I’ve been in London for the past few days, hanging out with Hillary and Christina and a few of the students from our Dialogue who were studying Arabic. We booked a hostel together in the southern part of the city, but I somehow ended up in a separate room, so I’ve been sleeping on the bottom of a triple bunk with 8 strangers. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
When we first landed and took the underground into the city, Christina, Hillary, and I marveled at everything we had missed. Public transportation! Grass! Alcohol! The English language! I started wishing I had come to London instead of Jordan: I could have talked to more locals, I could have spent money on clothes instead of 8 daily cab rides, I could have worn cardigans because it was cold, not because society said I had to cover up.
So far we’ve seen the Tower of London, Big Ben, the London Bridge and Camden Market. We’ve gone on countless double-decker buses. There’s a diversity of people. We’ve eaten Polish, Chinese, and Thai food, and of course, fish and chips. I really love it here.
If I went to London instead of Jordan, I could have travelled without leaving my American/European bubble. Aside from the accents and the driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road thing, London isn’t that different from America. Point is, coming to London (or France or Italy or Australia) would have been fun and easy. (Not that that’s a bad thing! If and where you decide to study abroad is a personal choice so don’t think I’m hating if you went to one of those places.)
Which is why I’m glad I didn’t come here. I spent a lot of time in Amman frustrated with my deadlines, my sweaty clothes, and my overconsumption of pita. There were times when I hated it, and then started to hate myself for not fully appreciating the opportunity I knew most don’t have.
But, as cliché as it sounds, I learned more from the rough times in Jordan. I was continually, personally and professionally, challenged in Jordan. If I would have been 100% happy, 100% of the time I wouldn’t have learned about, well, anything. For example: The steaming hot, 20-minute showers I take in our hostel are lovely. But I learned so much more about waste and the environment from the quick scrub-downs under low-pressure, lukewarm water I took every three days in Jordan.
Christina went home to America yesterday, Hillary left today, and the rest of the students are going home tomorrow. I’m staying until next week, so I’ll be alone. I’m looking forward to spending some time wandering around by myself, or working in the pub below our hostel. As much as I miss being surrounded by about 50 crazy college students each day, I’m looking forward to the change. A couple of years (or weeks) ago, if you would have told me I’d be okay with hanging out in a foreign city by myself for a while, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I was just a journalist. In the Middle East. If I can do that, I can do anything.
…and I’m in a McDonald’s with Hillary and Laura. What? I don’t know. I’ll post a reflection-y type post from London in a few days, when my stomach isn’t full of grease and I’ve had time to process or whatever.
Two days left. That means two more days to finish reporting and writing, plus pack and do all those last-minute things I didn’t get to do before, but suddenly want to do now. Christina and I went on one of our last interviews today – back to a clinic for refugees where we had interviewed the clinic manager, Aref, yesterday. In his office, the first thing he asked to do was take our photo on his cell phone camera. He said he would use it to give us a “gift” later. After the photo was taken and Aref left the room, Christina whispered to me, “Are they going to sell us?”
Christina and I interviewed two of the patients at the clinic – both of them middle-aged male Iraqi refugees who were there to pick up their medications. Aref translated for us. Neither had a job because of the restrictions placed on immigrants’ ability to work in Jordan and they were living off of meager funds provided to them by a UN refugee agency. The first came to Jordan in 2007 and was missing a finger on his badly scarred hand. When I asked him about it he indicated a bomb falling, then imploding. I assumed it was an American bomb, but later he clarified that he got the injury in the Iran-Iraq war, several years ago. Oh. “No, no. America good,” he said, smiling. He gave me the thumbs-up with his scarred hands. The second man arrived Jordan two years ago, after spending five years in an Iraq Army prison because of his Sunni religion. He came to receive treatment for the torture he had suffered from in the prison. He had already gotten 5 surgeries here in Jordan.
I don’t know if Aref introduced us to these men because he knew they would be pro-America, or if it was coincidence, or if Iraqis in general like America more than I assumed they would.
In the midst of our time there, Aref brought us our presents: mugs with our faces printed on them three times against a mountain background and our names in blue font. (Well, my name was correct. Christina’s said “Christina Coughlan”.) I started crying I was laughing so much. So unexpected. I spent the rest of the time giggling, imagining the reactions of my friends when I showed them this wonderful souvenir.
Back at SIT, we sat through what was the most boring lecture of all time and Dennis instructed us on our meeting with the Prince for the next day. I know every other journalism student in the room is thinking the same thing as me: DEADLINES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ROYALTY.
After the meeting, Laura, Matt, Sam and I sat behind SIT talking. How are we going to finish our articles in two days? Laura is lying on the cement, unable to even summon the energy to get up. “Look at me!” Laura screams. “Toms tan. Dirty sweatpants. Is this my future as a journalist?” I lean against the wall and start laughing and can’t stop. Matt starts taking photos of Laura giving him the finger from her spot on the ground.
Later, Christina and I go to meet a doctor at a coffee shop for our last interview. We are supposed to meet him at 7:15. We call him at 7:25. He says he’ll be there soon. At 7:40 we call again and realize he’s at the wrong coffee shop. We give up and cancel the meeting altogether and head off to our final group dinner at 8. Our table of journalism majors (and boy Sam) talk and eat and eat and eat and laugh. Some things are more important than deadlines.
- Mel, Hillary, and I are taking a cab back to our respective homes at night. The driver starts playing “I Can Be Your Hero” by Enrique and “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. We sing along and he sings too, occasionally looking back at us in the rearview mirror.
- I’m in the cab by myself at night. The driver pulls a CD out of the visor on the passenger’s side and blows some dust off. He puts the CD in the player and I recognize a tune, but can’t identify it. Seeming to read my mind, he looks back at me and says “Titanic”. It’s Celine Dion. My Heart Will Go On.
- I’m coming back from an interview and the cab driver asks where I’m going. He clarifies and I say “yes.” He asks if I’m American, and said he knew because of the way I said the word yes. He tells me that he used to live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and worked as a chef in a Lebanese restaurant, but he had to leave because his green card ended. “In America, I was successful. Here, my life is upside down,” he says, motioning the inside of his cab.
- About a week later, Christina and I get into a cab on our way to the hospital for an interview. The cab driver asks where we’re from. “America.” He tells us he used to live in Louisiana. I ask if he was a chef in Baton Rouge, and he says yes with a surprised look on his face. I tell him that he had driven me before. He updates me on his life: him and a “friend” from California are going to get married in Venezuela, so he can move back to America. I don’t ask how a Venezuelan marriage will lead to a green card, but okay.
- I’m taking a cab to SIT by myself in the morning before our trip. The cab driver asks my name and tells me his and then spends the rest of the trip teaching me basic Arabic phrases. Halfway through the ride, he asks if I remember his name. I don’t. I feel ashamed of that because he remembered mine and because my Arabic is pitiful. Toward the end of the ride he asks if my eye color is natural. I tell him I’m wearing eyeshadow. He tells me my eyes are “poppin’”. At the end of the ride, he tries to kiss my hand.
While I was gone, my second article was posted! It’s about how tourism in Jordan has suffered due to the Arab Spring. My first article, on the changing legal representation system, was posted a while ago as well. You can find it here. While you’re over there, check out my classmates’ articles as well – there’s stuff about women’s rights, environmental issues, culture, and religion, so you can read about whatever floats your boat. Right now, Christina and I are working on an article about health care, which will be posted later this week, so stay tuned.
1. Climb everything.
2. Listen to cheesy music on top of a rock at night.
3. Your instructors will tell you that you can’t leave your hotel with shorts on in Petra. Ignore them. It will feel like it is 100 degrees. Every time you see someone walk by in shorts and a tank top (which is everyone but you), you will plot someone else’s murder. You will be cranky if you wear jeans.
4. The Cave Bar in Petra sounds cool (It’s a cave! And a bar! At the same time!), but it’s overpriced. You’ll have more fun being weird in the hotel with your friends.
5. Hiatus. Don’t ask what it is or why it’s called that. Just do it. Some pictures for reference.
6. Don’t be fooled by Jack Sparrow.
7. Pull your mattresses outside of your tent in the desert of Wadi Rum and sleep under the stars.
8. When going on a Jeep tour of the desert stand up and scream at the driver “Yala! Yala!” It’s like a roller coaster. But don’t let your hat (or someone else’s) blow off in the wind.
9. Camels are disgusting creatures. Ride one anyway.
10. Jump off of the top of your boat into the Red Sea.
11. Take lots of pictures. It’s beautiful. You’re a tourist. You’ll want to remember this. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Just don’t go overboard. Don’t let making sure every moment is captured consume you.
12. Have fun. You’ll love it.
We’re halfway through our trip to the south of Jordan. I want to talk about the beauty of the places we’ve been, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking, when I get the chance to upload them. This excursion involves a lot of traveling via bus for our group. Our bus seems to have almost no suspension, and all of our traveling is done over bumpy roads or down impossibly steep cliffs, our bus gripping the edge of roads that weren’t made for large buses full of American travellers. My ears pop throughout the entirety of each ride thanks to the altitude changes. Ahmed tries to talk to us on the announcement system, but it never really works, and us in the back of the bus miss out on what he’s trying to teach us. The air conditioning is either on full blast or not on at all. The bus driver pumps Jordanian music through the speakers. The door to the bathroom opens without warning and floods our cramped space with awful smells. We’re all a bit stir-crazy.
Despite all of this, I love our bus rides. I’ve always been a fan of long car rides and airplane flights: the chance to get work done, or just completely zone out. Usually I sit at a window seat, listening to my iPod and watching the miles of sand – and occasional village – roll by. But I’m still aware of everything going on around me: Christina sleeping in the seat next to me, Bri and Eric lying in the aisle listening to music, Laura and Hillary laughing the aisle over, the group of Arabic students loudly singing classics in the back of the bus. We pass around snacks. We’ve gotten into the point in our trip where everyone wants to kill certain members of our “tribe”, but there’s still an underlying feeling of family here. Like a family, we may not all like each other, but there are certain times when you have to suck it up and spend some time together. For us those times are here, on the bus.
(Special thanks to Anthony for letting me use his computer/Internet to post this!)