.

Also, an update on the politics of the Dead Sea… For those of you who remember my research project from my time in Jordan, I was examining various facets of environmental policy with relation to the refugee influx. One particularly notable project is the Red-Dead Project that is supposed to alleviate some of water shortage difficulties for Jordan. The project is a joint undertaking between Jordan and Israel, involving desalination of the Red Sea to bolster both of the countries’ water supplies. Brine from the desalination process will then be discharged into the Dead Sea, with the hopes of combatting its quickly receding shores. Although there are concerns about the environmental and economic effects of the project, many hail the endeavor as one that will address water issues in Jordan and bolster economic growth. Last time I was in Jordan, it was somewhat unclear when / how the project would move forward. However, implementation has now begun and only time will tell how the project turns out. Feel free to check out these articles about the project and concerns about the Dead Sea.

This past weekend, we went on a day trip to Umm Qais – an archaeological site in northern Jordan. Its located in a corner of Jordan, bordered by Israel and the Golan Heights. There you can find the ruins of the city of Gadara, originally founded by the Ptolemies around 323 BC and made truly magnificent by the Romans during the 2nd century AD. Under the Romans, Gadara experienced a golden age of architecture and culture. A series of earthquakes eventually destroyed much of the town and led to its demise. Interestingly, a village was settled around the ruins in the 1890s, but the Ministry of Tourism eventually payed them to relocate for excavation. These homes are now used for a museum, resthouse, and other Ministry buildings to cater to tourism.

We visited Umm Qais on a Saturday during Ramadan, meaning there was hardly a soul in sight. Even on our drive there, as we wound through small villages outside of Irbid, we saw very little people outside. This made for improved exploration, as we had only lizards and beetles to keep us company as we wandered between ancient columns and through the ruins of the Roman baths. The ruins are extensive and offered plenty of opportunity to imagine Roman life – prompting Lina to suggest that we parody the classic Walk Like an Egyptian in a series of videos in the multitude of Roman ruins in Jordan. Umm Qais is unique in its size and location. The theater was particularly neat, especially as the VIP seats at the top had curved backs that offered a comfy spot to gaze over the hills below. Gadara also features many roads and columns made of basalt, a dark igneous rock that is not featured in many other ruins that I have seen. Walking along the roads, it’s clear that Gadara was once a large and beautiful city located in a strategic position. Now, the hilltop offers views into Israel towards Lake Tiberius and over the Golan Heights – a plateau in Syria that has been the site of conflict between Syria and Israel. The tension began when Israel claimed the region during the Six Day War of 1967 and continued when Syria reclaimed the Heights during the 1970s. In 1981, Israel annexed the area but this was not recognized internationally. Now the Golan Heights are home to a number of Jewish settlements, along with a sizeable population of Syrians. President Obama had originally hoped to reopen peace talks about the Golan Heights, but the Syrian War made this impossible. While the sun was shining and we thoroughly enjoyed clambering through the ruins, the beautiful view over this political, highly contested land added a sobering element to Umm Qais.

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view over some ruins, Lake Tiberius, and the Golan Heights (to the right)

 

 

 

I’ve Missed Knafeh…

It is a unique feeling to return to a place that is both foreign and familiar at the same time. On the one hand, it feels totally normal to be back and I have quickly settled into a groove here. On the other hand, I am still learning about this country and figuring out how to live alone in Amman. When I first arrived to Jordan back in September, I had my hand held by the study abroad program – they made sure to help us figure out everything from cell phones to wifi to the layout of Amman. This time, I had to figure out my own ride back from the airport at 2am to my new apartment, had to buy my own SIM card and phone plan, and figure out the best wifi option for our apartment. Not that any of these things are hard, but setting up life in a new country is definitely an exercise in flexibility and mild discomfort.

That being said, everything is going really well so far! I’m living with two other American girls; one is my friend Lina from my study program and the other is a girl named Emily who goes to Mt Holyoke College with Lina. Our apartment is huge! We have a beautiful outdoor garden, complete with lemon trees, rose bushes, plenty of mint and rosemary, and some struggling recently planted sunflowers. It’s a perfect space to sit and enjoy the cool evenings – in fact, it’s where I’m writing this post right now. We are also in a great location, it’s an easy walk to a supermarket and good hummus place, close to plenty of bars/cafes, and an easy taxi ride or walk to work. The building itself is very old, but we have high ceilings and most rooms stay fairly cool even during warm summer days. A few things are a little old and funky – our sink is taped together and I had to fix the toilet the other day but nothing too serious to complain about.

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our garden!

 

We have been cooking together most evenings after buying lots of spices in the downtown souk area of Amman. Produce is abundant and cheap here, so we’ve been eating lots of roasted veggies and making our own versions of some classic Arab dishes. Of course we’ve also been getting plenty of hummus, foul, falafel, and fattet hummus (this amazing dish with bread cooked in it, plus lots of almonds, tahini, and lemon). Many days on the way home from work, we can pick up things like tomatoes, watermelon, and eggplant from a local produce truck that sits on the end of the street. We’ve also indulged a couple of times with two of my favorite Arab sweets – knafeh and tamriya. Knafeh is this warm cheese-based dessert, covered with sweet syrup, nuts, and a crunchy topping. Tamriya is like an Arab-beignet with a gooey center that we buy from a little storefront nearby – they are best hot out of the fryer and covered in powdered sugar.

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first big weekend breakfast !

Life has mainly been figuring out the work routine, but we have definitely made some room for fun. Last weekend, there was a massive celebration of the Centennial of the Arab Revolt. To celebrate, the government declared a holiday on Thursday so many people didn’t work and then hosted a festival-type event on Friday. They blocked all the roads surrounding a large public park, where there was musical performances, food, free giveaways, and photo opportunities with tanks, helicopters, and police trucks. Also, throughout the day there were various plane demonstrations zooming overhead. There were probably thousands of people who visited the event, which culminated with a large parade featuring plenty of tanks, soldiers, camel cavalry, bands, and lots of floats. It was quite the celebration of the Jordanian military and the success of the country.

 

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Lina and I (featuring very important helicopter)

Many evenings we have also gone out to smoke argheeleh or drinks with friends – it’s been nice to catch up with Jordanian friends from the fall. I also went to a graduation party at my former host family’s house, as Zaina just graduated from the University of Jordan with a degree in architecture. Everything has been really good far, definitely making me happy that I decided to return to Jordan this summer.

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nights out in Amman… 

Apologies for the delay in the blogging…more to come soon on what I’m actually doing at work, life during Ramadan, etc…

Back to Amman

This summer I’m traveling back to Amman to work for about 2 months at an organization called INJAZ Al-Arab. INJAZ’s mission is to expand economic opportunity for young people throughout the Arab world and provide them with the business and entrepreneurship skills to be successful. This means they run expansive programs ranging from financial skills workshops in schools to support for young entrepreneurs through business incubation and mentoring. I’m going to be a business development intern and will surely learn much more about the organization once I get started. If you’re interested to check out their website and read more, you can find it here.

I’m writing this blog post from the Frankfurt Airport after flying here from Detroit last night. This has been one of those crazy long layovers that you book to save money and then hate when it’s hour six of fourteen. Luckily, it’s now hour twelve of fourteen and I’m in the home stretch. After a brief post-flight nap, I went into downtown Frankfurt to explore. I had never been to Frankfurt before and enjoyed the opportunity to walk around, despite my weariness.

I took the S-bahn from the airport to the main train station in Frankfurt. One of the first things I saw after departing the train was a sign directing refugees to some sort of services desk. Thus, my trip immediately started with me thinking about the troubles of the region to which I was returning. This reflection continued as I made an early stop at the Museum of Modern Art. Some quick research had convinced me that the museum was worth the 6 euro student price and it was indeed a nice museum. However, the first exhibit that I walked through was titled Sacrifice and Harmony by the artist Kader Attia. The first room featured an interpretation of Hebron in Palestine, where Palestinians have erected grates above their shops and homes to protect themselves from garbage thrown by Israeli settlers. It was a haunting exhibit overall, with a focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Arab Spring. The signposting for refugees followed by the exhibit in the art museum made for an interesting transition to my summer in the Middle East and jump-started some of the reflection on conflict and human rights that is sure to come.

Wandering around any city alone makes for an introspective experience. When everybody around you is speaking another language and the whole place is unfamiliar, you feel relatively alone. Despite a rainy landing this morning, I eventually had a sunny day to accompany my solo exploration. I particularly loved wandering along the Main River for its natural beauty and the entertaining people watching. I also walked by the Romer, the old city hall building, traipsed through various old churches, and waved to Goethe’s home. In the morning the city was tranquil, but by afternoon the central plazas were bustling with people enjoying the fresh air. It was fun, but after a while I could feel the lack of sleep wearing on me and headed back to the airport to chill before my flight – which is where I am now. I’m anxious to get to Amman and settle in, as I’m ready to see some old friends (expats and Jordanians alike) and figure out my summer routine. I’ll try to post regularly this summer and I’m happy to have loved ones follow my adventures.

 

And here are some photos from my day in Frankfurt…

 

Fighting Fear with Sweet Tea and Sunsets

Tomorrow I go back to campus after 8 months, feeling a little excited to see everybody but also a little nostalgic about the semester that just ended. I’m definitely missing Jordan and all the people there! Figured it’s good timing to share a little thing I wrote for Claremont McKenna’s Center for Global Education. I wrote this back in October, but it’s finally published so I thought I might as share!

Check out the whole publication if you want to hear stories of other CMCers abroad, including my best friend Katherine who studied in Mongolia! Here is the link in case you’re interested: http://www.cmc.edu/sites/default/files/studyabroad/2015FallGlobetrotter.pdf

But if you don’t feel like clicking the link…here are my reflections:

As the sun moves lazily towards the horizon, the sky is suddenly illuminated with pinks, blues, and oranges. All the colors swirl and dance in the sky, while the evening call to prayer begins slowly at first and then increases in both volume and intensity. The sounds rising from multiple mosques mix in the air, creating a beautiful echo of voices.

At this time of day, I am usually headed home after studying at a café or sometimes I am sitting outside at a restaurant smoking argheeleh to enjoy the transition from the warmth of day to the cool of night. Evenings are my favorite time in Amman; they are calm and beautiful in a way that the city is often not.  It doesn’t matter if the intense colors of the sky are partially caused by pollution drifting up from the thousands of cars clogging the busy streets or if the occasional taxi honk breaks through the echo of the call to prayer – this mixture of grit and beauty is the Jordan I know.  

I was met with an interesting mixture of resistance and encouragement when I decided to study abroad in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, many people in my life questioned the safety of the region and did not understand why I would choose to spend 4 months in a country surrounded by Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Israel. My answer to these questions was “I want to improve my Arabic through an immersive experience. I’m interested in international relations and the politics of the region. It’s an area of the world that I have never seen so I wanted to go.” Now that I have spent about 2 months here, the big answer to the question “why Jordan?” is still the same, but there is so much more to studying here than Arabic and international relations.

When I first arrived to Jordan, my nerves suddenly multiplied and little fears arose regarding each new obstacle. Seemingly mundane tasks like hailing a taxi became challenging, as I had to use a new language and attempt to appear savvy in a brand new city to avoid getting ripped off. At CMC, I studied Modern Standard Arabic, but here that sounds like the equivalent of Old English to most people on the street so simple conversations quickly became embarrassing. I moved in with a new family and simple tasks like doing my laundry became daunting as I learned to manage a new language and strict water conservation practices. To be honest, the first couple of weeks were overwhelming and I felt wholly incompetent most of the time, questioning why I traveled to Jordan and if this place would ever feel familiar.

I soon realized that if I did not just close my eyes and jump, wholeheartedly, into the culture and life in Jordan, nothing would ever change. I began speaking more Arabic, which meant I made more mistakes but also that I began to really learn and improve my language skills. I became less tentative around my host family, joined in with the friendly sibling teasing, and suddenly felt like part of the family. I haggled over scarves and jewelry in Downtown Amman, tried amazing fried treats from a tiny sweet shop near Second Circle, went to a wedding with Jordanian friends, hiked through a scenic wadi, and Jordan finally began to feel like home.

It is too easy for fear to take over and prevent exploration and understanding. Most rhetoric used in the United States and the Western World regarding the Middle East is a language of fear. People fear the politics, the people, the religion, and the land. I won’t deny that there are things to fear in the Middle East, but a point of understanding and peace is impossible with the current attitudes towards the region. Studying abroad forces me to challenge fears and assumptions on a daily basis. I think if more people questioned their worries, suspicions, and biases on a daily basis, the world would be a different place.

Ask me why I study in Jordan today and I will tell you that I want to study Arabic and learn about regional politics. I will also describe the magical evenings in Amman and the sound of the call to prayer. I study in Jordan because of warm, spicy falafel sandwiches, sweet and sticky knafeh, and sprawling mezze breakfasts with my host family on the weekends when I gorge myself on zaatar, olives, hummus, baba ghanouj, yogurt and olive oil, salty cheese, and fresh bread. I am here for traditional Jordanian dance called dabke and sweet Bedouin tea. I study in Jordan for the deep calm of Wadi Rum, rainy adventures in Petra, and nights out in Amman with new friends. Jordan challenges my expectations daily; it’s hard but I am so thankful to be here.   

Sitting in Charles De Gaulle… Part 2

I find myself in CDG, once again….everything is coming full circle. Except this time my layover is about 8.5 hours instead of 4 or whatever it was the first time….hence this airport written blog post!

The past few days have been incredibly bittersweet, leaning more towards the bitter side. It was very hard to say goodbye to my host family, my friends (both Jordanian and American), and all the staff at SIT. Many tears were shed at the uncertainty of when / where we will all see each other again. We exchanged hugs and gifts on the last day. I went out for one final night drive with my host sister Zaina to eat my last knafeh before going home and breath the night air of Amman. These final moments in Jordan helped me realize just how familiar and beautiful this country had become to me in such a short time period. I honestly cannot thank my host family, the SIT tribe, and everyone else that I met enough.

I’m not sure how to sum up my experiences in a blog post, especially one written in an airport (not the best environment for self-reflection in my opinion), so there may be follow-ups with further reflection. My groggy, sleep-deprived mind is struggling to find the right words to explain how much I have learned and changed over the past 3.5 months. Jordan has pushed me out of my comfort zone countless times, forcing me to learn about the world and myself. I also know that I probably won’t fully feel the effects of my semester abroad until weeks or months down the road. Regardless, I’m feeling pretty damn blessed for the experience!

And now, because my flight is starting to board and it’s time to head back to the US, here are some pictures of the city that I have been discovering over the past few weeks…

 

 

Final Weeks in Amman

It feels super weird to be writing a post with this title. The semester has flown and I can’t believe it’s coming to a close!

This past month all the SIT students have all been engrossed in independent study projects (ISPs). Classes have stopped so that we can conduct independent research on a topic of our choosing. In past blogs when I referenced a massive research project, this is what I’m talking about. It can be on any topic pertaining to Jordan, but we must use at least two methods of data collection (one of which has to be interviews) to complete it.

It was a pretty busy time, as I was constantly torn between going out and doing fun things around Amman / Jordan and working! I made it through, by choosing a topic that was pretty exciting (at least to me) and drinking lots of warm, caffeinated beverages. Don’t worry, I found time for lots of treats (like tamriya, picture below), time hanging with the host sisters, and nights out on the town….and still managed to finish my project!

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chai at one of my fave study spots

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caffeinated beverages & computer screens – ISP in a nutshell

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eating tamriya (basically funnel cake w/ a gooey center, best eaten super hot and fresh on a chilly Amman night)

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goofy times with the host sis

I decided to focus on the environmental impact of the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan and efforts for mitigation. Obviously a big topic… I interviewed 14 people, a collection from various Jordanian government ministries (Agriculture, Environment, Water, Planning), UN agencies (UNEP, UNDP, UNOCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF), a officer from the US State Department, and some academics. I also was able to return to Al-Zaatari Camp for interviews and observation. I encountered some challenges, but 67 pages later, I have completed a project that makes me proud.

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evening at a farm near Zaatari in northern Jordan

Want to know my findings? I’ll be happy to send you the paper in full if you have a good hour to read….or ask me about it next time you see me and I can talk for hours.

In short, yes, the Syrian refugee crisis is having MAJOR environmental impacts on Jordan, as any rapid massive population influx would have. The refugee crisis is affecting water, wastewater, waste (both solid and hazardous), energy, air quality, and ecosystems in Jordan. This is especially worrisome because Jordan is a resource poor country and faced many environmental challenges before the Syrian crisis. Also, Jordan had no time to plan for these changes as seen through the hurried creation of Zaatari Camp and a lack of updated national infrastructure,  which is causing problems. The UNHCR and other agencies have create environmental best practices in response to serious environmental problems in the 1990s surrounding refugee crises, but these have not been implemented in the case of Jordan. This raises important questions of why is it so hard to mainstream environmental issues? Given the recent Paris Climate Conference agreement, it will be interesting to see if crisis management will change at all. Yes, organizations and countries have an obligation to provide immediate aid such as health care, shelter, food, and water….but after the 6 month period, more detailed planning is necessary. If not, then another humanitarian crisis will result…for example, there are real possibilities of irreversible land degradation or increasingly dire water shortages in Jordan if policies don’t improve. Additionally, Jordan is now creating mitigation plans but few have been actually implemented due to funding and capacity issues. In terms of the long term effects, only time will tell if / how these mitigation plans play out and if there are other important changes like population fluctuations, climate change effects, or political developments. that could affect environmental policy. A silver lining in all this ….. most of my interviewees seemed optimistic by mentioning that the Syrian refugee crisis may be pushing forward the environmental agenda in Jordan because it forces some of these issues to be considered. While there is a lot more to be done, the fact that people are talking about the environment is a good thing!

So please ask me any questions about my research, because there is much more to my paper and findings….plus some good stories from my interviews! Just don’t want to write it all here right now.

Other notable things…. As a whole SIT group, we went to a girls school in the northern Badia to do a community service project. We did this with the Hashemite Fund for Badia Development, a pretty cool organization with which SIT has good ties. Although our project seemed a bit like one of those classic things to make Westerners feel good….it was fun and a good way to practice a lot of Arabic with young kids! Some SIT students worked to paint and renovate a library within the school, while I was with the garden crew. The schoolyard was relatively depressing, so with the help of at least 20 of the students, we planted multiple olive trees and other plants around the yard. It was refreshing to have a day of physical work in the dirt after so many days working on a research project and it was a lot of fun to hang with the kids. Also we hacked through the rocky soil with pickaxes, topics in my ISP about land degradation and decreasing soil fertility did hit home….

The girls asked me question after question, about a range of topics from my mother to the differences between Jordanian and American schools to what I though about what’s going on in Syria. I really enjoyed laughing and chatting with them and we at least did do something small to make their school more beautiful, though I think the students probably enjoyed a day getting to hang and talk more than they cared about the trees.

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boys hard at work or hardly working?

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mural painting

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the garden crew with one of our trees!

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Kamil and I, enjoying the sunny day!

One evening last week, we had our host family dinner. All the SIT students and a few members of their host families met at a nice restaurant in Amman to celebrate the semester. We were all supposed to dress up and make the evening special. This evening was the first of the ending events, making it a little bittersweet all around. That being said, after gorging ourselves on yummy food and giggling around the table, I would say it was a success. I really feel like a part of my family and I am truly going to miss them. Even after casual evenings just playing cards and eating popcorn, I feel a little sad that my time as a Bteibet (my host family’s last name) is coming to an end. For example, my host father’s birthday was the day of the host family dinner. Before leaving, I helped my sisters and mom with aspects of baking a massive special cake as a surprise for when we returned. It was so fun to be in on the secret and when we returned from the dinner, there was a little party with extended family and lots of sweets! After singing and cake, we started looking at old family photos. It was really neat to see photos of my host mom in her gorgeous youth and pictures of my  host siblings as toddlers. The whole evening was special and touching, making me feel truly lucky to have had such an amazing host family while in Jordan.

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SIT pals at the host family dinner, going to miss these people!!

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with SIT gals and the beautiful Rima, our Arabic language coordinator

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with Abeer and Khalid, my host parents, at the host family dinner

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host siblings and Khalid with his surprise birthday cake!