Fellows' Reflections: Lisa MacKenzie

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

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

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

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Fellows' Reflections: Eliza Davis

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

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

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

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

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

Fellows' Reflections: Bryce Feibel

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

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

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

Fellows' Reflections: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.

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: 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." 


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.






This picture is from the cleanup and art project that we did in Fuheis. One of the local springs that has been used for generations by the families nearby has accumulated hundreds of pounds of trash. We spent a few days cleaning out all of the trash and using the broken glass to create this tree by the water. We then built a retaining wall to create a special area for trash and labeled it in Arabic. When we returned the next week, people had used the designated trash area and kept the spring clean — success! Many families brought us food during the project and the local news organization even took pictures of our work to feature us in their neighborhood newsletter.


The picture above is from my trip to Karak where we got to explore the old castle there. The pictures below are from our two-day camping trip to Dana Reserve. Dana has been one of my favorite places to visit in Jordan (despite the four hours we had to wait at the South Bus station).

Below are some pictures taken from Wadi Vera! I planned a bread-making workshop and dinner with the founder and owner of Wadi Vera. We had 37 people attend for our first event. We have events like this to serve as additional income for the family that is living on the land as well as provide funds for the various land restoration projects.

These pictures are from our trip to the Dead Sea and Wadi Numeireh and to the town of Wadi As-Seer, where there are Byzantine ruins and the most renowned figs in Jordan.

The last picture is my favorite staircase in Amman and is luckily just up the street from me, next to my favorite little restaurant where I can eat brunch for just 1.20 JD!