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Raghadan Palace

14 Oct

It is said that Arabs love the color green because it represents vitality and growth. If this is so, then the lush greenery throughout the Royal Court compound was no mistake. Palm trees and evergreens line the streets leading to the Royal Palace, which is just one of many in the compound.   The palace is, not surprisingly, made of Jordanian limestone and built in the traditional Islamic style. We were greeted on the steps by friendly staff who gave us a tour. Each room was decorated with the complex, geometrical designs typical of Islamic art, the largest being the Throne Hall. It’s ceiling was incredibly high and ornately decorated, it’s floor made of beautiful white marble, and the lone piece of furniture, the king’s throne, sat impressively at the front of the room. Finally, we were shown the royal cemetery where King Hussein, King Abdullah, King Talal and his wife rest. In true Arab style, our hosts gifted us each with a biography of King Hussein before we departed. Though no one resides at Raghadan Palace anymore, it truly lives up to the meaning of its name,  “the very best life”.

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Amman Adventures

10 Jul

About 30 of us in the program managed to plan and execute a weekend trip to Aqaba (Jordan’s only sea port). Though we only spent a day there, it was well worth the 4 hr bus ride to relax, have fun and jump off a boat into the Red Sea. For a short while, it felt like any summer day in the U.S.

Last Wednesday we got to play with the boys at the Mabarrat Um Al Hussein (Mother of King Hussein Orphanage). We taught them games like duck, duck, goose and ninja and they kept us laughing and running around for hours.

My roommate Shannon made an American flag cake For the 4th of July. Since it fell on a Thursday (the weekend here), we all got to hang out, eat hot dogs, and celebrate America’s birthday together.

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Die Another Day

1 Jul

Our bus left for wadi rum at 8:15 am. A Styrofoam box of stuffed pastries and a juice box was waiting for us in each seat. After a pit stop and a visit to see St. George’s church with the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land, we arrived at “Captain’s Camp” which consisted of tents, a rest-stop looking bathroom, and a common area where we were served traditional Bedouin food. We were glamorous camping, glamping as they say. After being shown to my tent, I threw my book-bag on my full sized bed and got some mint tea.

Before departing for our desert tour, we were given koofias to protect us from the sun but mostly to distinguish us as tourists. We hopped in the backs of trucks and set off for wadi rum. Finally we stop to get on our camels. Some are taller than others, some fatter, all are incredibly awkward. When they stand, their skinny three-jointed legs rise unevenly in the front and back. Their steps are clumsy in the sinking sand and they seem unaware that they’re bumping into each other. Their eyes look sleepy and are probably half closed to keep out the desert sun. Their overall appearance is hilarious. After dismounting our camels we climb to the top of a small mountain to watch the sun set before we head back to camp.

The next morning we left at 8 for Petra, the rose-red city. Again our tour guide explains the history of the land, how the Nabataeans carved the city out of sand stone 2000 years ago. We walk through a gorge for about a mile and then our tour guide tells us to stop and look down. He leads us a little further and then tells us to look up. The famous Al-Khanez (treasury) lies before us. He explains the theories of what it was built for. No one knows for sure but one thing was certain: the Nabataeans built to impress. Thousands of years ago, visitors to Petra felt the same awe that we were feeling now. After lunch we’re give the option, or challenge, of climbing the 900+ steps to the monastery. It takes about a half hour to get to the top, well sort of. There are a few paths that lead to even more incredible views than the monastery. So we make our way up to the tallest one. The sites throughout the canyons were beautiful, but nothing beats looking down on it all.

After two days in the desert I’m exhausted and turn to head back. I pass a Bedouin man leading a donkey up the mountain. Aren’t you going to see the other views, he asks.
La, ta’aban. (no, I’m tired)
But you have to see them.
Tourism is understandably the main source of income here and we’ve been declining offers to buy things all day: trinkets, donkey rides, cold drinks, etc. No thanks, I say.
He points to the donkey. For free.
No, I shake my head. (Nothing is free here.)
Come on, it’s free. Money doesn’t make friends. We are Bedouin, we like to make friends. (despite his accent his English is good.)
I look up at him for the first time (with mistrust). He’s got the dark skin, shoulder length black curly hair, and beautiful kohl lined eyes of the people here. It’s too much to resist.

He helps me onto the donkey and directs me to scoot up in the saddle and hold on to the handle. I’m only four feet off the ground, but the ground is nothing but sand and rocks and happens to be hundreds of feet above the canyon floor.
He reassures me that donkeys have four legs and humans only have two, ergo the donkey is more stable. I speak a little Arabic to him and from then on we exchange Arabish. His name is Abdullah and he has 13 brothers and sisters. (his father has 4 wives, but he could never afford that many.) He’s learned Spanish, Portuguese, English, and another language just from tourists. I don’t need to travel; the world comes to me, he explains.
We head down a small rocky slope. I’m freaking out.
Close your eyes and open your mind, he says. I do.
Which path first? Down to the waterfall or up to the top view?
I don’t care.
To the waterfall then.
We start down and he keeps himself between the donkey and the rocky ledge.
Shway (slow), I beg.
It’s ok, close your eyes and open your mind, he reminds me.
We’re a few feet from the cliff and I’m hyperventilating. I clench the metal of the saddle but my hands are so sweaty that if the donkey goes down, there’s no holding on. He reassures me that no one dies before their time and waits for me to calm down before going on with what he’s saying:
The valley down there is the source of our civilization. All of the green is because of the spring that starts up there, the water runs all the way down there. It’s because they found this one spring, that the people could build an entire city around it. A city along a major trade route that’s seen countless people. He’s proud to show me this, and rightly so.

Next he takes me up the other path and points out the highest point to the left and the shooting location of the film, The English Patient, to the right. It’s the end of my ride and I thank him. All my friends are up at the top, giggling at the situation. Abdullah goes into a hut. His friend comes out and says, how many camels for this one, pointing to me. More laughter. Tsharafna (nice to meet you) I say to Abdullah and head back down with my friends.

Tareq: shufair, tour guide, harres

20 Jun

My first weekend was spent at the Dead Sea with four fellow CIEE-ers and our new friend, Tareq. This is how we met.

A disorganized group of girls pack their things and set off for the supermarket. We stop a taxi on the way and ask him to take us to the store. It’s only a few blocks away but he doesn’t know where it is (or doesn’t understand our Arabish?) This is going to be difficult, we think. We continue to walk and a taxi slows, goes into reverse and waves me over. Great, he saw four girls from Amreeka and is a little too eager to give us a ride. I shoo him away but he’s persistent. I walk up to him and say Dead Sea. I’m blocking traffic and cars start to honk at me, so I go around to the other side. He happily agrees to take us to the Dead Sea, wait for us to swim and bring us back for 50JD (about $75). But can you take us to the store first? Again he agrees. This is Tareq, our “shufair”.


The drive alone takes my breath away and Tareq stops periodically along the way at the places he knows we will want to take pictures: an overlook of the dusty, rolling hills of Jordan and a sign that indicates we are at sea level. He lets us know that he will be whatever we need him to be: driver, photographer, “harres” (guard).

When we arrive he gives us the options of going to a “touristy” beach which will cost about 11JD apiece or trying to find a free one. “Free” we say and he pulls over and points down a steep bank to a menacing looking beach. “Touristy beach!” we say and Tareq turns the car around and we return to the well-civilized beach. He negotiates with the man at the gate, let’s him know we’re students and we all get in for 14JD. We follow Tareq down the beach and he stops, points to the ground and says wait here. I look down at the dirt and assume my post. He goes over to three men sitting under a hut-looking shelter and presumably does more negotiating. He secures a table and chairs under an umbrella (he paid for them but doesn’t make a big deal of it, this is Arab hospitality). We start towards the umbrella but one of us sees our other American friends at a beach on the other side of a fence. Let’s go over there. Tareq picks up our chairs and we head further down the beach. As we get closer we realize the futility in trying to get to the private beach. Let’s just go back to the umbrella. Tareq, now dripping with sweat under the hot Jordanian sun, obediently picks up the chairs and starts up the hill. If he’s feeling frustrated with us American girls he doesn’t show it. “Asifa” (sorry) we say, but he insists it’s “mish mushkila” (no problem).

Our umbrella has been invaded by an Arab family. Again Tareq begins to negotiate. Maybe we could share, I suggest. That’s nice of you, he says, but they have a large family and there’s not enough room. The family leaves and we finally settle in the shade. As we swim, or rather float around, in the Dead Sea we ignore the signs warning us to protect our eyes and mouth from the salt water. It burns like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Each of us in turn scrambles up the hill, squinting in pain, and groping for the shower. Tareq can’t help but giggle at us as he sits in the shade and smokes his “aghila” (hookah). He offers me the hose and we take turns, both switching off between aghila and cigarettes.

hollytannerHe was an airline steward for 7 years and tells us of his adventures in Cuba, Bangkok, Milan, Greece, and everywhere but America. He wants to go someday. He’s in his late twenties and we assume from the ring on his finger that he returned to Jordan to settle down and start a family, though taxi drivers don’t make very much. As we sit and stare across the Dead Sea at Palestine, he tells me the story of the city of Sodom, buried underwater because of its citizens’ immorality. It’s true, he says, check the internet.

Another girl and I toss around a soccer ball like a volley ball and attract the attention of a few Jordanian men who want to play. They’re not very good but neither are we so it’s fun. Soon it’s time to leave and another Jordanian man approaches us to take a picture with him. He must have been impressed by our volleying skills. Tareq wants to intervene but stops himself. He knows the world and guesses (probably correctly) that American women don’t want a man to protect them. I consider this for a minute. I consider his role as harres, and my being half-clad. I start to see things a little differently.

On the way back we make a stop at an expensive rug store. I pick out a few postcards but they won’t let me pay for them. Tareq tells us he’s on his way to a picnic with his friends and we’re welcome to join him. We politely decline, saying we have to shower, but take his number in case we want to get lunch in the city some time. When he drops us off we all agree that 20JD per person is a more appropriate price to pay. We took a chance on Tareq, and he turned out to be pretty alright.

“Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initially scared me to death.” -Betty Bender

14 Jun

jordan flag faceOne of my roommates I share an apartment with in the Shmeishani neighborhood of Amman recently expressed her open and honest opinion of being initially afraid of coming to the Middle East. Like me, she had never traveled outside of the U.S. So I’m gonna follow her example and be real for a minute. Before I left I had a lot of fears. Not the typical fears of the Middle East I suppose (Jordan is after all probably the safest); I was terrified mostly of myself. We received plenty of warnings as females about the threat of sexual harassment. I was told to dress modestly (out of respect for cultural norms), not make eye contact with strangers (it means something different  over here), and to check the “strong independent female” attitude at the door.

This all got me feeling pretty uneasy. While the warnings did/do serve to keep me safe, they also put a negative, defensive attitude in my head. Which is the last thing you want when trying to experience a new culture with an open mind. So I vented all of my frustrations to my family and friends before I left the states and hoped that’s where they’d stay. Go ahead and laugh here. I know you can’t just decide not to experience culture shock. It turns out I’m still afraid of my own bias preventing me from learning during this golden opportunity. But that’s the first step I guess: admitting that I’m just plain ignorant to their culture and I can’t learn anything until I stop taking personal offense to the fact that people dress differently here.

Another aspect of my identity that I was warned about was my plan to join the military. Learning Arabic is my main goal here…it just happens to be a small goal in the larger goal of joining the United States Air Force, because language skills are highly valued in the military. Not an easy thing to explain in my broken Arabish to a girl I’m meeting for the first time over lunch at the university cafeteria. So I just don’t bring it up. In fact when she asks me why I’m learning Arabic I flat out lie and say that I’m learning it in order to get a good job in the field of my major, airplane maintenance. She gives me a quizzical look and asks if Arabic will really help me. I hesitate and then say yes. I desperately want to be her friend and continue practicing my Arabic. These things take time I remind myself. Maybe by the end of my journey I’ll have figured out how to tell her, how to be a good ambassador of the Air Force, how to change her mind about American girls, how to view her with humanity and be viewed with humanity.

Today marked my first week in Amman and my first real day of class which is difficult but fun. I’m still in the honeymoon phase as they say, walking around starry-eyed and in love with every new thing I see. I’m lucky to be here and excited to make the most of my time in Amman.

Top 5 Reasons for Studying in Amman, Jordan

10 Jun

Tanner CamelHi! My name is Holly and I’m a senior at Purdue University in Aeronautical Engineering Technology. For the next two months, I’m going to study abroad with CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) in Amman, Jordan. I’ll be a student at the University of Jordan, learning Modern Standard Arabic as well as the Jordanian dialect.  With two semesters of Modern Standard Arabic under my belt, I have a solid foundation upon which to build and I can’t wait to continue to learn the language and the culture. I’ll be able to participate in a variety of cultural activities and excursions which I’m really excited for! So here are my top five reasons for wanting to study in Amman:

  1. Obviously, I wouldn’t be participating in a 7-week intensive language program if I didn’t really want to learn the language, and I’ve heard that total immersion is the way to go. So from my teachers to taxi drivers, I’ll be exchanging Arabic with as many locals that will humor me.
  2. The food. Some things just aren’t the same outside the Middle East: shawarma, hummus, baklava, and mansaf (the national dish of Jordan) are just a few.
  3. Coffee and shisha cafes. I’m a big fan of both and Jordan has a lot of them.
  4. Visiting Petra. If you’ve never taken an overnight trip to a World Heritage Site, then it should be on your bucket list.
  5. Making new friends, both American and abroad. I’ll have the opportunity to learn alongside students from 34 colleges across the US and be paired with a fellow Jordanian student. I can’t wait for this trip to start!