Saturday, October 31, 2009


Throughout the month of October, myself and another Amideast student (Siler from UPenn) would go every Thursday morning with two students from the Jordanian University, Abdurrahman and Ahmed, to volunteer with Madrasati. Madrasati is a royal educational initiative from Her Majesty Queen Rania that works with struggling schools to better their facilities, hire new teachers, improve resources, etc.

Siler and I signed up to do theatre activities with children at a school in Zarqa, a very low-income town nearby Amman that has that volatile mix of poverty and conservatism that produces people like Zarqawi, whose name says it all. Somehow it wasn't mentioned to us beforehand that said school was for the deaf and mute, so quite a shock when we arrived on the first day prepared to do traditional theatre games! Still, we played lots of charades and learned some Arabic sign language. The second time around, we were prepared and actually did pretty well; we bought art supplies for the children to make masks which they would then write and perform plays around (the idea being that with the face covered, the physical actions in a play are emphasized and they can in fact communicate a great deal without having to speak). There were also lots of awkward conversations about whether I was married to Siler, why I wasn't wearing a hijab (also - isn't it strange to have children being taught to lip-read but having all their female teachers in niqab, amirite?), and whether or not I was Muslim, and then ohmygod how can you not have a religion you must at least be Christian, etc, etc. All in a day's work.

Their final presentations were surprisingly good - a small group of older students acted out, with props and costumes, a little morality-type play about a day in the life of two children, one good and one bad. The bad kid ate a candy bar and didn't brush his teeth afterward, which led to him getting a toothache, etc. Groups of younger children were randomly split up and did little improv scenes based around their masks (lions, cats, frogs, princesses, aliens, and so forth). The children had a great time and it was nice for them to be able to keep the masks, to have something that they made to remind them of the fun experience. I was hilariously interviewed IN ARABIC for a promotional video for Madrasati, so if I ever get hold of the footage I'll post it for a good laugh.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Istanbul III

Tuesday saw a large group of us finally getting ourselves together and visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), the Church of Holy Wisdom, which really cannot be described save pictorially:

Shields of 'Uthman and Hassan

Another library!



One of many mosaics

The view, minus the scaffolding, that Theodora would have had from her special seat.

Afterwards, Matt, Emily and I went back to the Christian neighborhoods and explored some of the churches that had been closed the previous day, some with such fascinating names as St. Mary of the Mongols or St. Stephen of the Bulgars. St. Mary's in particular had some assuredly ancient, smoke-blackened icons and even catacombs, although we were forbidden to enter the latter. We spent that evening (...and some of the morning) again at Taksim with some French students we befriended.

Wednesday was our last day in Istanbul, and Peter, Jamie, Sam and I once again teamed up and took a boat ride on the Bosphorus, during which I saw Leander's Tower (of Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander fame!) which was very exciting for the literature nerd inside me. This, supposedly, is the very place from which Leander leapt into the Hellespont to reach Hero on the other side:

"He touched her hand; in touching it she trembled.
Love deeply grounded, hardly is dissembled.
These lovers parleyed by the touch of hands;
True love is mute, and oft amazed stands.
Thus while dumb signs their yielding hearts entangled,
The air with sparks of living fire was spangled...

What is it now, but mad Leander dares?
"O Hero, Hero!" thus he cried full oft;
And then he got him to a rock aloft,
Where having spied her tower, long stared he on't,
And prayed the narrow toiling Hellespont
To part in twain, that he might come and go;
But still the rising billows answered, "No."
With that he stripped him to the ivory skin
And, crying "Love, I come," leaped lively in."

And some mandrakes for sale on the street for various bodily ailments.

Later, the four of us made our way to the Cemberlitas Hammam, the most famous of the Turkish baths, and turned our faces away from our wallets to get into the fabulously restored complex. Peter and Sam left Jamie and I at the entrance as we split for the men's and women's sections; the women's bath had a large central marble dais upon which women lay on their backs or stomachs and were scrubbed and massaged by the attendants. Around the platform were niches with basins and fountains where three or four women could bathe. The ceiling was high and vaulted and had beautiful lamps and carved geometric shapes. To the side were the hot and cold pools. We scrubbed ourselves with the lemon soap provided and enjoyed the thick steam that filled the hammam and the echoes of voices and laughter and splashes of water.

Clean and warm, we ate dinner together and Peter and I (Jamie and Sam were leaving the next day) met up with the rest of our original crew at the airport to head back to Amman.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Istanbul II

Continuing from the end of number one:

Saturday night saw Peter, Sam and myself walking along the waterfront in Sultanahmet and then exploring Taksim Square, a crowded, brightly lit tunnel-vision of restaurants, fancy shops, and nightclubs.

The next morning, a large group of us went to Topkapi Palace, which proved to be quite the challenge to get into without getting trampled by Spanish tour groups and the like. After we made it through the gauntlet of ticket booth, line, mosh pit, line, metal detector, etc., (a sort of modern-day version of the increasing exclusivity of the gate of the sultan, followed by the first courtyard, up to the fourth which was the sultan's private audience hall) it was fascinating to finally see the place I had learned so much about in studying the Ottomans in Making of the Modern Middle East last fall. There was a small museum that contained such relics as a hair from the beard of the Prophet, the case that contained that hair, a mold of his footprint, one of his teeth, and so forth; unfortunately photography was forbidden! The rest of the palace reminded me very much of the Mughal palaces I saw in India: courtyards upon courtyards, elegant calligraphy and archways, beautiful tile-laden walls and a propensity towards libraries :). Construction was started on Topkapi in 1459 by Mehmet II, who conquered Constantinople, and it was the seat of Ottoman governance for about the next 400 years. It's hard to capture the enormity of the place and its true sense of majesty, however contrived that may sound when describing a palace. I'll let the pictures try to describe it better:


Tiles and calligraphic Ottoman seal of the sultan (tughra)

View of the Bosphorus

Tiled wall of a library, with special niches for turbans!

Another library shot

Monday saw myself, Peter, Sam and Jamie exploring the area around Balat, where there were a lot of historical churches, but unfortunately we couldn't get into any of them. However, wandering the neighborhood streets was a great experience, to see a little slice of everyday life away from the tourist-ridden Sultanahmet. The neighborhood also fell along the lines of the Theodosian Walls, which we climbed and walked along for a while. We also found a small shrine with a tomb covered in decorative sheets and flowers; the first nod towards this kind of popular devotionalism I'd seen so far in the Middle East. We eventually made our way to the little Byzantine Church of St. Saviour in Chora, which had the most spectacular mosaics I've ever seen. We even made friends with one of the Turkish museum guards, who gave us a free tour (the French tour we were trying to listen in on wanted us each to pay ten euros. Right).

Neighborhood street

Another street shot

Part of the Theodosian Walls

St. Saviour in Chora

This mosaic of the baby Virgin taking her first steps is remarkable because of the depiction of wind - it's hard to see, but the trees at the top are leaning to the right, and Mary's mother's shawl is being blown over her head in the same direction.

Incredibly preserved mosaics from the Byzantine era and onwards.

That evening saw, for me, a quiet walk along the waterfront and an early night, since I hadn't slept properly since Thursday!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Istanbul I

For the week-long break we got for 'Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, all three of us decided to go to Istanbul.

We arrived in the city around 6 am on Friday morning and somehow managed to figure out the tram system well enough to get ourselves to our hostel in Sultanahmet, a neighborhood full of hostels and tourist traps but also situated perfectly with the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya less than 5 minutes' walk away. After a nap, the group of about 12 of us split and we went our separate ways for the day, with myself, Sean, and Clarence choosing to simply wander around the area until that evening. We ended up wandering down to the waterfront, walking through Gulshane Park and around the Topkapi Palace area, down almost to the area where the next day we would find the Grand Bazaar. Returning to Sultanahmet in the early evening, I went to the Blue Mosque for maghrib and did namaz with other women in the women's section, with whom I had some interesting Turkish-English-Arabic conversation and played with their children. The Blue Mosque itself was beautiful, with all the colored tiles that give it its name as well as circles of hanging lamps illuminating the vast inner space. It had an ethereal glow to it that was peaceful and elegant.

Saturday saw us exploring the Grand Bazaar, a massive labyrinth of stalls offering everything you could ever want all in a covered space that has been operating for centuries. Wandering through the maze of jewelry, leather, carpets, antiquities, spices, sunglasses, clothing, and argeelas eventually brought me to the small courtyard of the Book Bazaar, where I could find second hand books as well as old illuminated manuscripts and calligraphers at work. After sitting, chatting, and having tea with one shopkeeper who was a restoration artist of illuminated manuscripts as well as a calligrapher (we talked about My Name is Red!), I caved in and bought a page from a Persian book that depicts two astronomers at work and, as far as my limited knowledge of Persian takes me, describes some of the celestial bodies in rhymed verse.

The first thing I thought of upon seeing it was the following Walt Whitman poem:

"When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

b-ball and a doll

okay, here we go. first official blog post from me. the one we all knew from the start was going to be the worst at actually keeping a blog. (proving to be true)

story #1: the basketball game
every wednesday we have a "cultural exchange" with a group of jordanian students who are about our age. one of these students is very enthusiastic about having new friends and is really nice and he invited a group of us to watch another of the students play in a basketball game at a local, famous sports club (an-naadi). the club is in a really nice, westernized part of town so all of the people there were all done up and made us look like scrubs in comparison. we got there early, in time to witness the team warm ups. we literally could have been back in the us. bad pop hits playing over the loudspeakers and the teams shooting
baskets (teams including both boys AND girls. woah!). the game itself was fairly routine and uneventful. but wait. sitting on one of the team's benches was a man. a man who stood out due to his BIC pen mascot costume. that's right. can't picture it? it looked a little something like this:

after a crushing defeat, BIC got a little distressed:

the greatest part about this mascot (besides, you know, everything about the getup) was that he just sat there the entire time. there was no dancing, no cheering, no extra movement of any sort. except for the one time when apparently it got a little too warm in the mascot suit and he removed the head. only to find a sad little middle-aged, moderately chubby man inside the suit. there is a reason why being a mascot should be an anonymous pursuit.

so, we were all pretty happy with our time at the game, mostly made up of making fun of the mascot man, trying to learn cheers in arabic, drinking some free juice, etc. and then came the half time show. imagine the tv show 'america's got talent' except it was in the middle east and the band was entirely made up of 12-year-olds and there were some break dancing crews and some other crazy dancing happening. the band performed such crowd favorites as "dancing queen" and "i will survive". what winners. i'm still unsure what the outcome of the game itself was, but it was a pretty great night.

story #2: the doll.
on to a slightly more serious topic. so. there are a total of seven people in our family, including two parents, four children, and one unidentifiable entity. on first glance, one would probably call it simply a "doll". a child's plaything. no big deal, right?
BUT WAIT. the doll is so much more. it has matted chunks of grey hair, a lazy eye, remnants of creepy writing all over its old body, and definitely not enough limbs. a visual cue is necessary:

so that is it. just sitting there. on our family's living room couch. all the time. but not just in one, static place like it is some heirloom or something to be looked at. it is like actually just another member of the family. all the other family members sit with it and play with it and hang out with it all the time. probably more than they hang out with us. it's weird. after a little while, it got so ridiculous that cesca and i just had to ask them about it (we were, honestly, a little worried that it was just them playing a trick on us and seeing how long it would take us to call them out on their weird behavior). this, however, was not the case. when we asked them what the deal was (in broken, probably incorrect arabic, of course), they all proceeded to look at us as if WE were the crazy ones as they clung to the doll defensively: 'what do you mean, what is the deal with this? do you not have dolls in america?' we dropped the subject. we'll keep you updated.

so, yeah! just a couple of tidbits from our lovely time here in 'amman. yay! one entire blog post. check.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Send us mail!

Our mailing address is:

Study Abroad
[Student name]
P.O. Box 1249

Snail mail and postcards are welcome; packages, however, are not a good idea and probably won't reach us anyway.

Start writing! :)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Crazy McCray-Cray

Yesterday night, Claire and I went to the nearby small city of Salt to have iftar with some more relatives of our very social family. First of all, the ride in was beautiful - we rolled into Salt with host siblings Khalid and Rawan just in time to watch the sun dip below the horizon, and the city itself is situated on hillsides that overlook the lights of the houses opposite as well as the desert. It reminded me of similar places in Italy, instead that except of the ocean, you've got the desert. Anyway, we entered the house of our host father's brother to discover that he was the same Crazy that we had met a few days earlier when he came here for iftar. Let's just put it this way - this man is legit insane. Here's an example of one of our conversations:

Claire or me: "Al-salaam aleikum!"
Crazy McCrazy: *unintelligible babbling* Yes. Yes. Good. America.
Claire: "Keifak?" (how are you?)
Crazy: "Alhamdulillahi alhamdullilahi. You. Learn. Arabic?"
Claire: "Aywa" (yes)
Crazy: I. (points at self). Arabic. English. German. Turkish. (starts making insane hand gestures and sputtering)

And so on. Iftar was, as usual, delicious, and with the rest of the family stifling as much laughter as us at the crazy uncle. He's been to visit us a few times since, with just as much sputtering and hilarity.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

In Amman

I've actually been here for about a week and a half already, but things have been so busy that I wasn't able to find the time before now to sit down and write a blog entry about it (and even now, I really should be reading my environmental science textbook for class tomorrow).

My flight to Amman from Delhi was pretty pleasant, all things considered (I can only imagine what people thought of me in the airport with my surgical mask on and my brain scans under my arm) and I got there around 9 in the morning, to be greeted by Abu Yazan, a driver employed by Amideast, who drove me to the very fancy hotel where they were putting us up for the first few days. I checked in and promptly crashed until that evening. Late that night, another student and Subhi, one of our program directors, went out for some food in the neighborhood around the hotel, and it was interesting to see whole families eating dinner at around 11:30 at night - truly a Mediterranean country, I suppose.

Saturday, I did nothing until I went downstairs to discover Matt and Claire in the lobby!!! It was wonderful to see them again and catch up on all the Carleton gossip we had missed over the summer and one another's doings. On Sunday, we met up with more of the Amideast staff, namely Hala and Subhi, and went on a city tour of Amman, including the Citadel, where the ruins of the Temple of Hercules stand nearby those of a Byzantine church and an Umayyad mosque from the 6th/7th century. From the top of the hill you could see the entire city spread out over the many hills that make up Amman (again, very Roman), the whiteness of the noon-time sun washing out the thousands of crowded, sand-colored buildings. We also visited a Roman theatre, and of course the archeological museums present at all the sites. At the museum near the Citadel, they even had fragments of the ORIGINAL Dead Sea Scrolls!

Matt (Al-Buraq!) and Claire at the Roman Theatre

Temple of Hercules

Dead Sea Scrolls!

On Monday, we met the rest of our student group, including groups from UPenn and from the Air Force Academy. We also started our "orientation" with a crash course in "survival Arabic," namely how to say simple phrases in the local dialect. That night, we had iftar - the breaking of the fast - at dusk at a nice Arab-themed restaurant and got to know the Amideast staff. Dragging Arabic out of my brain and attempting to replace the Urdu words that automatically spring to my lips has been difficult - i.e., I'm still unconsciously wagging my head, saying phrases like "ji" or "thik hai" or "koi baat nahin" - but it's been good to get back into an Arabic-speaking milieu.

Tuesday was the scavenger hunt day. Myself, Jamie, and Andrew comprised "Team Traffic Jammin'," and after a long, hot trawl through Amman we managed to find all the places and take all the pictures we needed on our list and got back an hour after everyone else due to our taxi getting stuck in a huge traffic jam. It was a lot of fun, though, and I enjoyed getting to know some new people.

Wednesday, Claire and I (who were hotel roommates as well as home-stay roommates, turns out) got up early in nervous anticipation for our Arabic placement exam, which took up the next four hours or so after 8:30. It was a tough wake-up call to just how much vocabulary and grammar I had forgotten or had never been taught, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well my oral interview went. In the afternoon, we had a panel discussion with American ex-pats living in Amman, and in the evening we headed over to our academic coordinator's house for iftar. Her house was lovely, with a table and lamps out in the garden, and during dinner Matt and I wandered into the kitchen to ask if we could help out with anything and ended up making the dessert, a dish whose name I can't remember but consisted of either walnuts or cheese fried into dumplings whose shell was made of a pancake-like material that had been thoroughly saturated with sugar. :)

Thursday, we prepared to move in with our families. First, however, we visited ACOR, which is one of the best English-language research libraries in the Middle East and will definitely prove to be a great place to study and read as the program goes on. The director even had a Carleton connection, which once again made me proud of our little school. We checked out their collections as well as the amazing archeological collections they have preserved in the basement, with ongoing projects like burned parchment restoration (!). In the afternoon, Claire and I moved in with our host family, who turned out to be related to Alex and Sean's host family, and although they are somewhat quiet and shy they are very sweet and have four "children" who are more or less our age: 24-year-old Khalid, 22-year-old Rawan, 16-year-old Deena, and 12-year-old Hamza. We were expecting slightly younger children, but mish mushkila (koi baat nahin, yaani).

On Friday, after a nice sleep-in, Claire and I thought it would be fun to explore the city a little, so in the early afternoon we went out to Sweifieh, the swanky neighborhood where the Amideast office is, and walked around Al-Wakalat Street, where there are a lot of fancy shops and restaurants and in the evening families show up for a kind of passagiatta. However, we didn't factor in the whole Friday-during-Ramadan deal, which meant that the streets of Amman were like 28 Days Later - absolutely deserted and the vast majority of shops closed. So, change of plan; we went back to the Hotel Geneva and sat by the pool with some of the other girls who are going to be living in a shared apartment as opposed to a homestay. We went home after a little while and enjoyed a calm and relaxed iftar with the family. After a couple hours, we were rounded up to go relative-visiting, which was a little intimidating. Lots of rapid-fire colloquial Arabic all around us. Claire and I each have identifying characteristics, such as "This is Claire. She does not eat meat." or "This is Francesca. She studied in India." Poor Claire is alone in her vegetarianism in this meat-loving country (although after India, I welcome the change in cuisine!).

Saturday, we met up with Sean, Alex, and Matt, who is on his own with a Christian family, and went to the local Safeway (!) to get some school supplies, etc. We also bought food, but since it is very haraam to eat in public during Ramadan, we once again took refuge in the hotel to eat lunch. Another lazy afternoon and evening spent at home, which feels more comfortable by the day.

On Sunday, our week started (weekends here are Friday and Saturday) and I kicked off the academic section of the Amideast program with Modern Standard Arabic (fusha) at 8:30 in the morning (hai allah!), followed by a Jordanian 'amiyya, or dialect, class, then a break for lunch, then Environmental Issues of the Middle East from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. So - long days, and our Arabic ustadha is already putting us through our paces by beginning the class two chapters ahead of where Matt, Claire and I had left off in Al-Kitaab 2 at Carleton (thanks, Natalie). Both of our professors are from the Qasid Institute, and both are extremely personable and patient (especially 'Amil, the dialect prof, who is completely goofy). The Environmental Science class is interesting, but we have some concern about the lack of Jordan- or Middle East-specific material being covered as opposed to generic basic science concepts (i.e., we talked about what an atom is and photosynthesis today. Even for me, that's basic). Our professor, Zuhair Ali, is an internationalyl acclaimed scientist, however, and we got him talking about his personal snake collection and his work with mice and deer ticks in New England.

Long post! At least we're caught up with our first week here. I'll leave it to Matt and Claire to fill in the blanks of this basic outline with fun anecdotes and to continue the saga that has been this past full week of classes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another Introduction

Yes, we made it. Yes, we are safe. Yes, we are in Amman (the gutteral A)!

I was fortunate enough to find our dear Claire in the Charles De Gaulle airport during our layover in Paris. Firstly, I struggle with this small thing called sleeping and was unable to catch a wink on the plane ride. Then on arrival, when my body was finally ready to snooze, the Parisian sunset dawned itself on my waning eyes. From behind, Claire shouted "Strongin" and jolted my zombie gate. We sat down to catch up, and Claire gently chided me for being a loser. I was busy explaining to her the architectural magnificence of the airport...the symbolism of flight, the mobilization of people, the glass...

In front of our gate to Amman, we noticed the couple other white people...clearly our age, clearly out of place, and clearly wondering just as we were, "Are you on my trip?" The computer monitor of the first girl hinted to us that she was participating in CIEE, and as for the other, Claire and I decided we were too lazy, and that in the case he actually were in our program, we would just meet him in Amman (It turned out to be Alex, another Amideast fellow from Boston who incidentally is like my long lost brother. We make subtle jokes that only the other seems to understand. (Our humor isn't particularly good either)).

The thing I was really struck by on our flight to Amman was the number of military contractors on board. Imagine you're the stewardess looking down the aisle at your passengers. You've got a couple groups: Arab families talking with their kids all dressed in the height of European fashion, awkward tourists like Claire and me, clean-looking businessmen tending to their black berries, and, finally, half a dozen Oakley sunglasses, short haircut, military issued pouch wearing gentlemen. While everyone else is busy getting adjusted in his or her seats, these guys are leaning deep into the headrests and looking straight ahead as if they've already been on the flight for two hours. You know...the guys you read about, but never see. Has anyone back home ever introduced himself to you as a mercenary? I don't think so.

Well, to say the least I was intrigued. They were clearly going back to the Iraqi Theater after time at home for some brief moments. One of them was evening sitting next to me. Despite my efforts to talk with him, he did not seem interested. His forearms were the size of steel pipes, and fingers like callused lug nuts...overall, well trained, highly skilled, reserved, and nowhere to be found on the moral compass. What I did crack from him, however, is quite interesting. He's a civil engineer, originally Iraqi, and has lived in the US since 1988. Anything else is beyond me. Imagine coming back to your war-torn home to rebuild it as a military contractor. That just blows my mind.

Besides that little rant, we finally arrived in Amman to be greeted by Hala, one of the program directors. Claire, Alex, Shawn, and myself piled into a van in which we were driven from the airport in darkness to West Amman where the comfy beds of our four star hotel awaited us. On the ride, I noticed that there were many people huddled in circles sitting right next to the side of the highway. I did not yet know that they were taking Iftar (the break of fast) wherever they were when the maghrib (sunset) prayers were recited. Despite my ignorance, it turns out that the side of highways is actually a pretty hip place for Jordanians to have picnics regardless of whether it is the holy month of Ramadan.

We got to the hotel, reunited with Francesca, and met some of the other kids from our program. Only half of the students arrived on the first night. They were nice, but I was too tired to sustain conversation. The next morning the program brought us all over Amman in a bus with black curtains. The whole time the staff was pointing landmarks out and indicating the neighborhoods we were in. On the way back, they asked whether we recognized anything. Now, I think I've got a pretty good sense of direction, but after ten minutes, I had no clue where I was...let alone the cardinal direction I was facing (it was high noon). Since Amman managed to modernize in the short span of 30 years and has absorbed more than half of its population in that period, to the untrained eye, EVERYTHING looks the same. Tons of indistinguishable cement buildings sprawl over dozens of hills with streets that swerve around and around until they reach traffic circles that when driving around them conjure the sensation of being spun blindfolded before being let loose to whack a piƱata. So, it was a good day.

In the week that followed we sat through numerous briefings on the issue of safety in Jordan. I'd wager that every day we devoted eight hours to the same four or five topics and covered them all several times. It became a little trite at the end. Sure, I'm definitely one who likes to be safe, but after a certain point it just becomes deterring. Some of the main highlights from the lectures were social taboos, conversations not to have, and riding with taxis. 1) If you come to Jordan and are a man, always sit in the front seat. 2) If you are a woman, do not sit in the front seat. 3) Taxi drivers will try to gip you. 4) Rules 1-3 always apply. Another interesting tidbit that I gleaned from the orientation was that "you should not stereotype, but people here are not open to other ways of thinking." I thought to myself about how difficult it must be to support PCness while calling your fellow countrymen ignorant. The conversations to avoid in Jordan are those that discuss "anything different". Great advice...? The specific topics were a) religion b) politics c) sex and d) religion and politics. Thanks for the preparation Amideast.

So, time passed and I'm sure we did other interesting stuff in between, but on another day we were all sent in groups to go on a scavenger hunt through Amman—Amideast's effort to make us discover the city. Overall it was a great plan, but we hit two bumps. The program purposefully advised us to take the wrong bus so we would have to figure out on our own how to get to the actual intended destination, and they also sent us out mid-day for four hours during Ramadan when it is forbidden to eat or drink. So, the whole staying hydrated thing was an added bonus.

On our way back to HQ, we hitched a taxi with quite the cabby, a fair and quiet gentleman. Yet, when we finally hit some thick traffic, I mechanically asked about the weather. From that point on, the windows came down, the music started bumping, and all of a sudden the other passenger in the back, my friend Sam, and the cabby were "broing out" as if they had been friends for years. Every time we passed a woman...she didn't even have to be attractive (I think the prerequisite was just two legs and a head...arms were just an added plus)...the cabby would toot his meager horn at her and tilt the rearview mirror to make eye contact with Sam while smirking his eyebrows in a Fonzi kind of way.

He began speaking unrestrained and offered to take us to the ocean after the end of Ramadan so we could grill on the beach and chase women. Quite the offer. Out of politeness, we exchanged numbers. Another rule of Jordan, never trust your cabby. Well, I paid and tipped him for his enthusiasm. Later that night when Sam and I were sitting around, we got a call from our cabby. He inquired as to what we were up to. I graciously replied that we were busy "studying for a test". That seemed to make the point, or so I thought. The next day after several hours of more safety orientation, I trodded back to our hotel with a group of other kids. From somewhere behind me, I heard the gentle call of my name. Low and behold, it was our Cabby! He jumped out of his car, fervently shook my hand, and walloped a bouquet of kisses on either side of my face. I strained to emulate his enjoyment, and awkwardly accepted each hello. We exchanged brief words about how everything was going. Apparently he was not stocking me, which is what everyone thought at first, but actually waiting for a customer outside a store. The customer's interaction with the cabby assured me that the cabby was a good guy. The patron was an American heading the Checker's franchise in the Middle East. Apparently, every time he comes to Amman, our cabby is the taxi he uses. Who knows...maybe I will end up at some beach, grilling, and checking out women.

Sometime last week, I finally moved into my house. The program director here had completely freaked me out by claiming that my family was oober religious and that I would be on a tight leash. There would be an early curfew, no mention of drinking, no mention of sex, and almost no mention of anything different. Needless to say, after maybe three hours into the first night of my homestay, literally every single safety tip was broken. My older host brother wanted to talk to me about everything from communism to manage tois. Later that evening, we barbequed an entire pig on his roof and guzzled a fine bottle of Johnny Walker. It was not near anything I was told to expect.

So, I've definitely been living the lush life here. The family is great. I get along really well with both brothers and the mother is incredibly sweet to me. It is sometimes hard to do my homework here because I would rather be socializing with the family, and learning Arabic from speaking and listening. The one problem I have is that the food may be too good. The type of food I would rather be eating, but probably shouldn't. Every day when I wake up there are plates already set out on the table laden with pita, olives, three types of cheeses, and eggs. Cheese is my demise. I have no will power against it. This one cheese here, whose name is taken from the Arabic word for yogurt, lebneh, is amazing. It tastes like goat cheese and goes great with everything. Fortunately, I'm with a Christian family, which permits us to gorge ourselves during Ramadan.

As far as academics are concerned, the Arabic courses are amazing. They are 100x better than my previous Arabic courses at Carleton. The teachers are all really fun and really appear to want to be teaching the class. The resources they have available to assist have even been much more helpful than an entire week of Arabic at Carleton. The content courses on the other hand, have been a tad ridiculous. I was originally signed up for a course called Environmental Issues in the Middle East. When I got the course for me first three hour period, however, I found myself shot right into the high school course AP Environmental Science.

We were using power points directly from some textbook and discussing the fact that the world is made up of matter, which is in turn made up of atoms, which are in turn made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Now, I may be a physics major at Carleton, but this was not the course I was expecting at all. After that first class where we discussed chemical bonding, me and the four other kids tried to make a written proposal to the program about the course we thought we were taking. The administration was very accepting to our recommendations, but when we got to class for the next period, nothing had changed. The professor seemed rather defensive, and began lecturing about natural selection in populations of species. As politely as possible after the first hour, I informed the professor that I would not be able to take his class. Though the domino effect did not occur all at the same time, by the end of the class period, four of the five students dropped the class. The remaining student was not even able to continue because the professor resigned the next day. That was my first taste of the content courses at Amideast.

My second taste was when I had to join the only other course offered. Class was supposed to start at 1:00pm, and we were going to a Greek orthodox church downtown to speak with the director of a the program "coexistence" here in Jordan. We waited at HQ for over an hour and didn't arrive until later into 2, and still had to wait for our professor to arrive after us. What I got out of the discussion is that it is very easy to coexist in Jordan even when you are a minority. The point the Fr. did not highlight was that there is only one minority left in Jordan, the Christians, and if you've survived this long alongside Islam, it would make sense that you could coexist to some extent. Nor was he so interested in promoting coexistence among the other non-Abrahamic faiths. He kept stating that Islam is a peaceful religion, but did not mention that a growing percentage of practitioners are interpreting it otherwise. And by mere statistical reasoning, if the majority of the world is Muslim, and let's say regardless of religion the world has a certain percentage of people that are extremists about their ideology, it would make sense then that the majority of extremists are Muslim. How do we explain the old Afghanistan or today's Iran or any of the places where honor crimes are committed and where women are treated as third class citizens?

Well, that is my post for now. I'll check in again soon. Peace!