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Culture Shock

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As of Wednesday, this blog is now part of my Intercultural Development class. Which, admittedly, I was a little hesitant about because it sounds cheesy and overly emotional. I think the words “self discovery” were used. I’ve already warned people in my class that if they cry, I’m going to create distance. I can’t handle people who cry.

BUT as it turns out, this class is going to be pretty cool. First, it’s about helping us transition into a culture that is vastly different from our own and learning how to embrace the differences. Second, it’s a place where we can vent our frustrations that pertain to the culture or our own experiences with our family histories and ethnicity.

Does that make sense? It was a pretty intense 2 hour class. We all walked out feeling exhausted and exhilarated and a little flummoxed about what had occurred.

Anyway, our first assignment is to write about an experience we’ve had with culture shock. The biggest thing for me is the concept of time. In Jordan, and throughout the Middle East, people make time to fit their schedules. In the United States, we are slaves to time. We’re precise and being late or staying past your welcome is considered rude. Here, you’re expected to stay at a friend’s for hours. You’re expected to slowly build relationships with your colleagues and getting something done, like getting a form signed, can take days. And it’ll only happen after you’ve asked your colleague how his family is, what does he think of the weather? and have had a quick exchange about politics. Meeting at 3:00? More like 4:15.

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I am absolutely a slave to time. I love schedules and color-coding and precise plans and to-do lists. So the lack of a sense of urgency has me in a constant state of annoyance. Sometimes I have to stop myself from snapping at someone or rolling my eyes. The biggest problem came on Thursday. I was sick, traveler’s flu or something similar. And all I wanted to do was get home, Skype my mom, and take a nap. I got out of class at 12:30 and if I took the public transportation I could get back to the apartment by 1:00 or 1:15 in time to talk to my mom. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. With me were my friends Emma and Ronald, and the Arabic TA Ahmed. The four of us were dropped off at a familiar point and the group proceeded to follow Ronald, who thought he knew where the apartments were, but accidentally missed a turn. I was under the impression that Ahmed knew where we were despite Ronald’s mistake, but he didn’t. What should have been a 10 minute walk, turned into 30 minutes. Maybe any other day I would have been fine, but I was feeling really sick, it was hot, and I was late to talk to my mom.

We meandered (or what felt like meandering) through neighborhood after neighborhood and all the buildings looked the same. When we passed a small grocery store and Ahmed stopped and bought himself a pop and the three of us ice cream cones. A kind gesture, but I had had it. When he pressed me to eat it, I snapped.
“I can’t eat it,” I replied sharply, “I’m sick. I don’t feel good.” He continued to push me to eat it, insisting it was organic and I’d be fine. But that wasn’t the point. It was the culmination of things. I wanted nothing more than for the entire event to end, and so I took on a sharp and frustrated tone, hoping to end the interaction as soon as possible.

In retrospect, I felt guilty for coming off as rude and expecting people to know to leave me alone when I said I wasn’t feeling well. I think that this trip will be a huge test of my self-control, tolerance, and understanding. I wouldn’t ever use the word “patient” to describe myself back home, but perhaps I need to start becoming familiar with the concept. If I don’t, it’s going to be a very long 4 months.


The Time We Went to Ajloun and Jerash and I Almost Broke an Ankle.

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I’m fine. Calm down, Mom.

Yesterday we went to the Ajloun Castle and the ancient city of Jerash. First: Ajloun, which is about 2 1/2 hours away from Amman. It was a fortress built by Izz al-Din Usama, the nephew of Saladin in AD 1184-1185. It was built to protect the country against Crusader attacks and protected the communication between south Jordan and Syria. It was also built to protect the iro mines of Ajloun. In 1837 and 1927, major earthquakes destroyed large sections of the castle. Programs in Jordan have sought to sponsor restorations for the walls and bridge.


Inside the castle is a maze of brick and traps. If you managed to get past the walls and guards hidden in the windows, you were subject to hidden soldiers ready to throw boiling oil on you through these secret gaps in front of the doorways:



I know that a lot of my pictures tend to look the same, and you might get tired of me saying how a picture can’t do a site justice. But it’s so true. When I entered a new room in the castle I was struck by the tiniest details and the stories behind each new edition. The prisons which had no light and no ventilation except for a tiny slot on the ceiling, the incredibly steep staircases worn down by millions of feet walking up and down, the miles and miles and miles of desert that stretched out in front of us and faded into the sky.We kept marveling at how men managed to built such an elaborate and strong fortress over 1,000 years ago, all through sheer man-power.





After lunch and 30 more minutes of driving, we reached the city of Jerash, which was my favorite of the two. The current, modern city of Jerash has a population of about 31,000. But underneath the modern city is a whole other world stretching back to 350 AD! And what we saw was only about 50% of the city. Archeologists beleive that most of the ancient city still lives underneath the modern city. What you can see of the ancient city now includes the Corinthium column, Hadrian’s Arch, the Hippodrome, the Temples of Zeus and Artemis, the oval Forum surrounded by a colonnade, the long pedestrian street, two theaters, two baths and smaller temples, and city walls.

The original mosaics reside in most of the city. Unfortunately, the city experiences the problem of robbers that come at night to take the priceless artworks and sell them in the black market.
The original mosaics reside in most of the city. Unfortunately, the city experiences the problem of robbers that come at night to take the priceless artworks and sell them in the black market.


The Temple of Artemis was my favorite mostly because I have always loved the story of Artemis and also because the columns were the most impressive. Because Artemis was the patron of Jerash, the temple was built on one of the highest points and dominated the city. Out of 12 columns originally built, 11 are still standing. The Temple is also known for having “moving columns.” The columns are made of blocks of limestone and in between each block is a sheet of lead that allow the column flexibility. If you put your hand in the spaces…


You can feel the column move!

It’s the details of the city that are so inspiring. How can these tiny additions be maintained through thousands and thousands of years?


Details at the top of the columns at the Temple of Artemis.
Details at the top of the columns at the Temple of Artemis.

In the back of this picture, you can see the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, which was the god preferred by the Semitic part of the population (the Hellenistic population were the ones that preferred Artemis). This is the view you have coming out of the city after you’ve seen the Nymphaeum, the massive fountain and water system for the entire city, and have walked the long pedestrian street to the forum. It’s a bit of a dangerous path because you have to make sure you don’t step into a broken stone or slip on the slippery surface.



It was a 2 1/2 hour tour, with lots of walking and lots of dust. And our tour guide had to convince the police to let us stay past closing. But it was worth it.



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I have been in Jordan for three days now, and I’ve done a lifetime’s worth of walking. 7 o’clock rolls around and we collapse into chairs at a restaurant and marvel at how much we’ve managed to do in such a short amount of time. I’ve started to post pictures but they by no means express just how beautiful and incredible the city is. This is a good example:

I took this picture when we visited Jordan’s national wildlife foundation. Amman is built on hills, STEEP hills, and the buildings look like they’re stacked on top of each other. At the risk of sounding overly poetic, they look like stairs leading to the sky. And as it begins to feel cold, you think that the houses could go on forever, stacking one on top of the other.

Also, coming to Jordan I was extremely nervous about attempting to speak Arabic with the locals. Especially since I haven’t practiced all summer. But our group leaders pushed us into taxis where we were immediately required to communicate, and while English is common, it’s definitely not that common. I’m terrible at giving directions in English, how am I supposed to give directions in Arabic??
But a note to everyone: Jordanians are some of the kindest and most helpful people. Maybe a tad over friendly (I like my personal space. Jordanians do not), but I really do feel safe here. People are more than willing to help me and my friends navigate the city.

There are no lines on the roads, no flow of traffic, no crosswalks or sidewalks. People literally just cross the street and cars are expected to halt for them, some streets are super narrow and crowded. And they drive SO fast.
And yet, it’s all oddly comforting. I mean, people pay attention when they drive. They use turn signals and their car horns. Pedestrians look both ways before they cross the street and then run instead of meander.
But the sidewalks? Forget it. There’s no consistency. They’re all broken or made of gravel or sloped. I want to look up and see the city, but I need to look down and make sure I don’t break an ankle.

Isn't it amazing?
Isn’t it amazing?
Rainbow Street. My favorite place so far.
Rainbow Street. My favorite place so far.


Sorry this post was a little scattered. Blame the jet lag (which I don’t actually have), or the fact that I’m still so overwhelmed.

Lemon and Mint.
Lemon and Mint. Delicious and sour. The Jafra Restaurant and Cafe is famous for them.



Titles. WHUT.

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As if I can actually think of a title that can properly express just how nervousexctiednervousnervoushappyanxiousnervous I am on the eve of my departure. I keep going through all the lists I’ve made over the last year (a whole YEAR??)-to-do lists, packing lists, contact lists, shopping lists- and hoping I won’t get on the plane out of Chicago and think “I forgot something” because of course it’ll be something important.
Frankly, most of the getting-ready process has been really stressful, so I’m really glad that all of this is finally getting somewhere. I am finally seeing the fruits of my labor.

Or whatever.

So now it’s 2:00 am and I’m wired on nerves and a little bit of sadness after having to say goodbye to so many people over the past few days (Fact: Roommate hugs are the saddest). It’s like the night before the first day of school and I’m just hoping everyone will like me. Aren’t we all supposed to change each other’s lives? That’s all really scary!

Anyway, if you can stand my commentary, I’d love for you to keep up with me and check out my journey across Jordan. If you know anything about me, I love to tell stories. It’ll be like you’re right there with me.