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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Jordanian Wedding

Woot, Fireworks and men dancing while holding hands,
it must be an Arab wedding!

Ever Since I have arrived in Jordan I have wanted to see a Jordanian wedding. When a month or two ago, my facilitator stated that this was wedding season and we would hear a lot of fireworks, I had no idea how true that statement would be. Up until this past week, all I knew about weddings in Jordan could be summed up in a few words, loud, long, and expensive. Every night we hear fireworks going off late into the night and processions of cars with people hanging out of them, yelling, and honking their horns non-stop. It seems like that’s simply what you do at a wedding, and I thought I wouldn’t know anything more about it until a friend at work invited us to his nephew’s wedding party.

Arab Wedding Cake, not sweet at all!
First of all, calling it a wedding is misleading and any Arab will correct you when you say that. There is no religious ceremony for an Arab wedding, at least from what I understand, and the day before the festivities start the families and the groom (I’m not completely sure if the bride goes) go to the local courthouse and sign the wedding license making the couple officially married. After that, the partying ensues. Traditional weddings, the only one that I’ve seen, used to last a week but with dwindling money most families shorten it to two or three days. The first day is a party in a huge tent on a rented piece of clear property for only the groom’s family. The men and women are separated and for the first 3 hours or so the groom meets all of his guests (many of whom he may barely know) and loud music plays incessantly. This is the time of the party where shabab are dancing constantly, old men are talking about how things have changed with the years, drinks and snacks are sold, and basically the groom doesn’t get to have much fun. The party we went to was called very small because it only had 200 male guests and was only two full days long. Anyway, there are a lot of traditions to be involved in and the normal antics of the groom’s friends, lifting him on their shoulders, dancing with him, and generally having a lot of fun being completely sober. A few interesting traditions I saw involved the music. Specific songs require you to do certain actions. For instance, when the older/traditional music began we were told we had to stand up in the front of the the gathering with all the men, shoulder to shoulder, and sway side to side while clapping.
Henna and that wonderful Parasol!
This was where we all had to stand next to each other and clap.
The old my next to me is wearing a shamech traditionally denoting
someone of palestinian descent (It's white & black not red).
 When another song started, it signaled that henna had been delivered from the women of the groom’s family. A few elaborately dressed little girls brought over two heaping plates of henna which was then applied in designs and letters on the groom’s hands so, “They will look beautiful to the bride,” as a few arab men told me. The whole time the music is playing loudly and the men are joking around and playing with a garishly decorated parasol that the little girls brought with them. Apparently, by having the parasol placed over you, or dancing with the person holding it, it signals that you will be married soon (much like the throwing of flowers at American weddings). Also at this time, the mother of the groom came to the party to see the henna placed on the groom’s hands. I was told it is how she shows her approval of the wedding and if she doesn’t show up, the shabab at the wedding will start to chant trying to get her to arrive. Anyway, it was quite an adventure, and like always, I got to hold hands with lots of random Arab men and dance the night away, it seems to be a theme in my life.
After this aspect of the wedding was over, we were taken with the close family friends and family up to the house at about 11 o’clock (at this point we had been here for about two and a half hours). With the smaller group of about forty men we went to the grooms new home and ate mansaf which was amazing. It is probably the only time that man cook in this country but it was fantastic. There were probably a dozen seperate plates of mansaf with about 5 kilos of lamb meet on each. The men from the groom's family were the servers as all of the men devoured the mansaf and enjoyed themselves. After a very short time, less than 15 minutes, all of the non-family members were miraculously done (except for us) which we thought was extremely interesting. We found out, after everyone else left, that the family had not eaten and that everyone left so that they could eat. One the men had had their fill, the food would be delivered to the women in the family and finally to the bride's family. Nothing is put to waste here ever!
Mansaf partay ...woot!
Overall, the wedding was amazing and quite an experience. It was loud and long like most Jordanian parties but at the same time wonderful and eye-opening. It is awesome to see cultures who put such a high price on weddings and feel that they are so important, but I hope that they put that same type of emphasis on the marriage which is what actually matters.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A little bit on Culture

So this is actual an excerpt from an email that I sent my fiance' but still I feel like it accurately conveys my feeling.

I feel like sometimes, even though I am here
in Jordan, that I am living a pretty normal life. Alright, every day
is actually a really cool experience but I have grown used to it. It
is going to be really weird to come back to the US just because it
will probably be reverse culture shock with everyone going so quickly,
speaking so much English, and being able to understand all that I say as well! Also, to have everyone understand my culture will be another
interesting thing. Today a new man showed up at work who will be
apparently teaching english to the kids after we leave, he majored in
English Translation in college and I must say that his English is
quite......... simple. Haha, what's more is that he doesn't really
understand out culture at all. Today, we barely met him, and he
admitted to us that the main reason he wanted to be friends was so
that we could get him to the United States to get his Masters Degree
in 6 months haha. He also then said that he wanted my phone number to
talk to him in English, my email so that when I go home he can email
me, and my facebook so we could chat in English. He sat in my classes
and second guessed my teaching style, which was a little annoying, and
then invited himself to our house so that he could see what we do.
All of those things are ridiculously forward in America but here it's
all normal. However, I too know how to work the system. In Jordan,
no one wants to say 'No' it is considered sort of a dishonor. So
instead, Jordanians will simply talk around the subject and not give
you a straight answer. That is exactly what I did with this
gentleman, he asked me when he come to see our house and I simply said
Mumkin and Inshallah which means 'maybe' and 'If God wills it'.
Basically I didn't give a straight answer because that would be
extremely rude so it all worked out. The culture here is definitely
something interesting to adjust to and just like all cultures there
are things that I like and don't like but that doesn't make it right
or wrong. I think that is something that each one of us needs to
learn, especially us westerners who travel and see societies that we
think are backward and illogical. By looking at their society and
trying to see the good in it and where they come from, we are able to
gain a new outlook on the work and expand our horizons. Really,
there's no such thing as a 'bad' or 'wrong' culture right? One isn't
better than the other, they are all just different!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Arab Neighbors

We have the nicest neighbors in the entire world.  They are called the Atmehs and have 4 sons living at home and two daughters who are off and married.  Being a neighbor in Jordan is much different than being a neighbor in the United States.  In the United States you likely know your neighbors name and maybe where they work.  Sometimes you have a good relationship with them, but rarely do you consider them your good friends and you usually only speak with them when you need them.  In America we prefer to pick our friends and stick to them, rather than being forced into relationships involved the location where we live.  Also, if you don’t see or have a meaningful conversation with your neighbor for a week, a month, or even longer it is no problem and we think nothing of it.  This relationship is completely different in Jordan.
In Jordan, relationships are everything.  With the Atmehs it started the day we all first moved into the apartment and immediately invited us over for food, shia (tea), and watching movies.  For the first few weeks we would go to their home 2-4 times a week and spend hours there.  I learned a lot about the culture, the Arabic language and just having fun.  Unfortunately this utopia could not last and soon their 16 year-old son Mahmoud was coming to our home every day.  He would barely be in the door and he would whisper in our ear, “Laptop” and “Internet.”  While on the internet he would watch videos on YouTube (very expensive when you’re paying for all data) and other things, and if we went out he would beg the person incessantly to buy him food and other things.  He was like any other 16 year-old slightly annoying and full of himself, but was also unaware of how many social lines he was crossing by constantly touching things that weren’t his.  He was a good kid, it was just ridiculous to have him come over everyday right when we would return from work and were very tired.  Eventually things came to a head and one of the interns kicked Mahmoud out of the apartment because he wasn’t listening and then we didn’t see the Atmehs very much after that even though they have helped us with everything including food, water problems, and good company.
  This week, however, I determined to go over to their home and ensure they knew I didn’t hate their family.  Austin came with me and we had a wonderful time talking to them.  They of course asked where we had been for so long and why we hadn’t seen them and then immediately asked us to have lunch with them the next day of chicken and potatoes.  Of course we agreed and the next day we had an amazing meal with them and a great conversation.  Like always, they told us that we were their sons and that we were welcome anytime.  On Friday, the holy day and all that, I was laying in my room when I heard the doorbell ring twice.  Usually this meant that Mahmoud was at the door and so I ignored it for a second but thought better of it and went to go check.  It was the Atmehs, but it wasn’t Ahmed.  It was their 24 year-old daughter, Ameera, from the United Arab Emirates.  She asked if she could use my computer and Internet to check her plane ticket, which I said ok too, and then they invited me in the home.
  Of course, once I was in the home I was there for a few hours and I really knew that I was accepted into the family for a number of reasons.  First of all, they allowed me to sit in the kitchen and talk to the mother and Ameera.   Secondly Ameera was in her pajamas and the mother was not in a hijab.  Thirdly I talked to them about personal subjects such as why they do or do not wear the hijab, marriage, tensions between religions and other things such as that.  It was amazing to be in such a familiar atmosphere and to once again experience a new cultural experience, this time what it is like to be part of an Arab family and experience the familiarity that is there.  Of course, they had to invite me for dinner so I hate an amazing meal (with both women, again something that is not allowed unless you are a member of the family) of meat and rice rolled up and cooked in grape leaves.  It was amazing and I joked with the mother that when I return next year she would have to teach my wife how to make some wonderful Jordanian dishes.
  Overall, it is an amazingly different experience to have Arab neighbors.  It is completely different than in America and at times can be extremely tiring.  However, it is also amazingly enjoyable at the same time because of the new experiences I have, the glorious home-cooked meals, and nice people who although we speak very little of the same language, I know care about me and would help me in any circumstance.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Independence Day (Part I)

The 4th of July, is easily my favorite holiday.  Why would it be my favorite holiday you ask?  Well, I feel like it combines all the best of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  First of all, you get amazing food all day long without a ridiculous amount of preparation or clean up.  I feel like it is especially American to eat delicious, fattening food, mainly the flesh of another animal, using paper and plastic dishes so that you can easily clean up and go back to eating.  Plus, the 4th of July is about good friends and family.  It’s about blowing stuff up, going swimming, watching parades, and watching baseball.  It has yet to be corrupted by the forces of darkness that have commercialized Christmas and other holidays and is a day to spend with those you love the most.  In addition, it’s nice and warm.  You can spend time outside, and in fact, that is usual a necessity of any true 4th of July celebration, time spent in the outdoors cooking the before mentioned flesh of an unfortunate animal.  All of this being the same, you can see why Independence Day wasn’t really Independence Day for me.
  First of all, I didn’t realize we were teaching English today and so I stayed up late and only got about 5 hours of sleep.  Secondly, I had to go to work, which no one should have to do on Independence Day unless their work involves fireworks, food, parades, or pools.  Thirdly, I am far away from all of my family and really close friends, which sort of defeats the purpose of the celebration.  All of this being the same, although I did not have much of an Independence Day, it was still a wonderful day and I believe I should tell all of you about it whether or not you want to hear it.
  First of all, I love Arabs and I love Arab food.  For breakfast, Austin bought some fresh humus and was given free, fresh, falafel to go along with it.  On the second bus ride we take to get to work we saw a man that we have met on a number of occasions and who used to be the director of our Marqez.  We talked to him a little bit and when we got off we found out that he had paid for our bus ride.  Then I went to work and had a wonderful time teaching the girls.  They are amazing (as I have written in a previous post) and make me grateful I’m here teaching English and learning Arabic.  I am also amazed at how quickly they learn and how willing they are to do homework and study on their own.  Today we talked about the past, present and future tenses of ‘to go’ and I asked them to practice speaking without papers for class on Wednesday and they agreed!  It was awesome.  We actually got to leave early because we had a meeting in Amman and the little girls walked us back to the road.  At the road we talked to a nice man, who called a mini-bus over and had them take us back to Wadi Il-Seer where we catch the second bus.  Again, the man who road with us paid for us and then asked if we wanted to have coffee or tea with him which we politely declined.  I love how nice and hospitable the Arab people are.
            Our meeting at Noon was with the director of the Jordanian Diplomatic Society, which is a society that focus on training diplomats, studying conflict and all other sorts of cool things.  In addition, it was by far the most professional and nice building I have been in in Jordan.  It was very cool, because it was professional but retained the Arab feel.  Talking with the director was a breath of fresh air as he spoke openly and frankly about the issues facing Jordan and the Middle East as well.  

To be completed... 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Petra: Under the Sea

This is where I get to learn to Scuba Dive

All suited up and ready to go for my first dive!
  This past weekend, in honor of the 4th of July, our group decided to take a trip down to the beautiful city of Aqaba.  Now, I may not have mentioned it before because I don’t think I ever actually wrote about Petra (something I need to fix I know), but Aqaba is amazing.  It is one of the nicest coastal towns I’ve ever been to and has really helped me fall in love with the sea.  Last time when I traveled to Aqaba I went snorkeling from a boat and experienced one of the coolest experiences of my life.  However, as I was snorkeling I saw beneath me a ton of different scuba divers and was extremely jealous.  From speaking with different individuals I found that you could do what is called a “Try Dive” in which you don’t have to be certified and you are only taken down to 6 meters underwater to ensure you don’t die.  I have always wanted to scuba dive, I remember wanting to be a marine biologist when I was little and constantly drawing pictures of scuba divers, so I decided the next time I went to Aqaba I would do a “Try Dive” and see how I liked it.
I have conquered the first dive!
Well, when we go to Aqaba on Friday afternoon, after a long, hot, and very loud bus ride down from Amman, I immediately called up the diving center with the lowest price and best ratings called Sea Star, and asked if I could do the dive.  They picked me up and took me to the center that was simply gorgeous.  I met a really nice retired Naval Seal there who I talked to for quite awhile and learned more about what it’s like to be an ex-pat abroad (something I am intimately interested in).  Finally, after ingesting some delicious pizza I suited up and headed out to the water.  Now, it was sort of scary to head out to the water so quickly because it seemed like I hadn’t really been taught anything about it, but the whole time I had one of the instructors by the hand and the other was behind me watching the whole time.  If you’ve never been scuba diving, I would highly recommend it.  It is a bit scary when you realize you are deep underwater and if things go really wrong something serious could happen, but luckily a lot of work has been done to make it as safe as possible.  However, the benefits (in my opinion) far outweigh the risks because under the ocean I saw the most beautiful things in my entire life (minus of course my fiancé ;-D).  Seriously, it felt exactly like being at Petra where you see all of these fish, corral and other living things in their natural and pure habitat.  Instead of looking at them through glass I was able to look up and see fish swimming past me and around me.  I saw a beautiful sea snake and witnessed ‘nemo’ first hand swimming in his sea anemone.  It was amazing and I instantly fell in love, which is why the next day, on Saturday, I convinced almost everyone in the group to go back to snorkel and enjoy the reef.
  However, plans never withstand meeting with the enemy and when I got to the dive center they said that I could start the certification process and they would apply the money I paid the day before to the overall price of the certification.  I went back and forth for a while but then I decided that I was gonna go ahead and get certified, which is not something I regret yet and hopefully never will.  This time there was a lot more training and I had to learn a lot more about the gear, how to work my inflatable vest that controls buoyancy under water and a few other things.  When we got to the water I had to intentionally fill my mask with salt water and then clear it while underwater (it is actually a great skill for those with facial hair, as I found out, because my mask kept filling up while I was diving).  I also had to intentionally take out my re-breather throw it away and then find it again, clear it of water and begin breathing again.  I learned how to communicate using signs about how much air I had and also how to communicate that I was out of air to a partner and that I needed to use their air tank until we got to the surface.  It was scary but really fun.
  The second dive was much better than the first one.  This time I was much more relaxed and willing and able to go more slowly and take in the wonderful sites.  The place where we were diving is a huge reef right along the shore that quickly plunges about 20 meters from the floor and you get a great wall of reef and water life.  We swam along that wall, this time going down to a depth of 12 meters, and I saw all manners of amazing things once again. I saw some ginormous fish that I don’t know the name of and chased a couple schools of fish that hopefully aren’t poisonous.  The most amazing fish I saw, however, was simply chilling under a fish and it was a beautiful lionfish that I think are rare to see even in an aquarium.

  The reason I say it was like Petra is how I felt as we surfaced and saw all the people a long the shore.  There they were enjoying the surface, the waves and the sand.  They were having a beautiful and wonderful time, completely unaware of the beauty that was only a few feet below the surface.  Just like when you finally walk around the corner at Petra and see the giant treasury, as you don you diving equipment and submerge you are immediately greeted with amazing and breathtaking beauty (although, breathtaking probably isn’t what you want under water so be careful about this one!).  Also, in addition to all of these positives you feel like a total bad-a donning all the gear and simply strolling into the ocean and disappearing.  It is quite awesome and you feel cool doing it.  Anyway, Aqaba was amazing and I can’t wait to return and finish my training and maybe even go on a few dives with a digital camera (you can rent them for not a ridiculous amount).  I’ll keep you updated!

i think it looks pretty darn cool don't you?

Last week in the Internship....

Some of my amazing and awesomely cute little girls from my class on our walk down the hill to the bus.

My classroom, it ate much by American standards but it's adequate
Well, last week seemed like the official beginning of our internship because we finally began teaching English.  Last week we were told we would teach between 15 and 30 kids and were a little afraid but willing to go through and do what was necessary.  When we arrived at the Marqez in the morning we found that the number had blossomed to well over a hundred and our classrooms were just not large enough to take care of all of the children.  I taught a class of between 40 and 60 girls in a tiny room where there were so many of them that I couldn't even fit in the door.  Fatimah and Ali soon decided that we wouldn't be able to make this work and so decided to split up based on gender and age-group.  We will be teaching boys on Sunday and Tuesday.  Each one of us will have two classes a day and then on Monday and Wednesday we will teach the girls again in two seperate classes each for a total of eight classes total.  Every day we teach the class, more students show up and by the end of the week we were at probably 150 students or more with some classes exceeding 20 students even now!  Now that you know about the semantics, let me tell you about the actual teaching because it's insane.
  The boys are pretty terrifying.  I really do not look forward to teaching them because they never pay attention, yell your name out randomly and never do what you ask.  What is more, as a whole they know much less English than the girls do.  My first day of class our boss brought a broom stick into my room and told me to hit any of the kids that didn't pay attention with it.  Austin and I have found a much less, abrasive  approach and now simply kick out any kids who are exceedingly loud and disruptive.  Today we actually kicked out brothers, he kicked out the older one from his class and I the younger from mine.  Well, the older brother didn't leave and kept coming into my class and goading on the kids.  I kept telling him to leave and he wouldn't so I tried to simply ignore him which of course didn't work.  Then, the next time I saw him I told him every way I could think of in English that I wanted him to leave at which he called me "dumb-ass" in Arabic and then spit at me.  I took one step towards him, I don't feel like letting little kids talk like that to me, and he ran away and I didn't see him or his brother again.  Finally, I got so sick of them not doing anything that I simply let them go about 40 minutes early after I saw that Austin had done the same thing.
One of two giant spiders I slaughtered today
in class.  I think this spider can get as large as 6
inches across but we are having trouble
identifying it from the mass of guts on the floor
  The girls... let me just take a breathe of fresh air thinking about how awesome they are in comparison.  We teach girls that range in ages from 4 to 17 split into four classes.  I get to teach the two older classes and they are so well behaved.  When I ask them to talk with each other in English to practice what we just learned they love to do it and do quite well at it.  What's  more, they beg me for homework (even the little ones) and love it when I check their homework and they do well.  I think part of it might be that I look a lot like the famous Turkish actor Mohanned who is apparently very attractive in this culture, and if I smile at any of the older girls they immediately hide their face and forget what they were saying.  As a whole, however, they do a great job at practicing and learning what I try to teach them and from my experience so far it is no wonder that the women go to college in at a much larger rate than the men do if this segment of society is indicative of the rest.  I love teaching the girls, and I think we might start making little videos of them speaking in English so I can let you see them.  They are awesome and I honestly look forward to teaching them tomorrow.
  Besides the teaching English, we will hopefully be doing the survey for the Iraq Al-Ameer area every Thursday although I doubt it will actually get off the ground.  It is extremely likely that everyone will be very busy and then when Ramadan comes in August and Austin leaves, they'll probably just drop it for awhile.  I do hope it actually happens, however, because I think it would really help the Marqez know what they must do to help the people in this area.  Also, we have been progressing on the 3 million dollar proposal to the worldbank.  The work on it is progressing, although slowly because translation is a lengthy process.  At the end of July we will travel to the Angwhar area, which consists of all the regions along the border with Israel, and will set up workshops for them on project management as well as conduct secondary surveys to help us understand the other work we are proposing to do in those regions.  It also is going well and adds a bit of professionalism to our internship here.
The "Sanitary Amenities" this toilet as a diameter
of about 3 to 4 inches and is probably 11 inches tall
I imagine watching me try to use this would probably
be one of the funniest things an Arab could see

  Things are going well, and for the first time in two months I actually feel like I'm making some sort of small difference.  Actually, as I write this blog post, Austin is in the other room with our boss who wants him to write down all the words to a song sung by Celine Dion.  They do love her here!

Monday, July 4, 2011

ممنوع (Mumnua)

So, Mumnua means forbidden in Arabic and it was the title of an amazing film that I watched last week at the Royal Jordanian Film society.  Mumnua was an illegal film categorizing all of the things that were forbidden in Egypt and the people's unrest at the state of affairs prior to the revolution.  It was quite interesting to see a first hand account of what made the people so angry and what caused them to finally rise up and throw out the incumbent government.  What was so cool about the movie was it talked about so many issues that I can't talk about here openly because I am a foreigner and I can not pry into personal lives.  It addressed questions such as free press, wearing of the Hijjab and preferential treatment of foreigners.  It was also interesting because it delved into the world of Egyptian politics, talking about the absence of opposition parties, and censorship of media and things like.  It was simply awesome.
  One of the reasons I loved it, is because it helped me see the necessity of free-speech and freedom of the press.  For instance, at one point in the movie the people being filmed, members of an illegal political party, went to Gaza to cross the border that Egypt said had just been opened by Israel and themselves.  They went, bearing supplies, and banners and sat for over 24 hours at the border but were finally refused. They said, "It's not forbidden to enter Gaza, it's just not allowed."  They said that Egypt was curtailing itself to Israel's wishes and did basically whatever Israel wanted and had surrendered their sovereignty and what made them Egypt.  Now, if a free press had existed, this direct contradiction of an official declaration would have been splashed all over the news and the public would have been outraged.  However, with a news force controlled by the state, they could do whatever they wanted without worrying about public opinion.  I finally had my eyes opened to the need for a free and open news group that can act as a balance between the government and the people.  I have always known it was important, but it just helps me to see some of the 'unofficial' mechanisms of democracy that we have in place and must protect in America. 
 Censorship is a sticky subject.  We must decide if something is grossly indecent, a concern for national security, or simply garbage that shouldn't be put on Television but at the same time we can not worry so much that opinions and beliefs are squandered.  How do we decide what insights to violence and what is a push for democratic institutions?  Who is the judge when all of us our biased?  A man came to BYU, where I am a student, this winter semester from the Department of Defense.  When asked to define terrorism he said it was only based on actions.  At the time I disagreed with him because I felt like the motivation behind the actions mattered but he said, "We are America.  We don't police ideas."  I didn't understand it at the time, but I better understand it now.  Of course, I am not saying that everything should just be given free reign, but I am saying that if we silence every person that disagrees with us, even if it is presumed to be radical disagreement, we go against one of our basic beliefs of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  The wonderful thing about democracy, is that it protects even those we disagree with.  
 "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," Was written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall and I think that today, the American Day of Independence, we should remember this and embrace the differences that make our culture and country so great, diversity and free speaking.