Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wadi Numeira med mera...

So much has happened since I last wrote. I really should write more often so that each blog post isn’t a novella. I will start with last weekend and recount the eventul week I have had from the beginning.

Last Saturday I went on the Biblical Jordan day trip that CIEE organized for us. Unfortunately, I was sleep-deprived and nauseous, and therefore didn’t really enjoy the trip. We first went to the Baptism site, which was fascinating for the reality it gave evidence to. The Baptism Site is the only place in Jordan where you can access the Jordan river, which is highly militarized. The very site where Jesus was supposedly baptized is dried up and several meters from where the river is today due to geological shifts and climate change. There was a stark contrast between the Jordanian and Israeli side of the river. Even though the Jordanian side is officially accepted as the site of the Baptism, the Israeli side is much more built-up, with white marble buildings and smooth steps leading straight into the water, while the Jordanian side only has a small church built in 2003 and a rickety wooden structure leading down to the muddy banks of the polluted Jordan River. While the Israeli side was active with people getting baptized and tour groups arriving, we stood silent along the wooden fence on the Jordanian side, as a religious tour group sang Christian psalms behind us. There were only around 5-10 meters between Jordan and Israel, but if anyone had tried to walk across, the military would have had to get involved. It’s the reality of living in a militarized region.

After the Baptism site we went to Mount Nebo, which had views and mosaics that were beautiful but not in competition with greater sights I have seen elsewhere in Jordan. On our way to lunch in Madaba we stopped at a huge tourist trap selling mosaics that benefit the handicapped community in Jordan. After lunch, which was not nearly as good as other food I’ve had here in Jordan, I grabbed a bus home alone while the other students continued onto Mukawir.

This past week I started taking salsa classes in Jordan! It is only 40 JOD for 8 classes, with 4 complimentary classes on Thursdays, through Out&About Jordan who also organizes a weekly book club and monthly hiking trips. The salsa teacher is Colombian and the group is small but intimate. I have already improved my salsa, bachata, and merengue skills. This will be the 6th country I have taken salsa lessons in (the others are Sweden, Malta, Ecuador, Israel, and the US).

On Monday night I made Swedish meatballs for my family, accompanied by boiled potatoes, brunsås with freshly ground nutmeg, and red currants as a replacement to lingonberries. The meal didn't taste exactly like it does back at home in Sweden, bt it tasted good and I was happy to provide some food for my host family who has been feeding me so richly ever since I arrived. On Tuesday I went straight from work to watch the Jordan vs. Oman world cup qualifier, where Oman won 2-1 thanks to a very biased goalie, who kept disqualifying Jordan’s goals. Most of the game didn’t start picking up until the last 15 minutes, but those last 15 minutes were as dramatic as football can get. Another notable world cup qualifying game of that day was when Sweden made history by scoring 4 goals against Germany in the matter of half an hour, ending with a shocking tied score of 4-4. Sweden is back on the international football scene!

While I watched the game, a friend from work called me about a modeling opportunity she had to back out of last minute, to ask if I wanted to take her place as model. That is how I found myself spending an evening at a workshop on light intensity in portrait photography at Jordan Photography Society, having some of Jordan’s most famous photographers flash their cameras at me.

The next day some friends I made at the photography workshop invited me to spend the afternoon with them. I ended up being driven to the house of one of Jordan’s most famous artists by the royal portrait photographer, who has traveled around the world with the Jordanian royal family. The house was located in the Christian community of Fuheis where major drama had just gone down. Supposedly a girl in the community and a Circassian Muslim boy had fallen in love. She decided to convert to Islam to be with him, so her family then said that the Circassian boy had “kidnapped” her in order to protect her honor. Her brothers and cousins proceeded to burn the boy’s car and then dumped it in the round-about in central Fuheis as a warning. When we drove around the round-about the blackened car stood there as if it were some sort of modern art sculpture, a testament to this contemporary Jordanian version of Romeo & Juliet. At the time a bunch of boys were gathering to get ready for the big fight. By the time we left the artist’s house the street was blocked off as the fighting had started, and we had to make a huge detour, which led us to another burning car upon entering Amman! My Jordanian friends’ reaction of course was “Ahlan wa sahlan ale alUrdun!” (Welcome to Jordan!)

The artist’s house was really cool, every surface covered in the most incredible paintings that had a mix of tangible texture and spiritual exploration that was hypnotizing. I by accident stepped on one of the paintings, since they were even scattered all over the floor, but the artist didn’t seem to mind. His greeting to me (translated by the photographer because of the artist’s lack of English) was “Your smile is like oxygen to me, because your spirit is so pure.” The smiling artist had a long thin beard and shoulder-length grey hair, and walked around his cluttered and eclectic house barefoot because “gravity wants our feet to make love to the earth”. You have to love a person who expresses himself so poetically. He loves music, of which he has thousands of pirated tracks (the photographer told me the artist was a “thief of the internet”), and his three daughters are everything to him. He has seen the documentary Baraka over 100 times, and of course, he had to show Baraka to me, so we proceeded to watch its stunning cinematography of magnificent places and cultures around the world while sipping Nescafe on his big brown couch as the sun set outside over the dry landscape sloping down to the Dead Sea. The room was surrounded by over 30 speakers placed here and there between enigmatic paintings, such as one hiding 76 faces in a purplish-blue landscape, or a painting in progress of Isis with a deep black third eye that was supposed to be so intense that if you focused on it, you would immediately fall asleep.

On Thursday I utilized even more connections that I got through the modeling at Jordan Photography Society. One of the photographers at the workshop was a professional model photographer and his modeling agency, Modelicious, had auditions on Thursday. Since he was already putting in a good word for me, said I had potential, and modeling jobs pay really well here, I thought I would give it a shot. After my internship, where we have got the ball rolling on faith-based toolkits for Muslim communities (more on those later), my friend picked me up and we drove down to the modeling agency in the neighborhood of Arjan. There I waited for my turn on a big couch with a few Jordanian girls and quite a few more Jordanian men who were hoping to get their big start as models. After being weighed, measured, and interviewed it was time for the photo shoot, and my photographer friend introduced me to some typical model poses. I never thought I would find myself standing in high heels and skinny jeans at a photo shoot while the call to prayer echoed between the limestone buildings outside.

After that experience I met up with some friends at 7 Barrels (one of the few places in Amman that offers Leffe, my favorite beer). When the reservation for our table ran out we moved on to Books@Cafe, where I now know two of the bartenders. Ironically, Modelicious, the modeling agency I auditioned for, was positioned outside the bar looking for willing participants in the Amman Street Style Competition on Instagram in relation to the upcoming Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. They greeted me with kisses on the cheek and entered me into the competition (please like my photo if you have instagram!). Suddenly I’m posing in front of Mercedes Benz cars with photographers flocking around me, flashes blinding me in the warm Middle Eastern night, followed by an interview with Jordanian public radio. It was fun feeling like a celebrity for a while, and hopefully through working with the modeling agency I’ll have more cool experiences like this!

I stayed the night at a friend’s place since we were all going on the same trip early the next morning. The trip, organized by a student at Princess Sumaya University of Technology, only cost 35 JOD and included transportation, croissants and juice for breakfast, a 5-hour hike up the geologically stunning but sadly littered Wadi Numeira, followed by horseback riding and volley ball at a farm in Madaba, and finally a DJ party. It was such a difference going on a group trip with Jordanians rather than with all Americans, mainly because the party didn’t stop. From when the bus left Amman at 8am to when the bus arrived back at midnight, the music did not stop and everyone was constantly dancing and singing in the bus. Along the way we had games, such as a tug of war, a talent show and bingo with fantastic prizes. Jordanians definitely know how to have a good time! I will never forget this trip and the friends I made. It is after this weekend especially that I want to extend my trip in Jordan. I ONLY HAVE TWO MONTHS LEFT! I won’t think about that though, it makes me so upset.

Anyway, now I have to write a 10-page essay on inclusions and exclusions in the Jordanian national narrative, a blog post on agricultural cooperation between Jordan and Israel, an abstract and outline for my case study on ecological parks in Jordan, study for an Arabic test and presentation, and finish up my extended work on an inventory of all climate change initiatives in the USA. However, next week I have my week-long break for Eid Al-Adha, and my wonderful mother will be visiting. We have an exciting week planned couchsurfing in Jerusalem, swimming in the Red Sea in Eilat, staying at a Bedouin camp in Petra, lounging for a day at one of the spas lining the coast of the Dead Sea, and exploring Amman off the beaten track. The weekend after that I have plans to attend a Jordanian wedding, which is really exciting! Thank you for reading and until next time!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

سنة حلوة يا جميل

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother”
- Gibran Khalil Gibran

The quote above is the famous Lebanese-American poet’s version of “carpe diem”, or the more contemporary “YOLO”, in my view, and therefore expresses my life philosophy. Here in Jordan I’m putting an emphasis on experience rather than studying, and that requires much more faith to make a reality. But I love it, and my busy social life and many friends here after only one month give proof of the benefits of such faith.


I’ve always felt like my 20’s will be the best decade of my life, when I really become myself and travel the world. And here I am, 20 years old AND already traveling the world. I had such a wonderful birthday thanks to my wonderful new friends, although it didn’t come without stress (once again, all I needed was a little more faith and a little less doubt).

On Tuesday I overslept so that I had 10 minutes to get ready, which is just a bad way to start the day. Then the whole day I started getting anxious about my pending birthday, mostly about it going unnoticed (which is ridiculous, since I have the most amazing friends all over the world). I managed to get through three classes of Arabic though, especially since one of those classes consisted of eating at an amazing Yemeni restaurant across from the north gate of the university. Yemeni food is the best!

In the afternoon CIEE had arranged a Girl’s Culture Day, with belly dancing lessons and henna tattoos. I didn’t stop belly dancing until my abdominal muscles were in knots, but it was so much fun! However, I still love salsa more and may be going salsa dancing this coming Monday. The henna was cool and hopefully it stays for a while!

I had a quiet evening of watching Battle of Algiers (I love my homework here!) and making plans for a last-minute birthday party (that fell apart the following day). My host sister ran in and wished me happy birthday after midnight, which quickly developed into an intense conversation about religion. At 1am a friend in the States called me (THANK YOU!) and I skyped with my amazing sister and dad.

On the day of my birthday I treated myself to a pedicure at the Aspire Ladies Gym (6 JOD) which was much needed! For lunch I treated myself again, having flat bread with lebneh and honey and a banana chocolate smoothie with a good friend. After classes and work I went to meet my peer tutor, and ended up being an English tutor for her friend, who is majoring in English. She was studying the play “Helda Gabler” by Henrik Ibsen, and I don’t think we really resolved the issue of him being Norwegian, and therefore the names of the characters and some of the words being Norwegian. They just couldn’t understand why the English dictionaries on their phones couldn’t translate the word “stipendiat”, or why the O had two dots above it in one of the names. Which reminds me of this video you should check out about the three extra letters in the Nordic alphabet.

After exhausting English lessons and my last-minute birthday party plans falling apart, I was a bit of a stressed-out mess, but it all turned out amazingly thanks to my beautiful friends. Nine of us went to buy a white chocolate and strawberry cake at Rawan Cake, the best cake shop in Jordan, and falafel sandwiches from Al Quds, the best falafel place in town. We then had a party at Rainbow Terrace, just an extension of public Rainbow Street with a view over old Amman. My friends in Rainbow band provided live music and a friendly old man made us Turkish coffee and sweet tea on the spot from his little cart. After eating cake like its mansaf (aka right out of the box with forks) and singing an acoustic version of Ya Habibi Ya Nour El Ayn, the Jordanian guys and I moved on to La Calle, a bar with a tremendous view of Amman from its third floor. There I randomly met my coworker from FoEME, and the person she was with knew the Jordanian I was with. Amman is a small place! We later moved on to Books@Cafe, where I know the bartender. It was a lot of fun, and on the way home we grabbed shawarma from the best place in the city, Reem. I came home much later than I should have, but it was my birthday, so I afforded myself the luxury of an extended curfew.

On Thursday I had a test and skit in the morning, but it went great. I then had work, where the whole office threw me a surprise birthday party, complete with a chocolate cake from Rawan Cake, Jordanian sweets, and soda. Afterwards they drove me all the way back home, an hour and a half earlier than I usually go home. I have the best internship in the world!

In the evening I went to see the play “Rest Upon the Wind” based on the life of Khalil Gibran. It was a beautiful artistic depiction of this influential man; focusing on his family, his lovers, and the places he inhabited that shaped his incredible poetry. Above all, it focused on the process of writing his most famous work, “The Prophet”. However, the lack of chronological order and the lack of direct quotes from his writing left me wanting more. In the intermission I befriended two human rights journalists from Arab El Yom newspaper, and one of them drew a caricature of an old man for me. They were so funny!

Last night I crashed after way too much action the past days, but after 9 hours of sleep I was back to being the same busy me. I had time to clean my room, write a (2-page) essay on the future of the Muslim Brotherhood, go to Carrefour at City Mall and buy groceries, make Swedish meatballs (which kind of failed), and finally go downtown with friends to study at Wild Jordan Café. Wild Jordan, part of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, not only organizes nature trips around Jordan (check out my trip to Wadi Mujib) but also has a café serving organic and healthy nosh overlooking a gorgeous view over downtown Amman and across to the Roman ruins of the citadel. Everything you buy there benefits the communities they work in, such as the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve and the Dana Biosphere Reserve. I had the Whinnie the Pooh smoothie, which was vanilla ice cream, orange juice, and honey. Delicious and adorable!

At Wild Jordan I met up with the bartender I know at Books@Cafe, and we went to visit his friend in Weibdeh. We spent the remainder of the afternoon listening to classic rock and discussing everything from cooking to religion. We later on got delicious flat bread pizzas from a Lebanese place down the road, and more intense conversations about religion (the bartender’s friend was a Palestinian Muslim-turned-atheist) caused me to lose a free ticket to an Arabic hip-hop concert in Rainbow Theater. Instead, I went down to the beloved Jafra, where I had dinner with my friend and a group of Palestinians and Maltese that she was showing around Jordan. It was so nice to talk about Malta again! I miss that little island. It’s a part of me now. After dinner I smoked shisha with some other CIEE students I ran into at Jafra, and we had an interesting conversation about why the EU got the Nobel Peace Prize this year. We all agreed that the Nobel Prize committee was aiming for a European Union revival, since the prize comes right as everyone is questioning the very foundation and sustainability of the Union.

My next post will tell you about my trip yesterday to Biblical spots in Jordan, and a collection of observations about religion that I have collected so far during my time here, both from my own experiences and from conversations with Jordanians and other study abroad students.

Monday, October 8, 2012

حياتي هو مجنون

I love my life in Jordan! Back in the US I made the statement that I feel the most myself when I am in a foreign country, but being here in Jordan makes me realize that it’s more than that – it brings out the best in me. My motto here is carpe diem (I prefer to avoid the term YOLO but nafs alshay). Anyway I should get around to telling you about all the MAJNOON (Arabic for crazy) things I have been up to.

I will start with Wednesday night. After class I met up with my peer tutor and her friend who is studying Spanish, and we had a trilingual conversation in Spanish, Arabic, and English! I informally interviewed them about wearing the hijab as part of an assignment for a class and their answers were curiously different. One of them said that her mother made her wear the hijab but it doesn’t restrict her freedom. The other girl said that wearing it was her own choice but that it did restrict her freedom regarding future career choices, however she did imply that her family foremost restricted that particular freedom.

I then met up with a friend and våldgästade (Swedish word that directly translates to violent visiting – basically turning up uninvited) his house. His host mother is a powerful and charismatic woman who greeted me by kissing me on both cheeks. The grape leaves we had were delicious! My friend and I then proceeded down to Rainbow Theater, one of Amman’s oldest cinemas that was recently refurbished by a Jordanian film buff, to see the German movie ”Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland” as part of the 24th European Film Festival in Jordan. The movie, about a three-generation Turkish family residing in Germany trying to settle their issue of national identity, was very funny and sweet but could have done without all the slow-motion scenes towards the end. After the movie I had a skype meeting with my boss in the USA, utilizing the wi-fi at Books@Cafe, a trendy café with a huge terrace on top of a charming little bookstore. I had a pleasant conversation with the Bosnian bartender, who helped me practice my colloquial Arabic.

On Thursday, I went to the orphanage of the children who took part in the ecological camp this weekend in order to see where and how we could implement grey water systems, solar power, and rainwater catchment facilities around the building. The orphanage is making this project a priority not just because of the environmental component but because rising energy and water costs put a dent in their budget. Our next step is to help some of the children from the orphanage give presentations on what they learned at the eco-park at other schools. I’m so excited to work on a cause that I find so important!

On Friday morning I met up with my friend to take a bus to Irbid, where we would meet the man I met on the bus to Irbid last week. The tranquil Friday morning gave no suggestion of the huge Muslim Brotherhood-arranged protests that were brewing downtown. In Irbid our friend, Jafar, and his friend, Mohamed, picked us up and took us to News Cafe, a popular restaurant in downtown Irbid. Breakfast was a feast, and after filling ourselves to the brim, we headed off to yet another Greco-Roman Decapolis city: Umm Qais.

Umm Qais is entirely made out of volcanic basalt rock, with sweeping views of the Golan Heights and Lake Tiberias/Sea of Galilee. After exploring the ancient ruins and checking out the museum, we were hungry again. Some children told us about a restaurant down the road so we decided to go on a quest for it. Those children did not know what they were talking about, because we never found the restaurant. I did end up in North Shuneh again though, where we nearly went to hot springs but due to the lack of swimsuits we have to leave that adventure for another weekend. Eventually we drove back to Irbid and had an enormous and amazing feast of meat, bread, hummus, and more at Al Manqal Chicken Tikka.

On Saturday I had another busy day outside Amman. As part of my birthday celebrations, and together with another birthday girl, twelve of us shared cabs to a vineyard near the Syrian border. The cab driver, Bissam, is a go-to driver for CIEE who has an obsession with Enrique Iglesias. We had a lot of fun singing to “I Like It” and “I’m Sorry”, and he even bought us each a cup of coffee on the way! At the vineyard we ended up in frustrating negotiations with the taxi drivers over the RT price but eventually settled on 15 JOD per person. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the largest vineyard in the Middle East, which has 46 different varieties of wines and a pool fed by underground hot springs from which you can glance over o Syria. For 25 JOD per person you can try at least six different wines (which were over all very distinct in flavor, a mix of fruits and berries and smoky volcanic minerals), a full meal of grilled meats with bread and hummus, a tour by the owner of the vineyard, and as much lounging in the pool as you can handle. It was a day well spent in my opinion.

That evening when we got back to Amman I didn’t go back to my house but instead went straight to a party for the couchsurfer community of Jordan, only briefly stopping at a friend’s house to pick up his very chilled-out chameleon. Yes, I have now officially partied with a chameleon! The CS event, called One World Dish Night, was held on the rooftop terrace of the recently opened Josian Café. Each person attending brought a dish from their native country and could participate in a talent show with songs from their country. My friend had brought enough grape leaves for me not to have to bring anything and I had a great time eating delicious home-made international food and mingling with other expatriates. My contribution to the talent show was a shy rendition of “Vem kan segla”. At the end I got to burn off all that amazing food with a round of zumba and then dancing to Arabic music.

Yesterday I had classes in the morning, then work where we had a surprise birthday party for my colleague. Any day at work is a million times better when there is cake. When I got home I built a fort in the living room with my 5-year old host nephew. In the evening I went with a couple of friends to City Mall to buy an internet USB stick, which is why I can publish this blog post now (yay!), and then a couple of Jordanian friends picked us up and took us to the bar 7 Barrels, where we watched El Clasico, the classic game between Real Madrid and Barcelona that happens twice a year in the Spanish League. It was a good game, ending 2-2. If only Barca had cinched that third goal! I had a lot of fun though. Today my morning class is cancelled so I’m sleeping in for the first time in a month, having fresh fruit and tea in bed while reading about human rights in Islam. Later I will have brunch with a friend at Waffle House on Rainbow Street. Next weekend I go on a trip around “Biblical” Jordan on Saturday. I’m looking forward to telling you all about it!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eco Park Weekend

*This is my 25th post and I am 25 views away from 1000 views. Blogging milestones!*

On Thursday morning, September 27, a group of 30 boys from Mabarrat Um Al Hussein in Marka descended on Sharhabil Bin Hassneh Eco-Park for a three-day ecological camp. The students ranged from 12 to 17 years old and were either orphaned or had been abandoned by their families. Despite that they were some of the happiest, most enthusiastic and well-behaved children I have met.

I was nervous before leaving on the trip because I had received very vague instructions on what the weekend would be like and how to get to the eco-park, which I had to find on my own because I had classes in the morning that I could not miss. After my two classes and running some errands I rushed home to pack and quickly eat, and was soon in a taxi cab on my way to the bus station. Of course the cab driver took a detour to pick up his friend and fill up on gas, but eventually I arrived and got treated to a bus ticket by a friendly Jordanian man who sells medical supplies in Jeddah but had just returned from a holiday in Sharm el-Sheikh. Once I got to Irbid, the second largest city in Jordan but by far much smaller than Amman, I waited in a couple of queues and finally got a bus to the next bus station in Irbid, and finally a bus to North Shuneh, the nearest town to the eco-park. On the bus to North Shuneh I sat next to a very friendly female child psychologist who worked with Syrian refugees.

Once I arrived in the small merchant town of North Shuneh, near the Syrian border, I was picked up by my internship supervisor and one of the employees at the eco-park, and we purchased a bunch of fruit for the children. We soon stopped again to buy trees at a plantation. The Ghur, as the Lower Jordan River Valley is called locally, is verdant, humid, and especially breathtaking as the sun is setting. At the plantation I sat down with a couple of local women who offered me coca cola and chocholate biscuits. People are so friendly in Jordan!

Once I got to the eco-park I had time to relax after my long journey while the children were still out on an excursion exploring the nearby dam. Eventually they descended on the camp and quickly surrounded me and the only other female, my supervisor Emily. After dinner, which was prepared by a local family, we sang and danced with the children. Later on the interior minister of Jordan stopped by with 30 people for a briefing on issues facing Jordan right now and I had a very interesting conversation about the culture of corruption with men who probably have the power to do something about it in Jordan.

On Friday morning breakfast was served at 8, followed by a workshop on grey water systems. After a PowerPoint presentation on the subject the students were divided into two groups and shown the water purifier that purifies the dam water into drinking water at the Eco-Park, as well as the waste water system at the outdoor sink by the visitor’s center. The students then practiced making their own grey water system using tanks, tubes, and other tools provided by FoEME.

After a short break the students started a workshop on composting, in which I myself presented (although most of what I said had to be translated due to my lack of colloquial Arabic skills). The children learned to compost their leftover food throughout the weekend. Lunch was followed by a long break, in which I befriended a local family that had come for a picnic in the park. They were so generous, not only inviting me to their home but giving me all the snacks and drinks they had and a little medallion to protect me from jealousy. 200 trees where then delivered to the Eco-Park and all the children and staff helped to plant them at various locations around the park. Before dinner the children got to see a small demonstration of the Eco-Park’s solar panel as a preview of the solar power workshop to be held the next day. For dinner we had a little frying party, and I have to say that homemade French fries are so much better than the ones at restaurants! In the evening the boys showed off their dabke skills and tried to teach me Arabic songs.

On Saturday, the last day of program, the students were taught about solar power. Following the PowerPoint presentation on the subject the students went outside to see demonstrations of a radio being powered by the solar panel and a teapot cooking on a solar cooker. The students were also shown the solar water heaters behind the bathrooms at the Eco-Park. After free time and lunch the students went back on the bus and returned to the Mabarrat much more conscious about their environment than when they left. We stayed on to plant some more trees, and I got back to Amman by early evening. The evening was spent doing laundry, cleaning my room, doing my homework, and then meeting a couchsurfer in Abdoun, where we got caught in the rain (yes it does rain in the Middle East!!!) at Vis a Vis, one of the modern cafés in Amman’s wealthier neighborhoods where you go to see and be seen.

Next weekend I’ve already made plans to visit Umm Qais, an ancient Greco-Roman city with sweeping views of the Sea of Galilee, with the man I met on the bus going to Irbid. My camera was broken this weekend but I plan to get it fixed in time to have more and even better pictures from this coming weekend. Yalla bye!