"there is no sahil."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

the last one

July 9, 2007

Since I’m writing this at 1am on Monday, July 09, 2007, I have four days to go. I don’t think my departure could come any sooner; I’m ready to go home. It will be sad to say goodbye to my family here and to a few friends, but I truly am the only one left.

A lot has happened over the past couple of months but I am very much in the mode of time-killing and pushing myself to study until Thursday when I leave and it would just be bad for me to write about my time in Jordan lately right now because it would undoubtedly have a negative, bitter spin, and that would be a disservice and it will be better for me to write about later.

After school ended I took off to Israel and Palestine with my friend Jesse and we had a blast; later on other friends joined up with us and we spent time with our friend Ahmad and his family who are Arab Israelis in their town near Akko in Israel. Spending time with them showed us another side of the Arab Israeli existence and we were just so lucky to have been welcomed and taken care of by a warm family for a few days after an exhausting couple of weeks in monotonous Amman and swimming in the ocean was beautiful.

When I came back from vacation, I started studying at Qasid, a private language institute, one-on-one with a tutor. This is what I decided to do after considering a lot of different options for the summer and I’m very happy about it. It renewed my motivation and I’m definitely looking forward to tracking down the Portland Adult Education Arabic instructor or someone from USM with whom to study intermittently when I get home. Staying focused and motivated in terms of doing homework and studying outside of class as much as I need to has been really difficult lately despite not having distractions, just because I’m so close to the end and I’ve been doing this since August.

When I come home on Friday, I will have been in Jordan or away from home for 5 weeks short of a year. Hard to believe. My good friend Jill Abromowitz has been in South Korea on a Teaching Fulbright for the year, since July of last year, and I was on her email list for weekly emails about what she is up to, and funny stories about her life in Korea. This week she went home and ended the series with a final email from home in Ohio, and it just struck me as coincidental that we’re both ending things the same week and of course like anyone who was abroad this year have a lot of the same thoughts and feelings on the experience.

The last bit of time here has been bittersweet, as leaving will be, and like I said I’d rather not summarize my feelings or draw any monumental conclusions on Jordan, Arabs, Muslims, Iraq, Palestine, the Clash of Civilizations or anything like that now because it would take too long and it would be depressing. Ask me in a month and I’ll tell you.

Friday, May 11, 2007

tired and unispired

May 10, 2007

Leigh Ann and Briana just left yesterday after a whirlwind 2-week visit. I stopped to think today and realized that I have 20 days left of the “program,” and then it’s summer; my last summer as a college kid. Ridiculous.

Honestly, I didn’t really know what I would be doing this summer and I toyed with a lot of ideas and I wish I knew the sequence of events for myself now, but I still don’t. Stuff’s higher up in the air by the day. It’s not a huge deal since it’s really only 2 months and 2 weeks—I officially finish here May 30th and I’ll be back at Smith August 19th, but it seems like a crucial chunk of time to me right now. Wouldn’t any free time after a year abroad and before a last year of college?

To make it harder, I thought my best friends would be off and away again this summer working and interning like they were last year when I was actually at home, bored and worked to death, but it sounds like they are all going to be home for most of the summer.

I have been away for a pretty long time I guess.

The past couple of months have been wacky and quick. The spring has been so different from fall and winter when life here was so nice and slow and I had so little to worry about; my mind was on autopilot with adjustment and taking in the big picture at first, and then the subtleties and details of the city and my family and Jordanians, studying here and there, and becoming friends with people. Now my days are packed and my schedule is almost smith-like; in part due to the CIEE academic schedule but also by my own doing with putting in extra at my internship, studying more away from my house and trying to keep up friendships with both American and Jordanian friends, doing conversation club and going to lectures and events, and taking an extra colloquial class. Over the last two weeks when my friends were visiting we took a weekend in Damascus and another in Tel Aviv, totally worth it but I should be catching up on work now. Somehow I make time for the important things like blogging and reading the NYTimes most-emailed articles.

To expound on my clash agreement (April 22nd): Recently its been hard to brush off recurring moral and cultural issues here. It may have to do with the fact that I’ve been here for almost nine months now and my naïveté and easy-going attitude that allowed me to let things slide by earlier in my time here has just worn off and worn out. Niqab still bothers me. I still have moments where I have to suppress the urge to yank off niqab when I see women trying to drink with it on, or coming in through the guarded gates at the University where they are supposed to check IDs. Conversation club still shakes me a little bit, like the astounding opposition to inter-religious marriage that 19 year-old Jordanians voice. A couple of months ago we had a scenario in conversation club where we had to play jury and decide the punishment for a series of crimes. When we came across the one about two 18-year old college freshmen that were raped after leaving a bar at 2am on a Friday, and students said that they thought the rapist probably picked the right ones if the girls were out that late by themselves, it served as a reminder of the difference in attitude and social customs here. When we were sitting at the Jordanian-Syrian border a couple of weeks ago, we watched SUVs full of Saudi men drive through all day, many on their way to Damascus for prostitution. What a farce.
Recently it's becoming clearer how difficult it is to pinpoint a middle ground in society and social lifestyle here with which I am comfortable. Growing up catholic, there have been tons of things that I disagree with in the doctrine and fine print, and for me its been okay to set that stuff aside and extract the teachings of my religion at their most basic form to learn and live with. It's harder for people to do that with Islam today.

April 22, 2007

New and exciting in life:

Still waiting on some answers before I actually figure out what May 30th through August 19th will hold.

On Thursday, my friend and the legend Leigh Ann Gardiner will arrive with Briana all the way from Varanasi, India. They, like all normal college students and study abroad students, will be finished with their studies. They are staying here for TWO WHOLE WEEKs which I just had a minor freak out about how best to occupy, knowing that Amman can be exhausted in 2 days and that I’ll be in school for these two weeks. I think that we will head to Damascus first thing on Friday morning, which should be perfect since I just got word that it is a long weekend. That way we can do that and still be able to go to Jerusalem the next weekend, and perhaps we will meet up with dear Sidnie Davis (Smith 08) and my friend Nikita from the UNU conference in November.

My brother William is looking at colleges! Woah, nelly!

I saw an excellent presentation on the Nabateans and Petra over the weekend. What a life to be an archaeologist and live dig season to dig season. I’d imagine it’s a bit like being a cartoonist in the early days or working in art restoration. I’d run out of patience and smash something.

In other news, after all this time I find myself closer to Samuel Huntington. It’s a lot easier to oppose the Clash of Civilizations in Religion 246: Islam and the Challenge of Modernity, than in Amman.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

sprrring break

April 10, 2007

My mum left this morning and it was sad. She visited for 5 days and we drank lots of whole-bean Green Mountain coffee, read old NYT Sunday magazines, ate the Arab staples, had a big holiday lunch with my host family and went to Petra. And floated in the Dead Sea. It was awesome.

Now it’s back to the grind and the Nescafe. Still figuring out my summer. The weather has gotten beautiful now and laundry on the clothesline only takes an hour or two to dry! Someday I’ll get to writing about my India and Pakistan trip and post that wanderlust II…but that day is not today. Below is some old stuff I put off posting.

March 3, 2007

It’s march. I can’t even believe it. No matter how much I keep coming back to it, I still can’t seem to get my head around how fast time is passing. That is the single most significantly different thing about life here I think; being acutely aware of time passing. Reminds me of that counting crows song “a long December.” Haven’t listened to that in a while, wow.

Right now I’m figuring out my summer and it’s a little bit of a bummer that school for me won’t end until may 30th since that means I can’t go to graduation or senior week, nor can I take summer classes since many of them start mid-may, and being here gives me about 3 weeks less of summer than smith normally would. That’s okay though because I think I’m going to stay for an extra two months and take some more Arabic and intern, try and use my smith praxis funding. It would be nice to relax but if I intern with praxis that won’t happen since I’ll have to do 220 hours of internship work in about 7-8 weeks, on top of whatever class I take. That’s a lot of full days. Doing this I’d be back home by August 1st and I’d have at least 2 weeks for some serious r&r before going back to smith. That is more or less my one requirement for this summer, two unoccupied weeks at home. Sounds kind of nice right now.

March 9, 2007

Today I woke up at 7:30 without an alarm (it’s Friday, weekend here) and couldn’t fall back asleep! It’s been a week of 9-10pm bedtime since I’ve been sick and in the routine of going to the gym when it opens at 7am. It’s early enough to work out and shower before class at 9, but not early enough to be too painful. I figure while I’m here and able to do so, I might as well work on fixing my sleep debt racked up from the past two years at smith and even create a nice surplus to draw on for next year. This kind of routine would just not be possible there, but it’s so easy here since I live with a family, in a house, and in a culture and country where there’s just not a ton of cheap, fun, and interesting stuff to do late at night. And I’m here to study Arabic, remember? I have to remind myself of that sometimes.

March 16, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to the gym yesterday morning. I was in a cab, and it was pouring in typical Jordanian-winter fashion, and then it started to snow. Immediately every car on the road dropped its speed down to about 15 mph and slowly as the day went on everything else in Jordan ground to a halt. It was exactly what you would expect would happen in the Arab world when faced with an unfamiliar situation like inclement weather.
To their credit, Jordanian snow is nasty. I wouldn’t want to go out in it either. To detail how things went in this state of emergency, I’ll explain my day.

First, my cab refused to turn right and drive me up the slight hill where my gym is located. Then, I knocked and yelled at the gym door (the gym opens at 7) until 7:25 or 7:30 when finally someone came and unlocked the door. Please keep in mind that the gym employee who opens in the morning does in fact live in the apartment above the gym, same building. I went to change in the locker room but then the gym girl came in to inform the three of us who came in to workout, one of whom was already on the machines, that they would in fact be closing now and would remain closed for the day. Neat!
I sent a text message to my academic director to ask whether class would be held or not (it’s 7:35 now and class begins at 9am; the center doesn’t even open until 8am) and she replied that the university was open and functioning. The three of us went to a coffee shop to sit and watch everyone freak out about walking in the snow for a little while before class. We made our way over to the university, completely soaked at that point since the snow was more of a slush at the beginning of the day and because it sat on the ground first as slush and then as water since Jordan is all hills and absolutely no drainage, no gutters, no nothing. When we arrived, as expected, very few people were there. By 9:30, there were about 12 students and our advisor hadn’t arrived yet. Then the director of the center decided since no teachers were there, that in fact class would be cancelled today. Really, it was a fun exercise in wasting money, getting really wet and cold, and high-risk driving. Thankfully the snow was beautiful and actually accumulated on the ground—it snowed all day and night; by night time the snowflakes were huge and dry and just like at home. It didn’t melt til this afternoon when it started raining.

Of course there were really no cabs available but thankfully I was able to find a bus with room. Later in the day I caught a cab to go do some work at my internship, and the first cab I got into refused to turn on the meter and told me he would take me for 3JD (the ride costs 1.10) so I asked him if he was crazy and he said no, the weather was crazy, and I said ok bye and found another one. I went to my internship office (after calling to make sure they were open about 2 hours before) and of course when I arrived at about 2pm it was closed and everyone had gone home. So I got in another cab to go to a friend’s house that has central heating and couches and blankets and this cab told me he would also not go by the meter and I said okay, then I would not go by his cab, and he gave in. They crack pretty easy. What a day.

April 1st 2007.

Not a lot has happened lately. I’m not sure if my culture-shock continuum progress was delayed or if the usually-crappy-month-of-March just got me like it usually does, but recently life here has been a little bit similar to Groundhog Day. Aside from the plain skull-numbing monotony, I notice more and more how bitter and critical and unforgiving I’ve become about things that frustrate me here. The naïve, carefree and endlessly optimistic attitude I had upon arrival has dwindled along with my patience. Thinking back to when I first arrived, I remember thinking that living here would make me unfriendly, since social interaction and confidence and friendliness in general as a female is just suppressed and unexpected, but being here has not made me that way but in fact more defensive, outspoken and generally more of a bitch, to coarsely simplify. The spring semester students often remind me of this. A lot of times it’s about the study abroad program that I’m on, and not about Jordan. I think that Andy, me, and my economics professor together could make this country work if we could control and change all of the criticisms and incompetences we complain about. How American.
I have to stop and remind myself of my mantra, some variation of some line from American Beauty that in retrospect was exactly what I did to remain sane and happy when I got to Jordan and realized that bureaucracy, general incompetence in daily transactions and administrative bullshit are comparatively nonexistent in America if you compare the two; in the street alone in India; in the Sharjah airport; in the CIEE office; and in so many other situations. Sit back and let it run over me like rain. Be fatalist, Arab.

I’ve become somewhat of a nomad, going between school and my internship, the gym and friend’s apartments, sleeping there as not to annoy my family when I’m out and up late using the internet and with friends, and home when I have to.

In class I make lists and notes to myself. I anticipate dates. Summer internship application deadlines, trips, weekends, visits…and planning. Planning for the summer, for courses in the fall, for fellowships and scholarships next year, and for trips and visits before I go home. I read the New York Times online and I go to conversation club. Most weeks I sign up for tutoring during lunch and tomorrow I’ll register for extra colloquial Arabic classes at the French Cultural Centre. I try to study but instead I do things like this and highlight excessively and make flashcards, things I don’t need to concentrate on. The house is too dark and too loud. My host family just bought a desktop computer and it’s being installed on the kitchen table for lack of a better place. My little sister here got two chicks for Palm Sunday to keep for a while before her uncle comes to take them to one of the farms that he works on. They’re in a cardboard box on the veranda. They chirp constantly and my host mom just carried one of them into the kitchen and then back out again to show the computer installation man. I’m afraid of bird flu and I think they’re kind of gross.

I read this NYT article today and it made me smile:

Saturday, February 24, 2007


since it's so difficult and time consuming to post photos with this site, there are six photo albums i've posted on facebook dating from september all the way to january break. there are three of jordan and three of the middle east, india and pakistan, and you can find them here, in CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER--earliest to latest, top to bottom.


WANDERLUST PART I: Christmas Vacation

FEBRUARY 2, 2007
A Brief Introduction to “WANDERLUST PART I: Caitlin’s Christmas Vacation”
I’ll start at the beginning. I’m piecing this together from what I remember about my trip and what I think about it now, the writing I did while I was travelling, the writing other people did about our travelling (Yasmeen gets credit here for whatever I jack from her blog), and for lack of anything better, the scrap or two of paper that were my lifelines while on the road, with the makeshift itineraries I drew up and then amended after-the-fact, a line for each day when I was just too beat to bother breaking open the journal when I got home to the hostel or house or wherever each night. So, details aren’t spread equally across the countries. Bummer.

To set the scene…
I left on December 14th at 8 o’clock in the morning. Our plan was to go to Syria, Lebanon, come back down through Syria and back to Jordan and then on to Israel and Palestine to spend a day or two before Christmas in Jerusalem and go to Christmas eve mass in Bethlehem, then come back home to Jordan on Christmas. I had a flight to catch at 2am on December 26th. India and Pakistan are another story.

SO, we took off in a van from Abdali, Yasmeen, Nick, Del and Deborah. Five people is kind of a big group to travel with, but it worked out and there was no lack of shoulders to snooze on in the junky old Cadillacs and services we rode in from country to country.

In a chilly bed in our room in the Ghazal Hotel in Damascus. Totally enamoured with this city. So different from Amman, and I’ve been here a few hours. We left at 8 this morning and got through the border by 12:30, definitely counting ourselves lucky with that one. There was a pretty ridiculously ritzy and bizarrely out-of-place duty free shop at the border that served to keep us occupied in the 2 or 3 hours we had to kill waiting for them to “fax” our documents to Damascus and acquire permission to send us on our way with tourist visas. We also kept busy studying all of the people who came through the border office. We saw quite the variety of Arabs come in and out, but much more fun was the foreign line—Nick and I had some good fun playing guess the nationality with the occasional Turks and other randomers headed to Assad’s Syria. And yes, the sign at the border did in fact say “Welcome to Assad’s Syria.” That guy has a pretty serious moustache.

Anyway, we finally got through the border after being sent back and forth from customs to immigration to a “stamp booth” to money changers and so on. We slept in the van and I awoke in heavy, slow traffic coming into the city. The services (share taxis) here are huge white vans, the taxis are stubby older European cars, not like the sporty new nissans and toyotas in Amman, and these taxis have character. I get a kick out of the odd taxi with more than one Abdullah photo and interior neon lights—no comparison. The taxis here are decked out. We’re talking mini-posters of Assad, Nasrallah, AND Ahmadinejad, stuffed animals, snow globes, action figures, and as many rear-view mirror accessories as space allows. The public buses were also quite a treat. They’re like old old greyhounds in the chrome and retro pastels with enamelled decorative designs along the sides and front, covered in similar kitschy trinkets and detailed like the jingle trucks in Amman.

Deborah and I were cracking up in the car because of the ridiculous horn that the bus we were driving next to had. I swear, you have never heard anything like it in your life. Actually, I retract that statement—you’ve heard something like it if you’ve ever seen Rocky Horror Picture Show. At the very end when people are getting zapped, it’s like the sound of the zapping gun or whatever it is that is used, kind of like a “blee-dee-be-de-be-bweeeeeep-bleeeeee.” IT was also reminiscent of something from Willy Wonka and could also be likened to Gizmo from Gremlins singing a short song.
Our van let us off at the main bus station in downtown Damascus and the five of us put our backpacks on and set off single file with the name of a hostel and some very dodgy walking directions (facing the souq, turn left and walk under the overpass, it’s down one of those streets on the left), courtesy of a friend of Yasmeen. Miraculously, after only about 15 minutes, we found it. Sure enough, we were very warmly welcomed by Ahmed at this hostel, who became even warmer when we mentioned the name of the friend who had told us about the hostel. We dumped our stuff and left to wander around and also locate an atm.

The juice shops on the street were everywhere and just looked to good, so we got some pomegranate juice and it was amazing and no one got sick. Not eating street food is just lame. Build up your immune system. Introduce your body to new micro organisms. After this delicious vitamin C booster, we window shopped, enjoying the shock and novelty of the Hizbollah, Nasrallah etc. souvenir key chains and other paraphernalia. Eventually we came across an old movie theatre and decided to duck in. Sure enough, in keeping with tradition for downtown movie theatres in Arab countries, it was playing an American kung-fu rip-off Jean Claude Van Damme B list movie from 1992 and had posters up for some questionable and remotely racy 70s American bikini movies. We caught the last 10 minutes of the bad kung-fu movie and made it through about a half an hour of the Indian murder mystery that followed. It was worth the 50 Syrian pounds ($1) to see how amused and surprised the ticket sellers were that we were interested in going in. After that excursion, we went to dinner and argileh near the bus station where we had been that afternoon and on the way home we were drawn into a sweet shop with lots of people hanging around and sharing hot kanafa on trays outside, so we did the same—five forks and a half a kilo of hot kanafa. Kanafa is the dessert of Jordan and Syria does it pretty well too—it’s generally hard to go wrong with if it’s hot—it’s goat cheese with shredded pastry filo dough on top and sprinkled with pistachios and watered-down honey. You feel your arteries clogging.

From there, we walked through the famous main drag of the covered souq as it was closing down, and then we popped by the Umayyad Mosque to see it at night. It was freezing out. When we were really on our way home, we stopped to use the internet and it turned out to be the very same place that our friend Stewart had used regularly when he lived in Damascus over the summer. Funny how that happens.

Like I mentioned before, I didn’t expect there to be much of a difference between Amman and Damascus other than there being a lot more to do and see. I was immediately struck by how old and beautiful and European the city is. The colours are darker, older, less austere and uniform and unnatural than the sticky PC beige of Amman. We’re stared at noticeably less, even in a group of five. Someone even asked nick and me for directions when we were out yesterday. Not too much English is spoken; even the menu at the rather new, pseudo-hip café we went to yesterday was only in Arabic. I was telling friends today that the fountains, monuments, flags and photos of Assad, coupled with the cobblestone streets and little old men in wool jackets and caps kind of make me feel like in what I would imagine a large city in Estonia to have been like in 1982 or perhaps occupied Poland, but a lot happier. Generally, a lot of things about Damascus are reminiscent of 1982. Automobiles would be one example. There is much less veiling on all levels here, which I was not expecting at all. I thought it would be more socially conservative than Jordan and that has not been true at all.

(December 15 &16)

Today we walked to the University of Damascus, just to check it out, and of course were denied entry as we are not students and it is also Friday…and they probably don’t get a lot of people our age and nationality coming for a stroll around the campus all that often. No big deal. Before that we walked through another one of the endless souqs of the city, one that was just food, and the shopkeepers were just opening up. We took a cab to Bab Touma, the Christian quarter of Damascus, and stopped into a beautiful little Armenian church. We walked around for a while, the three of us who took one cab waiting and looking for the other two (we found each other on the opposite side of Bab Touma about an hour later) and scouting out places to eat and just enjoying the narrow streets. Bab Touma was sort of like Venice without the water—lots of little shrines and churches with small front courtyards and gates, and the tiny streets and alleys too narrow for any cars to be driving, although we did see one very laudable demonstration. We also went to a little café and had wine and cheese for a little pick-me-up which probably added to this feeling of mine. We’ve made it a habit to stop anywhere we see delicious or foreign looking food, which tends to be on average every 2 or 3 hours—it’s just so cheap and fresh—bakery bread, hot pastries, fresh juices, every kind of olive you could think of in the souqs, sajj bread made on a big hot plate, and of course the old shawerma staple. Before our wine & cheese lunch, we were walking down a street in Bab Touma and smelled something heavenly so we all started kind of sniffing the air to get an idea of the direction it was coming from. A couple of British boys came out of nowhere and asked if they could help us, I guess I would have offered my help to five white kids sniffing the air in the middle of an intersection if I saw them; and they directed us to a little window about thirty feet away where a little man was sitting with a table piled with fresh thick semolina pitas behind him, so we forked over the fifteen cents and each got one to munch on. While we were sitting at the café later, I decided that the places we had been stopping and the cheap snacks and delicacies we had been having were just too amazing to forget, so began the idea for a “Fat Kid’s Guide to the Middle East,” detailing fun food adventures through the Arab world. Look for it in bookstores in the next couple of years. I think it will become a reality eventually. Not to mention a bestseller.

On our last day in Damascus, we set out early for the Great Mosque. We had a blast putting on special clothes in the putting on special clothes room, and the mosque itself was just huge. I love mosques, especially the really famous ones, because it is thoroughly interesting to see the groups of Muslims coming from all over the place to visit and pray there. Mosques are also great because they’re generally spacious and have an outside component to them, they’re not intimidating, and they are relatively private when it’s not Friday. Deborah and I sat down on the carpet and just took in the scene and people-watched for a while. The carpets covering the floor of the mosque were beautiful. The only thing I did not enjoy about the Umayyad Mosque was how cold my feet were walking from the Mosque through the courtyard and back to where I left my shoes. That was not very much fun at all.

After the Mosque, we had big plans for doing the souq. First we went to Azem Palace to see popular life through the ages in Damascus depicted by scary little mannequins. Just one quick FYI: Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the World! DUH! Anyhoo, we wandered through the souqs from the gold souq to the underwear souq to the ones selling nuts and sweets to coats to Qur’ans to kitchenwares and really everything you can think of, up until you get back to the main drag where it’s just everyday clothes, argilehs and souvenirs. I think all of us bought an argileh and then we had to do more research for our book at this bustling ice cream shop where we all got a cone of croquant or Arabic flavour ice cream (a variation on vanilla) dipped in pistachios.

Yasmeen, Del and Nick were pretty beat and so headed back in the direction of the hostel to do some internet and nap, and Deborah and I kept up the souq and street wandering, going back through the food souq we had seen opening the day before and stopping to watch some good butchering and then bread making, splitting a strange spicy calzone type snack that we were fascinated by, and then I attempted to buy some clementines for our trip to Lebanon the next day, thinking about 15 would be more than enough. I gave the boy about 25 cents, and apparently fruit is cheap like everything else in Syria and so we wound up with a couple of pounds of clementines that I toted around until we got back to Jordan. As it began to get dark, Deborah and I stumbled upon the used clothing souq of Damascus. If you know me, you know I freaked out. We spent as long as we could there without being late to dinner with the others, and I made out with a sweet new winter coat, olive green, with a hood and toggles. I have been wearing the thing since I got it and I’ve not yet washed it (gross). That night we ate at an adorable café with four tables (two downstairs and two in the loft with a ladder going up) and a very gracious owner who told us he would make us whatever we wanted (I believe the orders that night ranged from scrambled eggs with cheese to steak to pasta carbonara to ribs) and adding to our Syrian coincidences, had served lunch to two of our other friends from University of Jordan the day before. It was a nice way to end our mini-tour of Damascus.

The next day (December 17) we got up and out pretty early and were on the road to Lebanon in a big old yellow Cadillac boat of a vehicle, four of us in the back and one in the front, the trunk packed with our backpacks and new argilehs. Our border experience was quick and easy, and other than being sent to change money with a man through the chain link fence, was not really that sketchy at all. The drive was scenic, and everyone is accurate and not exaggerating when they call Lebanon beautiful and Syria interesting and cheap. That about sums it up. We found the hostel that our friend Ahmed had referred us to no problem, and this hostel we were thrilled to learn had not only hot water but heating too! I slept without my fleece for two days! Our first afternoon in Lebanon we took a walk around the downtown and just kind of took it all in. New big buildings, nice big roads and nice big luxury cars, big concrete sidewalks with no one on them, and lots of glass. Fancy coffee shops and stores with gorgeous Christmas displays in the windows, all closed. Roads in the downtown, closed.

We followed the street signs that were everywhere in English and Arabic, until we made it to the AUB campus where we walked around for a bit, stopped to get pizza, and then availed of the opportunity to accost any student on the campus knowing they would speak impeccable English, and sure enough the first guy we asked lived on the same floor as my friend Nabil who had offered to show us around the city. He and his friend Wajih took us for a walk along the corniche, and gave us an excellent insider narration of hotspots and landmarks around the place. In keeping with tradition, we ran into another friend from University of Jordan, Laila, walking with her boyfriend along the corniche. Nabil and Wajih took us to a great café near the university, of course small and hip and a historic hangout of the intellectuals and leftists. And the food was ridiculous.

The next day was sad. After breakfasting together at one of the above mentioned fancy coffee shops, we bid farewell to Deborah who had a plane to catch to Texas, leaving from Queen Alia International. Then we lost Nick to stomach discomfort and it was me, Yasmeen and Del. We decided that we would brave it and check out the protests in the downtown. Things were pretty quiet since it was just the late morning and things are generally quiet at protests like that unless there is a musical performance, orator, or fighting, so it was cool to see what it’s like day-to-day there. No one really said anything to us and people were just kind of hanging out or sleeping. It was crazy to watch everything escalate in the news knowing we had been right there a couple of weeks before.

(December 18)
It’s funny to think about where my mind was exactly one year ago at this time. I wish I’d brought “from Beirut to Jerusalem” with me but I suppose that would have been a little too appropriate and kind of cheesy and what would be the point of trying to read that on a two week vacation in four countries?
The kids want to go to bed so this will be short.
Today was our first and only full day in Beirut. No one thought we should come here because of the current political climate, but it turns out there is enough razor wire and police to barricade every street and guard each and every person in this city or so it seems. I definitely had no idea what it would be like here or what to expect; in part a casualty of final exams and scarce access to news, but I did not expect 3-8 police and military personnel on every street corner. Not just police; we’re talking fully uniformed and armed soldiers with really big guns. To bump it up a notch, the evidence of this summer is everywhere and it’s just really awful. In parts of the city you can’t tell what is from this summer and what is leftover from 1975-1995. On the way in to the city yesterday we passed that huge suspension highway bridge that was halved by bombing, and it’s a drop in the bucket, really and truly.

Nabil and his friend Wajih have been amazing to us and I owe them bigtime. Nabil is a student at American University of Beirut whom I met at a course I took at the United Nations University in Amman called “The Politicization of Religion in the Middle East.” I mentioned to him that I was planning on coming to Lebanon and he said to get in touch with him, and that we did. What a far cry AUB is from the University of Jordan! The campus is beautiful; they do own part of the beach and waterfront, and a lighthouse that is perpetually destroyed by the Israelis (kind of strange), and in terms of appearance and social interaction, we might as well have been on the Amherst campus. We tried so hard to find sushi tonight, but all of the places we had in mind weren’t open yet or we couldn’t find—sometimes Americans just want to eat dinner at 6:30pm instead of 9…
We’ve decided to go ahead and go to Tripoli tomorrow and stay overnight, and then come back to Beirut on Wednesday, have the evening and stay overnight and then head back to Jordan first thing in the morning on Thursday (the 21st!).

Tripoli was great. It was a sharp contrast after being in not-so-bustling Beirut; for one it generally resembled Damascus more so than Beirut—less big, empty, swanky stores selling Versace and just a more old city feel, and also because it was actually in working order. We took the bus from Beirut this morning after having breakfast at a quirky little café/boutique that would fit right in on Commercial street in Portland or really anywhere in downtown Northampton. We did our usual wandering around upon arrival and took rooms in an old hotel that won us over with its high ceilings, huge hallway, beautiful old moulding and stained glass. “What character,” we thought, but it was only later that we realized it was more grotty and cold than charming. Yasmeen and I wound up sleeping in one of the twin beds (away from the window) with all of our clothes on and all of the blankets, and we had a visitor knock on our door at about 2am, needless to say we didn’t answer it and boy were we glad we’d locked the door after they tried the knob…yikes! Regardless, we really enjoyed the city.

We saw the citadel, walked through the souqs—used clothes followed by food, couldn’t ask for more, had some awesome fish at a tiny café near the corniche, and then Yasmeen and I spent the evening with Sara Shati, the teacher who taught me the Arabic alphabet back in the Pioneer valley! She taught Arabic at Umass, Smith and Hampshire as a Fulbright scholar and lived in an apartment next to King house on the smith campus last year. At the end of the school year she went back to Tripoli to continue teaching in public school. We were welcomed unbelievably warmly, were introduced to her mother and sister, taken for a narrated driving tour through the city, treated to fresh carrot juice and then a late dinner at two of Sara’s favourite places and then went back to her apartment to hang out for a while. It was just so nice to see her again and I don’t think either of us could really believe we were reconnected not even a year later, in Lebanon. Funny where you wind up.

The next day we got up and out of that hotel as fast as possible and we went to have a better look at the citadel which had been closing when we got there the day before. They were charging way too much for entry so Yasmeen and I were cheap and sat outside chatting with a nice Lebanese soldier. From there we went to Rafat Hallab Sweets, Tripoli’s most famous sweet shop, and instead of sampling the Arab sweets they are most famous for like kanafa and baklava, the ice cream menu was just too tempting and we all had amazing ice cream before packing back on the bus to Beirut. On the way back to Beirut, we made a special request for the driver to pull over and drop us off on the side of the highway as close as possible to Jbeil, otherwise known as Byblos, one of Lebanon’s more famous (but not crowded) attractions and one of the Decapolis cities. They had a great museum and the city was huge and in various states of preservation after so many stages of inhabitation. It’s also right on the water, and that is just beautiful within itself. There were a couple of fishermen standing out in the water on some exposed rocks, and I regret being unable to take a good photo of them out there. It could’ve been anywhere along the coast of Maine. The bus took us off the highway and on smaller roads along the water on the way to Tripoli and back, and I felt a sense of familiarity and homesickness seeing boarded up summer homes and junky hotels closed for the off-season.

(December 20)
Watching some quality al jazeera English and we’re finally going out to sushi for our last night here. Tomorrow we’re going from Beirut to Jerusalem, or trying to.

Turns out we were just too tired to get from Beirut to Jerusalem in one day so we had an overnight pit-stop in Amman. At the Lebanon-Syria border the guards were either not amused that we were trying to go to Syria visaless a second time or they were just really busy at the embassy and border offices that day. Needless to say, we got some good card playing in and could probably draw you an accurate map of the duty free shop.

The duty free shop at the Lebanon-Syria border is one of the strangest things I have ever seen. I welcome any attempts at explanation. First of all, the duty free was located about 200 feet before the actual border station, so you had to technically go back towards Lebanon to get to it. When we walked out of the border station to go over to it, a guard told us that no, we couldn’t, it was off-limits and mamnoua (forbidden). That was hilarious because if not people crossing the border, who shops there? There is no parking lot, and you must exit Lebanon at the Lebanese border office and drive a ways before reaching this duty free, clearly located at the Syrian arrival border office, so it’s not like people drive on over from Beirut to do some shopping at the duty free. Anyway, after having the guard from the border office (who had directed us over to the shop in the first place to get coffee and look around because he knew we would be there a while) argue on our behalf with the guard who told us “mamnoua”, it was decided that we were indeed allowed to regress back to the duty free. To begin with there was a massive duty free shop like any well-stocked airport duty free with your regular electronics, luxury clothes, bags, sunglasses and watches, chocolate, sweets, (ridiculously cheap) alcohol and cigarettes. All really nice stuff. They also had a nice restaurant and a brand-new Dunkin’ Donuts (not open yet) which is the only name-brand Dunkin’ I’ve seen in the Middle East to date (in Jordan we have a rip-off called Donuts Factory). Now the strange thing about the restaurant was that we were the only customers. There were other people there, but it took us about two minutes to realize the reason they were wearing blue and id tags and only nursing coffee and cigarettes was that they were all employees in adjacent duty free shop. Things get weirder.

Within the duty free was also a large grocery store. This grocery store had nothing really perishable, a lot of bulk goods, mostly dry and canned, household cleaning stuff, and toiletries. Neither was it a grocery store of normal size for this region or normal goods. It was roughly ¾ the size of an American grocery store, and featured such products as SYSCO cherry pie filling in restaurant-size cans like the ones we use at the nursing home I work at in the summer, HUGE bottles of French’s mustard, Newman’s Own Newman-O cookies (AH!), Lipton soup packets, Hershey’s kisses (WHAT?!), and even an ORGANIC beauty care section with brands like Kiss My Face and Tom’s of Maine ripoffs. I just could not believe it—you cannot buy stuff like this anywhere here, specifically those random brands and I think the real question here is who makes cherry pie in Syria?

So as you can gather, I was thoroughly amazed to find this grocery store here and to see what ridiculous products it was attempting to sell to whatever secret customers use it (we were the only people there who were not employees). I’m still puzzled by it. I asked one of the many idle employees how long the store had been open, thinking maybe it was brand-new and just establishing itself, going through a rather slow business-pick-up, but no, it had in fact been open for almost 2 years. I asked who shopped there and he said that people did, but more used to before the war. I was thinking perhaps restaurateurs or American embassy staff or something like that, that maybe it acts as a makeshift commissary for Americans in either country, but I have no idea. Strange. Regardless, we sure enjoyed those caramel Hershey kisses.

Our taxi driver, who had agreed to take us through to Amman and wait at the border for us, was understandably annoyed after about 5 hours of sitting around in the border building which had no heat and was under construction and so exposed to the outside. When we were finally granted re-entry to Syria to get back home to Amman, our crazy driver took us to the bus station in Damascus instead of all the way to Amman. We had all been very happy with the price he gave us for the trip, and we had made it clear we wanted to go all the way through to Amman but we should’ve known something was up by how little of a fight he put up for the price…instead we realized when we rolled in to the bus station that he was taking us only to Damascus. A small scene ensued, and Nick and Del took our friend the driver into the police station where they argued more while Yasmeen and I sat in the cab mostly groggy from napping and just kind of fed up with the situation, not wanted to add any more cooks to the kitchen. After their little pow-wow in the station, we finally paid what we had agreed on which was lame since it was cheap for Beirut to Amman but rather expensive for Beirut to Damascus, so the guy made out pretty well. When there are foreigners and an argument, people pounce. I’ve found this to be true more so in India than anywhere else, but this definitely happened at the station in Damascus. The first man on the scene was a one-legged elderly fellow who kept saying in a terrible terrible attempted New York accent, “Be cool man, come on now man, why don’t cha give the guy a break, give him some money man, be cool man ya know,” and he informed us that he used to work for the American marines. The whole situation was so ridiculous and just absurd that I couldn’t help but chuckle a little through all of the frustration and fatigue. It’s 6pm, we’re at the Damascus bus station and a peg-leg man is telling us to be cool. Excellent. We found another cab to take us back to Amman and by this time it was dark out. Time flies when you sit at the Syrian border all day.

When we got to the Jordanian border we all felt pretty happy to be home and to not have to deal with the administration of Assad’s Syria (Note: This would not be the first time we were elated to return to Jordan, please see next section re: Trip to Israel). Little things like queues at the border office, heating, generally less hassle, less incompetence and more order than Syria’s borders were welcomed. Additionally, we just happened to hit it at the right time…
At the border coming in to Jordan there were a lot of sweater-clad, well-built men of medium height, all with big faces, ruddy complexions and little knit caps on their heads. Then we saw their wives in the bathroom at the border with their children, brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed. Bed was the floor and seats of ancient mini-buses piled high with luggage strapped to the top and filled with people and blankets. They all smiled hugely at us in the bathroom, we smiled back, and then one of them asked us something in a language that we did not understand. Then another one tried. We smiled and lifted our eyebrows in the international “ihavenoideawhatyouaresayingtomeahhhh!” facial expression, and finally one of them said “Muslim? Hajj?” and we nodded no and repeated “student in Jordan” in Arabic and English a couple of times. It took Yasmeen and me a second, but we realized that these were buses of families driving to HAJJ from AZERBAIJAN. Can you even imagine?

A Cut & Paste

Because I think that she does a great job of it, I am plagiarizing Yasmeen’s account of our trip to Palestine and Israel. Background on Yasmeen: Yasmeen was one of my best friends here last semester, and strangely enough we were the first person each other met on the program, in the Frankfurt airport way back when. We had the same classes last semester and also spent a lot of time together taking on the city and smoking argileh with her host brother, Anmar. She is from San Franscisco but goes to GWU, her mother is American-born Lebanese (hence the Arabic name), and she has a brother who will be a famous extreme sports star one day (he is currently a sponsored biker). Yasmeen is now in Dakar, Senegal for the second half of her junior year, perfecting her French and learning Wolof. What a year.

Regardless, she is a good writer and more concise and interesting than I am, with better details too. So…to set the scene, I’ll cut and paste her account from exactly where I left of in mine. Stuff in [these brackets] is my addition, good luck not getting utterly confused.

Yasmeen’s Account
We finally rolled into our own bus station downtown at 9pm, resigned to the fact that we would have to spend the night in Jordan before going on to Jerusalem. One night made all the difference. We started out bright and totally refreshed the next morning, ready once again to take on another border. Good thing too, because we ended up needing all our patience…

The Jordanian-Israeli border is in the middle of the desert. After paying our Jordanian exit tax and being repeatedly assured that our passports would not be stamped, we boarded a bus that would take us from one side of no-mans-land to the other. When the bus stopped, immediately all of our bags were unloaded and we had to turn our bags and passports over to the Israeli guards. At this point began exactly what Allison, my resident director, had prepared me for. As my friends and the other people on the bus got their passports back, I was called inside, sent through the metal detector and x-ray machine that other Arabs were going through, and asked to wait while the others moved on. My friends, the angels that they are, waited right there for me as everyone else moved on to the next stage in the process. I waited for an IDF agent, who took me aside for fifteen minutes or so and grilled me. In his defense, he is fantastic at his job – he knew my life story by the time we were done. Apparently I was deemed nonthreatening enough to move on to round two, which is the questioning that everyone goes through.

All of us stood in line, waiting to talk to the women military members in behind the glass about our trip. This part was relatively painless, a little more intense than the questioning at any of the other borders, but still not too hard. After we were all cleared, we were sent through the last line, to have our passports checked for stamps and to get our bags back. As we waited in line, we became aware of the room to our left, packed with people waiting around. Cait turned to me and said, “Notice anything about the people next to us?” Every person in the line next to us was an Arab. Every one. We sighed, secretly thankful to be carrying American passports to avoid hours more at the border. I walked up to the woman at the counter and handed over my passport at which point she looked at me and said, “Yasmeen? You need to go in that line,” and indicated to the area with all the people waiting around next to us. She asked if my friends were traveling with me, and when they answered in the affirmative she said that they should go with me. So for the next hour or so we waited with all the other Arabs going through the border. There was a lot of yelling going on from both sides, and there seemed to be an infinite amount of miscommunication. The guards would yell out names like, “Ahmed”, “Amjad” and “Muhammad” and everyone would start to laugh as eight men would all stand up, questioning exactly which of them they were calling. It was really a chaotic situation, and the air in the room was obviously a bit tense. After what seemed like days, our bags were all opened and searched, and the guards had everyone dump everything on their person onto a table to be swabbed for explosives. After being deemed safe, we were allowed to get our bags back and finally leave the border. My friends have said they were glad to be traveling with me, because if they weren’t then they would never know what all the Arabs that try to get through the border have to go through every day. (They were the only white people that had been stopped, and it seems that they were only stopped because they were traveling with me.) After the four hour, relatively demeaning escapade, I was probably ten times more thankful just to have them with me.
We stayed at a hostel in the old city, right inside Jaffa gate. The fun thing about Jerusalem was the opportunity to see all the famous sites that we had heard about throughout our lives – the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Tower of David, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, etc. I mean the city is really packed wall to wall with ancient and spiritual places. The Muslim and Jewish holy sites were the most fun to see; everyone is very respectful, and you can definitely feel the intensity in the air. What’s sad and disappointing is that everyone is so silent at the other sites that the moment they get to a Christian holy site, all hell seems to break loose. Seriously, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was a shit show. Jam packed with tourists, yelling, running around and crowding everything. It was disappointing for us to have so little opportunity for reflection in such a chaotic environment. We ended up trying to explore the smaller, less touristed churches around the city, which proved to be rewarding – there are a plethora to find, each with their own individual history.

[The day before Christmas eve we went to mass at the Notre Dame center just outside the walls of the Old City. All four of us went, me, Nick, Yas, and Del. The homily was standard and great, a solid reminder of the meaning of Christmas, and afterwards some of the Filipina women who are part of the congregation there had a supper for everyone downstairs. The mass was well-attended but not packed, despite it being Jerusalem two days before Christmas. I went to confession afterwards and while I was waiting, talked to a Filipina woman who works in Jerusalem at St. George’s Hospice which I think is now a place that clergy lives or a sort of hotel, I’m not sure, but she was there working and her two-year old was back at home in the Philippines. She had only been there a few months and it was her first time being away from her son and family at Christmas, and it just made me really sad. When I went downstairs to meet my friends at the potluck, the women were so warm and happy to share the food they had made and talk to us, and it made me hopeful to think that the woman I had met upstairs waiting for confession had a group of people like that to support her.]

Christmas evening we slowly began to make our way from the old city to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, for midnight mass. We had quite an experience with a bus driver in the new city: we got onto his bus, paid, realized it wasn’t going to the check point, and got right off. He stopped the bus and ushered us back in, wanting to help us, and when he realized he couldn’t he offered to give us our money back. So Del and I got back onto the bus, said thanks for trying to help but we will just take our money back and be on our way. At this point the bus driver asked if we were Jewish, and after I answered that we weren’t we were just trying to get to Christmas mass, he turned his head away and shooed us of the bus with his hand. Well then. Needless to say, we were a bit stunned and it took us a few seconds after stepping off the bus to realize what had happened. But Cait tried to keep everyone in the forgiving Christmas spirit, so we just walked away and found a miracle shuttle (we named it such because we had no idea what we were doing and the shuttle just appeared out of nowhere) to take us to the check point.

It took us a couple moments after we got to the checkpoint to realize what it was. We just hadn’t really thought it through ahead of time, but we ended up being rushed through a metal detector and some razor wire, and the suddenly the gigantic Wall was directly in front of us. It was actually quite startling to realize we were going to pass through it. On the Israeli side of the wall, just before you crossed into Palestine, a gigantic banner the height of the wall itself was hanging next to the guard tower, with the words “Peace Be With You” in English, Hebrew, and Arabic on it, hung by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism just behind the chain linked fence. The fact that it was hanging there stunned us, and I think will all considered it a bit ironic. After crossing through the wall itself we were on the Palestinian side, and when you look up you can see, from the ground to fifteen feet high, that its decorated with spray paint, tagging and urban art expressing the feelings of the people on this side of the wall. It made each of us quite emotional– I felt as if I was really privileged to see it, because no one sees photos of this side of the wall and everything it has on it. There were huge paintings, seemingly professional and very poignant, and then there were just words written with a fifteen-cent spray paint can from the local grocer. I only took a photo of the very first thing I saw; I realized in seconds that I would never be able to photograph everything in the dark and being swept down the ramp by everyone else wanting to go to mass. As soon as we reached the road, we heard prices and propositions for rides all being called out in Arabic, and we piled into a taxi headed for the church. After less than a minute on the road, we all just sort of looked at each other and smiled, finally feeling comfortable again. Here we knew what we were doing – we could communicate with the driver, we understood the social circumstance we were in and could navigate the cultural minefield. We had felt so lost in Jerusalem for the last couple days, and especially wandering around all evening trying to get to the West Bank that we all felt relieved to be back in our comfort zone.

The main square in Bethlehem on which the Church of the Nativity sits was insane. There were people everywhere, a huge stage with some Spanish singer belting out her own pop tunes on it, lights, and balloons, and the entire place could have been classified as total mayhem. It took us a few hours to even figure out how to get into the church, and how to try to enter without tickets to mass. We crammed into line with the other 20 bagillion people trying to get into the church, and after an hour or so Nick tried to talk the guard into letting us in, and failed miserably. Boys. When will they learn to just let girls take care of some of these things? Cait and I managed to speak with another guard, convince him that we just wanted to hear mass from the grotto, and sure enough we got through the security line and made our way to the chapel under the church. We stayed long enough to see the procession and hear some of the music before mass began, but there were so many people, and we kept being told to do all different things and go to different places, and all we could here were screeching sneakers and people talking among themselves and taking photos of the grotto behind us. A little after midnight, sad and resigned to the negativity of the last six hours in general, we decided to just leave before it got any worse. As we left the main square, I noticed this guy selling really obnoxious large party hats that resembled old dunce caps covered in wrapping paper and tinsel. We were all feeling really down and out, so I bought four of the hats, and made a rule that as long as it was still Christmas, we had to wear our hats. And sure enough, that’s exactly what we did. Each of us solemnly put on the hats and decided that we were going to have fun for the next 24 hours, because it was Christmas, and that’s the way it should be. We wore them into a taxi, through the wall and the Israeli check point (we insisted on keeping them on when we went through the metal detectors) [where we wandered around for a good five or ten minutes because we couldn’t find the door or figure out which way to go—it was like the end of the Wizard of Oz where the Wizard is speaking and the voice is coming from a PA system but no one can figure out where he actually is, or find any people around…it was like a bad dream, with armed soldiers on catwalks above us, pacing back and forth. But we kept our hats on, back through the checkpoint and on the bus back to the old city.]

On Christmas morning we got up early and with our backpacks, Christmas hats and all, we trekked into the new city for bagels for breakfast. As we left the old city, a number of tourists took our photo, and an older woman who was not paying attention to her tour guide smiled at us, and whispered “Merry Christmas!” (The aim of the hats morphed into spreading Christmas cheer.) In the new city, however, no one seemed to even think we were funny, which was odd, because we looked completely ridiculous, and no one wished us Merry Christmas!! So we ate our bagels on a park bench and walked to East Jerusalem, where everyone thought we were funny, and we got an average of one “Merry Christmas!” every thirty seconds. Maybe our sense of humor had just been adjusted to fit the culture we had been living in, but we decided that we would get a hostel in the Arab part of Jerusalem if we ever came back. At the Israeli side of the border crossing, a woman guard looked at Cait, obviously baffled, and asked, “Is it your birthday?” Cait, totally deadpan, answered, “No, it’s JESUS’S birthday.” Definitely the best moment of the trip.


It’s me again, and I’m picking up where Yasmeen ends, on our way back to Jordan after clearing the Israeli border. After the shock and sadness that was the wall on Christmas Eve, and just the general bad taste left in our mouths, we were ready to come home to Amman and get the heck out of what’s kind of like a very holy, old, and just strange metro New Jersey-Northampton-Europe hybrid (New City, Jerusalem). We arrived back in town at about 4pm. Delmar and I got to his apartment at 4:30. We got to Safeway at about 5, did our shopping, slaved away in the kitchen, killed two cockroaches, got on with it, and had Christmas Dinner on the table at 8:40! Delmar Moses II chose the menu. A note about Del: Del hails from a small town in Georgia that in fact consumes more Coke per capita than any other town in the world. We made cornbread, stuffing with chicken, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, and fruit salad.

It was so nice to sit down with Nick, Yasmeen, Del, and Anmar and have some semblance of familiarity and tradition to our Christmas. It was also nice to stop for a minute. I would not have wanted to spend the holiday any other way with any other people aside from my family. It was just awesome to throw my backpack down knowing I wouldn’t open it again until I was in India, cook like a madman, and just have a little feast with the friends I just trekked around the Middle East and spent the semester with here.

This marks THE END of “WANDERLUST PART I: Caitlin’s Christmas Vacation,”
Please stay tuned for “WANDERLUST PART II: Hindustan & Pakistan”

Friday, January 26, 2007

it's been a while!

January 25, 2007
You’ll have to excuse the late posting of all of the below—I tried to post those entries the night before I left for break, but the website was being grumpy and after several failed attempts at posting I gave up and went home to pack.

I got back to Jordan at 2am two days ago after the most awful 16.5 hour layover of my life in the Sharjah airport and a total of two days in transit. Over the Pakistan-India border on foot, to the Amritsar airport by taxi, Amritsar to Delhi, Delhi to Mumbai by air, Mumbai domestic to Mumbai international shuttle bus, Mumbai to Sharjah, and Sharjah to Amman. I left Lahore, Pakistan at 8:30am on January 21st and arrived back in Amman at 2am on January 23rd . I got to my friend’s apartment at 3am, took a shower, and then woke up and went to orientation at 9, and I still haven’t really stopped. All of the students who are here for the year were required to attend the same mind-numbing orientation a second time as not to disrupt the group dynamic, to share our wisdom, and to be updated on security concerns. I’ve been meeting the 25 or so new students, and doing laundry. Thankfully, at this point I’m more or less immune to being overwhelmed, so I’m just really exhausted. Orientation II ended today and so my metaphorical top is slowing its spin. Tonight I will go to bed at 8pm shamelessly, in 22 minutes, and I’m looking forward to having the next two weeks (intensive colloquial Arabic class only, just 3 hours a day) to brush up on Arabic, go to the gym, see “night at the museum,” catch up with my friends here, get my internship prospects and course schedule in order for the semester, reply to all of the emails I’ve received since December 14th when I went more or less MIA for break, and also to piece together a coherent, comprehensive, and of course entertaining account of my last 7 weeks. Look forward to it.

In the meantime check out this headline from the Jordan Times—
Father shoots 17-year-old daughter
By Rana Husseini
AMMAN – A 17-year-old girl was shot to death by her father in one of the southern governorates on Tuesday night in what official sources said was a crime of honour.
The minor was shot four times in the head at her home.
The victim’s father turned himself in to police shortly after the incident, claming he killed his teenage daughter to cleanse his family’s honour, the source said.
The suspect told police during questioning that his daughter went missing from her house for two weeks, according to a second source.
It was not clear why the teenager left home or where she stayed during that period.
Police found the girl almost two weeks ago and handed her over to her parents after undergoing a virginity examination by government physicians, the source said. The examination showed the victim was not involved in any sexual activity, the source added.
An autopsy conducted at the National Institute of Forensic Medicine in Amman on Wednesday established that the victim was shot at close range.

There hasn’t been one of these in the newspaper for a while now. Even though they happen pretty regularly not just in Jordan, but in collectivist and tribal (not necessarily Muslim) societies all over the world, they’re equally shockingly horrific every time I read about them.

December 13
Today was the last day of the “program,” so I just got back from the big group dinner and “re-entry orientation” for the students (probably around 24 of 33) who are going back home now. It was sad! I am definitely going to miss some people a lot. The group dynamic next semester will be completely different and interesting, especially since I’m going to be late for orientation and so miss some of that immediate first-couple-of-days bonding…
Bringing me to my next subject!
Tomorrow morning at 8am I am headed to Syria with a couple of buds. We don’t have visas, so inshaallah we’ll get through and this time tomorrow we’ll be settling into Damascus for a couple of days.
From there, we’ll continue on to Beirut and Tripoli, visiting a couple of friends I made at the UN conference along the way, and my awesome Arabic teacher from last year who taught me the alphabet! We’ll come back to Amman after that and go on to Jerusalem (with a possible pit-stop in Ramallah) for the days before Christmas and fingers crossed, go to Christmas eve mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Then I’m going to get myself back to Amman again and head straight to the airport, and fly to Mumbai at 2:30am on the day after Christmas. In India I’ll be visiting a couple of friends from Smith who are studying there; one in Varanasi in the northeast, and one in Madurai in the very very south. And let’s not forget a little jaunt over to Lahore, Pakistan to visit Mahnoor, another Smithie.
I’m pretty psyched about the next few weeks. Should be exhausting, scary, and really fun.
Have a beautiful holiday season and pray for me—safe travels and no amoebic dysentery or malaria are my specific requests.
I’ll be back here to start school on January 23rd, looking forward to chapter II.

Photo--me and host parents at end-of-semester dinner. This website is awful with posting photos.

December 11, 2006
SO I’m finished! There is a distinct possibility that I will be receiving a C in the Archaeology of Jordan and Palestine, but no biggie. I finished reading Bill Bryson’s “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” tonight too. Overall it was relatively amusing; most of the essays were light-hearted stuff about diners and motels and supermarket variety and other things that there aren’t in Britain (the premise of the book is that he lived in Britain with his family for 20 years and then moved back to the States, and then wrote a newspaper column for a British paper about quirky differences and anecdotes). There were a couple of socially-conscious type essays; he had one really good essay on how wasteful the United States is and how much energy we use, but he also had one really dated and tired one about Wal*Mart. He was worrying about the threat of Wal*Mart invading his small town, and arguing that people in America are hypocritical for mourning the loss of small towns and businesses and main streets, and that most people supposedly adore these things but “won’t make the small sacrifices in terms of time, cost, and foot power that is necessary to sustain them.” Well, Bill Bryson lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, a town that “miraculously has so far managed to escape most of this” and that he is hoping will resist the trend. This maybe has something to do with it being ridiculously rich (hello, Dartmouth College). When I think of small town America, I think of working class America. I think maybe he is wrong in idealizing Hanover as one of the very few and very precious preservations and perfect examples of small town America, because its not. That’s like saying Exeter or Wiscasset remains an untainted and quaint miracle. Call me crazy, but I don’t think Land Rovers are what the people from “small town America” drive.

In Jordan, most large doors at entrances and exits open both ways. No need for those “push” and “pull” signs that everyone always ignores and dumbly figures out which way to go via trial and error. HOWEVER, in Jordan, there are also palm trees planted in the sidewalk. Please see photo documentation below. The Jordan Times had an article recently that made the front page, explaining the new project the city of Amman is embarking on to uproot, transport and relocate all of these dumb trees in order to make the sidewalks pedestrian friendly.

One more thing I doubt you’ve ever seen in your life is pickled cauliflower. It tastes better than it looks, and it tastes even better when it matches your sweater and your face-paint.

December 6, 2006
Ben Lee – No room to bleed

Today I went to the embassy to pick up my second passport (for convenient and hassle-free travel to Israel) and I was in and out in 10 minutes, including the security checks! I think that alone makes up for a few of the things I mentioned above…
I just finished my paper on misyar in Islam and I surprised myself by supporting the idea. It’s actually great. It’s long-term relationships, common-law marriage, and dating in an Islamic framework. What a novel idea—allow casual sex and all of the above mentioned institutions, but give it another name and require a license or contract for it for a little added thought on the part of the parties involved, and voila, the Islamic world is caught up and didn’t even have one of those pesky sexual revolutions.
A couple of choice quotes:
(Iranian President Rafsanjani encouraging mut’a, temporary marriage in Shi’a Islam)
In one paradoxical statement, Rafsanjani urged people not to promiscuous like the west, and instead to utilize temporary marriage.
According to Rafsanjani,
Presently, in our society for our youth to remain pure and honourable, and to respect the societal norms [of chastity and virginity] implies remaining unsatisfied until they are 25 or 30 years old. They will have to deprive themselves of their natural desires. Deprivation is harmful. Who says this [deprivation] is correct? Well, God didn’t say that this need should not be satisfied. The Prophet didn’t say so. The Qur'an doesn’t say so. The whole world doesn’t say so either. Besides, if one is deprived, then harmful psychological and physical consequences will follow. Science has proven this. To fight nature is wrong (Haeri, 1994:202).
Another good one from the NYT (Mohammed Javad Larijani, Berkeley-educated former legislator)
''What's wrong with temporary marriage? You've got a variation of it in California. It's called a partnership. Better to have it legal than have it done clandestinely in the streets.''

December 4, 2006
I definitely just typed “November” when heading this entry. Whoops. Soon enough I’ll be messing up and writing 06 instead of 07. Time ceases to amaze.
Tonight I went to the internet café on the circle near my house and was completely unproductive. I thought I would be good since I was alone and I have a relatively interesting and not hugely challenging paper going, but of course when the teacher gives us a tentative or flexible deadline, I give myself procrastination.
Today walking home I was reminded that I must take some photos of Jordanian sidewalks. In orientation, it came as a shock to us how often they told us we would use taxis and how little people walk here. Sally explained that sidewalks weren’t really for walking and that there were trees in the middle of them. I didn’t believe her, but then I went outside.
Another thing that kills me is how they garden the university grounds and have elaborate hose and watering systems for the red-dirt-with-a-few-bushes that covers campus when this country is in the top ten, maybe top five water-poor nations. Just another example of general poor planning/incompetence, or in the words of my friend Andy, reason #257 why this is still a developing country. Other reasons include:
-Post office closing 12 minutes early
-Spending one half-hour at the Syrian embassy and failing to get an answer to the
question “if I go to the Syria-Jordan border, will I be allowed to enter your
country?” (see also “if so, for how long, and at what cost?”)
-The American (punctual) embassy opening one half-hour after posted time
-Ordering a coffee and cake on a restaurant “hot drink & dessert” special, but not
being given the deal as the coffee was ordered forty-five minutes prior to the cake therefore rendering void because “already put into computer”
-Public bus fender benders on a regular basis
-Public bus stopping for gas on route and leaving engine running while filling up
-Rotation of tires on public bus while filled with passengers and running at station

December 3, 2006
I am working on a thrilling paper about misyar marriage (misyar means “visit,” so this is sometimes called “traveller’s marriage,” or temporary marriage) and an ad for 7up keeps coming on TV; I’ve seen it now probably three times and I am still a little bit dumbfounded. The ad is nothing fancy, just a cartoon dude surfing a wave, and it only lasts maybe 5-10 seconds, but…the song playing in the ad is “THIS CHARMING MAN” by the smiths! Talk about random. There is a very smug and very hip ad exec somewhere out there who is very content in knowing he is responsible for broadcasting 8 glorious seconds of Morrissey all over the Arab world a few times an hour.
My little sister has one of those mini-electronic-computer-learning-toys for English and it is so awful. The word that it uses to demonstrate the letter “y” is “yacht.” Could you think of a more impractical English word to teach a six-year old? On top of that, the quality of the sound on it is pretty bad, so she insisted that it was “byacht” because the words kind of run into one another. Another dumb word that should not be one of the first 26 taught to little kids is “kite.” Who even flies kites?

Some other fun things having to do with English in Jordan:
-I bought this really great kids’ English literacy chart from a bargain store near
my house. I am almost positive it was made in China or Taiwan since some of the phrases on it include “The rice cooked by mother is savory” and “Make glutinous rice dumpling in the dragon boat festival.”
-One day I was walking through the tunnel underneath the university road, and there was a poster advertising TOEFL and ESOL classes or tutoring or something, and the tagline was “English has never been easiar.” Oops.
-A friend and I were buying some ingredients for baking at safeway, and we wanted brown sugar, like legit domino-brand-light-brown-sugar for cookies. We discovered by chance that of course “light” brown sugar is in fact stocked in the diet food section of the grocery store in Jordan. We got a good laugh out of that one, although logically it does sort of make sense.
-There is a fast food restaurant on Gardens with a big sign that says “Reefy Broasted Chicken.” No joke.
-And who could forget all of the “saloons” in Jordan that serve only haircuts, not beer.
-My youngest sister just said to my oldest sister “Jacqueline, shut up your mouth”

Saturday, December 02, 2006


This is my little sister jacquiline and her cousin sara. The day after thanksgiving (by pure coincidence) sara's dad, who is an "agricultural engineer," brought over four ROOSTERS. They were pretty bland but the sauce my host mom made was ZACKY (delicious)!
For the fun of it, sara and jacko put on the suits that sara's dad wears into the chicken coops at work. Good times!

Monday, November 27, 2006

stuck between iraq and a hard place

So who would ever have thought that I would be having BUSH days instead of SNOW days! There is a possiblity that classes will be cancelled Wednesday and Thursday due to the Bush/Maliki meetings in the kingdom. If so, i'll write a nice big long entry along with two presentations and a final paper!

November 25, 2006

…and we’re back. After talking with my mom on the phone on Tuesday, I decided that it was time. My hiatus was mostly just due to busyness and lack of motivation, or maybe it was because I hit the famous “culture-shock plateau.” Mostly I was just tired of doing this blog thing and was sick of waiting for the photos to upload onto the page when I knew my precious internet time could be better spent reading the New York Times or better yet, wasting time on the facebook.

Right now, though, I’m at the ACOR library using very slow but very free internet and procrastinating, so why not. Stay tuned for an account of our thanksgiving, some exciting stuff that happened at the UN course I just finished, and most importantly, vacation plans! And just for a laugh, I’ll give you guys the blow-by-blow of the “re-entry culture shock orientation” that I am going to have to sit through in three weeks.

November 21, 2006

First off, I’m feeling quite great and I’m pretty sure I don’t have worms. This blog needed a little vacation, but I think I’m back in the saddle (no promises). For the whole week I’m attending a conference, and then I’m facing a pretty serious last two weeks of class followed by a week of finals. (What?!)
This week I am at the UN University for a conference on the Politicization of Religion and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East, and so far it’s been excellent. There are only 40 participants which is a perfect number, and I’ve met two kids from Iraq, one of whom still lives in Baghdad and is a medical student at Baghdad University, kids from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, and Somalia. How cool is that? The people are pretty brilliant and I just wish my friends and other kids in the US could be here and meet them and talk to them. The student from Algeria did a short presentation today since none of the speakers had addressed the case of political Islam in his country, and he asked that students meet with him and talk about Algeria. I’m quite looking forward to talking with him more about life in Algeria and the political regime from 1990-2000. My only qualm is that there is no one there from LIBYA or YEMEN!
Yesterday we heard a presentation on Chechnya as a last-minute fill-in since one of the other speakers who was coming from the Gulf was unable to make it, and it turned out to be so informative and compelling. I knew very little about the introduction of Islam to that region and really nothing about Dudayev. Another one of the presentations was on the Islamic courts in Somalia and it just kind of reminded me how interested I am in Muslim East Africa and what a huge part faith can play in the society and the lives of people in developing countries.

ALSO, please never take central heating for granted. EVER. I thought I had it bad when I lived at home and mom would never let us turn the heat past 68 in the winter, and even that was pushing it. I didn’t know how good I had it. Amman sure isn’t Riyadh (that’s a good thing save for recent temperatures).

November 6, 2006

I’ve been putting off writing anything for a little while now. First there was the Eid, then I had to rush to send in a summer internship application for November 1st, and today I had a midterm in my archaeology class.
I spent the past couple of days at a friend’s apartment eating way too much junk food (Reese’s courtesy of Francesca’s dad who came to visit while he was on a business trip to Paris), studying for our exam and watching Sex and the City episodes probably more often than we deserved study breaks.

Aqaba was interesting. Stop and think about a Muslim country and sunbathing beach culture. Conundrum, eh? It’s also about five minutes from the border of Saudi (the most conservative Muslim nation in the world), just to add to the conundrum. On our first day, we rented snorkeling stuff and headed to the public beach across from our camp despite our knowledge regarding public beaches. Generally if you are female and wish to wear anything less than hijab or abaya, you pay way too much money and go to one of the hotel beaches. Being cheap, a little ignorant, stubborn and just plain lazy, we went ahead and set up shop on the public beach. Thankfully our group included three guys, so we were only approached once during the day, but as expected, we were quite the spectacle. I wore a long-sleeved polo and ankle-length sarong until I was practically in the water and I think all of us left the beach at the end of the day generally frustrated. It’s difficult to strike a balance between respect for cultural norms and just doing what you want and pulling the “foreigner card,” especially in a group of American college kids.
Aqaba served as a reminder of how restless and strange resort vacations are. Aqaba during Eid week was a little like the Maine Mall the week before Christmas, but a lot warmer.
I have to admit that I was surprised at how dead the “nightlife” and “bar scene” was in Aqaba. Supposedly Aqaba is becoming a popular getaway for Hungarian tourists, and we saw our fair share of Brits, Germans, and Swedes overlanding, camping, and strolling around town. Additionally, like I said before, a good chunk of Amman was there for the Eid holiday, and secular or unobservant Muslims definitely do exist. I’m not really sure where they all went from 7pm-midnight, or if the rather religiously lax young Jordanian crowd that we see in Amman on weekend evenings in select haram hangouts selected another vacation destination, because the central or obvious nightspots of Aqaba were deserted. We had the Movenpick lounge to ourselves for happy hour, and then we joined TWO Jordanians at one of the bars on the main street. Either Aqaba was even more observant and conservative than its proximity to Saudi suggests, or we didn’t get the invitation to the evening festivities. ALTHOUGH, we did get to eat LOCAL fish!

November 11, 2006

I sit here writing this in the living room of my little house, sipping coffee that’s a little less than lukewarm, cozy in pajamas and warm socks and covered in papers and homework. As much as I think about time and like I’ve said in too many emails by now, being here I have become acutely aware of time passing, and even here and now there isn’t enough. Like handfuls of sand that you can’t hold onto.
This weekend at Books (an internet café that serves Green Mountain coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches, you get the idea…) we met and re-met a couple of Peace Corps kids, some of whom we had met at our camp in Aqaba. What a deal that is. It’s hard for me to get my head around what that must be like. These kids are like 24, just a few years older than me, and they are here, the only ones in each of their little villages, for 26 months. As much as I over-analyzed, worried, thought, still do, about how long I’ll be here, that is a long time. And to be doing the real thing, the only one of your kind in a village like the little ones we drive by on our weekend trips to Jerash and Petra and Kerak and say from the comfort of our bus, “I couldn’t spend more than (insert tiny period of time) here, even with some kind of a job and a purpose,” those kids are doing it.
As much as the idea of setting up shop in a little cabin somewhere with a little farm and a lot of books and Neil young appeals to me, I wonder where. Are we doomed to live out the simple life in the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire? Of course it’s not really the same thing as serving in the Peace Corps, since there you are given a demanding task and you’re working, a lot, from what I gather.
There is an Arabic commercial on TV for laundry detergent and they’ve successfully ripped off that awful James Blunt song “beautiful” that I dare say I am refreshed by hearing. I remember shopping in Swefieh back in September or early October and thinking that I honestly missed those awful wannabe-indie soundtracks they play in the Gap and American stores. One thing I don’t think I’ll miss is 24-7 Christmas music. I really won’t.
I’m torn about my blog. I haven’t been avoiding it for any particular reason other that I’ve just been really busy, other things take priority, and I’ve been a little unmotivated. The more people I know are reading it, the less I want to write in it. It’s partly my own doing, but now that the address has been distributed to so many people, I’m just kind of apprehensive and unmotivated to write and re-read and edit and make it into something more substantial but more general and directed, and the kind of stuff I’d want people to read. Of course this is a blog, it’s on the internet where anyone can find it and read it, and I was the one who started it, I just liked it better when I just didn’t know who was reading it. Even what I’ve written here so far I’m inclined not to post since I’ve already gone off on a couple of esoteric tangents that are irrelevant to life here.
Reading one of the Peace Corps kid’s blogs was kind of inspiring to be honest (and cheesy). His blog is the one you should be reading if you’re curious about Jordan. His sheer readability and the frequency and ease of his writings are just awesome and what I planned on trying to do with this blog, but stuff always gets lost in the shuffle. Or it gets lost in the shuffle unless you’re the only foreigner in a teeny town with no real obligations other than to teach English and take your 2 days outside of the town each month. I guess it would be a little difficult to avoid writing and reading that much in that sort of a situation. Although, no matter how few obligations I have it seems like I always manage to evade doing as much writing or reading as I would like.

One thing that gets me real good about this country is the shoes-in-the-house deal. The apartment that I live in has got to be about 60 feet in width. The “veranda” or mudroom, the living room, kitchen and bathroom are all tiled. The bedrooms (2) are all carpeted. The house is small. It takes approximately .07 seconds to walk from the front door to the side of the apartment (through the veranda, living room, kitchen, girls’ bedroom) into my room (a covererted side porch). Unfortunately, there is a bit more involved with getting from the door to my room. I’m building this up a little bit, but if you saw the house, you would agree. Upon entering, I take my shoes off and leave them in a corner between the little kid’s couch and the wall in the veranda. There I fish around and find my “slippers,” or the crappy Birkenstock things that I wear inside the house. But I don’t where them inside the whole house. That is just not right. I wear these sandals (with socks since it is shitta and getting quite cold), only in the tiled bit of the house. Upon arrival at the door of my little sisters’ bedroom, I take off the slippers and tuck them in the front corner of the room, behind the door. Then it is safe for me to set foot in the carpeted quarters of the house, safely reaching my bedroom. What a trip! I prefer the vacuum cleaner once-a-week myself.

The funny part is that this little shoes-in-the-house ritual is not really that funny to most of the world. As much as it irks my host mother here when I forget the routine, I remember a couple of summers ago when I went to China and Japan, and how much bigger a deal it is there. Even at Smith last year when I would drop in on Selena to work on econ, she had all she could do to bite her tongue when I forgot to leave my shoes at the door. How strange.

Saddam Hussein and the recent accidents in Gaza have definitely put a bad taste in peoples’ mouths. Tonight I asked my host aunt what she thought about Saddam’s fate, and she was pretty indifferent about whether or not he deserved it. She was adamant that it was in President Bush’s scheme though, although the tribunal was held in Iraq with (I think) international representation. As long as we’re there, everything that happens in Iraq has something to do with us.

November 12, 2006

I just got to ACOR* finally after having coffee with Anke** and her fiancé/zouj Nabil. Hearing her speak motivates me like nothing else since I’ve been here. It’s one thing to hear all about amazing Carrie*** and how good she got at Arabic in a year and a half, but it’s quite another to be in the middle of it, and hear a twenty-two year old who was here for a semester and then hung around off-and-on speaking it FAST. I want it!
I have to pick her brain more and get the full story; since I think she came in and placed into level 5 which would explain a lot, and see whatever else it was that she did to get to where she is. In her words, she “didn’t fuck around” and didn’t really go out until the end of the semester with the other American kids. I’m glad I’m here next semester.

*ACOR is the American Center for Oriental Research. It’s like a live-in library and research center (with apartments and dining room) that is home to fellows and scholars from the US and around.
**Anke just graduated from UMinnesota and is here living with her boyfriend and teaching at a local college. She speaks almost-native amia, and she studied here with CIEE (my program) for one semester the year before last.
***Carrie is a CIEE legend who happened to live with my host aunt’s family the year before last. She came to Jordan with no Arabic and studied in level 1 first semester, and then she placed into level 5 (out of 6) for second semester.

Spending so much time at ACOR kind of makes me wonder. Could I be a lifelong student? Of course we are all “lifelong students” in the school of life, or however that little Life’s Little Instruction Book proverb goes, but I mean legitimate student status. I guess that’s what they call you when you’re 33 and studying the archeology of Mediterranean prehistory (specifically chalcolithic mortuary practices in local and regional context, as exemplified at Beersheva….) squirreled away and buried under books at a library carrel. There’s definitely something about it that appeals—in the way that I find myself looking forward to spending an entire Saturday on the B level of Neilson library, in the way that I do feel a little rush of adrenaline or something each time I begin a new research paper or project and get to venture around the library with a few call numbers on a scrap of paper and only the thread of a thesis idea in my head.

November 13, 2006

I kind of trailed off on that last entry because I think I really needed to go to the bathroom and when I got back I just forgot about it. Too much other stuff. I made up a to-do list when I was at ACOR on the first day of our three-day weekend, and I felt nothing less than overwhelmed. On top of planning our (me and a couple of friends) trip to Syria, Lebanon, and Jerusalem for Christmas, planning my own trip to India for the day after Christmas (and everything that goes along with it, including buying gifts for hosts, finding cheap flights, etc.), finding time to spend with friends old and new here (namely Anke upstairs and my language partners Manal and Maryam), and shooting off emails to a seemingly endless list of wishful volunteer or internship prospects for myself for next semester, keeping in touch with people, calling my parents every couple of weeks, MAYBE reading the newspaper or the economist (gasp) now and again, and squeezing in a little bit of for-fun reading, and maybe summoning the strength for one last-ditch effort to pull together a trip to Ma’in and the Dead Sea or a little something like it for our second-to-last weekend, I have to write four major papers, tackle two presentations, two lingering midterm exams, and three monstrous final exams. All in one month exactly. Today, November 13, 2006, marks the first day of my last month of my first semester in Jordan.

How do I feel? It’s funny how on your birthday you never feel any different than you have for weeks and weeks before. I remember writing this somewhere before, but I’ll repeat myself. It’s different. I feel more. I know how I feel more than I have before. My biggest fear I think has been that I am afraid that I don’t know who I am, that I don’t know who I am because I don’t know what I want. That I’m so scattered and unsure and aiming to please that I jump at too many chances, and that my reasons for doing what I choose to do are not my own. That I’m made up of a mix of chaotic and unfinished, undefined aspirations and grey obligation. Maybe like a glass of water right after the alka-seltzer goes in (bad simile). Regardless, the tablet hasn’t fallen to the bottom yet but it’s fizzling down. I still crave approval and I probably always will, but I’m more confident in my own decisions and not ignoring what exactly it is that I want, and what my first instinct is.

This morning I had a very successful trip to the Indian Embassy. It only took three visits and 54.5JD for me to acquire that Indian visa I need for my trip in December. After not very much deliberation, I decided that for my break in between semesters I would traipse around here for a few days with a couple of friends, spend Christmas in Bethlehem, and then go to India to visit Leigh Ann and Lauren and perhaps even have a jaunt over to Lahore for a few days in Pakistan with Mahnoor. I have iTunes on random, and Green Day’s “when I come around” just came on. Makes me think of Arthur. ANYWAY, that is the plan for break. I thought about staying around here and really getting to see Syria and Palestine, maybe Israel and perhaps Yemen, and I know a couple of other kids who originally had the same idea but have since changed their plans, instead opting for Turkey and maybe even the Seychelles! It seems like a few people are heading to Egypt and Turkey and I’m not really into that too much right now. Some people will be traveling with family too. A good few more people here for the year are actually going home. I think that we (those of us here for a full year) realized that despite not having been able to travel outside of the country this semester, we need a break from the region and trying to pack in something ambitious in the region over break might leave us more burnt-out and needing time away from the Middle East. Ideally, I would like to check out all of the places I mentioned above along with one of the Gulf countries, Oman probably, as well as my latest geographic obsession, Libya, by the time I head home. We’ll see how far I get. The attitude of “you’re already here, why not just see it all” only takes you so far—especially after a few months when you know you would appreciate the travel and the opportunity so much more if you weren’t tacking it on to the end of months and months away from home. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may not get to trek all of North Africa this time around. Libya may have to be enough. It’s strange what appeals to me; I could not desire more to visit Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, and the rest of Islamic Africa, especially east Africa and Senegal, but I don’t really mind whether or not I get to Egypt.

Death Cab for Cutie’s album “we have the facts and we’re voting yes” will always remind me of late fall sophomore year, chilly afternoons, and riding my bike between the quad and seeyle. Back on track. So I considered staying around for break and even literally staying around for break as in Amman, to work on Arabic and maybe try and start an interning gig early so I’d be in the groove when second semester started. I think if I did that, come March I would be kicking myself for not taking a good break. SO, after a little bit of contemplation regarding a trip to London to chill out at Kika’s and just hang for the month, which I would have been equally thrilled to do, I decided to take the bait and get to India, because really, why not, and when else? London is always going to be close and cheap and little Kikabean will always be a Londoner. Leigh Ann and Lauren will be in India until May and India is not a one-week deal, so I’m going, and I could not be more psyched. I got to the embassy about an hour before it opened for visa applications because my dad leaves for work each morning at 7:45 and I really don’t need to leave until 8:15, but I don’t have a key so I’m effectively kicked out of the house first thing, so I just caught a cab over to first circle hoping there was maybe a coffee shop open or something interesting for me to do or a nice street to walk down and kill some time. The coffee shop didn’t happen. I’ve really gotten into coffee drinking since I’ve been here I think in an unconscious effort to counter-balance all of the Turkish coffee I drink—I used to be a shade over indifferent on the whole coffee thing, drinking it once in a great while and regularly only in summer when I opened at Nona’s (Green Mountain, and free for us), but I now officially love regular American coffee, no sugar, just cream.

Across from the embassy was a church, St. Joe’s, so I went over and tried the middle door and then the right door, and finally the left door was open. There were about 5 Jordanian nuns and maybe five regular people inside and mass had started probably five or ten minutes before I walked in. I took communion and just soaked it in; it was the first time I’ve been to mass in Arabic since I’ve been here. I’ve been going to one or two English masses each week, one on Fridays at noon at the church in my neighborhood where I am the only non-Filipino every week, and the place is packed. The other mass is on Sundays at 6 in the neighborhood next-door, Jebel Hussein, and that one is mostly Sri Lankans and Filipino housekeepers.

This morning was the most intense for me though; I find that sometimes when I go to church alone I get a little bit sentimental and emotional, maybe because it reminds me of being a kid and going to mass with my family in Dublin or the cathedrals and churches we visited on trips, or maybe just because of the sheer beauty of faith and consistency and the comfort of ritual. The first time I went to mass here I got a little tinge of whatever it is, and before that I remember going to noon mass one day at smith at St. Mary’s and tearing up a little, and then today I just kind of lost it. At the end of mass I just started thinking about a lot of different things at once that I have been thinking about individually off and on since I’ve been here and some even before, mostly about getting older and time passing and just knowing it, and being in the church just added to the feeling and I couldn’t really help it. After I pulled it together I prayed like I haven’t ever before and it was good, when I stood up to leave it was like a big sigh. It was a good day. It would have been a good day if that was all I did.