Peace of Mind

Life has been a whirlwind since I started classes again, but in the most healthy way possible.

After sitting down with my advisor a few weeks ago and laying all of my thoughts and emotions out on the table, things have been just fine.

She wasn’t just looking to discuss my trip, like what I saw and what I did: she wanted to know how I changed from my experience. I think that’s all I really needed.

While every day I’m still learning how I’ve changed from being in Jordan, I’ve been extremely lucky to have the resources I have here at school. I know exactly where to turn if I ever need anything.

I’ve also been extremely lucky and so thankful to have met the people that I have since returning, and I’ve found a great circle of friends and a support system that was quite limited before I left for Jordan.

I am now a part of the Muslim Student Association, a new student organization formed while I was gone by a few MENA (Middle Eastern/North African) students who felt it was something that should be better represented on campus to help dispel stereotypes. The result of joining was a group of new friends that I never imagined I would have when I came back to America.

They’ve been so inclusive and what’s interesting is how much they learn from me while I learn just as much from them when we exchange our cultural differences between their host countries and my time in Jordan. In a way, I’m kind of seen by them as the white Jordanian on campus, expert on all things Jordan.

Regardless, I honestly think it’s been the best thing to happen to me since coming back and it’s been amazing to see how life has played out for me since I returned.

Initially I was so stressed to be starting school but still having that overwhelming feeling that I shouldn’t be here and that I should be back in Jordan.

While I still see myself returning to Jordan, whether in the near future or when life brings me back that direction, I’m so much more content living with what’s been placed in front of me now and in this present moment.

I’m still constantly in touch with everyone back in Jordan—although Luyi and Jack are off doing their own things in Morocco and Switzerland at the moment—but I no longer feel like my wanting to be back there needs to or should be the most dominant thing in my life.

Maybe the reason is that I’ve been fortunate enough to find a group of friends that, while they won’t replace what I had with my friends back in Jordan, are just a new experience that I was meant to have.

Either way, my perspective on life has been much better these last few weeks and I’m excited to watch these new friendships grow and take their shape. Who knows: maybe the friendships I make now will take me down another exciting path in my future. Inshallah.

 

 

 

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Settling In

I am unsure if there is even an audience left for this blog.

I guess this is more for my sake and peace of mind that I write this post.

 

I have been back in the U.S. for almost a month now.

Maybe things were easier because I spent my first weeks back at home where things were the same as usual.

Coming back to college has been a different story.

I never thought I would be that study abroad student that comes back and has a complete meltdown; however, on my first day back with classes, I find myself inching toward one.

Alhamdulilah I have received a positive welcome back from friends and professors eager to know how my experience abroad was, and I have given the same welcome to fellow students also returning from their countries of study.

I guess I never expected I would feel so isolated, though.

My study abroad experience was unique, yes, but I underestimated just how unique it was being the only student going to the Middle East when I realized that I came back with no one but myself.

Friends around me who went to France together, or Chile or Spain, they all have a common bond that they share in that they had similar if not the same experiences abroad together. Luckily for them they have people who will understand if they are missing a certain food or a certain way the culture worked or the language they spoke there, and can reminisce on moments that they had together.

It wasn’t until I realized this that I also realized that I am very much alone in my experiences in Jordan.

Telling people I had a great time and this is what I saw only scratches the surface of my time in Jordan, because describing the things that hold deeper emotional ties will not only most likely bore someone after some time but might also confuse them.

It’s not to say the things I experienced aren’t things someone could relate to that’s never experienced Jordan or even the Middle East, but explaining little things like how I felt when I watched Anfas pray or what it was like trekking across a desert with my best friends doesn’t completely resonate with people. At most I usually get a smile, a nod and a “that’s awesome.”

In fact, I found myself smiling in class today at my Egyptian professor because she said “yanni” which means “like” or “I mean” in Arabic and I quickly stopped because I realized no one around me would understand how this word is an inside joke relevant to my time in Jordan and my time spent with friends there.

I could explain it, as I’ve done with friends and relatives back home in Indiana, but it never seems to get the deeper meaning of it because:

  1. no one around me speaks Arabic
  2. everyone I know that would understand the joke is back in Jordan

I have found a few Arab students and even a couple of professors here that could help fill the cultural void of food, language and religion that I miss but I think I understand now that my experience in Jordan lies within Jordan and the people that remain there.

It doesn’t make adjusting to life here any easier, though.

Before I left Jordan, I was unsure how life would be like once I was back in America. For the most part, it’s the same as when I left.

I think that’s what makes life here so sad for me.

Life continued even though I was gone for three months and life will continue now that I’m back. Even though it’s the same, though, it feels like I’ve not only missed so much here but that I’ve left so much behind in Jordan that I just want to go back to.

Inshallah things will get easier once I find my bearings and come to terms with what I’m feeling.

In the meantime I’ll stay positive and hopefully think about my present situations instead of dwelling on how much I feel like I need to be somewhere else.

 

The Journey Ends

My heart feels heavy.

My stomach is in knots.

But above all else, I am happy.

This might be one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure, writing this entry as I say goodbye to everything and everyone I’ve fallen in love with after three and a half months in this country.

I knew this day would come.

I guess I was just hoping it wouldn’t come so fast.

After all, all good things must come to an end.

My time is over in Jordan and I am unsure how I move on from here.

How do I go back to life as it was before when my life here has been changed forever?

Looking back, I find myself reflecting on the feelings I had before boarding the plane to Amman and how insignificant they were.

What if everything I wanted to be wrong about the Middle East and its people was true? What if I can’t handle all the harassment and the staring? What if everyone really is a terrorist and my school gets blown up? Worst of all, what if I’m one of those students who wants to go home??

I can sit here and laugh at myself, now, at just how ridiculous these thoughts were and I honestly can’t believe they even crossed my mind.

However, it’s not enough for me to sit here and say that not only have my thoughts changed about Jordan and this region but my life has changed, because it’s something no one can comprehend.

I don’t even understand and I probably won’t for some time.

The other day, someone asked me if I was ready to go home and it almost seemed like a joke to them when I responded: No. Jordan is home.

Did I ever imagine these words would come out of my mouth? Three months ago I would have told you no, not at all.

I never thought when I came to this country that I would be so deeply impacted by its people and its culture to the point that I would dread going back to my own country.

I never thought that the people I met at orientation three months ago would change my life so drastically and in such a short amount of time, and I sit and I think back to that moment and I wish I knew just how important these people would eventually be to me.

I never thought leaving this country would be one of the hardest things I would have to do.

And what I never thought about is just how hard it would be to come to terms with the fact that I might never see these people again.

Looking back, it’s funny yet almost cringe-worthy how I ended up with the people I now call my best friends. From asking Anfas the moment I met him if he was Pakistani to telling Shirzad to put on longer shorts in Wadi Dana because I saw way too much of his Muslim thighs to Junior prancing around Taj Mall in a fur coat and asking me if I would rub his belly in Aqaba.

It almost seems like we were so innocent and lost when we first met each other, and in all honesty, I feel like we’ve grown so much together over the last three months.

I’ve learned so much from Junior, Luyi, Jack, Anfas and Shirzad and I’ve learned so much about myself through the experiences I’ve had with them. Crying in the bus station watching Anfas pray, reassuring Jack that he would not get food poisoning from chicken boiled for 40 minutes, convincing Shirzad not to try to marry me and releasing my inner Asian with Junior and Luyi.

I don’t know what life will be like when I leave them but I can at least find a little comfort in knowing that the life I’ve had these last three months here and with them is something all my own and something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I still don’t fully comprehend why exactly I came to Jordan, and looking back, I’m not sure I even know why I was drawn to this country in the first place. I don’t know why I ended up here of all places in this world.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned here, however, it’s not to question but be always thankful for the good things that come to you.

Reading entries from the beginning of my journey, I guess my biggest reason was to prove to myself and others that the actions taken by a handful of people here are not representative of this region and its majority religion.

Now I know just how pointless that reason was, because I know that I never needed to convince myself.

I think I knew all along that what I believed in my head about the Middle East was true, that it was just like the rest of the world with people who feel, think and live just like everyone else.

In reality, I think my biggest reason for coming here to the Middle East, more than anything, was to learn about and change myself.

I didn’t come to Jordan unhappy with how I was before I came here.

I didn’t come to Jordan to prove that a skinny little white girl could hold her own in the Middle East.

I think I just knew that there was more to life than this bubble I was living in, riddled with anxiety and fear.

It doesn’t take coming to the Middle East to face such issues.

However, I knew coming here would be a challenge for me but I wasn’t exactly sure just how.

Looking back, I’m still not sure just how challenging it was.

I feel like I fell so effortlessly into the swing of things here that the ways in which I ultimately dealt with my fear and anxiety sort of happened on their own.

It’s not to say that I’m anxiety-free since living in a region full of turmoil and sometimes creepy Arab men. In fact, I got lost the other night, alone and without a phone, and slightly panicked.

Then I realized where I was.

I was in Amman, Jordan.

I was in a city and a country full of people who would go out of their way to point you in the right direction if you looked even slightly lost.

A country full of people who would more than likely invite you in for tea and a meal if you simply knocked on their door.

A country full of people who always make you feel like home is right where you are and that you’re just an extension of one huge family.

It’s funny: for a couple of weeks leading up to coming to the Middle East, I began to wonder if I was in over my head and what I was getting myself into. Now I no longer think Jordan was the perfect fit for me.

Now I know that Jordan was where I was meant to be all along.

 

See you soon, Jordan.

Inshallah.

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Desert Cold

If there’s anything worse than leaving, it’s that it finally feels like winter in Jordan…….and oh my goodness, it’s horrible.

There’s a good 20 degree difference between Amman and temperatures back home, and although it’s warmer in Amman, it’s still bloody cold!

The temperature here is referred to as ‘desert cold’ and it’s something all Jordanians dread.

As my instructor Sarah says, “The weather now is what we call bone-chillingly cold.” She’s so right.

The cold here is something I’ve never felt before…and I live in Chicago.

Even though Jordanians broke out their coats, scarves and boots a good month ago, even when we were still in 65+ weather, the desert cold is finally here.

Heck, I was still wearing sandals last week and now I can’t even get out of bed in the morning because it’s like an ice box in my room.

Anfas said today that he was the only one without socks on in the mosque this morning, which surprised him because no one prays with socks on and because he’s Sri Lankan, from a tropical climate, and he even took his socks off and this is the coldest weather he’s ever experienced.

I guess you know it’s cold when Jordanians don’t take their socks off for prayer.

He doesn’t understand why they don’t wear gloves, though. They won’t take their socks off in prayer but he never sees Jordanians wearing gloves. I told him it’s because pockets were invented.

They don’t really wear hats, either. I guess it’s easier for the women since most of them wear hijab so it’s like a hat all year round.

Regardless, I’m finding it extremely difficult to function in this weather. I haven’t even left the apartment building in two days and just doing my laundry outside last night was enough to feel like I had frost bite.

Jordan, I love you, but your winter season sucks so much.

I’m currently wearing two pairs of socks and a hat…inside.

I miss 100 degree heat and sweat. Come  back.

And then there was one

Today begins the countdown of one week left in Jordan and the Middle East.

It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that my days here are so numbered, though there are constant reminders that they, indeed, are.

Students leaving, going-away parties, talk of packing and flight times. It doesn’t help that Junior is also keeping a personal countdown of when we’re leaving. It’s like he’s ready to get rid of me or something.

However, it feels more like a bigger step to be going home than it did when coming to Jordan. Maybe that’s because I felt so beyond comfortable as soon as I landed in this country, even in the darkness of the early morning, that I feel like ‘home’ will be more of a shock to the system.

In some ways, it probably will be more of a culture shock.

Even hearing Americans around me here is enough for me to run the other direction. And in some ways, it feels like I’m moving to a new, completely foreign country when I think about going back to America.

I assume this is how every study abroad student feels, but then again every experience is different. Some never want to leave, some can’t wait to go home. The people around me now seem to be pointing more toward the latter than the former.

I, however, am not mentally prepared to go home but I know it will be a good feeling, no matter how short lived it might be once I step out into five feet of snow in Chicago and a sleepy little farm town in Indiana.

I’m just not ready to go back to what life used to be.

Regardless, my emotions and the waterworks haven’t hit yet and probably won’t until the last three days come around.

I’m just thankful for the experience I’ve had here, the people I’ve met and this life I’ve made for myself in the last three and a half months.

Inshallah this next week takes its sweet time.

 

 

A Jordanian Thanksgiving

This past Thursday was my first Thanksgiving away from family in my whole 21 years of life. It didn’t feel like the beginning of the holiday season for a few reasons:

  1. I wasn’t home with my family
  2. It’s been almost 70 degrees this past week
  3. I’m still in school while all my friends back home are done until January

Despite being in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday, as well as being surrounded by friends who don’t celebrate it, it didn’t stop me from prancing around my institute saying “Happy Thanksgiving!” to everyone I knew. Jack being British said, “This is the first time in my life I’ve ever said this but, ‘Happy Thanksgiving!'”

I even said it to my instructors who were quite enthusiastic with their responses. “Oh yeah! Happy Thanksgiving! الله يعطيك العافية” (Allah yatik el afyeh which means ‘May Allah give you wellness.’

Later in the day my cake intuition kicked in and I had this feeling that my second instructor would be bringing in a special treat for us as she sometimes does. Turns out I was right and my face when she walked in was priceless.

She said in Arabic, “You only like me for my cake, don’t you?”

“….yes”

In English: “Hayley I will kill you. You know what I said, right? I said you only like me for my cake.”

“Yes I know…”

“Wallahi!” (I swear to God)

I’m obviously her favorite.

Anyway, here’s the cake after I ate two gigantic slices:

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I can’t remember what she called it but it’s similar to banana bread with a cinnamon taste but baked with raisins. She taught me proper cake etiquette  as well and told me that they never give the end piece to guests, only the middle parts. They still eat the end pieces but think they aren’t good pieces for guests. She was surprised when Jack requested an end bit and seemed a little reluctant to give it to him as it goes against cultural etiquette. She gave it to him, regardless.

After class, I headed to the store to pick up ingredients for the American Thanksgiving I would be making for absolutely no Americans that night. I decided on making chicken wings, green bean casserole, rolls and mashed potatoes and gravy even though I had yet another intuition that the gas in my apartment would run out. I was right about that, too.

I finished half of the dishes before it ran out but luckily I live 30 seconds away from Jack, so I was kindly allowed to finish dinner in his apartment.

Alhamdulillah it all worked out well and I was able to bring all the food back to my apartment where Anfas, Luyi and Jack joined me for their first Thanksgiving, with a surprise guest:

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This guy! Shirzad came by after I hadn’t seen him almost two months!

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I asked him if he’d ever had mashed potatoes before, as it’s a strange concept to those who aren’t familiar with Thanksgiving. He said mashed potatoes are a common food in Kurdistan and continued to mow down.

I was glad everyone seemed to like what I made, unless they’re really good at pretending they liked it and really just shoved food into the couch cushions when I wasn’t looking.

After dinner I got to FaceTime with my family for a bit until my phone died. I went on a walk with the gang afterwards around the neighborhood to walk off all the carbs and came back around 11:30 ready for bed.

Yesterday I helped Anfas make a Sri Lankan dinner for the Norwegians he was having over later that night. We made a kilo of milk rice (rice with turmeric cooked and then coconut milk and salt is added), daal (curried lentils), four huge potatoes Sri Lankan style (I left before he finished that part) and about 20 pieces of chicken curry. He popped by later in the night to tell me all his food was eaten which I think made him happy, as he was worried he wouldn’t have enough and was a bit hypercritical of his chicken marinade earlier in the day. After going to bed at 3am, he came by this morning to tell me about his night, though I could hear the laughter all the way from his room a floor above me the night before.

In all, things worked out food-wise for both of us and this weekend was great in all respects. Here’s to another week of Arabic and my last full week of classes in Jordan.

Winding Down

Tomorrow begins our last week of new material in classes before we head into revision week for final exams and then our final week in Jordan.

Looking back on my journey in learning Arabic, it’s amazing how far I’ve come.

I came to Jordan knowing how to say hello and being able to identify only one letter in the Arabic alphabet.

In fact, when it came to Orientation Day back in September and having to take my placement test (which I took a picture of below), the only thing I could do was put my name on it and hand back in.

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Looking back, taking that exam (or just putting my name on it) seemed like the most daunting thing and I was quite frankly embarrassed that I didn’t know anything in the whole ten-page exam.

I don’t like to toot my own horn but *tooty toot toot* because now I wish I could take the exam again as I can read almost everything on the page above and I can now confidently read and write Arabic and hold conversations.

I’ve even begun reading the Qur’an and can understand at least 50% of what the pages say despite my limited vocabulary.

I never expected to leave Jordan fluent after three months of studying, and one should never expect to even become remotely fluent in such a short time with learning a complex language like Arabic. Most scholars say it takes approximately six years for a non-native speaker to become proficient to the point of what is considered fluency, so I have quite a ways to go before I reach such a level.

However, I’m proud of what I’ve learned in such a short amount of time and that I’ve even had the confidence to not only take on such a language but to be as involved in class as I am.

Back home I hide in the corner of the classroom and hope my professor doesn’t notice me for ten weeks. My professors know my personality outside the classroom is definitely not the one I show in it, and they understand that I struggle with social anxiety.

However, since coming here it’s like I’ve become a whole new type of student. In fact if I’m even remotely quiet in class or my face is missing a smile, my instructors ask me 20 questions to see if I’m sick, sad, cold or tired and if I’m any of those, they run to get me a blanket, a cup of tea or tell me to go home and sleep.

While I’ve never taken them up on their offer to leave, as I feel like that’s always a trick, I happily accept a piping hot cup of Jordanian tea and cuddle right on up with their blankets.

I honestly believe I would not be the student I am now if it weren’t for the fostered, welcoming classroom environment I have at my language institute and my instructors that have become more like friends.

This is not to say that I don’t feel safe or comfortable with my professors back home, because I have relationships with them that I never imagined I would have when beginning my college education. In fact, students I know from larger universities think it’s weird that I call my professors by their first names and have their phone numbers.

However, knowing that the students I attend class with everyday here are on the same page as me and that we are all in that classroom to learn together is a comforting feeling.

As I progress in my studies back home, it feels more like a competition of who knows what and how much. Here, we aren’t expected to know everything about a certain topic and mistakes are a given.

My classmates and I literally started from the beginning and we’ve grown together over the last three months. Sure, our Arabic is far from perfect and we’re able to find way too much laughter because of it, but it makes our classroom environment that much more fun.

Just the other day my classmate Tiziana meant to say “ijahba” which means “answer” but accidentally said “jubna” which means “cheese.”My instructor Sarah thought it was the funniest thing and now she comes up to us and says, “What did you get for your jubna?”

My only hope is that the student I am now can be translated into the classroom  back home once my classes begin in January. I know that not only would my professors be proud of me and most likely dumbfounded but I would be even more proud of myself.

 

 

زملائي والطعام التايلاندي

Last night I was the American I try not to be: Loud and obnoxious.

Last night was also one of the best nights of my life.

As my time comes to an end in this country, I’ve been trying to spend as much time with the people I’ve grown so close to. With a little over two weeks left until my flight home, my classmates/friends and I decided to have a night at Rosa’s on Rainbow Street with Thai food and a few laughs.

We headed to meet Muhammet, our Turkish classmate, around 6pm last night to finish some food shopping for the Pad Thai that Chef Junior would be making for us that night.

Ustadha Sarah, one of our instructors at the institute we attend, was very excited to learn that we would be spending an evening with Muhammet, as we would be forced to speak Arabic in order to include him since he only speaks Turkish and almost no English.

I think last night was the most Arabic I’ve spoken in a given day since coming to Jordan and it was a great experience for all of us.

Once we met up with Muhammet, we grabbed a taxi. Little did we know that it would be one of the most…unique…taxi rides we would have.

The only way to describe our taxi driver last night was “majnoon” or “crazy.” We even told him he was crazy and he took it as a lovely compliment.

At first, when getting into the cab, he thought there were only three of us so he charged us a night price of 3JD or 1JD a person. However, when two more of us squeezed into the back, he smiled surprisingly and said “Whaaaa? Five?? Oh no.”

Taxi drivers are always a little skeptical fitting five people in their cars as they can get pulled over if seen by the cops. However, he laughed it off, agreed to his number of passengers and we were on our way.

As most Jordanians do, he weaved in and out of traffic and maintained a speed of probably 70mph down the road throughout the trip. On one road some cars kept honking next to us and he tried to race them. Both he and the driver/passengers in the car next to us thought it was hilarious; meanwhile the rest of us were slightly fearing for our lives. Muhammet didn’t seem bothered by it and continued showing the driver Turkish singers while the driver drove without even looking at the road.

He cranked up the music on his stereo and would press the gas to the beat of the song, making all of us bounce back and forth. Any time a song mentioned the word “habibi” (as they usually do) I would sing along, which he seemed to enjoy as he laughed and turned the volume up to sing to, as well.

While everyone else in the car was ready to get out as soon as the ride started, I thought it was one of the best taxi rides I’ve had.

His car was a party that I didn’t want to end.

We finally made it to Rainbow Street alive in and one piece and we made our way to Rosa’s house. Tiziana and Asmeret, our classmates that double as nuns, would be joining us just a few minutes after we arrived.

Junior, Luyi and I made our way to the kitchen to prepare the meal for the night, as us Asians are expected to do. Meanwhile, Jack, Tiziana, Asmeret, Rosa and Muhammet made themselves comfortable in the living room as they got the fireplace going.

As Junior, Luyi and I were cooking, I was glad to hear out in the living room that everyone else was including Mohammet in the conversation as they all tried to utilize as much Arabic as we’ve learned the past couple of months to learn more about him.

It’s interesting to think that just two months ago I thought Mohammet was probably the most irritating person on the face of the Earth, but it’s amazing how things change once you really get to know someone.

In the course of an evening, all in Arabic (and some Turkish that he taught me), I learned about his family, his friends, his schooling and that he is what’s called a hafith or hafiz, someone who has completely memorized the Qur’an—all 114 surahs (chapters), over 6,000 verses and almost 80,000 words. He says it took him two years, from age six to eight, to memorize and his father helped him learn, while many who memorize the Qur’an are sent to Islamic schools to learn it. He even showed us a video of him reciting in a masjid or mosque, giving Friday prayer.

One becomes a hafiz through practice and tests. These tests are oral, asking the person either to recite a full surah or continue a surah after a random verse is given. A reciter has no idea where they will be asked to begin (as the Qur’an is not placed in front of them) and must be able to recite it perfectly.

Becoming a hafiz is highly respectable and there are competitions around the world for testing memory and recitation of the Qur’an, with children as young as six coming to compete to prove their skills. Many who memorize the Qur’an come from non-Arab countries without understanding or even speaking Arabic, like Muhammet. I’ll leave a link to a documentary on hafiz competitions that I watched in a course I took back home earlier this year on Islam and the Middle East.

In all, I learned a lot about Muhammet and I really think differently of him now but definitely in a positive way. I even have to commend him on eating the Pad Thai we made last night as he typically sticks with the Turkish food he can find around the city. Also as of last night, he has the nickname of Muhammet Kebab.

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We spent the night eating, laughing, speaking at one point six different languages to each other (Arabic, English, Turkish, Spanish, French and Italian) and singing obnoxious Lebanese songs that caused me to lose my voice.

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I think last night just reassured me that coming here was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and the people I’ve met have changed my life forever.

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From left to right: Asmeret, me, Luyi, Mohammet Kebab, Jack, Tiziana and Ustadha Salaam. Not pictured is Rosa, who was sick that day.

 

 

Disgusted

I came across an interesting news article from the New York Times this evening that explained everything I’ve been thinking for the last two days on the current situation in Paris, France after a deadly terrorist attack Friday left 130 people dead.

However, while Paris has been all over the news with world leaders and the international community alike standing proud and united as some sort of means to finally put our foot down against terrorism, it seems the two deadly suicide bombings that took place 24 hours before in Lebanon meant nothing.

As the article suggests, and I will leave a link to it below, there were no monuments lit up with the colors of the flag, there were no speeches from presidents or prime ministers and there were no moments of mourning for the more than 40 people that died that day.

Why?

Because it’s the Middle East, and that’s what makes the lack of global sympathy so despicable.

What makes the atrocities that happened in Lebanon any different than what happened in Paris?

Lives were lost. Families were broken. A city and its people are left in ruins.

Perhaps this is why I feel so numb to what has occurred in France.

Yes, what has happened is a tragedy and innocent lives should never be lost by a person or by people so willing to kill in the name of a group such as the Islamic State that is not representative of this region I live in and the people I am surrounded by, nor should it be seen as a representation of Islam, a religion I am as equally and deeply connected to as the people of the Middle East.

However, because Paris was targeted not even a year after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January, and suicide bombs seem to be a daily thing in the Middle East as portrayed by Western media, a global outpouring of support comes to France while Lebanon and its victims quite literally get left in the rubble.

As the article puts it: suicide bombs are just “something that happens in THOSE parts of the world.”

What exactly is “THOSE parts of the world”?

As far as I’m concerned, THIS part of the world is just like any other.

The West seems to forget that life still matters here just as much as it does in some city like Paris.

The West also seems to ignore the fact that violence and carnage are surprisingly not an everyday occurrence throughout the Middle East, despite what your television likes to depict.

What happened Thursday in Beirut was the first real attack I’ve even heard about since coming here almost three months ago, and Lebanon is surprisingly safe despite what has just occurred.

In fact, this time last week I would have probably felt safer in Beirut than in my own city of Amman where there was an attack on a military training center not even 30 minutes away from me that left five people dead.

Even then, the situation in Amman was a lone wolf incident and is again not reflective of Islam, ISIS or the Middle East.

This region is a lot calmer than you’d like or choose to think.

The notion that Americans and Westerners alike hold that this region of the world matters less because it’s known for hoarding people who hold extremist ideas is absolutely ridiculous to me.

A terrorist attack in a city like Paris should not be held to a different status than one in Beirut, and it shouldn’t give reason for the West to finally unite and go up in arms against the Islamic State.

We drop everything when 130 people lose their lives in Paris. Meanwhile we actively choose to ignore that people continue to lose their lives here in Syria’s civil war or in fleeing to find refuge in a country like France.

Why doesn’t this matter? Where’s the condemnation and plot for revenge from world leaders? Why isn’t there more of a push to fight ISIS because of this very reason?

Because the Middle East is a lost cause.

This region and its people don’t matter, and that, quite frankly, is disgusting.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/16/world/middleeast/beirut-lebanon-attacks-paris.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur

Petra and Other Things

I could go on for days on what I love about this country. However, there are two things I will never care for in Jordan:

Public transportation and Jordanian men.

Some of my best memories here involve taxi rides I’ve taken throughout the city and my travels around the country, but my experiences haven’t always been ideal and bus rides are always my worst nightmare.

Most taxi drivers are some of the nicest people I’ve met here, but I’ve also had some who watch me the whole ride, verbally harass me and sometimes follow me. I know I’m not the only white girl in this city so it’s never justified when they call me things their mother would probably slap them for.

Buses are a whole different story, and taxi drivers usually go hand-in-hand with my bus experiences. Not only are they uncomfortable in actual transport, as I can usually find a man staring at me at any given moment, but never in my life have I wanted to punch a grown man more than when I get off a bus, where taxi drivers literally flock to the bus doors and get in your face asking where you’re going and if they can take you somewhere. Situations like this usually include me pushing through the crowd, occasionally shoulder-checking a few people. While I try to be polite about the situation, taxi drivers know how to push my buttons, especially when they follow me half a block to try and get me in their car.

The only time men are on their best behavior on buses is when we get pulled over for security checks. As unnerving as they are, with police men making their way through the isle and staring everyone up and down, it’s a time I’m thankful for in my travels. Everyone looks straight ahead, hoping the police man won’t ask them for their ID, and for some time afterwards there is complete silence.

The men are just the worst here. I knew before coming here that I would have issues with them, but I had no idea how irritating it would be on a daily basis.

They’re even worse after football matches. Thursday night there was a football game between Palestine and Malaysia. Alhamdulillah Palestine won because I’d hate to see what happens when we lose. The men go bat sh*t crazy in the streets after a victory, with riot police and tanks dispatched all over the city, and the harassment levels go up tremendously. That being said, Thursday was not a good night for me.

Groups of guys would walk by and yell things at me, occasionally tell me they loved me or spit out their weird Jordanian cat call, “pssss psssssssss.”

Rule number one in our women’s safety seminar at the beginning of the term was this: put on your b*tch face.

Okay it wasn’t really put that way, but regardless I put it on hard that night. Luckily I was with Junior and surrounded by cops, but he’s hardly a threat to a group of seven guys twice his size and the cops didn’t even stop the guy literally standing on top of a moving vehicle waving a huge Palestinian flag down the road, his face wrapped up in the Palestinian kuffiyeh. All I could think was that if we saw a guy like that in America, everyone would think ISIS made its way to the US and we’d run for our lives.

No big deal in Jordan.

You know what else isn’t a big deal in Jordan? Child labor laws and camels.

If you couldn’t tell by the title of this post, I survived Petra yesterday, an ancient city filled with dirty little Bedouin kids trying to sell you postcards and herds of enormously tall camels just trotting through crowds.

After yesterday I really don’t like camels, animals that I’ve determined to be just ugly, confused giraffes.

However, I will admit that the truckload of baby camels I saw on the way home last night were pretty cute.

The last big adventure of my time in Jordan began at four in the morning, after two hours of sleep.

Our bus left Abdali Station at 6:30 in the morning where we met a very kind Canadian man traveling in Jordan for the next two weeks. He loved getting to know each of us, and we spent a good 45 minutes just talking about our travels around the world and where we were headed after our time in Jordan would end for each of us. However, the dude woke me up from my nap on the bus to ask me where I was from in the States. He lost a few cool points after that, but I know he had good intentions.

After a three-hour bus ride, we arrived in Petra. We went in with the goal to convince the ticket booth man to let us in for 1JD, prepared to put up a fight. Apparently the last time Luyi went to Petra, she got in an argument with the ticket man and they took her to the tourist police station. She was more than willing to do it again.

However, the fight we intended to have was quickly put to bed and we reluctantly paid the 50JD entrance fee.

With that, we made the way through the gate and were on our way to the Treasury with a history lesson from Jack to go with it. I usually tune him out, though, and this was no exception.

Petra, while great overall, was probably the most irritating travel destination I’ve been to in Jordan. I should have known, though, as it’s the most visited place in this country.

Literally every other minute there was some random Jack Sparrow-looking Bedouin dude trying to get us to ride a camel or a donkey, also referred to as “a desert Ferrari.”

They all look like this. Not my photo.

Not only this, but there were endless amounts of horse-drawn chariots racing through the small canyons, and they show no mercy. You either get out of the way, whether that means pushing yourself against or even climbing a wall, or you get run over. What’s worse is that the stupid chariots were always filled with little Asian women with too much money on their hands and nothing better to do.

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Anyway, on our way through the canyon we ran across the first of many “charming” Jack Sparrows and I was his first victim.

“Hello sweet lady, would you like to buy some jewelry?” said Jack Sparrow.

I smiled my Midwestern smile and said, “No, thank you!”

“Oh you smile because I call you sweet lady? Awww,” said Jack Sparrow.

“No, I’m smiling because you’re creepy and I don’t know what else to do with my face,” said creeped out Hayley.

“Oh no, no, you smile because you know you’re a sweet lady. It’s true, sweet lady,” said Jack Sparrow.

“Nope. K thanks, bye,” said I, and I walked briskly away.

He was the joke for the rest of the trip. “Sweet lady.”

The young Bedouin men in Petra are known for their charm, and almost any travel guide to Jordan warns women not to fall for their ways. What’s funny is that I know someone from my school here that actually fell for it, and is now living in Petra with some young Bedouin who wooed her with his words.

What’s worse is that not only are the men charming but they teach the young boys there to be the same way.

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Arriving at the Treasury, I had a boy come up to me and try to sell me postcards. I smiled and said no thank you.

“Oh lady, you dropped something,” said the boy.

“I did?” I said.

“Yes………your smile,” said the boy as he looked up at me with a cheesy grin.

“Ha. You’re funny, little man, but my smile is always up here,” I said as I pointed to my face.

“Oh hahaha,” said the little boy and continued to shove postcards in my face.

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Taking in the magnificent glory of all that is the Treasury, I turned my attention to the large animal sitting next to me.

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The last time I had any real interaction with a camel was when I was probably five and at the zoo. I had no idea camels were as freaking tall as they actually are until this thing stood up next to me and towered at least three feet above me. These things are massive, and surprisingly fast……and sassy. There were a few camels who were not too pleased to have overweight women sitting on top of them. I wouldn’t be, either.

Moving on from the treasury, we continued down the trail to more men trying to get us to ride donkeys and to some place whose name escapes me but it looked like this:

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Many travel books say you need at least two days to see enough of Petra but we came here with only six hours to see what we could, and by golly it was enough for me.

Just this area above took us an hour and a half to hike through and I was ready to call it a day.

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What was interesting about this area was when we got to the very top of the canyon. There were two Bedouin men and a woman just chillin’ there, drinking tea and talking. One of the men started talking to me and it was obvious that he looked very different from regular Jordanian men or even Arabs for that matter.

When one thinks of an Arab man, they usually imagine a light brown-skinned, bearded dude. You wouldn’t imagine that Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East has Arabs that look like the blackest black guy you’ll ever meet. That’s who we met at the top of the hill, and while I’ve seen many Jordanians similarly dark as him, he was very dark. Jack explained that he was probably a direct descendant of the Nabataeans, a nomadic Arab people originating from the Sinai Peninsula in Africa and migrating into the Negev Desert region before setting up a trading system in Petra. However, little is known about the Nabataeans, so I take his story with a grain of salt.

Coming back down from the Bedouin powwow, we ventured on to the Monastery approximately a two hour walk away.

Here are some of the things we saw on the way:

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On our way there, we had many men ask us if we’d like to take a desert Ferrari to the top, as it was about a 45-minute trek from where we were. We politely declined and kept going, although my blood sugar was dangerously low after not eating since five that morning, Luyi has a heart condition and Junior just wanted to sit for a few minutes.

We carried on, though, and finally made it to the Monastery after an hour and a half.

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Similar in appearance to the Treasury, the Monastery’s doorway is as big as a two-story house. It is said that it wasn’t actually used for a monastery but most likely for a temple for the Nabataean King from the first century BC. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to enter either the Treasury or the Monastery without permission, so it was a bummer in that regard, but still cool to see.

Having a quick rest while Jack climbed up to a view point a couple miles away, Junior, Luyi and I snacked on some cookies and Junior made a kitty friend, while I listened to the Jordanian men behind men act like idiots and then curse at me when I ignored them later on. Apparently I’m not the “sweet lady” they say I am.

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Once Jack came down, we had to make our way back so we could grab a quick lunch before our bus back.

Unfortunately, the only way down from the Monastery is the way you came up, so we made the 1+ hour trek back, avoiding all the donkey crap that fills the stairs and the annoying Bedouin ladies trying to sell you things along the way.IMG_4635

We passed the Canadian dude we met on the bus ride to Petra on the way back and kept going until we reached the Treasury, hoping the crowds had died down so Junior could get a photo by himself.

Nope. The later in the day it got, the more people seemed to flood in.

Junior got his photo taken out front and we headed back through the canyon walkway, avoiding camels, Asians and getting run over by chariots (again).

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We headed into the city located just outside the archaeological site and grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant for as cheap as we could get it. I had the worst hummus of my life, boarded the bus and slept for an hour until I woke up to the cute truckload of baby camels outside my window.

We jumped off the bus at Abdali Station, got flocked by taxi drivers, found one that would turn on the meter for us and made our way back to Amman.

I made a quick dinner of Filipino sour soup, collapsed in bed and slept for 14 hours.

We walked 17 kilometers yesterday and I’m still exhausted, but it was well worth it الحمد لله.