Archive for the ‘Jon in Jordan’ Category

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Jon: Yoga retreat

November 2, 2011

For those of you that don’t know, ever since I was fifteen I have rejected the notion of a God as established religions have identified. However, the older I get the more spiritual I have become as well. Some might call it ironically, but the more and more I learn about science the more spiritual I become. I won’t go into this to deeply here but the more I learn about advanced physics the more I reaffirm to myself that there is no God as past religions have identified him/it/her, yet I become more deeply entrenched in the idea that we are all connected. When talking in the very abstract theological ideas I agree with many parts. God is an identity that connects us all, is pure and beyond our comprehension. Sin is the distance we have between us and this concept. And so in the end the issue I have with most religions is that they claim to have some bit of absolute knowledge about this concept. Speaking only for myself though, I have come to believe I know very little about this concept (God/Allah/etc.) And to be honest how can I? We have been around for less than a few thousand years and this concept is so advanced, so beyond us that to say we know anything other than there is something connecting us all seems to be a bit presumptuous. Again, I speak only for myself but what I believe now is that all we can do is constantly search for a better understanding of this concept through any means, whether that be philosophy, traditions (which recognize the work of previous cultures in understanding the concept), or science.

You might be wondering why I am telling you this now. This weekend I went on a yoga retreat in Dana Reserve. You might remember this if you have been reading my blog because my program did take us there briefly a few weeks ago. It is a beautiful reserve where you can see for miles and miles, you can even see parts of Israel. So to help set the scene for this thinking here is a picture of my view the first and second yoga sessions we did.  

First site

Second site and my instructor

So picture yourself on the edge of a cliff, overlooking valleys that saw monumental points in our history. Feeling winds hit you that have crossed the desert a hundred times, blown over the Dead Sea, past Bedouin tribes, and through valleys. Now, for those of you that don’t know much about yoga it is much more than something New Yorkers or hippie L.A. people do. It is a deeply spiritual, physical and mental set of exercises that can help bring everything together. And as someone that is always thinking 100x faster than I should yoga is probably the most close I have ever come to feeling completely at peace. In our world today where we all are going so fast, so focused on certain things this weekend gave me a peak at a way to live our lives and yet keep our focus on each other, ourselves, and always staying connected to where we came from.

I realize this post probably sounds extremely hippie, don’t worry I won’t be joining a commune anytime soon. But, I have become completely in love with yoga and the mind/body/spiritual connection that it brings. I have actually changed my Eid vacation plans now as well. Instead of going through Israel and Egypt I booked a hostel on the beach of Tel Aviv and will be doing a week long intensive yoga vacation. Twice a day with a yoga style that is geared for very physical, core, intensive building. As such, I will keep notes and write a long blog at the end but I won’t be updating my blog along the way as I try to learn more how to live in the moment and not always worry about the future (or be on facebook).

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Jon: Biblical Jordan in need of biblical miracle

October 16, 2011

For those that are anxious for new blogs from the happening place of Jordan, fret no more! For this weekend marked the end of empty weekends. Friday started out at the time every day should, 11:30am. Upon waking up I decided that the day should be holy and have no Arabic in it, as such I spent the entire day smoking argeela and planning my Eid trip.

For those of you who don’t know Eid is a Muslim holiday which results in many Arabs having off that entire week, ergo giving us time to travel. After a day of hard planning I believe I will go to Israel/Palestine for the first few days, visiting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva mostly. All of this is so exciting! Brian, my roommate, is preparing for a pretty sweet adventure too as he meets up with a college friend in Istanbul, Turkey for the week. 

Next weekend I will be going on a volunteer trip to a school in northern Amman as well as possibly rock climbing near the Dead Sea, then the next weekend is my Yoga retreat and then Eid!

As far as today… it was amazing. We started off going to the castle ruins where John the Baptist was held prisoner and eventually beheaded. We actually were able to go into his prison! Pictures are to come in the next day or two. Our next stop on this biblical Jordan trip was Mount Nebo, where Moses looked out and saw the promise land, where he struck his staff to the rock and out came water, and also where he is said to have died (although no one has ever found his grave). Basically every plant or rock there was planted, touched, produced, or somehow altered by some famous religious person… or so our tour guide said before he told us where we could go to buy a souvenir (for about $30 more than it should be worth).

Top of St. George’s Church

Next on our path was Maraba which is the mosaic capital of the world basically. We got to see how they are built and some of the oldest one’s in history. We also went inside the church of St. George and I must admit I felt at home. As soon as you walked in I smelt the familiar smell of incense. Looking around I saw all of the traditional Catholic church possessions that I remember playing with at St. Anthony while mom had practices. Being in that church and many of the other sites today did change my feelings for traditions a bit. I was proud to be raised Catholic a bit today, with our great Catholic guilt and long monotone services. Because in the end it is the same across the world and will always make you feel at home.

Lastly, we went to the Jordan river. This is where it got really interesting. The Jordan river is the dividing line between Jordan and Israel/Palestine, and because of improper water conservation use (mostly by Israel) the river has been decreasing in size for the last 70 years. As such the part of the river we went to was only about 3 meters wide. And yes, that means about 3 meters from where we were was the Israeli side of the river with a entrance to the river too. We saw Israeli soldiers (with loaded guns unlike the Jordanians who didn’t have loaded guns) and one Israeli man tried to ask across the river if we were from Amman but no one answered.

And with the mention of water I will end this blog with a brief mention of how my internship is doing. I started out being nervous I wouldn’t be doing a lot or anything important. Well that worry is gone now. I have been assigned to research and produce an education/lobby plan and 20 page research report on garden reform in Jordan… in two weeks and keeping in mind I am only supposed to be doing 10 hours a week. Although a lot, as a senior Political Science major I thought that was manageable. Then I was called in by my other boss. In addition to my water project, Abdel wants me to put together an annual report for the Eco-park. I’ll give you the hint that the outline alone for the report is 4 pages long. Secondly—yes it gets better—he wants to be come up with a complete operational manual for the park! As in a detailed report on daily tasks, maintenance schedules, HR policies, etc etc. For those of you who don’t understand the size of that job, a decent operations manual for a park like that should be at least 100 pages. And what’s my time line you ask? Two weeks. So it has been nice chatting with you all but I will now leave and see you in two weeks when I will be as close to dead as one can be. But then again I’m in the right region, maybe I’ll rise from the dead or some other miracle!

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Jon: Sand and suits

October 9, 2011

First off I apologize to my avid blog readers (aka mostly Mom, Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa) for not posting in a while. School is definitely picking up so I’ll try and recap the past few weeks. As I put in mentioned before I went up to northern Jordan to visit the eco park my internship will be working with for two days and so missed school. Then that Wednesday Amman experienced one of the Middle East’s great pleasures… a sand storm. It wasn’t windy so I guess it wasn’t really a storm but you could see the sand in the air. Side note, Amman use to only get these storms once a year but now due to climate change Amman receives about four of these sand days a year which for the record is caused by temperature inversion in the air right above Libya which causes the sand to pick up. I ended up missing another day of school because I was up all night coughing from the sand… not fun.

Other than that it has been relatively slow paced. Yesterday I went with a friend to the downtown market where we went shopping. I bought a pin striped suit jacket for 2JD (about $3) and puma shoes that in the US would have gone for a $80 for $20!!

That’s about all I have for now. Looks like these next few weekends will be interesting though. The last weekend of October I will be biking around some desert castles, in two weekends I will be going to a weekend long Yoga retreat in Dani reserve which sounds amazing, and also will be going rock climbing at the dead sea! I’ll make sure to update after those.

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Jon: This weekend

October 3, 2011

This last weekend was AMAZING!!!! We went to Dana Nature Reserve, Wadi Rum where I got to ride camels, ride in a jeep, flip down sand hills, eat with the Bedouin, attend a fake Bedouin wedding, climb a cliff, then climb it again at 5am to get to the very top and watch the sunrise. Then we went to Petra where I rode donkeys, saw the sand building that is famous from Indiana Jones, and saw many other buildings.

On a more serious note the more and more I experience here, surprisingly the more and more of an international isolationist I become. After all, imperialism is so rarely done with the thought of “I am going to exploit these people” but with the “I must help these poor less developed people.” So although intentions may be good, whether it be through infrastructure support, economic development, education, or intercultural awareness we are putting our beliefs, actions and values above theirs. Even if we try and say it is an equal exchange, the Arabs have been conditioned for how many years that our way is better so even if they use their own way our ideas will be influencing them. And as far as social cons such as poor, hungry, social inequality (except in extreme cases) to try and eliminate them or even alleviate them for Arabs is robbing their cultures of obstacles that although are hard, sad, and difficult would help make their culture great. Where would the US be if another country had stepped in and had given us our labor laws before we came up with the idea of labor laws ourselves? Would we formulate future laws, policies, or social constructs in the same way? Would we have the appreciated, dedication and respect that we have for them now?

I’m not saying we need to completely isolate ourselves. I know and agree there is room and reason to engage in the world however a much more critical dialogue needs to happen on these issues I believe before we take actions.

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Jon: If I toss a rock, up to 4 countries may shoot

September 26, 2011

I write to you now not from my apartment or the University but from a cabin in NW Jordan. Yesterday I went in for my first day at my internship and received a last minute invite to the Eco Park I will be focusing on. So early this morning I headed north. On the way Abdel (my supervisor) pointed out two Palestinian refugee camps. Overcrowded, crumbling, and little to no economic sustainability or eco-sustainability I am reminded of the urgency of resolving this conflict.

Our first stop was at a man named Joseph’s house. Foeme (Friends of the Earth Middle East) is assisting this man, along with others, to build up eco-tourist spots. He lives right by the Golem Heights and the border where water is abundant. His town use to be a thriving spot for tourists to come enjoy pools and nature, however after the main tourist local was closed (a businessman bought the property and then closed it down because he was in a fight with the local municipality) the area economically died. The beauty of the region is amazing. Joseph gave us a traditional Jordanian lunch which included pita bread with about 6 different dishes to eat it with. It was delicious. Following lunch he showed us around to different sights which were amazing. I was literally within throwing distance of Israel, Syria, and the Golem Heights at times. Finally we made our way to the Eco park, having to show my ID 7 times at each military outpost to get through.
The Eco-park is 2,700 dunams (675 acres) and is purely amazing. About 20 years ago the land was completely destroyed. There was no top soil, little to no vegetation and what they did have was completely overgrazed by Bedouin families. Now, it is thriving! Birds have returned, vegetation is bringing life back to the area, starting as always from small to large. (I just moved a chair in my lodge and a gecko ran out from under it)

I am now just resting before dinner and our evening but I will get the pictures up asap.

Also, as a ‘whats to come’ I will be here tomorrow as well and then Friday-Sunday I will be visiting Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba!!!

Way down the river to the right is Israel, to the immediate right is Golem Heights, to the left is Jordan and behind me is Syria. The river is the Jordan River.
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Jon: Le Arabia

September 24, 2011

Arabic. I seriously believe it might be the death of me one day. This weekend concludes my first full week of classes, and I am very much looking forward to the break. Every day I have Arabic for 2 hours and then another hour of Ameea (what the Jordanian dialect is called), however in order to be prepared for class I have to spend about 4 hours a day prepping. That is a lot of Arabic, alas it is what I came here for. My other class, the Environment and Politics of Water, is turning out to be very interesting. We are right now in the pure science of it all so I’m having to double down on the reading and really try to pick it apart but it is intriguing. 

This Sunday I start my internship and I am extremely excited for this! I ended up interning with Friends of the Earth Middle East (http://www.foeme.org/www/?module=home), where I will be designing sustainability standards for one of their EcoParks. Also, the organizer for the internship programs at CIEE seems very intelligent, and has an amazing resume. She has worked on multiple UN projects among other development tasks, and her husband is in charge of the World Health Organization here.

The only other thing I want to comment on today though is about women here in Jordan as I have been consistently surprised here in this regards. In the US we view the hijab and burqa as oppressive, sometimes even as middle eastern women deny this. We also tend to assume the women who wear these garments are more conservative, yet through Amman I have been shown this is not true. Public displays of affection are outlawed in Jordan and while hand holding doesn’t completely fall in that category it is still considered a very ‘liberal’ thing to do in public. Yet I have seen multiple times Muslim women who are wearing the full body burqa holding hands and walking with their boyfriends in public! Honestly I have seen every combination of girls in how ‘liberal’ their clothing is and their own beliefs. Almost every girl wears the headscarf yet they do not seem any more oppressed by it than miniskirts are in America. My favorite example is my Arabic teacher Ghadeen. She wears a headscarf and dresses modestly (covering most skin up) and yet she is the epitome of, excuse my language, a badass. She is not allowed into Saudi Arabia because of articles she’s written, she races cars for fun (though can’t race again till December because of a racing accident), and goes to the shooting range at least once a week. I won’t say for sure if women’s clothing is oppressive, I’m not even sure that it is my place to. But I will say I am very much enjoying the opportunity to learn and live in the Middle East.

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Jon: The Dead Sea

September 17, 2011

I am struggling to keep my eyes open so bear with me on this post. Today we woke up and had to be at our CIEE office by 8am. There we met up with about 20 other CIEE students and took buses to… the Dead Sea. On our way there our bus driver played a love song CD which all of us in the bus (all guys) found amusing. The CD started right as we were outside of Amman at the top of a hill with “Once… more… you OPENED the door” from Celine Dion. It was pretty epic. We then took a 30 minute bus ride out to the sea and the view along the way was amazing. Imagine seeing miles and miles and miles of hills with random villages, houses, structures, abandoned structures, and Bedouin (shepherds). It was amazing. I tried to take some pictures but really none could do it justice.

Then we finally got to the sea and it was a resort. When we first walked in there were pools, restaurants, and small tourist shops. Then you walk down a level to a family pool and then down a lot of stairs to the beach. They have to keep adding additional stairs because every year the Dead Sea shrinks by a meter. I did take some pictures and uploaded them onto my flicker account (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlrobertson01/). When we went in it was the weirdest sensation ever. You could feel your body being compressed a bit from the density but then once we couldn’t stand anymore you just floated up. It was a serious effort to stay standing instead of floating on your back or stomach. Later many of us opted for the mud they offer there and lathered ourselves up in that (pictures available at flicker). It is apparently suppose to exfoliate or something though all I got was a little rash reaction to it on my arms and legs. Though it did feel good after.

 

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves but it was beyond amazing.

Afterwords we stopped at a shop on the way home where everything was made from local Bedouin or handicapped, disabled Jordanians in the area. I bought some soap since I needed some and marked the place down. Might be a good place to get some souvenirs for some people when I come back. Lots of lotions from the Dead Sea and they are suppose to be very good. 

Myself and Brian (roommate) in the pool 2 levels above the beach. Israel is in the background.

Once back in Amman we were all tired and so a group of us stopped and got McDonalds and then went home. (Mcdonalds was good as always).  

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Jon: Arabic education… oh yeah, and 9/11

September 15, 2011

I never thought I would say this but I really want school to start. I have been here now for almost two weeks and we are just starting Arabic class tomorrow and I’ve had two other classes so far. Two days ago was my Arabic placement test though and we got the results today. My test score was not as high as I wanted so in order to be placed in the class I would like I have to retake the test. I will say this Arabic program and many others use a book called Al-keteb where as my school used a different book (throughout the US there are only about 3 books generally used, Al-keteb used the most). Because of this I learned vocab and grammar in a very different order making it difficult to place me in their system. Some people who have used my book are in Advanced II while I am trying simply to be in Intermediate I. Since Arabic programs are still very new in the US there is no standard program plan. After talking with people though and better understanding the format of the test I do not expect much issue in retaking the test and getting a score needed for Intermediate I, but it is frustrating. For someone who is better at critical thinking processes than memorization learning foreign languages is extremely hard. However once class starts up there are quite a few ways for me to improve including clubs, peer tutors and just studying with others.

I have started my the Environment and Politics of Water class which seems very interesting. The first half is based on science and the second half will be political. I am very happy with this model as I frequently get upset at my Political Science major for its lack of providing background information on policy issues such as biology, economics etc. Also it helps that the total cost for books for the class is about $4.00.

Lastly, I did interview with one organization yesterday for my internship and I received an email later that day saying the organization was “very impressed” and wanted me to intern there. I have another interview tomorrow with Friends of the Earth Middle East, a group that uses environmental issues as a point of commonality between Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians with offices in each area. They have received awards from the New York Times among other international awards for their work. Both groups seem very great and I would enjoy working with both. Heck if my program let me I would probably work for both but I’m assuming I will have to choose.  

Other than that no not much has happened. I did realize though that on 9/11 I didn’t mention much on here about what it was like being in the Middle East on that day. To be honest though that is telling in and of itself. I did not hear much mentioning of it in daily life here, such as at the University, taxi drivers, or on the street, yet that is very typical for political conversations. However seeing arabic news was interesting. I will assume most of you reading this are in America (has my nice blog audience tracker revealed, it also revealed over 53% of you are using safari as your internet browser). So I will first dispel the myth I have come across the most. No Arabic news station that I saw or understood endorsed the actions nor did any celebrate or even feel apathetic. Every station showed and reported extreme sadness at the lost of life. The loss of brothers, sisters, friends, and co-workers. The day of 9/11 the world stood with us. That said the events of 9/12, 9/13 and on show how America diverged and lost the worlds support. As John Stewart of the daily show put as the title for their special segment last night “9/13… the day where we forgot the lessons from the day we just swore we would never forget”.  I am not turning this into a large discussion on the wars in the Middle East but I will just confirm that the Middle East severely disagreed with America’s actions after the war.

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Jon: Jordan’s third language

September 13, 2011

I love coffee. Anyone who knows my daily routines know me and caffeine are a great combination that do not do well when parted. So naturally I was a bit worried when I came to the middle east, and I will admit I am having some issues. The coffee they drink here almost always comes in a tiny cup and is the equivalent of espresso. Now while I love caffeine I am NOT able to ingest it like that. For those of you that have lived with me or seen me in the morning you will also know I do not do mornings… at all. George W. Bush and Iranian President Mr. Ahmadinejad get along better than me and mornings. So ironically enough in the morning I am to tired to put up with the taste of espresso. Heck even coffee sometimes I’m to tired for. So in order to start my day I am starting to get into tea here. I’ve found a few cups of tea in the morning help me get going till I can find somewhere with American styled coffee. 

Anyways, once I did manage to wake up and start my day today I went to the University of Jordan (UJ) to start Arabic. I attended Beginners II class today and to my surprise I think I might skip it. I will take a test tomorrow but it looks like I will be in Intermediate I, although I will have to do some heavy catch up on vocabulary. Afterward I studied for a bit then had lunch for the equivalent of… $1.20. And lunch was a huge helping of rice, chicken, potatoes, bread and a Pepsi. I love Jordan.

Lastly today I have fully realized that honking is truly the third language of Jordanians. We got in a taxi to go home from school, normally a 15 minute ride with little traffic, and were able to get near our home in about 7 in the middle of rush hour. Apparently side walks and parking lots are simply extended lanes for Jordanians. The reason why we didn’t make it all the way home in the taxi is because right after our taxi driver had skipped about 35 cars in traffic driving around them all and an intersection and had said something about leaving his life in god’s hands while driving he got into a car accident. Just a small fender bender so do not worry but can only be called the best karma timing in the world.

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Jon: First weekend in Jordan

September 10, 2011

It is my first Saturday here in Jordan, and it has been quite a journey. From planes being delayed, to the craziness that is driving in Jordan I’ve been seeing a lot, and yet I am beyond anxious for more. Tomorrow I start my area studies classes at the University of Jordan (Jordanians week goes from Sunday to Thursday). 

Clock tower at University of Jordan
Library at the University of Jordan

Hopefully by the end of the week, I will be replacing one of those with an internship though leaving me with just one class about water in Jordan and the middle east. We also start reviewing Arabic tomorrow and take our placement test Monday. I am trying to study for it but I have no idea where to begin. For credit reasons back at the U of MN I am really trying to be placed in Intermediate Arabic but I would love to start over. For those that don’t know, the Arabic educational system in regards to the classroom is a bit different than the US. Professors are regarded as the fonts of wisdom and are not to be challenged or questioned. Critical thinking is something left to the professor and students are there to memorize. Also, the memorizing is done mostly at home and the student is expected to figure out what is important and what should be studied. Now as some of you may know I occasionally have some issues with authority but I feel confident I can still learn here. Now that I understand and know the culture a bit that is.

As far as things that have happened from my last post there hasn’t been to much. There is a wedding going on next door which is an event that lasts a few days it seems. Friday night was the bridal party we believe and today they have been playing music on and off for a while with a large amount of guests. It is interesting to experience, and I’ve really come to like Arabic music. I did go downtown and bought my first Sheesh (hookah). For everything needed to use it it cost a total of 14JD which is about $20! It is smaller but we plan on using that one till we can learn a bit more about Sheesh’s and construct our own. In many shops around here you buy the components individually and they are quite impressive. It does seem like that is a major part of the culture. Probably every other night I am ending up at a cafe smoking Sheesh with others chatting. Once we get our peer tutors I hope for it to be a Jordanian I am sitting with but for now this is nice. 

The only other thing is now that we are in our apartments cooking is left up to us. And while I do think I am a decent cook I am struggling here because I do not know how to cook any of the sauces, or use the spices here. I am signing up for a club to help with that but again I hope with a Jordanian peer tutor they can suggest a few recipes.
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