شاي و قهوة

زماااان ما كتبت بالعربي! عشان هيك كان بدي اكتب شوي فيه. زي ما حكيت من اول، اذا شفت اشي غلط، احكيلي!!

فمن اجيت هون، ما كنت اشرب قهوة او شاي. عن جد، و لاشي، بس هدول اشيا جز من الثقافة هون. بالبداية كان كتير غيب اللي بشرب شاي كل صبح. و كمان بلشت اشرب قهوة مع امي اردنية بس عشان هيك، بعد وقت، بلشت اشرب قهوة كل يوم قبل الدوام. بسرحة، كنت خايف منه عشان ما كان بدي اصير زي… يعني، زي مش على بعضي بدونه (بعد كتير وقت معه). بس كتير مفيد. انا اكثر مركز بكل صفوفي و بستفيد اكثر منهم. عن جد، بستاهل. لازم القي التوازن مع قهوة بحياتي، طبعا بس لهلاء انا كتير مبسوط معها.

شو كمان… انا كتير متحمس لاطبخ لنفسي لما ارجع ع امريكا. زي ما حكيت، بدي ابلش حياة جديدة، قصدي اكتر صحي. بدي اطبخ عشان كويس اعرفه و كمان ارخص كتير، فممكن شتري مشروبات ب >سموكس< . يعني، ممكن. بس كمان ان شاء الله بساعدني بالمبارذة ، و بس بدي اعرف كيف اسكن بشل مناسب بعد التخرج. لازم اتعلم! امي حتساعدني لما احنا مع بعض  بتكساس، و ممكن صاحبي رح تدفعلي اذا انا عملت اكل زاكي. خلص، منشوف

I know, you know, Allah knows انا بعرف، انت بتعرف، الله بعرف

This week was Project Week. Basically, here in the Middlebury Program, there is one week dedicated to researching and exploring one of four topics that the students decided on earlier in the year. I was a little wary at first, figuring it would be a huge waste of time that could be better spent in the classroom learning more Arabic.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, حمدالله. I probably learned more during Project Week in terms of language, culture, geography of Jordan than in any week previous. I picked the topic of Jordanian society, which was an overarching topic composed of the tribal system of Jordan, the Bedouin culture, the relationship between religion and family, you get the picture. Hands down I think we had the best topic.

So for the first day, we had the opportunity to walk around the university and interview random students, probing them for information on their family, their tribe, the origins of them… Surprisingly everyone has very thorough knowledge of where they come from. This was when I realized just how diverse Jordan is. The majority of people I interviewed were Palestinian of origin, and then I would run into Iraqis, Syrians, and even this girl from Chicago! Anyway, it was awesome to get a chance to see parts of the university I had never seen before (it’s huge!) as well as speak to students I normally wouldn’t get to.  Honestly, it was great to have an excuse to just walk up to random students, since at times approaching people here for the sake of approaching someone new can be challenging.

I mean besides that, the week was just a lot of fun. It consisted of just being bombarded with high level Arabic (we had lots of lecturers and went to a government building whose name I should know but whatever) which was great because sometimes you just gotta sit there and put all your focus in understanding, and even if you don’t get most of it, you still end up picking up a lot and feeling more comfortable by the end of the lecture. On the last day we went to this Christian town (or so I was told) called Madaba, and sat on a hill with Bedouins in their outdoor camp setting. It was sick, we heard the Sheikh speak, we saw their horses running freely around us, got served copious amounts of tea, and were graced by the closing song to end the meeting by a Bedouin played on an instrument with a single string. The next sight I saw was this HUGE platter of food being brought over in waves – it was the most impressive sight of food I had ever beheld. It was basically an entire lamb (or goat or whatever) on each platter, bathed in race on a cushion of Bedouin bread, with a constant stream of sauce being served. We ate it all with our hands. The next part was even better – they brought over “Kunafeh Bedouia” which is like crepes drizzled with powdered sugar and olive oil. Once again, we had at it with our hands. It might have been the best desert I’ve had in Jordan it was so good.

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With the end of that came the end of project week. It also coincided with this new way of eating I’ve been trying out. If you remember The Great Fitness Challenge 2k14, then you remember Jorge serving me a swift defeat in our beloved chapter room. Nonetheless, I managed to look pretty cut and was pretty happy with that. Unfortunately it didn’t last (my friend Will will tell you I destroyed the Godvia in Baltimore the following week after the competition), and ever since then I’ve been trying to get back to that shape. But more importantly, it doesn’t have to do with the aesthetics as much as realizing that its about time I start cooking for myself and eating healthfully. A lot of the times in Jordan I feel like I’ve transcended into this strange twilight between graduation and university. I feel like I am very alone sometimes – especially walking down the steps of the gym after my workout or waking up on Saturday mornings with the house empty. Not in a bad way, just in the sort of way when you’ve finally graduated and have an apartment to yourself, and there is a lot more privacy in your life whether you like it or not. Yet I am still a student, and I know that soon enough I’ll be back at Penn surrounded by constant, almost inescapable interaction. Not that that’s a bad thing either. The two extremes just offer an interesting juxtaposition. Anyways, the point I was making was that in this state of twilight comes naturally the desire to be completely autonomous (hoping that’s the word that means able to take care of yourself). It’s finally time I learn to cook and eat right like a normal person. I even recently saw this video about how people always make excuses as to not cook, and that everyone finds themselves too busy. But that as a matter of fact, any meal made at home will be healthier than it’s restaurant counterpart, every time. People who eat the same stuff but made at home vs restaurants are much much healthier. So that’s something I’ve decided to change in my life. My health has become a lot more important to me, in all senses of the word. It means better fencing, better health, more energy, and better abs inshAllah.

As a side note, I’ve actually got a competition with someone about who will get abs first, so we will see when I get back. I personally think she doesn’t stand a chance, but I thought the same thing about Jorge and look where I ended up.

Anyways, that weekend I was patrolling the streets of Amman with my buddy Jordan (this isn’t some deep metaphor that’s his name), doing stuff we really shouldn’t have been doing, when we ended up at a cafe at some run down area of Amman. I opened up my Facebook and lo and behold I had 15 and some new Facebook friend requests. But they were all from people I didn’t know… A bunch of Jordanians with 0 mutual friends. Then I realized… My Humans of Amman post must have gone up. Essa had told me to expect it within the next few days, after all.

So basically, my friend Essa has a good friend that works at Humans of Amman, and he asked me if I wanted to be featured so of course I said yes. He asked me about any obstacles I faced in Jordan, or anything particularly different that I can’t do in Jordan that I can do in the USA, and naturally the topic of approaching people, women in particular, came up. So we ended up speaking about that for a good 5 minutes. He then graciously thanked me for my time and told me I should be seeing something a few days from then.

I had briefly forgotten about that whole encounter, and eagerly opened the Humans of Amman page to see what he had written down. I was really pleased to see what was written because the whole interview had been conducted in Arabic (you’ll notice the at times choppy English that is a result of the translation). Furthermore, I couldn’t stop smiling from all of the opinionated comments, offering their different sides and pieces of advice, with the occasional  “oooh Nour we have to find him!! 🙂 🙂 :)” and “Big D!”. As it turns out, my post broke the record for most comments on any Humans of Amman post, ever. However, it wasn’t until up until about two days ago, when I was in the aisle walking out of a showing of “Mockingjay” that a girl in the crowd in front of me goes “Are you the guy from that Facebook page?” My face lit up as I replied in the positive, but I guess she didn’t take too well to that because she disappeared into the very same crowd after that.

On another note, this week I actually went without Facebook. Landy had told me, before I went abroad, that he recommended for me to go one week doing just that, because you never really get a chance to do it again with no penalty, and it really allows you to break away from anything back home. It was pretty interesting, and I found myself with so much more free time. The best part of the entire experience wasn’t the absence of Facebook, but today, when I reopened Facebook for the first time and was overwhelmed by all that seemed to have transgressed in my stint of abstinence. It was so much better than constantly being glued to the screen and being a slave to the website. I feel like before, there reached a point where I’d check Facebook so often (even before Jordan… much before) where I’d be just be watching information slowly trickling in. It was almost an obsession, to always “load more” until I was seeing familiar posts. Today, I saw so much in so little time… It was enough to get the big picture of it all, and it only took 5 minutes to get this pleasurable feeling of FOMO that was like “Damn, I’m not there with my friends but… It looks like they are having a great time – I’m happy to see them so happy!” It’s strange because it was like this huge wave of relief, but I only needed those 5 minutes to be satisfied. In the future I’m going to try to making checking Facebook less a part of my daily life, and use all the extra time to do other things. InshAllah.

This week was my Mom’s birthday. Since she’s in Russia, I just figured I’d give her a Skype call. I remember once, in Houston, during my senior year of high school I sent her flowers and I remember how happy she was when the flowers arrived at our house and how her demeanor immediately changed when she realized the flowers hadn’t been sent there by mistake – that they were in fact for her! So I decided to give it a shot from Jordan, as well. It ended up being quite the task wading through masses of Russian texts and advertisements and guessing what information to put in what blank (Google Translate didn’t really come through for me here), but I DID manage to get flowers delivered to the apartment in Russia. The difficulty was exacerbated even further since they wanted to confirm that I was not a computer by calling my US phone, but I didn’t pick up since I was in Jordan and didn’t know it was them calling, leading them to postponing the order… Long story short Salomon came through for me on this one and on November 20th I received a very excited email from my mom with a picture of the flowers attached.

The week without Facebook was also sort of difficult for me. The lack of connection, internet wise, to back home as well as anything physical that would remind me of America made me feel really lonely at times. To make it worse, I can’t express myself in English here so I felt even more isolated. That, on top of the rain season (it was literally so cold the other day the power went out) and the foreign culture… To say the least it has all had me feeling homesick and down. But don’t feel sad for me – because it wasn’t that toxic type of sadness… It felt like an introduction to the life that lays ahead of me after graduation. Like I touched upon earlier about the whole idea of this state of twilight here… It feels like a glimpse into what life will be once my time at Penn is up. It feels like I’m living the post graduation life before entering it. I’ve got my responsibilities to accomplish and grow in, ambitions, but I’ve also got this empty house to return to at the end of the day, and the same morning to wake up to just to find myself on those stairs again at 6 PM that day, and this interminable routine that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. When I walk down those stairs in the gym, when I sit in the Abdoun Starbucks disconnected from all the people around me, when I wake up on Saturday mornings to an empty house, a foreign sense of independence that I didn’t ask for fills my being. Is this what life will be like in 30 years? Will I just be walking down from those same steps, after the gym, at 6 PM, to return to an empty house, to a wife that has become equally routine that she vanishes into those same white walls of my house, to the same routine conversations with my friends at the bar to the point I can no longer distinguish one day from the other?

Like I said, don’t feel sad for me or anything. I just wonder, is this what all my Class of 2014 friends have just begun? Kramer, Friedson, Manny? Is this what “the real world” is? It’s not a matter of being upset at the idea – not that “toxic sadness”. It’s a matter of comprehending and grasping the idea; it’s a necessary sadness that I’m learning from, that’s helping me appreciate the blessings of my life, and through which I’m starting to gain a greater understanding of the world.  Chris told me this is one of the most valuable experiences I can gain from my time here, like I’m able to “come back and be from the outside looking in rather than just in the midst of it the whole time. It’s like standing on the balcony of the chapter room during Thanksgiving. Nobody sees you but you can observe what it’s really like.”

On a happier note, I’ve been so ecstatic to be here in Jordan. Something I really love is music, and as much as Zack and Jason made fun of me for not knowing 4/4, it’s something I really want to pursue in the future from a business aspect. I would really like to work in some sort of music management and working with big artists. Music has just held so much meaning me and colored in so many areas of my life. I like to dance. I like to sing, too. If you ask me, I would probably sing for you, depending on how I’m feeling. I even told Grant I’d try out for Pennchants in the winter. Anyways I digress. I once read an article saying that something better than writing a diary is to make a playlist of songs every few months of songs you listened to during that time. When you relisten to those songs, those memories come flooding back more vividly than you could ever put down in words. The songs become loaded with memories. And I’ve found that to be largely true.

Here, I’ve had time to sit on long rides, or sit in my room, and just listen to my entire library on repeat. I have songs that remind me of my what I was doing in the 6th grade, or of a time I had an amazing European road trip to Hungary and got drunk the first time (and did a lot of other things for the first time), or felt real-life threatening danger in the streets of a foreign city, or read Things Fall Apart on a road trip, or had that really best friend you don’t really talk to anymore. Thanks to music, Jordan has brought with it a fresh reminder of my entire life’s events. I’ve thought about when I was sick with Malaria and got Pokemon episode 7 (with Gengar) on my 6th birthday party, or when I watched the Smurfs on one of the 6 channels that my UK TV provided when I was 9, or when I was frustrated about getting some question wrong on my 8th grade Algebra final, or when I spent my sophomore fall and spring breaks with Chris and Will. It feels so amazing and relieving to just reflect on your life and yourself. I know these are memories that wouldn’t have resurfaced had I stayed at Penn this semester, with all the hustle and bustle and always having some obligation in the back of your mind you feel guilty for not doing. I wouldn’t have found that time to just sit and listen, really LISTEN to the music.

One song in particular right now really has me flooded with emotion – All of Me. All sorts of emotion – good, bad, funny, excited, all of it. It encompasses exactly why I love music so much and what it can invoke. At times I want to play it less because I don’t want it to lose it’s meaning to me. It fills me with so much positive. It makes me think of this one person in particular back in America. I always think of them when I play the song, and I’m really excited to see her when I get back.

Before I start to wrap this up, I want to write about two separate stories that happened to me.

So the first one – I went to this old city in Jordan called Jerash, which has these amazing Greek ruins. It’s a pretty well preserved Greek city! Anyway, as cool as it was, the best part was that Jordan and I got dropped off at the back for some reason. We ended up breaking into the ruins from the back. We climbed up this wall, and ended up having to shimmy across this thin ledge (hope shimmy is the right word… like sidestep on a thin ledge with the back against the wall u get it) and in no time we were inside the ruins! The ruins themselves were incredible.

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The second one – I was in a cab coming back after having had dinner with my friend Evan at Buffalo Wings and Rings at First Circle. When I got in the cab, he didn’t start the meter. so we had gone maybe 20 meters and I go “Can you turn on the meter please?” And he goes “No just pay me three dinars when we get there”. For the record, I’ve never paid three dinars to get form anywhere to anywhere in Jordan. The guy was dead ripping me off. So I go “No, stop here. I don’t want to ride your cab” to which he replies “Ok but are you gonna pay me from where I picked you up to here?” I told him no since I’d only been in the cab for 30 seconds. He said fine, and turned on the meter, but then said “But you have to pay me for from where I picked you up to when I turned on the meter too, so add like .5 dinar to the meter” at which point I was like “No man I’m not dealing with this let me off here” to which he refused and we just kept going. I was getting really frustrated with the cabbie and his myriad of attempts to rip me off. Finally, we were close to my house, Circle Six, and this guy takes a turn that will force us to take this huge circle around the neighborhood to get to the house, which I recognize immediately. So I call him out, and tell him that that is messed up what he’s been doing the whole time. Obviously he plays the victim and says he’s innocent, that “it’s the same length you will pay the same!” I got so fed up that I just told him “Look man I’m done talking to you. I know what you’re doing, you know what you’re doing, and Allah knows what you’re doing”. He repeated his whole “it’ll be the same price!” speech, and I said again “Say whatever you want man. I know, you know, and Allah knows what you’re doing”. When we pulled up to my house, feeling defeated, I pulled out the cash that the meter displayed, plus half a dinar, and then the guy goes “Just pay me the meter.. And take off a quarter dinar from the meter, too”. I was really surprised to hear the guy say that, but happily obliged and couldn’t believe how my words had affected him.

Anyways, one of the recurring themes of what I’ve been writing is how I’ve changing as an individual in my time here in Jordan. Something I’ve started doing is writing down everything that I’ve learned so I don’t forget it. Another thing I think a lot about is how I will apply everything from Amman to my life at Penn and beyond. I’ve already discussed my plan to read more, debate more, discuss more, do my own thing, teach and be taught. But every week here I learn more and more about how I want to live my life at Penn. I’m going to cook for myself at Penn – I’m going to become great at it. I’ll balance a healthy diet with eating out with friends and going out. I’ll deal with my problems as an adult, talk about things when I disagree with them and approaching the issue in the best way. Once again, living my life for me and not fearing the censure of others. Spending more time doing the things I care about, whether it be walking around the parks of Philly, going on a run down the river, seeing a concert or going to a cozy breakfast place with my friends. Knowing who I am and just going with it, and not being ashamed of any of it. That’s the way I want to live my life back at Penn.

Wadi Rum !انت حصتي

The beginning of this week was tough. I realized that I had already finished more than half of the program here, and I hadn’t come close to completing the goals I had set for myself. I had fitness goals, health goals, and Arabic goals, and I was beginning to feel frustrated that as the days passed my goals seemed more and more unrealistic. Like I have mentioned earlier, Arabic has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to learn in my life. The vocabulary is so dense, the syntax is so unlike English, the sounds are so foreign to my ears, and half the time I can’t use plurals because there is no set rule for how to form them, you either know them or you don’t, and I usually don’t. My goal was to become fluent in Arabic by the time I finished my time here. After all, I had nearly reached that level of fluency of French after only three weeks in France in an immersion program. But I was really wrong. Once in Jerusalem, I was in a church and heard some foreign language. I had no idea what language it was, but I could understand around 70% of it because it was some romance language. I just found it so interesting that not even being able to identify the language, I was able to understand it more than a language I had been intensively studying.

I think it really hit me when I was trying to watch TV. I sat there and just tried to understand what was happening in the shows, and I realized I could only understand maybe 25% of the words being said. That moment I knew that after 6 more weeks I wasn’t going to suddenly understand even an extra 50% of the relentless onslaught of words that I just didn’t know that were coming out of the screen. If I’m lucky, inshAllah I will understand maybe 50% of the TV shows I watch by the conclusion of this program. But I have a good friend, Anusha, whose words I always refer back to in times like those. She said you’ve always just gotta look at how far you’ve come. You just gotta think about where you were at the start of the race. If I think about it, at the beginning of the program I didn’t even understand my host mother when she asked me what my name was, and now I am solidly being able to generally understand what is going on in Arabic TV shows in full on colloquial dialect. It’s pretty awesome, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to understand anything from these shows in August!

Anyway, the week just got better and better from the rough first half. My friend Mohammad randomly texted me after I had sat down in a cafe and set aside the following four hours to studying and taking care of errands asking if I wanted to “Go to a music concert”. He said it was supposed to be really sweet, but I told him no because you know, I had set aside that time to do all the work I hadn’t done. But then I figured, I had told myself I would always put going out to special events like that and “being Jordanian” as my number one priority. So I texted him back and told him I’d go.

The music concert ended up being a high school concert of an all girl school singing in a choir with a german orchestra from another high school that had flown in, and it was the director of my program’s daughter’s school! Damn, now did that feel like a “study abroad” experience. It was a bunch of traditional Arab songs, Jordanians as far as the eye could see, and just an experience I was totally not expecting. I really felt like I had been injected into the Arab world and was living a life like any Jordanian would, in this case watching a family member perform in her high school choir. It also had this feeling of epicness that’s hard to describe, like I was engaging in something bigger than myself. Something that I was very lucky to be experiencing. After that, Mohammad drove me home and I had this incredible talk with him about the difference of Jordanian life and American life, the problems in the different economic sectors of Jordan, and the general societal issues the country faces. It was one of those things where you just take everything for granted… I mean I definitely thought everything was fine and dandy, and it was fascinating to hear Mohammad’s perspective on Jordan’s struggle with it’s economy and workforce. But even more than that, it was incredible to speak with him about the difference in relationships of people in Jordan versus the United States. As in relationships between young and old, men and women, the role of the religion in the country. Just an awesome talk, and one I definitely would not have been able to have had in August.

Anyway, another night I also spent with my friend Evan. It’s funny how I had the chance to do that, actually, since I usually am too busy on Wednesdays since I usually have fencing that ends quite late. When I showed up to fencing though, there was no power (I learned how to say ‘The power is out’, to boot). I initially was gonna head home, but one of the younger fencer guys told me there was a women’s soccer match, Lebanon vs. Jordan, in the stadium right next to us. So like I had said, I would always make doing cool, spontaneous stuff like that a priority.

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Anyway, it was pretty cold but Jordan ended up winning 3-0 so it was worth it. Also the younger guys always teach me pretty heinous things, so it’s always hilarious to hang out with them. Anyway, I still had a lot of time in the day left so I hit up my friend Evan to chill.

We just went to Rainbow Street, which is one of the best places for night life in Jordan, and walked around. We initially planned to go to a bar, but it was early so we decided to explore the smaller restaurants around. We even got falafel from the “best falafel place” in Amman! It was good but I dunno if it was the best. Anyway, this was really the turn around of my week because when I spoke to Evan, we both vented about our frustrations, what we liked, what we didn’t like, and it was a relief to see that other people were feeling the same way and it was ok to feel cornered. We went to a sick, secluded little cafe and smoked some arguile (shisha). I do less of it then I used to when I got here, but I still can’t make circles that well but I’m hoping to be able to soon enough. So if you ever want to smoke shisha, I am down and, hopefully, will be able to blow circles. We ended the night by eating these awesome chili cheese fries at a place called Buffalo Wings and Rings.

I had a trip to Wadi Rum, pretty much the tourist spot after Petra in Jordan, that weekend so I really tried to get all my work done on Thursday, since we’d be leaving on Friday and not coming back until Saturday (work week is Sun-Thurs here). That morning I woke up, beat a level of Fire Emblem ( الحمدلله) , hit the gym. Before going to the cafe to study, I figured I’d hit up my friend Badr to see what he was up to. All I got from him was a text that was “I’m close by your house come hang out!” I really wanted to do some work, but then I remembered that the next week was project week (no classes!) so I had time. I went to where he was only to stumble upon his pride and joy – he was opening up a burger joint! Literally named iBurger, the place had just been repainted and he was set on having it open in a week’s time. I spent the day with him going to different stores searching for all the supplies for the store, and we also stopped at a place called “Royal Snack” where he got this massive meal for 3 JDs (5 bucks). It was literally a burger, a hot dog, a zinger, fries, and a drink. Anyway, it was a typical Jordanian sort of shop you wouldn’t really find in Philly or Houston, moreso a place like Mexico. It had this homey feeling, where younger people gathered to eat cheap food and have a view of the city from the small crevices in the wall, despite probably not having the qualifications required to get 5 stars on from a health inspector test.

That night, I went to this SICK seafood restaurant. We had had this place recommended to us. It was this Iraqi place that I had just heard was “really good”. When I arrived there after an awkward cab ride, Jordan and Evan, waving their arms in all sorts of gestures, were running out of breath viciously trying to explain how these guys prepared the fish. So the set up of the place was pretty cool. There’s like a sitting spot where you wait for your meal. While you wait they bring you hot tea (especially good in the cold). Every meal takes about 30 minutes to prepare, and Evan and Jordan assured me they had ordered something good for all of us. When I walked into the “preparation” room, I saw this small pool full of these massive fish and a guy just pulling them out of the water, weighing them, and then putting them in the queue that inevitably ends in a furnace of flames for them. It was awesome though. The guy would pull out the next fish in the queue, swiftly, albeit brutally, deliver a powerful blow to its head and immediately eviscerate it. I thought that maybe the fish was dead from being out of the water long enough so that the bludgeoning was extraneous, but the bread maker assured me “no no these fish can live 3-4 hours out of the water without rain!”

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So what they end up doing is opening the fish up (sort of like as if it were a butterfly) and then holding it in place with this metal contraption and sticking it in a fire for 30 minutes. The results are really awesome, the fish tasted great! Also while you wait a guy literally just sits there and makes bread fresh from a stone oven and just hands it to you after he pulls it out, so you have more to eat while you wait. Such an awesome experience. Mohammad, Evan, Jordan and I sat at the table and devoured the fish with our fresh bread. زاكي!

So needless to say I didn’t get any homework done that night. The next morning, bright and early, we got on a bus headed straight to Wadi Rum. It was one of those awesome trips where you just get really pensive and think about your whole life. I thought about so many things during those four hours. The people whom I was lucky had entered into my life, FIJI, fencing, my plans for the future, what mattered to me and what didn’t, my ideas for the future. It was such a stark contrast from how the week had started. I felt like I was so in control of my life. And like I had decided to do, I wrote it all down so that I wouldn’t forget what I had been thinking about. It’s the biggest shame to have all of these inspirational ideas and feel so pumped about life and then forget them.

I was really psyched because my mentor, Anas, was on the trip with us and I hadn’t seen him for a while. We got to the first site, took all our bags, and hopped into the back of some vans and started to drive through the desert. We made our first stop at this big hill. It was mainly made up of really soft, red sand, so we took off our shoes and ran up it. Then came a more rocky part, so Anas and I climbed up to the top with “To The World” blasting from my pocket. It was worth the gash in my foot, I can say that for sure. I literally felt on top of the world. I was at the highest point of the hill and could see for miles and miles.

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At this point we realized we were sort of late so we climbed back down. When we got to the sand, we took advantage of the downhill and ran as fast as we could. Honestly I’ve never felt so free, running at absolute full speed without fear of falling, barefoot… I reached a velocity I had never experienced on foot, every leap I took came with it a feeling of floating from the immense air time I was getting. Every step I took was a small spurt of flight.

Anyways, hopped onto the back of the truck , and headed towards our next destination. We arrived at the tents we would be staying at. They were pretty big, and all the beds had like triple blankets on them. We had heard it gets quite cold, so I was happy to see them. What was more shocking was that at the camp I ran into a friend I had met in Oman last summer! His name’s John. He told me he would be in Wadi Rum, but I wasn’t able to reply in time and had absolutely no idea that by sheer coincidence he would be working at the exact location I was staying in! It was great to see an old friend. For how big the world is, fortuitous encounters like those bring a smile to my face. We spent the night pretty casually. We ate this meal (I forgot the name whoops) what is cooked completely under the sand, plus other stuff (falafel hummus laban etc u know the drill). Then, we sat by this fire inside the tent drinking tons of warm tea, listening to the Bedouins tell us their stories, and cooking marshmallows. Anas is a fencer like me, so everyone wanted to see me and him fence with those wooden sticks you use to cook marshmallows over a fire. The fight ended with me literally having to pull Anas’s stick out of my hand. Like it actually went into my hand, vertically if I might add (as in it didn’t go in like perpendicular lines, it went in through the webbed part between the fingers).

After that, Anas, Jordan, and Badr went walking in the night of the desert to go exploring. The temperature had dropped at that point it was quite cold. It was a lot different from my last time in Wadi Rum though, and I guess I never had the outdoor experience to realize how much of an impact the moon had. It was a full moon that night (that’s actually what Badr means in Arabic) and it lit up the entire night. We could clearly see in the night and had no need for our phones to light the path. Last time, it was pitch black without a light. You could couldn’t see five feet in front of you. This time, it was sort of like a state of twilight, just a bit darker. I guess that’s what they mean by “moonlight”.

Something sort of cool… We were walking in the night and at one point Anas suddenly interrupted the conversation and said “stop”. Then he said “Let’s turn around”. We turned around and started making our trek back home. When I asked him why, he said he thought he saw, from a distance, the gleam of an animal’s eye in the distance. In Wadi Rum they actually warn you about the wild animals (like hyenas) that can travel in packs… It can be quite dangerous. I turned around to see if I saw anything, too. Just to check. Sure enough, a slight glimmer met my gaze from the depths of a distant cave. I shuddered, and we ended up getting back home after a half hour walk.

That night was really cold, even with the three blankets. Anas and I woke up at 5:30 to see the sunrise. When we got up, it was quite bright and even though it was 5:30 and the sun wasn’t up yet, you could see the moon high in the deep blue sky. It was still very very cold though. Desert cold, they call it. We found a nearby cliff and scaled it to get the best view. The fifteen minutes I waited for that sunrise may have been some of the coldest of my life. We were almost frozen like statues, at the mercy of the wind, as we waited for the sun to pop up from behind the mountains in the distant. It was another one of those pensive moments where you just got to stop and think. Everything around me was so calm… And all I could do was reflect. In those fifteen minutes my body was frozen but my mind was racing. I could see the land all around me, and thinking about how it all was waiting for the sun. And Anas joked about “Nope, there’s just not gonna be sun today.” I hadn’t even thought about how much that statement rang with me. Like that doesn’t happen, there is never a day without sun. That’s what makes it a day. But there are so few things in life that are 100% it was hard to imagine that not even on one day of the last billions of years the sun did not come up past those mountains. The certainty of that and everything it entails is something I’ll have to ponder more later on.

Anyway that was the first time I saw a sunrise. It was amazing to see, especially wearing contacts. The curves of my lenses captured the rays of the sun, so I could see the curvature of my contacts from the suns rays in my field of vision. As the sun got higher and higher, more and more rays populated my vision, until the sun was finally up and that single streak of gold had turned into a myriad of shooting stars engulfing everything in sight. And with it, more importantly, entered a flood of warmth. الحمدلله

We actually made a video from that morning on that hill that we posted on Facebook, for those of you who have seen it. It was a play on the name Anas gave me, “Sanad” which is an Arab name and also conveniently Denes spelled backwards. He also gave me this last name “Al Ajarma” which is apparently just a random last name but everyone thinks its hilarious when I say it. So in the video, Anas asks me “Who are you?” And I say “I’m Sanad”. Then he says “Sanad who?” And I go “Sanad Al Ajarma!”, yelling it from the top of the mountain. Then I say “What are you looking at? I’m going to hit you.” at which point he replies “No!” and the video ends.

The rest of the day was quite fun. I said bye to John, we rode bikes in the desert, and ended with another long four hour ride home to Amman. The start of this next week was Project Week, where we would get to learn a lot about the culture of Amman in any field we choose.

Before writing this, I was speaking to my good friend Connie. I was happy to hear that she was doing very well and enjoying her life, and I’m really glad I spoke to her because it cemented what I had learned over the past few weeks, and in my time abroad in general. It’s really changed my life for the better. Being removed from Penn, also having been in Russia and Sierra Leone this summer, makes me realize how big the world really is. How so many things that I cared so much about at Penn just don’t matter at all when you take a step outside. I used to really care what others would think about every action I take. Like maybe I’d want to ask someone to a date night, but I’d end up not going through with it because I would be afraid she’d say no and it would be weird afterwards, or I would be self-conscious to post something on Facebook or any form of internet because I would worry about if others would think it was weird… But now I’ve realized that I’m just doing me, and that’s all that matters to me now. If she DOES say no, or I put something on Facebook that people DO think is weird… I mean in the end it’s just an experience, and it means so little in my life. I’ve realized I want to go where I want to go, hang out with the people I like, and just do my thing.

I also feel like I’ve grown more into a man here. Problems have arisen while I’ve been here, whether they be here or at home, and I’ve come to the point where I’ve realized “I’m 20 years old, about to turn 21… I’m old enough to solve my own problems and settle things with people when I don’t agree.” Whether it means voicing your opinion when you don’t agree with someone, even if they are your very close friend, or telling someone “Hey man, don’t do that to me – I don’t like it”, even if it stirs up a brief uncomfortable moment between the two of you, or simply dealing with obstacles you face in your life the most effective and mature manner – I feel like it’s all coming together for me.

Anyways, I cannot believe how fast this time has gone by. THIS is my study abroad and before I know it I’ll be back in Texas celebrating Christmas and my 21st. Hopefully I make the most out of the next few weeks, and inshAllah project week is as good as I hope it will be.

زمان عنك!

بدي اكتب شوي بالعربي كمان فإذا بتحكي عربي/ بتعرف عربي و تشوف خطا… احكيلي! اول امبارح بلشت اسمع موسيقى عربية… في

playlist

على يوتوب مع كل الأغاني كويسين من ٢٠١٤، الحمدالله.

على كل حال … كل اشي تمام هون. حدا فرجاني مسلسل كتير مضحك اسمه

axis of evil

فيه كوري بحكي عربي عشان كل حياته بالأردن. بجرب أشوف شوي كل يوم لاتحسن بالعربي. و كمان، اكتشفت أني بضيع كتير كتير وقت عشان فيسبوك فرح اجرب أكون عليه على اكتر ساعة كل ساعتين.

هههه لا بمزه، ان شاء الله بس ساعة كل يوم بس عارف رح يكون شوي صعب بالبداية. و كمان صاحبي حكالي هلأ، الأسبوع اللي ضاع تليفونه (و كان لازم يستخدم نوكيا) كان أفضل أسبوع.

Jerusalem, Turkey, The Dead Sea, and everything in between القدس، تركيا، البحر الميت، و كل اشيا بينهم

So in my program, we have two vacations. The first one is for Eid El-Adha, and the second one is for post midterms. For the first trip, I went to Egypt with my good friend Jordan from Dartmouth. I had the option to go to Cyprus with a few friends from the program during the second break, but I instead opted to meet up with two of my good friends from FIJI in Turkey. Thankfully our schedules lined up pretty well so we were able to maximize our time together.

Since Jorge and Ryan couldn’t get to Turkey until Wednesday, and I finished my classes on Monday, I thought I’d take advantage of my free day and see if I could pass it in Israel/Palestine. I ended up going with a few friends and waking up early in the morning to take a bus that would take us directly to the bridge where we could cross into Jerusalem. I had heard a lot of horror stories before about crossing, so I was a little nervous. It got really awkward at the first security check when they handed me an Ebola flier followed by prompting me with “So have you been in Africa in the last few months?” I said yeah, and then the guy was like “Ok where?” which I followed up with “Sierra Leone”. Luckily I assured him I hadn’t been there since May which was sort of true, so he let it slide. Anyway, we entered Israel with relatively no problems, and then took a bus to Jerusalem.

When we touched down in Jerusalem, it was an unreal experience. Just unreal. I got off the bus and looked around, and it was completely Arab. I felt like I was still in Jordan. I couldn’t believe how Arab everything was. The signs, the people, the shops… Not one Israeli. What was even more mind blowing was making first contact with these Palestinian people, of whom I had heard so much about, in ARABIC, and really getting to hear the purest form of what they think about the situation as a whole, and just get an insight of their daily lives. What was more shocking was my ability to apply something I had learned in a completely different place, Amman, to this new environment. The Arabic was seamlessly 1:1 with the Jordanian dialect. It was just so much different from my time in Egypt where I could understand, but with some difficulty from time to time.

Anyways, it was so cool to see these people just leading their daily lives after hearing so much about the situation. It was all so built up after having talked to friends of mine from Penn (Kramer, Friedson, Salomon, Chris), seeing the news, and hearing all about it on the Jordanian side. So at first glance, I thought “Wow these people are all coexisting so peacefully, just walking side by side… Maybe they can live together!”

Then I got into a Taxi with a Palestinian man. Wow, he had a lot to say. The first thing he pointed out to me was this street where there used to be a wall that separated the two sides of Jerusalem. The different sides of the street were like night and day. As soon as you cross the street, buildings are bigger, cleaner, people are white… Even the buildings are white (in the Middle East everything has a tendency to be a pretty solid beige/brown color…). Anyway, that was just surprising to see. Then, the cab driver started pointing out Israelis and saying “Look at him… He hates you, he hates me, he’s racist! He hates your friends, he hates everyone!” The more he spoke, the more I realized how much anger is buried under the calm exterior of the Palestinian people. I didn’t have a chance to speak to an Israeli on the issue, or hear their opinion, but I would love to hear what they had to say.

Anyway, Israel itself seemed so European. It felt like I was in some very modern part of France, or Hungary or something. It was a stark contrast from Jordan and Egypt. Hell, people wouldn’t even cross the street if the light wasn’t green even if there were no cars in sight. I’m guessing it was a cultural thing, or something to do with a fine. It was just very cool to see how everything is very “rigid” and “by the book” there. Not in a bad way, just in the way that German trains are always on time, they always get their shit done when they say they will, etc.

What was cool was you would walk 5 minutes and be surrounded by Israelis, another 5 and then you’re surrounded by Palestinians. It was just a constant swap, and a very cool one at that. Anyways, I only got to visit a few places, but the ones I saw were incredible. I saw the tomb of Jesus Christ, the tomb of the Virgin Mary, I climbed Mount Olive and saw the Garden of Gethsemane which was very impactful for me. It’s been a while since I really came into tune with my religion, so seeing these historic places made me have a spiritual reevaluation that I wasn’t expecting. Not to mention these were places I had heard of since my childhood; it was a surreal experience actually getting to trod along the same land that I had heard and learned so much about. What was more interesting was how much I learned about Judaism in my short stay there… Things that I just didn’t “get”, I get more now. It’s going to be a lot different when I go back to Penn, the way I see things anyway.

Anyway, that was Israel/Palestine. The airport experience was pretty shitty on my way back. Being brown, and looking Arab, I didn’t realize how crappy it would go for me. So I got stopped in my taxi going to the airport. They asked me to get out and see my passport and questioned me. So that was fine, whatever. Then I got out of the cab, but before even walking into the airport a woman stopped me. I thought, you know, if I flirted a bit I’d be able to get out of it (or that she would be nicer) but I was really wrong. She searched the shit out of me and had me go through a metal detector. I mean to be fair it looks really sketchy when a brown kid who is studying Arabic in Jordan is coming to Israel for only a single day to fly to Turkey, “staying with his friend” and having recently been in Sierra Leone.

Anyway, to cut things short I got all my bags checked AGAIN before I even got my boarding pass printed. I was sure that was the end of it, but then I went to the security line (the normal one… where you put your bags through) and I got chosen for additional screening AGAIN… There, they literally went through ALL my electronics, used a special metal detector to search my entire body, and damn I don’t think I’ve ever felt so marginalized before, or so targeted. I mean I just look Arab, but I don’t have an Arab name and I have an American passport. I can’t imagine what people who aren’t as lucky have to go through. More importantly, I realized “Damn is this what Arabs have to go through on the reg in the USA?” Once again, just slowly learning more and more about this world we live in through first hand experience.

So after Israel, I got to Turkey. I mean, it was largely chill. It was really strange though, in the sense that I couldn’t communicate well with anyone there. I usually have some sort of language in common with people, but in Turkey it was pretty much just Turkish. It was rare to find good English speakers. Anyway I took a bus to Taksim square (where all the protests were recently!) got settled in the AirBNB apartment (the guy who rented it out looked really weird, like rape you in your sleep weird, but he turned out to be really nice!). After waiting a bit, Jorge telling me “Ryan just got tackled by the security and is being taken away” and not until much later Jorge telling me “Weon I was just kidding”, did we all meet up in Taksim and I showed them the way to the apartment. The first night was unreal. Being with two of my closest friends, eating over some local Döner Kebap, recounting our different experiences in different parts of the world was one of the highlights of my abroad experience thus far. Beyond that, Turkey is all a blur to me. Granted, in the best way possible. It was a time of very little responsibility and complete freedom. We would spend the day scavenging the city for tourist attractions (we hit all the major spots), and by night we would go to bar after bar looking for a good time. They were all over the staying up until 5 AM going hard lifestyle. I, on the other hand, was passing out at 12 and not able to really have more than 3-4 drinks before feeling really drunk. I guess Jordan doesn’t really prepare you for that sort of lifestyle! No idea how I will fare with such little tolerance when I go back for fencing winter camp, we will have to see. Something awesome I picked up in Turkey was how valuable Arabic was. For one, I was so happy to be learning Jordanian dialect because I was able to speak to so many random Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian people we ran into in Turkey. Once, even, it was solely up to me to try to negotiate with the bouncer because he didn’t speak any language besides Turkish and Arabic. After spending so much time frustrated with Arabic it was so rewarding to be able to use it like that. Not to mention being with Ryan and Jorge was awesome because we had like 8 languages between the three of us. On a side note, on the last day we found a dog that looked like Otto. Ryan tried to feed it, but apparently went back to where its young were and barked at him after he had thought they were cool.

Oh, another side note about Turkey… Something really cool that we did was take a boat ride that quickly turned sour (kinda) when we realized we had no idea where it was taking us and when we would be back (I had a flight late in the night). So we were lost at sea, going to different parts of Istanbul by boat, but we eventually found our way back thanks to Ryan’s quick wit. Anyway, following that we saw El Clasico together, in a small bar. Oh, and before that, the night before we had been out and we were hitting the bars (trying to anyway), when all of a sudden all the lights went out. There was a power outage! But people kept going, through the lack of light, people resorted to candles and it was an unreal experience! Especially given the drizzle outside that night. Also somehow the music came back on halfway through the blackout, but there was no other form of electricity… Oh, and the last thing I want to mention that was very sweet was one day we were walking back and ended up sitting on a couple of rocks on the sea shore, just watching the waves hit the tall rocks we were sitting on and discussing our ideas and opinions. We could see all the stars, the other side of the city, the rocks were clean and crisp… Time flew by and the next thing we knew high tide had come and we were getting trounced by water.

Anyway, my time in Turkey allowed me to realize a lot of things. One of those being how much I missed having stimulating debates with people. After coming to Penn, I developed this mentality that I was so smart, that I had reached the peak of my intelligence and I couldn’t be wrong. I was so afraid of being wrong that I would be afraid to discuss ideas with people, be afraid to share my opinions… I would dismiss people who thought differently from me. But that’s one of the reasons I came to Penn, to talk to a ton of people from diverse backgrounds and learn from each other. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this. But now, when I get back, I know what I want to do with the rest of my time there. I want to concentrate in one thing, do the bare minimum in terms of credit to get the degree I want. I had been afraid to take writing courses because I wouldn’t want mine to get criticized, I’d be afraid to take seminar courses because I’d be afraid to look dumb in comparison to other students. But now, I know those are exactly the classes I want to take. I want to learn more history, learn more philosophy.. I want to discuss, I want to be wrong, I want to grow as a thinker and as an individual. I’m here to learn, and I want to learn. I’ve even become better at reparting my time more efficiently, so I have otped to read more every night. Just read… Anything really. I just want to read read read. I haven’t read a proper book in so long, and I miss being able to discuss those with people. Hell, it’s because of the trip I decided to make this blog.

To skip on to the Halloween weekend… Nothing too exciting happened this week. It was mainly this weekend that was really cool. So to preface, turns out Halloween is banned in Jordan (something to do with burning down an old Hard Rock Cafe building and Devil Worshipping). Despite that, I figured there would be something… So I went out on Tuesday (Tequila Tuesdays things), Wednesday (weekend, I went to a place called La Calle), Thursday (went to a place called G Club after getting rejected everywhere) and finally yesterday to Cafe Paris for a private Halloween party. I emphasize this because after all of that, I realized I’m really not down to party in Jordan anymore. The reason being is that I try so hard to emulate this American experience in Jordan but I just end up half-assing it and not taking advantage of the real night opportunities Jordan has to offer. For example, a few weekends ago I went camping in the desert and sat under the stars, made a fire, made burgers, and then went snorkeling the next day in the outsides of Jordan… All with Arabs. I learned so much Arabic and had so much fun. I felt like that was the real study abroad experience.

Here, I have a curfew of 12, I don’t have a key so my family has to let me in meaning I can’t drink too much anyway, and men and women don’t really hook up here at all in terms of culture. And even if they did I couldn’t bring anyone home, the house is very small and it would be heinously inappropriate. But that’s ok, I can do other things instead. I have plenty of time to drink and party at Penn, I’ll do that there. Here, I’ll spend my weekends hanging out with Jordanians, going to Arabic concerts, exploring the backroads of the city, and biking in the desert. I’ll be Jordanian while I’m here!

This weekend, I met up with my friend Sarey’s parents and we had fish and chips it was awesome. They always teach me new words and give me background on Jordan. Then after that, I went to see the director of the program’s daughter do a music concert. It reminded me of when I did a similar one at Penn my sophomore year! But finally, hands down the coolest thing I did this weekend was right off my “dream list” of what a proper abroad experience is. My friend invited me to get up and go biking to the Dead Sea with him early next morning, so even though I was out I said of COURSE!!

That morning, my legs were especially sore after having lifted legs the day before. Not to mention it was raining hard outside (it’s rainy season in Jordan I guess…), but we still went. He picked me up, and we went to the shop. So originally the plan was to bike to the Dead Sea and back (it’s all downhill, hence the title ‘Lowest Point on Earth’). However due to the rain, we ended up just busing to the Dead Sea and from there we biked all around it. Man it was so sick. Just imagine, early morning biking, the wind blowing against you, biking around this majestic sea with these multi colored rock obelisks lining your path… Not to mention I was with Mohammad and, as always, just speaking Arabic and struggling my way through the conversations. Though every day it does seem to get easier. The wind was so strong at some points, we needed to stop and wait for it to calm down. At least we had the glorious sun to keep us company and reflect of the salty lake. Needless to say, I was so tired post bike ride I passed out on the bus back.

Something also really critical happened this weekend. My roommate has always been much better than me at Arabic… He spoke circles around me, would understand much better… Sometimes my family would turn to him to have him explain me (mind you, in Arabic also) something if I didn’t understand them. This weekend was the first time where the family turned to me to explain something to HIM. As if night and day, it seemed like I was understanding more than him, speaking more than him, and all around just more comfortable in the language. I couldn’t believe it… I still can’t. I’ve been working so hard to catch up to him and to all my peers in the program, it was very rewarding to feel like my efforts were paying off.

Anyways, I’ve just got a lot to look forward to these following weeks. I guess this marks my halfway point of the program. It’s scary cause it’s happened so fast. What I want to do the most is achieve the goals I set for myself, and take advantage of my time here, “enjoy every second of it” as my friend from Penn wrote to me in a text a few minutes before my flight took off. InshAllah, all will be will.