Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jordan Continued (1st Week)

Hallo.  So I thought I would really delve into my trip to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. As I mentioned, I lived for two months in Irbid, Jordan - only 10 miles from the Syrian border but also only a hour from Amman (the capital).  Irbid is considered to be the second largest city in Jordan, following Amman, but it is really only because of the University and that certain villages/tribes have moved in closer to have their children attend (at least during the Summer when they are not farming/working).  I would not consider it a city in a western context, just more people.  I was with a group with students from several different schools and we all lived in a complex within the walls of the university - by the south gate.  Within the University, people could speak English to an extent, but we tried to speak Arabic 100% of the time within SN's and my room - not really the case :) 
There were two separate entrances - one for men (in the back) and one for women (in the front).  Men could not (or should not and I believe we all followed the rule) enter the women's door and vice versa. Most of the time, you would find people would gather out front/to the side and bring down food for dinner and what not and talk.  Everyone in the group, for the most part was super chill, but SN and I did end up kind of sticking together for most of the trip, though we made some friends as well.  What was crazy was the number of roaming cats - sadly, I am not a cat person.  I would never wish them harm, but they are eery and I must have read too much into Ancient Egyptian history and stories but I kind of agree with them where cats can see into your soul and/or see dead people.  Basically, they freak me out.  But seriously everywhere - no picture - but it is kind of sad because some cats are so small/thin, and others have been injured but cats are almost revered where you can't kill a cat (I never knew if it was an actual law or just a social one) but cats are very popular throughout the Middle East, while sadly dogs are almost hated (well in Jordan).  Calling someone a dog in arabic (kalib) is basically the worst insult you can use (and sadly I had to use it quite a bit at shabab that liked to follow or harass us).  But literally these cats were pretty bold, there was one with only one eye and it would somehow find a way into our building (though we kept a sign up to remind all the girls to shut the door when entering and leaving) and would scare the heck out of me but would be begging for food - funny enough it was one of the fatter ones.  

I just went through my photos and realized I only started to show you my first week of photos! So I think I can give you a much better explanation of what was going on and what we did the first week before I continue on to the second week - probably be my next post.  
This is the main road outside our living quarters with in the university.  The summer months are some of the busiest for the university.  But there are two main roads and they basically make a t, one road going north and south the other going east and west with gates at each end.  Also, couple of things to notice: palm trees (not really seen outside of the university because they cost a lot to keep but they also spruce the school up and make it appear nicer/more pleasant to international students another place you see palm trees are at Aqaba in the South.  Jordan is very dry and especially in the summer has little water so Palm trees are not necesarily, in my opinion, a great use of that resource...) and that the boys are wearing more western clothing (though in Jordan, you don't see them in shorts - the boys were advised against wearing shorts as well).  Over the last few years, just like in Egypt, Jordan has become more and more religiously conservative and women are fully covered even in the heat of the summer.  They wear a head scarf, and over their clothes, always wear a trench coat that, at least to me, appeared to always be on and closed, and some even wore gloves.  Basically, you only saw their face - even their hair was completely covered by the head scarf (hijab) which is different from what I saw on the other side of the peninsula in Abu Dhabi.  Even mannequins in storefronts had hijabs on.  It is a sign of how things are changing (reverting backwards as some would say), and I was in the north - the south is considered much more conservative with a great Saudi influence (and Saudi tourist population), so basically you would see more women in burkas - where you can only see their eyes.  I don't have many photos of women, because it is inappropriate to take pictures of Muslim women - you need to ask their permission (usually they say no and move), so any pictures of women that I have are just accidents with them in the background.  I will talk more about women later because I don't think this is the right place to talk about the women I met/encountered/saw in Jordan.       
 This is the south gate right by the apartments we stayed in. 
 These were our beds -- it was so hot there we kept the shades drawn but our fan did not work (no air conditioning) so I had to go buy a fan, and we slept on top of our sheets and would freeze towels to keep us cool.  Basically we had heat stroke every day we were there, for the most part, slightly delirious and never got a good nights sleep because we would have to wake up and change our towels to keep us cool.  Also, because the heat made us so tired it was only at night that we could do work because it had cooled down and if we were up for it would go to the outdoor track by the "gym" to run around and work out.  I actually really enjoyed my runs out there though it was a bit repetitive and I do wish I had gone swimming when the girls could go swimming, that is - we had girls night at the pool twice a week I believe, but I am not much of a swimmer so I preferred running.   It probably could have cooled me off - better than the shower sometimes it was freezing cold but most time boiling (without the help of the water heater) because the water tank was on top our apartment building, so just got the sunlight all day, and there also was not good pressure.  Funny story, I once got so sick, probably from the heat and not able to really eat, and I was about to leave for Israel - Jerusalem - the staff was worried about me going but I refused to go to the doctors/hospital in Jordan (reasons I will explain another time) so they said to me, "at least if you die in Jerusalem, you will be buried there!" However, in the end I survived, I guess that since I grew up in air conditioning, I really can't live without it - I mean it is very expensive to have air conditioning in Jordan and most live without it.  No cab has it, neither do the "buses" - white vans not the same as buses as we think - and not safe for women (especially myself- girls in the group) though we did see some women ride in them though I would say more took cabs after their classes in the afternoon, and also most houses did not have air conditioning - it is a luxury, but being American I guess you forget that. 
 Where all my classes were - 4 minute walk from our building - two blocks - basically not far at all.
 Right when we arrived, graduations were going on - they lasted a week so there was much celebration in the street and it was my first time to hear guns being fired in the sheet, the first of many (again for another day!).
The mosque (mosjid) located within the campus, but there were others outside of campus, and the calls to prayer did not occur at the same time, unlike in Abu Dhabi, but rather went off one after another - you get used to it and it can also be really pretty - in the right context, not waking you up at 4 am in the morning. 
 I guess Irbid is more of a city, I mean this photo shows you that but there are not any high rises, just extends in every direction. 
 SN posing for me at the Irbid Museum!
 Mosaics/Frescos have been found at several sights in Jordan, and are considered some of the oldest.  This one was at the Irbid Museum, that we went to with the program on our day tour of Irbid. 
 From the bus tour around Irbid, to a part of town I think I only went one other time, and was like I don't need to ever do that again - we went to the vegetable market one other time (this picture was on a bus provided by the program to see Irbid and visit museums) and we could get the same vegetables across the street from the south gate and not have to deal with harassment or at least as much so I did not go back.  I know other people liked going exploring, but after the amount of attention I had gotten, its kind of like night in NYC, do I really want to leave my place to have to deal with that - sometimes its just not worth it. 
 One of a few soccer stadiums, I don't think I was allowed to enter - I never went but I don't want to misspeak but I am fairly certain that women are not allowed into the stadium, but it is ok I got to watch the Euro Cup and cheer on Deutschland at Tsche Tsche (a somewhat western restaurant that had ok free internet).  The internet was locked in our building until 3 or 4 pm so SN and I would go to Tsche Tsche and to also get air conditioning.  However, I got to proposed to (my first of a few...) by a waiter there so I kind of felt uncomfortable to return unless a guy was there with me.   
 A picture of King Abdullah II.  His image is pretty much everywhere. His presence is everywhere, though I heard some people disgruntled with him, not necessarily with the royal family but directly with him.  Otherwise, the royal family is pretty loved, at least that was my experience.  On my way to Jordan, I read Queen Noor's book and found it insightful, easy to read, and also very informational.  I mean it is obviously one side of a story.  But it was well written and it definitely gave me a better understanding of Jordan. 
 During the first week, (I think before classes even started) a bunch of the girls went out during the day for snack/lunch.  Since I am always hungry (or well not stuffed to complete capacity), I was down and we went into a cafe that looked nicer.  Something that is interesting about the Middle East, more so in Jordan and not really in the UAE, but as females we had to sit on the upper floors of the cafe so that way men could converse downstairs - honestly don't really know the real reason, I think it was for privacy reasons but it was one of those annoying sexist things.  But I will say, its nice to not look out the window and see men staring at us from the road (I would say sidewalk but in Irbid that does not exist - dirt and some establishments did have one but they made it and so it would change height at the next store/restaurant or disappear). 
 So these are some compounds with olive trees - have you ever had fresh olive oil - literally the best thing to taste.  I brought some back for family and friends and I basically drank a whole bottle!  That's what is great about the Mediterranean. 
 A beautiful mosque! One of many in the city.  My favorite is an all black marble one but we could never get near it, did not go to that side of town but I could see it since it was on top of a hill.  However, I looked it up and it is an extremely conservative mosque (women could not enter).
 One of the remaining churches in all of Jordan, but there is still a christian town - Madaba, which we visit a few weeks later.  It surrounded with barbed wire and surveillance.  I thought it was interesting.
 The taxi driver took us up on this hill and we could see the coliseum... its kind of weird to see because its surrounded by homes and just kind of alien compared to its surroundings. 
 Our cab dropped us off, and little did we know we were by a really famous and old mosque (mosjid).  It is where the large protest occurs after morning prayer on al-juma, and I accidently got caught in it one time but the police helped me get away.  It is not safe for women, let alone western women, to be near on Friday mornings. It is also an area, that I would suggest for women not to be alone, because you have to walk through small alleys and its an area with more conservative (and poorer) group of people.  My best recommendation, though you should always have a man with you, but if you can't, at least have a group of women around you.  No matter what, you are going to draw unwanted attention but its better to be with men and in numbers than be alone.  However, I will say I did wander sometimes on my own, but it's because I can get testy when surrounded by people all the time, but I always dressed conservatively and I am 6 feet tall so I did tower over most people and I kept my face extremely serious and eyes downcast and moved fast.  No one messed with me though, I knew people were staring.  On rainbow street, where its more cosmopolitan, its ok if you are by yourself, but you just need to always be very conscious of what is going on around you as well as who. 
 Just after we arrived by our hostel, for that first weekend, and SN was thirsty.  As I said, one of the best things about the Middle East is the importance of fresh fruit juices.  They really are delicious, and I wish I had gotten more! I miss them - but at least NOHO cafe, near the gym is owned by Egyptians and they make fresh juices, at a cost!  But great place so if around NYU should go.  I also enjoy their bagels (especially in the morning when they make egg, cheese on a bagel!)
 Arabic graffiti - on Rainbow street - on the cement blocks in front of the British consul.  The Saudi consulate has soldiers in a vehicle outside of the building with a large machine gun - not quite a tank but very close - its always a sight to see. 
Another image of Books @ Cafe - its a funky place -- alot of the images/furniture kind of reminds me of the 60s.
Souq Jara, which is on al-juma (friday) and is located at the end of Rainbow street, is a tourist trap - and is not at all what I thought a souq would look like.  But has some good food (potato on a stick fried and with spices, kind of delicious) and some trinkets but pretty overpriced and some of the stuff is not necessarily made in Jordan.  There is one stand, where goods made by Bedouin women are sold through this organization - Queen Noor also had focused some efforts on this cause: In the 80s and 90s, men were leaving their women and families behind to find work in the cities, i.e. Amman, and elsewhere, and were leaving the women with nothing and no connections.  Queen Noor and some other organizations sought to find a way to help these women, but remaining to their Jordanian/Bedouin roots.  They learned to make rugs and create/stitch traditional dresses.  With the money that came in, they were able to go to a doctor and buy better food for themselves, their kids and for other women.  The stand that is at the souq, sells jewelry made by some of these women.  It is a worthy cause and I think is a cool use of micro-loans and how those work.    
 I saw this beautiful house just by Rainbow street, and while it is nothing compared to some houses in the US it was still very beautiful, especially with the flowers - it stuck out to me.  When walking around that area, you will definitely see most houses enclosed with a wall/gates and sometimes security.  Some will even have a sign explaining who owns the house, and a lot of the times, it is someone related to the royal family - kind of cool. 
Back in Irbid, I found Japanese item at the grocery store -- I thought it was super funny! But I learned that actually people in the Middle East (especially women) are obsessed with Asia/Asian culture.  They love to learn Korean, eat sushi (in the nice hotels, and not cheap, but I would also warn against it because when I went to look for where fish comes from, I found out its coming from Vietnam, so not something I would recommend, especially because there is such better food you can get there), watch Korean films. 
I was so excited to find avocados at this "supermarket" -- grocery store but when I saw they were 5.50 Dinars I almost threw up because that is almost $15.00 <-- no thank you! They were also coming from Mexico and I was like I get those back in the states guac is going to have to wait!

Ok so that is a lot.  And that was only the first week! Tomorrow I will work on the second and if I have room/time maybe try to also include the third week.  Hope you enjoyed the photos and my notes. 

On another note, this morning, S thought it would be great if we woke up and danced to Celine Dion - gosh she is an oldie but goodie ;) but seriously her music was what the room needed this morning.  I was able to finish all the homework I needed to do before class while singing full volume - take that opera singer down the hall!

Songs I am listening to right now: Far From Home by Basshunter;
But what I can't get out of my head: Blue Jeans by Lana Del Ray

Before I go, my mom is currently in Rome - at the Vatican for a conference event.  She has sent me a few photos, but I begged her for a photo of the Swiss Vatican Guard.  Don't you just love them:
With joy,



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