Sunday, May 13, 2012

"There is Meaning in Every Journey that is Unknown to the Traveller"

 -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    In the fall of my sophomore year my Arabic class went on a field trip to New York City.  We went to the Modern Museum of Art to see an Arabic art exhibit, eat some Middle Eastern food and try our skills at asking prices and buying things speaking in Arabic. After this we went to a small restaurant for coffee and hookah. I sat next to my professor, Yasir, and we smoked hookah and drank Turkish coffee discussing things (in English. let's be real here, I had only taken 2 semesters at that point). I laughed with my TA from Kuwait about a cute waiter, learning how I could ask for his number in Arabic. At one point, my professor took my empty coffee mug and turned it over onto its saucer. Next he picked up the cup and showed me the grounds that had fallen into it. For those Harry Potter fans out there, no, what was there was not the Grim. It was just a bunch of coffee grounds. My professor in a very serious voice told me "You will be going on a very long journey". "Really?" I asked, and he said "Yes." I looked at him and asked him how he had learned to read coffee grounds, and he looked at me and said "I don't!" and started laughing hysterically at having pulled one over on me.
  It's been nine months (minus a brief interlude of Christmas break) since I embarked on my study abroad adventures. I've travelled across the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.  I've been to Israel, seen Jerusalem, and from the rooftop of my hostel hung out with my friends and chatted world politics with a man from Germany and one from France while looking out at the Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall. I've travelled to the biblical sites of John the Baptist, and Moses on Mount Nebo. I've been to the magnificent Petra and seen the incredible wonders of Wadi Rum. I've gone rock climbing! I've seen the Jordan River and from the mountain of Um Quais seen Israel, Syria and Lebanon. From the gulf of Aqaba I've seen Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. I've floated in the Dead Sea and snorkeled in the Red Sea with exotic fish and coral. I survived a camel's wrath and hunger. I've met some incredibly amazing people from all over the United States and Middle East. And I've gotten incredibly better at Arabic since my initial taxi ride when I asked the driver how he was doing and he just laughed.
   I think my coffee grounds were telling the truth, whether my professor knew it or not...
   My choice to go to Jordan was immediate from entering Fairfield and taking my first Arabic course, but I never imagined staying for the year. After some rough times sophomore year and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I had sort of a crisis and fear that maybe the Middle East wasn't my calling. So, what was I doing even thinking of studying abroad there? What if I got to Jordan, and realized that I hated Arabic? Or worse, that I loved it, but was horrible at it and would never be able to get past an initial conversation of hello!! These fears were real, and the questioning completely acceptable for a twenty year old girl worrying about her choices and her future! So when I learned that as an International Studies major I could study abroad for the year, I looked into some other areas of interest. I've always been interested in education, and after hearing some things about our Fairfield programs I decided on studying abroad in Amman Jordan in the Fall, and Dar Es Salaam Tanzania in the spring. The idea of studying abroad for the year and being away from my family for so long was terrifying! As was the idea of leaving the United States for the first time on my own. But I felt that after making such a decision, I owed it to myself and wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
  After arriving in Amman and spending my first three weeks here, I realized that my questioning of my passion for the Middle East while acceptable, was completely unfounded (alhumdulela!) Soon after I got here, it became apparent that I was not anywhere near acceptable at Arabic. Shortly after, the course booklet came out for Tanzania and I realized that none of the classes would work well with the requirements for my major. So I made the bold decision to apply to stay for the year in Jordan, a choice I am very thankful for having made. 
  My times abroad have been wonderful. I've learned so much--mostly about myself! I've definitely grown so much, and have a better understanding of myself, and I'm continuing to work hard at understanding and loving myself, my decisions, and my accomplishments. I've met some really incredibly amazing people, and I am so grateful for them and the role that they've played in my experience. I'm so grateful as well for the opportunities that I've had, and have really come to even better (if it was possible!) appreciate my Jesuit education background, especially in the sense of self-reflection, which I have done a lot of. I am also so incredibly grateful and lucky for the love and support of my amazing family who have been there for me through it all. I can't wait to reunite with them at last!!
   I know that readjusting to life won't be easy--I've heard so from friends who studied abroad in the fall and had to get ready for a new semester right away. I know I'll face these, and now realizing my changing ways, I'm actually looking forward to the challenge! ;) Knowing that I have such an amazing support network of friends and family makes this daunting idea a lot more bearable as well.
 I can't believe how fast a year has gone, and even more can't believe that when I come home I'll be entering my senior year at college! Thanks for sticking around and reading my blog entries all you faithful followers.
 But fear not! Clare's Abroad Adventures will continue, have no doubt. This summer I am going to start work on a Fulbright proposal that will hopefully bring me back to this region (inshallah!) And I have many other options besides that, that I will be looking into this summer. I've got the bug, and know that I have the ability and desire to travel to as many places and meet as many people as I can, and experience this amazing world that we live in. So for now, I'm sure I'll be adding a few posts this summer about my reacclimating to life in America, but until then this "correspondent" college student in the Middle East is signing off--leaving you to wonder, "Where's Clare?"

Saturday, May 5, 2012

High Five! --Jellyfish

  So I have about nine days remaining, two finals, and 21 hours of transit left until I am home!! I can't believe how fast this year has flown! I will definitely be sharing some final thoughts on this when I get home, but thought for now that I'd fill you all in on things recent. I've finished with Arabic, possibly forever in the collegiate sense, which is a really weird feeling. And classes for my area studies ended this past Wednesday.
  These past two days I went back to Aqaba for some sun and snorkeling. This time around there were    SO many more fish out, which was just the coolest. I saw a puffer fish, and lots of extremely purple jellyfish. Thankfully, these jellyfish in Aqaba don't sting, so no worries there (though they were freaky looking, so we did our best to avoid them...) Anyway, got a nice "tan" started- obviously being actually tan is rather impossible for me, but I didn't burn, so good work there! We just spent one night this time, but managed to get in about two days worth of pool time and beach, which was great!



Sadly, the water was really cloudy so we didn't get as many good underwater pictures as last time, but still some pretty great ones by the pool!!
  Another high light was getting my first marriage proposal. This is a semi-regular occurrence for American women here in Jordan (and I've heard abroad in general), and happens to many. On our way home we stopped in a little convenience store to pick up snacks before our four hour bus ride, when the cashier asked me where I was from, and I responded in Arabic, then a man standing at the counter turned to me and said "I'm a poet, you know poet?" and the cashier said that this man would like to marry me, and so the poet began asking me if I was married. I politely thanked him but told him I had someone back in America. He seemed sad, and I felt extremely awkward, so I excused myself to a different store. Oh, and by the way, this man was about eighty-five years old ;) Hopefully I won't regret this turn down later, I already totally regret not asking him to write me at least a few verses before I decided!
   People are starting to leave to go home already and it feels so weird!! I think I've done my best to take advantage of what this place has to offer, and hope to one day be able to come back! At this point, I'm really looking forward to coming home and seeing my family, but I know I will miss it a lot and readjusting to life in America will be just that, an adjustment.
Look forward to some final thoughts I'm working on, will be posting again later!
Love,
Clare

Friday, April 27, 2012

Aqaba


So this past weekend I got to go to Aqaba in southern Jordan. Aqaba in pretty amazing. It's a small city right on the Red Sea. From the beach we could see Palestine, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Wow. It was pretty awesome, and I got to snorkel for the first time!! It was so amazing!! We got to see all different kinds of sea life, from urchins to clownfish to many different kinds of coral. My friend Emily has some awesome pictures that she took with her underwater camera so here are some!

                                                                        The Beach!









It was a really great time, and we're hoping to go back next weekend for some more beach and sun time, so I am really looking forward to that!! 

Classes


Its been a little while. Sorry about that. I can't believe I'm only around for another 17 days here in Jordan! It feels so weird, especially because I have no idea when I'll be back here again.
Anyway, I'll be posting a few blogs within the next few days giving an update on things that have happened since my last posting, and in this one I'll focus on classes! 
So I'd like to talk about my Arab Women Writers class, which focuses on Feminisms in the Middle East. My professor is baller. like best way to describe her. She is absolutely amazing, and I remember friends of mine who took her class saying so, and thinking, yeah yeah alright, I'm sure she's pretty great, but THAT great?? YEAH. THAT GREAT. 
It feels like every class I'm rushing to copy down what she's says because its that quotable.
but anyway, to my main point. This class has been amazing and so eye opening. Understanding the pain and suffering that goes on for women in this part of the world is a multi-layered process. You have to wade through the stereotypes that the western media displays about women-but also face the realities of the oppression that is very real in their lives. Here's a link to what I think is a really great article which delves a little more into this: (we read the story that they mention in the first paragraph, very powerful). "Why do they hate us?"
This class has been a lot of work, but so wonderful. We've read about four novels (one due each week) and written our own short stories. It has been really great, and has been a space for me to do a lot of thinking and contemplation--which I love.

The other "Area Studies" course I am taking is called "The Modern History of Jordan and the Middle East"--this class focuses on Jordan from its beginnings after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, through colonialism up to present times, and as with most history classes of the region, focuses mainly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of which Jordan has been a key player. I've learned a lot more in detail about Jordan's role, and it has been a very informative class. My professor used to be a representative to Israel, and has family who are very involved in Jordanian politics, so that is really cool. Right now we're getting into a little more of a current look at the politics of Jordan now, which is very interesting during these very tumultuous times in the region. Jordan continues to be a safe haven for those fleeing conflict, and have always been very accepting and willing to aid. 

My Foosa (Modern Standard Arabic) and Amiyyaa (spoken Jordanian dialect class) classes came to an end this past Thursday, now we have finals coming up next week, which I'm a little nervous for!
My professor this semester was a really great guy, who definitely taught me much more than I learned last year, and for that I am very thankful! He's just an all around funny guy, who sings in class (and then makes us sing too) along with doing impressions of what we think is his favorite person in the world, Mr. Bean. I've come to realize that acting crazy is definitely one of the best ways to learn a language, because you're more comfortable! 
The same rings true for my Amiyyaa class. My professor is just the nicest and funniest man.

So that's a little update on my classes! Just have to get through Arabic finals this coming week, and Area Studies the next, and then its home!! I'm really looking forward to coming back, I miss everyone a lot. I'm also really going to miss it here too though, so I'm doing my best to take in everything that I can! 
Peace,
Clare 


Thursday, March 8, 2012

ماء

               Water Water Everywhere , Yeah No Drop to Drink



So as you (hopefully) know, I have been studying abroad in Amman Jordan for the year-- which is a desert country in the area that used to be known as Trans-Jordan, previously known as Greater Syria under the Ottoman Empire (now i get to be smart because of my history class).
Because of this, water scarcity is a very harsh reality . Within Amman, as well as other cities in Jordan, water is delivered weekly by a water truck that pumps water into giant water tanks that reside on the roof of the house/apartment. I'm still not really sure how many gallons- but usually enough to last through the week as long as you are careful and paying attention to your water intake (I've heard its around 22 gallons/day so do the math cause' lord knows that's not my strong suit). That means limiting showers, no dishwashers, limiting washing clothes, etc. The water isn't really suitable to drink either, mainly because of the rusty pipe networks and the fact that the water is sitting in a giant plastic cooler (hot in the sun... i need explain no further). However, brushing your teeth etc. no harm done, though if going to drink it, best boil it first.... We've run out of water once, because our toilet had a leak that needed to be fixed. (thankfully next day was water day, so mush muskila--no problem).
The situation of water scarcity is a real problem--one that Jordan has been dealing with and fighting for with its neighbors for a long time. The river Jordan runs through Jordan but also is the separating border between Jordan and Israel/Palestine and the river Yarmouk serves as its borders with Syria (the Yarmouk is a tributary of the Jordan River). Lake Tiberias (aka the Sea of Galilee) also lies between Israel, Jordan, and Syria near the Golan Heights.  Because of this, disputes over ownership etc. are common, and many treaties have been attempted in the past to avoid conflict over water ownership/consumption rights between these three countries as well as with Lebanon. I had honestly never realized before how big a role water plays in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It's actually a pretty big part of it! I got to learn so much about this last semester with a course that I took called Environment and Politics of Water within the Middle East. It was very informative and eye-opening, and also a good median to learn about water-saving practices, and their extreme importance. My professor was very nice and wanted to make sure that we learned the most we could while we were in the region. 
The UN has declared Jordan as one of the water-poorest countries, and so with this has thankfully come water subsidies. But there still is a lack of information spread about the importance of water and water consumption practices, so kidney disease, dehydration, and other water-related diseases are a problem here. Something that my Water Politics teacher was adamant on pointing out, was the fact that being such a water-poor country, a giant problem  Jordan is facing is that many farmers are producing agriculture beyond the country's water capacity. Farmers here grow water-rich vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, bananas, mangos, peppers etc. that take way more water than other viable agricultural products. He would also then point out  the fact that these water-rich plants would be sold to countries like Saudi Arabia at subsidized costs- basically meaning that they are exporting water, which they don't have enough of in the first place!
Right now Jordan is on the cusp of a breakthrough in developing better technology that will desalinate water in Aqaba to replenish water stores and aquifers in the region, but this is very costly. 
Water is such a real human necessity and it is so eye-opening to experience this first hand. It's so easy to just hear information and file it under human rights or environmental problems in the back of our minds, versus actually living it out and witnessing it. I'm lucky because I live in a two person apartment, so we make water last between the two of us. Most families here average six to eight people, all sharing water, and even some apartment buildings share water between multiple apartments! It is very real, and sadly becoming a bigger reality for more and more people and countries as our environment faces so many changes and challenges. This is where we are all heading if we don't stop, realize, and do something about it now! Whether or not you believe in global warming, the facts are straight that fresh water is a finite resource, and if we're not careful we could use the majority of what's available to us (and not frozen in glaciers) up. So stop those 20 minute showers 2X's day! Don't waste water by leaving the water running, and save on water while you wash clothes and dishes! If you own a house, do some research on grey-water technology. Educate others and share the wealth of knowledge! There are programs out there to teach, but they are no where near as vocal and available as they should be! Whenever I brush my teeth I get this guilty feeling leaving the water running--not even because of my knowledge-- but because I start to hear the voices of my favorite childhood purple and green dinosaurs singing "Oh when I'm brushing my teeth and having so much fun, I never let the water run, no. I never let the water run". And it serves as such a good reminder--oh the joys, knowledge, and subliminal conditionings of Barney! But seriously! If you don't want to think, act! and then think! (cause' its important to understand and contemplate world disaster, and eventual problems that face future generations, but if you're not in the mindset then just at least begin good practice!) Also, as a little plug on my end check out Our Task inc. They're an amazing organization that focuses on environmental problems and the need for today's generation to do something about them! 
If you'd ever like to hear more about the water issues between countries here in the Middle East (not too sure if the internet is a viable means of explaining or expressing my opinions within this...) then please, let me know! and we can have an enlightening conversation about it! Also, check out some of these links with facts about water issues- world/and jordan-style! 






Hopefully this has been a little informative, and might get some of you to think more about your water consumption practices-- wait for my follow-up update on the ways I'll be making big-changes on this front when I get home!!! (and moma, papa, and cat-- GET READY :) ) 
Love,
Clare

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Petra/Wadi Rum Take II

So three weeks ago we went back to Petra and Wadi Rum for camel riding and jeep exploring and of course visiting the amazing and spectacular beauty that exists here. Even a second time around, I was just as amazed at the breathtaking beauty of these two amazing places. Not much about the trip was different, except it was just a one night trip rather than two nights. So i thought I'd post some great pictures from this trip around!

Climbed all the way up there! 

                                                  Our Bedouin Camp for the Night

                                    Playing soccer/catch/throw/punt/keep away

                                                           My Roommate Katy!

cute
                                                                           exploring
                                                                      camel riding take II
Our Group! 

One really nice thing about this trip was that at the bedouin camp we stayed at, we made some friends with kids whose parents worked at the camp, and played a combination game of soccer/catch/throw/punt/keep away. There was really no uniformity to it, but they were adorable and it was just really cute and a lot of fun. 
At Petra, instead of hiking up the mountain to the monastery this time, I went and explored some other areas of the ancient city. It was a really great trip, but also freezing cold (especially at night)!! Thankfully once the sun came up, since we were in southern Jordan, it was warmer during the day, and warmed up to like 70.

Snow Snow Snow Snow Snow!


So I appear to be carrying the burden of bringing lovely New England weather with me wherever I go, even to palm treed-desert Jordan.
All of you Virginians might remember the winter of 02'? When school was cancelled for a week straight and we missed so many days of school that the public school system had to extend their days until 4:30 and we had school until the end of June?
Or the following year when the Superintendent of schools in Fairfax was fired because he failed to cancel school and there were many accidents? We totaled my childhood purple car :( 
Then of course there was last year, when it snowed almost 2 feet the day before I was supposed to fly out to California! And then followed the winter of the McElaney's culminating in our move due to winter flooding.
Well now, here in Amman Jordan, for the past two days it has snowed. We have about 4 inches because it keeps melting with the slush rain that comes in between bouts of snow, but it is snowing nonetheless. Pretty awesome though! 

Check out this picture of snow all over the palm tree outside my window! 


So we had a snow day this past thursday, and a delay already for Sunday, so that's all very great indeed for me! (just as long as we don't have to make up days!!)
Sunday, you ask? As it occurs to me, I realize I may not have mentioned a crucial point that the weekdays here in Jordan (and the Middle East in general) run from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. It was hard adjusting to last semester, but pretty easy this semester--the real test will be when I return to the states!
So while I'm gone, and New England is facing a pretty much non-existant winter from what I'm hearing, I guess I'm to blame for having taken all the snow with me to Jordan (where it only snows every two or three years... during January...) Don't ask me why its snowing the first week of March, I guess the groundhog (if they have those here) saw me, and decided to award and shower Jordan with continued cold and freezing snowy winter!