10 August 2016

The Power of the Fulbright Program

The Fulbright mission, “…to increase mutual understanding and support friendly and peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the peoples of other countries,” remains a dominant driving force in cross-cultural communication and appreciation. I’m proud to be part of the Fulbright Family. I stand ready to help anyone who is thinking of pursuing a Fulbright opportunity. The program is, quite frankly, amazing.

One of the Forgotten Fortresses of the Eastern Desert: Qasr Q'ilat (Castle-castle). It's really a dam that's been there since, according to my Bedouin guide taking a smoke break on the dam, Roman times. He showed me Roman engravings. This is OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. But such a neat place!

Ive had some time to reflect on our experiences in Jordan, now that weve begun settling back into life in the States. And here's the thing: I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the experience – or the Kingdom, or its people. I can honestly say: What a fantastic country with truly delightful people! Simply outstanding. Really.

I work with Heritage resources, so this quote struck me. It's at
Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has certainly become one of my favorites (and I’ve visited, lived, and/or studied in many different countries). Really, it’s become a second home. Though we were fortunate to visit several other countries during our time there, flying back to Amman was always a welcoming experience. It’s a great feeling that my thought was not, “When we get back to Amman…”, but, “When we get back home…” – and by “home” I mean Amman. There’s “home” in Amman and then “home, back in the States”. Crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a place where I’ve felt like that (apologies to my beloved Isle of Spice).

On the Jordanian side of said River. The contrasting tourism of the River Jordan between Jordan and Israel is astounding. You have to see it to really grasp it. Tip: the Jordan side is much more relaxed.

I even catch myself comparing the US to Jordan. Just the other day, eating my boiled egg for breakfast, I said out loud, “It’s a good egg. Not Jordan-good, but decent…” And these thoughts/comments extend beyond food. Driving on freeways, watching American news, talking with people...I continually compare the US to Jordan – wishing that, in some ways, the US was able to be more like Jordan. That’s a thought I never would have had before my Fulbright experience.

The Sahabi Tree. Sacred and the only green thing for dozens of kilometers in any direction.
It's said Mohammad rested in its shade as a boy. More info here:

In the end, when I consider all that we did, saw, and accomplished in a short six-months, the thing that speaks to my heart and soul – what really is, I believe the power of the Fulbright program – are the people. The local, permanent residents of Jordan: Bedouins who have been there for generations, refugees who travel thousands of miles for something better, and others who have decided to make the Kingdom their home. That’s what Fulbright is all about, that’s where the true power of the program rests.

The dark lines running through the mountains are dikes. Formed underground as magma cooled in fissures (cracks) of already-solidified rock. This is along the highway from Amman to Aqaba.

It was truly a wonderful experience living there. A blessing. We had multiple visitors with whom we were fortunate enough to explore the amazingly delightful country. We met countless friends while in the field, forged some good collegial relationships, and saw some amazing sights. But there’s so much more to see, explore, and do! Perhaps one day we will return. InshallahThank you Jordan, and thank you Fulbright for providing this opportunity. I am humbled and ever-grateful.

A textbook example of a large deflation hollow in the Eastern Desert (the pale, sandy area center-and-left). These are created when wind transports a lot of fine-grained sand into an area devoid of rocks. And usually ventifacts can be found around them.

10 June 2016

Jordan in the Raw...

When we first arrived in Amman, it was winter. A little chilly, but pleasant. It snowed several times. I noticed how the city was always changing, and the role its vernacular landscape played in the change. But there was something about the city I couldn’t quite describe. All the adjectives I thought of just didn’t accurately portray what I was observing. Then Kaelin said, “…it’s raw.” After a lot of thought, I agree. Jordan is raw. This has led to many great discussions over the last several months.

Just so you know, I don’t consider “raw” a bad thing. It’s just a non-pretentious, what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of word to me, especially when applied to place. Like definition 2c: “[N]ot being in polished, finished, or processed form.” Essentially, something which has potential to be much more, but is not quite there yet. That describes Amman – and the country as well. It’s a young Kingdom, still finding its way and deciding who it wants to be. It’s striving to be a country known for playing well with others and helping those in need, such as accepting MUCH more than their share of immigrants over the years (and even now, with the Syrian crisis). I see a lot of parallels with a mid-19th Century United States of America.

Yes, there’s perpetual construction it seems, including unfinished buildings that have run out of funding...just like happens in other major cities around the world. There’s trash scattered here and there, but no more than in other countries I’ve visited. But Jordanians are friendly, endeavor to do good, and work hard to help others. Sure there are bad apples here and there, but every country has those. Jordan hosts modern malls and imported goods from nearly every country (I can get a pear at our corner fruit market from Chile and watch Netflix, for example), yet they hold fast to tradition, even as they strive to stay “progressive” (read: Western standards). It’s just...fascinating.

What are some examples of Jordan in the “raw”? Take a look:

Driving west, towards Amman's outskirts. Note the modern apartment complexes on the hill (upper-right), the newly-built mosque (center), juxtaposed against crumbling buildings (left), agriculture (on the hillsides), and exposed limestone bedrock.

Ubiquitous in many "developing" nations, parts of animals like
these are tough to find elsewhere. These lovely lamb parts were
photographed at a high-end supermarket that caters to ex-pats.

A view over a building outside of Kerak. This is a typical m
middle-class countryside dwelling in Jordan. Here they use
their beautiful rooftop to air out mattresses and rugs, as well
as hang laundry and host guests.

One of Jordan's main (many) mountain roads. This one's shoulder
is not quite complete. But they do create and fix roads very quickly.

A Lada Niva car parked on the sidewalk next to a not-so-well-kempt
building. This is a typical street scene throughout the Kingdom's cities.

Downtown Amman, north of third circle. The tall
building in the background is a five-star hotel where
a lot of swanky business conferences are held. But it's
right next to a developing area, as seen by the
buildings in the foreground.

A recently installed port-o-potty at the top of Petra
(at the Monastery). Even with a severely-decreased
tourist population, they still felt the need to have one
of these for tourists (locals just use Nature...) Notice
directly behind the P-o-P, there are water tanks.

One of the main entrances to the University of Jordan
in Amman. The campus is large, the grounds beautiful, and
they are working hard to upgrade old buildings from the 1970s.
The campus has a couple of active archeological excavations
on it, so construction has to be carried out with extreme care.
There's also an underrated museum on campus!

Part of a police station in our neighborhood. When we extended
our visas, we had to come here and get fingerprinted. Since they
don't use the new "invisible" fingerprint ink and don't give you
paper towels for cleaning, people use what they have. In this case
the walls. Look close: the beige walls actually have black
finger prints all over them. Resourceful.

Our neighborhood. Even though it is an upscale locale with new
construction in places, there are still little places like this that
are carefully-loved diamonds in the rough. This place actually has
a beautiful garden in the spring and summer, boasting citrus trees,
an herb and vegetable garden, plum trees, and even a fig tree--all
surrounded by over a dozen varieties of flowers!

A road sign in Azraq out in Jordan's Eastern Desert. By "Tanks",
they mean military tanks, not tanker trucks. The area is home to
a large military base, so it makes sense. Perhaps odd for a
Westerner to see on a main, publicly-used highway, but it serves
as a reminder of how the Kingdom remains in the middle of a
war-prone region.

See? Just your seemingly run-of-the-mill growing country. Not much different than any other place, but at the same time, unlike any other place. As a species, we are all more similar than we are different. The more I travel, the more I find evidence to support that notion. Regardless of what some would have us believe. And we each started at the same place in this world: in the raw.