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An Open Letter To My Sisters

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A while back we did an exercise in a class that involved explaining our relationships in our families by arranging our classmates in a structure that symbolized each relationship. It was emotional for most, awkward for me.
Does that make sense? It’s find if it doesn’t, the exercise is not the point.

I’m not usually one to like these kinds of emotional-journey type exercises (like, at all), but what I did like about this one was that we were to choose a person in our family and say whatever we wanted to them. And I chose my sisters, Katherine and Erin.
Because since being in Jordan, I’ve noticed something: I really love having sisters. I found myself talking about them quite a bit, researching the perfect gifts to bring them, and seeing things that I wished they could see too. Our ages, 21, 18, 14, have started to feel a little closer. And I’ve started referring to them as some of my best friends.

How do you finish off a study abroad blog? I don’t know, but this is what I’m going with.

Dear Katherine and Erin,

The shuttle to take me to the airport will pick me up at 1pm. I will have been in Jordan for 3 months and 10 days. It’s weird because it feels like yesterday I was in the airport with you guys, Mom, and Tony and saying our goodbyes. And now here we are, it’s all over and I’m coming back. People don’t lie, these kinds of things go by in a blur.
The day before I left, I was wandering through Barnes and Noble and visibly shaking. I was pulling books off shelves and staring at the covers, not registering the titles. For weeks I had been debating with myself over whether or not I was making the right decision. I was scared for a number of reasons: the area and my limited and arrogant knowledge of it, flying, meeting people, navigating the city, classes, whether or not I would be able to fit everything into my suitcase.
But despite my nerve-wracking fear, there was still something that was motivating me to move forward. To ultimately ignore my preexisting assumptions and walk toward the feeling I had that there was something waiting for me.

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Erin, you’re a freshman in high school. Katherine, you’re starting college soon. There will be so many moments very similar to the one that I had before I left. Moments where you’re staring at the future and feeling so scared you can’t move. Moments that will cause you to force smiles at people to convince them that you know what you’re doing when in reality, you have no idea if you even remembered to put deodorant on in the morning.

Moments where people really suck.
Moments where you think no one is listening.
Moments where it seems like your entire being hinges on one decision.

But these things should not keep you from moving forward.

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The program has only just ended and I’m already beginning to feel my life shift, and I’m sure I will continue to notice things throughout my life that are possible because I chose to study abroad. Things I have earned because I decided to go to Jordan despite my fear. And it feels so great.

I want you guys to feel the same way. I want you to travel and meet new people and push past the boundaries you’ve grown comfortable with. I want you to panic the moment you step foot in an airport across the world because you feel out of place and alien. I want you to take a deep breath and try new food and listen to new stories. You are so smart, and interesting, and weird, it would be a crime not to share your stories with others too.

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This entire experience has been so much fun. And even though it wasn’t all perfect, I wouldn’t change anything. Even during my worst bouts of homesickness, there was not a day that I regretted coming here.

I hope that you’re scared for the next parts of your lives. I hope you’re exhilarated, dizzy, curious, and happy. You guys deserve the world.

I can’t wait to see you.

Love,

Sarah

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Some Final Pictures

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I have another blog post coming later. But here are some of the pictures I took in my final days in Jordan.
I’m really going to miss it here.

The bath to Jesus' baptism site at the Jordan River.
The bath to Jesus’ baptism site at the Jordan River.

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Necessary Dead Sea newspaper picture!
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Arabic 302 and our amazing teacher, Balqees.
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The Dead Sea at sunset.
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The Brazen Serpent at Mt. Nebo.
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Petra residents getting a little excited about the city’s legacy.
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The view from my school.
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PETRA.
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Artwork in Downtown Amman

The Honeymoon is Over

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Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. It’s been a blast. But lately I’ve been feeling a little homesick since I heard Lincoln had its first snowfall and my inner Gilmore Girl was distraught at missing the event.
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Needless to say, it trigged a list in my head of other things I miss from home. Orientation prepares you for the time period of when the anger sets in, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. But you start to feel a little bad because you’re pouting over a great opportunity.

But COME ON. My snow!

I think this was last week.
I think this was last week.

The things I miss are kind of surprising though. I thought I would feel like I was missing a limb without my constant wifi and my smart phone. But that actually isn’t true. It’s really refreshing to be able to go to go out with my group and no one is preoccupied with their phones. We don’t have a choice, so we’ve been forced to find alternatives of entertainment (Imagine!). That sounds harsh, but it’s really strange how much I notice it. I had grown used to having a conversation with someone who’s having a conversation with someone else at the same time.
But I’d be a hypocrite if I said I never do that, because I certainly do.

Instead, something I really miss is my idea of shopping in a grocery store. You know when you go to HyVee (Oh..HyVee…I miss that too) everyone kind of follows the flow of traffic and weaves through the aisles in order?
NOT HERE.
People will walk in different directions, their kids will run haphazardly through the carts, people step in front of you and bump into you without the slightest acknowledgement. It’s also kind of difficult to find prices marked on anything.
And if you know anything about how I feel about grocery shopping, it’s not exactly a pleasant experience.

I also find myself missing toasters. That’s not a Jordan thing. That’s an apartment thing. We didn’t get one. Although, we have a shocking amount of pots.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the things Jordan doesn’t have, especially this last week when I’ve been missing home and the snow. I’ve grown tired having to make sure we always have clean water available since the tap water is unsafe. The air itself is often cloudy with cigarette smoke, and I miss greenery: trees and grass. I miss fall.

There are sporadic trees. But as the weather gets colder, those few trees are beginning to disappear.
There are sporadic trees. But as the weather gets colder, those few trees are beginning to disappear.

 

I miss the usual things: family, friends, the English language, mail that comes and goes within a predictable time period.

Maybe I needed a security blanket.

Found it! A Starbucks!
Found it! A Starbucks!

It’s ridiculous to expect myself to love every single second of it here, but I tend to feel guilty whenever I have some kind of complaint. The wifi is spotty, and alcohol prices are ridiculous (I JUST turned 21. Now I have to be of-age AND rich? Yeah no). But there are plenty of unique things to distract me.

The art scene

Sbace 3arabi is an artistic collaboration by two local artists from Amman, Jordan Wize One and Sardine.
Sbace 3arabi is an artistic collaboration by two local artists from Amman, Jordan Wize One and Sardine.
Jasmine of Gaza photography exhibit by Sami Haven at Jasmine House.
Jasmine of Gaza photography exhibit by Sami Haven at Jasmine House.
Autostrad concert at Canvas.
Autostrad concert at Canvas.

The Food:

Bab Al-Yemen
Bab Al-Yemen
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Baklava and Lemon with mint at Habibah.

And of course…Wadi Rum

Which will always and forever be my favorite place here.
Which will always and forever be my favorite place here.

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We went to Petra yesterday, (PETRA) and it really hit me how little time we have left. I remember getting the excursion itinerary in the summer and thinking it would take forever to go to Petra. It was all the way in November?! Ugh. But suddenly we were trekking through miles and miles of sand and rock and looking at one of the Wonders of the World.

Anticipation!
Anticipation!

It’s weird. They prepared me for this, but I can’t shake off the creeping feeling that I need to prioritize. Which…true to form, I did. Color coordinated and everything.

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I think I’ve decided I would never live here. But I’ll come back.
Yeah, I’ll definitely come back.
A word of advice though, before coming to Jordan you should work out. The amount of desert walking I’ve done the last two months has been nearly incomprehensible. I had no idea I could climb mountains.

 

 

Islam, Humanity, and Language Partners.

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I think it was about two summers ago my mom took me and my sisters to the opening of a friend’s recording studio. It had that cool artist vibe that comes with the flannel-wearing hipster crowd that attends these events and since I didn’t know anyone, I settled in with my mom at a table with some food. It wasn’t too long until an older gentleman sat at the table with us and began chatting. My mom introduced him as someone’s father and once I told him my age, he asked what I was majoring in.

Me: “English and International Studies, with an emphasis in the Middle East.”
Him: “Oh. So you’re going to go learn about those Muslims.”

I was taken aback by his tone and his generalization, but having grown up in the post-9/11 age, I wasn’t especially surprised by his wording. I did my best to steer the conversation in a more positive direction.

Me: “I’m actually interested in learning about the entire area. The history, people, culture. Especially the food.”
Him: “You just stay away from those Muslims.”
Me: “What? No. I just-”

I took a deep breath and tried my best to maintain a level head. The point is, it didn’t matter what I said in response. I had every desire to set the man straight. To explain to him why I wasn’t scared and why the Middle Eastern culture was so interesting and not something to run away from.

That was two years ago. Now I have almost reached graduation and I’ve had my fair share of Middle Eastern classes and am currently studying in Amman, Jordan for a semester. And I feel like I can confidently say this to people back home:

Get your shit together, people.
Read a book.
Ask intelligent questions.

I’ll help you. I want to introduce you to my friend and language partner, Diana (pronounced “Dan-ya” in Arabic):
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Diana and I meet every few days and she helps me correct my Arabic homework and answers any questions I have about class. Then we switch and she talks in English and tells me about her life, school, hobbies, anything. She eventually wants to be a translator and she’s extremely dedicated to learning English. So she talks and I correct her on grammar and pronunciation (She says I’m perfect to work with because I don’t have an accent).

Diana is, believe it or not, chattier than me. She’s 19, hates scary movies, loves to read, and blushes when she talks about the boy she likes.

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She’s originally from Syria, and has a strong desire to continue her education, travel the world, and help people who are in poor countries. She has a particular soft spot for children. She told me that children don’t deserve to grow up without love and without a safe environment. Children should be happy. Her father wants her to get married and has tried to set her up with a few young men, but Diana refuses, saying that she would not be able to make a husband happy. Her goal in life is to help people, and if she got married now, she would only be doing her family a disservice. She says first she wants to go to school and work.

Yesterday we had a long conversation about Islam. She brought up 9/11 and said that ever since then, she has heard people say terrible things about Muslims and about Americans. She explained to me that there are bad intentions everywhere you go, but that’s not the purpose of Islam. She was adamant about explaining to me that the real Islam is about love, hospitality, and healing. She thinks that everyone, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and those who don’t believe in a God have a spirit. And that spirit comes from the same place. And as long as you try to be a good person, you will go to heaven.

Diana is not the first person to tell me these things.

I have met multiple people who have, with great passion, told me what the real Islam is. How much they want to destroy the bad image a few cruel people have given Islam. Women who insist that they are not oppressed and teach me the beauty that is Hijab. Or rather, the beauty that is the choice to wear Hijab.

Is there tragedy, oppression, and violence in this part of the world? Yes. But is there also hope, humanity, and love? Yes. The Middle East that we see in America does not even come close to the Middle East that actually exists.

My Gender in Islam teacher, Hind, is one of my favorite professors. She’s hilarious and has one of those dispositions that draws people to her. Her love for God is apparent. She begins every class with a prayer and every time she says one of the Prophets’ names, she follows it with “Peace Be Upon Him.” She’s extremely intelligent, got her PhD in England and has studied English literature in depth.

She’s also read “50 Shades of Grey.”

We disagree very strongly on a lot of things. But I think one thing that we both agree on is the necessity to have a dialogue. She has denounced organizations that claim to be Islam and has asserted her strength as a woman.

But how many people would guess that after seeing her in her Hijab?

Wadi Rum

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On Wednesday, October 8, we embarked on a six hour bus ride to Wadi Rum, the largest valley in Jordan surrounded by granite rock and sandstone. We were greeted by a very kind and welcoming group of Bedouin men at a campsite surrounded by mountains of rock and soft sand. In the front of the campsite were huge tents covering layers of pillows and blankets that we would later eat our dinner and breakfast. It was immediately exciting. We were immediately in awe of the sky and that swallowed up the miles and miles of sand. We were immediately looking for Fernando, who managed to climb up one of mountains in the first five minutes and had to be ushered down by our director.

Our tents. Complete with two cots each and pillows that may have been made from the rocks. And see the guy climbing the mountain to the right? That's Fernando.
Our tents. Complete with two cots each and pillows that may have been made from the rocks. And see the guy climbing the mountain to the right? That’s Fernando.

We saw a lot in Wadi Rum. A surprising amount considering when I found out what Wadi Rum actually was, I struggled to think of what they could have for us to do in the middle of the desert. Answer: everything.

His name was Aya.
His name was Aya.

I’ve been avoiding this post all day, but desperately wanting to write it as soon as possible before I forgot too much. But here’s the thing about Wadi Rum: it would be an insult to condense the experience into a play-by-play blog post. I could tell you that we rode camels and then ate a delicious meal on pillows and had a campfire and toured the desert in the back of trucks. But what does that say about Wadi Rum? It doesn’t tell you that after the lights were turned off, everyone drifted into the corners of the stone and you could feel a certain spirituality settle around the camp. That everyone talked in hushed tones and voices were filled with awe and prayer and hope and relief and fear. I want to tell you that hookah smoke mixed with the campfire and that sweet sickness permeated the worn out cushions.

I want to show you this:

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And tell you that we somehow managed to choose the one day it rained. That we stood on top of a mountain and laughed as a dust storm swept through and a part of me worried that if I stood up, the winds would carry me away.

When I told my mom I decided to leave Catholicism, she cried. It was an understandable reaction, and one that I had expected upon my telling her. But that didn’t make telling her any easier. When I told my boyfriend that I was not a practicing Catholic, he nodded and was gracious and supportive, but I can tell he finds it a little difficult to find a balance of our differences. When I told my sister I left the Church, I think I broke her heart.
But standing in the darkness of Wadi Rum, being surrounded by nothing except miles and miles of sand, I felt such an intense sense of peace. The map in my head began to unfold and I, for the first time in a long time, began to feel the presence of God. Looking up at the clouds, almost tangible in their puffiness, I felt so indescribably content with everything.

There are so many people in this program that have such strong feelings about where they come from, about what they believe and what they want to fight for. It’s intoxicating and alienating at the same time. I want so bad to feel Lana’s love for her country, Judy’s desire for spirituality, James, Kyle, and Nick’s commitment to duty, Ronald’s passion for equality. Everything that I had ever wanted in the past is now being matched and exhausted by people my age, but who are so much smarter and so much more experienced than me. It’s exhilarating and defeating at the same time. But here, at Wadi Rum, I could feel the shards of anxiety disintegrate and mold into something different: a sense of certainty that I have been searching for.

I laughed so hard my stomach hurt, I slid in the sand and let my feet sink so deep I couldn’t feel the heat from the sun, and I looked out from on top of the camel and took a deep breath and thanked God for the unique and wonderful opportunity that surrounded me. The one thing that I wished more than anything was that Tony was standing next to me so that he could feel the same sense of peace I did. This feeling that I had, and continue to have every time Jordan opens up to me a little more, is so big I want to share it with someone.

When I told people I was going to Jordan, they almost always questioned by decision to do so.
Those are questions of ignorance. I want everyone to look through the shallow surface of politics and into the the real beauty that is the ancient world of Jordan, because it’s spectacular.

Out and About in Amman

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Because we don’t go on group trips of the “One of the Modern Wonders of the World” variety every weekend, it’s up to us to find things to do on the off days. Our advisors send us weekly updates with things to do around town and we’re constantly searching Trip Advisor and Google for ideas. Most of the time, our outings involve food. Or more specifically, ice cream.

They love their ice cream here.
They love their ice cream here.

On the surface, Amman is sandy. Dust-covered buildings are stacked on top of each other and broken sidewalks wrap around stores hidden in the walls. We’ve found markets and shops with rows and rows of jewelry, coffee shops about every 10 feet (Thank GOD), and Roman ruins.

The Nymphaeum in the heart of downtown Amman. Dedicated to nymphs and functioned as a fountain and Roman bath.
The Nymphaeum in the heart of downtown Amman. Dedicated to nymphs and functioned as a fountain and Roman bath.

It’s so interesting to see the juxtaposition (I know….English major word) of ancient and modern. Whenever I talk to people who live in Amman I tell them Amman isn’t what I expected. They usually reply with something like, “What? We’re not riding on camels everywhere?” Which is a fair response and being from Nebraska, I empathize with (we don’t drive covered wagons everywhere and we do indeed have electricity), but I think what I mean when I express my surprise is that I wasn’t expecting thousands of years old monuments to stand so prominently in the middle of modern hustle and bustle. It’s a shock to be wandering through Ray-Ban stands and  liquor stores and suddenly come across the Nymphaeum or the Citadel-still there after years of destruction, industry, and change.

A spot of brightness!
A spot of brightness!

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Amman is not without it’s artists, and hipsters. Before I left I expressed my worry about not being able to feed by coffee-addiction. But I had nothing to worry about. It’s almost impossible to go anywhere without seeing a swarm of coffee shops and cafes. There’s not a ton of alcohol here, and when there is, it’s taxed like crazy. So in spaces that would usually hold a bar instead have juice, espresso, and Nescafe. Oh my gosh do Jordanians love their Nescafe. One of the most iconic cafes is called Books@Cafe, which is considered a refuge and place for Amman’s gay community to hang out. The website says,

“The original books@cafe in Jabal Amman is one of Jordan’s most iconic and
revolutionary establishments. Opening its doors in May 1997, books@cafe was the
first internet café in the Middle East cultivating a reputation for liberating the local
cultures and intellect while promoting peace, equality and tolerance.”

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Also, in an event of serendipity, my roommates and I were walking around Rainbow street one morning and a guy approached us asking if we wanted to be in his video.
Me: Uh…sure. Ok.
*awkward standing around for 20 minutes*
Me: So…what is this about?
Guy: It’s the teaser for a taco restaraunt!
This should have been obvious to us when two other guys put on plastic ponchos and tiny sombreros.

Result:

We went to the opening and upon arrival, the owner saw my roommate and yelled “The real Mexican is here!” Needless to say she was thrilled. And we got free tacos, which were delicious.
But we didn’t totally understand the theme, which was a subway and all the employees were dressed like engineers.

Blurry. But can you see the sign?
Blurry. But can you see the sign?

Until next time!

Eid Al-Adha

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عيد مُبارك

…or Happy Eid!

Beginning on Saturday October 4 and ending Sunday October 5 is the celebration of Eid Al-Adha, which means “The Festival of Sacrifice.” The holiday is celebrated by Muslims to commemorate the day that Allah appeared to Ibrahim and told him to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. The Devil tried to tempt Ibrahim to disobey Allah but Ibrahim ignored the Devil and proceeded to do as commanded. Upon this proof of devotion, Allah sent a lamb to kill in place of Ishmael.

Blessings for Eid Al-Adha
Blessings for Eid Al-Adha

Today Muslims remember Ibrahim’s devotion to Allah by sacrificing sheep or goats. It also marks the peak of the Hajj season, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. In Jordan, fireworks have been going off for days, the shops are filled with candy and delicious pastries, families get together to break the fast of Friday and eat huge meals, and most governmental and private businesses are closed. According the the Lunar calendar, the celebration will last 4 days.

Also, the traffic is even crazier than usual. And check this out from BeAmman:

 

Photos of people around Amman during Eid!