Saturday, March 26, 2011

100 injured, 2 dead in Jordan

Jordan made headlines yesterday when protests in Amman turned violent for the first time—or at least, the first eye-catching time. Two people were killed.

We have been having regular, organized, largely peaceful protests on Fridays by the mosque downtown, and yesterday’s demonstration began this same way. I have heard the violence explained in two ways: the first is phrased in a way that is less indicative of malicious violence against anti-government protesters: New York Times quoted a police spokesperson as saying the violence was a “quarrel” that broke out “between a pro-government rally and another demonstration staged in the same location” ’.

The second explanation: an anti-government protester was quoted by the same NYT article saying that “more than a hundred young thugs surrounded us from in front and behind and started attacking us”. When I hear about political attacks by “thugs” in Jordan, the stories are always accompanied by raised eyebrows and a nudge, nudge that implies perhaps the thugs were employed attack. I’m sure the same will be said about these—whether they were pro-government protesters or attackers they were shouting their support for the King. The most terrifying accusation is that the police, though they were asked for help in the midst of violence, did nothing.

The anti-government protests are aimed against the (brand-new) Prime Minister, Marouf Al Bakhit. The complaint is obviously: we asked for change and you gave us a new prime minister and a new cabinet, but nothing has changed that affects us. This is not reform.

The new elections law has not gone through. People are clamoring for a constitutional monarchy that would reduce the total executive power of the king. This past Wednesday there was a meeting on Jabal Al Weibdeh in Amman centered around discourse on what a constitutional monarchy would mean, socially and politically, for the people of Jordan. A really interesting thing is that recently 36 representatives of some of the Bedouin tribes issued a statement calling for these same kinds of reforms. And this brings to mind something that Salem said to me in Wadi Rum, while we were sitting around the fire: I asked him what he thought of what was going on, politically, and he shrugged and said:

“We bedouin are ready. We have our guns.”

Since this is the first sign of violence, I am not yet convinced Jordan will fall into the same kinds of violence that we're seeing in other places. I am convinced that people will keep protesting until they see reforms.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

4 differences between going to the gym at home and going to the gym here

1. Attire.

I don’t know what you wear to the gym, but I usually wear spandex leggings and a big T-shirt. (Though now that I think about it, that’s what I wear most of the time. Whatever.) Anyway, you go to the gym, you put on your sweatpants or whatever and pull your hair back, and while you want to look at least presentable you’re not worried about looking like a total hot momma, right? But these Jordanian girls! These Jordanian girls! They show up in three piece work-out get ups that are color coordinated or little t-shirts that boat straight up bows and sequins. I wear the one pair of sneakers that I wear every day; they wear FLATS. FLATS. ON A TREADMILL. And while you’d think that we could all agree that I am the more properly attired for the gym, it is clear that they disagree. Jordanians are always a little more dressed up than I am, at all times—but I was still surprised to realize that this also applies to the gym.

2. Sweat.

No one else does it. Seriously. I humor myself to think that when I work out I work out pretty hard—this is because I have bad genes and am still trying to recover from the freshman 15...25...30 and having a mom who is, at 57 years-old, hotter than me. And I sweat a lot! I’ve made peace with it! Or at least I thought I had. These Jordanian girls jog on the treadmill like I do...they’re on the elliptical like I am...they’re doing the weight machines and crunches and leg lifts that I’m doing...but while you could wring enough out of my T-shirt to solve the water problem in three to four Middle Eastern countries, they’re all dry as a bone! Which leaves me huffing away in my inadequately cute workout get up, basically drowning in my own sweat. The kicker is, I’m jealous of their inability to not lose water, because

3. There’s no water.

Or should I say, no free water. You can buy it in plastic bottles for a good price, 250 fils...but there’s no water fountain. Of course, I realized eventually that this is because even if there were a water fountain we would still be unable to drink from it since the tap water here is undrinkable. Hence the bottled water, which is infinitely less convenient than a water fountain—though probably more convenient than whatever water-bourn disease has everyone in this city drinking Aquafina. Which makes me wish I were a little more like the cute Jordanians and losing a little less water during my hours at the gym.

4. Modesty.

At home, you can’t even wash your hands at the gym without running into like twenty naked old women! They’re everywhere! Changing, sitting in the Jacuzzi, laying in the sauna, moving between the Jacuzzi and the sauna, or just sitting! Naked! In the dressing room! As I myself am not the most modest of individuals (I once apologized to my housemate Holly for my lack of pants while I was making dinner in the kitchen, and her response was, “Honestly, I don’t even notice it anymore”) this is fine with me. In Jordan: nothing. No one is ever naked in the dressing room. No one is ever in her underwear in the dressing room. And there is only one changing room, which is always empty. Everyone but me seems to make a magical switch between their workout attire and their post-shower freshened selves. I have no idea how they do it. Usually I just dash in my towel from the shower to the changing stall muttering “afwan, afwan, afwan,” under my breath...but today I had forgotten to stow my backpack in the changing room beforehand and had to go back to my locker. All eyes were averted. That will never happen again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

spring break in a nutshell

On the day my niece was born I found a whole, perfect sand dollar in the Red Sea. Leila and I had borrowed Rachel’s goggles and were swimming with the fishes on top of this incredible otherworldly ecosystem just twenty meters from shore and as I was swimming back I dove down to pick up a Coke can from the bottom—and beneath it, a sand dollar.

Leila, Rachel, Eric, Kelly, Rhea and I spent the first two days of our spring break in Aqaba, at a hostel right across from the beach. It took about four hours on a bus, and it was a pretty enlightening four hours—when you’re living in swanky West Amman, it’s easy to forget that you’re living in a third-world country. The landscape on the drive south to the Red Sea was completely different from the malls and restaurants and traffic of Amman: one, mostly empty, road through a desert. Scattered crumbling cement houses in clusters of eight or ten. Flickering fluorescent signs. Once, a shiny plastic motel with a deserted parking lot. I went through my first roadside security checkpoint, which doubled as a cigarette break for the bus driver, who smoked outside while soldiers checked the ID of everyone on the bus. So while the drive was not beautiful it was impressive: impressively barren, impressively broken, impressively different from the Jordan I am familiar with in Amman.

The landscape was so empty that we could see the lights of Aqaba from miles, and once we were there it was all high-rises and Marriotts again. There’s not really much to say about the part of Aqaba I that saw, at least not in terms of brilliant cultural observation, anyway—it’s pretty touristy, which is to say, culturally deficient, or at least really good at hiding the culture pretty deep underneath the kitsch. We pretty much divided our time between restaurants and the beach. On the first night, the six of us lay on the sand in a row and looked at the stars and tried to comprehend that we’d just had our toes in the Red Sea, that the lights across the way were quite possibly the lights of Egypt.

I got beautiful sunburn, and my hair turned golden. Oh, I could swim in the ocean forever—I get that from my mother. Floating in the Red Sea in the sunshine in this water that was just the clearest, most perfect water I’ve ever seen, which was of course the perfect temperature—very refreshing. We got to eat a wonderful dinner, too, on a restaurant balcony where we could watch the sunset, every minute of it (though of course it would be blown out of the sky by the sunset the following night, in Wadi Rum). And of course the best part of Aqaba was a phone call at 1 a.m. and pulling myself up through layers of sleep and dreams to hear my father’s voice telling me: “You have a niece! 8 pounds, her name is Ellen Josephine.”

The next morning we went to the beach for a last time and I found the sea dollar. We showered, packed, and piled into a taxi for the drive up to Wadi Rum.

The beach across from our hostel. Yup, that's Egypt.
It's spring here! and spring means flowers.
Eric, Leila, Me, Kelly and Rhea.

I need to pause for a minute and say that the most common question I’ve gotten about spring break so far is about Petra. You went to Petra? Was it incredible? And the answer is yes. But I mean it when I say that for me Petra was nothing compared to Wadi Rum. I could have stayed there forever.

According to Salem, who was our guide, Wadi Rum spans 725 km. It is a valley cut into the granite and sandstone rock by, I guess, wind and water over the course of the existence of the planet. To say it is impressive is a vast understatement. It is wild and raw and wind torn and beautiful, and it’s home to the Bedouin tribes of Jordan, who navigate it in 4WDs and on camels and horses. It is home to so much and is still so free, so untouched the troubles of the world. Everything that there is to worry about just seemed very far away and unimportant. It is apart—I think that’s what I liked about it. The air tasted better there. I don’t know—I can’t explain it. I don’t really know how to talk about God, but if there were a place that I would try to do it, it would be in Wadi Rum.

Salem met us in Rum Village, a tiny cluster of houses, and drove us off the road into the desert. We camped in a tiny enclave in one of the rocks, and spent the afternoon scrambling up and down and all around, sitting in the sand, looking at the tiny purple flowers that turn the desert into a meadow. For the sunset, we climbed up to the top of the rock we were camping under. Can’t really describe it. You had to be there. But like I said: God and all that other stuff. Could’ve stayed forever.

We had dinner with Salem and his brother Ibrahim, sitting on the mattresses they had brought out for us. Oh, that’s the other thing about Wadi Rum—food tasted better. We drank sage tea and sat around the campfire with them and smoked sheesha and I played the mandolin. While we were staring contentedly at the stars Salem said: “This is my life.”

I could go for that.

First view of Wadi Rum.

Incredible sunset.

We slept in a heap of mattresses and blankets (and lots and lots of layers of clothing) under the open sky. I have a distinct memory of waking up in the middle of the night, opening my eyes to thousands and thousands of stars, more stars than I’ve ever seen before in my entire life.

Kelly and Rhea get cozy in the desert.

The next morning there was breakfast and more tea, and then we rode camels for six hours. This was less fun. God seemed a lot farther away. This is because there is nothing less spiritual than riding a camel for six hours. We saw some beautiful stuff, Seven Pillars, carvings, etc., etc.. But man, were those camels tough to handle. I was lucky; my camel mostly ignored me. Leila, however, had a really stubborn camel who had pretty much the opposite idea of what would be fun to do than Leila did. Leila wanted the camel to walk in a straight line with the rest of the camels and our guide. The camel wanted to stand in the same place and eat and poop.

(It’s worth mentioning that when I told my brother John about this his response was, “sounds like Ellie!”)

The best part of the camel trek was probably when my camel decided to run the last 100 meters into Rum Village. Did you know that a camel can run a mile in 5 minutes? Do you have any idea what this feels like on one’s inner thighs? Anyway—camel trek: check.

We hobbled into Rum Village, paid Salem and Ibrahim, drank one more cup of tea, and got into our taxi for the trip to Petra and the last leg of spring break.

My camel.

The best part of traveling in Jordan is that once you make the initial plan and put it in to action, the rest of the trip falls into place without much planning. This is because traveling around Jordan is much like getting a job: it’s all about who you know. Every time we needed something we asked a Jordanian around us and he or she would say: “Oh! I know a guy who can do that for you,” and the next minute we had a fantastic price for a ride to Petra or a hotel or whatever. I am a pretty obsessive planner, and even I felt confident in Jordanian culture’s ability to get me wherever I needed to be. In this way, we scored two taxis to Petra with some nice guys and didn’t have to worry about getting cheated or finding a bus station or hitchhiking (which is what the Lonely Planet suggests as a way to get from Wadi Rum to Petra.)

We got to Petra, ate some kabobs, and collapsed. We woke up sore and freezing, to hobble around Petra.

Okay, Petra was pretty magnificent. The Treasury alone did it for me. And what a brilliant place to build a city! Into the face of a mountain? Easily defensible, sturdy as all get out, sheltered and—I guess this is the main thing—damn does it allow you to build to last. I couldn’t help thinking about Urban Political Economy and the life expectancy of a house in the United States compared to the fact that the houses at Petra are still there. So that was incredible. And it was a climactic finish to spring break.

The treasury.

All of this is STILL THERE!

Back to business here for the last leg of the semester--lot's left to do and not much time to do it in. Couple of things are going on in the blogosphere of Anna this week. First, I have begun a second blog, which will serve as my final project for Contemporary Art and Culture. We've been visiting art museums every week and taking notes and pictures and we have to compile a portfolio. The class has been pretty disorganized and the assignment is to have a sort of "journal with commentary and reflections on particular pieces, the gallery layout, medium and it's significance, comparison with other visits, reflections on broader social and political issues that you find embedded in the art and comments on idioms, themes or motifs that you find carrying over from older Middle East Art" and I'm telling you this so that I'll actually get it done. Anyway, that blog, if you're interested, can be found at

The second thing is a project that I have for this blog, which will involve interviews with my fellow Earlhamites here in Amman. Each of them will have their own post and will feature the photography of the lovely Leila Hunter. So be on the lookout!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

meanwhile, back on the ranch...

I was very surprised a few weeks ago to hear that my former Arabic teacher, Pauline Sadek (who taught at Earlham for less than a year) was dismissed, apparently without warning, in the middle of this semester. Even though I found her teaching to be lacking I had a great relationship with Pauline. Please take a minute to catch up on this story at There is a wonderful
news story as well as a piece written by Pauline herself. What follows is a piece I have written in response that will (if all goes according to plan) be my column in next week's Word. I have posted it here first because spring break at Earlham means there will be no paper tomorrow, and I wanted to get what I have to say said. I have a lot of respect for the administrative and bureaucratic complications of running a college (ok, not respect. Understanding) ; still, I wish that Earlham could have handed this (and Marcelo, and the German department, and the athletic conference switch) differently.

I met Pauline in Arabic 103. While it’s true that I found the class to be unfocused and unstructured, I whole-heartedly believe that Pauline, who came from a different academic background than other Earlham professors, did her best to teach a class that had never been taught before at Earlham. Pauline’s under-qualification to teach the course was never a secret, as she said herself in her letter to the Word last week.

Pauline was open to criticism and suggestions from the class—maybe too open, letting students walk all over her—and fell back on the tried and true pedagogical method of: if you try to teach it one way, and they don’t get it, try a different way. In the end, however, there was nothing she could do to solve the real problem with Arabic 103: that it was a bad idea for a class.

I firmly believe that nobody could have taught “Colloquial Spoken Arabic” well to students with no previous exposure to Arabic. My complaints about 103, however, are directed towards IPO for advising me to take a class without giving me a heads up that I was going to be a guinea pig in a course designed and taught by an unqualified instructor.

But despite a distinctly unsatisfying course experience, I benefited enormously from Pauline’s loving support both inside and outside the classroom. I cannot imagine her doing anything to warrant a mid-semester dismissal. Student complaints? A dress code? Bad teaching methods? Really? Though these are all the reasons I’ve heard cited, I know that none of them, not even in combination, could be the reason. I would be disgusted if I thought that Earlham dismissed a new teacher in the middle of the year rather than assisting her to become better at her job, even if it was just for the next two months.

I understand that the inner administrative workings of Earlham have to be kept confidential and above the metaphorical head of the student body (like they were with Marcelo, with the German department, with the athletic conference switch) but I can’t help but wish I weren’t being kept in the dark about this decision, which seems—from my uninformed point-of-view— unjustified and, quite frankly, harmful to Earlham’s goal of setting up a stable Middle East study abroad program.

To elaborate, briefly: last spring only two students joined Bruce Stanley on the Earlham Jordan Program. Now, a year later, there are twelve of us—a huge success for Bruce and for Earlham in the attempt to reestablish a relationship with the Middle East in the tradition of Landrum Bolling. This year, however—in the midst of fascinating political and cultural developments—only five students have applied to study in Jordan next spring.

This is heartbreaking to those of us who are, you know, having our lives changed over here and know also the depth of the Earlham student body’s commitment to Middle Eastern conflicts. But who can blame them? Without Arabic at Earlham, there is no way for students to prepare themselves for a semester in Jordan.

Now is the time to develop a strong Arabic program at Earlham. Given the notorious lack of Arabic teachers in the United States right now, we were lucky to have Pauline, who I am confident would have worked with any criticism she was given to make herself the best instructor she could be, even if it was only for the completion of the semester. I can only hope that there is more to Pauline’s story than I understand.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

i am a wizard!

So I know you're all eager to hear about my fantastic spring break, but I'm going to be real with you: spring break is in the past. It was fun, but I can't spend my life looking back at what's happened when there's so much yet to do. The future? It's now. And the future--more specifically, tomorrow at 4 p.m.--has a test in it. An Arabic test. Like a really big Arabic test.

So now is not the time to look back on the fun times that were spring break. Right now, I'm going to study fusha and amia for big test on both of them tomorrow at 4 p.m. And I thought you might like to join me as I review the basics.

First, the alphabet. 28 letters. Remember to read from right to left when you're looking at the Arabic! Underneath the handwritten letters is an attempt to transliterate the sound each letter makes when spoken.

The ABC's, as it were: alif, baa, taa, thaa, jiim, haah (this is pronounced like a short exhale) khaa, daa, tha (this letter is pronounced just like the word "the" in English) raa, zayy, seen, sheen, saad, daad.

Taah, Thaa, ain, ghrain, faa, qaaf, kaaf, laam, meem, nuun, Ha (this one is like the H sound in "Hop") waaw, yaa.

Confused by the 3 different sounds that are all basically "th"? Remember, the difference between, thaa, tha, and Thaa is critical...

...and so is the difference between taa and Taa, seen and Saad, da and Daad, and haah and Ha.

The good news, though, is that the "th" sounds aren't really pronounced at all in spoken Arabic...they take on the sound of their "d" sounding counterparts. For example, the word "thura" (corn) is spelled with a "tha" but pronounced "dura". I complained about this to Ziad when I was first learning the alphabet.
"Why write 'thura' if you're going to say 'dura'?" I whined.
"Say the English word for mayy," he ordered me.
"Wadder," I said.
"Why write 'water' if you're just going to say 'wadder'?" he demanded.
Touche, Ziad.
But I digress. As in English, vowels are very important in Arabic. There are separate letters to denote long vowels (alif, waaw (which can sound like 'oo') and yaa (which can sound like 'ee' or 'ai')). To denote short vowels, there is this very simple system of accents:

Convenient, right? There's one complication though: they actually don't use the short vowel symbols in writing. Yup. They developed this whole system and Reema taught it to us and then it turns out that only kindergarteners and foreign exchange students use the short vowels. But Anna, you say, how will I know what vowel sounds to make when I'm reading?

I asked Reema this same question. Luckily, she had a great piece of advice: "You just have to know."

Just know. Okay, well, I'll get to work on that.

Part of my test is on cultural greetings, so now we will use these letters (read right to left!):

to spell "good morning".

But Anna, you say. None of those letters look anything like the letters you said you were going to use to write "good morning". Perhaps, as we were learning the alphabet, I forgot to mention this fun fact about Arabic: because the letters connect, none of the letters actually look anything like themselves when written in the context of a word. You actually have to learn three different ways to write each letter. So when I said there were 28 letters? What I meant was, there are actually 84 letters. Why didn't I tell you this outright? IT'S A SECRET, BECAUSE BETWEEN THIS AND THE SHORT VOWELS THING NO ONE WOULD EVER CHOOSE TO LEARN ARABIC AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.

Anyway, "good morning" is pronounced "sabah al-kheir!" which translates literally to "morning of goodness." The correct response is:

or, "sabah in-nour" which means "morning of light." There are other responses that mean "morning of flowers" or and stuff like that. Apparently the game (according to Reema) is to say something nicer than what the other person said to you originally. For this reason, people respond to "marhaba" (hello) with "marhabtein!" (TWO hellos!) or "meet marhaba!" (a HUNDRED hellos!)

This is a formal hello, "is-salamu alaikom" which means "peace be upon you" and the correct response, "u alaikom is-salam" (and upon you). This is what you say when you get into a taxi, or anytime you return to your house.

Let's change tracks for a minute. I have to be able to introduce myself in Arabic. As you know from my previous post ( this sometimes creates drama because my name is pronounced so similarly to the word for "I". Let me illustrate this dilemma. On the right is the word for "I" and on the left is my name:

So, "my name is Anna. What's your name?" looks like this:

Here's one of my favorite sayings: what's up? or "shu fi ma fi?" The response, "safeeeh waafeeeh" gets a laugh from my host family every time I say it, and ever since the first time I told Ziad to ask me "shu fi ma fi" so I could have an excuse to say "safeeeh waafeeeh", they spontaneously prompt me at least once a day.

Another favorite saying, which I asked Reema for after I finally got tired of taxi drivers assuming that I didn't know where I was going and taking the opportunity to take me the looong way around Amman.
"Is there an Arabic phrase that means, 'hey, I know what you're trying to do and it would be cool if you could just, like, take me directly where I want to go instead of cheating me?' " I asked her one day in class. Everyone laughed but it turns out that there is such a phrase:

"Ana bint balad, baraf al-tareeq!" Which means, literally, "I am a girl from this country and I know my way." Reema said that the best part about this saying is that if you know to say it in a taxi, then the drivers will know that the meaning is true...because if it wasn't, where would you have learned to say this? (Answer: from Reema.)

Some Arabic words just look really pretty, like my friend Leila's name and the way to spell Libya:

I particularly like writing "mustashfa" (hospital):

And, of course, to finish this off, my favorite sentence to write, because writing in Arabic makes this terrible language learner feel like it's true:

or "I am a wizard!"

Gotta study. Spring break adventures coming soon.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Time out!

Welcome to the halfway point! Starting tomorrow I will be on my week-long spring break, and won't have access to the internet, because I will be taking a relaxing break from the world of the wired here:

(Bedouin Moon Village hotel. 12 K from Aqaba, on the Red Sea. S-N-O-R-K-E-L-I-N-G.)

and here:
(Wadi Rum. We arranged to sleep under the stars in the desert this coming Tuesday, and to tour around on camels the next morning. Like you do.)

and here.

(Probably the place I'm the most excited about, my first of the seven wonders of the world: the ancient city of Petra.)

Anyway, there won't be much time for blogging; I'll be too busy tanning, admiring the coral reefs, playing my mandolin under the desert sky, riding camels and pretending to be Indiana Jones. By the time I write next, I will have my own photos of these places and won't have to steal them from the internet! Hope you all have great weeks!

!اللة معكم

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Babywaiting in Jordan

Skyping every day with my host family’s eldest daughter, Rasha, and her seven months old baby Zahura is not helping me feel particularly patient as I wait anxiously for news about Shayla and John’s incoming baby. The good news is that I’ve learned some baby songs in Arabic that I will sing when it is my turn to Skype with a niece, and in the meantime I get to see a lot of pictures of a very cute Jordanian baby.

Speaking of cute Jordanian babies, Leila hit the jackpot with that one: on the same day she arrived to live with her host family, the host family’s daughter came home to have a baby, which means Leila got a month of up close and person babywaiting, not to mention constant family visitors and a pregnant lady for a roommate. But she was patient and has been rewarded by getting to have a brand new baby in the house with her!

I don’t know what it is with babies and me. I just love ‘em! Hormones, I guess. Anyway while babywaiting is fun, what’s more fun will be finding pictures of a newborn baby in my email! Then I can print them out and show them to every single person I know. To prepare for the occasion, I asked Reema the appropriate way to tell people in Arabic that my brother’s wife will have a baby soon. Reema got very excited and assured me that this is a topic everyone will want to talk about, and that I should bring it up at family gatherings so that my extended host family can ask me lots of questions and give me a chance to practice speaking Arabic.

This is how you say: "My brother is going to have a baby girl!" Apparently it translates literally to something, like, "my brother will soon welcome a girl!" Which is, like, really cute. Anyway, the pronunciation is something like "Akhooy bidha teejeeh binet!" or,

اخوي بدها تيجة بنت

Also important, I learned how to say, "the baby is here!" so that I can tell my host family as soon as I know: "Ejat al binet!" or

ا جت البنت

Anyway, I'm pretty stoked. Pretty ecstatic. More on the baby front as it develops, except that I will probably be tromping around the desert without internet access at the time of the birth, so unless my parents learn how to call my Jordanian cell, I will probably be a few days late to the baby party. Oh well, she will have a present from Jordan and I will have a good story about where I was when my first niece was born.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

a few poorly organized thoughts about gender

I would like to try to put together a few coherent thoughts on gender, which is going to be a struggle because I have a lot of thoughts and no idea how to organize them. Disclaimer: this blog post probably won’t be academically correct; it’s not something I really know much about, other than that I have a gender.

Thought #1: I have never before been so aware of being a woman as I am here.

Consider: how many times a day do you think about your gender? I mean really think about it, analyze the things you are doing and think about what you’re saying about it to people around you? How often does it occur to you “I am a man” or “I am a woman” or “I’m not sure what I am” whatever, something concrete?

I don’t know what it was before, but since coming here I think about it all of the time. I am a woman. I have to think about it any time I am hit on in the street or in a taxi, or any time I accidentally misuse gendered adjectives in conversation, anytime I am too nervous to walk at night from Arabic to the mall and make Simon and Tyler coming with me, anytime I get stared at because I was too hot in my sweater and am in only a T-shirt, anytime Ziad plays with my hair or compliments me on my makeup or makes a comment like “I think girls look prettier with their hair down” while I am putting my hair in a ponytail.

Comments like these that aren’t particularly negative, but they incite in me a kind of automatic defense mechanism of, I’m going to wear my hair any way I want to and I don’t care at all whether you think it’s prettier up or down. I know that all these things— messages and comments and stares on the street—are everywhere at home, too, but the tension is so much more intense here, for me, anyway. We’ll see if this hyperawareness sticks once I’m back in the States. I also would like to add that the unwanted attention I get in Jordan is probably exponentially more than it would be if I weren’t so white.

Thought #2: Women’s rights.

In the United States, the movement began in 1848 at Seneca Falls. We got the vote in the 20’s and had Margaret Sanger and the Pill and Betty Friedan and now women go to work and outnumber men in universities and all this great stuff.

Wikipedia says: “Women's rights are entitlements and freedoms claimed for women and girls of all ages in many societies. In some places these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behavior, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed. They differ from broader notions of human rights through claims of an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls in favor of men and boys.”

When I think of women’s rights, I think about: moving towards gender equality. I think this will do for now. I should probably take Intro to Women’s Studies or something.

I admit to this: when I thought about the Middle East before I visited it, I had images of women covered from head to toe, a sort of hyper-subordination of women to men, all the worst things you hear about from anti-Islamists and the conservative media, etc., etc., etc.. Catalina, a girl at Earlham who went on this program before I did, made me nervous too: when she gave us advice on what kind of clothes to bring she freaked me out a little bit. (Clarissa and Alex, who were with me when I was trying to pack, can attest to this.) At the same time, I knew that I had no idea what to expect. After all, it is hard to describe the position of women in a society than it is to experience it.

Jordan, I feel comfortable saying, seems to be more moderate than, say, Saudi, when it comes to women’s rights.

Jordan has no state imposed dress code.

Women go to school and then to university and hold jobs and go out and smoke argilah with their friends in coffee shops.

When we met with Dr. Kamel, the Director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, he pointed out that Islam allowed women to keep their own names, own property, have their own money from, as he put it, day one. You think Islam treats women badly, he said? You should have seen how the Christians treated their women at that time. In Islam there was never a question of whether women were human beings or not.

We met with a Jordanian senator who pointed out that, because of government quotas, there is a high percentage of women in the Jordanian Parliament than there are in the United States House of Representatives.

We have heard it said: “How can you say women don’t have rights here? Arab men are ruled by women: first by their mothers, then by their wives!”

But here’s the thing, I think:

There’s no state imposed dress code, but legal action against honor killings is minimal, with an article of the Legal Code allowing for exceptions to be made in instances where murders are committed “in a moment of rage”. There is an average of 25 honor killings a year in Jordan.

Saying, “here are the special allowances our religion makes for women” doesn’t impress me—the problem isn’t that women and men aren’t equal (well, that is a problem, but it’s not this problem); the problem is that they are treated as separate groups. Should separate but equal be the name of the game? Okay, call me a geek, but I’m reminded of West Wing’s Ainsley Haye’s famous response to the Equal Rights Amendment: “It’s humiliating...a new amendment we vote on declaring that I am equal under the law to a man? I am mortified to discover there is reason to believe that I wasn’t before. I am a citizen of this country, not a special subset in need of your protection.”

It’s good that there are women in Parliament, but it would be more impressive if Parliament held more power. If we had a monarch who could dissolve Congress any time he wanted to, I probably wouldn’t care as much who sat in the House, either.

And finally: cute line, but it would be cuter if you weren’t defining women by their roles as related to men. I’m not looking to get married right now, but when I do I would be insulted if I thought my job was to control my husband. That just seems like it’d take an awful lot of time.

The worst part about all of this is: at home it’s not exactly the same, but it’s not great there either. Thirteen cents might not be a lot of money, but when it’s the amount less that women make to every dollar of a man, those pennies look a lot shinier.

Thought # 3: A little more about honor killings, because it’s freaking me out.

I edited an article in my first weeks at the Jordan Times about an honor killing case. In the story, a woman was stabbed thirty-three times, beat in the head with a rock, and strangled by her brother, who became angry because she was looking out the window in the direction of a man. The brother didn’t get off easy using the “moment of rage” defense (although he tried) because the court didn’t think that looking out the window when a man happened to be passing by could really qualify as incitement to violence—but he did get a minimal sentence because the woman’s family dropped charges against their son.

It’s hard to think about journalistic structure and comma use when you’re reading a news article like that. 25 cases like this a year is far too many. 1 would be too many. Pointless murders are painful enough to think about but pointless murders that the perpetrator feels are justified, about which the court can say, oh, yes, you were understandably angry, your sentence will be lessened?

I invite responses to everything I’ve said here.

Also, I direct you to for a better explanation of the Jordanian-Palestinian refugee situation.