Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Shame in Honor

This post will deal with the very serious topic of honor crimes, so beware that some of it will be tough to read.

Imagine that you are a 16-year old girl living in a modern Westernized city called Amman. Imagine that you are then raped by your 19-year old brother, then married off to a man twice your age because you aren’t as appealing any more, and then divorced after a year to be killed by your other brother for bringing shame on your family for what another family member did to you. Imagine then, that the brother who killed you tells the journalist investigating the case that if he could go back in time he would do it again.

That journalist was Rana Husseini and the case of the 16-year old girl was what triggered her lauded career fighting the global issue of honor crimes. This past Tuesday I met this incredible woman and got to hear her give a lecture on her new book “Murder in the name of Honor” at the CIEE Study Center. The lecture came at a perfect time, since the day before I had discussed the very issue of honor killings with my very conservative peer tutor.

Let me first explain what a peer tutor is. CIEE has a peer tutor program that basically pairs you up with a University of Jordan student to improve your speaking skills in Arabic and immerse yourself more into the local culture. Last Tuesday we had an Urban Challenge downtown to get to know each other, which included activities such as eating kunefeh, interviewing a grocery seller, and trying fresh juice. We had a lot in common, such as that we both love mango and we both write poetry. However there are also huge differences. She comes from a conservative Muslim family where boys and girls occupy separate areas of the house. She told me that If she dated someone she would be killed, but she said it with a smile as if it was a fact of life.

Here is a picture of my peer tutor hiding behind an elyom newspaper in downtown Amman:

You could be killed by your own father, brother, or even son for such shockingly trivial reasons as:
• Dressing in a manner unacceptable to the family or community
• Wanting to terminate or prevent an arranged marriage
• Desiring to marry by own choice, especially if to a member of a social group deemed inappropriate
• Engaging in heterosexual acts outside marriage
• Engaging in homosexual acts

Over 20,000 women die annually across the world because of “putting their family’s honor to shame”, according to a 2000 survey, and the number has probably increased by now. Rana said that the more densely populated the area is, the more likely you will see honor killings, due to the increased importance of family reputation in the community.

Honor killings are also not restricted to one religion, ethnicity, or geographic location. Even men are victims in this crime, in that they are often pressured to murder the very person they have grown up with, and it isn’t rare to have a 17-year old do the job, since he can leave prison with no criminal record before he turns 18.

Jordan has been especially highlighted for its honor killings, but that is probably because the Jordanian activists and government are doing such a great job of addressing the problem. The prison sentence for someone who has committed murder in the name of family honor has been lengthened from a mere 4-6 months to a minimum of 12 years, an amendment that was passed through as recently as July 2012. However, in the Q&A session one student asked about possibly spreading the movement to the Gulf, and Rana explained that such a thing was nearly impossible at the moment because of the many cultural and religious hurdles in the way of a final solution to the honor crimes, both in Gulf countries and in families around the world.

Jordan is definitely at the forefront of this fight, as it also appeared to be in national water policy, which proves what a forward-thinking country this is in relation to some of its neighbors. Hopefully we can raise enough public awareness about the issue to change these fatal cultural norms.

Now I’m off on an adventure the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark to lead 30 Jordanian teenage boys on nature excursions and in lectures on solar power, grey water, composting and more as part of my internship at FoEME. I’m both nervous and excited and will tell you all about it when I’m back!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Let me take you to a land far away...

I just had an absolutely incredible weekend, possibly one of the best in my lifetime. It is great to be young and exploring new countries! I owe CIEE a big thank you for putting together such a great trip, considering the logistics of taking 133 students from Amman to Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and Petra on as varied modes of transportation as broken down buses, World War II-era jeeps, camels, boats, donkeys, mules, and horses. But I am now back in Amman, steeped in work and homework, with many new photos and stories to share with you.

We left early Thursday morning. Air-conditioned buses and Jordanian breakfast pastries awaited us at the UJ parking lot, followed by a very long ride down to southern Jordan. On the way we made a pit stop at a huge tourist trap in the middle of the desert, where they decided that a simple sign saying “Old Stuff” would suffice in advertising their wares. We eventually arrived at the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center and had a delicious buffet lunch at Captain’s. After lunch I learned how to tie a keffiyeh, which I had purchased in downtown Amman two days before. The keffiyeh is used to assert national identity within the Middle East, and each area has their specific colors, however they all share the same criss-cross Mesopotamian pattern. The Jordanian keffiyeh is red and white, Palestinians wear black and white, Syrians wear beige and white, and Lebanese settled for all white. Men usually wear it draped over the head and fastened with a black ring, but both men and women can also wear it tied around the head in order to keep out dust and heat while in the desert.

Before leaving the center we watched a very short and clichéd documentary on how to think of Wadi Rum poetically. The intriguingly named “Interpretation Theme Hall” next door is much more informative, with large displays showing facts about the history and geology of Wadi Rum in three different languages (Arabic, English, and French). From the visitor’s center we went in groups of five in 4x4s through the blistering desert, stopping at various points. At one point we climbed up a sand dune, which is much harder than it looks, and then ran down it, which was so much fun. At another point we could climb up on a ledge to view rock art of hunters on camels, made by Bedouins passing through the same thoroughfare 2000 years ago.

After conquering the bus and the jeep, it was time to tame the camel. I was picked out of the crowd by a 17-year old boy named Abdullah who led me to a tall female camel with an unattached but loyal baby at her side. Another CIEE student rode my camel’s other offspring, which was now full grown. Camels are not the most comfortable mode of transportation and I have so much respect for Bedouins who spent days and months on the animals. I guess you can get used to anything in time. After getting off the camel we climbed up the red rocks of Wadi Rum to see the sun set over the desert. The amazing thing about the desert is that with the lack of a multitude of colors, the few elements present are intensified and therefore so much more impressive.

At the luxury Bedouin camp we stayed in, also affiliated with Captain’s, we were treated to a wonderful feast with kebabs and freshly baked flat bread followed by dabke dancing to a live Bedouin band. It was so much fun, and dabke is very easy. The rest of the night was spent smoking shisha and looking for shooting stars. Eventually a few of us decided to stay underneath the blanket of stars for the night, and lay our heads down on mattresses atop the cold desert floor. It was amazing to wake up every half hour or so and find the constellations in a new position. The world really is turning! At 5am I groggily noticed four people leaving the camp out of the corner of my eye and on an impulse threw on flip flops and ran across the desert to join them. I wasn’t going to sleep under the stars and then miss the sunrise! Climbing up a mountain in flip flops and pyjamas was a challenge but the view was worth it. The moment that first sliver of gold slipped across the opposing mountaintop took my breath away. I walked back to the camp on my own listening to El Mouqadima – Mashrou’ Leila as the sun slowly rose over rolling sand dunes.

Back at the camp we had breakfast and then got back on the buses for a short ride to Aqaba. In Aqaba we were quickly piled onto four different boats. The boat I was on had a huge cushioned sun deck and being a sun-deprived Swede, I only left that sun deck for an hour or so of jumping off the second floor of the boat into the bright blue Red Sea and snorkeling around the colorful coral that the sea is famous for. A huge grey fish with blue spots particularly interested me, and the whole experience made me want to go scuba diving again very soon. For lunch they grilled kebabs on the boat, accompanied by the obligatory pita bread.

After Aqaba we proceeded to higher ground where the ancient Nabatean city of Petra hides among jagged mountaintops. After a short tour of Little Petra, the caravan stop for the main city of Petra, we continued to our hotel for the night in the small town of Wadi Musa. At the hotel I took a much-needed nap and ate mansaf, but this time I ate it with my hands on a communal plate, as is the tradition. It felt much more authentic. For some reason, I feel like eating things with your hands just tastes better. Dinner was followed by more dabke dancing and some intensely un-Islamic music.

Early the next morning it was time to walk the short way to Petra from the hotel, where we had a 2-3 hour tour going into the famous rose-colored city. The creations are just stunning, but it took traveling there to realize how much is still unknown about the Nabateans. For example, the famous “Treasury”, the impressive building welcoming you after the long and narrow entrance, is not actually a treasury and the Grand Temple has stronger arguments for being a palace or a bank. The names should reflect this uncertainty more in my opinion, but of course place names are essential in the tourist industry. Speaking of the tourist industry, Petra has the most aggressive peddlers I’ve met so far in Jordan, and they have all learned how to say, “Keep your promise! One dinar! Take a look!” in perfect American English.

After the tour and lunch we hiked up the Deir Trail to the "monastery", which I highly recommend. The hike is intense but the view when you get up there is incredible, and so is the actual monastery. From there we kept on climbing to a viewpoint where a man was playing traditional music and offering tea as you surveyed the surrounding mountain range. It was one of the most beautiful moments I've had in Jordan so far.

On the way back I rode a horse for the last part of the way, convincing the driver to take me for two dinaar. However when we arrived at the exit he said that he required additional tip. Since I didn’t have more on me than two dinar, and another man offered me to try his horse for free, I just jumped on the other horse and galloped away from the situation. I quickly returned though, since I haven’t ridden on a horse in years and didn’t want to risk breaking a limb this early into the trip. The day finished with another long bus ride, followed by another large tourist trap in the middle of the desert, and ending finally back at the University of Jordan, where over-exhaustion and a lot of homework awaited me.

I already have some exiting plans in the making for next weekend. My supervisors at Friends of the Earth Middle East have asked me to help out with a weekend educational trip for 30 underprivileged Jordanian boys at the FoEME Eco Park, where I will be giving lectures on grey water, solar power, and composting, assisting on hikes and excursions, and who knows what else. It is a daunting but stimulating task, since I am a huge advocate for increased educational campaigns about climate change, especially to underexposed audiences such as the Jordanian 15-year old boys I will be lecturing. I’ll make sure to tell you all about it upon my return!

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Jordan has a strange, haunting beauty..."

"...and a sense of timelessness. Dotted with ruins of empires once great, it is the last resort of yesterday in the world of tomorrow. I love every inch of it."
- King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan

Song of the week: Imm el Jacket - Mashrou' Leila

This post is long over due and I apologize for that. During this past week the crazy adventures have been piling up and I have managed to see a lot of Jordan since I last wrote. I will start from the beginning: the football game between Jordan and Australia.

Three of us CIEE students went straight from a movie screening of Captain Abu Raeed, a sweet movie about an old man with a good heart and big dreams. The movie brought up interesting themes of domestic abuse and martyrdom, but I particularly recommend it for the magnificent views over Amman. Now back to the football game: the stadium is in East Amman, near the refugee camps, so I got to see a different side to Jordan’s capital, and get a sense of how big the city is. When we got there people were literally running in every direction so it was impossible to figure out where to buy tickets. Finally we just chose a direction. On the way we bought “I <3 Jordan” bandanas, because being blonde meant that everyone assumed I was rooting for the night’s rival, Australia. The bandana still didn’t stop people from assuming I was from the land down under. When we got into the complex, escorted by a friendly policeman, we were still just as confused about tickets. Finally an Australian Jordanian man convinced the policeman to let us into the Australian fans section, and that is how I saw a World Cup Qualifier for free! The game was exciting, with Jordan winning 2-1, having the stands erupting in earth-shattering cheers. The stadium was small but packed to the brim, people climbing over the walls and up the lampposts to see the game. The royal section had the best view of course. We left early to get a cab back and so missed the last Australian goal, but that didn’t diminish my joy. YALLAH AL-URDUN!

On Thursday the real adventure started: the unbelievable trip to Wadi Mujib. Twenty of us took a minibus to the Dead Sea, where we stayed in gorgeous chalets overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful and ironically vibrant-looking Dead Sea, with the rose-colored West Bank in the background. After a delicious buffet meal I lay out in the hammock looking for constellations in the breezy night sky, and played mafia with the other students on the trip. Around 1 am I found myself dancing salsa under shooting stars on the coast of the Dead Sea.

The next morning we woke up at 6am for a big breakfast and the hike, which started up a steep flame-colored canyon. We then came to a Wadi, where all the fun began. We not only floated down a stream through a canyon, but went down a 25 m waterfall. It was amazing, to say the least, and so much fun. When we got back we still had the whole day ahead of us, which was spent dipping into the Dead Sea, which looks less appealing after you’ve gone swimming in it with a bunch of cuts and scrapes from that morning’s hike. After lunch, we went to the Dead Sea Panorama Complex, which excellently highlighted the unique geology, history, and ecology of the Dead Sea, as well as it’s dire situation. It’s a bit ironic, but the Dead Sea is dying. The Dead Sea water level is being reduced by over 1 m every year thanks to salt-evaporation projects by mineral companies and mistreatment and diversion of its main tributary, The Lower Jordan River. My internship with Friends of the Earth Middle East is a prime advocate for the rehabilitation and conservation of the Jordan River, and thus the Dead Sea since the two bodies of water are inextricably linked. Some of the policy strategies we are exploring involve more sustainable irrigation techniques and better water saving strategies, as well as raising public and political awareness of the issue. I am proud to be working on such an important cause.

Back in Amman we didn’t want the trip to be over, so we extended it slightly by smoking shisha and drinking Turkish coffee. After that I rushed down to the Roman Theater, where I saw the incredible band Mashrou’ Leila perform, their modern beats reverberating through the ancient stones. It was an unforgettable experience.

The next day I woke up early to go to Jerash and Ajloun with my beautiful Jordanian friend and her husband and daughter. On our way out of Amman we picked up deliciously sweet date bread and a bag of about 50 small sour green apples. After about an hour we reached Jerash, an enormous city of magnificent Greco-Roman ruins that is still inhabited today. The city flourished in 3rd to 1st century BC as part of the Roman Decapolis, a federation of major cities in the Roman Empire. On our tour by a local guide, translated to English by my friend, I was reminded of how modern the Romans were for their time, with the technology and infrastructure for street lights, earthquake warning signals, and a system for telling the days of the week. Foreign citizens pay 8 JOD to access the complex.

After Jerash we stopped for a picnic on the roadside in the dusty green hills of Ajloun. The roadside was disgustingly littered, but the peaceful surroundings (as opposed to Amman’s never ending buzz) and the delicious food (flat bread with thyme and goat cheese, accompanied with really sweet tea). After that we continued to Ajloun Castle, a magnificent fortress built by the nephew of Saladin, the great Kurdish conqueror of the Ayyubid dynasty. The castle is situated on a commanding hill overlooking the northern countryside of Jordan, and was originally built to protect against crusader attacks. It was still used for warfare only a few decades ago, but is now open to the public, costing 10 JOD for foreign citizens. Inside the display ancient artifacts in a small museum, and the rest of the large castle is yours to get lost in.

On the way back we stopped at a church which had supposedly provided refuge for the persecuted Virgin Mary. It’s fascinating to be lighting a candle in a Catholic church at the same time as you hear the call to prayer from a mosque up the street. An hour or so later we return to Amman, where we eat an enormous meal of shawarma and chicken in Khalda. After a packed weekend of exploring a huge chunk of Jordan with wonderful new friends I returned, exhausted, to my host family’s home, where they were all eating mansaf, Jordan’s national dish. Unfortunately I was so stuffed from the chicken that I couldn’t try it, but I had some today and it was delicious. We didn’t eat it with our hands though, as is the tradition, since my host family considers that unladylike and therefore only the men eat mansaf with their hands. I finished off an amazing weekend with a cozy movie night with four wonderful girls in my neighborhood, watching Lawrence of Arabia in anticipation of our trip to Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and Petra next weekend.

Be prepared for a post on camel riding, Red Sea snorkeling, and Nabatean ruins next week!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Learning to say خلاص

Classes have started now and at the same time as everyday life is imposing itself on my schedule, plans are starting to take form, and gradually I realize how busy I am going to be this semester. However, I will be busy with some of the most exciting things I have ever done.

Yesterday I had my first day of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) classes and colloquial Arabic classes. There are four different levels for Advanced 1, and the level I ended up in means that I will be reviewing chapters I have already done for the first half of the semester. This will give me some relief, but I am still getting back into Arabic mode after a 3-month hiatus. The colloquial Arabic seems to differ a lot from MSA. Conveniently, the most used words are completely different in dialect, but the less common words are more similar to MSA. There are also a number of letters you don't even pronounce, or that you change the pronunciation comes up. Interesting cultural inferences can be made by noticing these differences. For example, the letter for q is pronounced g by men and is silent for women, because glottal and aggressive consonants are considered unladylike. The letter for th is changed into t because it is considered impolite to stick your tongue out when speaking to someone.

After Arabic class I went to check my email and do my homework at the peaceful refuge that is the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR). I then shared a cab home and relaxed with my host family. My host mother was stuffing grape leaves, my host sister's favorite dish. Today I tried it and it was, as any food in Jordan, absolutely delicious.

In the evening a friend of a friend who had kindly answered some of my questions in planning to move here over facebook picked me up in her car, along with her husband and 9-year old daughter. I had an amazing Jordanian evening with the family in downtown Amman. We first went to Jafra and they ordered all their favourite dishes, like fattoush (salad with Middle Eastern croutons), Manakeesh Bil Za'atar (flat bread with thyme), and Fattah (small strips of lamb and marinated bread in a sea of hummus, olive oil, and pine nuts) which may be one of my new favorite foods. We finished the meal with cups of mint tea and a melon mint shisha. But the meal wasn't over yet! Jordanians show their appreciation for guests by feeding them. To the brim. So we went to a cafe across from the amphitheater and ate two different kinds of kunaafa, which is a cheese pastry topped with sugar-sweetened water. I preferred the more orange colored kunaafa in the picture below, but both were delicious and perfectly satisfied my sweet tooth. However, eventually I had to say خلاص, the dialect word for enough among many other meanings and one the most common words I have heard Jordanians use.

Today I had my two Area studies courses. I will eventually need to drop one, but here is my current dilemma: I love both the classes so much. The titles are America and the Arabs and The Middle East: Alternative Perspectives. Both classes are both anthropology and international affairs oriented, focus on overcoming misconceptions about the region, and both have highly qualified professors with PhDs and a sense of humor. The difference lies in that the former class is slightly more political and focused on Middle East relations with western USA, while the latter class is more literary and arts oriented and focuses on intra-regional interaction. I am meeting one of the CIEE directors tomorrow to get advice.

Among other news I joined a gym here in Amman. I chose an all-women's gym, Aspire, up the street from the CIEE Study Center and the main gate of the University. For 120 JOD I have access to the machines, aerobics classes, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, and showers for 36 times in 3 months. The premises are clean and modern, and if you have a 6-month or year-long membership you also have access to the rooftop pool.

Moving on to other things, I have a lot of exciting plans coming up that I will definitely post about. Tomorrow, Jordan meets Australia in football at the King Hussein Stadium and I am very tempted to go, since I did promise my loyal blog readers to see a football (soccer) game in Jordan. From Tuesday September 11th to Monday September 17th the Hakaya Festival is taking place in Amman, celebrating the arts with dance performances and storytelling from all across the Middle East. I hope to go to at least one of the events. On Thursday I am going with a group of other CIEE students to Wadi Mujib, where we will stay in chalets overlooking the Dead Sea, swim in and learn about the Dead Sea, and finally hike up and rappel down waterfalls in Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve before returning to Amman Friday evening. The trip is arranged by Wild Jordan and cost 64 JOD ($90) including all transportation, meals, entrance fees, and accommodations. I asked both my mother and my host mother whether this was a good deal and both encouraged me to take this opportunity. I guess it goes along with that whole YOLO craze that is spreading across the world right now.

When I return to Amman I go straight to the Roman amphitheater to see one of my new favorite Lebanese bands, Mashrou' Leila. The next day at 10am the Jordanian family I went out to dinner with last night will pick me up and take me for a day trip to Ajloun, the forests in northern Jordan, and the ancient city of Jerash. After that it will probably be time for me to do homework and get a good night's rest. Do you see what I mean by that I need to learn how to say خلاص sometimes? Over all I am so excited though, and I promise to document and share all these adventures with you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tabbouleh, Tea, and downTown Amman

This weekend has been full of exploring Amman and I am loving this city more and more. Amman is definitely underrated, considering its wealth of ancient ruins, colorful markets, and amazing food.

The first day I slept in, read a number of publications on the Jordan River Rehabilitation Project, and had breakfast with my host family and visiting host uncle and aunt. My host sister explained Jordanian meals to me. Basically, breakfast and dinner are largely the same thing of dipping pita bread in hummus, lebneh, olive oil, and za'atar (thyme). Lunch is the main meal of the day, when you have some sort of meat with rice, salad, and pita bread. There can be variations on this, such as instead of meat and rice to have cucumbers and eggplant stuffed with rice and shredded meat and baked in tomato sauce. So far everything is delicious and exploding with flavor, especially the salad.

This morning I learned how to make tabbouleh (the green to the right of the photo). Here is the recipe as I understood it after observing my host mother making it:

• Parsley
• Green chili pepper
• Tomatoes
• Bulgur
• Onions
• Mint leaves
• Olive oil
• Lemon juice
• Salt & Pepper

1. Finely chop parsley until it fills an entire bowl
2. Remove the seeds of one green chili pepper, mince the pepper, and add it to the mountain of parsley
3. Wash and finely chop 4 red tomatoes (they should be pea-sized) and add them to the parsley and the pepper
4. Peel and soak two large onions in water
5. Pour half a bag of small-sized bulgur onto the tomatoes and let them soak so they become soft
6. Mince the onions finely and add them to the salad
7. Add finely sliced mint leaves
8. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the salad so it is shiny, not wet
9. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the tabbouleh and mix it
10. Serve with warm pita bread and hummus

Friday night we went to Souk Jara on Rainbow Street, where there was art, funny Jo Bedu t-shirts, and a little bracelet with a blue stone in which a man carved ماريال, my name in Arabic, so I bought it. Then we went to Saj, where the man made the bread from scratch, spread it with lebneh, added turkey, tomatoes, sliced black olives, and sliced sweet peppers, wrapped it up and put it in my hand, within about 5 minutes. To wash down the meal, I had freshly blended strawberry and kiwi juice. لذيذ!

Today I cancelled the day trip to the dead sea and instead slept in. In the morning I had turkish coffee and practically an all-Arabic conversation with my host mom. After showering and cleaning my room, I went downtown with a group of girls, which quickly diminished to two of us. The day was an adventure, starting with exploring the shops around Husseini Mosque and walking up a random stairwell with a gorgeous view of Amman. As we passed a sweet shop we had to stop because of the wonderful smell, and the guy offered us a taste of one of the cakes. Before we knew it he got us chairs from the coal shop next door (there were actually coal-blackened faces filling bags of coal) and had filled a bag of حلويات for us, that he insisted we take for free. Kindness has no limits in this country.

With our bag now full of honey-drenched pastries, we asked a group of Muslim women for the famous falafel place, Hashem. They directed us to a restaurant around the corner, eager to get to know where we are from and how long we have been in Amman. We were quickly ushered in to the restaurant where we were served bowls of hummus, falafel, pickles, and tomatoes as well as a bag of pita bread.

After a delicious meal and an offer to marry the brother of the guy sitting next to us, we moved on to the fruit and vegetable market. After leaving that market we stumbled upon the Nymphaeum and got exclusive access to the magnificent ruins, where we befriended three very curious cats. Down the street we came upon a tiny store overflowing with decades-old books. For two book nerds this was heaven. We befriended the fascinating Bedouin from Karak who ran the bookshop in the name of his grandfather, who had opened up a book shop in Jerusalem more than a hundred years ago. He served us tea, showed us his poetry and collections of books in Swedish, and gave us a good deal on postcards depicting Amman 50 years ago.

The day ended with our first successful attempt to take buses all the way home, although it took an hour due to traffic and convoluted bus routes. Tonight I introduced the other girls living in the building to Söder Te, which I will now have to import to the USA. I should get to bed now so I am rested for my first day of classes. تصبح على خير!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

There are no foreign lands...

…It is the traveler only who is foreign. – Robert Louis Stevenson

I have had a wonderful week exploring Amman, getting to know other program participants and my host family, and above all starting to get a sense of what daily life is like here. Next week, however, I start classes and develop a more regular routine, which means that I become a part of that daily life. It still all feels like a dream.

My host family lives in a beautiful large house in the area of Dabouq, in northwestern Amman. It is only 10 minutes from the university by taxi, and I share the commute with the other three girls who live in the same building with relatives of my host family and two girls who live in the neighboring houses. I live with my host mother and host sister who works from home, and my other host sister lives five minutes away with her husband and adorable 5-year old son. The first night we sat outside on the patio in the beautiful little garden, eating incredibly flavorful homemade lamb stew with rice and a tasty salad. We stayed up late eating Swedish chocolate, looking at my family photos, and singing selections of Frank Sinatra, Monica Zetterlund, and Fayrouz (mostly me doing the singing haha). As a cat person, I love the fact that a number of kittens call the garden home and are constantly scurrying about under the patio furniture or meowing at the window when we are in the kitchen.

We started our first day after moving to our host families in the exam room. Three hours of a grueling comprehension test in Arabic first thing in the morning put everybody in a foul mood, but a satisfying lunch and tour around the university by a CIEE alum and University of Jordan (UJ) PhD student lifted my spirits. After the tour I got mango juice with the UJ student at Gloria Jean’s Coffee, the American coffee house in Khalifeh Plaza where the CIEE study center is, across from the main gate of the University. We had a fascinating conversation, among other things about Indian films and American music. I got a sense of his different cultural perspective, though, when he asked me to explain the meaning of the song “Losing my religion” as sung by Nina Persson. I started translating the lyrics into Arabic and he responded, “Yes, I understand what she’s saying, but I don’t understand how she can lose her religion.”

Today I finally got my class schedule and I couldn’t be happier. Even though I haven’t reviewed Arabic all summer and didn’t feel too confident about the exam, I was placed in the level I wanted and needed for credit, Advanced Arabic 1. I am also taking Colloquial Jordanian Arabic and Middle East: Alternative Perspectives. After our final orientation session on independent travel and visas (which left me even more clueless about the whole visa process) I rushed off to my internship position in Al Bayader. At the FoEME office I got a tour, met all my coworkers, and got my first piece of reading. My main research area will be regarding the Jordan River Rehabilitation Project, but there is much to learn about it so I will be doing a lot of reading this weekend. I'm so excited though, since it seems like it will be an engaging and eventful internship. On top of my research, I will be posting a weekly blog that is edited by the social media intern, and I may actually be assisting with a workshop of students from Kosovo visiting Amman. I haven't even been here a week, but I might already be working as a tour guide! This is what my schedule looks like (notice that the weekend here is Friday and saturday):

In the evenings I have usually gone with some of the other girls who live in my building and/or neighborhood to a popular hang-out spot. Last night we went to Wakalat Street in the area of Swefieh where I had a fruit cocktail and we met Barney. Today we went to the famous Rainbow Street and had delicious Arabic, Mango, and Crocant ice cream at Gerard. Now I am watching a movie with my host family. This weekend I plan to sleep in, read up for my internship, see Souq Jara on Rainbow Street, and maybe go to the Dead Sea on a daytrip.

Finally, a little bad joke. We were discussing what vegetation grows in these dry and hot conditions. In the word of another CIEE student "hot and terrible". One of the students pointed out that lemons and limes grow really well in this climate. Ready for the punchline? "Oh, so that is why they are so sour!" Yes, I went there. I hope I made you laugh, even if it was only at how bad the joke was. Until next time!

Monday, September 3, 2012


I don't have much time to write, since I want to get some sleep before yet another busy day tomorrow. So far I love being in Jordan! It's too soon to really have gotten a sense of the place but over all Amman is much more diverse than I expected, and all the program participants are really intelligent and driven, as well as really kind and friendly. I have no complaints about CIEE, which seems incredibly organized and well-coordinated, to the extent that it feels like we are a much smaller group than over 130 students. I had no complaints about the hotel either, until I saw a HUGE cockroach in the bathroom. Even on the fourth floor of a five-star hotel you can't avoid them. I feel like I should call room service, but then again the cockroach won't kill me so I'll see if I can tough it out.

Yesterday, my first day in Amman, I slept through breakfast until noon. Feeling refreshed, I ventured out into the hot and foreign city to search for a bank. The first person I asked was a friendly man from Dubai walking home from work, who walked me all the way to Western Union to exchange my dollars, and then upon hearing that I was hungry he showed me his favorite shawarma place. We then went to a nice cafe and he told be about his broken hearts. Unfortunately I had to "break" his heart too, but he was very friendly and with good intentions.

That evening at dinner I got to know the program participants for the first time and we continued our introductory conversations about university, hometown, and majors in a cafe across the street. So far I'm being known as the couchsurfing Swede, which I have no problem with. Today we woke up early for a city tour, divided into four student groups seeing the same sights in different order. My group first went to the Royal Automobile Museum, which proved that not only Sweden's king is crazy about cars, but so is Jordan's king. Afterwards we checked out the CIEE center, which was small but organized. The receptionist was adorable and I think all of us want to be her friend after her little welcome speech. We had lunch downtown at Jafra Cafe, a great restaurant where the moment you think that the meal is finished, they come out with three more dishes.

After lunch we saw the Roman Amphitheatre, that seats 6000 people and is still used for national celebrations. The climb up, despite the burning sun and black blouse, was worth it, and I couldn't help but reflect on the ingenuity of the Romans and their once-great empire. We also saw the Museum of Popular Traditions, which had an excellent display of different female tribal dress in the region.

This evening I ended up being the only girl down at the pool, as they were pumping mediocre house music and Celine Dion out of loudspeakers in preparation for tonight's exclusive party. So far I don't find the men any less invasive or offensive than in the Mediterranean. I got just as many stares fully covered on the street as in a bathing suit by a hotel pool. After living in Malta, I'm already relatively used to the added attention.

In the evening a group of us relaxed on the rooftop bar of the hotel, then went down for dinner, and then returned back to the 13th floor for salsa-dancing. I never would've thought I'd be spinning around to live salsa music in Amman! The Iranian football team is also staying at the Landmark Hotel, so I had a pretty substantial audience. We then moved on to the cafe we visited the night before, and had wonderful conversations over watermelon-flavored nargileh. Tomorrow we have orientations in the hotel and then move to our host families. I AM SO NERVOUS! But so excited at the same time. I will be staying with a lovely all-women family living in Dabouk. I will tell you all about my host family in a couple of days. Bye for now!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tales of a city between two worlds

Song of the week: White Coats – Foxes

Notable Mention: Safar Barlik’s EP

Here I am, in a soft and warm double bed in the Landmark Amman hotel, looking out the window to sand-colored buildings and passing cars as I try to recover myself from two sleepless nights of airplane travel and a packed 19 hours exploring as much of Istanbul as possible. It really takes it out of you. Bottom line, though, I AM IN AMMAN!

I’ll relate my eventful journey from the beginning. My first Turkish Air flight, from Stockholm to Istanbul, was slightly delayed, leaving at 1am. Right when I sat down in my seat, the man in the aisle across from me pretended his seatbelt was broken and promptly moved to the empty seat next to me. A tired-looking Turkish woman occupied the other seat next to me. During the flight the man sitting next to me, who writes Turkish novels about UFO sightings, tried to convince me UFOs were real (he even showed me an image of one on his phone – I am still not convinced) and taught me how to ask for coffee in Turkish. About 2/3 into our time in the air, the man next to me and I realized that the old woman next to me was white as a sheet, and when I moved past her to use the restroom she didn’t move. The cabin crew tried to revive the poor woman and moved her over to business class, muttering in Turkish with a mix of worry and panic on their faces. I was just thinking how sad it would be to die on a plane. Fortunately she didn’t die. Apparently her blood sugar was alarmingly low but could be saved with emergency medical assistance upon landing. It definitely made my first Turkish Air flight memorable.

In Istanbul Ataturk Airport it’s impossible to get internet access and in order to use the payphones you need to get a calling card from the post office. Fortunately, some friendly Turkish travel agents let me use their cell phone to call the couchsurfer meeting me at the airport. I stored my luggage in the airport for 15 TKY, and soon enough I was riding on the Sultan Mehmet Bridge across the Bosphorus I had studied so much in my history books, passing from one continent to another ever so nonchalantly. Over on the Asian side, in Üsküdar, an enormous stray dog decided to stalk me, and at breakfast overlooking the glittering blue Bosphorus a dignified-looking cat liked to pat me gently with her paws (I eventually gave her some of my Borek). I already had admirers in Istanbul.

After Breakfast we headed over to the European side again, this time on the incredibly modern and efficient Istanbul subway. We walked through the tourist hub of Taksim and climbed up the recently renovated but centuries old Galata Tower where one of the first successful aviators in history, Hazarfen, flew across the Bosphorus to Üsküdar in self-made wings in 1630. Of course, the sultan saw such talent as a threat to his throne, and promptly exiled this clever man to Algeria. The views were amazing, definitely worth the 12 TKY.

We then took a tram across the Bosphorus to Sultanahmet, the old city, home to such wonders as the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar. I only had time for the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, which were both stunning, especially the Mosque. In the Grand Bazaar (which actually translates to the Closed Bazaar in Turkish) I successfully won a bidding war, getting a silk and cashmere scarf made in Turkey for half the asking price. Negotiating a bargain always makes me feel great!

After that I said good bye to the couchsurfer who showed me around in the morning and took a taxi to Ortaköy, where I explored the neighborhood weekend street bazaar. I had a relaxing afternoon talking with another couchsurfer at a popular student café overlooking the brilliantly blue Bosphorus. Afterwards he showed me his neighborhood. I tried Turkish hamburgers, which were much more tasty than American ones thanks to a perfect selection of spices, and drank Ayran, a popular Turkish beverage consisting of yogurt mixed with cold water. I was invited into the couchsurfer’s apartment where I shared music and stories with him and his cousin. I then returned to Taksim to meet the first couchsurfer where we had Turkish coffee, Sultanahmet meatballs, and Tavuk göğsü, a Turkish dessert pudding made with milk and chicken of all things. Everything was delicious, and I couldn’t even taste the chicken in the pudding, even though the gummy consistency was very strange to me.

The couchsurfer kindly drove me back to the airport, since my body was quickly crashing after so much action and I could barely keep my eyes open. I owe a big thank you to both couchsurfers I met, who were beyond generous with their time and help, and showed me more of Istanbul than I ever thought possible in 19 hours.

Over such a short time, my main impression from Istanbul was the conflicting East-West images that the city’s residents constantly have to deal with. Above all, the tourism industry is projecting false stereotypes of the city by advertising bellydancing and water pipes, when neither of these things is particularly Turkish. I found that the city was a delicious combination of European infrastructure, Eastern traditions, world history and Turkish pride. I already have a list of things I want to see and do when I go back.

On the short flight to Amman I met an Iraqi and a Palestinian who also had connections to Sweden. We had our own, very multilingual row where we smoothly switched between English, Swedish, and Arabic as we discussed, among other things, Spanish football and old Arabic poetry. After a very clumsy landing in Amman and a long wait for luggage, which made a wonderful little pyramid at this one sharp turn on the luggage belt, I said good bye to my new friends and joined the CIEE crew. By now, bubbling excitement had replaced my exhaustion. At the Landmark Hotel the incredibly kind manager gave me a double room overlooking the pool all to myself – an unexpected luxury that I especially appreciate this calm and quiet late morning. In a few days I will tell you of my first impressions of Amman. MY DREAM CAME TRUE! I AM LIVING AND LEARNING IN JORDAN!