Fellows' Reflections: Katherine Butler-Dines

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It may seem odd that a girl raised in the mountains of Colorado loves surfing, but starting a few years ago surfing became one of my greatest passions. While I lived in landlocked Washington, D.C., I was constantly planning my vacations to places where I could surf and I was often staying up odd hours to watch competitions happening half-way across the world in Hawaii or Fiji. Surfing was more of an obsession than just a hobby; it consumed my dreams and was a major impetus for my taking the position at Experience Morocco. Moving to Casablanca meant living next to an ocean and the chance to surf every day.

Now living in Casablanca, surfing does in many ways dictate my day-to-day schedule. Lucky for me, my role at Experience Morocco allows for flexible work hours, so I can shape my schedule to allow for trips to the beach when the waves are at their best. But surfing in Casablanca has also posed its challenges.

The first being how get my surf boards from my apartment in downtown to the beach, a 20 minute drive away. I don’t have a car and my surfboards don’t easily fit inside taxis. This often meant strange looks and hard bargaining in order to convince taxi and Careem [the Middle Eastern version of Uber] drivers to allow me to strap the board to their roof or let it poke out the back window. Now, my friendship with some of the instructors at a local surf school means I can keep my board at the school. I also bought a special rack that allows me to carry my surfboard on my bike. I am really looking forward to summer to actually use this. Right now, I get so cold biking to the ocean, I lose my motivation to then dive in the freezing Atlantic waters.

Another challenge is that the ocean conditions this winter have not always been conducive to surfing. The beach in Casablanca is a long stretch of sand that faces north. As winter storms barrel south from the Arctic regions, they create huge swells which translate into big waves. Unfortunately for me, the beach in Casablanca does not handle these big swells well. The beach becomes unsurfable with two and three meter waves crashing on the shallow sand banks, and the wind blows from the ocean to the land, further deteriorating the conditions. But, since I will be taking a surf instructor qualification test later in February, I still need to practice. This means going to the gym.

Some of my favorite memories of this year will actually be interacting with local women at the gym. Three days a week the gym’s pool is open for women. On these days, if I can’t surf, I will go to swim laps. Moroccan women though don’t really use the pool to swim laps; instead it is like a big pool party. Women of all ages floating, splashing, and laughing in the waters. It can be a challenge to find space to actually swim as I dodge other pool users. At first I was getting lots of funny looks, like, "Who is this white girl swimming swimming back and forth?" But soon, women were approaching me to ask where I was from, where I learned to swim, and if I could teach them. It is a challenge to explain in my broken French and Darija the basics of swimming, but I do my best. Mostly, I mime the movements, showing the women how to hold on to the edge of the pool to practice kicking or giving pointers on arm positions. Slowly but surely, I have noticed more women joining me as I swim laps. I never thought I would need to know the words for stroke, kick, and paddle in Arabic or French, but these impromptu swim lessons are growing my vocabulary and connections to the community. I can’t say that these swim sessions have improved my surfing, but they do provide a bit fun and laughter on those days I can’t make it to the ocean.

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Fellows' Reflections: Laura Humes

Compared to where I was just one year ago, I’ve come to realize that my life these days is reflected in a near perfect mirror image across the other side of the Mediterranean.

A year ago, in Thessaloniki, Greece, I would wake up each morning to the smell of the sea and wander sleepily down apartment-lined streets to catch a city bus to the outskirts of the city. I would disembark at an abandoned cement factory, the inside converted into a refuge for families displaced from Syria and Iraq. I would enter the building, ascend the stairs to a room overlooking the former factory floor, and greet a room full of youth who were part of the first ever education program in the camp. For some, it was their very first experience in a classroom, even a makeshift one. For me, it was my first experience as a teacher.

The beginning of this month marked the start of my second term as a class teacher at Elm International School in Alexandria, Egypt. These days, I wake up each morning to the smell of a different sea. I wander a short ways down a tree-lined street to reach the gates of a historic villa converted into a school. Once inside, I walk up the stairs to a sunlit classroom, its green-shuttered windows looking out onto a canopy of fluttering leaves.

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Reflecting on where I was a year ago has allowed me to trace an unexpected connectedness within my own life, as I look across my journey in international education. I’ve seen that learning can occur in the least expected places, from former factories to converted villas. Along the way, I’ve picked up skills, practices, and frameworks that I can adapt to any new environment.

Teaching is the first job I’ve had that can be described in a single word. This role has enabled me to tap into a more creative side of myself, to extend my patience beyond what I imagined myself capable of, to appreciate spontaneity and allow myself to be surprised, to expand my capacity to care, to be dynamic. Thinking of the ways that I’ve already grown within the space of a single year, I feel more focused, capable, and excited about my path forward.

My experience in Greece taught me that learners with different needs, aspirations, and life experiences—those who don’t look like traditional students—are typically relegated to realms of the education system that offer limited pathways forward. My experience in Egypt has shown me that a student-centered model can effectively provide meaningful pathways to advance education, while also valuing each learners’ unique next steps.

One year ago, I was working against severe resource constraints, policy barriers, and lack of political will to design meaningful learning opportunities for displaced youth. Now, I teach at an international school that draws learners from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences. While the education model I’m currently working with isn’t without its own unique challenges, teaching at Elm International School has certainly expanded my perspective. It has allowed me to see that challenges can push educators to think more creatively about what education means in the most fundamental sense.

My journey over the past year has reaffirmed my commitment to expand the opportunities students can have, regardless of their circumstances. For a generation of youth eager to learn, grow, and make change for a better world, this could be my greatest impact.

Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Wyatt

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Over the past few months, the weather in Jordan has been changing from heat that causes sweat while you sit to cold that causes you to shiver while you run. Originally coming from Minnesota, the land of cold and ice, I thought I was braced to fare any type of cold the winter throws at me. Little did I know that the winter in Jordan is an entirely different breed of cold. A key difference between homes in Minnesota verses homes here in Jordan is that homes here are designed to stay cool in the summer heat and are therefore not equipped with central heating. This changes the way you play the winter game.

When preparing for the winter, I’ve been grateful to rely on the knowledge of my Jordanian friends to transform my perfect-for-summer breezy apartment into a fortress against the cold. There are three main steps to take when fighting the cold: change your furnishing, change out your fans and change your clothes.

When transforming your physical apartment space, it all starts with making sure there are as many materials in your house as possible to line the floors and the windows. Starting from the bottom moving up, we lined our house with carpets from the local market. Not only are they beautiful, but they provide the insulation we need to sustain any warmth within the apartment. Next, we moved to the windows. One key feature in my apartment are the floor to ceiling windows we have in our living room. Just as they generate natural light, they also let in the cold from outside. Therefore, we invested in thick curtains to block out any wind that might seep through.

The next step to keeping your home cozy involves making the financial investment in space heaters. In our apartment, we use two different types of heaters: an electric heater and a gas heater, commonly referred to as a “soba.” The electric heater, although easier to manage, requires a lot of electricity to function. Although they are strong (you can even cook on them! See picture), many heat-experts opt for the “soba,” a gas heater. Although initially frightening because they require opening a tank of gas similar to the one used for a grill, they quickly light up and project heat throughout the room (with three different heat settings!). Just remember, when you turn on your heaters in the main room, make sure to shut all of your bedroom doors.  

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Finally, adapting to the cold requires an outfit change. One essential piece required for everyone’s wardrobe is the “farwa” (see picture). The “farwa” is a coat commonly used by local Jordanians to protect against the cold. It is a thick leather coat lined with fleece that even the cold from my home in Minnesota can’t penetrate. Making the investment makes a world of a difference.

All in all, even though winter in Jordan has presented new challenges and changes, I’ve taken the above steps and, when in doubt, rely on hot chocolate to warm my body and soul.

Fellows' Reflections: Lilly Crown

Rafael the Pet Tree, the Trash Cats, and Other Signs of Home

Before embarking on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the most common advice I received from friends, family, and colleagues was to “make the most of it.” When I tried to apply that recommendation into my daily life, however, it felt like an obligation: I should be going to events, building my professional network, continuing to study Arabic, learning new hobbies, hanging out with Jordanians, reading the news, cooking local foods, exploring new places, and any otherwise “productive” ways to fill every moment of time outside of work.

However, five months into the fellowship, I’ve found myself spending a lot of my free time watching TV, beautifying my apartment, and just… being. On the surface, maybe that seems as though I’m not successfully "making the most" of my time here. Working at CRP is meaningful and rewarding, but between all of my various responsibilities, there’s rarely a calm moment.

After work, I walk down the hill to my building, say hello to the kittens playing in the dumpster, water my plants, and settle down on the couch with some tea and my knitting. In that routine, I put all of the day’s stresses to rest. I create a space where I’m able to approach the next day renewed and energized.

Practicing self-care helps me in the day-to-day so that I can be the best version of myself during and after work. What I’ve been reminded of in the past week particularly is that having this secure space is also a tool for when I feel overwhelmed by events beyond my control. A few days ago, President Trump decided to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a decision that outraged many Jordanians. Protests erupted across the country, and I began to see videos taken only a few kilometers from where I live with protestors chanting anti-American slogans and burning the American flag. After dedicating so much time finding my place in Jordanian culture and society, it was a hard reminder that my own nationality was a lot of baggage to bring into a country still struggling to assimilate hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Those protests -– and the decision that led to them -– were upsetting, but they were also outside of my control. My oasis of calm gave me space to reflect on the unrest without being consumed by it.

“Make the most of it” isn’t bad advice for someone taking on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My work at CRP has been a deeply rewarding experience so far, and I know I am making a positive difference in the lives of refugees who have all too few opportunities to grow. But that work involves knowing my limits, and part of this experience has been learning what those are. Sometimes, making the most of it involves knowing when to step back, sit down, and be at home.

MENAR Board Members recognized as "Tigers of the Week" by alumni magazine

Princeton Alumni Weekly magazine has selected three of MENAR's Board of Directors members to feature as "Tigers of the Week" on its website. The article profiles Adrienne Clermont, Zach Ruchman, and Colleen McCullough, who graduated from Princeton in 2009, 2010, and 2012, respectively. Read the article here!

Fellows' Reflections: Jordan Lee

 The walkway up to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha

Three weeks into my time in Qatar, I heard what has become my favorite description of the country.

The comment came from an Australian expatriate who has been living in Doha for several years now. When I told her that I was new to Qatar, she proceeded to tell me what it’s like to live here, how to get involved in different communities, and so on. She summed it all up by saying “Qatar is like an outpost, like Mos Eisley in Star Wars.”

Being a huge Star Wars fan, I instantly recalled the scene. But at that point, I didn’t have enough time in-country to assess the accuracy of the comparison. Now, three months in, I know exactly what she meant. This obscure reference captures one of the most defining aspects of my experience in Qatar so far: the stunning diversity.

In the Star Wars universe, Mos Eisley is a major trading center and spaceport on the desert planet of Tatooine. Spaceships from across the galaxy stop at this commercial hub during their travels, making Mos Eisley home to a dizzying array of creatures. As the camera pans across the busy streets and marketplaces, viewers see creatures of every shape, size, and color. Some have spent their entire lives there, some visit regularly, and some are one-time visitors. The whole scene is a rich display of diversity.

Like the crowds in Mos Eisley, the communities I’ve encountered and become a part of in Qatar are highly diverse. I live and work at Qatar University (QU), so many of my friends are students with whom I live in the dorm and researchers with whom I work at the office. I also attend a church, and have made several friends in that community. Taken together, my friends and colleagues at QU and church represent 36 different countries, spanning every inhabited continent (though there is only one person from South America). The full list of countries can be found at the end of this post. What’s more, their reasons for coming to Qatar are almost as diverse as the community itself. Some came for higher salaries, some out of a desire to travel, and some to escape a lack of opportunity in their home country.

Qatar’s demographics are somewhat unique. Native Qataris comprise about 12% of the population, expatriates from India make up about 25%, and the remaining 63% is composed of expatriates from a highly fragmented mix of countries. So, I knew there would be many nationalities represented here. I also knew that Qatar University attracts students from a wide array of countries. But even with this background, I’ve been surprised by the diversity of Qatar’s population.    

In addition to making for interesting “where are you from?” small talk, this wide range of nationalities has led to some memorable experiences. Last month, for example, I stumbled into a conversation in the QU dorm comparing the benefits of English vs. French colonialism. The students with whom I was talking were from Ghana (an English colony until 1957) and Togo (a French colony until 1960), and the conversation was initiated by me asking about their time in high school. Before I knew it, the question “what language did they speak in your secondary school?” led to statements like “it was much better to be colonized by the English than the French.”

While I was aware that colonization has many modern-day consequences, I still saw colonialism as a relic of the past. However, as I listened to my friends’ conversation, I realized that my one-dimensional view contrasted sharply with their multifaceted perspectives on colonialism – born out of their personal experience – as a potent, active, and oftentimes tragic force in their lives. Their discussion was strikingly candid, even light-hearted, and reflected the ways in which colonialism continues to shape their experiences at home.

The impact of this diversity was on display again last week, when Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe. While people across the globe recognized the magnitude of the event, there was something special about seeing my friend from church, who is from Zimbabwe, react to the news as it first broke. We were gathered together for Tuesday evening bible study, and upon hearing the news she became overjoyed. Her face lit up as she excitedly called family and friends back home. Her joyfulness filled the entire room and reflected the significance of Mugabe’s resignation in a unique and powerful way.  

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Importantly for the Star Wars fans among my family, friends, and anyone else reading this blog, there are also major differences between Qatar and Mos Eisley. For example, the former is welcoming and exceedingly safe, whereas the latter is famously dangerous and described as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” That difference (and many others not germane to this post) aside, both destinations are home to an incredibly diverse array of people (and aliens), and that’s enough for me to hold on to the belief that Qatar could be a real-world Mos Eisley.  

Now, the full list of my friends’ and colleagues’ home countries:

  • Algeria
  • Australia
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Bosnia
  • Brazil
  • Burkina Faso
  • Canada
  • Chad
  • China
  • Egypt
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Lebanon
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Palestine
  • Poland
  • Russia
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • The Netherlands
  • The U.K.
  • Togo
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Ukraine
  • Vietnam
  • Zimbabwe

Fellows' Reflections: Katherine Butler-Dines

I expected returning to Morocco would feel like coming home. The four months I spent studying abroad in Rabat were some of the happiest of my entire life. I was welcomed wholeheartedly by an incredible host family, my Arabic proficiency skyrocketed, and I developed a new passion for surfing. When I returned to the States, I made it my mission to find a way to move back to Morocco.

So when my start date in October for the fellowship at Experience Morocco finally rolled around, I was undeniably thrilled to be returning to the land of syrupy-sweet mint tea, year-round beach weather, and incredibly hospitable strangers. What I didn’t expect was for Morocco to feel so different the second time around. Sure, I was moving to a new city as a young professional, not a student, but Morocco is Morocco. Or not.

Turns out Casablanca could not be more different than Rabat. Where Rabat is quiet and maybe a little stuffy, matching the lifestyles of its mostly politically and diplomatically employed residents, Casablanca is chaotic, crowded, and runs on a frenetic energy. Everywhere you look is wild traffic and construction cranes. This isn’t to say Casa doesn’t have its charms, it just didn’t feel homey.

Now, as I end my third week here, I am still feeling a bit discombobulated and unsettled, but I also am determined to adapt. Of course, it is not just Morocco that is different, it is me too. I am no longer a student or part of an organized group. This time around I am an expat, a working professional, an individual who must craft her own community.

My priority now is to get to know my new home, instead of pining for the one I left at the end of study abroad. This week, I have managed to find a burger joint better than any of those in Rabat and nearly as good as my favorite back in Washington, DC. Another welcome observations is that I receive significantly less street harassment here than Rabat. Maybe it has to do with Casa’s more “cosmopolitan” identity or that everyone is always busy going to somewhere so they don’t have time to make a little comment here or there, but it is a development I won’t complain about.

Periods of transition personal, professional, or otherwise are never easy and to have one of these while also navigating language barriers, cultural differences, and wild traffic patterns only adds to the challenge. But in the little moments like surfing at sunset, understanding something a colleague says in Darija, sipping some mint tea, I am finding that same happiness I experienced my first time in Morocco. Everyone at work tells me that Casa is a city you either love or hate; I am still hopeful that it’s a place I’ll come to love and make home.

Fellows' Reflections: Tonia Bartlett

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. 

2018-2019 Application is open!

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. 

Fellows' Reflections: Marie Panchesson

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." 

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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.

Fellows' Reflections: Laura Humes

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.

Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Wyatt

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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! 

Fellows' Reflections: Cassidy Lyon

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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!

2017-2018 Fellowship Class Announced

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!

Fellows' Reflections: Timothy Loh

The following is a reflection written by our current fellow, Timothy Loh, who is working with the Collateral Repair Project (CRP) in Amman, Jordan for the 2016-2017 fellowship year. 

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.

Application Info Session - Nov. 14 at 8 PM

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. 

2017-2018 Application is open!

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.