“New Views from Petra” by Quinn Stevenson

“What did you do last week?”

“Oh you know, study Arabic, see one the 7 wonders of the world…how’s home?”

That’s how I casually played off going to Petra last week. We have officially passed the midway point of our semester abroad. It’s odd to realize that I’ve been living in Amman for two months. Yet with the halfway point here, both midterms and the Southern Excursion have arrived. Last week, we went on the Southern Excursion which included an overnight stay in Wadi Rum and a day trip to Petra. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Jordan

In Wadi Rum, we went on a two-hour Jeep tour through the desert. I never thought a desert could be beautiful,Entry 6 - Photo 1.JPG but Wadi Rum proved me wrong. At the same time, it’s hard not to observe the poverty. Often during our drive to Wadi Rum, our tour guide would mention where we were passing through at the moment. To me, it wouldn’t seem like a town, but just a few tourist shops. Similarly in Wadi Rum, there’s mainly only tourist cams. Deeper into the desert, we saw numerous people with extremely minimal living conditions. It’s striking how going to the desert is what reminds me of the disparity between Jordanians. Certainly we’ve seen the wealth differences in Amman, but outside the city the poverty is much more visible.

We drove around for hours taking constant photos of rock formations and the solo tire tracks of our Jeep. At last we settled at one place to enjoy tea and watch the sunset behind the rocks. This photo below is of the Wadi Rum sunset.

The next day we started the commute to Petra. Having seen the iconic photo of Petra on every Jordanian tourist book, I thought I knew what to expect. I was completely wrong. The city is so much more vast and nuanced than I could have imagined. Our guide walked us through the narrow rock formations and gave us details about every small carving, such as who made it and its meaning. We spent so long weaving through rock formations that I was quite surprised when the trail suddenly expanded to show the Treasury. Arash, our guide, was able to give us numerous details about the building. For example, it was actually carved from the stone itself. The foresight and immense skill required for carving these structures makes the city all the more impressive.

However, my favorite part of the excursion was the long hike to the Monastery. In a completely separate part of the city from the Treasury, there is a wide uphill trail leading to the Monastery, much less famous ruin. What’s amazing about the Monastery is how it was carved similar to the Treasury, despite its isolated location. The hike up the path takes about 20 minutes and is approximately 800 steps. It’s impressive to imagine the Nabataeans using this path to transport their labor and tools to carve out the Monastery.

When my friend and I reached the top of the path, it felt deserted compared to the Treasury. There was nearly no one around. The complete lack of people and it’s distance from the rest of the city, make the Monastery feel like a hidden gem in giant tourist attraction.Entry 6 - Photo 2.JPGAdditionally, the views from the Monastery stretched out forever above the city and rock formations.  It was an absolutely amazing sight and so peaceful. I truly loved this excursion. Wadi Rum and Petra are absolute must see visits for anyone travelling to Jordan.

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“Arab Cuisine: More than Falafel and Hummus” by Quinn Stevenson

The day before I left for Jordan, one of my close friends asked me “What is Jordanian food like?” I had to admit that I had no idea. Would there be falafel and hummus everywhere?  Whenever I had envisioned living in Jordan, I had never pictured food. I arrived to Amman with absolutely no expectations of Jordan food. Luckily, my host mom is an amazing cook. She quickly introduced me to the variety and flavors of Arabic cuisine.

There have been numerous delicious meals, but my I particularly love kushari and makluba. Kushari is an Egyptian dish of macaroni, rice, lentils, and a spiced tomato sauce. My favorite though is the traditional Jordanian makluba. Makluba in Arabic translates to “upside down” which describes how it is made. Chicken, rice, and vegetables are packed tight in a pot and flipped “upside down” onto a serving platter. It’s an intimidating dish and usually stands between 6-12 inches tall.

Unfortunately, I’m never fast enough to get a photo of makluba. This photo shows the table of food offered at the student-faculty dinner AMIDEAST hosts every semester.

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However, my favorite aspect of the food in Jordan is learning the cultural practices that are attached to the food. Such as when and why they are eaten. In my experience, makluba is not a typical everyday dinner. It’s meant for an event. For example, my host family and their extended relatives routinely gather every Thursday night. Often there is a giant platter of makluba served. This one chicken and rice dish will serve between 12-25+ people and leave everyone satisfied.

This shows how Jordanian culture can also be reflected in their food. Makluba is a traditional and cultural dish. Its giant size reflects the familial and hospital characteristics of Jordan lifestyle. It’s meant for large gatherings, particularly with family or guests.

This photo shows a cup of mint tea that that is routinely offered everywhere in Jordan.

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Additionally, tea or mint tea is a constant. Regular Lipton black tea with added mint leaves, “chi nana” is a delicious. My host mother likes to serve mint tea at family gatherings as a regular post dinner beverage. Or often, someone will offer Arabic coffee. Arabic coffee is similar in many ways to Turkish coffee. It’s very strong and poured into very tiny cups. In our very first week of classes, one of our professors brought Arabic coffee to welcome us to Jordan. She went through an extensive ritual of pouring us coffee and explaining the smallest nuances of how one drinks the coffee. Such as how coffee is traditionally only served or accepted with the right hand. Or how to decline another cup, one would gently shake it back and forth.

Every day, I’m trying new food in Jordan. It’s interesting to constantly note small or large differences in the food and the food culture. At the very least, when I return home I can tell my friend that Jordanian food is more than just falafel and hummus. Its large meals accompanied by numerous people and constant cups of mint tea.

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Curiosity and Culture Beyond the Classroom by Quinn Stevenson

The one month mark has officially passed! Yesterday marked the official full month that I’ve spent in Jordan. It’s unreal that I’ve been here for so long already. Yet this afternoon, I directed my cab driver down a backroad route to my home stay in only Arabic. We even conversed in mixed Arabic and English to discuss his family in Jordan and America. While Jordan still feels new and exciting, I’ve started to settle into my life here.

One of the most interesting aspects of this past month is people’s curiosity about why I’m here. Peers, taxi drivers, professors and even strangers always ask me “Why did you come to Jordan?” Usually they’re satisfied when I say I came to learn Arabic. Last week however I was leaving a café in Jabal al Weibdeh and my taxi driver probed a little further. Why did I want to learn Arabic, why did I need to know it?

 

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I described to him how since I study Middle Eastern politics, I know it’s important to study the culture and language too. My liberal arts education has taught me to value the relationship between different fields and disciplines. This valuing of curiosity and knowledge was very influential for me to come the MENA region. I was also eager to be challenged in a non-Western environment. I also really value personal growth from uncomfortable or new situations. Thankfully, there has already been a lot of growth in the last month which has been very beneficial.

A huge benefit of studying in the Middle East is being able to learn about this region in a non-academic setting.  In only a month, I’ve had countless conversations on very serious, thoughtful, and controversial topics with people I just met. For example, last week I spoke extensively about the differences, real and perceived, between Christianity and Islam with my language partner. Or the week before when my host sister and I spent 2 hours discussing the creation of Jordan, Iraq, and Syria.

I love having these conversations because they’re so beneficial. I’ve studied the MENA region in numerous classes, but it’s important to learn outside the classroom too. For example, I read about Jordanian hospitality in the Amideast pre-departure guides. Yet personally feeling that hospitality is different than reading about it. Such as when my host mom deliberately makes me a PB&J to make me feel more “at home” here. Studying in the Middle East adds personal connections that facilitate deeper understanding of cultural norms.

 

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Second, through these conversations I’m learning about cultural rituals that I never would study in class. For example, my language partner and I went out for Iraqi cuisine last week. While eating, we started discussing the differences between American and Jordanian dating expectations. She then elaborated on how a couple becomes engaged. Knowing that Arab culture is much more family centered, I expected there would be more family involvement. Yet I was blown away by the depth and the detail to which she described the “courting” process.

Coming to Jordan with this curiosity and interest in culture has helped me engage positively with the Jordanians I meet. Further, meeting and speaking with Jordanians has benefited me immensely in opening my eyes to cultural nuances I wouldn’t read in a textbook. It’s only been a month, but I’m already anticipating future cultural dialogues and experiences.

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“Arabic Lessons from a 5-Year-Old” by Quinn Stevenson

Marhaba! Kefik?  It’s been almost three weeks since I arrived in Jordan. Amman is still quite new, but I’m slowly settling in. The first part of “settling in” to Amman was moving in with my host family. My host family lives in Tila` al `Ali, a neighborhood in Amman about 20 minutes away from AMIDEAST and the Abdoun neighborhood. My host father works at Apple and my host mother is a teacher. They have three daughters, aged 15, 5, and 3. What I love most about living with my host family is how they turn any day into a cultural and learning experience.

When I wake up in the morning, only the 5 and 3-year-olds are awake watching cartoons. I’ll eat breakfast with them and try to converse in my limited Arabic. My 5 year old host sister laughs at my Arabic and tries to correct me. Currently, I’m struggling to pronounce the “kh” sound in “Sabah Al-khayr” which means “Good Morning.” In my defense, the Arabic “kh” sound does not exist in the English language. My Arabic professor says it takes time to say the “kh” sound naturally and it’s only been a week since I learned it.

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After class, I return home for family dinner. My host mom is a fantastic cook. I’m always eating seconds and thirds of some mysterious Arab meal. Occasionally, I’ll remember the name of one especially tasty dish. My favorite so far is kushari, a traditional Egyptian dish. Kushari is made of rice, macaroni, lentils, and a spicy tomato sauce. Dinner table conversation usually switches between Arabic and English by everyone. I’ve started to actively listen for any Arabic words or phrases I might know. Last night my host father said “ma ba3rif” while watching the news which means “I don’t know.” He was amused by my happiness over this simple expression. Since I still don’t know the alphabet, recognizing Arabic words in a conversation is super exciting.

Another great part of a host family is experiencing their culture. One difference between Jordanian and American culture is the importance of family. Every Thursday the whole extended family gets together. Last week I counted between 25 people crowded into my host aunt’s living room! A giant dish of rice and chicken is served for dinner and then strong Jordanian coffee. Everyone spends hours talking and eating together. In my first 4 days with my host family, there were three family gatherings!

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The opportunity to live with a host family is one of my favorite parts of studying abroad. My host family gives me a chance to really press in and constantly engage in Jordanian culture. I’m learning more Arabic every day. Additionally, I’m slowly learning the small and large cultural differences. Such as the huge emphasis they place on family. Or my host mother’s emphasis on raising multilingual children. Did I mention in addition to Arabic and English, the girls are also learning French? My host family is my window into Jordanian life and I’m so grateful for this experience.

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“Changing Expectations: From Ruins to Sidewalks” by Quinn Stevenson

I’ve officially been in Jordan for 4 days now and it has been full of changes. Currently we are finishing up our in country orientation at a hotel. Tomorrow we meet our host families for the first time and move in. Still after almost a week, it doesn’t seem real that I’m finally here.

On our first day we had a few orientation sessions, before we began a 5 hour tour of Amman. We went to the Citadel, which is a historical site in downtown. Amidst exploring ruins from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods, we had an unobstructed 360 view of Amman. Listening to the call to prayer with all of Amman in front of me was incredibly moving. It was a one of the picturesque highlights of this week, and a memory I’ve been reflecting on as my expectations for this semester change daily.

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As I spoke about in my last blog post, I was very apprehensive about coming to Jordan with absolutely no Arabic experience whatsoever. I had anticipated having to constantly explain why I’m on this program or why I don’t know any Arabic. I expected learning Arabic would be extremely hard-in ways I couldn’t even begin to imagine. This has all proved true. What I didn’t expect was how overwhelmed I would feel, not in class, but out in Amman with other abroad students.

This past week we went and explored the food options near the sixth circle and stumbled upon this seemingly unremarkable Lebanese restaurant. As the restaurant had absolutely no menu or signs, someone had to approach the counter and ask about their food options. The shop owner became so excited to meet Americans who spoke Arabic. He quickly began a conversation with our group, asking everyone’s name, what we were studying, what we would like to eat, etc. During the entire conversation and meal, I couldn’t understand anything the shop owner or my friends said. It was extremely overwhelming to realize not understanding most conversations around me-by my peers-will become the new norm.

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Introducing Spring 2017 Blog Correspondent: Quinn Stevenson

My name is Quinn Stevenson and I’m a junior at George Washington University in Washington, DC. At GW (fondly referred to as GDub), I am majoring in International Affairs at the Elliott School with a double concentration in Conflict Resolution and the Middle East. While originally from Los Angeles my family moved to Colorado when I was 9 and the Rocky Mountains are where I call home. Truthfully, I rarely go home nowadays because I’ve fallen in love with DC. In fact, I spent almost all of 2016 in the capital, only returning to my mountains for winter break. But following this winter break, (in exactly _ days!), I’ll be flying off to Amman, Jordan for a semester abroad! To say I am excited would be an understatement.

quinn1I never made a conscious, intentional decision to study abroad in the Arab world. I’ve been interested in the Middle East for years. My decision to study International Affairs originated in my desire to learn about diplomacy in the MENA region. It was presupposed that when my junior year began, I would study abroad in the Middle East. In the last few years my interest in the Middle East has flourished due to my coursework at GW. Listening to my professors’ anecdotes has made me a little impatient to finally visit the countries we’ve studied so extensively. But all the patience has paid off and I am eagerly anticipating this semester.

I’m most excited about living in Amman. Living in DC has been my favorite part of college and a non-stop adventure. There’s always a neighborhood you haven’t been to or a museum that you accidentally stumble upon. Even the constant and irritating motorcades become endearing when I think of my college home. Certainly, a part of me is sad to be leaving DC for a while. But an even bigger part of me is absolutely thrilled to get the chance to live in Amman! Based on the program readings, I know it’s going to be a huge change with the foreign taxis and confusing circles. There are eight main traffic circles in Amman from which most streets and neighborhoods branch off. The first time I get lost is going to be an adventure for sure. I hope after a little time, I can explore new areas of the city without getting completely turned around. Continue reading

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“Reflection: An Ongoing Process” by Monica Weller

What a surreal experience it’s been. I still haven’t gone back to the states, but I’m currently staying with friends in Finland, where I studied abroad for a year in high school. Constantly, I find myself hesitating before drinking water from the sink or automatically saying “yes” and “no” in the wrong languages. I haven’t completely left that sense of being on exchange because I haven’t returned back to the US yet, so for now I just feel as if I am taking a side trip and heading back to Jordan soon after. While I won’t be able to pursue my studies in Arabic at my university, unlike many other AMIDEAST students, I’m looking forward to making the most of my experience and using all the knowledge and skills that I have learned while abroad. Living in Jordan has provided me with so many great opportunities, and I can’t wait to come back soon!

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Everyone’s experience is different, and having lived in Jordan for only four months, I know that there are a lot more things that I wish I could have tried out when I lived in Amman. But I’m very grateful for all the experiences I have been able to explore, and I can’t wait to monica1come back to Jordan and learn even more things about the country. One of my favorite things to do in Amman was to explore the city, usually by walking around with friends. Usually, it’s nice to complement this with an activity: visiting a museum, having a meal at a restaurant, or simply shopping for something specific. On one occasion, however, I didn’t have any plans at all as I was walking with my friends in the downtown. A Canadian friend from out of town was staying in Amman for the day, but unfortunately, it happened to be on a Friday, when most of the museums and cultural activities are closed in observance of the Islamic day of rest. In front of one art museum we stopped to take pictures of the graffiti around the building because the museum itself was closed. The security guards at the museum were a bit curious, but allowed us to take pictures of the drawings with a bit of amusement. When we had taken multiples of every art piece, they asked us to show them our photos, and then offered to take photos of us as well. This back and forth continued until they got us to try on some Bedouin robes that they had, and then they made sure that we came into their small guard office to share tea. Over the next hour, I conversed with them entirely in (basic) Arabic, and got quite a few cups of tea as well. It was something small, just exchanging details on our families, studies, jobs, and lives, but I’m so grateful for the experience. I can’t imagine such a friendly and sudden gesture happening in quite the same way outside of Jordan. And it also boosted my confidence quite a bit in my Arabic skills as well! Continue reading

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