Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Hoosier in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

When one considers the most politically volatile places in the Middle East, certainly Jordan does not top the list. Jordan is perceived as a country with a stable government, a growing economy, and perhaps most importantly, a nuanced foreign policy. The countries surrounding Jordan appear far more exciting! To the west is the West Bank and Israel. East is Iraq. To the north, Syria. South is Saudi Arabia. These are countries where ‘stability, growth, and nuance’ are undoubtedly not the first adjectives that come to mind! These nations are all amidst processes of rapid change, be they political, economic, or religious. Some of these changes, like in Iraq, are more obvious. Many of these changes have been imposed by others, such as in the West Bank and Iraq. From colonialism to native oppressive regimes, people remain frustrated that their own wills have little to no affect on what actually happens in their country. In the West Bank, the response has been a combination of armed insurgency and a resignment to the fact that their fate lies with Western sympathy. In Iraq, violence and anger increases daily, as both foreign and Iraqi insurgents fight to determine the ultimate appearance of their county, an appearance that continued relatively untouched since the 1970s. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia are places where radicalism increases with every Israeli, US, or local government action. In all of these countries, there remains an incredible disconnect between official government policy and the will of the people, creating a situation where citizens are boiling with anger. This anger stems from a variety of factors, from government suppression, to the situation facing Palestinians and Iraqis, to an unstated, but rather obvious inability for their traditional lives and beliefs to fit into the ‘modern’ world. Most people simply want to live out their culture and faith, like anyone else. However, trends and events around them force their lives to take different, often worse, courses.

In spite of its reputation as a sort of proper island in the sea of Middle Eastern troubles, Jordan, in fact, fits the above description as a place of rapid change. This manifests itself in a number of areas, including economically. Modernizing trends abound in Jordan, which has brought some wealth to the small, essentially natural resource-free country; however, this has not been without loss. Just today, a well-educated Jordanian friend of mine told me: “There’s only one thing I hate about globalization. I miss Jordan.” I’m not an economist, however, so while that’s all interesting, I naturally gravitate to the political!

As much as any nation in the region, Jordan’s history has been one of continual adjustment to nearby events that affect its survival. The current war in Iraq, for example, is heaping problems onto Jordan. Not only has this small country been forced to accommodate the massive influx of Iraqis fleeing the country, causing an increase in housing prices and a mini cultural crisis, but no longer do the Jordanian people enjoy subsidies on Iraqi oil. Events in another neighbor, Israel/Palestine, have had an even greater impact on Jordan. This is fascinating, especially considering the relatively little attention it receives in the larger ‘Arab-Israeli conflict.’ The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was originally established as an essentially open land for ‘Transjordanian’ Bedouins and the Bedouin lifestyle. But, with the establishment of Israel and the wars of 1948 and 1967, Jordan absorbed enormous amounts of Palestinian refugees. Despite certain Israeli politicians’ periodic claims that “Jordan is Palestine,” and despite the Hashemites’ (the Royal family) original desire to annex the West Bank into the state of Jordan, this much smaller ‘refugee problem’ has remained a dominate factor in Jordanian life for decades, ascending the importance of mere politics. It begs fundamental questions like, “Who is a Jordanian?”

Currently, Jordanians of Palestinian descent number around 60% of the Jordanian population, and in general, they are within the mainstream of society. In fact, they dominate the private sector, as Palestinian families frequently came to Jordan better educated and with more economic resources than their Transjordanian counterparts. On the surface, there is no difference between those Palestinian-Jordanians and ‘Transjordanians,’ or Jordanians whose family originates from the land now considered the state of Jordan. Get in a cab, however, and you gain a small glimpse into the larger issues. I try to make it a point to ask cab drivers if they are of Palestinian descent; they often are. Always, they will tell you exactly where they are from and when they were forced or fled to Jordan. Ramallah, Jerusalem, Hebron, even Haifa are cities often mentioned. If they remember, they often talk of what it was like in Palestine. A friend of mine told me that his family still owns land in Nablus, although it is now part of an Israeli settlement. Shops here are frequently given distinctly Palestinian names like “Al-Quds” of “Khalil” (Jerusalem and Hebron in Arabic), reflecting that yearning for Palestine. There is a beautiful spot near Irbid called Umm Qais, where it is possible to look down upon Syria, the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, and Israel. Palestinian-Jordanians are known to climb to this point and gaze longingly upon their former homeland. While this connection to one’s roots is normal and probably even healthy, in a constantly shifting Middle East, it is much bigger, much more political. I also ask these same cab drivers, “If Palestine became a real state, where would you live?” One man told me, “Here. The life is better here. Why would I leave Jordan?” Another man, however, said without hesitation, “Palestine, of course. It’s where my heart is.” This creates (as far as I know) an entirely unique state of affairs where a majority of Jordan’s population remains intimately connected to another area of the world, despite their general integration into Jordanian society. For many, this connection is limited to stories and support for the Palestinian cause; for many others; however, their loyalty to Jordan is viewed as temporary, until they can return to their real home, Palestine. The situation is even more tenuous because Palestine is right next door. If Palestine did in fact achieve statehood, what percentage of Palestinian-Jordanians would want to leave? With whom does their ultimate loyalty lie? Many Transjordanians ask this same question. Generally, Palestinians living here are intentionally cut off from the political realm, probably out of mistrust. The continued failure of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to gain basic human rights, let alone statehood, certainly breeds anger amongst Palestinian-Jordanians. Jordan has made peace with Israel, a peace that most Palestinian-Jordanians find highly troublesome. I have been told that during Israel’s more aggressive actions (like the invasion of Jenin in 2002), large demonstrations often ensue in heavily-populated Palestinian areas of Jordan. The Jordan-Palestine relationship reached its darkest moment in 1970 with Black September, when King Hussein of Jordan forcefully drove the PLO out of Jordan, killing 3,000 Palestinians, in what became a near civil war.

Certainly, the situation is complex. Jordan has provided these former Palestinian refugees with a life they could not have anywhere else in the Middle East, especially not Palestine. They have truly become Jordanians, enjoying the benefits of being in a country where violence is rare and financial stability is possible. Furthermore, most Transjordanians sympathize with the Palestinian cause. However, while almost any Jordanian will tell you that this internal strife is a thing of the past, the situation remains contentious. Yes, Jordan is not Iraq or even Syria. This is good! However, it certainly has its own set of unique difficulties and fascinating political dilemmas for me to study.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Why I'm here

Sorry to overload you with posts, but it's finally beginning to feel like things are happening. I wanted to give some cultural reflection, and perhaps some deeper stuff...

First, CULTURAL. The whole apartment searching process was fascinating to me, especially as a reflection on the larger Jordanian, Arab culture. The importance of 'wasTa', or connections, is beyond anything I see in the States. This can definitely be nepotism, especially in a modern society like Jordan, but traditionally, it reflects the emphasis on doing business on a personal level. Kamal's eagerness, which would border on awkward if you weren't used to it, stemmed from both the culture of Arab hospitality and the fact that he really liked us. However, more important was the fact that I knew his brother in the US. After he went home, he later called twice to make sure I found a hotel, and eventually, him and his brother came to the coffee shop I was at to take me to a hotel. I told him that I had no problem finding one, but they insisted, out of a deep moral conviction, "No, we can't let you do this alone. You know our brother Tariq." Also, by Kamal telling this landlord that I knew his brother, it seemed to really add weight to the whole deal. Hands down, the best way (or perhaps the only way) to get things done here is to talk with someone with whom you have a mutual connection. Does that make any sense? Of course, this is a mixed bag. Nepotism sucks, but it's refreshing that even the smallest of business transactions here must involve relationship, especially in the more traditional settings. Part of this is the 'wasTa,' but it's a way of life. Americans tend to be success-oriented, while Arabs tend to be relationship-oriented. We couldn't get an apartment until we sat down and shared coffee. It was the same way at the University and also at the other apartments we saw. Again, this is a mixed bag. That lack of business drive is certainly not 'good for the economy,' but it's sad to some of the cultural derision in areas of West Amman. It's a tension. My buddy Jimmy recently wrote this in his blog from Guatemala (sorry Jimbo, you didn't copyright it!):

'''If compelling people to participate in the global market in order to climb out of poverty requires a transformation in culture, tradition, and personhood, then it seems that democracy is being abandoned in the apparent pursuit of democracy. It seems to me that the challenge is, when thinking about the solutions to poverty and injustice, to always keep a dialectic between autonomy (of tradition, culture, beliefs, etc.) and "progress" (accumulation of wealth, distribution of the benefits of modern society, etc.).'''

Second, PERSONAL. If you believe in God, have you ever thought about when you feel God the most, or maybe where you are when you have the easiest time believing God exists? For some people, it's nature; for some, in a community. About a month ago, a friend (hi Jack) asked me this question. I experience God most when I'm engaging another culture, completely basking and thriving in the beautiful diversity of language, sights, sounds, smells, histories, and worldviews; yet somehow, despite all those real differences, connecting on such a fundamental human level. It always blows my mind. Last night was one of those times. I went to a coffee shop in Irbid to read, drink tea, etc. Initially, it was just nice to be sitting in Irbid, reading the Jordan Times, taking in the place with all my senses, and knowing that this is where I will be. Well, I ended up introducing myself to these older men who were playing backgammon. They were extremely nice, kind of like those pleasant old men you would see in a movie who have been friends for forever. We had a truly wonderful time, as they opened themselves up to me, teaching me some backgammon, as well as relevant Arabic words, like "lucky" and "cheater." They were from Iraq. They fled Baghdad one month before the war started. This gives me goosebumps. I know I am not doing this justice, but that small connection is just what I'm talking about. There's no reason why a young American and a couple of Iraqis should've enjoyed each other the way we did; it's almost counter-intuitive. We are completely different religiously, culturally, and perhaps most important, historically. We are at war with Iraq, and they fled their homes because of that war. There's absolutely no reason I should be able to connect with them; but I did, and it was beauty I can't describe. It literally brings tears to my eyes. It's a seemingly small event of no relevance. I may never see them again. Yet, it was so much bigger than myself. That's why I'm here.

finally!

I found an apartment today! It's in Irbid. Also, I may have found a good Arabic program to enter. All in one day! Will and I headed up to Irbid to look for apartments, as well as to check out Yarmouk University. That was interesting. We got to the president of the university's office, which I had assumed meant that things would get done. However, it was just chaos. For some reason, the person we met with was obsessed with us having a tour. I'm thinking, okay, we have 1 hour before the start of the weekend, so let's get on this! But we got the tour. Despite the fact that the guy who walked us around was the official representative of the University for foreign students, we literally had to push the him into the language center. For some reason, it didn't occur to him that we might want to try to figure how to take classes on Arabic! But we finally got there, and the people were extremely nice. Part of the delay was taking coffee at just about every office we visited. The Arabic program seemed quite intense, which makes me nervous, both because of time and $$$. Will and I are hoping that Yarmouk will wave some of the costs due to the binational nature of the Fulbright program. U of Jordan does. The whole process was and is so unnecessarily bureaucratic. Uncle Billy and Aunt Mary, Jordan is not a socialist country, but so many of the ways you describe the overly bureaucratic nature of Costa Rica apply here. I am now hoping to do the language program first semester, and then perhaps second, have a tutor and research/write more.

After this, we met with that Indy connection, Kamal. He was guilt-inducingly (I know that's not a legit word) nice. He took us around, helping us look for a place to live. We found an area, close to the university and more importantly, downtown. It's not at all similar to a traditional neighborhood like the one in Cairo, but we like it. There's families living all over, and it's very close to the heart of the city. In general, Irbid is much more representative of Jordan and the Middle East than West Amman, so I'm happy with this. Anyways, Kamal introduced himself to the guy who watches over the places. This dude seemed like a jerk at first, nervous at best. But when I found out he was from Egypt, I started speaking to him in Egyptian slang. He lit up! He kept telling Kamal how much he liked me. This may have been our 'in' to the landlord. When we initially walked into his place, he was very serious and skeptical, telling Kamal how foreigners are often loud and messy. In addition, there was a problem because we can't commit to the place until the Fulbright director sees it. He wasn't thrilled about that. But, it was amazing to witness the transition from this to his attitude at the end. Kamal reassured him how we were good people who wanted to live with Jordanians, to speak Arabic, to experience the culture. This Egyptian dude starts going off, enormous grin and all, about how I spoke Egyptian. As we talked a bit more, shared sweets and coffee (in traditional Arab culture, a deal can't be made until coffee is shared), his worries and uneasiness turned to happiness. By the end, he was saying, "I will buy you anything for your place. Just call me, and we will go...new furniture, fridge, anything. You can use my car."

All in all, I'm feeling much more settled about the year. The first half will definitely be busier than I had originally anticipated, but that's okay. Hopefully, Will and I will start moving in on Sunday or Monday. Thanks for reading guys. Have a wonderful day.

Salaam,
Robin

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Hoosier in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Hi everyone. I'm sorry I haven't posted yet; part of the reason is because I still feel pretty confused about how things will be here...guys, I'm still homeless! More on all that later.

After arriving at about 4 am local time, that day I went out to explore Amman. I enjoyed going with a few folks in the group, but it always takes some solo exploration before I feel more excited about a place, especially to get a better feel of the local culture. That's the stuff I relish. Very few things excite me more than going to a place where I've never been, where it seems that very few Westerners go, where I do know what it's like- relying on my instincts and others. It really allows my adventurous masculine heart to surface...now I just need some poor maiden to rescue (Anne?). Gosh, I love that book. Anyways, I took a taxi to an area called 'Jabal Ashrafiyyah'; the ride itself was quite encouraging. The guy kept saying how good my Arabic was, as we talked for probably 20 minutes, without any 'uh, I don't know what I can say now' moments. This was my first real interaction, so that was a confidence booster. I feel fairly confident in my shift to Jordanian Arabic, although I'm super eager to get some more formal or intentional language training. Still, I already feel as comfortable with the language as I ever did in Egypt. I guess all that hard work at home will pay off! It's easier for me to speak than hear, since I don't know a lot of the Jordanian phrases; plus, just trying to get reaquanted with the language in general. Anyways, that first night I walked from to downtown and the suqs. Downtown was wild, and it reminded me of Cairo; shops everywhere, and always in sections...10 gold stores in a row, then 10 shoe stores, then 10 money exchanges, 10 pet shops, etc. It's wierd...I'm no economist, but you'd think they'd want to spread out, but I guess not!

In general, Amman is actually much better than I thought it would be. Asthetically, it's beautiful. It reminds me of Jerusalem, with the rolling hills of white buildings...only much bigger. It was originally built on 7 hills (although now it's more sprawling), so whenever you are on a hill, you can see the most of the city. It's much cleaner than Cairo too. Then again, there's not the same vibrancy...it's there, but not like Cairo. The people are very friendly, but not like Cairo. There's not the massive mosques either, which I grew to love seeing in Cairo. I probably need to readjust my expectations. My time here will not be like in Egypt. Jordan isn't Egypt, my group isn't the same, and what I will be doing isn't the same. I can't expect to have that same sort of ideal 5 months. Still, all in all, I like Amman. From all I had heard, I was expecting to really be turned off to Amman, especially given how much I fell in love with Cairo. But I've been pleasantly surprised thus far.

Since that first day, my life has been filled with orientation and apartment searching. You are probably assuming that apartment searching is a fairly simple, even boring, quick process. Nope. Originally, I went with a couple of dudes to an area called 'Jebel Ilwebdeh,' which is the artsy area of Amman; very cool. We started looking in shops for postings, logical stuff like that. Then we got smart, and just started asking random people. One girl wasn't sure, but told me "she'd start looking for me." Another guy got on the phone, then walked us about 15 minutes to an apartment, which ended up being the owner of the shop we were just at. This was perhaps one of the strangest place I've been to in the Middle East. Living there were 4 50ish-year old women- all sisters, all single, all professionals. One is an engineer, another works in the MInistry of Agriculture, the other is a professor, and the actual landlord owns her own business! I tried to subtely ask whether that was odd for Jordan, but she said no. What?! That's odd in the US! We sat around for probably an hour or so, talking, drinking tea, and getting to know one another. Only then, can a deal be made. It was such a fun conversation, especially since one of the women is an Arabic professor. Most of my interactions here are either in English, or more often, I speak Arabic, but the other person can't correct me or tell me words I don't know. It becomes a sort of the half-blind (me!) leading the completely blind (them, in terms of English!).

The next day I went on my own to look for apartments, in Jebel Ashrafiyyah. Okay, I should give some background on Amman. It's an extremely divided city, the Western part being very modern, Western, and middle-upper class; the East is poor, highly religious, and just a different world. They don't interact. Naturally, (if I live in Amman) I would like to live in East Amman. Jebel Al-Ashrafiyyah is the first district of East, so it's not like it's destitute, but it's definetely poor. It's a very different experience living there. In our group, I literally don't know if anyone else has been to East. I mean, they will, and I know many of them value that experience, but that just shows you. Right now it's wierd because there is such a 'Fublright culture.' I like that culture, I really do, but I'm hear to understand and experience Jordan, not just have a good time. Understand? Maybe it's just during this first week of orientation, but there's pressure to do 'Fulbright things' all the time. Also, the program is pretty insistent we live in West, so they don't exactly give much direction for finding places in East. Hence, my adventure. Anyways, I got in a taxi to look for apartments in Jabal Al-Ashrafiyyah. My taxi driver, Abu Rakaan, was from there, so I asked him if he knew of any free places. We then began driving around on this mad goose chase, asking his friends, stopping to pick up a cup of coffee, asking more friends, on and on, basically in what seemed like a hopeless hunt all over the area. Finally, we found a place, very cheap, and in an area I liked...but it was unfurnished. Off we go again...friends, children, perfect strangers. He literally drove me around for 4 hours, asking, stopping, etc. The strange part, I thought, was that whenever I'd meet with a landlord, there was Abu Rakaan right by my side. I wanted to say, "Do you have somewhere else to be?" He was enjoying it though. Eventually, he took me to his home, and we had juice and talked. He didn't speak a lick of English, so it was tough. Certainly, we had a good conversation, but again, I don't know how productive it is, since I'm not really learning anything new. I'm just wandering around linguistically, grabbing for words and grammar here and there. But I guess his 11-year old works on computers, and is a genius. 11! That's different. Then we looked at some pictures (Matt Rudd, you'll like this story- think Dahab). Okay, maybe I'm an ignorant, stereotyper (not a word, I know), but when I'm in an poor, Arab-Muslim's home, I assume it's a fairly conservative culture. And it is! Well, there we are, looking at pictures. "Oh, that's a nice picture of you working on a tractor." "Wow your son is very cute." "OH LORD, that's you wearing a speedo!" Okay, wearing a speedo is one thing. Wearing a speedo at a public park is another. Taking a picture of yourself in a speedo is yet another. But showing a picture of yourself wearing a speedo to a perfect stranger (a foreign one at that) who yet met 2 hours ago- that's bold! I guess, if you've got it, flaunt it! In actuality, it's one of those cultural things where speedos aren't viewed as sexual, just functional. I had a great time with this guy, but I still get so confused on what obligations are, and all that. A poor taxi driver who spends all that time helping, driving me around, buying me juice, HAS to want something more than the regular fare. I gave him 10JD, which was more than the fare, but he seemed a little disappointed, although he was firm in his happiness to meet me. We exchanged numbers, but I still left feeling like I was obligated to something, of which I wasn't certain. Arabic culture can be an obligation/favor culture, so it's hard know what is appropriate. He may have genuinely just wanted to help. I know he had an excellent time, but if I never call him, would he be upset?

Yesterday, I visited Irbid for the first time, which is actually the city where I would ultimately like to live. It's in NW Jordan (about 30 minutes from either Syria or Israel), a city of around 500,000, but very traditional. I liked it, although there are 2 huge colleges (which in general is good, but it may be difficult to avoid the insulated environment of college students). I'd prefer to be in a more traditional Arab community, not West Amman and not in a college environment. I'm feeling a bit uneasy and conflicted about housing right now. I'm sick of not knowing anything. Where should I live? Maybe Irbid isn't big city enough? Maybe it's too much of a college town? If I live in West Amman, I could really live the good life, truly. It would be amazing, maybe better than any other place for me, and certainly easier. But is that what I should do? West Amman is how a small percentage of Jordanians live, and it has quite a few foreigners. Living in East or Irbid is probably the experience I need. But would it drain me too much? Even this dude's (taxi driver) home was pretty run-down...three rooms, very poor. That's much of East and perhaps Irbid. Yes, it's similar to my Cairo experience, in terms of location, but there I had 6 American roommates and was always around Americans. All day I was with Americans. It's harder when you're isolated. Like with this taxi driver, we had an excellent time, but we are so different! Culturally, religiously, maybe most difficult, socio-economically. More than likely, however, I will live with one other American, a really great guy named Will. Still, I don't know what to do. Also, if I'm in the West area, I know I'd be more Fulbrightish, like I kind of explained earlier. Best option would be if I can find a good neighborhood in Irbid, but that may not be possible. Actually, the biggest problem is just finding a place at all! Because of all the rich Iraqis coming in, it's major slim picking, in Amman especially, and in the poorer areas, you can hardly find furnished places.

I just have NO idea what my life will be like here, and I'm starting to wish I knew something. Housing? Community? Where I'll study? I actually really want to start studying, so I don't feel like I'm wandering around in terms of Arabic. Yeah, I don't need a ton of stability, but just so I could feel like I'm beginning to build a life. Ultimately, the Fulbright program is unique because they actually want you to find a community and just sort of circulate, getting to know folks. Yes, there's research and formal Arabic study, but this other aspect is most important. Certainly, I've been doing that, but I would love to have a place where I can start to establish real relationships, whether personal, academic, or in my patronage. These are all opportunities to get to know Jordan, it's history and culture, what it's people want, what they like, etc. While I am beginning to do this, I want to be more intentional about it. Tomorrow, Will and I are spending the day in Irbid, hopefully meeting professors from Yarmouk University, and looking for places to live. Mom and dad, that guy from Indy's brother is actually meeting us there. He INSISTED on taking us everywhere all day, which is very nice. I felt like telling him that we'd be okay alone, but that's hospitality I guess.

Well, I'm wrapping this up. I feel like it's long and boring. Sorry if it is. If you want to know anything specific, just tell me. It's always difficult to write about being in another country because there's so much different or exciting. I wish I knew more of what I'd be doing so you would know, but I don't. Okay, I truly miss you guys. Thank you for all the notes and e-mails. I love getting them!

Salaam,
Robin

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Away, away

Well, this is my first blog post. I apologize for the lack of artistic concern I've put into this blogsite; it's more functional. For a variety of reasons, I've chosen to go with a blog instead of the mass e-mails. For one, I think blogs are more interesting, and they just seem more literary. If given the choice b/w reading a friend's blog or their mass e-mail, I would chose a blog. Most importantly, however, the blog affords you the opportunity to read or not read what I have to say! If you are completely uninterested in my ramblings, or my life for that matter, so be it. Just don't check my blog! With a blog, I can say as much as I want about anything I want without feeling guilty that there's 100 people on the other end, rolling their eyes and hitting the delete key. I will try to make my titles reflective of the post's content, such as "Feelings of Excitement," "Ramadan in Jordan," or "Political Ramblings." That way, if you could care less about my opinion of US or Jordanian politics, don't read "Political Ramblings." However, if you do care about how I'm doing, read "Feelings of Excitement." I really have no idea how often I'll post, and I may use the blog as my diary, or I may just post out of guilt every few weeks. Initially, I will e-mail the huge list (sorry!) to tell you I posted, just so I get you checking! Anyways, so that's my blog!

Now, I am slated to arrive in Amman, Jordan on Saturday, early in the morning local time. We have a one week orientation, after which the fun (read here 'a complete lack of knowledge on my part of what will go down') begins. During that orientation, I will post at least once, just to give you all a better idea of what is going on. Although many of the big things, like where I'm living (Irbid or Amman?), where I will be studying (U of Jordan or Yarmouk?), and what exactly I will do, are still in question, let me give you a better sense of why I'm going and what I'm doing, at least generally. If you already know this, just skip it.

I'm going to Jordan on a Fulbright Grant, which is through the State Department. My commitments to the government, however, are limited to what they call micro-diplomacy; in other words, developing relationships with Jordanians and building cultural, academic, and personal bridges. The idea is that when Americans are intimately involved in Jordanian society (and vice versa, as there are Jordanian Fulbrighters in the US), working with Jordanians, volunteering, becoming friends, having important conversations, the better the larger relationship b/w the two countries becomes, even if on a small level. Understand? I am extremely passionate about this, helping to mend the relationship b/w the US and the Arab and larger Muslim world. For me, this is both personal/relational and cultural/political. In addition, I am expected to share my knowledge and experiences with my home communities. As the Jordanians open their country, culture, and lives to me, I am committed to sharing about them. This was the case when I went to Egypt, and I hope some of you have a fairly nuanced perspective on the ME because of my trip there. Hence, I will do my best to be diligent about this blog. Hopefully reading this, you will feel just a little more knowledgeable about the Middle East and Jordan! That's pretty important these days.

I guess this is a good time to interject with what I imagine being the 3 primary things I will do in Jordan. The first and most important for me personally is Arabic studies. I will take courses in Modern Standard Arabic at a local university, as well as being tutored in Jordanian Arabic at a cultural center. Probably most useful for my attempts to master Arabic will be everyday interactions with Arabs, at coffee, in a taxi, at the grocery, etc. I am so excited to use this language I've been laboring over for seemingly forever! The second aspect of my time in Jordan goes back to that micro-diplomacy. I will be highly involved in my community, volunteering, as well as living everyday life. I deeply want to be a part of Irbid (or Amman), to have a local butcher, grocer, vegetable seller, etc., people I get to know. I want to make good friends, to have people over to my flat for dinner, and to be asked to dinner. Knowing me, much of my time will be spent socialising, talking about politics, religion, and family. When I leave Jordan, I want the people where I live to have a fresh perspective on Americans, Christianity, and life, in general. I hope to gain a new perspective for myself. Finally, and this is the most up in the air, is academic research. Initially, I proposed to research the Muslim Palestinian resistance in the West Bank, especially those engaged in non-violent resistance. However, while this project I still feel is of huge importance, I might pick it up when I get a PhD! For now, the type of field research I would need to engage in is way over my head! In the mean time, I hope to write a number of articles on topics ranging from my own experiences with Jordanian Islam to the Jordanian Christian community to the non-violent resistance movement in Palestine (a more condensed version!) for a few newspapers and magazines. This is me sharing Jordan with my home communities. While this isn't my ideal in terms of writing style, again, I can't understate how passionate I am about giving people a fresh perspective on the Middle East. I will be sure to let you know when something is published.


So, that's all! On top of traveling, trying to stay in touch with people, and generally surviving in a different culture, that will be plenty! I'm going to close this up now. Thanks for reading this far; I truly appreciate it. As you hear from me in the weeks and months ahead, all I ask is that you keep an open and curious mind. I promise to do the same. I'll talk to you soon.

Love,
Robin

P.S. (or whatever the hipster/bloger way of saying that): As I reread over this, I feel like it's so formal and goal-oriented. I don't mean to be. Basically, I really like you guys, and you've been significant in my life at some point. I want you to know about my life and what's important to me. That's why I want you to read my blog, even if only once in a while!