A recording of this morning's MENAR Info Session webinar is available here for those who would like to view it. We cover application timeline, eligibility criteria, position descriptions, and frequently asked questions.
I wish I could capture the dynamic energy this city holds, all of its complex simplicity. I’ve never felt a city so alive as Alexandria, in its constant hurried ease. So often this city feels like a living and breathing contradiction: full of strangers who already consider you family; forever moving at the pace of a relaxed rush; a concrete jungle nurtured by the sea beside it.
Sometimes I also feel like a contradiction here. I call a city that does not belong to me my home; using my broken Arabic to navigate streets, requiring patience from everyone I meet. As I slip into my life in Alexandria, it feels like everyday I’m humming along to a melody that I’ve never heard. There are just no quiet moments - in my head, or on Alex’s streets.
The contradictions in Alex remind me how beautiful it is to be alive and full of imperfections, just like the urban giant around me. It reminds me that I can have a place here too - working in this region, living on this Earth. It reminds me of how much grace there is in allowing yourself to be in a foreign space while trying to make sense of what “home” means. I guess most of all, it reminds me that the world, and we as people, are so much softer and simpler than we make ourselves out to be. That in the midst of contradiction, we too are doing all we can to welcome the strangers we collect along the way.
Our application for 2018-2019 fellowship positions has been posted! Read all the details here. The application is open to current college seniors and recent graduates, and the deadline is December 15, 2017 at 11:59 pm Eastern Time. Contact us with any questions.
An online info session will be held on Saturday, November 4 at 10 am Eastern Time to provide an overview of the program and answer applicants' questions. To attend the webinar, click this link and choose to join as a guest.
Loving Friends While Abroad
Last month, I got to sleep over at a friend’s house for what turned out to be a pretty dope slumber party. I’m talking about high-level gossip, movie binging, over-indulging in snacks and whispering jokes and stories while falling asleep. No questions were off limits. And there was plenty of time for talking through some pretty heavy things. I totally wrapped myself in the comfort of closeness to someone. It’s the same closeness I experienced when I called my high school girlfriends each night to talk or napped out on lawns and read short stories to my ladies back in college. I realized, after soaking myself in the blissful wonders of sleeping over at a friend’s house, that I forgot how essential it is to develop love in friendships. Careers, jobs, chores, and life really take up a long time and, quite honestly, stunt emotional openness.
It’s hard to express the love I have for my friends. I am choosing to try and explain it in this blog post because it’s the main reason I wanted to return to Amman. The first time I was here, I met people who watched me mess up, daily but still forgave me. I connected with them intellectually and emotionally. I got to confide in them and ask too much of them without fear of them leaving my life. There is something special about a community of people who hold you up and who you want to hold back.
So, in the spirit of that love, here’s a quick list of the love I have received from my friends since returning to Amman back in July:
When I entered my apartment for the first time, three bags in hand and pretty disgusting from 24 hours of travel, my roommates and I opened up a conversation about what helps us feel loved in our home. We discussed safety and the occasional (or frequent) insecurity. We asked each other how we could protect each other from these challenges by building a community based on love and support.
On day two, I forced myself out of bed (tired, jetlagged and fairly nervous) and went to a farm with a bunch of people I didn’t know. It was an opportunity to escape the heat in a hillside pool, eat loads of goodies and be in good company. Every person there welcomed me so beautifully into their lives and their warmness is still relentless in our growing friendships.
I’ve grown to cherish my morning ritual: catching up on *everything* with my colleague on our taxi ride to work. In 20 minutes, we learn and share a lot about where our heads and hearts are at. After riding home at the end of the day, we head off in different directions calling out, "I'll miss you."
I go on daily walks with another totally incredible friend and colleague. Our conversations span work frustrations, politics and upcoming horror films. We drink milkshakes and share our lunches on the stairwell at work. All day and pretty much until I go to sleep, we talk. I can say with certainty that we wish each other goodnight, every night.
I call my friends to tell them about my day. They bring me coffee in the morning at work. They check in on me when I get home. They send me sweet messages and notes. We go on drives when I’m feeling off. We tell each other when we are sick and we rush to comfort in moments of need.
I chose to keep this post pretty general. There is nothing specifically about Amman because friendship isn’t unique to one place and you don’t need to travel to find it. I also tried to keep details about each friend out of the post because they are details that don’t really matter. But if I were to pick one thing that is specific to my time here, it would be that I am learning to ambitiously, crazily and relentlessly love my friends again.
I was taught to publicly and openly love the more obvious people in my life, like partners, parents or siblings. Friendship is often secondary to those primary loved ones who get to take up the most of your attention and time. However, coming back to Amman I was reminded of why I love my friends with so much of me.
I don’t know why being here allowed me to open up to that kind of love again. Living abroad is a lot emotional, intellectual and self-critical work on top of the normal everyday commitments and worries. And while I was trying to articulate it in this blog post, my roommates invited me on a spontaneous trip to Ikea where we basically played house for two hours. We almost brought home new furniture (that definitely would not fit in our apartment). We joked and laughed while maintaining a totally serious yet comical commitment to renovating everything. We dreamed up an entirely new living space filled with our own visions of comfort and love.
It was totally blissful, kind of like sleeping over at your best friend’s house or immediately waking up to, "Good Morning," new messages on your phone. Since coming back, my heart is always full because of these very moments. I could talk a lot about living and work in Amman but, so far, this is the best part. I get to love my friends more each day and that is the most beautiful thing about being in this city.
Just shy of a month’s time into my experience in Egypt, I found myself standing among the ruins of an ancient lecture hall and amphitheater in the heart of Alexandria. This place once hosted world-renowned philosophers—the ones we typically encounter as two-dimensional figures in history books but tend to forget were once living breathing people.
Living in the midst Alexandria’s urban metropolis, I sometimes forget that this city sits on thousands of years of rich history, embodying the meaning of cosmopolitan since the invention of the word itself.
The woman who showed me this place, a history expert who has spent her whole life in Alexandria, explained that the site was discovered purely by accident by a team of archeologists searching for the tomb of Alexander the Great.
“Here in Alexandria,” she told me, “When we go looking for something, we always find something else."
I can't help think how aptly this phrase describes my own experience here. I came to Alexandria looking for something—an opportunity to deepen my regional experience, to gain insight into international education, to build community.
Instead, my most meaningful experiences are the ones I never could have predicted. An attempt to try out my limited Arabic with the watchmen on my block has led to a daily ritual of 'hellos' and 'how are yous' that make this small street feel infinitely welcoming. A broken washing machine led to the discovery of an incredibly generous neighbor, who has since become a valued mentor and friend. Asking for directions on the tram led to a family essentially adopting me for a night. A chance encounter outside the Alexandria Opera House led to complimentary tickets to that night’s show.
The things I love most about Alexandria are the things I never expected to find. I love the verticality of the city, its narrow streets and long shadows, how its buildings hug the seaside, the way everybody seems to be constantly finding space. I love the way some streets have deep parallel impressions from the era of horse-drawn carriages. I love the Ladas, distinctly Alexandrian black and yellow taxis introduced in the 1960s by the Russians, which have somehow become as permanent a feature of the city as the streets themselves. I love the way the streets come alive at night, with vendors selling fresca, cotton candy, fruit, tea, and beans with lemon. I love the generosity of strangers, and the way the warmth of the people makes this city feel like an offering.
I’ve heard Alexandria described as the “Athens of Africa.” The city's history is often defined with respect to those who influenced it from the outside in, whether it be pharaohs, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, the French, Italians, Russians, or British. But characterizing the city ‘in relation to’ masks how the city's identity is uniquely rich in its own right. In the midst of various eras and influences, Alexandria has developed its own unique identity, one that cannot be so neatly categorized.
In the span of a month, Alexandria has already taught me so many things. How to accept the generosity of strangers. How to embrace spontaneity and find beauty in unpredictability. How to smile abundantly. How to make the most of a blank slate.
This city has also challenged me. It has challenged me to take on a new role, to meet a steep learning curve, to handle transitions with grace, to accept ambiguity. I still have room to grow, and this experience has more to teach me.
We go looking for things, and find something completely different. Opening to new experiences invites moments to receive deeper insight and understanding. I can’t wait for what the rest of this year has in store.
The theme of the summer, and my time so far at Reclaim Childhood, has been the song Jeno Noto. If you haven't heard this song yet, it's a song popular among all our participants and its dance involves quietly gathering in the middle and then jumping up and screaming. The song at its essence is a unifier. Just as the song involves both moments of quiet gathering and pure chaos, so too has my time with Reclaim Childhood. In our quiet moments, we gather as staff and coaches and discuss topics ranging from our hopes and dreams and our lives as women to how we wax our legs and our favorite foods. Just as Jeno Noto instructs, we take the quiet moments to gather back to the middle, recenter and continue to build one unified force of diverse, powerful women with different perspectives and different ideas.
In our chaotic moments, we navigate screaming girls, water balloons, late bus drivers, and wild dancing to both Jeno Noto and the Cupid Shuffle. It is in these moments, as we're screaming, running, dancing, and laughing that we renew our energy, drive forward together, and take inspiration from the girls around us.
I have found that a necessary balance has been created that makes each moment, quiet or chaotic, all the more special. This past week, we finished Coach Clinic -- a week-long program where we focus on solidifying our sports skills and continuing to be intentional about the safe environment we foster for our participants. Coach Clinic is a perfect example of how to strike a balance between quiet and chaos. In the mornings, we run around the gym, get a little too competitive, scream, laugh, and fight down to the last point. In the afternoons, we transition into community conversations about our program. Both the chaos of the morning and the quiet of the afternoon are necessary to making Reclaim Childhood the program that it is today.
As I move forward with my time here, I'm looking forward to both the quiet and the chaos. I'm lucky to be surrounded by a strong community that, in our more serious discussions, forces me to be more thoughtful, more passionate, more intentional, and more aware of my surroundings. In our wild moments, we embrace the sweet chaos of spontaneous hikes, accepting an offer for tea, and the ever-honking horns of taxis. I'm confident that both the moments that I experience actively and passively will continue to provide more opportunities for growth, awareness, and fun. Looking forward to the coming year!
I’ve only been in Jordan for 53 days and I can hardly fathom how to summarize my experience so far. It has been the craziest, busiest, most amazing two months — extra emphasis on the busy part. In these 53 days I have traveled to Karak, Dana Reserve, Wadi Hesa, Wadi Numeireh, Wadi As-Seer, Fuheis, and the Dead Sea. I have become part of a strategy team for a sustainable farm organization (Wadi Vera), which has included building their website and planning a 35-person breadmaking workshop and dinner; participated in a cleanup and art project at a local spring (which was featured in the community newspaper); played in a band for a fundraiser at Café de Paris and Art at the Park; saw my favorite band play (El Morraba3); and have overall met an amazing network of local and expat friends.
I'm working as a Growth Hacker fellow at Bayt.com, one of the largest tech companies in the Middle East. I work on the Marketing and Communications team, where I redesign parts of the website for optimized user experience, conduct data analysis reports to improve our marketing strategies to our different MENA audiences, and contribute to overall marketing strategies with video, ad, and other campaign ideas. I'm loving it so far and work with an amazing team! I hope to write about my work in a future blog post, but for now I'd like to share about my overall experience as a fellow living in Amman. I thought the best way to do this would be by sharing some photos of my time here so far!
This picture is of is my rooftop at “Rainbow House.” We’re a 10 person house in Jabel Amman with both locals and expats from all over the world. I’m lucky to have landed in this house! It’s where I have met all of my friends and network.
On my third day in Jordan, I took a trip to the Dead Sea (with Rainbow House people of course) and Wadi Hesa, which is where this picture is from. Driving along the Dead Sea Highway is one of my favorite things to do here. The Wadis here are amazing as well. We took a dip in the Dead Sea first, covered ourselves in the mud, washed off in a waterfall across the street, and then headed for the hike.
This picture is from the cleanup and art project that we did in Fuheis. One of the local springs that has been used for generations by the families nearby has accumulated hundreds of pounds of trash. We spent a few days cleaning out all of the trash and using the broken glass to create this tree by the water. We then built a retaining wall to create a special area for trash and labeled it in Arabic. When we returned the next week, people had used the designated trash area and kept the spring clean — success! Many families brought us food during the project and the local news organization even took pictures of our work to feature us in their neighborhood newsletter.
The picture above is from my trip to Karak where we got to explore the old castle there. The pictures below are from our two-day camping trip to Dana Reserve. Dana has been one of my favorite places to visit in Jordan (despite the four hours we had to wait at the South Bus station).
Below are some pictures taken from Wadi Vera! I planned a bread-making workshop and dinner with the founder and owner of Wadi Vera. We had 37 people attend for our first event. We have events like this to serve as additional income for the family that is living on the land as well as provide funds for the various land restoration projects.
These pictures are from our trip to the Dead Sea and Wadi Numeireh and to the town of Wadi As-Seer, where there are Byzantine ruins and the most renowned figs in Jordan.
The last picture is my favorite staircase in Amman and is luckily just up the street from me, next to my favorite little restaurant where I can eat brunch for just 1.20 JD!
We are thrilled to announce our fellowship class for next year, which includes 8 fellows working with 6 partner organizations. We are very excited about these partnerships and look forward to seeing our fellows thrive in these positions!
- Tonia Bartlett - Elm International School - Alexandria, Egypt
- Katherine Butler-Dines - Experience Morocco Casablanca, Morocco
- Lilly Crown - Collateral Repair Project - Amman, Jordan
- Laura Humes - Elm International School - Alexandria, Egypt
- Jordan Lee - Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) - Doha, Qatar
- Cassidy Lyon - Bayt.com - Amman, Jordan
- Marie Panchesson - Bayt.com - Amman, Jordan
- Jessie Wyatt - Reclaim Childhood - Amman, Jordan
See our Current Fellows page for more info about these fellows!
If you were not able to join the MENAR Applicant Info Session last night but would like to see what was covered, a recording is available here.
In particular, be sure to check out the short video from our current fellow, Timothy Loh, with some words of advice and encouragement for this year's applicants.
These stories are not just FYI
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
-- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Danger of a Single Story
I am an aspiring anthropologist and I love stories. Narrative holds such power to dislodge and remake our assumptions, to give us another perspective on life, and to open a window, even for just a second, into the rich inner worlds of other people. In graduate school, some of the best books I read were chock full of stories that challenged hegemonic thinking about a range of different issues. Diana Allan’s Refugees of the Revolution, about Palestinian refugees in Shatila camp in Lebanon, forced me to rethink what I understood about the right of return. Farha Ghannam’s nuanced ethnography of manhood and masculinity in Egypt, Live and Die Like a Man, rejected dangerous stereotypes of the violent, backward, misogynistic Arab man. Salim Tamari’s work on the life of Wasif Jawhariyyeh, a Christian musician who lived in Jerusalem at the turn of the 20th century with Muslim and Jewish neighbours, deconstructed the prevalent but mistaken notion that Islam and Christianity have been in a state of enmity since time immemorial. I also saw the power of stories firsthand outside the classroom in a retreat program I was involved in called ESCAPE, which aimed to help first-year and transfer students transition to Georgetown. Student leaders gave talks about their experiences before college, during their first year of college, and as a senior in college, and participants would break into small groups after and share openly with each other about how college has been for them. Giving my talk as a senior about how difficult adjusting to college had been was a cathartic, even therapeutic, experience, and the talks of my fellow leaders revealed surprising things about their lives that I would never have guessed had I met them anywhere else.
Here at the Collateral Repair Project, I’ve been given the immense privilege of listening to the stories of the refugees whom I serve and with whom I work. Every Wednesday, I sit in on the diwaniyyeh, the hour-long men’s support group session (that often stretches to an hour and a half) during which men from our community come together to talk about their struggles, which make my problems seem tiny by comparison. The regular feedback we have had is that the men truly appreciate the diwaniyyeh and that they leave feeling better than they had when they arrived—the very act of sharing their stories brings them some measure of peace. Twice I’ve had to hold back tears as I hear my coworker present to visitors to our center his story of escaping Syria with his family after his daughter was injured in a bomb attack by the government. Recently, an American couple came to Amman to volunteer with CRP and to document refugee stories for a local television station they were affiliated with in their home state, and I heard yet more stories of escape and pain from Iraq and Syria from our beneficiaries. One of them had his entire immediate family resettled in another country but had been waiting for years to be reunited with them due to administrative and political delays. Tell our stories, they told the couple. Tell your government that this is what we are going through. Tell them what we want because they’re not listening to us.
I hear these stories almost every day. Then, at 5 pm, when work ends, I hop into a taxi and go back to my apartment in West Amman where my life after work and on the weekends is far removed from the refugee issue. This is also a privilege. The disjuncture between these two “lives” can be shocking at times and, to be honest, I am still trying to figure out how to reconcile them. Of this, though, I am sure: refugees are not there just to tell their stories. They tell their stories because they want something to change. In a sensitive 1997 article entitled “The Appeal of Experience; The Dismay of Images: Cultural Appropriations of Suffering in Our Times,” Arthur and Joan Kleinman critique the commodification of suffering, through which experiences of suffering are “remade, thinned out, and distorted.” I’ve seen a version of this process play out in the way that journalists and academics often reach out to CRP to interview our beneficiaries so they can better understand and depict “the refugee experience”—important work, of course—but those we serve are many times frustrated by that they have told their stories multiple times to various audiences but nothing seems to change. I am the last person to claim I have an answer to this dilemma, but as I continue on in the MENAR Fellowship, I hope to gain a deeper sense of how I can become a better steward of these stories that I’ve had the privilege—and responsibility—of hearing.
Interested in applying to MENAR but want to learn more or have specific questions?
MENAR will be holding an online information session for prospective applicants on Monday, November 14th at 8 pm EST. To join the session, follow this link and log in as "Guest." The session will last approximately one hour and will allow ample time for Q&A.
Our application for 2017-2018 fellowship positions has been posted! Read all the details here. The application is open to current college seniors and recent graduates, and the deadline is Thursday, December 15, 2016 at midnight. Contact us with any questions.
We are very pleased to be working with four excellent partner organizations at this point: Bayt.com and Collateral Repair Project in Amman, Jordan; the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) in Doha, Qatar; and Endeavor, which has offices across the MENA region. Please continue to check back between now and the application deadline as additional positions may be posted.
We are so thrilled to introduce Timothy Loh, our 2016-2017 MENAR Fellow, who will be working with the Collateral Repair Project in Jordan. He brings a ton of great experience and perspective, and we are excited to see what he will achieve with CRP next year! Read more about him on our Current Fellows page.
We are pleased to announce an amazing new partner organization for the 2016-2017 fellowship year, Collateral Repair Project:
Collateral Repair Project is a grassroots effort to bring much-needed assistance to refugees and other victims of war and conflict - those commonly referred to as "collateral damage." We seek to repair some of this damage and, through these efforts, foster peace and reconciliation. We are located in Amman, Jordan - temporary home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees.
Interested in working with them? Our application for upcoming fellowships will be open within the coming week! Check back here soon for updates.
The deadline for 2015-2016 MENAR Fellowships has passed and we are no longer accepting applications. Thank you to all of the excellent candidates who submitted applications!
Take a look at our new MENAR video, featuring the members of the Steering Committee and one of our former fellows!
We are pleased to announce that the application for fellowship positions during the 2015-2016 year are now open. The MENAR Fellowship Program will be facilitating placements with Endeavor, a global non-profit that is leading the high impact entrepreneurship movement around the world. For more information on fellowship requirements and how to apply, click here. We look forward to receiving your application!
As you know, a group of young Princeton alumni came together in 2011 to found a post-graduation fellowship organization that would enable graduates of Princeton and other universities to live and work in the Middle East and North Africa for a year. Originally operating under the name “Princeton in the Middle East” and with administrative support from Princeton in Africa, we placed our first fellow (Tal Eisenzweig, Princeton Class of 2012) in Morocco during the 2012-2013 year.
In order to better reflect the fact that we are not affiliated with Princeton University, we have recently changed our name to the Middle East and North Africa Regional (MENAR) Fellowship Program, and we plan to register as an independent 501(c)3 organization in the coming months. The word “menar” means “illuminated” in Arabic, and reflects our goal of opening the door for insight into the region’s cultures and promoting cross-cultural exchange.
Despite no longer having the word Princeton in our name, we remain inspired by the other “Princeton in” organizations (Princeton in Asia, Princeton in Africa, and Princeton in Latin America) and we continue to draw on the extensive Princeton alumni network to facilitate placements and support fellows. Our fellowship opportunities are open to top graduates of all U.S. universities.
The MENAR Fellowship Program is proud to announce that its second fellowship position is currently underway. Rachel Webb, Princeton Class of 2014, began her fellowship in August 2014 with Endeavor in Dubai. We look forward to sharing updates from her experience with you in the near future. In addition, applications for 2015-2016 fellowship positions will be accepted beginning in October.