Friday, August 31, 2012

Hej då Sverige, مرحبا الأردن


Instead of packing or napping I have, of course, wasted a couple of hours on the internet and ended up with a list of 20 interesting facts about the country in which I am spending the next four months. I thought I'd share it with you (mind you, my main source for this was Wikipedia).

Interesting facts about Jordan:
1. A statue was discovered at Ein Ghazal that is thought to be 8,000 years old. Just over one meter high, it depicts a woman with huge eyes, skinny arms, knobby knees and a detailed rendering of her toes.
2. In the desert during the Chalcolithic period (4500-3200 BC), the lifestyle was probably very similar to that of modern Bedouins.
3. The Iron Age kingdom of Ammon, in the area of modern-day Amman, maintained its independence from the Assyrian empire, unlike all other kingdoms in the region which were conquered.
• The Jordanian capital of Amman is the original city of brotherly love. 2000 years ago the Greeks renamed the city Philadelphia. The city has also been occupied by the Ammonites, Israelites, Assyrians, Persians, Nabateans, Romans, Turks and British.
4. Jordan had one of the freest and most liberal societies in the Middle East and in the Greater Arab World during the 1950s and early 1960s.
5. Jordan witnessed some of the most severe protests and social upheavals in its history during the 1980s.
6. In the late 1990s, Jordan's unemployment rate was almost 25%, while nearly 50% of those who were employed were on the government payroll.
7. Jordan has the world's lowest suicide rate at 0.04 per 1,000 people.
8. It is believed that Moses is buried on Mount Nebo of Jordan.
9. The Hashemite kings of Jordan trace their ancestry in a direct line to Muhammad, the most important prophet of the Islamic religion.
10. Jordan has insignificant reserves of oil and gas, and is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. In spite of this, living standards are relatively good.
11. According to its Water Strategy, Jordan is one of the four driest countries in the world.
12. The 2010 Arab Democracy Index from the Arab Reform Initiative ranked Jordan first in the state of democratic reforms out of fifteen Arab countries.
13. Jordan hosts one of the highest percentages of immigrants in the world in comparison to its total population, with more than 40% of its residents being born in another country.
14. 92% of the population is Muslim.
15. Jordan is among the top ten countries whose citizens feel safest walking the streets at night.
16. Jordan was ranked in 2010 as the most expensive Arab country to live in.
17. 75% of all Arabic online content originates from Jordan. Amman is considered the “silicon valley” of the region.
18. According to the Global Innovation Index 2011, Jordan is the 3rd most innovative economy in the Middle East.
19. Jordan is considered one of the Arab World's most cosmopolitan and westernized countries with its capital Amman becoming referred to as the "New Beirut".
20. The 2010 AOF Index of Globalization ranked Jordan as the most globalized country in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Yes, I am going to that wonderful, diverse country where tradition meets modernity. I am going to live in a city where you pass ancient ruins on your way to work in a 21st century office. I will meet Palestinians, Bedouins, and above all Jordanians, with fascinating stories that I will understand because I will learn to speak their language. It is truly a dream come true.

On a final note, I just have to recommend the book I'm reading right now, People like Us by Joris Luyendijk. I will never see Western media representations of the Middle East in the same way again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

I leave in only 3 days!!! I feel the pressure rising as the date gets closer. I am definitely more excited than nervous, and I'm kind of on a rollercoaster of feeling "Yes, I'm ready! I just want to get there!" to feeling "Oh my god, I've packed all the wrong things!" to "Damn it, I stepped on a dead bee!" Yes, that last one happened. My foot is now swollen. However, I don't think you should go on a big trip unless you feel at least a little nervous.

I am also developing an itinerary for my 19 hours in Istanbul, thanks to the welcoming couchsurfing community of Istanbul. Hopefully I find time to see Sultanahmet (the old city), including the Blue Mosque, followed by Ortakoy and it's weekend Street Bazaar, and perhaps dinner in Taksim (the so called new city). It's such a short time so it will be a little whirlwind tour of the magnificent city that straddles two continents. I will also barely sleep for two nights in a row. I don't think I'd be sleeping anyway, though, due to a lovely combination of excitement and nerves.

As promised I have put together a little collection of my online resources about Jordan. It's a large variety, but I hope some of the links can be helpful to a future traveler to Jordan.

Background information
Basic info about the Culture of Jordan
UN Guide to personell moving to Jordan
Al Jazeera articles about Jordan
Health precautions before going to Jordan
Electrical outlet information for Jordan
Virtual Tourist is always a great resource for travelers, especially regarding tourist traps and what to pack

Travel blogs about Jordan
A Portrait of Jordan by the celebrated blog Inside the Travel Lab - honest and well-written pieces by an excellent travel writer
Blog by a young Jordanian woman living in Amman
Black Iris: A very popular Jordanian politically-themed blog, recommended by CIEE
Part of Jordan's Tourism Board travel blogging initiative, as was the first travel blog mentioned. There are some good articles here.

Off the beaten track
Expat website of Jordan
Photo Essay on Biblical Jordan
Modern Art in Amman
Volunteering in Jordan
Hilarious post about the Jordan few tourists see
7 things you don't expect to find in Jordan

Be Amman - an insider's guide to Amman
99 things to do in Amman, put together by Jordan Tourism Board
Wikitravel's guide to Amman
BBC article on Amman's secrets

What to wear
Journeywoman, where regular women tell you what's comfortable to wear in whatever country you are visiting

Jordanian dialect practice
Great site with video clips, etc. for practicing the levantine dialect
Useful phrases and words of the Jordanian dialect
Links for Arabic language learning

Arabic Music
Basic overview of popular Jordanian music
Nogoom El Arab - Great site for free downloads of Arabic music, from Fayrouz to Nancy Ajram
Playlist of some good Arabic "oldies"

Advice on how to cross the Israeli border on Trip Advisor

Now it is time for me to get out of pyjamas and start reviewing some Arabic. Hopefully I will have time to write a quick post before I leave, but if I don't, you'll hear from me again in AMMAN!

Monday, August 27, 2012

أنا سعيدة جدا

Today has been so full of good things that I am just glowing from happiness. Some of the wonderful things that have made my day:

• I GOT AN INTERNSHIP IN AMMAN! I will be doing actual research for an organization that I admire and respect, Friends of the Earth Middle East. The organization is basically a collaboration between Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian environmentalists to promote peace in the region by dealing with shared environmental concerns, such as the highly politicized topic of water (and it’s scarcity) in the Middle East. I look forward to sharing my internship experiences on this blog!
• I GET AN EXTRA 10kg IN BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE!, the provider of my Turkish Air ticket to Amman, sent me my trip details since I fly in 5 days (!!!) and it seems as if I have 30kg instead of 20kg in baggage allowance. This is yet to be confirmed though. It is kind of too good to be true!
• I FOUND PERFECT JEANS! …And they were 70% off! The shopaholic in me is crying tears of joy.
• IT’S A SUNNY DAY! The sun is such a beautiful rarity in Sweden. You really learn to appreciate it here. It is as if the sky is reflecting my happy mood.

I feel like I do need to cover my promised topic, football, since I actually did some research. I'm almost starting to feel like a real travel writer! Anyway, last thursday I saw CSKA Moscow beat my beloved home team AIK (we played very well - the first 20 minutes) in a game that is loved around the world (though not quite so much in the country where they think football is a game played predominantly with your hands, which is something I will never understand).

Here is a picture of some loyal gnagare (translates to "rodents", the unfortunate nickname of supporters of AIK):

Football (as in European/African/Asian/South American football to all my American friends and family) is also the favorite sport in Jordan. Just as seemingly simple environmental problems such as water is highly politicized in the Middle East, so is football, as I found out in an article on Al Jazeera (not to be confused with one of Amman's main football teams, which is also called Al Jazeera). Apparently "supporters of the winning team usually leave the stadium chanting political and racist slogans." The article also quotes the author of a cable exposed on Wikileaks "the game exposed the growing rift between East Bankers and Palestinians in Jordan." I hope to get a chance to see a football game in Jordan (though hopefully one not as violent as the one covered by Al Jazeera) and tell you from experience what it was like.

The precious sun is now setting over the Swedish countryside and I promised to accompany my dad on a walk in the gorgeous evening light (my ornithologist dad already has his binoculars in hand). I hope your day was as happy as mine was!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Det finns inga dåliga väder, bara dåliga kläder

There is a saying in Sweden that there is no bad weather, just bad clothing (the title). This not only serves to show the practicality of the Swedish mindset, but also the need to adapt to whatever comes. For example, yesterday the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and illuminated the lush green landscape. I thought, oh what a beautiful day, I’m going to take a walk. So I throw on a light sweater and set off, but nearly 15-20 mins later the skies open up to ice cold rain. As someone recovering from pneumonia, this wasn’t the best situation to be in. Another Swedish saying: if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. (in my case it was the reverse)

View of Swedish rain-soaked, sun-stained fields during my inopportune walk:

What does this have to do with my semester abroad in Jordan? Everywhere I have lived I have had an image of the ”typical” weather of that place and yet in every location it has turned out to be variable, what I call bipolar weather. Even in Malta, where you can basically guarantee sunshine every day from May to the beginning of October, expats residing there know the unpredictability of the weather, especially during winter months. Aware of this fact, and being reminded of this variability in Swedish weather, just adds to my anxiety of packing for Jordan. When I first packed my bags back in mid-July I imagined a dry, hot desert climate where I would need cool materials. Therefore I forgot to pack any jackets except for a rain jacket. However, as I re-read the handbook sent to us by CIEE and speak to people who live in Amman or have been on the program, I realize that I shouldn’t stereotype so easily, and I should be prepared for heavy winds, the cold that can sneak into limestone houses and chill you to the bone, and other surprises that the weather may throw at me. This mistake makes it all the more clear to me that I should not have any stereotypes in mind in going to Jordan. After all, I should know better, having traveled through Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, and Israel, and have friends from many Middle Eastern countries. So I apologize to all the Jordanians out there for my assumptions and I plan to put these (and any other) preconceived notions from my mind in going to Jordan.

This still leaves the problem of packing my bag so I am ready for ANYTHING while still staying within the limit of 20kg. The endless dilemma of the female traveler.

By the way, I finally (I don’t know why it took me so long!) invested in a guidebook for Jordan. According to reviews the Rough Guide seems the best, so that is the one I ordered. In my next post I’ll get around to sharing my wealth of online resources on Jordan, as I promised earlier. I will also upload some pics of the soccer game I went to last night, my home team AIK against CSKA Moscow (we lost *sad face*), and discuss what I have found out about sports in Jordan.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Like a Dream

Song of the week: Saboti - Ease (Marlon Hoffstadt Remix)

When did I stop feeling normal and start feeling my insides turn to jelly from nervous excitement at what is ahead? Why do I feel like this when I have lived in three different countries already? I sense, though, that this is the thrill that I live for as a born vagabond. In 10 days I arrive in Amman - to be exact 10 days and 12 hours. THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS! I have finished all my work commitments for the summer. My family, except for my dad, have returned to the USA. I am now feeling the pressure of spending four months in a country I've never visited before build up. I love the feeling, but it is definitely uncomfortable. As I feel more excited than ever, I also feel all the more unprepared, or as if all my preparations have been the wrong ones. I am now frantically rereading all materials sent to me by my study abroad program provider, CIEE, who I so far have had a very good experience with (their website is very attractively updated). I am also going over the many websites and blogs about Jordan that I have saved since I was accepted into the study abroad program on the fortuitous day of the 29th of February. I will share some of them with you at a later date when I am not feeling so restless, since many have proven to be very valuable resources.

The most nerve-racking advancements in my preparation for my semester abroad are the two interviews I have lined up today and tomorrow for internships in Amman. Today it is with the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association and tomorrow it will be with Friends of the Earth Middle East. I have never done a skype interview, so this probably adds to my nerves. Anyway I should go back to reading over materials about Jordan, trying to review Arabic (which I have found out is nearly impossible with nerves knotting up your stomach and mind), and preparing for my interviews.

Greetings from an ever so grey and green Sweden!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Rock

Honey, you are a rock, upon which I stand...

My sun-soaked days and party-filled nights in the Mediterranean paradise I used to call home are over, after a much too short week. To soften the blow of seeing my precious summer vacation end, I'm bedridden in Stockholm with pneumonia. But instead of complaining about how cruel and unfair my life is right now (as Stockholm's culture festival, with free concerts and block festivals across the city, is in full swing) I am going to share with you what a lovely little island I used to live on, and I'll make it a photo essay. I will then follow up with how my preparations for Jordan are going.

First of all THE VIEWS:
Qaddafi's yacht has been sequestered by the lucky Maltese:
Sunrise on the rooftop of the subpar Hotel Europa in the unbeatable location of Sliema:
One of the best beaches in Malta - Ghajn Tuffieha (take bus 225):
A visit to Malta isn't complete without a stop to the sister island Gozo:
One of the many great seafood restaurants with a view in Malta - I recommend Terrazza:
Avicii stopped by Malta while we were there, and made it one hell of a night:
The promenade that hugs the highly populated bays of Sliema and St.Julians finishes in the quaintly Mediterranean fisherman's haven of Spinola Bay:
The Festa di Santa Marija, Malta's top public holiday on the 15 August honors this feisty woman who not only gave birth to Jesus but could split the skull of a Turk:
Happy me, after a hot night out in the Malta clubbing area Paceville, taking a break at St. Georges Bay beach to show my love for Malta in the sand:

Other things I don't have a photo of but that deserve honorable mention are our daily breakfast place, the Kiwi-owned café Mint,and Cafe Juliani,the most comfortable place if you, like me, have to work on your vacation. Also if you don't have much time in the Maltese Islands, Luzzu Cruises has a great deal that allows you to see Comino, Gozo, and the Grand Harbour in a day in a not as overly commercial way as its competitor Captain Morgan.

As I said, I've been working while in Malta, which was too bad but I made sure to get a tan, swim in the crystal clear Mediterranean waters, and party until 4am in the hot thumping clubs in between deadlines. So far I've applied to two internships in Jordan but need to work on applying for quite a few more soon. I really really hope I get a position!!! I don't want to make this too long, and I need to rest to get rid of this damn pneumonia as soon as possible. But one final story to finish. The doctor I met with this morning happened to be Egyptian, and fortunately I remembered enough dialect to converse with her colloquially, even as I was aching, feverish, and exhausted. This bodes well for Jordan!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Photographic Memory

Since Urkult ended we have had some days of rest and relaxation before we leave the pastoral paradise of the sparsely populated north for more adventures. It has been a much-needed vacation that I would not have awarded myself if I had not been in this remote location. One of our past-times here have been sorting through old photos and looking at old baby videos. From my dad's striking and National Geographic-worthy photographs of South America in the early 1980s to my first attempts at dressing myself at the age of two, countless memories have been recorded, saved, and stored in a shed for us to rediscover years later. I look forward to seeing what photos I will cherish and save from my time in Jordan, because I will definitely be having a digital camera in hand. I only hope that some of them will be of the same quality as my dads incredible travel photography. However, it is important to remember to look up from the camera lens and appreciate the constant flow of time. Yesterday while watching the sunset on a bridge I composed this poem. I'm also including some photos of Ångermansälven, the river that flows through this region of Sweden.

The Day We Failed to Stop Time
Broken by the sound of camera shutters
Cluttering the air
As the daily yet rare
Sunset is conserved
And consecrated on paper
Tapered by momentous peace
And our slowed breath
Follows the river dale breeze
As we quietly watch the body
Of sky rush beneath our feet

Among other news, I now have the list of possible internships that I can do in Jordan. I so hope I get a position at one of the companies, since I really want to not only study in the country, but help it develop too. I will keep you updated on whether I get a position and where. Cross your fingers for me!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

There are no strangers, only friends you haven't met yet

Now the festival fever is over and it’s time to return to reality. I highly recommend going to Urkult Music Festival at least once, because it is a festival so full of love, spirit, freedom, and worldliness. Of course, you do feel like you’ve stumbled upon a delayed Swedish Woodstock, with all the dreadlocks, bare feet, and hemp abounding, but that just adds to the special open and loving character of the festival. I had a wonderful time and once again met wonderful people, despite the not-so-glamorous job of cleaning porta-potties and jumping in compost bins (that was actually quite fun).

My grandmother was very impressed with the festival, but also shocked by many things, and it brought up many discussions about cultural differences between Swedes and Americans, especially regarding raising children and connection to nature. I wonder what differences I will find regarding those two things, child-rearing and human interaction with nature, in Jordanian society and culture. I especially wonder how conservative Jordanians are in those respects, since Western cultures generally consider Middle Eastern cultures more conservative, and I myself find American culture much more conservative than the liberal Swedish one in those two areas. On the other hand, Swedes are more conservative than Americans in terms of social events and etiquette, at least in my experience. I will make sure to pick up on this topic after I’ve spent some time in Jordan.

Now I want to introduce you to some of my great discoveries at the festival this year. My top 10:
1. Rebekka Karijord – a Norwegian Florence from Florence & The Machine, with incredible vocal and song-writing talent. Why is she not more famous?
2. Laleh – Swedish artist who I’ve admired for a long time but love now more than ever. She has such a sweet personality and I can’t help but get a fist of tears in my throat when I hear her song “Some Die Young”.
3. Dalindeo – a brilliant Finnish jazz band. We loved them so much that we called them back TWICE to play more.
4. Badi Assad – Brazilian musician with great vocal ability and versatility, who composes very unconventional music.
5. Sousou & Maher Cissoko – remarkably beautiful Swedish woman and a number of Senegalese musicians who introduced me to the beauty of Senegalese language and music.
6. Punsch – hauntingly beautiful Swedish folk music at its best. This band won the award for Best Newcomer at the Folk and World Music Awards.
7. Tamburellisti di Torrepaduli – Italian band with strikingly beautiful tarantella dancer.
8. Syster Sol – a 28-year old Swedish female reggae star. I cannot exaggerate her talent. On a Nordic night I felt like I could have been in Jamaica.
9. Amina Annabi – Tunisian artist with a remarkable voice and wonderful stage presence. I just love Arabic music and have so much respect for a culture where young people appreciate music like this. It made me even more excited for Jordan!
10. The Crooked Fiddle Band – Folk-Rock delivered by incredibly adept musicians. The female violinist deserves a special mention.

Honorable mention: Eliza Carthy Band (British acoustic pub music), Mu (we took a 2-hour Portuguese folk dance course with them, which was tremendous fun).

Now I have to go savor the sunny day outside, since those are very rare in northern Sweden. Ha en underbar dag!

Thursday, August 2, 2012


In Sweden it is not summer if you don't spend at least some of it in a tent in the rain at the number of outdoor concerts that open up around Sweden. I happen to live 15 minutes from one (when I'm at my house in the north), a world music festival called Urkult. We went for the first time last year and loved it. It's a festival for all ages and all types, with an eclectic mix of talented artists from around the world who happen to find themselves in a tiny village in northern Sweden beside a huge dam and some ancient petroglyphs. Just as last year I will be working at the festival, in exchange for a free concert pass and some meal tickets. Last year I worked at the "fik", serving drenched concert-goers hot coffee and Swedish pastries. I also met some wonderful people who taught me Swedish folk-dancing. This year I will be working in the environment group aka. the trash group, which I'm not as excited about but hey, somebody has to do the job. I can't wait to see how I'll meet this year. I may even camp by the river this time, so I can stay up all night dancing (this depends on the amount of rainfall, since I do have the luxury of a warm house 15 minutes away). I'll post some pictures from last year's festival so you get a taste of it.

The big stage:

Me in the tea tent:

A concert at the Sun Stage:

The fire show the first night of the festival: