Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ten things I do that I'm pretty sure my host family thinks are really, really weird

The thing about being in someone else's home is that all your weird habits seem even WEIRDER.

1.Go to bed before midnight. Every day. No matter what time I have to get up in the morning. After Forbidden Love, I hang out for a little while, and then make a cup of tea and take my leave for the night. I get in bed and read a book or skype a little. No big deal. Except that they don't go to bed until 1 a.m. so not only am I missing out on fun, I'm pretty sure that they don't get what my deal is.

2.Read, constantly and obsessively, for pleasure. I realized yesterday that they think every time I'm reading, I'm studying. They must have some image of me as the most dedicated student ever, when really I'm just reading the Shoebox Project on my computer for the 4th time (thanks again, Kaitlin!).

3.Consistently dress kind of like a hobo (though to be fair, they should see me at Earlham because this is like a really big step up. what happened to me?)
i. case in point: plaid. they thought this was the WEIRDEST. they talked about it, like, all day.
ii. the same smelly hiking boots every day, regardless of where I'm going.
iii. this one jacket that I actually stole from my roommate freshman year.
iii. jeggings
iv. these terrifying glasses that I thought were a good deal ($9! Thanks WalMart) but that make me look like a cross between the awkward love child of my father, Terence, and Clark Kent/Lucas Williams (granted, this is what I was going for:


I think they're cool, plus I'm out of contact solution...but it turns out that in some places glasses are supposed to be less of a statement of aggressive personality and more of a, like, vision aid.

4. Get excited about camels. (This one is whatever.)

5. Turn down second platefuls of lentils and rice, kufta, and mansaf. While my own mother would applaud such willpower, my host mother is semi-mortified. "...but you didn't eat anything!"

6. Actually--turn down food, ever. I was saying goodnight at like, 10:30 and my host mother
looked at me wide-eyed and said, "you don't want dinner?" I had already eaten one dinner with them, at seven, so I told her no thank you. "not hungry? why? I'm making eggs!" she said (in Arabic). "you LOVE eggs! what's wrong?"

7. Watch Star Wars, and make them watch it with me. Despite their love for Turkish soap operas, the space saga is a little much. "It's his father??"

8. Not wear a coat when it's 60 degrees out. "It's WINTER!"

9. Practice random Arabic phrases on them. (This is another thing I got from my American mother, who learned Spanish by putting little labels on every thing in our house.) I learned how to say "Nice to meet you" three weeks after I arrived in their home, but I came home and said it even though we were already well acquainted. My host mother laughed for like ten minutes.

10. Write down everything that happens to me, and then post it on the Internet. Whoops. Guess this one is kind of weird.


11. Play the mandolin to myself.

12. Have class at weird places, like the United Nations or art galleries. Except that I never know where I'm going--I only know the taxi landmark Bruce gave us, so when Ziad asks where I'm going I have to say something like "Mustashfa Luzmilla" (Luzmilla Hospital) which raises all these questions about why I'm taking a taxi to the hospital instead of to, like, a school.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Part II: Day at Jerash

On Saturday, I woke up at 8 and taxi'ed to the bus station, where I met up with Leila, Arielle, and Arielle's fifteen-year-old host sister for a day trip to Jerash. A few of our group had left in an earlier shift, and we met up with them once we arrived to walk the ruins in the beautiful 60 degree February day.

Hadrian's arch. This was built a long time ago.

Yup. This enormous Roman city is just straight chillin' in the middle of modern Jerash.

Beautiful ampitheatre. Not as big as the one in Amman, but still. Pretty impressive.

Corinthian columns. Read: ROMANS WERE HERE

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Part I: Day at the Dead Sea

I woke up on Friday morning feeling pretty mopey and a little homesick but after lunch Ziad came bounding into my room and informed me that since it was such a beautiful day, we were going to the Dead Sea!

Me and Ziad in the sunshine

Fantastic salt formations on the shoreline. My friend Ed, who is fluent in geology, said: "Just goes to show how hypersaline the water is. I bet that most of the crystallization occurs on the inside of the egg! Because that water is separated from most of the dead sea, it will heat up faster and evaporate more than the dead sea itself. This makes the salt precipitate on the inside on the egg more than the outside! That's why the formation seems to have layers almost!"

Sunset. Across the water is occupied Palestine. Beautiful.

I'm so good-looking I can hardly even handle it! Thanks for the genes, mom and dad! Concession: it's hard to take a bad picture in a place as beautiful as this.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Cookies for Ala" or "How Many Cubic Centimeters to the Cup?" or "You Make Diet Coke Cake in Palestine?" or "Mesh Moushkile!"

This post brought to you by: all the relatives who own shares of the brand-spankin’ new camera I got for Christmas! Way to make it happen, team! Also, please be sure to check out my first three posts again; I have added pictures. The ones for "The Main Event" are works of art from the art exhibit I talk about!

One last thing before I get to it: if you’re feeling like you want to read a little more about the experiences of students on Earlham’s Jordan Program 2011, I recommend as well as Despite the fact that they are both blatant blog-address plagiarists, I love Leila and Bill anyway and suggest that you read what they have to say.

Last Friday morning, after a late and luxurious breakfast, I read in the family room while my host siblings and mother watched TV and visiting-family-member Magida dusted. Friday mornings here have a similar feel to Sunday mornings at home: people get up when they get up, eat, and then lounge around with coffee. Usually, this is a calm and relaxing chunk of family time.

But this Friday was a little different: we had an eight-year-old boy in the house. Magida’s son Ala was visiting too, and he not really feeling the chill Friday morning vibe. As usual, I was looking to capitalize and decided that it was time to kill two birds with one stone and finish a project I had started the previous week while giving Ala something to do to boot. The mission: chocolate-chip cookies. Ala was the perfect accomplice.

Like I said: these cookies had been in the works for a little while. A week, actually, because it the previous Friday, when, feeling a little antsy myself (not to mention a little homesick, and more than a little hungry) I decided to investigate what the baking situation was in my host family’s home. The good news: they had all the ingredients for chocolate-chip cookies on hand except chocolate chips, brown sugar, butter, and baking soda. The bad news: they hadn’t ever actually heard of brown sugar, butter, or baking soda.

This posed something of a problem. Brown sugar is easy enough to explain, but have you ever tried to describe butter?

But: no problem (or, as we would say in Arabic: "mesh moushkile")! I went to the corner store and bought their only box of brown sugar, which judging by the condition of the packaging, had probably been there since before the British granted Transjordan’s independence in, like 1946. Fine. I pushed on: I went to the Safeway next to my gym to buy the remaining ingredients. Butter and chocolate-chips proved easy enough, but I had no success with baking soda, which apparently just isn’t a thing in Jordan. Still I was not deterred: I am a child of the South:I can make chocolate-chip cookies without baking soda. I can make chocolate-chip cookies out of nothing. No baking soda? Mesh moushkile!

Anyway, Ala didn’t really understand the mission for which he found himself spontaneously recruited, but he liked that it involved cookies and he liked that it meant he and Ziad and I got to lock everybody else in the house out of the kitchen while we prepared a surprise. At first Ziad didn’t want Ala to help (he described why through a series of gestured that illustrated a general state of chaos) but once I explained that, actually, giving Ala something to do was the entire point, he came around.

Our first task was breaking the brown sugar. We did it eventually, but it took all three of us as well as a mortar and pestle and the Shuwikah’s granite countertop. (I’m sure Aziza, my host mother, was thrilled at the sounds coming from her kitchen.)

Ala creamed the butter and sugar.

The second task was measuring the flour.

I was prepared to eyeball it, having been prepared for the possibility of no measuring cups by my friend Arielle, who has done a little baking of her own already this semester. This wasn’t the problem at the Shuwikah’s; they certainly had measuring cups. Or, I should say, measuring liters for wet ingredients and measuring cubic centimeters for dry.

(When I have children, I am raising them on the metric system—no matter what country I live in. Also 24-hour time, and degrees Celsius, so that when they study in foreign countries they won’t be laughed at or go through the emotional roller-coaster of thinking they’ve run a seven-minute mile like a beast when really it’s only a seven-minute kilometer. Fahrenheit? Cups? Feet? Socially irresponsible, I say. Thanks a lot, Mom. That’s all.)

But we worked it out. How many cubic centimeters to a cup, you may ask? 236.4, or, in other words: eyeball it.

So that was fine. Eggs and vanilla went without issue, though Ziad is very fond of vanilla and was very upset when I wouldn’t let him add more than double the recommended amount. He was also out of the room when Ala and I added the baking powder that I was substituting for baking soda, and it was very hard to convince him that we hadn’t forgotten it. He also wanted to add oil to the batter (suspicious as he was of the butter) as well as—

“Pepsi?” I said. “You want to put Pepsi?”

“Yes!” Ziad said, emphatically. “We make this in Palestine, cake, with Pepsi!”

I looked at him with a face that I’m sure was less than culturally sensitive. Then I realized. “You make Diet Coke cake in Palestine?” I asked in awe.

“What?” he said.

Clarissa Jakstas is a big fan of Diet Coke cake, as it is a combination of her two favorite things in the entire world. It also boasts far fewer calories than regular cake—you make it by taking a chocolate cake mix and adding diet coke instead of the recommended ingredients. I’m also pretty sure that you cook it in the microwave. Clarissa is a big fan; me, not as much. Still, it was a surprise to me that what I thought was a purely desperate American college student phenomenon had made it to Palestine. The internet is a beautiful thing.

“Never mind,” I said to Ziad. “No Pepsi.”

Ala stirred in the chocolate chips, spilling about half the bag so that it mysteriously ended up in his mouth. Then, it was time to shape the cookies.

Here is where America’s philosophy of cooking differs from Jordan’s philosophy of cooking. When I cook Middle Eastern food with my family, there is a lot of careful chopping of parsley and tomatoes for tabouleh, lots of delicate rolling of grape leaves and filo dough. The name of the game is: precision. But I’ve seen Americans plunge chocolate bars into jars of peanut butter to make their own Reese’s Cups, and I've stuffed as much rice as I can into a burrito that then falls apart all over my shirt, and when it was time to make the cookies I stuck my hand into the bowl, grabbed a handful of the stuff and plopped it down. In this way, I put down seven cookies while Ziad laboured over turning his into a perfect cookie-shaped oval.

“You have to make them into balls,” I said, licking my fingers.

“This is a cookie,” he said, showing me his handwork.

“Nah,” I said, “they’ll spread out in the oven.”

Shuu?” Ziad said.

Mesh moushkile,” I said. “Haik.”

We put the cookies in the oven.

“They’re melting!” Ziad yelped a few minutes later.

“It’s fine,” I told him. “Don’t worry.”

He wanted to flip them, like pancakes.

“It’s fine,” I said. “Don’t worry, I’ve done this before.”

And it was fine. Even when one of the cookies broke coming off the pan. Ziad looked terrified but I said, "Oh no, it's broken, we have to eat it." and ate it.
"It has to cool!" Ziad wailed, having apparently lost all hope for me.

The cookies were delicious. The texture was a little off due to the lack of baking soda...but whatever. Mesh moushkile! They were still crumbly, golden and filled with gooey, melty chocolate. And there was a little bit of dough left over, so Ala got to take part in a truly American tradition.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

annnnd the month two fog officially settles

We’re tired.

We wake up tired and fall into bed tired and do everything in between tired.

We feel useless in our internships.

We don’t have a printer to get to our class readings.

Because we are constantly cheated in taxis, even getting home at night is a stress.

Some of us are feeling just comfortable enough with our host families to feel pressure and annoyance and guilt from them; others of us despair over ever feeling comfortable here.

Some of us frown in the mirror at the weight-gain induced by a diet of pita bread, cheese, yogurt and rice covered in cheese and yogurt; others of us suffer from constant nausea, or constipation, or the opposite.

In a city of 50-cent falafel sandwiches and unlimited shawarma we crave bagels and burritos and our mothers’ banana bread. We order hamburgers and french-fries in cafes but they just aren’t the same.

In class on Wednesday, Bruce looks around at the bags under our eyes and the worry in our faces and instead of having class we put on a bootleg copy of the King’s Speech and spend the morning in a dog-pile in front of the T.V. in his tiny flat, eating cookies and just existing, for a while, in an environment that doesn’t require a constant firing of synapses at ten times the normal speed.

Luckily, we’re together: I think that being with people we have at least one critical thing in common with has been a big part of why running on full steam all the time for a month has been bearable: we’re all just tired Earlham kids in Jordan.

Hard to believe that spring break is only two weeks away—spring break marks the middle of our program. We’re planning a trek through the south of Jordan: a few nights relaxing in the sun at a hostel in Aqaba that boasts wonderful snorkling, a night in the desert under the stars followed by a day of camel-riding through Wadi Rum, and a couple of days to scramble around Petra. Should be, you know, the best spring break I’ve ever had.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Who's on first?

Before I tell this story, you’re all going to need a quick little Arabic lesson so you can understand where the confusion came from.

1) My name is Anna.

2) The word for “I” or “me” in Arabic is ana. It’s pronounced like Anna.

3) For my name is, you say: “Ismee...”

4)So for “My name is Anna” you would say: “Ana ismee Anna.”

We always knew this would present a problem.

Taxi driver Fadi: Shu ismek? (What’s your name?)

Me: Ismee Anna. Shu ismak? (My name is Anna. What’s your name?)

Taxi driver Fadi: Ismee Fadi. U inte? Shu ismek? (My name is Fadi. What’s your name?)

Me:... Ismee Anna.

Taxi driver Fadi: Na’am. Inte. Shu ismek? (Yes, you. What’s your name?)

Me: Anna.

Taxi driver Fadi: Na’am, inte! (Yes, you!)

Me: Barif, ana. Anna. Ana ismee Anna. (I know. Me. Anna. My name is Anna.)

Taxi driver Fadi: Aaaah, walla? Anna. Anna? Ismek ‘ana’? (Ohh, really? Anna? Your name is “me”?)

Me: Na’am. Anna.

Taxi driver Fadi: Walla...

Awkward pause.

Me: Hon, law samaht. (Here, please.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

end month one

A month ago today I got on a plane at Dulles, and when I got off of that plane, I was in Amman.

Actually, I was in Chicago O'Hare. Then I walked about a mile to the Terminal that God Forgot, where I waited in line for twenty minutes to find out I had waited in the wrong line. I waited in another line, at the end of which I was assured that my luggage was being checked through to Queen Alia International Airport. Another half-hour in line took me through security for the second time in three hours, and to the very last gate, where it turned out that there was no food.

These things are never as romantic as they sound.

Despite that—and despite the lost luggage, the homesickness, the language barrier, the weird food, being labeled immediately on the street as, at best, just another a Russian prostitute and, at worst, just another American tourist—despite all of this, I am having a wonderful time in Jordan.

I said recently, in a letter to a friend, that I decided to study abroad when, in a flash of perspective, I realized that since what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and that since four months in Jordan was unlikely to kill me, I should just. do. it. And I did.

I don’t want to jinx anything, but every day it’s looking more and more like I’ll make it to May, and as a result I wake up every morning with a vague sense of pride that I’m doing it. I’m in Jordan. And the greatest surprise of all is that actually it’s not painful at all! I’m having a wonderful time! If summer camp had been this fun, my parents wouldn’t have even had to pick me up early! And definitely not two years in a row!

The first month of fairy-tale like revelations is over, and I’m beginning month two—the month that IPO and Bruce have both warned us will be the month of homesickness, accumulated culture shock, and irritability. We’ll see what happens. What I know for sure right now is this:

Since coming to Jordan, I’ve done things that I wouldn’t have done if I stayed at Earlham. And I don’t mean seeing the desert and the Umayyad mosques and stuff like that. I mean:

I have spoken to strangers in the street in a foreign language when previously my foreign language teachers had trouble getting me to talk in class.

I have worn the same smelly underwear for three days while waiting for my lost luggage to arrive.

I invaded a family’s home and have yet to (I think) terrify them with my crazy and disgusting American habits and customs.

I went to the wedding of a couple I had never met and danced until two in the morning.

I have filled a journal and started writing a novel. My point is, being here is exhilarating, and it’s not just huge cultural revelations, it’s the tiny exhilaration of Something Completely Different. And, of course, been to the desert for the first time, seen the road sign that says “to Iraq”, been inside three desert castles, met a Bedouin, seen the temple of Hercules and a Roman amphitheatre, eaten mansaf, walked through the souk.

And it’s only been one month!

So: it’s been good and will (hopefully) only get better. Thank you to all of my family and friends for the love and support and letters and phone calls, and for reading my blog.

More soon, as we start Month Two.

Monday, February 7, 2011

time to drop out of Earlham, do a lot of drugs, and go to creative writing school

Yesterday we went to the wetlands at Azraq, an enormous oasis in Jordan that’s not too far from both the Iraqi and Saudi Arabian borders. Or at least it used to be an enormous oasis—before it was drained almost completely dry. The water has been pumped up to Amman, where a very thirsty 70% of Jordan’s population needs to wash its cars.

What once must have been a fantastically beautiful place is now half-dead. We walked on a path where water would have once been up to our necks; we saw where pitiful man-made pumps trickle water into the empty waterbed in an effort to recreate what used to be a natural cradle of life. We watched six or seven birds play in the reeds—for the most part, birds don’t come to Azraq anymore.

For those of you who know I’m prone to exaggerate, let me be very, very clear about this: in February of 1967 there were over 300,000 birds in the wetlands. In February of 2002? 1200. And unfortunately for Jordan and for the collective conscious of humanity, he environmental disaster that has occurred in Azraq is indicative of a larger problem facing Jordan and the world: the water problem.

Last Wednesday in Political Economy we had a three-hour lecture about hydro-politics, a topic that at it’s most stressful indicates the certainty of this millennium’s impending water wars. For me, this topic came to life in one very simple statistic: the UN Water Poverty line is 1000 m3—that is, 1000 m3 (about 260,000 gallons? I think that’s the right conversion?) of water per person, per year. In our lecture, Bruce described Jordan as a “water-stressed” state—which is to say, Jordan can provide, on its own, 145 m3 of water per person per year.

Needless to say, they’re importing a lot of water over here—not to mention doing crazy stuff like delving into porous rocks to reach stores of rain from 10,000 years ago. But water is expensive—desalinization is expensive—and while those aquifers they’re breaking into will hold Amman for the next 15 years, they’re non-renewable and it’s kind of a last resort ( Meanwhile, the Dead Sea has dropped 20 meters since 1950, the population is skyrocketing, and when you consider global warming, “water-stressed” is starting to sound like a euphemism for “WE SHOUDL HAVE STARTED PANICKING A DECADE AND A HALF AGO!”

Luckily, everyone, including the Jordanian government, is well aware of the problem and doing everything they can to preserve water, like having covered irrigation systems, and pricing water appropriately. Right?


The government’s importing—get this—an entire Nile River’s worth of water every year, and subsidizing it like crazy to appease the thirsty masses. Specifically, we’re paying 30 fils per liter of water here in the city (it’s delivered once a week to the neighborhood, put in a tank on top of the house. When it’s gone, it’s gone until next week), while the government is paying JD 1 (1000 fils, US$1.3) per liter. In the agricultural sector, they have it even easier: they’re paying 5 fils per liter—and using up 75% of the country’s water for 9% of the labor force to produce 2% of GDP. Not to mention the 5.8 million tourists Jordan gets every year—tourists who want to drink bottled water on their hikes and take hot showers after a dusty day at Petra.

Should the Jordanian government raise the price of water? Maybe, but food prices have been going up, too—10% in the last 6 months. And of course there’s the additional problem of stalled food production. And the ever-growing global population. In summary: running out of oil, running out of food, running out of water. Time to drop out of Earlham, do a lot of drugs and go to creative writing school.

I couldn’t think about any of this at Azraq, though. At Azraq, all I could think about was: this was where life started: here, in the Middle East.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

keep yer panties on, IPO--we're not evacuatin' yet.

My host family hasn’t turned off Al Jazeera for about a week. Ziad, who I’ve never heard say anything mean, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, was watching the brutality against the protesters and said, with an expression of disgust: “I hope Hosni Mubarak dies.”

We are holding our friends in Egypt in the light. King Abdullah has ordered Royal Jordanian airlines to get every Jordanian citizen out of Egypt on His Majesty’s dime—they’re running six flights a day between Cairo and Amman—and thousands of Jordanians without tickets or money are flooding the airport. Reema, my Arabic teacher, told us worriedly that her SIT students from the last session had gone to Egypt after leaving Jordan. Even closer to home, my friend Lainie, who was studying in Cairo, was recently evacuated to Paris.

I hope that the courage of the protesters results in the reforms they need. Mubarak keeps making concessions but that only shows that he is willing to compromise—a bad sign for him. It’s been what, a week? There’s no reason to believe that the people will stand down—unless they lose the military. It all depends on the military now. If they are ordered to stop the protests—

And in Jordan? I asked Ziad if he thinks Jordan could go the same route as Egypt and he shook his head emphatically and said, “Not Abdullah, not Rania. Everybody loves them.”

I’m not so confident anymore—I’m holding my breath. The King appointed a new Prime Minister this week, but he is quite moderate and the Islamic Action Front has already said that protests will continue until they see the changes they want. These include changes to the election laws, which would require a constitutional amendment—right now the King appoints the Prime Minister, but the people are clamoring to vote for the position. According to the Jordanian constitution, the King is “the head of state, without responsibilities or liabilities.” This clause inclines me to agree with Bruce when he says that Jordan’s label as a constitutional monarchy is a sham. A change to the election laws could change it into a real constitutional monarchy.

We had a tense discussion last Saturday with Bruce when Leila said: “Bruce, I think we’re all wondering—if the protests in Jordan turned violent, what would happen to the program?”

Luckily for us, Bruce has had experience evacuating Earlham student groups from violent middle eastern countries—in the years Bruce led it, the Jerusalem program had to be evacuated more than once to Cyprus. (Part of why the Jerusalem program doesn’t run any more. I don’t know who to credit this joke to (Eric? Simon? Bill?) but someone lightened the mood by saying, “You know Bruce, many middle eastern countries would probably pay you to, you know, not lead programs here anymore. To like, stay away.”)

So Cyprus it would be, though it probably (hopefully) won’t come to that.

But despite whatever is or may be happening in Jordan, right now all eyes are on Egypt. I can only hope that the US will remember that their alliance with the Egyptian government should mean an obligation first to the people of Egypt who chose (or should have chosen) it. Mark Warner will be hearing from me as soon as his office opens.