Thursday, February 24, 2011

How It'll Be...

I wonder how it'll be when I go home. It's a few months away, but I'm curious what kinds of Middle Eastern trends I'll have picked up. When I get home will I accidently say "shukran" instead of "thanks (شكرا)," "laa (لا)" instead of "no"? Will I forget what it's like to shake a man's hand? Will I actually find a way to miss the traffic, smog, horn honking or staring (mmm, probably not)? I dunno, there are lots of differences between Amman and where I live in Maine. Obviously. I wonder how it'll be when I go home though, what will I miss? What will I act? How will it all work when I go home? I never really traveled internationally before I came to Jordan, so I'm unfamiliar with long distance jet-lag and super intense culture shock. I've done a bit of traveling within the United States, and that's certainly a big country with lots of different areas, but it's immensely different here. It's the language, it's the people, it's the phone coverage, it's the government, it's the religion, it's different.

Do people ever talk about culture shock when they go home? I don't think I've ever thought about it. I've only ever heard about culture shock when you go into a new area, but what's it like when you go back home with all the experiences you've had, the lessons you've learned and the new realtionships you've formed? I bet it's even worse when you get back because literally no one around you will have experienced a single thing you did. How'll you be able to initially relate? I guess I've experienced this, but I never realized that it might be culture shock. I guess that shows my ignorance with travel. Culture shock is a pretty freaky thing. I'm pretty glad that I'm not in a long distance relationship right now (for various reasons) because I feel like it would be impossible for me to relate to him after coming home, regardless of how this semester would go with communication. I just wonder what it'll be like, how my opinions have been reformulated or how different I'll look. You don't notice day-to-day changes, but the long term changes will be very apparent when I look back on my time here (or look at pictures and see how much weight I've gained from all the Jordanian food I get forced into eating...eeek), my hair will be longer, I'll have more freckles, but I'll probably also hold myself in a different way (hopefully not from the heavy backpack I carry around all the time) or something. We'll see.

Only time...

Picture: a water droplet on a clover at a Roman ruin in Madaba.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Situation

At the JCLA I've had a research project where I've been looking up the status of Palestinian refugees residing in refugee camps throughout Jordan. I've been It's actually been a really great opportunity because it's helped me learn a lot more about the current situation (through objective sources, I haven't really heard anything from actual Palestinian refugees living in the refugee camps--which might be the next step)... sorta. With every site I opened and every picture I looked at, I gain entry into another opinion and am able to comprehend a little more insight to what it takes to be a resident here.

I don't want to claim that I know at all what it means to be a refugee or that I completely understand the situation. I don't. But, I do have some sort of idea of what the deal is by living with my family and by looking into how working with UNRWA, the United Nationals Relief and Works Agency, is and how people feel about the organization/situations in which they live (/live near) these camps. Basically, I don't have an opinion because I've only done research online (like looking at everyone else's opinion), but I should be talking with someone from UNRWA sometime soon. I've probably talked with someone from a refugee camp; I don't know if I'll be visiting one--should I? I can never tell if I'm imposing myself and I present a terrifying situation for myself, or if I'd be welcomed in indulging in my curiosity. I sorta live near one of the camps. The Amman New Camp (Wihdat) was established in 1955 for refugees expelled from Palestine after the 1948 establishment of Israel as a state. Initially (I don't know if it's any different now), the area was 0.48 km squared for 1,660 refugees. Now over 51,000 registered refugees live within this camp. Damn. That doesn't include the numbers that UNRWA doesn't have of the unregistered folks living here in Amman and at the camp. In addition, there are 9 other official UNRWA funded camps, and three other unofficial refugee communities scattered throughout Jordan. According to UNRWA, Jordan holds almost half of the Palestinian refugee population, and as a result of the space compared to the volume of people, these camps are pretty crowded, disorganized, unhealthy and underfunded.

All of these facts are available to look at online with the UNRWA website, opinion/question/answer boards, NGO websites, wikipedia, etc. With all the information I've been looking up for the past week, I've been formulating lots of questions and trying to sort out my feelings about immigration and the responsibilities of refugees and those housing the refugees. When a disaster hits an area (natural disasters, war, famine... you know the deal), people flee and others provide. Temporarily. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico, it could be argued that some people living in the gulf states (particularly of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama) became homeless and became refugees... or displaced peoples, I guess. These folks were unable to return to their homes and were forced to migrate to another area and seek the refuge of someone else's hospitality. My mom and I talked about hosting a kid who would be my age from NOLA, but I don't think we could have afforded it. I think it's great--it seems that it may be a subconscious human reaction to help out those who are truly suffering in certain situations. Who knows if this is a natural instinct; it's just a theory.

Anyway, Jordan has been a host for the Palestinian refugees for a little less than 60 years. Wow. That's a long time to be a refugee. That's a long time to host so many refugees. 's gotta be expensive. Some people still currently living in the refugee camps here in Jordan and can remember living in Palestine before the partition of the area in 1948. I find it incredible that there would be a country that would continue to support these refugees for so long. After 1948ish, after the six-day war in 1967, after the intifadas and the recent distress in Gaza there have been more and more people entering Jordan... and that's just Palestinian refugees. The number of the Iraqi refugees is growing as well. Jordan's bursting at the seams and the natural resources/economy doesn't seem to support the number of people trying to reap benefits from the land. Is there a certain point where it's okay to be selfish and stop people from coming in? Is this a horrible thought?

In Maine, where my mom and I have lived since 2001, we have a pretty large Somali refugee population and a few years ago, the mayor of a certain town told the Somali folks already there to send the message along to their families to stop coming to Maine; he said that the city just didn't have enough resources or jobs to support the amount of people coming into the state. Essentially, (and I don't know if the entire city really felt like this, but people certainly supported him...) he told them that the Mainers didn't want them coming... My gut reaction is that this guy is racist and scared of having to work with Muslims because of the big hype/scare since 9/11 and all this terrorism/Al Qaeda/Taliban/Hamas bullshit scare tactic America has come up with. This may be the case, and I think it partially was, but I wonder now if he was actually trying to make sure that there were enough resources for people who were actually residents/citizens. In a pretty tactless way.

Everybody needs a home. That's the big deal right now. The Jews got their homeland after a-so-called-billion years of suffering, but now they've ostracized a whole other group. How fair is that? Not very. History is important, and boy, did the Jews have historic suffering, but, COME ON! Let's live in the present! The groups of people who fled Palestine to Jordan have sought refuge from their Arab brothers and sisters, and they received it, but now that it's been almost sixty years, don'tcha think that it's been long.enough for another country to be financially responsible for people who aren't residents? I don't even know if this is what I believe. I keep going back and forth because I want to embrace all kinds of people and try and help as many folks as I can, but at what point does state sovereignty outweigh the need to be hospitable? I have no idea what I'd do if I were a politician here.

As I said before, Jordan has a little less than half of the Palestinian refugees in the region, but that doesn't count the unregistered folks and those who have renounced their Palestinian culture and become Jordanian citizens. Many of the folks in Jordan are Palestinian-Jordanians and a smaller percentage are actually East Bankers (from the time when the area was under British mandate and this state used to be TransJordan). It's strange how much blood and birthplace comes into play here. It's like with Harry Potter (HAD TO)--the purebloods, half-bloods, muggle borns, muggles, etc. What does it all matter? We're all living and we all seek attention and crave love. How different can we be? Especially when some of us are Palestinians posing as Jordanians. Ahhh, I don't know. I'll probably get a lot of disrespect for this post, but this has been something that I've been thinking about for a while. Immigration and the status "REFUGEE" are obscure and murky terms for how people choose to individually identify. Unfortunately, this isn't an individualized world, as much as we'd like it to be... It's a world with an impossible amount of connections (I know first-hand that there are so many connections; just last night at choir I met another person who's done Seeds of Peace and we know lots of the same people).

So, after this incredibly long post, I'm left with the question: is it our common and decent civic duty as citizens of the world to take in everybody for as long as it takes or have we reached such a point of separation that each person needs to watch out for him/herself? Additionally, are organizations/agencies such as UNRWA (and others, I'm sure) actually helping the cause? Is it a case of prolonging a completely desperate situation? Is UNRWA providing for the refugees as the situation stands or will it become an organization that focuses on a solution to the refugee problem? What's better? What's worse? Shouldn't we focus on fixing long-term problems, rather than the short-term? But then, woah, shouldn't we fix the current problem? Am I just over-analyzing?...once again?

Regardless of the deal, I give props to the Palestinians for persevering and to the Jordanians for rolling with the punches and being so hospitable. I get that people are tired (I am, too), but we gotta keep pushing for a solution. I only hope that people haven't become too jaded. A solution is out there! Peace is possible! Let's do it!!!!

Picture: A piece of art I came across. Afraid I don't have a source.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A New Life

The other morning I woke up to the sound of gunshots. When I went running (not from being fired at), I heard them too. In fact, when I went to bed I was still hearing gunshots. It's ok, it's ok, there hasn't been a bloody revolution here in Jordan, people were just celebrating the results of their high school Tawjihi exams. People were zooming around honking their horns and hanging out of the cars, waving Jordanian flags and yelling with joy. High school is over (basically--it's like when finished our course requirements or when got into college and still had to go to school). My host brother, Bashar, says that high school is actually the most important education someone can receive, and getting a good score on this exam can determine how successful you are for the rest of your life. Something that's a little different from the states... in addition to the gunshot celebration style. Yeehaw.

So life with my family has had its ups and downs. When I arrived, a little over a month ago, there were only five of them (however, far more than my two person family consisting of my mother and me). There's a mother, father, sister, brother and an Indonesian maid living permanently here. However, literally within the first hour of my arrival, another sister arrived from Dubai and brought her two children, Filipina maid and a baby on board. We all piled into the cars and traveled back "home." I immediately felt out of place and unable to connect, which is understandable... they all cared about the new pregnant person. Totally understandable, BUT! after a solid month of miscommunication and some not-very-solid connections made, I got a little sick of it; especially since I'm usually quite personable. Blah, blah, blah, I'm done complaining, though, because an amazing (and at the moment, crying) babygirl was born exactly one month before my (and Reema's) birthday. I am, of course, still stuck in the shadows, but after gaining the trust and affection of the two other kids, I've been able to deal. I get an indescribable flutter of satisfaction every time I get a hug, they reach out for my hand, they sing "Leila, ya'Leila" overandoverandoveragain, etc. etc. etc. Anyway, whatever, a new life has begun and I've been able to see it. She's only a few days old and I got to be here for it. I've never seen any person this young, in real life. I even got to go up to that window and check out all the babies. My maternal heartstrings are being plucked. Babybabybabybabybaby fever!

In the middle of all the craziness in the Middle East caused by governments and super upset people, I'm left with a burning question: why must babies put everything in their mouths?--perfume (containing alcohol... bad, bad Muslim baby), cigarettes, vases, my hair, etc.

There's still so much to do, so much to see, so much to learn, all that... I'mma stop thinking about it because it also freaks me out and overwhelms. Alas, at least there's lots of chocolate and balloons around to cheer a person up!

Picture: A flower in our garden

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Journaling Attempt

Currently I'm at Books@Cafe, a hip, hot hangout spot on the list of 101 things to do in Amman. It's neat, I guess. I'm eating lentil soup, which I'm surprised to say is yellow. It's okay, though, I had this same soup last night with my family at home... or else we'll just see how I'm feeling later. Around me, there's an Arab couple, sitting dangerously close to one another and cuddling, which is usually viewed as mamnoo3 (forbidden).

There are a bunch of nationalities here--an American man and Jordanian women are audibly talking about a movie script or a book manuscript or something. I think he's her editor. There's a British group of chicks talking about their travels. A surly looking Japanese boy plays on his phone while he sips his coffee. An American couple looks at the hill in the distance Jabal Luweibdeh and Qalaa, which has the Roman temple of Hercules. Farther along there's an older women (no idea where she's from... I guess my stereotyping can't figure her out), who is reading and then there's a Jordanian man engrossed in his work. He's smoking shisha and studying or drawing a comic strip or something. Then there's me, a (shy of one month) 21 year-old American student on an Earlham College abroad program for a few months. As I eat my lentil soup, I'm being watched by a few staff members, who are probably trying to make sure that all these foreigners pay their tab. As the lady who is serving me clears the table, I mumble out a hasty shukraan (thank you) to make it seem like I actually belong. I've been here since early January and I'll stay until May. Though there has been some language progress, I still feel woefully behind in the Arabic language. I feel that I will eternally be targeted as a tourist, even though I live with a host family, know where I need to go and am able to get home by taxi, usually without any abnormal complications of getting overcharged or lost on the long trek from first circle on Jabal Amman to Marj al-Hamam. It doesn't even matter to those who watch and honk at me on the street. It's exhausting being in the minority in a strange environment I'm not used to being in the minority--that's an experience in itself. I'm a while girl who was born in Tennessee, moved to Maine (#1 whitest state) and now attends school in Indiana. I have absolutely no problem with diversity, it's just a verrrry unique experience being constantly gawked at and viewed as a perptual tourist. It's a lot of traveling, much more money than I'd care to spend, and it all takes some getting used to, but I'm very much enjoying my time in the program. The twelve other folks in the program are just plain wonderful. I'm so lucky to be working with such incredible people and having the opportunity to study and absorb this entirely different culture with them.

There isn't a lot of work to do because Prophet Muhammed's birthday was the other day and I'm assigned to grant writing, research and organizational stuff (/my boss didn't come in today)... but I get internet. I work with a group of ladies at the headquarters for the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA) in Amman, Jordan. This non-profit, non-governmental organization offers high quality legal aid representation, assistance, awareness and counseling to those who are underprivileged and vulnerable throughout Jordan. The organization has established legal aid clinics in three locations (Amman, Madaba and Zarqa) and has recently received a grant award from the World Bank to open up more legal aid clinics throughout all of Jordan to specificially focus on the Palestinian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan. For Valentine's day, Reem, an administrative assistant, was given two parakeets (by someone who is in love with her--it's unrequited), but she didn't want them so she's donated them to the orgainzation. They were chattering and singing, it was nice, even though I'd like them to be freeeeeeee!

Anyway, this organization I'm working for is something like a Human Rights Commission--like the ones we have in the states. I worked for one in Richmond, Indiana (where I go to school) and it's recently become a hot topic of controversy. Last October, the city council of Richmond voted 7-2 to defund the Human Rights Commission of Richmond, Indiana. I just couldn't understand why; maybe it's because I come from a pretty liberal background, I embrace diversity through being a part of Civil Rights Team(s) and, I dunno, I generally think that it's common sense to have a place that'll legally protect your basic human rights... but whatever... The Human Rights Commission in Richmond operates as part of the government and is therefore, part of the government's budget. Even though Richmond's budget was actually "in the black," cuts needed to be made to keep it that way. The HRC operates on about $34,000/year, which isn't actually all that much... if you think about it, it's out of a multi-million dollar budget. I can understand that cuts need to be made, but it's the only city service that has been completely deprived of funding. The $34,000 went back into the "rainy day fund," which is to be used in emergencies. C'mooooon Richmond! Don't add more IT or janitorial positions, give it to your people!

Basically, the JCLA is a Jordan-based Human Rights Commission, with lawyers, and funds. While here in Jordan I'm learning how similar and different American and Jordanian Judicial systems are from one another. I'm learning lots through observation, and am on the brink of understanding language, people, culture, the whole deal (sorta). The best thing for me to say right now is that I'm learning. However different the family life, the language, the food, the driving culture, the very personal questions, the color scape of the houses or the amount of walking I do is, I'm constantly taking it all in. Which is probably why I'm exhausted.

Picture: a dried up wetland area (Azraq)