Fellows' Reflections: Lisa MacKenzie

After eight flights and three weeks in the States, I am back to my home in Amman. I’ve used the word “home” to describe four different places in the past month. Home is now my mother’s new apartment south of San Francisco. During the two weeks I visited, she was busy with work. I spent the days alone swimming, running, and eating absurd amounts of berries, asparagus, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (food items that are out of my price range in Amman). Last week, “home” was a cabin in Phippsburg, Maine with my father, step-mother, and dog. There was no running water, ticks and mosquitoes, an outhouse, and a shower bucket with water pressure worse than Amman showers. Home is also Underhill, Vermont, where I was raised. I spent less than a day passing through Underhill on this most recent trip, and I likely haven’t spent more than a week there in the past few years. Childhood friends have moved away, and we no longer own my childhood home. The fourth place I referred to as home in the past month is my shared apartment in Amman. It is surprising how attachment to place and people develops in 14 months. Even before the year as a MENAR fellow started, I did not plan on coming to Jordan and leaving exactly one year later. I am privileged and grateful to have such mobility and to consider these places home.

After my MENAR position with Bayt.com ended a few months ago, I began a summer position as a residential director to students on a U.S. State Department funded scholarship in Amman. The summer brought changes in my social life and schedule. Sometimes I woke up to run at six and sit in on student classes at nine. Other mornings I slept in to nearly noon after handling a host family or health issue late into the night. Having participated in similar State Department funded Arabic study programs as a high school and undergraduate student, it was special to continue involvement in this community. Without previous opportunities to live in Oman and Jordan on scholarships to study Arabic, I would not have applied to or received the MENAR fellowship, and I would not still be in this place I consider home.

The summer position has wrapped up, and I am entering another period of transition. While next steps are unclear, I will stay in Amman. I need a job. I will say goodbye to a close friend and two and a half roommates (one is a dog). I still need to continue paying off college loans, and despite being here for over a year, I still need to do simple things like buy a flat sheet that actually fits my bed. Amman really does feel like home, though. So much so that on this most recent to-and-from the States, I brought my comforter and pillow from my former childhood home. These items have traveled with me to and from Maine countless time, to California during my mother’s move, back to Maine and Vermont last week, and now to my bed in Amman. I’ve “nested.”

 
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Fellows' Reflections: Hannah Byrd

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A young boy on a bicycle rode alongside our car. “There are more that way!” he shouted through the open window, gesturing across the street. He lives in the Erriadh neighborhood in Djerba, a small island off the coast of Tunisia. This neighborhood was selected as the location of Djerbahood, an open air museum established in June 2014. Over one hundred artists representing thirty nationalities painted murals on walls throughout the neighborhood. The result is delightful. Diverse styles and cultures swirl over white and brick walls, greeting visitors at every turn.

I thought about what it meant for that young boy to grow up with these beautiful paintings decorating his world. In our brief interaction, I saw how he appointed himself as a guide. I imagined much of his summer break spent riding around on his bike under the intense Mediterranean sun, interacting with strangers from all over the world who have come to see his neighborhood.

I visited Djerba at the end of my fellowship year in Tunisia. After saying goodbye to my students at ClubAnglais, I piled in a car early on a Monday morning at the end of June with three of my closest friends in Tunisia. On the long car ride there, I alternated between sleeping and monitoring the playlist, trying to enjoy this time with my friends and ignoring my impending departure.

Djerbahood, however, demanded my attention and reflection. This neighborhood is a living testament to the beauty of cross-cultural exchange. Artistic styles from around the world each tell a different story, yet enrich the overall message of the project. When people from different backgrounds come together and share experiences and customs, a similar phenomenon happens: our perspective and empathy grows. Fortunately, cross-cultural exchange is not limited to living abroad, although it is a fantastic way to experience it. It happens in coffee shops, classrooms, over lunch: anywhere people from different backgrounds gather and share their stories. The simple act of listening and seeking to understand can create profound change.

Now that I am back in the United States, I hope to follow the example of the boy on the bike. I want to be hospitable and welcoming to newcomers and embrace encounters with those different from me. We have a lot to learn from one another, if we just take a moment to engage.

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Fellows' Reflections: Eliza Davis

At 2:30am EST, after 15 months abroad and 24 hours of travel, I finally pressed the buzzer on my friend Sofie’s Brooklyn apartment. My baggage had been lost, I’d missed a flight and been transferred twice between airlines, and every form of public transit I’d taken from JFK had been delayed or broken down. I had slept no more than three hours, but somehow seeing Sofie I felt nothing but pure joy. She brought me upstairs and, more than little giddy, I exclaimed over seeing American outlets and being offered water straight from the tap. I’d eaten nothing but airplane food and a box of $7 sushi in London and was starving. “Have anything in the fridge,” offered Sofie. I opened the metal door and my jaw dropped: sliced bread! Goat cheese!

I plopped onto the sofa, carefully made up with bedding for my arrival, and sent a message to a friend in Amman; as I readied myself for sleep she was heading to work. How many times had I texted friends and family from Amman early in the morning as they sat down to dinner or brushed their teeth before bed? Now I was on the other side of the date line.

When I’d lived in Lebanon in 2017, I’d spent 11 months outside of the US, and while I had exalted over the ability to throw toilet paper directly in the toilet upon return, I hadn’t felt the shift so strongly. Maybe part of it was my lack of sleep, but this time coming home was different; I was a visitor. I had a plane ticket from JFK to Amman scheduled in three weeks when I would return to my “normal life.” I was seeing friends and family but with the knowledge that I did not live here and the next time I planned to visit was in a year. America was a vacation destination.

My MENAR fellowship had ended five days before my departure, on August 1st. I had decided to stay in Amman, at least for another year, so while I was saying goodbye to CRP and finishing my fellowship, I didn’t say goodbye to friends or the city. With the last month an absolutely whirlwind prepping everything at Hope Workshop for my departure, I hadn’t had the time or space to process what this year means to me and the fact that it has ended. Although I’d had my plane tickets booked for months, not until somewhere within my 24-hour journey did my trip to the US stopped feeling far off and abstract and the fact that I’d completed a year in Jordan begin to sink in.

Writing this, it is my first morning in Brooklyn. With my suitcase still lost somewhere in the bowels of the British Airways luggage system, I’m borrowing a sundress from Sofie—the ability to bare my shoulders and thighs a true luxury—and getting ready for a walk to Prospect Park. I have plans to go to a taco bar for happy hour and see a friend’s band playing in Queens; the amount of activity, the ease of public transit, the ability to get around walking still all feel weirdly foreign. I’m sure within a day or two I’ll be adjusted, and the traffic and cat calls of Amman will be rude awakening upon return. For the moment, however, I’m overjoyed to be enjoying a lunch with fresh corn tortillas.

Fellows' Reflections: Bryce Feibel

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My fellowship at Bayt.com has officially come to an end. This past year has been filled with growth, challenges, and a whole lot of fun. Before coming to Jordan as a MENAR Fellow, I was working in a completely different industry and company back in Chicago, dreaming about moving back to the Middle East. There were times when I felt I had missed my opportunity to move back abroad. I was coming up on the two year mark at my job and I knew that if I didn’t make a change now, it would be even harder to do so in the future. I decided to apply for the MENAR fellowship and was lucky enough to be offered a spot at Bayt.com.

As one of MENAR’s older fellows, I was worried that I would feel a bit out of place since most of the other fellows were fresh out of college. This worry quickly faded once I met some of the other fellows. In fact, having a couple of years of work experience proved to be extremely beneficial in my new role as I felt I was able to contribute to the team from day one.

Fast-forward 12 months and I can safely say that leaving my corporate job and moving to Jordan was the best decision I’ve made. During my time at Bayt.com, I discovered a new career interest in digital marketing and product management. I have decided to stay in Jordan another year to continue my experience working abroad and learning Arabic. I can’t wait to see what another year in Jordan will have in store for me!

For those of you who feel you it’s too late or you’re too old to pack up and move abroad, you’re not. Living and working abroad is an experience like no other and will only add to your list of social and professional experiences. It’s never too late to make a change. Thank you, MENAR and Bayt.com for an incredible year!

Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Miller

Note: Jessie completed her MENAR fellowship during a gap year between college and medical school. In this post, she reflects on how the fellowship prepared her for medical school and beyond.

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There are three stages to medical school applications. Primary applications get submitted sometime in early June, and they are made up of the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), undergraduate grades, activity statements, and a personal statement. Secondary applications come next, between July and August. Since it is common to apply to anywhere between 10 and 20 schools, and each school has multiple essays, secondary applications require anywhere from 40-80 essays to be written. Finally, after schools have received all of the information in primary and secondary applications, they make a decision on whether or not to offer candidates an interview.

If only deciding to pursue a career in medicine were as easy to break down into three neat stages….

I applied to MENAR in October of 2017, while I was feeling enormously burned out by studying for the MCAT. Overwhelmed by the pressure of a test that seemed to dictate my future, I was second-guessing if I was even cut out for a career in medicine. I pushed through and finished a dozen seven-hour practice tests before taking my test, which I got to forget about after January. A few weeks before my graduation, I accepted my position as a MENAR fellow, knowing that I wanted a year to reexamine my purpose for going into medicine. Though I had checked all the boxes required of medical school applicants and completed all the testing needed to apply, I was not ready to embark on the career path that had consumed me for the previous four years.

Spoiler alert: I’ve made the decision to commit. I am smack-dab in the middle of all those secondary application essays that I mentioned above, and I have been writing them from Jordan.

My year working with Collateral Repair Project (CRP) has reconnected me with my motivations for studying medicine by allowing me to gain some perspective and space. I have been afforded the opportunity to live simply in the past year, released from the pressure of thesis due dates and minimal sleep. When I need groceries, I trek down to the open-air market and buy produce from a vegetable stand and chicken from a butcher. I take the time to walk my dog in the morning and go to the gym after work. My job has very little to do with healthcare, and I relish the mental break.

Taking a break from academia and the competitive culture of being a premedical student has allowed me to ask myself if I am still interested in medicine from an unclouded perspective. I have noted that I am acutely interested in tasks and programs surrounding first aid, menstrual health, and nutrition. Furthermore, I am invested in the health challenges of coworkers and beneficiaries at the CRP center and inclined to understand more about health resources available to refugees in Jordan. These parts of my job remind me that I started pursuing a career in medicine as an undergraduate because I am interested in the wellness of other human beings.

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As I look forward to returning to the U.S. in September and hopefully interviewing at medical schools, I know that my year working at CRP will play a pivotal role in reminding me why my future career is so important to me. CRP as an organization seeks to provide individuals who fled their country with a community in Amman, Jordan. The programs offered at the center equip beneficiaries with the resources and knowledge they need to move forward with their lives. In combining my passion for health with my interests in refugee rights, I hope to do the same as a physician some day. I want my career as a physician to entail fighting for others’ chances to live fulfilling lives. I want my future patients, and the communities they belong to, to have the same opportunities to pursue careers, raise their children, and find happiness, that any other individual should be afforded. I have MENAR and CRP to thank for reminding me of those goals.

Meet the 2019 Class of MENAR Fellows!

The Middle East and North Africa Regional Fellowship Program (MENAR) is pleased to introduce the organization’s sixth class of fellows.

The Middle East and North Africa Regional (MENAR) Fellowship Program was founded in 2011 with the objective of offering one-year post-graduation fellowships to top graduates of American colleges at leading organizations across the Middle East and North Africa region. Since then, 21 fellows have had the opportunity to work and live in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. This year, for the first time, MENAR Fellows will also be located in Tunisia and Israel.

The MENAR Fellowship Program facilitates intercultural exchange by coordinating fellowships for recent American college graduates with both businesses and non-profit organizations in the Middle East. The MENAR Fellowship Program screens partner organizations; provides the organizations with a guarantee of excellence from fellows; allows fellows to access a range of opportunities through a single application process; and supports fellows and partners through the intricacies of international placements.

The sixth fellowship cohort consists of 8 recent college graduates from different universities across the United States, with diverse majors including Psychology, International Relations, Middle Eastern Studies, and Supply Chain and Operations Management.

Fellows will depart for their placements this summer and will spend a year working with MENAR partner organizations including the Collateral Repair Project, Bayt.com, Experience Morocco, ClubAnglais, Ecole Canadienne de Tunis, and ReBootKamp. They will share their experiences on our website throughout the year.

The 2019-2020 class of MENAR fellows are:

Asha Athman
Education: George Mason University
Placement: Collateral Repair Project – Amman, Jordan

Aman Falol
Education: University of California, Berkeley
Placement: Collateral Repair Project – Amman, Jordan

Kirsten Mullin
Education: Haverford College
Placement: Ecole Canadienne de Tunis – Tunis, Tunisia

Jessica Murphy
Education: Brown University
Placement: Ecole Canadienne de Tunis – Tunis, Tunisia

Angela Pham
Education: Azusa Pacific University
Placement: ClubAnglais – Tunis, Tunisia

Laura Robinson
Education: Denison University
Placement: Experience Morocco – Casablanca, Morocco

Hannah Rosenwinkel
Education: University of Minnesota
Placement: Bayt.com – Amman, Jordan

Benjamin Vega
Education: University of Texas at Austin
Placement: ReBootKamp – Amman, Jordan

Fellows' Reflections: Hannah Byrd

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I have been fortunate to have Tasnime work as my teaching assistant for the after school program I teach for ClubAnglais at the Canadian School of Tunis for four months. She graciously agreed to share her perspective on Tunisia for this blog.

Q: Thank you, Tasnime, for agreeing to share your perspective on Tunisia with us! Can you give a little background as to who you are?

A: My name is Tasnime Hamdi and I am 22 years old. I’m a medical student at the Medicine School of Tunis and I live in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.

Q: How would you describe Tunisia to someone who had never visited before?

A: Cosmopolitan, traditional, and modern are the first three words to come to mind when I think of how to describe Tunisia to a foreigner.

Tunisia is cosmopolitan because Tunisians are ethnically diverse due to the rich history of Carthaginians, Romans, Turks, Spanish, and Arabs settling in Tunisia among the indigenous peoples called Amazigh. In addition to diverse physical appearances, Tunisia’s history manifests itself in our language. The Tunisian dialect is not just Arabic but includes terms from the languages of all the groups that have settled here. The result is a beautiful, mixed language with a North African spirit.

Tunisia is traditional because we continue to practice Tunisian customs in our daily life. This includes eating traditional Tunisian food, warmly greeting our friends and family with kisses, and using old proverbs in our speech. Tunisia is modern because our country has done a lot to advance women’s rights and expand women’s power in society. There are many laws that ensure equality between men and women and protect women from all types of violence and harassment. Tunisia is also the only Muslim-majority country that bans polygamy. Apart from legal protections, Tunisian women are leaders in many fields like medicine and politics. Tunisia actually has more female than male college graduates.

Q: Many people in the United States know Tunisia as the only country to successfully democratize after the Arab Spring. Are you optimistic for Tunisia’s future as a democracy? What challenges do you think Tunisia still faces to thrive as a democracy?

A: I am very optimistic for Tunisia's future as a democracy because there are many Tunisians devoted to this cause. Corruption and terrorism, however, threaten Tunisia’s future as a democracy. Corruption in all forms is a huge threat not only to democracy but also our economic and social prosperity. Our military forces have done a lot to control the threat of terrorism, but since terrorist attacks in the past were often in retaliation to elections or laws, the threat can slow political progress.

Q: In your opinion, what are Tunisia’s greatest strengths as a country?

A: I believe that Tunisia’s greatest strength is its youth. Tunisians under 30 years old account for more than 60% of all citizens. They are full of energy and potential. They are greatly equipped to make Tunisia a more advanced country. Added to that, Tunisia has an advantageous geographical location, rich history, fertile land, and brainpower. If employed properly, these strengths have the power to advance Tunisia.

Q: As a medical student, can you speak a little about Tunisia’s healthcare system? What are one or two reforms you would like to see?

A: The good thing about the healthcare system in Tunisia is that it's public and almost free for all citizens. However, many reforms are needed. The quality of medical care is insufficient due to the Ministry of Health’s limited budget. Doctors and medical staff work in poor conditions and lack proper equipment. They are overburdened with patients which affects their quality of care. Medical students and residents are also fighting for reforms in the education system.

Q: Just for fun, what is your favorite Tunisian food?

My favorite Tunisian food is definitely mlewi. It is is a Tunisian bread. I think that mlewi with harissa and tuna is the manifestation of heaven in food form.

Thank you, Tasnime!

Fellows' Reflections: Bryce Feibel

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Before deciding to move back to Jordan, I was afraid of falling into a monotonous routine in Chicago. For me, a routine represented settling for the ordinary and forgoing adventure, so I made sure that every week contained something different. This notion changed when I got to Jordan. Instead of avoiding routine, I found myself wanting some sort of consistency since everything was so new. Since I arrived in Amman in the middle of Ramadan, it took a while to establish any sort of routine, since stores and restaurants weren’t open at normal times.

It took me around four months to establish a routine I enjoy and feel comfortable with. I live in Weibdeh, which is a cute little neighborhood with tons of cafes and restaurants. Every week I go to the local grocery store where I’ve established friendly relationships with the workers and purchase my groceries for the week. I found a gym I enjoy going to and have made friends with some of my fellow gym goers (pro tip: find a gym with nice showers so that you can save water at your apartment). I also started taking private Arabic tutoring classes 1-2 times a week. Having a few consistent weekly activities has helped me feel more settled in Amman. Jordan finally feels like home, as opposed to a temporary situation.

Although I’ve created a routine that I like, I make sure to leave some time for the unknown. I am still making friends (the expat community is very transient so people are always coming and going) and there is still so much of Jordan I have yet to explore. I have taken advantage of Jordan’s proximity to Europe and the rest of the MENA region and have traveled quite a bit this year. It’s amazing being a quick flight away to countries that have been on my bucket list for years. By the end of my fellowship, I will have traveled to five new countries: Egypt, Poland, Czech Republic, Oman, and Lebanon. Having a routine is nice, but allowing some things to be spur of the moment keeps life exciting.

Fellows' Reflections: Lisa MacKenzie

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At the end of 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to attend the MiSK Global Forum, alongside former MENAR fellow Jordan Lee and MENAR board member Madison Marks. The MiSK Foundation is philanthropic organization established by Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz that promotes the development and empowerment of Saudi youth through education, workforce development, and more. The organization funds schools, internships, full scholarships, and opportunities for Saudi youth and puts together the annual MiSK Global Forum.

The trip to Riyadh enabled me to network with globally-minded, smart, engaged, and curious young professionals from across the world — from among over 3,500 attendees, the majority of whom were Saudi. Beyond providing opportunities for networking and connecting with others at any given moment, the conference addressed three key themes: thriving as adaptable individuals, adjusting to the human-machine partnership, and revamping uniquely human collaboration.

Attending the MiSK Forum and meeting hundreds of young professionals, entrepreneurs, and engaged youth from Saudi Arabia and rest of the world was a unique experience. I was particularly impressed by the young Saudi women who seemed to make up nearly half of the conference attendees. From women speaking onstage in a niqab about their incredibly successful start-up coding program for girls or their experiences becoming professional athletes and leaders, to the (actually) countless number of women I met with their own start-ups, I was inspired by their initiative. The concentration of such promising individuals and enthusiasm for the role of youth in the workforce and shaping the future was tangible. Attending the conference reinstated my belief in the significance of collaboration, adaptability, innovation, and global-mindset in both my own path and in our increasingly interconnected world. I hope that future fellows will be granted the opportunity to attend the MiSK Global Forum in future years.

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Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Miller

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Most people would take a scarf, mug, or picture frame home from their time in Jordan. This August, I will be bring home an unusual token from my fellowship year -- a dog.

In December, during a trip down to Wadi Rum with friends of mine, we came across a puppy at our campsite that was arrestingly adorable. The puppy thoroughly ignored us upon our entrance to the camp. We had an incredible night watching desert stars from the sand and discussing the close of 2018, and upon our return to the camp, the freezing puppy allowed us to stuff her in our jackets. She slept in my bed with me under the blankets and followed us on a four-hour hike into the desert the next day. Before I knew it, she was on my lap in our rental car, heading back to Amman with us. I think it is worth noting that I had no dog food, collar, leash, or permission from my flatmates to bring a dog home. Her name is Mahzooza (Lucky), and she has set off a wave of changes in my life here.

While I thought that I would be living in my last apartment until August, I became acutely aware, upon returning from Wadi Rum, that if I wanted to keep the puppy, I would need to move again. One of my previous flatmates was quite terrified of dogs, and potty training runs down two flights of stairs were treacherous. So I took my string lights down, put my plants in boxes, and prepared to move my large suitcases one more time. I have since moved to a new apartment, with two of my closest friends. Though I dreaded apartment searching and moving due to the uncertainties involved, I could not be happier with the new space that I am sharing with two beautiful humans and a puppy, whom we call Zooz.

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Besides dramatically altering my sleep schedule and housing circumstances, Zooz has introduced me to a number of new acquaintances here in Amman. There is the elderly man that oversees an empty parking lot we go to play in, and down the street from him is a young café owner whose daughter likes to pet the puppy. There is the overtired guard who feeds Zooz biscuits and continuously asks if we have a room he can rent in our flat, to which the answer is always “no.” There is the lively butcher who gives me free scrap meat to make homemade dog food with and invites me to dinner at his house. There is an avid runner with a golden retriever named Messy who lets Zooz outside while I’m at work so that the two dogs can play. There are a multitude of strangers who have stopped me in the street to pet her or who have kept their distance and eyed her warily as though she might chase after them. Though I am more appreciative of some of my new acquaintances than others, the fact is that without my four-month-old puppy, they would not be a part of my experiences this year.

I have always jumped at opportunities to hike and go for runs in order to explore Jordan, but in the past two months, I have begun desperately pursuing these activities. I will seize any possibility to get my four-month puppy off of her leash or expending energy. This has led me to seeing some really incredible sunsets and landscapes, which I think that the pictures included in this blog post can testify to. It has also led to me dragging my puppy along behind me on a leash for several miles at Friday morning running club. Then there was the recent time when we drove several hours to go hiking, leading to a carsick puppy puking on my friend’s backpack and shoes.

For the past several weeks, I have been contemplating my inevitable return to the U.S., as I am writing my medical school personal statement. In all honesty, a scarf may have been easier to integrate into my closet as I brave Wisconsin snow storms next year. A mug certainly would have reminded me of Jordan while I consumed ungodly amounts of caffeine throughout medical school. Neither one of those choices would have presented me with explosive diarrhea at 2 AM or chewed-up shoes upon returning from the gym. All that being said, I am quite content with my souvenir choice. I am looking forward to having Mahzooza as an Arabic conversation partner, hiking buddy, and alarm clock for the next decade.

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Fellows' Reflections: Eliza Davis

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“Guys, I’ve learned something incredibly important.” We’re three women wedged in the back of a taxi. It’s 9:45am and we’re on our way to work. “Well,” I amend, “It’s not that important, but it’s my new favorite thing in Arabic.” My coworkers are both studying the language, and swapping new phrases is always a fun carpool conversation. “Do you guys know the names of the fingers in Arabic?” Bryn laughs, but Jessie, the other MENAR fellow, replies with an inquisitive, “No?”

“These two,” I say, motioning to my ring and pinky finger, “are called hunsar and bunsar. Hunsar and bunsar! How amazing is that?”

Jessie laughs. “Are you serious?”

“Yes! Hunsar and bunsar.”

Bryn chimes in. “And wasta,” indicating her middle finger, “sbabe,” for the pointer, and “ib7am,” for the thumb.

At this point, the taxi driver, who apart from “good morning” has only heard us speak English, chuckles as well. “Where are you from?” He asks, in Arabic. He turns out to have a fixed meter and tries to charge us twice the normal cab fare. We don’t pay.

Living with Jordanians and speaking only Arabic at home, I’ve begun to explore the hidden quirks of the language. In the same conversation when I discovered the lovely hunsar and bunsar, I also learned that the area between your ankle and knee in Arabic is called “bta2,” meaning duck. I was sitting in the living room with my roommate and started to laugh. “Well, what’s it called in English?” he asked. I thought about it for a second, then started to laugh even harder. “Calf!”

Part of the progress has definitely come from Mishka, the six-month old kitten, whom I adopted in October and who only speaks Arabic (or at least I only speak Arabic with her). I very quickly learned the word “3ad” meaning to bite, but more importantly the phrase “3ad 3ad,” which is similar to nibbling or intensive light biting—a constant phenomenon in my life with Mishka. From there, I’ve discovered one of my favorite features of Jordanian Arabic: two syllable repetitive phrases to denote a lightened or more familiar version of the original word: “tuk tuk” is cracking your back; “ms7 s7” is to be properly awake. I’ve also learned and now often utter the phrase “amawet omek,” which means “I’ll kill your mom,” or literally “I will cause your mother’s death.” The use of “omek” (your mother) to strengthen the meaning of a verb can be used in a negative sense (as for Mishka when she misbehaves) or a positive sense, such as “b7eb omek,”—“I love your mother,” as way to show that you really love the other person, not that a Stacey’s Mom situation is going on.

I’m sure there are so many other fun features of Jordanian Arabic that I have yet to come across, and many more mistakes that will be made before I get a handle on half of them. I’m looking forward to all of it.

Fellows' Reflections: Hannah Byrd

As my airplane descended into Tunis in late August, I looked out my window and saw a white sailboat skimming through bright blue water. This first sign of life in my new home sparked the realization that I would have to find my place here in a country with distinct customs and language. In the almost two months since I have lived here, every day has felt like a test of whether I am succeeding at this. Like most things in life, the path to belonging has not been linear. There are days when I walk home from work at sunset when the pink sky frames the white houses and I feel an enormous sense of contentment. I feel cared for by my neighbors when I buy bread from the bakery near my apartment and the women owners ask how I am. I feel the joy of sharing life with others during moments of laughter at lunches with my co-workers over something one of our students did that day.

That being said, there have also been times when I have felt lost living here. I speak Modern Standard Arabic, but the Tunisian dialect is different. The phrases “Mora okhra?” meaning “Can you repeat that?” or “La afHam” meaning “I do not understand” have left my lips too often to count. An incident with FedEx challenged my ability to live in a different context. A package my mom sent from the U.S. with prescription medication was detained at the shipping facility for a seemingly growing list of reasons.

When I consider these challenges, though, I see clearly how I have been helped over and over again. The taxi drivers and shop owners who I give my apologies to for not speaking the dialect are always kind and persistent to communicate with me. My American and Tunisian co-workers helped me solve my issues with FedEx, translating over speaker phone for me, finding medication to act as a substitute, and asking a doctor to write a prescription. The issue was finally resolved thanks to my mom’s call to the company’s customer service, after which my package was delivered in full with no questions or cost. This is an excellent reminder of the support from my family and friends at home for which I am grateful.

I think often of my favorite poem here, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. It has been a source of comfort since high school, but my experiences in Tunisia bring it even closer to my heart. Nearing the end of the poem, Oliver reminds the reader that “the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” The immense challenges life can bring in a new country are no match for the capacity of human connection. The place I inhabit in Tunisia I owe largely to the myriad of people who have made it for me through their deeds and words. I trust these relationships will continue to create a sense of home as I grow more acquainted with Tunisia.

Fellows' Reflections: Maddie Fisher

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One of the joys and the challenges of being a fellow in a new position is stepping into a loosely defined role. Even now that I have been at Eastern Mediterranean International School (EMIS) for a couple of months, it takes a while to describe what my job as a MENAR fellow here is like on a typical day. I sum up the various roles I take on by explaining my work falls into two main categories — teaching language and supporting the school's mission to create peace and sustainability in the Middle East. What I did not expect is just how much overlap there is between teaching English and mediating dialogues about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

At EMIS we have 190 students who come from cities all over Israel-Palestine and countries all over the world. With the exception of a handful of native English speaking students, everyone is adapting to learning not only how to do math in English, but also how to express their complex ideas and reflections in their second or third language. As we began planning our Conflict Mediation program, I talked with the staff about barriers to dialogue that the school has faced in previous years. A common issue for the students is not having the most precise vocabulary to convey complex ideas about conflict. We throw around a lot of common media words without knowing what they really mean. For example, a student was overheard saying, "I can't eat this apple because it's biased" in the dining hall, without understanding that "biased" is not a word they can use for anything that they do not like. It is challenging when we have a group of fifteen students who speak five different native languages all trying to not only express their own ideas in English but also to understand opposing viewpoints when the exact meaning and connotation of their thoughts gets lost in translation. As someone with a background in linguistics, I believe strongly in the power of words and the importance of choosing our vocabulary with care all the time, especially when we are having difficult dialogues.

I am grateful to have a complicated job description. When we engage in intense conversations at EMIS, our students face language, cultural, and ideological barriers. In my diverse roles I am able to help students strengthen their English skills so that they can share their stories with increased confidence that the words they use mean what they intend and that intent is understood by others. Finding common ground is hard enough when you have a common native tongue and even more so when there is a language limitation. I am encouraged that time spent in English classes not only helps the students pass their International Baccalaureate exams, but also that this increased knowledge of syntax and diction in English empowers them with the skills they need, so that the focus of dialogue is on getting to know the person behind the words.

Fellows' Reflections: Lisa MacKenzie

Building a Sense of Community in Amman

Amman is a city of about 4 million. Despite the large population and its sprawling hills, I rarely go a day without interacting with someone I have crossed paths with before. Whether it is the young man selling figs on a Friday morning by Al-Fayhaa Mosque, a former classmate reading in a cozy coffee shop, or earnest cab driver who has picked me up before and remembers where I work, there are always familiar faces. These daily encounters are slowly allowing me to build a sense of comfort and belonging in Amman. Beyond these serendipitous meetings, joining athletic groups in Amman has been a rewarding way to meet people, make friends, and find community.

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Friday Run Club

Weekends in Jordan start on Friday. The mornings are quiet and peaceful. I meet the Running Amman group every Friday morning to run on empty streets with 20 to 40 others. We end each run with brunch in the neighborhood. This past weekend, at least 20 from the group completed the Amman half marathon, full marathon, or 10k. Sharing congrats and welcoming each runner at the finish line reminded me of how supportive and friendly runners’ groups are. I seek out a running community wherever I am, and I am happy to have found it in Amman.

Ladies’ Gyms

I go to a women-only gym in Al-Rabieh. I feel welcome thanks to the mothers that invite me to drink coffee before their 7:00 am workouts. I am grateful for the space in which I feel comfortable as female. Public spaces in Jordan are male-dominated spaces, and I am honestly relieved by the lack of men when I go to the gym. Ladies’ gyms are where women don’t think twice about exposed hair, elbows, shoulders, or bellies, celebrate birthdays in the locker rooms, get their nails and hair done at the adjoined salon, and spend time walking and gossiping side by side on treadmills. It is a safe space where I have made female friends 18 to 65 years old.

Fellows' Reflections: Hazlett Henderson

I am having trouble teaching Charlotte’s Web.

You would think that after four years of studying Arabic and Islam, working with a Jordanian boss in high school, studying abroad in Morocco, and hanging out with various friends from the MENA region over the years, I would have realized that Wilbur (the main character of Charlotte’s Web) could present a problem. Of course, I did not.

Trying to work out how to teach a class book is its own thing, so I was happily focused on dividing up the book, pulling out vocabulary words, and developing character and plot analysis lessons. I have an elementary school librarian in the family, and she had assured me that my main trouble with teaching Charlotte’s Web for the first time would be its difficult ending.

But a few weeks ago, after I had sent home the first chapter of Charlotte’s Web, comprehension worksheet and all, I could tell something was wrong. When my students came back to class the next week, their little faces were scrunched up, their lips curling, and their eyes accusing me of something. As soon as I mentioned Charlotte’s Web, I heard the dreaded, “Mssssss!” (The students know their teachers’ names. Regardless, we are all “Ms.” Unless a teacher happens to be a man, in which case: “Mr.”)

“I can’t read this story because it’s a pig!”

“Pigs eat trash!”

“I hate pigs!”

My students told me that pigs roll around in the mud, that they’re dirty, that they eat and hang out in trash. This is consistent with Islam’s teaching regarding pigs: eating “the flesh of swine” is forbidden, along with “dead meat” and “blood.” In Christianity, eating pigs is also haram (see the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah), but Christians tend to be less stringent about that particular prohibition. (You are probably also aware that Christians are not supposed to touch pigs’ carcasses because they are “unclean” animals. See: American footballs.)

I did not know how to respond, to say the least. One parent suggested her daughter pretend Wilbur was a cat. Okay. I suggested we embrace our “American children’s literature immersion experience,” at a total loss to defend one of the best-known and most popular children’s stories in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, my students were not thrilled by that prospect. I gave one particularly religious student the book I had started with my other class to read instead, only to realize that the subplot of Holes also features a pig. Not going to work.

Finally, I realized something. It would not help me with my pig problem, I thought, but I figured out that I should actually be reading the majority of the class book in class, in order to get my students engaged and thinking about the story as it unfolded for them. I hoped this would combat some of the “This story isn’t fun” and “It’s so boring” comments I had been getting. And it has done that: my students asked more questions, reflected more on the characters and events, and seemed to get the story more this week than they had in the past.

But reading the story aloud (and, as we progressed, learning more about Wilbur’s thoughts and feelings) also let my students identify more with Wilbur the pig. When we finished our most recent chapter, I heard students considering Wilbur’s motivations and fears, not commenting on his pig-hood. We spent time discussing the goose, that tricky, repetitive advice-giver, and Wilbur’s limited experience with the world outside his fence. In short, at least during that class time, we moved a little bit past the cultural difference.

I am frustrated that some of my most religious students still look at me askance in class. I wish that I had anticipated this problem, and I think I could have if I had considered my class book choice at more length. This week, however, I am happy for the reminder of the differences between my background and those of my students. It makes the connections we are forging (outside of Charlotte’s Web!) all the more meaningful.

Fellows' Reflections: Eliza Davis

As a fellow at Collateral Repair Project, I’ve been put in charge of running Hope Workshop, a craft collective for refugee women. It’s been two months, and what I can say with certainty is that I never feel bored. I’ve spent an entire Saturday assembling Ikea furniture, one whole session working with the women to pick thread colors for embroidered tote bags, and far more time than I would like hearing complaints about sewing machine jams — which I am somehow expected to know how to address.

There are also the more standard aspects of running a program such as writing budgets, managing social media, organizing trainings, and coordinating on monitoring and evaluation. While these are the more “important” aspects of my job, I often find them overshadowed by the reality of the workshop. I’ll be in a meeting strategizing sales when suddenly one of the women comes in and, with a sincere apology for the interruption, proceeds to ask me the proper placement of the penguin on our advent calendar.

My Arabic vocabulary has expanded to include ironing, sewing needles, sand paper, bobbins, and my personal favorite, tassels — which I now know in both the Syrian/Jordanian dialect (dandoushe) and Iraqi (karkoushe). This week, one of the women pricked her finger during the embroidery session and asked me for a kishtiban. I didn’t know the word, but looking at her finger assumed this was the Iraqi term for a bandaid. “Yeah of course we have one.” She looked surprised. I ran across the center, and returned triumphantly, band aid in hand. She took one look at it, and immediately began to laugh. “No! The metal thing to put over your finger!” I made a mental note: kishtiban = thimble.

One of my main goals in coordinating the program, however, is to empower the women to take on more responsibility within the workshop. Thus, despite the constant questions about production, due to my complete lack of craft experience and refusal to learn where any of the materials are stored, the women have been increasingly taking over the daily management of the workshop. When someone asks me how to attach straps to our tote bag or which stitch they should be using to embroider a specific flower, I simply laugh and ask them, “You think I know?” More and more, they rely on each other, and somehow, they always figure it out. They find the tape they were searching for or fix the seam that was crooked. I return to my color-coded spreadsheets, and work for a few minutes — until someone comes in with another question.

Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Miller

Pictures and Permanence

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It’s hard to believe that I will be rounding out my first two months in Amman in just a few days. My first trip to Jordan last summer lasted a total of two months, and I remember being entirely ready to head home and see my family and friends.

At the beginning of September, I moved into a new apartment which will hopefully be my home for the duration of my stay in Amman. I now live with two Jordanian siblings in an area of Amman called Weibdeh. The younger brother, whose room is right next to mine, is 20 years old and his older sister, whose room is on the other side of mine, is 25 years old. Their older sister lives upstairs with her husband, and my friend and co-worker, lives across the stairwell. I am loving being surrounded by family members and friends, and in a way, it reminds me of the surreal experience I had living with 14 of my closest girlfriends on one floor of an apartment building last year in Madison, Wisconsin.

In the months leading up to my departure from the U.S., I made an effort to mentally prepare for being gone for a full year. Instead of saying that I was traveling to Jordan, I told people that I was moving, which conveys more of a sense of permanence. I knew that acknowledging the length of my stay would be one step of settling in and feeling at peace with my routine in Amman. In this first blog post, I want to focus on several of the simple things which have made me feel like I’m settling into my new life, while also staying in touch with the humans I love back in the U.S.

String Lights, Plants, and Hooks

This week, I finally had a chance to settle into my room. I fiddled with a power strip for an hour, getting it to work, hung string lights in my room, bought a basil plant, and hung pictures of my family and friends from home. There was something about the 3 hour process of drilling hooks into the wall with my new neighbor that finally started to make me feel settled. We spent about an hour attempting to make the holes in this metal hook larger because the screws we needed to use would not fit. By repeatedly bending the metal holes with screws by hand, we eventually made that happen (though perhaps inefficiently). What else did I learn from my experience of room decorating? That string lights and basil plants make me unreasonably content. I love the sense of ownership that growing a plant provides, as I water it each morning and ensure that it doesn’t die (hopefully). I will be living in this apartment for 11 months, which a longer time than I ever stayed in one apartment during my time at UW Madison. I gain so much peace from the pictures I’ve posted of those I love and the glow of string lights which have moved with me from room to room for the last 3 years. These memories from home provide me with a sense of support each morning while also helping me remain connected to home.

A Dukan and Bread

There is always something about grocery shopping and doing laundry in a new apartment that makes moving in feel more real to me. Though you won’t find a traditional Pick ’n Save in Amman as you would in Wisconsin, there are a few nearby dukan which do the job. Dukan translates generally to "shop" in English, and these tiny stores are scattered up and down the streets of Amman. I can buy essential groceries and cheap food in the dukan closest to my house, and the owner has started to recognize me. The second necessity that I needed to find in my new neighborhood was bread, which is a staple in every meal and diet here. After a few days, I ventured in the direction opposite my dukan, and I found a bakery that is open 24/7. Now that I have ensured access to basic food, I can say with certainty that I feel more settled in my new neighborhood.

Peaches, Plums, and Inside Jokes

I am convinced, hear me out here, that there are two words that both mean peach here in Jordan – one is darak and the other is khokh. One of my responsibilities at CRP includes daily accounting and petty cash management for center expenses. While that might seem boring, it is actually the highlight of my every day because I reconcile receipts with a staff member whom I will call Abu Amjad. Abu Amjad is an Iraqi refugee with a handful of kids, and he is in charge of all the center purchasing, so my days begin with giving him money and end with registering his receipts. He only speaks Arabic (except he tells me “toodles” when he leaves my office each day).

On my first day independently reconciling with Abu Amjad, he told me that he bought darak. I spend 5 minutes playing 20 questions with him about its color and shape and essentially only discovered that it was a reddish fruit. I then googled darak and got very unhelpful images of Drake, the singer, which was entertaining. Finally, I had Abu Amjad take me to the kitchen and show me a peach, which I promptly explained to him was taught to me as khokh. He proceeded to explain that a khokh is not the same thing. I have now asked my roommates, my neighbors, several friends in Palestine who I met on my trip there, and countless strangers if someone could explain to me the difference between a darak and a khokh, to no avail. Some describe khokh as a plum, while others refute that explanation. Whenever either a darak or a khokh is available as an example, it seems the other is not as a comparison.

While reconciling this past week, Abu Amjad told me he bought both, reopening our discussion of the difference because I don’t know how to translate these fruits correctly into our financial logs. I was explaining this dilemma to my coworker in our taxi ride home, when she started cracking up. I promptly realized that I could have ended this ongoing predicament by simply asking to see both. This realization led to me wildly laughing in the back of a taxi while the driver laughed at how hard I was laughing. I will make sure to update all of my curious readers on the correct translations of these fruits when I figure it out myself. In the meantime, though, this joke has provided me with an ongoing source of joy and comfort. It is a simple reminder of the familiarity that inside jokes and dialogue can create, and such engagements have certainly helped to make me feel as though I’m settling into a community.

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In the coming months, I know that my schedule will grow more hectic as I start taking part-time Arabic courses. However, I hope to continue reflecting on my experiences and time here in Amman. Some days are longer than others here, but I am thoroughly enjoying my time, and I cannot wait to see what insights the rest of my experiences will bring.

MENAR featured on ProFellow.com

We are pleased to have been featured in ProFellow.com's recent articles, "25 Alternatives to the 2019-2020 Fulbright U.S. Student Grant" and “25 Fellowship Opportunities for Work or Study in the Middle East and North Africa.” Our application for the 2019-2020 fellowship cohort will open in just a few weeks, and we look forward to reviewing a new round of fantastic candidates!

Fellows' Reflections: Bryce Feibel

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Since arriving in Amman on June 4th, my time here has been a whirlwind of new experiences and transitions. From starting a new job, finding an apartment (in less than 24 hours), and dusting off my Arabic skills, the last two months have been non-stop and full of new memories.

One of these new experiences happened a couple of weeks ago when a friend sent me a post calling for extras for Netflix’s first Arabic series, Jinn. After a little hesitation, I decided to respond to the request and 48 hours later I found myself on a bus to Petra with 50 other expats. After a 3 hour bus ride we arrived in Petra around 6 pm and were shuttled by jeep to the majestic Treasury. For those of you who have had the opportunity to visit Petra, you are aware that the Treasury is about a mile or so walk from the entrance, so being driven in was an exciting perk.

Upon arrival at the Treasury we were told to go look around the set, which had been set up for “Petra by night.” Within 30 minutes of arriving, we were already being staged and ready to shoot. Surrounded by cameras, producers, actors, and a few stray cats and dogs (who decided to sit next to us), we were instructed to sit back and watch the “show” that was being put on. Our roles were that of tourists enjoying a visit at Petra. Fast-forward 4 hours (during which, every 15 minutes, they promised it was the last shot), we ate dinner among the ruins of Petra. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be eating dinner with the Treasury as my backdrop and the rest of Petra absolutely vacant of tourists.

After dinner we went back to our designated spots and began shooting once again. By this time it was 12:30 am and all of us were exhausted -- sitting on the ground for hours at a time is tiring!! Although all of us were cranky and tired, it was an incredible experience watching how a Netflix series gets made. Finally, at 3:45 am, they called “That’s a wrap!” and we were escorted out of Petra. We received our payment for our time and headed back to Amman around 5:30 am (side note, I had work to be at work by 9 am). When I arrived at work, the past 12 hours felt like a crazy dream. This is just one of the many adventures I have had thus far in Jordan, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store!

 
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