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Until next time, Amman!

December 28, 2012

A week ago from today I left Amman after having spent four adventurous months immersing myself in the culture. Although I was certainly ready to go, I definitely felt sadness about leaving my friends and Jordanian life behind. I had gotten down the routine of getting around, making it to class, knowing where to eat and where not to, and feeling somewhat like a local expat in the community. I enjoyed the calming qualities of life and being someone different among Arabs and I liked being inspired to try something new everyday – whether it was some sort of food, area of town or life experience. I liked waking up on Fridays to empty streets and walking around a noiseless neighborhood overlooking the urban landscape; I liked hearing the call to prayer throughout the day and even having signs in Arabic to decipher around me. As much as I would like to tell myself this is not goodbye, the truth is that I simply don’t know. I can’t say what life I will lead or where I may live, but I know that living in Jordan has taught me patience and understanding, made me appreciate what I have in life, and sparked a greater love for traveling and learning new cultures. 

            Now that I have been away from the culture for a week, I have already adjusted back to Western life. I didn’t feel too much of the culture shock that I thought I would, though I still flinch every time I flush toilet paper thinking that I’m doing something wrong. I’ve also gradually gotten used to showering everyday again compared to the every other/ every few days rule in the Middle East (which seems grosser every day). I’ve also readjusted myself to the cold and snow, thank goodness! Stepping off the plane from Amman into snowy Istanbul forced me to become adjusted to this pretty quick.

            As for what’s next for me, I spontaneously decided to spend the next two weeks traveling around Eastern Europe instead of heading home for the holidays. So far I have visited Istanbul, Bulgaria, Romania and am currently in Budapest, Hungary. Though this blog isn’t quite ‘Alex in Amman’ anymore, I’ll try and continue to write about my escapades through Europe. 

Much love and thanks to those who are reading! 

Xxx

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Jerusalem

December 28, 2012

As one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem has an extensive history and significance to religion and politics. It’s a city where Jews, Christians, and Muslims live cooperatively and is considered by many to be the center of the world. Today it is also a point of contention in the fierce debate between Palestinians and Israelis. In my last weekend in Amman, I ventured with some friends to the beautiful city to experience first hand the culture and history.

On the first day in Israel we went to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall because of the many Jews who come to pray along the walls. Although I would hardly consider myself a religiously devout person, I couldn’t help but feel the aura of spirituality coming from hundreds of women and men pouring their hearts out into this wall. In every crevasse along the wall are little notes with prayers to God written by people who come to visit. Women and children cram against the wall praying and weeping into their Torahs and writing prayers to send into the wall. I’ve never seen people with that level of commitment to God in one place before and I couldn’t help but feel like an outsider, honored but guilty for witnessing such an event without the same level of piousness.

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The next day we visited all of the Christian sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, including the nativity spot, where he was condemned by Pontius Pilot and walked down Via Delarosa to his crucifixion, and where he was crucified at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Bethlehem was surprisingly not as peaceful and holy as I thought the town was going to be – it was actually overrun with trinket shops and tourists (although, I can’t complain much since I am one). Also, although the sites were beautiful, the fact that the sites were built as just representatives of where things took place seemed to detract from the overall sense of authenticity in the city.

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The coolest parts about the city were the old city tunnels, the Dome of the Rock, and the view from the Mountain of Olives. In the old city there are hundreds of stone tunnels intersecting the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish quarters. Inside are shops, restaurants, and homes and many people who work here also spent their lives growing up in the same structures. They know the paths like the back of their hand and spend their days telling curious visitors about their stories.

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The Dome of the Rock was also an incredible sight because of its architectural beauty and atmosphere. In the Temple Mount compound, Muslims gather in groups to pray and find peace. For hours people sit enjoying each other’s company, picnicking and reading the Quran. Although non-Muslims can’t go into see the actual rock, anyone can enjoy the stunning colors and symmetrical patterns along the Dome of the Rock.

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Another one of my favorite places was at the top of the Mountain of Olives, where you can overlook the whole city and see the old city, the Dome of the Rock, the citadel, and newer residential areas. Here at sunset, I felt like I could see the whole world unraveling before me – like God was truly watching over his city. 

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Goodbye, Dead Sea!

December 9, 2012

It’s my second to last week in Amman and all I can think about is how little time I have left here and how I’m going to enjoy my last week while trying not being consumed by finals. This past weekend, some friends and I took a break from our studying to head to the Dead Sea one last time on Friday. Though it is nearly mid-December, we spent our Friday lounging by the sea in 80 degrees and sun – I’ll definitely miss this perk. 

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For the first time I also got to try Dead Sea mud…and it actually worked! Between the very salty water and the mud mask, my skin was soft as a baby’s. The adventure was certainly one of my most relaxing days here in Jordan and very much needed thanks to the stress of tests and papers coming up.

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The holidays have definitely hit us here in Amman (at least in our apartment) since all my friends and I can listen to is christmas music before cuddling up at night to watch Christmas movies and drink hot chocolate. Although the city isn’t decorated at all, we’ve created out own holiday spirit by having holiday parties and baking cookies. Some rooms have even put up Christmas lights along their windows. It’s crazy to me that I can go from lounging by the sun to baking cookies and watching Christmas movies in the same day. What is even crazier is that it doesn’t bother me that it’s not colder here! Usually I’m ecstatic about chilly weather and the potential for snowfall, but this year I’m content with just how it is. Maybe the Middle Eastern heat has gotten to me after all? I can just imagine what that burst of wind that’ll hit me when I get off the plane will feel like. Guess I have two weeks to brace myself for the reality of New England winter!

Thanksgiving & Holiday Cheer

November 28, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving imaginary readers! I know it’s been a couple days and that my posts have dwindled this past month, but I’m trying to turn this around!

For starters, there’s a lot been happening in this region of the world – like there always is. Since I last posted, protests erupted in Jordan over higher oil prices, Israel & Palestine fought a mini-war (settled by a cease-fire), and Egypt has become more instable. Because of these things, I haven’t been able to travel as much as I would have liked to. Although most of the initial anger and action has subsided for now, it’s best to stay put – or so I’m told. Here’s a picture from Downtown Amman:

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Last week was also my first Thanksgiving out of the states and I can’t tell you how much I missed American football, the Macy’s Day Parade, and my Mommom’s stuffing. We tried our best to recreate a family style Thanksgiving dinner with our Jordanian and European friends, but let’s just say my cooking skills can’t compare. We all loved it and were just happy to have a traditional American meal complete with home-made pumpkin pie!

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It’s weird to imagine that I only have 3 more weeks here and that 3 months have already passed. It feels as though I’ve been here forever, yet am only just starting to appreciate local life. Throughout my days, I already catch myself thinking about the things I’ll miss when I leave this city. Right now it’s the sunrises. When people say they can see heaven from earth, they must be viewing it here in the Middle East. Every morning there are divine shades of pink and purple arching above the Amman skyline. It must be something with the dry heat or maybe the spirituality of this land.

The truth is, though, I really can’t wait to be back in Washington and back at school. There are so many exciting things to look forward to next semester and so many friends that I miss that I can’t wait to be back in class, interning, and spending more time in the city that I call home. Lucky for me, we have 3 more weeks (mostly finals) and then I am back to New York after a quick stop in Istanbul. With holiday cheer in the air, and plenty of Christmas movies to keep me company, I’m sure these weeks will pass in no time! Once again, Happy Thanksgiving, well more like Happy Holidays at this point!

Eid al-Adha 2012: Dubai & Muscat

October 29, 2012

It’s the last day of Eid al-Adha and I’m now mostly rested from my exhausting and wonderful vacation to the gulf. Wednesday morning, we arrived in Dubai eager to see the city’s luxuries and sights. First on our list was the Dubai Mall & the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Never in my life have I seen such an extravagant, big, beautiful mall! Inside was an aquarium, souq, waterfall, sculptures and practically every store you can think of from around the world decked out with it’s most recent collections. The majority of people walking around the mall were European expats and tourists like myself (it felt kind of great to not feel like the minority for a change).

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After a few short hours, we headed to the Burj Khalifa next door where we zoomed up 140 floors to an observation deck overlooking the city. From up top, you can see both sides of the city and the man made islands just off the shore. Just as people told me before this trip, Dubai is a decadent city full of beautiful glass buildings, palm trees, and really expensive cars. Seeing the city from above was the alternate view of its superficiality and reality. Behind the modern buildings and resort hotels are acres of sand, concrete, and construction crains frozen in time. While the city’s architecture and surroundings are truly beautiful, there’s something sad about the way it has fallen short of being a real city as it has developed. Dubai isn’t so much a city, but rather a really entertaining and lavish amusement park for wealthy tourists.

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That night, we also ventured out near our hotel for a more local experience. Along the streets were lit up signs and lots of people dodging each other and cars. In open spaces, people sold animals like goats and congregated with their friends. Because Dubai has a huge working Indian population, the restaurants and language spoken were Indian. Many of the men walking around were wearing blue uniforms that are common in Dubai’s industrial parks and construction sights.

Bright & early the next morning we left Dubai and headed on a 7 hour car ride to Muscat, Oman. In Oman, palm trees, lush green lawns, and colorful flowers line the roads. You can certainly see that a lot of the government’s money goes to creating the allure of luxury and beauty. When we arrived in Muscat that afternoon, we gathered our things and quickly hurried to the beach in time for the sunset. There’s certainly something in the air here in the Middle East or maybe it’s the dry heat, but sunsets are more beautiful than any I’ve ever seen anywhere else.

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The next day we went to go see some of the historical sites in Muscat like the Grand Mosque and the Sultan’s Palace. The mosque was so incredibly beautiful and peaceful on Friday, the most holy day and especially during Eid. For hours we just admired the stunning mosaics and symmetric architecture.

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Then we went to the Muscat Dive Center, a famous beach area hidden between coves and well known among tourists. After lunch at the restaurant, where I actually tried camel (which was so delicious and similar to the taste of lamb), we spent the afternoon soaking up rays and swimming in the clear blue water.

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The next morning, we were up bright and early again (sleep was certainly a rarity on this trip) to bus back to Dubai. Once in Dubai, we made it out to the Palm Jameirah, where the Atlantis hotel was lit up and bustling with the families of wealthy oil-moguls and foreign tourists. After seeing a little of the island, we made our way back to Dubai Mall where we watched the fountain show and gushed over the Dubai skyline at night!

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Biblical Jordan

October 18, 2012

Pardon to all for my inexcusable absence from the blog these days. It’s midterms session here in Jordan so school and life has been a bit busy.

Last weekend I finally got to see Jesus’ baptismal site and Mount Nebo, where Moses looks out to the promise land in the bible. Although the sites remain significant for holy purposes, they were surprisingly more peaceful and beautiful in a rustically scenic way.

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The coolest part of the Christian sights was River Jordan, where I was able to look across to the Israeli border and see adults being baptized in the same water where John baptized Jesus. I hadn’t realized how much I miss seeing water until I was soaking my feet in the river and enjoying the slight breeze!

 

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After visiting these sights, we also explored Madaba, a Jordanian city known for it’s beautiful mosaics and churches. Walking along the cobblestone streets and hidden shops, I felt like I was in a small European city rather than in the Middle East. Last, but not least, we topped the trip off by stopping at an ancient castle that stands alone on a mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. Few sights in this world compare to the sight of the Dead Sea with the sun falling through the mountains. 

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Not much is new this week, although my Arabic is vastly improving! Every time our teacher hands us homework and asks us to read paragraphs in Arabic, I’m amazed at how much I can read and understand in just a couple of months. It’s not as difficult as what I had imagined, but the vocab is certainly a challenge to memorize.

As for plans this weekend, I’m headed off to the Dead Sea again tonight for a four-hour hike in the morning in Wadi Mujib. I can’t wait! I haven’t hiked in ages so let’s hope all goes well! Next week is also Eid al-Adha, which recognizes the time when Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac to Allah. As a part of the holiday, communities sacrifice a lamb and distribute the meat to the poor. Though I’m only slightly sad I’m missing a traditional celebration, I’m so excited to be flying off to Dubai and Oman for the week! Four days laying the sun and working on some R&R sound perfect to me right now.

Until next time, 

ألكس 

One Month Slump

October 7, 2012

Last Saturday marked the one month anniversary since arriving in Jordan – crazy right?! When I went through orientation, they told us about the multiple phases of cultural immersion: shock, the honeymoon phase, homesickness, adjustment, and adaption. At the time, I was more excited than aware of just how each of these stages would effect me, but last week homesickness really hit me. It’s not that life here in Amman is so different from life back in DC, but there are certainly things about the environment and culture at home that I miss. Out of everything – which mostly include salads, green tea lattes, ABC TV, and fall weather – the things I unexpectedly miss the most are sidewalks. Because the sidewalks here are hardly paved and ridden with palm trees sprouting from each crack, it’s nearly impossible to go for an afternoon stroll let alone a morning run before the sweltering sun rises. On top of all that, sand has found it’s way into every corner of my life – from my clothes to my shoes and hair. Don’t get me wrong – I love the beach and I love sand, but when there’s no water to accompany it and all you get after a day of walking is that dry, chalk feeling on your skin, it can get pretty aggravating. 

The past few days, however, I feel as though I’ve begun to embrace my own experience here and to just say yes. What I’ve learned is that Amman has lots to offer the adventurous spirit – you just have to go in search of it more than in other places. For example, last Thursday night, some friends and I went to an upscale club on Rainbow street with some Jordanian locals. From the dance floor and lounge couches, it hardly seemed like we were in the Middle East, but more like we were back in Dupont Circle. Then on Saturday, we ventured out to Jerash and Ajloun in Northern Jordan, where the green landscape, rolling hills, and Crusader castle painted a very different picture of Jordan compared to Wadi Rum and Petra. Now tonight, I’m off to see a Jordanian film as part of the European Film Festival here in Amman. 

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After the setting in of my homesickness last week, I’ve realized more each day that I should take advantage of my time here in Amman to just be; to say yes to each new experience; to seek the cultural aspects of Jordanian life; and to brush off the insecurity and fear that sometimes keep me from interacting with the locals and from learning more about myself. While it’s easy for me to just keep the routine of gym, school, home, and repeat until the end of the program, I know that I would not gain anything from that and frankly, I would be going out of my mind with boredom counting down the days.  

Sometimes I wonder if I would have enjoyed studying in Europe more where I’d get to picnic in parks and hop between cities. But, then I remember that I wanted something unique for my abroad experience. I wanted to challenge myself so that in the end, I would know that I could do anything if I set my mind to it. So while I probably would have had more fun in Europe, I know that this once in a lifetime experience (at least in my lifetime) will make me a stronger person.

Aside from my homesick funk last week, I have tried to live true to my intentions and to follow these words. So, while I’m sure my bouts of homesickness are hardly over, I’m more ready than ever to naturally adjust to my life here in Jordan. So here’s a resolution to myself to living up the next 10 weeks without regret or what-ifs and to never having a dull moment. 

إن شاء الله , meaning “God Willing”!