me in the ME

the semester of fun, sun, and Arabic

Archive for the tag “Jordan”

Continent-hopping and other daily activities.

Even though the program has officially ended and I’ve left Jordan- depending on who you talk to, I’m still in the Middle East since I’ve country-hopped to Turkey! I’m staying with a friend of mine from Tufts and seeing the sights in Istanbul before finally setting of for home. I find Turkey to be really fascinating because while included in Wikipedia’s “Traditional definition of the Middle East”, the country, and literally this city, bridges Europe and Asia. Suitably then, it is also included in Wiki’s list of recognized European states. If we want to be technical (which we do), I continent hop every day when I cross the Bosphorus, simply going from one part of the city to the other.

From what I’ve seen though, the Asian (read- majority) part of Turkey isn’t acknowledged so much/at all. I flew in on a 2 hour flight on Turkish Air in which I was served a hot breakfast- I can see why they won the Best Airline in Europe award for 2011. Seriously, it’s rare to even get good drink service on a two hour flight, let alone a full meal. Driving around the city, I see signs telling me that Istanbul is the 2012 European Capital of Sport. Today, I saw the heaviest chandelier “in all of Europe”.

I never learned that Turkey was European in any of my classes, ever. So trying not to offend anyone, I’ve been catching myself a lot from saying something like, “Turkey and the rest of the Middle East.” That’s funny too though, since I never really considered it a part fo the Middle East, just like Morocco isn’t really the Middle East. Both are included on Middle East map quizzes, but then again those also include Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc… which is going much farther out of the Middle East than I generally define it. So it all depends on whose definition you use. Apparently, I’m in Europe. Who’da thunk it. Read more…


It Happens- the Art of Getting Ripped Off

I put off buying things here for a long time and now I’m scrambling to get things before I leave on Friday morning. It has somehow come to that time without even realizing it. As I buy gifts though, I start to remember something- I’m really bad at haggling. Like really bad. When I was in China, most of the time I had one of my guy friends do my haggling for me .Even though everything was so cheap there, it’s likewise so necessary to haggle to get closer to a real price. I have a bad tendency to just accept the price given as the price to be paid because haggling just isn’t a thing in the States! For sure though, I’m better off here because the only Chinese I knew was “Hi.”, “How are you?”, and “Too expensive!” In theory then, I should be able to get a better deal.

What actually happens is that a lot of the time I don’t end up buying anything. I recognize that 20JD is far too much for a scarf, no matter that it’s being sold at a more upscale souq or that it’s beautiful. No way am I going to pay that. So I just sigh sadly and move on. Most of the time shopkeepers don’t get the hint that I would pay something a bit less for it. Maybe I’m too subtle?

Other times, when I do try to haggle, I don’t go nearly low enough. I get that as a foreigner you feel free to jack prices way up, but man I didn’t know how much. A lot of the time I won’t know how much something is worth but I won’t pay 6JD for earrings when a couple stalls down earrings are only 1JD. I don’t want to say a price so low as to offend someone but goodness! Thinking back now to China, I really don’t know if I did get any good prices. In one specific instance I just needed to have this jade horse sculpture. It was supposed to be a gift for my uncles (sorry guys!) but in the end I kept it because I loved it so much. I went around the shop and tried haggling with the woman on two different occasions. Fairly certain she didn’t recognize me the second time around since she gave a completely different price- different from what we had haggled down to and I had found unacceptable and different from what she had originally quoted me. I think it might have actually been higher. So we went at it again. I’m not sure what we originally settled on but it probably wasn’t a fair price. Maybe a fair foreigner price, but that’s a big maybe. I was a 15-year old romping around the Great Wall with maybe 100 other People-to-People ambassadors. I’m sure we were a gold mine.

And you know what? Sometimes I don’t mind being that goldmine. Their standard of living is so much lower than mine so even if I’m a poor college student in the U.S., my situation is far better than theirs. My heart goes out to the elderly shopkeepers because they look like they really need the money and not as if they’re just trying to rip me off since I’m a foreigner. If people will pay a certain price, I don’t blame shopkeepers for trying to charge it because their situation is so much more desperate than mine. So sometimes, I pay up and don’t give too much of a fuss.

When I live in a place though, it gets old after a while. If I need to catch a taxi back from City Mall or Rainbow Street, it’s a consistent problem that taxi drivers may try to charge me 5JD for a 1JD cab ride, or turn off the meter once we’ve left the immediate area, or demand more than what is owed. My limited Arabic is certainly better than no Arabic at all. I have no idea how people who don’t know Arabic get around without getting ripped off.

After I took a pony ride at Petra, the owner asked for double the price because he had run as well. I felt really proud of myself and invigorated because I was able to defend myself in Arabic and won the argument. But I felt bad when I thought about it afterward because his situation isn’t great, having to live off of tourists and being outside all day. It’s certainly not very stimulating but it brings the money home. That’s one of the big things I took away from Petra- there’s a lot of desperate need there.

As we were exploring Petra, a shopkeeper called out, “Come, and have a cold drink! Eat!” Per usual, we continued on walking, trained to ignore anyone that calls out to us, whether they be legitimate or wolf whistles. But then he added, “This is why you’re here- to help the local people.” That statement really took me aback and I remember saying to myself, “No, I’m here to see PETRA.” Which is the truth. My one and only goal in coming to Petra was to see the ruins and be in awe. Helping out the local community at the time with my business? That’s an added bonus, but definitely not the reason I came.

So in the next few days, I’ll be buying more gifts. It’ll be interesting, trying to balance getting a fair price without robbing people blind. I doubt I’ll get any good deals and I’ve accepted that because things are still cheaper here than at home. But we’ll see how it goes.

Signs of Summer

My schedule and sense of time is always a little off in Jordan. Seven hours ahead of EST, except when Daylight Savings Time started about a month later here and we were only six, my daily schedule varied from waking up between 7 and 11 in the morning. The exact time of the first call to prayer changes daily, and is currently around 4am while at the beginning of the semester, it was closer to 6am. At times, it has been the first thing I heard after I woke up and at others, the last thing I heard before I went to bed. Classes are from Sunday through Wednesday and I’m always confused as to what day it actually is. Days of the week in Arabic are essentially numbered, i.e. day one, day two, etc. Should be easier to remember that way, right? Nope, after 3 years of Arabic I still have to count from youm alahad (Sunday) to figure out what the equivalent day is in English. And don’t even ask me what day of the month it is. I got myself a one-a-day calendar to try to remember but let’s be serious- I never know in America what day it is either.

It doesn’t help that Middlebury starts and ends so much later than all other programs. So even before I came to Jordan, I was already in the habit of lazy days back to back where I would never have to check the date. It’s unreal that college graduation pictures are getting posted when I’m still in classes. Last day tomorrow though, whoo! Even though I’m still in “school” mode, I can already tell the seasons are changing. Just ignore the fact that we had a “chilly” day yesterday- no sun, a light breeze, and a few raindrops! In general though, the weather is warmer, classes are winding down, and the foreigners are swarming into town.

Read more…

Let’s Talk About School

Finals are looming around the corner. Or at least, they should be. I should be concerned about them, I should be studying and processing all that I’ve learned in class for the past few months. But as I see friends’ posts on Facebook about cramming for finals, turning in papers with minutes to spare, the horrid people who make noise in the library HOW DARE THEY OMG!-That all seems like a different world. It doesn’t just have to do with the fact that my program started nearly a month after spring semester in the US. The entire culture and atmosphere of coursework is different here than in America.

I am of course, studying abroad. However, I was blissfully unaware that study abroad is generally considered as a time to have fun, learn some culture while partying a lot, travel, and generally not take studies very seriously. Ok, this isn’t true for everywhere, but now you’re at least more informed than I was. Seriously.

This wouldn’t be quite like a bucket of cold water had been thrown over me if I hadn’t chosen to go abroad with Middlebury purely for academic reasons. CIEE had a better, more complete website, has been around longer, talked about all kinds of clubs and activities, offers more class options and had really nice staff. But I chose Middlebury to learn. So I did have some, in my mind not too high, expectations. Based on Middlebury’s reputation as being the very best at teaching languages, I didn’t think it would be a problem. Read more…

P is for puppies…ponies…err Petra!

One thing that I’d really been looking forward to ever since I came to Jordan was visiting Petra. It has all those things I love: ruins, churches, history, camels… But we had to wait to visit until we got the iqama, our residency permit, otherwise we would have to pay 50 JD instead of just 1 JD. A completely justifiable reason… until we ended up not getting the iqama. It’s just one of those things that you have to let roll off your back. If you think bureaucracy is bad in the United States, don’t even think about trying to get things done here. Sometimes things happen and sometime they don’t. Sometimes entirely different things get done instead.

Piece of advice: if you plan on studying abroad in Jordan and traveling while you’re here, buy a multi-entry visa before you come. You can only get a single-entry visa good for one month at the border when you arrive (which is beyond easy), so if you decide to leave and re-enter the country you have to buy a new visa. This is true even if you go to the police station and extend your visa. If you don’t register with the police before a month is over, you’ll get fined (about 1.5 JD) for each day that you’re over. There are of course several exceptions. I’ve heard varying details regarding entering/exiting at Aqaba or to the West Bank by way of the King Hussein bridge… It’s a complicated mess and things don’t stay consistent. So be forewarned: you may wait months and not get your iqama. Better to be safe than sorry. This was also the reason we got a flight to Jordan that could be changed. That extra money paid was useful when Middlebury changed the program dates and didn’t tell anyone.

We only learned that we wouldn’t be getting the iqama about a week before we left on our trip to Petra and Wadi Rum, but thankfully we didn’t end up having to pay 50 JD each to enter Petra. I have no idea how that went down. There may have been some super secret discussion/agreement going on with the people manning the gate. You’d be surprised as to how far you can get by speaking Arabic/having Jordanians with you.

Fact: Any place with camels is an awesome place.

Read more…

HA, plans.

At the end of orientation back in mid-February, the administration had us each write down a goal for our semester. Since we only have a month left in the program, today we got back what we had written. The thinking was that if we hadn’t already achieved our goal, then we could focus the rest of our time on trying to before we left. To be honest, I’m always really bad at thinking of anything to write down, and even worse at remembering what I actually wrote. The second part isn’t so bad though since you’re not supposed to consciously think of what you wrote. But for once, I had something that I did want to say and definitely achieve.

I wrote: اريد ان اتكلم مع اسرتي اكثر وخاصة بالعامية.

Direct translation- I want to talk with my (Jordanian) family more, especially in dialect.

This is more than a little funny for several reasons.

The first is that this was written in such an incredibly fushaa way. It’s the first real, concrete testament I’ve seen of how much my Arabic has changed. Just reading this to myself made me giggle a little. No matter how much I’ve resisted it, aamiya has snuck into my life and I’ve begun to accept some of it.

The second, more serious reason is that I’m no longer with my Jordanian host family. Read more…

Sobering Facts- Domestic Workers in Jordan

I remember when we studied slavery in my U.S. history classes, everyone would always say that of course, they would have been abolitionists, don’t be silly! At the very least, they would never have owned slaves and would have looked down upon the practice. That’s a wonderful, idealistic view of humanity. It wasn’t until AP U.S. History that I remember anyone ever saying that, you know, if you were raised with slavery and it was a part of your everyday life, you might not have been against slavery. That your family might have owned slaves and since it was what you had always known, you would have been ok with the practice or even supported it. And heaven forbid someone should try to take away your right to own a slave!

That’s what I felt like here a lot of the time. My former host family has a servant. “Servant” is a polite word used to describe a practice that is more like slavery. Read more…

Meeting Royalty! Oh and Dana…

This past weekend the program took us to Dana Biosphere Reserve, a couple hours outside Amman. Naturally, I was wary about this trip, given that it involved camping. In a tent. Outside. Something I haven’t done in say, about 7 years. And then there was the issue of a 5 hour hike on the second day…

Thankfully I was wrong. It was AWESOME.

Nature and I don’t get along and I still thought it was incredible which is telling. We arrived, and immediately started climbing rocks and hiking around. A group of us saw a cave entrance and suddenly it was LAAZIM that we go find it.

“I’m easy to get to really! Don’t you want to come and explore?”

But we kept on going up and up and up… all the way to the top of the mountain. By then it was getting dark, so we hightailed it back down the mountain, thinking we would get dinner soon. HA. Instead the campsite director was seething because some other people had found the cave and it was way forbidden. There may have been some demanding we return to Amman straight away. Read more…

Don’t Read This If…

Don’t read this if you want to continue to believe Jordan is a blossoming desert flower, sunshine and happiness all the time. This post is not sugarcoated. It’s me, being (brutally) honest about life, not just the good parts that make people want to live vicariously through me. Feel free to skip over it, because it’s not so happy or about amazing things I’ve done in the past week. And while I do have a pretty rockin’ time most of the time, sometimes…

Sometimes, Jordan really sucks.

It’s easy to not think about day-to-day life, and just go with the flow. I’ve got my routine down now. I know when I have to leave to get to class, I recognize a couple different ways from my house to the university, and my lunch plans don’t really change much ever. I feel more as if I’m living in Amman now, instead of just visiting. Which is really great! But then you also start seeing the underlying problems and inequalities present within the society. And yea, it’s usually pretty easy to enjoy things and have an amazing time doing things that simply aren’t possible in America. But then sometimes, I start to actually think about things here- and it just makes me sad and frustrated.

Like how when we play soccer with kids in the street, it’s more accurate to say we play soccer with boys in the street because it isn’t appropriate for girls. Or how at the soccer game we went to a couple weeks ago, we were the only women there and we had to leave for our own safety before the end of the match. We’ve been told that if women want to watch the game, they do so at home, on TV.

Or the story from some girls in the program about how their host family told them their laughter, outside, at 7pm, wasn’t appropriate because they’re girls. The neighbors wouldn’t be ok with it.

And while I personally don’t experience sexual harassment on a day-to-day basis, a lot of the girls in the program, and Jordanian women as well, do have to deal with it every single day. The University of Jordan is located in the “Red Light District” of Amman, where any woman, especially a Westerner, can and will be assumed a prostitute. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, there will still always be something. One of the girls in the program summed it up pretty well when she did a guest blog here. It can range from honking, cars matching your pace, being followed on foot, to actually being groped. The stories I hear every two weeks when we have meetings in English are even worse and I am horrified each and every time because I honestly live a sheltered life in Jordan. I’m lucky in that my homestay is in a quiet neighborhood and most of my commute is by cab. My experience by far is not everyone’s though.

I never know if I can trust the men I meet or talk to. Because I’m a woman, from the U.S., who isn’t fluent in Arabic, who is still new in Amman, etc etc etc… For a whole host of reasons, I feel boxed in. And while I’m sure some of the people are innocent in their intentions, you never know. Because there are creeps out there, sadly quite a few, who do try to take advantage.

Or closest to home, the issue of domestic servants and their “rights” in Jordan. And by closest to home, I mean actually in my homestay, where there is a servant. Her life, to be completely honest and uncensored, sucks. And it’s just too hard to stay positive when someone you live with starts saying that death is better than life. I’ve been assured that people often say that here because their lives are really, truly difficult and some do live for the afterlife. It’s not normal for me to hear that though, and I’m not prepared to counsel someone in English, let alone Arabic. Suffice to say- I’m not ok with the whole situation.

That’s not to say everything is bad, or I feel hopeless all the time. I’ve met some amazing Jordanians as well, who I know would never act in such a way and are some of the nicest, most giving people I know. I just got back from a hiking/camping trip with the program that was freaking awesome (stay tuned for a post about that). There are good days and bad days, just like in good ole Amreeka.

It’s just been a bad week.

آسفة، انا مش آسفة

Today is not Wednesday. آسفة، انا مش آسفة. That’s been running through my head all this weekend, and may become my motto for life (or at least for now). I don’t have a silly song like Hakuna Matata yet, but I’m working on it! The translation, you ask?

“Sorry, I’m not sorry.”

A little harsh? Not really. I think a lot of the time, I’m guilty of apologizing when I don’t mean it. This isn’t every situation, it isn’t saying I’m never sorry. I am! A lot of the time really. But then there comes a time when someone is trying to guilt me into being sorry and it’s just- no. I even do it to myself and then use it as a crutch to not do something. It’s dishonest though, and in me it just brews and exacerbates existing problems. Goodness knows, I’ve never been good at keeping my honest opinion to myself. So sometimes, you’re not sorry and that’s ok if there’s a legitimate reason. So sorry, I’m not sorry that I have expectations when I’m paying comparatively a lot for comparatively little. Sorry, I’m not sorry that sometimes I go out and let loose. Sorry, I’m not sorry that I sometimes get frustrated. And sorry, dear readers, I’m not sorry, that it’s been a week and I’ve been living life instead of blogging. (Ok, maybe a little sorry on that last one!)

Last Friday (so long ago already?!), the program took us to Ajloun, a town in the north of Jordan that has all sorts of things, but most importantly, trees! And a castle! Read more…

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