"there is no sahil."

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.


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