Category Archives: David in Jordan

Home Again

Our experience in Jordan flew by! At the beginning of my family’s time there we dove right into the culture. We tried to make our time there as authentic as possible. We ate their food, learned their customs, and relished in the odd feeling of being in a totally foreign place. With time, we started missing our food, our customs, and the comfortable feeling of being home. We started doing little things like eating at McDonald’s (which was conveniently located above our supermarket), and planning and looking forward to coming back home.

Fast forward a few weeks. We constantly talk about the things we used to do in Jordan. We miss the fresh fruit and vegetables from the corner market. We miss taking taxis all over the city and playing soccer with the building manager’s little kids. We even thought about starting a Middle Eastern restaurant for goodness sakes! Now we are just planning for a return trip which we hope to do soon. I think the best part about being back is sharing our experiences with those we meet. They are ALWAYS fascinated to discover more about Arab culture and eager to overcome stereotypes. It is such a pleasure to meet somebody from Iraq or Jordan or Palestine and be able to speak to them in their own language and share common experiences.

Having now gone and come back, it has given us more time to think about what changes we will make as a result of our time in Jordan. Thinking about the abundance of everything that we have here helps us to live in a more sustainable and simple way. We are definitely more conscious about our the way we use water. We are more careful to finish all of the leftovers in the fridge instead of throwing them out. We try to feel less possessive of things in general and be as generous here as Jordanians were to us. These are just a few ways in which the study abroad has impacted us and has given us a little reverse culture shock. Though we are happy to be home, we miss Jordan like our home and strive actively to turn our experience into action and changing the way we live. We are so grateful to the Gilman program for providing this opportunity to attend this study abroad. We encourage all who are on the fence or have never considered going on a study abroad to set it as a goal and plan for it; you won’t regret it!

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Lifetime Impact

This study abroad experience has had a substantial impact on my academic and professional goals, but not in the typical sense of “now I know what career I want” or “now I know what graduate degree to get.” Rather, it has given me the courage to not settle for something I don’t believe in or don’t have a passion for. This experience abroad has given me the confidence to ***cliché alert*** reach for my dreams. Let me see if I can explain myself.

Like many other languages, Arabic is hard. It challenges my abilities constantly. It’s empowering. It’s frustrating. One moment I feel like I have it, then the next moment I don’t. Arabic and I definitely have a love/hate relationship. One thing that keeps me going is my passion for what it provides me: the ability to delve into the profundities of Middle Eastern culture. Speaking with natives for two hours a day in Arabic was a daily homework assignment that required discipline, but for me it was also a great privilege. Being a language learner means becoming vulnerable. That vulnerability broke down a lot of social and cultural barriers and gave me access to the hopes and fears of real people. The study abroad gave me a chance to check my arrogance at the door and really understand people. It enhanced and complemented my world view giving me insight into issues I had previously not had. This is a main reason for my study of Arabic aside from the fact that I have really come to love the Arabic language.

I didn’t choose to study this language just to have a competitive edge on job or grad school applications or to sound exotic; I chose it because I have a genuine desire for it. My future has been determined by the study abroad because I am no longer afraid to pursue something I am passionate for because conventional wisdom says I should do something else. I don’t have to let others dictate to me what graduate degree to get or what career I am best suited for. This experience has taught me that there is no one pathway to success. There is no one degree to get or job to aim for. Every person is different. We each wind our own way through life. Why not wind your way doing something you love?

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Got Water?

One of Jordan’s biggest industries is travel and tourism because it is replete with amazing historical sites and scenery. Fortunately, I have been able to relish in the natural beauty Jordan has to offer. From the Red Sea in the South to the lush olive groves in the North and the desert all in between, Jordan is truly breathtaking. Because tourism is so popular here, there are a number of initiatives to protect and preserve the ancient ruins as well as the natural beauty of many areas.

One such place is the Wadi Mujib Nature Preserve whichis located Southwest of Amman in the vast range of slot canyons that empty into the Dead Sea. We went soon after our arrival in Jordan because once the rainy season starts in the fall they close down until the next summer in order to avoid possible problems with flash flooding. We hiked up one of the slot canyons in about two-three feet of water, up to a big waterfall surrounded by the beautiful sandstone walls of the canyon, which strangely resembled the slot canyons in my home state of Utah. It was surreal. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a waterproof camera, so for a glimpse just Google it.

Despite that image of rivers of water flowing through the slot canyons, the single biggest problem in Jordan is their lack of water resources. They have one of the lowest rates of water per capita in the world. They draw most of their water from the Yarmouk River, the Jordan River (which are shared with Syria and Israel), and an underground non-renewable aquifer. These will be supplemented by the planned water pipeline bringing water from the Red Sea and pumping it into the Dead Sea. This will help replenish the Dead Sea, whose water level has been receding steadily, and also provide potable water to the public. Water is a very serious issue in Jordan and only intensifying with the constant waves of refugees from neighboring countries.
To give an idea of how bad the water situation is in Amman, water is only pumped to your neighborhood once a week. One day per week water is pumped to your neighborhood and fills your water tank on the roof. That precious supply is all you have until the next week. Showers are intermittent and quick, toilets are flushed sparingly, and washing dishes is done with absolute minimal water. Even observing these strict water-usage guidelines, it is not uncommon for the water tank to run dry. When that happens it is very expensive to have a water truck drive out and refill it, and, in reality, many do not have the resources to pay for it. Water conservation is a very conscious part of daily life, which differs drastically with most places in the US where water is more than abundant and relatively inexpensive. This is one of the most salient aspects of my experience in Jordan and it has made me question my own history of blatant water overuse and made me profoundly grateful for the abundant supply of natural resources in the U.S.

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Making Friends in Jordan

Wast Al-balad; what a wondrous place.  I strolled through the narrow, overstuffed streets and alleyways, keeping an eye out for pickpockets, and soaking in the sights, smells, and sounds of my new home for the next four months.  It was my first week in Jordan.  Any confidence I once had in my ability to speak and understand Arabic had already been shattered by the Jordanian who stamped my passport in the airport.  Now I just resigned myself to the fact that I had no idea what was going on and attempted to act as if I knew exactly what was going on.  “Just be cool and act like you belong” I thought to myself, “just blend in; you got this.”  This calm assurance did not really help my nerves, but it seemed like right thing to do was convince myself that I had everything under control.

 I was in downtown Jordan.  I mean downtown downtown. The heart of the city in the country’s largest market which surrounds the nation’s central mosque, masjid Malik Hussein (King Hussein’s Mosque).  My task: to find someone to talk to…for two hours…in Arabic.  Needless to say, this was a little intimidating, partially because we focused our studies on Modern Standard Arabic, which is the formal Arabic largely used in written or presentation form only, and the Egyptian dialect, which is quite different from Jordanian, and partially because that was to become part of my daily homework for the semester.  Two hours a day of conversing in Arabic with whoever I could find.  Essentially, I was required to find friends.  This was my purpose in coming to Wast Al-balad, to find somebody that would not mind chatting with an American who spoke very broken Arabic.
“I need a watch” I thought, “I will start there.”  I found a makeshift table with a young man named Alaa’ sitting behind it.  As I browsed the selection, I made small talk with him.  He was genuinely impressed that I spoke ANY Arabic and soon invited me to sit with him behind the table so we could chat.  I ended up staying for several hours; he bought me a Pepsi and endeavored to teach me the Jordanian dialect.  He eagerly introduced me to all of his friends and associates as soon as they came near.  He promised that the next time I came, he would give me the watch of my choice and that is precisely what happened.   Every time I returned, I would have to practically fight him to let me buy HIM a soda or snack.  He always insisted that I was HIS guest and he would treat me as such.  This was the routine for our weekly visit.
This same type of experience repeated itself many times over.  I cannot count the number of times I tried to pay for a good or service and was rejected saying that it was a gift.  No amount of insisting would change their minds.  I cannot count the number of invitations I received to enter friend’s homes for a full-fledged meal or for a simple snack and a bit of conversation.  I was a guest in their country and they were going to be hospitable.  End of story.
The moral of the story: In my experience in Jordan, friendship is often more important than turning a profit.  They value friendship and they demonstrate that the relationship comes before anything else.  I admit that this quality does not always manifest itself in my life back home, and I hope that is one thing I can change.  Of course, some of the invitations are only offered to be polite and are not intended to be accepted, the vast majority of the invitations I have received have been very sincere.  Frankly speaking, Jordanians are great hosts.

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One word: Olives

I could seriously go on and on about the food here. It is really good. Really. The shawarma, the falafel, the humus; it is all so good. You can’t really beat getting a falafel sandwich for 50 cents! I don’t think I could ever get sick of those. I love going to the neighbor fruit and vegetable stand and buying fresh local mini-bananas, figs, pomegranate, etc. Honestly, I don’t know what it is, but the cucumbers here are so much better than the ones back home. Of all these, however, there is one food item that Jordanians simply can’t do without: Olives. 
Lowell, David - Olive Tree -1
Olive trees in this region go back hundreds and hundreds of years and they are inter-woven into their people’s very identity. They are a symbol of family honor and are passed down from generation to generation.  Every single dish prepared here is not truly ready until there is olive oil on top.  The cool thing is I actually can quantify how important Olives are here; but first a little background.
We recently visited a city named Ajloun in the North of Jordan. It is olive country!  There are miles and miles of olive tree groves.  Luckily, we were able to visit during the harvest.  We took a leisurely stroll along a country lane in the middle of these groves.  We picked and ate fresh figs as we walked and marveled at the families harvesting the olives.  Usually, they take the whole family to harvest all day long and they picnic for lunch.  We then visited an olive press, which was essentially a big warehouse.  The families bring huge burlap sacks, empty the olives on to the conveyor belt, the olives are then crushed, and then the oil is separated into the most pure olive oil you have ever seen!  It is then poured into 5 gallon metal tanks and given back to the family.
Lowell, David - Olive Tree -3
Now, to give you some perspective.  I talked to one of my friends and he was planning on making a trip to Ajloun to buy enough olive oil to last him a year.  He was planning on buying 10 tanks, each worth around 65-75 JD (which is around 100 USD).  That is a lot of olive oil.  Another man said his family goes through over a tank per month.  How you ask? Every morning they drink a shot of olive oil on top of using it in everything they cook.
Good thing I really like olives!

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