Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Movie about my Jordanian Experiences!

So I am in a competition for an iPad at my university and I need as many people as possible to watch this video and comment about it on youtube.com as possible.  If you could talk about how it makes you want to travel or study abroad that would be great!  I hope the link works for you and that you enjoy the video!  Thanks everyone.

Monday, August 15, 2011

All Good Things Come to and End...

Well, it is over.  My wonderful Journey to Jordan has finally finished and I am writing this at one o'clock in the morning from the bottom floor of a coffee shop/hookah bar with a live band partying the night away upstairs.  During ramadan the party doesn't end until late since they can only eat from about 7:30 to 3:30 they have to make the most of it!  It's amazing, and a wonderful end to my time here in Jordan.

  Also, on a side note, just because I won't be in Jordan anymore doesn't mean I won't be posting things on this blog!  I have a lot of stories and experiences that I have yet to put up here, and I will continue to post about my experiences while at school and my interpretations or thoughts on the news and my research on the Middle East.  This summer has really changed me, it has opened my eyes to some of the inequalities of the world and especially the arrogance and the ignorance that we as Americas exhibit on a daily basis.  Hopefully this blog has helped you question some of your ideals, and what you think about the Middle East and Arabs in general.  Hopefully my experiences and the things that I have learned have helped you learn as well.

  What was my favorite part of Jordan?  That is a hard question I must say.  I would probably have to say on a general note I enjoyed the foreigness (Do you like me making up words?) of the entire experience coupled with the amazing hospitality of the Arab people that I was confronted with every day.  On a smaller note, my absolutely favorite THING in Jordan was the Ahdan or call to prayer.  I had several chances to hear it from on top of one of the 7 hills of Jordan and it is spectacular.  As I sit there listening to  it I feel like I am transported back to a time before computers, electricity and modern conveniences.  Especially during Ramadan when I know that so many people are breathing a sigh of relief, eating some dates and drinking their first drink of the day it is almost ethereal.  There is also something amazingly beautiful for me to see an entire culture that embraces religion so intimately and so homogeneously.  As an American, it is completely different for me to be in a society that embraces religion openly, is homogenous in race and background and so many other aspects.  Back to the ahdan, however, I honestly do not know if I have ever heard anything as beautiful as the simple chant calling people to prayer and in praise of their God.  The closest thing that you might recognize is Gregorian Chant, it's basically Gregorian Chant with an Islamic twist, and you get to hear it 5 times a day.  Wonderful.

  I have a lot to write, a lot of thinking to do, and a lot to tell people about.  This experience has helped me to take a step back and appreciate the idiosyncrasies of culture, and the differences that make the world such a beautiful place.  We as Americans are too insulated and too comfortable in our world view.  We are so different from the rest of the world, and it really shows in our foreign relations and our personal relations with foreigners.  I have realized, this summer, just how much I do not understand simply because I grew up in a culture that is so completely different.  I will probably write again about this later, but just think about it.  How many things about another individual's culture is it hard for you to understand?

  On a closing note, I love Jordan.  I love the country, the people, the language and the religion.  I love the foreigness (there's that word again) and awkward situation it places me in.  I love the hospitality, the beauty and the many amazing places to see.  I love that these people have definitely been handed lemons and they are making lemonade.  I appreciate my comforts in America and I appreciate my country for the wonderful institution it is.   Before I close this I would like to do a few thank yous.  First of all, thank you to the BYU International Studies Program and Ralph Brown for making this internship a reality, thanks to the Kennedy Center and Phi Kappa Phi for providing me grants so that I could afford this trip to the Middle East.  A special thanks to the Ministry of Social Development and my boss Ms. Rasha for her patience and help.  Thanks to all of my awesome Arab friends and co-workers who put up with a constant stream of atrocious Arabic.  Thanks to everyone who came on the program for putting up with my craziness and my constant desire to go exploring, especially Annie, thanks for dealing with me so many times.  Finally thank you to my Grandparents who gave me savings bonds for every birthday and Christmas growing up which I thought was stupid but paid for my trip here, my parents for being supportive, living vicariously through me and also helping me pay for this trip and finally my wonderful fiance Jade who although I left her only a week after getting engaged has supported me the entire time and understand why I was here although it was hard to be so far away I think I love her more now than when I left.  Thanks everyone, it has been amazing! I can not wait to go home, but at the same time I can not wait to return to this amazing place next year.  Ma Salaam, Insha Allah.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Observations of Ramadan

This is how shwarma meet is cooked, it is shaved off in small
chunks and then put in a pita with french fries, sauces,
 tomatoes, and all sorts of other delicious things.
Ramadan, the holy month in Islam where every devout muslim will refrain from water, food, cigarettes and getting angry at people from the first prayer call in the morning (about 3:30 AM) until the last prayer call at night (about 7:30 PM).  In a country composed almost entirely of Muslims this means that there are some huge changes.  First of all, work hours change or cease all-together.  All of the restuarants and coffee shops are closed for most if not all of the day and only open after the evening prayer call and iftar (it literally means breakfast and is the meal that is eaten right after the last prayer call of the day).  Secondly anyone who eats, drinks or smokes in public can be fined according to law by the Police so there's no use in using the excuse that you were a dumb foreigner.    Work hours are shortened and there are way more people in town as all the people come home for the Holy Month.  So in addition to everyone being hungry and thirsty in intense heat, there are more people, things are closed and traffic is horrible.  Overall it is quite different to be in a country where EVERYTHING changes because of a religious observance.  Coming from the secular western culture into a country of mostly homogenous religion is quite a wonderful experience.  Overall, I have spent a lot of time indoors because I don't want to travel around, get thirsty and not be able to drink anything, working on last reports and preparing for my weekend in Aqaba Scuba Diving.  However, last night I did have an interesting experience that I will tell you about here:

This is a lamb or lahma shwarma and is one of my favorite foods
  Yesterday at about 7:00 PM I decided that I was extremely hungry (I'm only eating about one meal a day now so that was about time to eat) and wanted to have a shwarma from my favorite place just a kilometer away. So I got dressed, walked up there, and bought two large shwarmas, a mountain dew and a donut for desert (not as good as American Donuts but still adequate).  Of course since the final prayer call hadn't sounded yet I couldn't eat in public so I had to walk back to my house with my food and my growling stomach.  Interestingly enough, people were headed everywhere and every food place I saw was packed with people trying to get food for their iftar or the first meal they eat after their fast.  Anyway, on my walk back home I passed a Pizza Hut/Popeye's restaurant conglomeration that had outside dining that was packed.  As I walked by I noticed that everyone was sitting there with piles of food from the buffets and drinks poised with straws up and caps off, simply waiting.  Can you picture over a hundred people and an eating establishment poised and ready to eat and simply waiting for the go-ahead?  It was quite surreal.  So, since I didn't have anywhere pressing to go I decided that I would stick around and see what happened when it was time to eat as I would only have to wait about 15 minutes.  I was really excited and wondered if they would play the Ahdan (Call to prayer) over the intercom or if someone would come out and tell them and also what would happen after it was ok to eat, would they devour their food in a hungry binge or calmly begin eating like nothing had happend.  Well at 7:42 and employee of the restaurant came out and kindly informed everyone that the prayer call had gone on and that it was now okay to begin eating.  It was a little anti-climatic but it was a cool experience and one that I will definitely not forget.  I have to say though, if you ever come to the Middle East I would not recommend visiting during Ramadan, it makes things a lot more difficult for foreigners traveling!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Can I get a Woot Woot!

So, this isn't really a blog about my time here in Jordan but I just have to say, "Can I get a woot woot?"  Seriously, this week the blog passed 1000 views this summer and that's awesome.  Thanks everyone for following my time here in Jordan.  I want you to know that when I return home the work isn't going to stop on here.  Being in Jordan has changed my mind on a lot of things and I feel like I can use this blog as a source of those thoughts!  I hope you keep reading.  Also, thanks for coming so often!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


  I have had the wonderful opportunity to pray in my local mosque not once, but twice this summer!  We have a mosque about two blocks from my home that apparently has one of the best imams in Amman.  About a month ago I was speaking with our neighbors who had their cousin over who spoke really good English and whom I could ask a lot of questions about Islam and how it works because that is the topic that he wanted most to talk about.  They went insane when they found out that I had a Quran in English and Arabic so we went from there and they showed me a lot of interesting surah's they said that proved the Quran was true scientifically.  Additionally, as we discussed my beliefs they said that I was almost a muslim and they seemed so happy about that it was awesome.  They then invited me to go pray with them the next morning at 4:00 AM and I said that of course I would love to go.

  The next morning at about 3:45 I woke up bright and early and jumped into the shower so that I would be clean before going to the mosque (something that is absolutely necessary).  I went over and woke up my neighbors and then took a trek over to the mosque.  Let me just say that is was surreal to be out in a Middle Eastern City at 4:00 AM listening to a prayer call of a mosque that I was going to.  It was awesome.  When we got to the mosque we sat in the main prayer hall and saw a number of older gentlemen who obviously did this everyday at 4:00 AM because they were all extremely comfortable and knew everyone that was there.  I got a couple odd looks, but everyone just accepted my presence with a nod.  Because it was a morning prayer it only lasted about an hour with a short 'reading' of the Quran (it is really an Islamic version of Gregorian Chant which is seriously one of the most beautiful things that I have ever heard in my short little life), a short sermon by the Imam and of course the prayer themselves.  It was amazing to go through the motions of billions of people the whole world over and feel united to them for a small moment as I showed my devotion to the God of each one of us, no matter what you call him.  After the prayers I was greeted by a few of the gentlemen who loved the fact that I was there and then I walked home marveling at my life as I collapsed into bed.

  Since then I have gotten to pray one more time in the mosque, and this time it was this past Friday which is the main prayer service for all Muslims, basically like a Christians Sunday worship service.  This time my experience was quite a bit different at the sermon was much longer (about 45 minutes)  we were in the basement of the mosque which was absolutely packed and I was with my friend Austin.  Still it was no less cool, and it was best of all to see how devoted these people are to their religion.  Many of the people had to sit outside in the intense heat and sun because there was no room in the mosque for them.  It is very different to be in a mosque and be with this misunderstood religion face to face.  I felt their peace and their devotion, and knew of their love and kindness to others.  I'm extremely grateful I have had this wonderful experience and hope to return someday when I know more arabic and can better understand the sermon.  Everyone should try going to another faith's worship service, especially a faith you don't understand, and seeing what it's life.  After all, ignorance is really boring... we just don't know it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Do Something Good While Surfing the Internet today

Here's a petition for the UN General Assembly to recognize the Palestinian Nation and create the worlds newest state.  All you have to do is write your name and put down your country for it to make a difference.  Help a people who have nothing, including a country of their own, finally find some justice.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Terrorism, what is it?

The other day I was watching Television with my Arab neighbors, the Atmeh's, and having an extremely enjoyable time eating, laughing, and experiencing the culture.   LIke television does, it went to commercial and I saw a most interesting commercial.  The commercial started off with a young girl flipping through what was obviously the Quran.  As she got to the end of the Quran you suddenly saw a blank page splashed with blood.  As she looked at the page, there was a flashback to a typical picture of a hostage being filmed by multiple terrorists as they demanded ransom and then the girl closed the Quran suddenly.  The screen went black, and in simple white arabic script it said that terrorism is not a part of islam and that it must be fought and then gave a website about stopping terrorism.
  Many Americans say that there are no moderate muslims speaking out about terrorism, but here is direct proof of efforts to fight against it.  At the same time, we are asked the extremely difficult task of defining what terrorism is.  So the question is, what is terrorism?  Does it revolve around violence?  Violence for political purposes, is based on a religion is is perpetrated by an ethnic group?  Does it matter who or what that targets are, or why they were targeted how do we decide?  What about states, can they be terrorists and how do we decide that?  At first it seems like simple answer, but what divides a terrorist, a rebel, and a freedom fighter?
  I think these are fundamental questions that more and more of us have to ask ourselves and think about, we can't just let someone tell us a group is a terrorist group.  For instance, one of the things I hear a lot here in Jordan is that people do not agree that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations, like the United States has listed them.  To them, Hamas and Hezbollah are freedom fighters seeking what is best for Islam and fighting a superior enemy (Israel and the West) with what they have at their disposal.  In addition, these groups have legitimacy in the eyes of the people because they offer much needed services to the community that are not offered by the state or aid organizations.  In the case of Hamas, they were even elected democratically and Hezbollah members have been elected to government positions in Lebanon.  Now, I do not know if I completely agree with these statements, I know that both of these groups attempt to use terror to accomplish their tasks and use violence against non-military subjects to accomplish their tasks.  So the question is, what is a terrorist?  Are Hezbollah and Hamas simply organizations of a people who have no other way to voice their opinion than violence?  Are they people who have been pushed into a corner and are now fighting like a cornered rat, or are they groups simply working on terror, violence and fear?  Would they stop their attacks if their people were given basic services from Israel and the United States instead of isolated and sidelined?  Would Israel gain legitimacy if it helped it's neighbors rather than fight them?
  These are not easy issues, or simple answers.  They are complex, and the answer is not clean or black and white.  This past semester, while attending classes at Brigham Young University, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with George Selim of the Department of Homeland Security.  He spoke in my introduction to the Middle East class and was asked the question, "What is terrorism."  He said, that the United States Government can not and will not ever monitor ideals.  It does not matter why a violent crime was committed, just that it was.  This was eye-opening for me because I thought that an integral part of terrorism was the political purpose behind it.  Again, it adds another dimension to the question that really helped me think about the problem.
  The purpose of this post is simply to make each of us think about what seems like such a simple thing and to increase dialog about this subject.  I am not saying I support terrorist groups or that I do not think violent crimes are wrong, in fact, I have specifically sought to keep my opinions from this post.  I am simply saying that there are two sides to every issue and it is extremely important for us to look at both sides.  I hope you agree.