Posts in: HY200
Class is over, Robbie and Henrik have left, and I’m stuck in that odd limbo between finishing everything that I had to do and departing tomorrow. It’s been a good time for introspection, reminiscence and gathering my thoughts on the block and the semester.
I’ve learned and grown so much, studying abroad. This class was particularly suited to my academic interests and has been just extraordinary. I was talking about history and philosophy and art and life with Robbie at a cafe a couple of nights ago with Hannah and Henrik caught up in their own conversation across from us, and I realized that that conversation was what I had hoped for from college as a high school student. But back then, I didn’t know I would be having it in Jordan. I had a vague idea that there would be other great experiences in college, too, but I didn’t know what they would be. CC has totally exceeded the expectations that I had as a high schooler. This block, this class, this trip, this semester – they’ve been extraordinary experiences. I’ve learned about the world and about myself. But I think it’s telling that this block was not unarguably the best block I’ve had at CC. It was absolutely one of the best, but I’ve had many outstanding classes, often unexpectedly.
I’m probably sounding like I work for the admissions office, and I guess that, writing this blog, I kind of do. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not writing this to try to sell you. I’ve had a few mediocre blocks. I hear criticism of CC from some other students, and the block plan isn’t for everyone. But at the end of this block, I feel like I should consider it to be unequivocally the best academic experience, possibly the best experience, period, of my life. And the fact that it’s not, that I’ve had more than a handful of amazing experiences, makes me feel really satisfied with my time at college and my life so far.
Some highlights of the block and my time in Jordan, since I’ve written less posts than I would’ve liked to:
Petra – it’s enormous, and full of intricate tombs carved into the rock. A day and a half was not enough time to see everything, and we were told that 80% of it is still buried. I can’t do Petra justice by talking about it. Everyone should see it.
Ajloun castle – We went to an anti-crusader castle that was Saladin’s headquarters. The guide there just happened to be a professor of engineering and one of the principal archaeologists of the site. His insights into the engineering of the structure and the complex pipe systems hidden in the walls and beneath the floors were fascinating. For instance, despite weathering many earthquakes which removed some upper floors from the building, a domed ceiling inside is one of the oldest in the world, still fully intact. Also, castles are cool and the view from the top was really lovely. The intellectual history buff and the five year old in me were both satisfied.
The Dead Sea – You can’t really swim properly in the Dead Sea; kicking doesn’t do much. The buoyancy was incredible, and perhaps especially neat to me after having grown up swimming in pools just about every day of every summer of my childhood. Don’t let the water get in your eyes, though! The salt burns.
Wadi hike – Last weekend, Hannah, Robbie and I went on a hike with a couple of guys who Robbie contacted. Normally they run big group hikes on Fridays, but we ended up going as a small group on Saturday. What an experience! The hike was up a small river in a canyon. The water level varied, but I got my shirt wet within five minutes, and we swam in places. At other times we had to climb to proceed. It might’ve been the best hike I’ve been on, and was almost certainly the most physically taxing. The whole hike was gorgeous and fun, and we had a great time talking with our guides.
Dr. Rami Daher – Dr. Daher came and spoke to our class about the harms of neoliberalism. In a sentence, large building projects in the Middle East funded by oil money, characterized particularly by Dubai, disrupt urban space, displace the poor and only privilege the super-rich, thereby accentuating social stratification. Dr. Daher has been involved in making Amman, the capital of Jordan, more pedestrian friendly, and thereby more egalitarian. Rainbow Street and Walkalot Street, the first two places outside of malls that our CC group went to hang out, were both designed in their current forms by Dr. Daher. He’s a fun guy and had some fascinating things to say.
Of course, we did more; we travelled almost every weekday, and I’ve hardly touched on what we talked about in class. That was incredibly valuable, too. Like I said, it’s been an amazing block.
Now onto the next adventure!
We’ve been doing a lot of writing in Jordan, but instead of formal papers, our professors have opted to require journal entries. The idea is that we can get at the same sort of analytical ideas that papers would without spending time editing or paying close attention to footnotes. Between all of the travel and reading we’ve been doing, I’ve really appreciated the informal format! The following is a lightly edited version of one of my journals for class.
I had a conversation with Raghda, my host mom, over dinner one night while Robbie and Henrik were eating out. It was the first time I felt like we really got to have a conversation beyond pleasantries. We ended up talking about travel and all of the places that Raghda has been. Apparently when her husband was alive, they travelled quite frequently. She’s been to America multiple times, Australia, much of Europe and of course the Middle East. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that she has family in many of those places; she also explained that her family is the largest Christian family in Jordan, traced back to this region before the advent of Islam. Of course she doesn’t know her whole extended family, but I guess she has tens of thousands of relatives in Jordan and abroad.
I was most interested in the fact that she’s been to Israel. We’d just had Orientation the day that I talked to her, and Israel was pointed out as a clearly touchy subject. She said that she liked going to Israel, though, and that all of the people there were very nice. She said that she thought the government was bad, but governments everywhere are bad, and that’s not the fault of the people. So while some people don’t like Israel (as she alluded vaguely to the serious anti-Israeli sentiment throughout the Middle East), she didn’t have a problem with the people there.
I’m sure it didn’t hurt that Raghda is neither Palestinian nor Muslim, but the terms in which she talked about Israel struck me. So much of politics has to do with relations between groups of people, and if those people haven’t actually met, the terms of the discourse are much more negative. When Jordanians meet Israelis or other Jews, though, their impressions are changed. Safa’a [one of our program coordinators at Amideast] hit this point home for me when she talked about the Jews she met in Europe being “actually quite nice,” as if that was genuinely surprising. I shouldn’t be surprised by that, I guess; I’m sure many Americans think something similar about Arabs (seeing them as terrorists or ungodly or whatever other prejudice they have). Wouldn’t it just be nice if everyone actually met some people from the groups that they were stereotyping and vilifying, though?
I’m pretty sure that that’s a major way to create positive change in political discourse from a seemingly small or insignificant source. Vilifying people is just so much easier if you don’t actually know them. That’s why I’ve heard some gay activists say that coming out is the most important thing they could have done to further LGBTQ rights. It turns “those people” into neighbors, friends, relatives.
This also relates to a problem in American political culture. I read an article in the Economist a couple of years back about the increasing segregation of American communities along political lines. Democrats want to live around other Democrats and Republicans around other Republicans, which leads to less discussion between people of different political affiliations and tends to polarize and intensify political feelings.
I think the same basic thing has happened with Israel in relation to the rest of the Middle East. Jews and Muslims are no longer living in the same communities or having interactions with each other, which means that they can vilify each other on broad religious lines that are not rooted in actual human interaction. The same might be happening with Christians and Muslims in places in the United States. Jordanians don’t seem to have any problem with Christians, since there are plenty of Christians in Jordan, but some Americans in small town Missouri (and elsewhere) who have never met a Muslim or an Arab can vilify Middle Easterners on religious and ethnic lines. Justifying the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan no doubt would have been more difficult if the US had significant Iraqi or Afghani populations dispersed throughout the country. Can anyone imagine the US going to war with England? Or with Japan?
There will always be vilification and hatred. I’m not saying that we can ever fully get rid of those things. But I think the more we come into contact with other people and other cultures, the less hatred we’ll see, and the less it will be able to seriously influence political discourse. I think that the sort of thing we’re doing right now might be the best solution. Studying abroad and sister cities type organizations that put communities in contact with one another expose people to other cultures on a personal level. I don’t see how anyone could go through this kind of experience without some sort of changed views on the world or without coming to a better understanding and acceptance of people from other places. I just won’t ever forget how warm and welcoming and loving my host families have been in Morocco and here in Jordan.
I suppose I should also consider Raghda’s views on Israel in the context of some of our class readings. Albert Memmi talks about the Israel-Palestine conflict as a way in which leaders of post-colonial Arab states distract their populations from more important issues. I’m not sure that Memmi applies as well to Jordan as some other states; Jordan has a clear stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict thanks to its large Palestinian population. But he’s touching on a way in which post-colonial states create an oppositional structure of identity that I think does apply to Jordan. When I was reading Jordan’s charter, I got the sense that it was trying to create a narrative in which Jordan had been opposed to the formation of Israel from the start. This is to some extent true, but the narrative of Jordanian opposition to the existence of the state of Israel is somewhat misleading. For one, Raghda’s refusal to vilify the Jewish people defies the attempt to define Jordan in opposition to Israel. Perhaps this form of identity is less applicable to Christians and/or people who have actually met Jews. But it also ignores some periods of Jordan’s history in which Jordan and Israel tried to come to some sort of peaceful understanding. This oppositional identity ignores peaceful interaction and probably also makes such interaction more difficult.
The Amman portion of the Mediterranean Semester is run through an educational program called Amideast and it was at this school where our class met at 9 Monday morning. We took our bags and boarded our bus to Wadi Rum, a vast desert controlled by tribes and famous for its red color and really big rocks. The desert is split up so that different tribes have different areas they are allowed to access. When we got there, we had a 2 hour tour on 4WD trucks of one section and ended at the “Bedouin” camp we were going to spend the night at. We had a quick class because the sun was our clock and it was getting dark. We had a delicious dinner in a big tent and spent the rest of the night stargazing by a campfire and reading our homework by gas lamps. After breakfast and a tour of another section in the morning, we headed to Petra.
I found out later that the men were not considered by some to be real Bedouin but B’dul from Petra. This has been one of a few major talking points in our class, “Imagining Jordan.” We’ve been studying about the history of Jordan and about Jordanian identity. I found the readings on how Bedouins fit into the construct of Jordanian identity most interesting after we left Wadi Rum and spent our first day visiting Petra. The B’dul were originally a Bedouin clan that had been chased into the Petra canyon in the early 1800s and had settled there, living in the tombs that date back to 6th century BCE. Because the B’dul had given up the Bedouin way of life, many don’t consider them to be Bedouin anymore. They were forced out of Petra in 1985 when it was declared a National Heritage site but many still find occupation in the tourism industry, selling camel rides, donkey rides, tea/coffee, and jewelry.
We were hiking down from the farthest point in Petra, the Monastery, and a man invited us for some sage tea. How could we resist such a hospitable offer? So we sat down, swapped some jokes, and then I asked him, “So, are you Bedouin?”
He answered, “No, my family is Bedouin but I am not. But you may think of me as Bedouin. Where are you going next?”
“But why? You must go to your bed. You are tied down.”
I told him, “but I love my bed…”
“We say here that strong as the desert, soft as the sun, move with the wind, forever free.” I believe that is the original Bedouin way of life but I knew he also had a bed to go back to at the end of the day. And there must have been some translation problem because there was nothing soft about that desert sun. We said our goodbyes and hiked out of Petra with sun setting on our backs.
Until next time! Ma’salama (goodbye in Arabic)
I’m typing this in a Bedouin style tent in Wadi Rum, a desert in Jordan. (I’ll post it the next time I get wifi. [Which is in a hotel near Petra, the next stop on our travels.]) This class is off to an exciting start!
I flew into Jordan from Paris yesterday with my friend Robbie. The five of us on the Colorado College Mediterranean Semester just got done with block break. We were all doing different things – Hannah went to Spain and Portugal, I went to Paris for a few days and met up with my girlfriend, and the others stayed in Morocco and apparently had some cool final experiences. Robbie and I just happened to meet in the airport in Paris and take the same plane to Jordan; it was a happy coincidence. Travelling with someone else is easier than going it alone.
Getting through immigration took awhile, but once we were through we were promptly greeted by someone from the institute organizing our homestays here. We were taken to the apartment we’ll be staying in and introduced to our host, a kindly and apparently well-off old Jordanian woman. Robbie and I turned out to be sharing a room in her apartmen, and Henrik is living in an apartment just upstairs with her younger son. We were given itineraries, which showed that we had time for little besides dinner (mensaf, Jordan’s national dish, consisting of lamb over rice with almonds and a yogurt sauce) and bed. The next four days would be spent travelling.
We were planning on waking up at 7, but ended up sleeping until around 7:20. The snooze button is dangerous. I scrambled to move what few clean clothes I have left (since for various lengthy reasons I haven’t been able to do laundry for two weeks) from my bulky luggage to a smaller pack. Fast forward through breakfast, a taxi ride, seeing the institute where we’ll be taking class later, meeting up with our professors and their families, getting on the bus, driving through non-descript desert, napping, reading, talking, eating on the bus, and finally we arrived at Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum might be the most interesting desert I’ve seen. The Sahara was breathtaking and sublime, the American southwest has a hidden beauty, and seeing kangaroos in the Australian outback is pretty bomb. I don’t know what it is about this desert, though. I wasn’t that taken with it at first. As we drove through it in the back of four wheel drive pickup trucks, though, it grew on me. There are massive rocky outcroppings hundreds of feet high – they’re not the Rockies, but I can’t think of a better word for them than mountains. In between them, we were driving through sand with a little shrubbery. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, and at first I didn’t think it was much. But the more I looked at the colors of the sand, the reds and yellows and oranges and whites, and the more I observed the varied and yet repeated formations of rock and contours of the mountains, the more I became absorbed in the place. I started to see little folds in the rock and wonder whether they held any mysteries, to look at the hazy mountains on the horizon and wonder about the shapes of the mountains beyond them. Photos aren’t going to do this place justice.
After a couple of hours of driving, we came to the camp of tents where we had our introductory class and ate dinner. In class, we mainly talked about our experiences in Morocco and issues of identity. Specifically, we talked about Moroccan versus Jordanian identity, national identity, Arab identity, religious and Islamic identity, and asked how those identities were constructed and who constructed them. It’s the first day of class, so we didn’t get any answers, but I’m looking forward to talking more about the questions in the days to come. I’m looking forward to the hundred pages of reading I have left to do before class tomorrow a little less. I have about an hour and a half of battery left on my computer to do it with. Good thing I’m good at skimming…
PS – I usually do write long blog posts. I usually don’t describe every little thing that I did, though, preferring instead to go into depth about one or two topics. Since the first day of the class has been so full, though, I haven’t had a lot of time to process everything that’s happened.