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: 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: 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.

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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Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Wyatt

Final Reflection: Building a Community of “Powerhouse Women” at Reclaim Childhood

As I sit here and write my final reflection for the MENAR Fellowship, it still remains hard to fathom that over a year has passed since joining Reclaim Childhood. Although all words feel inadequate in describing the ways this past year has moved and shaped me, one theme that has pervaded the entire year is the importance of communities of “Powerhouse Women,” something I was able to experience every day at Reclaim Childhood.

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The Reclaim Childhood coaching staff is the most important part of Reclaim Childhood. They are the reason why families trust RC; they ride the buses with the girls and they facilitate all of the practices. They have the sense of what makes the girls happy and they advocate for changes that need to be made to make the program a better and safer place for all. They ask for more trainings, attend trainings on their own, and have formed tight bonds among themselves. The RC staff is made up of 10 different women, from a diverse array of nationalities, who serve as mentors and role models for not only just the girls, but also for me.

When I first took this job, the RC coaching staff immediately took me under their wing. They taught me new Arabic phrases, they took the time to walk me through all of the protection concerns that the girls face, and they never ceased to exude positivity for the program and their work. To me, each coach exemplifies what it means to be a powerhouse woman: a woman that drives through all obstacles to advance the well-being of not only herself, but those around her. The coaches are forces to be reckoned with, yet they practice patience beyond what I have ever seen before.

This past summer, RC had a team of female interns to support the coaching staff. My favorite part of the summer was watching the interns grow in appreciation, admiration, and awe of the coaching staff. Starting off at coach clinic, they quickly recognized that the coaches are the ground on which RC is built. Over the course of the summer, the interns and the coaches defied language barriers, built strong relationships, and exchanged information and cultural tendencies. During the interns’ last week, all of the coaches and interns came over to my apartment to have a little celebration and potluck dinner. All the women flooded into the room, filling the table with dishes from their specific cultures, ranging from grape leaves to mac-and-cheese. They spent the night chatting, eating, and, of course, dancing. It was amazing to see the way that a team of 20+ women celebrated the uniqueness and success of the women around them. It was clear that they built themselves a community of powerhouse women.

Fellows' Reflections: Lilly Crown

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how split I feel between my life here in Jordan and the one in the States. I recently took a trip back to my original home in Virginia. Since I decided to stay on working at Collateral Repair Project after my fellowship ends at the end of July, I took the slowness of Ramadan as an opportunity to go visit my family. And I really loved it. This wasn’t my first time going home, but it was my doing so as a visit, knowing I only had a few weeks to enjoy it. So I used the time at home to really soak up all of the conveniences that I could. I drove everywhere in my old car, ordered things online, ate my favorite niche foods, and wore shorts and a tank top to run with my dog around my neighborhood.

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But then I started to feel guilty. Do the desires that I have for my American comforts indicate that I’m not actually acclimating to this life that I’ve built here? Am I not actually cut out for this like I thought I was? I think being at CRP made me feel even more strongly this way. Surrounded by people who were forced to leave their homes, here I am internally complaining about the place that I chose to be in.

What I’ve come to accept is that I’m inextricably pulled between these two places. I love being in Jordan, I love the communities I’ve built for myself at CRP and outside of work. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t still love home too. And as my heart teeters between, it’s only natural that I’ll sometimes catch myself longing for some good barbecue, and maybe I’ll opt to spend hours video-chatting my little sister instead of meeting friends here. Those choices don’t make me a failure. In fact, I think that being mindful about these feelings will allow me to embrace who I am without worrying about the contradictions.

Fellows' Reflections: Cassidy Lyon

Being Intentional While Working Abroad

My job has changed significantly since I first came into the office -- way too early for Ramadan hours. (Hint: If you start a job during Ramadan, don’t show up before 10:30 am.) I feel really lucky to try out so many different roles and be part of a company that recognizes strengths and adapts opportunities to meet those strengths and interests. I tried my hand at marketing, UX design, content writing, and everything in between. I thought I had finally settled into a role as a product manager for a new B2B product that we’re launching, but after one seemingly random 2:00 pm email, this changed. The sales team found out that I was actually pretty good with data analysis. For the next week, I became the go-to person for data analyses and sales presentations for some of our big client meetings in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Maybe that sounds boring to some, but for graduate students in International Economics (including me), it’s everything we’ve been preparing for. Still seems boring? Yes, sometimes staring at an Excel sheet for hours and making various pivot tables to try and find trends isn’t the most exciting. However, throw in the fact that I’m compiling data from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Kuwait, then it gets pretty interesting. When you can actually see where the economic downturns occurred because of decreased spending and hires or you have to factor in Saudi nationalization for data analysis, it becomes an enthralling puzzle for anyone interested in economics and the Middle East.

For most expats coming to the region, they don’t imagine working for a private sector company. In fact, the looks of surprise and following intrigued questions when I mention that I don’t work for an NGO or English school are always amusing. Some of my Jordanian friends have even referred to me as a unicorn for being one of the only “white girls that doesn’t work for an NGO.” Perhaps that can be a harsh way to verbalize it, but the statement truly covers a myriad of dynamics that expats need to be prepared for when moving to another country for work. Whether you’re working for an NGO or a private company, you have to understand the underlying tension behind both of these spaces, as not only does it exist but the concerns are 100% valid.

Sitting in a taxi once, the taxi driver exclaimed harami, or “thief,” when finding out that I was employed here in Jordan. He followed it up later with imzah imzah, “I’m kidding,” after offering a cigarette. I had responded to his cigarette offer with, ana harami tathaker, or “I’m a thief, remember.” I learned early that sassy comebacks in Arabic will immediately ease any tension and create a forever friendship between you and the taxi driver. So, he insisted that he was kidding and that I take the cigarette as a token of his apology, but the sentiment of harami remained.

When you come to work in another country that’s facing high rates of unemployment, especially when you’re coming from a country that’s viewed as the epitome of work opportunity, there will be tension. What are your intentions here? Do they justify your time here? Are you really bringing added value in your position or is there someone local and more qualified to be doing this? Are you hired here because you’re white? These are questions that you’ll be asking yourself at some point or answering from others. I found that my time should be intentional and not a lackadaisical entrance into the workforce as an excuse to live somewhere different and foreign for a while. I’ve felt the need to prove my value of being here -- that I can help as an individual, whether it’s bringing a new idea into my company based on my specific qualifications, or spending weekends working on water management projects to revitalize local farmland. I’m not just taking up valuable space here, but trying to give back more than I’m taking from the place that’s letting me call it home.

I love my job and have found more and more satisfaction as I’ve become more intentional about my reasons for being here. I’m not just here because it’s fun and I want to live abroad -- a common trope of expats in the Middle East that can create tension based on the juxtaposition of living and employment opportunities for Jordanians versus expats. I’m here to do a job, provide value to my company, gain experience in a tech company that works across 13 different offices, and learn as much as I can to ensure that I don’t take my work opportunity for granted in a region that has some of the highest rates of youth unemployment. It’s a humbling, gratitude-inducing experience that will truly pave my career path from this point on.

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: 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: 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!

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.

New Partner: Collateral Repair Project

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.