Some of you may have noticed that it has been a comparably long time since I last posted. To emphasize how excessive length this length of time is, I actually went to the Dead Sea three weeks ago and had enough time to go back again yesterday. I've been waiting to post until I got the Dead Sea photos from one of my friends. I've also been waiting until I made more progress investigating microloans. One of those things has happened. This post is filled with pictures of me at the Dead Sea. Besides that I've had a frustrating lack of progress on my project. I've contact several organizations and individuals but haven't gotten many responses. The responses I have gotten have been extremely slow to develop. I hope that by the end of the week I'll have a more extensive and interesting project update for you.
As for what I've been up to. I have been taking Arabic classes, meeting Ex-Pats working at NGO's (these are my more fruitful contacts), and interacting with what Jordanians I can. It's been hard to gain access to many Jordanians; but, luckily, two of my flatmates are from Jordan and provide some insight into the inter workings of the country.
I've been reading more material on microloans and economic development in Jordan. It's frustrating to be reading about the country that I'm staying in. I want to learn all of this through personal and interactive experiences, not through my computer. Almost, every day I feel like I'm not doing enough for my project. I'm trying my darnedest to fix that, but I'm in a rut. I'm already leaving for India in 5 weeks. Hopefully more will develop soon.
Okay now for some happy pictures and stories. I went to the Dead Sea three weeks ago with a bunch of people from my Arabic school and again yesterday with some of my roommates. The Dead Sea, for those who don't know, is 429 m below sea level, the lowest elevation on land. On one side is Jordan, on the other side is Israel and the West Bank. The Dead Sea has 34% salinity, which means it is really f***ing salty. If you want a Dead Sea lobster for dinner on your visit, you'd be sorely out of luck. The sea is so salty that nothing lives in it, hence the name.
The first time I went, I spent the day at a lovely resort that you can pay a 20 JD fee to visit for the day. Below are the amazing views of the Dead Sea and pool.
It was luxurious to move between the cool water of the pool and the less pleasant water of the sea. The second time I went we went to the public beach. Although free, it was littered by trash and the shower was right next to a toilet (ie. a conspicuous hole in the ground). You can probably tell which one I would recommend if you visit yourself.
Some tips and insight if you ever find yourself in the Dead Sea. Number One: Don't dunk your head unless you want to feel like someone poured acid in your eyes. Two: the minerals in the Dead Sea make it feel oily and, some might say, disgusting. Make sure there is a fresh water shower accessible. Three: The only thing around the Dead Sea are expensive (aka one night is equivalent to a month's worth of my rent) resorts. So don't spend the night. Four: the Dead Sea is so salty you float at the top with no effort what so ever. It takes actual effort to sink, which goes to show, you shouldn't do it. Five: the Dead Sea mud is supposed to be good for your skin. Make sure you find some of the mud, the right kind is the consistency of a thick cream, and rub it all over your body. Go Mudd! (that is a subtle, not so subtle, shout-out to Harvey Mudd).
Yesterday, I also visited the Baptism site of Jesus. I put my legs into the Jordan River, or holy water that was a holy color. At the Jordan River, which is the main source of water in Jordan, Israel was only about 5m away.
The supposed place of baptism of Jesus is where the water rests in a cross-shape. (Apparently a spring flows through the intersection from March-May. That is a relief because the water looked like a cesspool.) I learned from a friend, that attended this same place on the Israel-side, that they have a similar church constructed there. So I'm not sure historians know the exact place Jesus was baptized, but only that it was in the general area.
This post is about my experiences as a foreign woman in Jordan. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't have to wear a hijab or a burqa. I am free to wear pants or a long skirt and a shirt that goes at least to my elbows. I generally feel very safe in the city as I go about my day. I am comfortable exploring new areas and having adventures with friends.
However, I am often heckled by men on the street. When I say often, I mean everyday. Usually they speak in Arabic, so I have no idea what they are saying. When they do speak in English, I pretend I don't hear them. I try not to let it bother me but, let's be honest, it really pisses me off. If I was in the US and this happened, I would either give the guy the bird or a lecture. However, that is not the cultural norm here. In fact making any eye contact with someone of the opposite sex can be incredibly suggestive. I walk through the city trying to look at everything yet avoid everyone's eyes. Suppressing my indignation and "assimilating" made me sick for my first couple of weeks in Amman. Now I've started to make what I call the "stank" or "bitch" face when I get comments on the street. I've found it a more effective way to convey my disapproval.
Many consider Jordan a very progressive and modern city and in many ways it is; there are abundant iPhones and Priuses. However, that doesn't stop it from being a male dominated society. All of the shop owners, taxi drivers, chefs, and waiters I have encountered have been male. I know from locals, however, that many women have jobs in the city and that many universities have more women than men because women are excelling in school. However, I only feel the presence of women when they are walking on the street, often completely covered and with their husband or children.
One of the place I've seen local Jordanian women with their hair uncovered is at the mall. I know that you are probably judging me for going to the mall when traveling, but it is actually one of the main places locals hang out. Malls are clean, modern, and, most importantly, they have air conditioning. In malls, women wear shorter skirts, shorter sleeves, have they're hair free, and have more elaborate makeup. I think many of these more modern women in Amman prefer to travel by taxi or car to avoid unnecessary attention.
The interaction between men and women is very different from Western societies (obviously). For example, some guys will brag about having their virginity and their lack of sexual experience. Still, a double standard exists where men who kiss or have sex before marriage are forgiven, whereas women who do the same are labeled "sluts". I hope to learn more about local women's experiences in the city.
In Irbid, a city in the north of Jordan that I visited two weeks ago with Kifah, the heckling was intolerable. All of the guidebooks and internet sources had said Irbid was more progressive and liberal than Amman because of the two universities housed in its borders. So despite the fact that I rarely wear make-up, Kifah and I both decided to wear lipstick. As we started to walk around, we had the startling realization that there were barely any women. The heckling, including many comments about red lipstick, was so intense we quickly became uncomfortable. After getting food and going to a cafe for a little while we decided to go to retire early.
On a more positive note, the reason we'd decided to go to Irbid was because it is very close to the ruins of Umm Qais. The ruins weren't nearly as impressive as Jerash's but the view blew us away. Umm Qais is a special place because you can see Jordan, Israel, and Syria simultaneously. Now don't get freaked out about Syria. We actually didn't encounter any Syrian refugees and Jordan is a very safe country that is determined to stay away from any conflicts with IS.
We spend hours wandering around the ruins and looking at the pits that remained from the archaeological digs. Here are the pics.
I went to the Dead Sea this past weekend and will post pictures soon!
First for the big reveal...
...I am living in a flat near Rainbow St (the hip area on Jabal Amman). "Flat" might be too strong a term because I'm not actually renting a whole apartment. That would be way too expensive and I'm on a budget. Instead, I have a room in a ten person house with three bathrooms and a kitchen; it's called the Rainbow House. My room is large with a Queen sized bed (YES!) and enough space to do some exercise if I was in the mood.. Plus there is an amazing view on the roof. See pictures below.
The best part of living in a house is the laundry machine. Having clean clothes is the BEST.
I had my first day of class yesterday at Ahlan World. Learning Arabic is a lot harder than I expected it would be. For one, I hadn't realized Arabic is read from right to left. Another thing is that there are 28 letters. So, it is a whole new alphabet, new sounds, and a new vocabulary. However, I've found it comforting to be in classroom setting for part of my day, Studying and learning are things I'm used to and it gives me some confidence in a new environment. I'm learning I am beginning to feel comfortable and knowledgeable about a small aspect of the culture in Jordan. Yesterday I was able to read some of the street signs. I said read them, not understand them.
Now time for a funny story. A couple of days a go, when I was still living in the hostel, I was eating breakfast and started talking to a woman that I'd seen around for a couple days. I knew she was traveling by herself and she seemed friendly. After quick introductions, Paula asked me where I was from. I said I was from California. She said, "Me too. I'm from Alameda." I seriously thought she was joking. But it turns out that she lives about two blocks away from my house. She is in Jordan trying to find a way to use her training as an occupational therapist to assist NGOs and other organizations. We chatted some more and ended up going to dinner with Kifah and another lone woman traveler staying at the hostel.
My next post will be about my trip to Irbid this past weekend and my experience so far as a woman in Jordan.