“Jordan? Isn’t That the Country Next to Syria?” by Samantha Manno

I am safe and sound in Amman, and I am currently writing in the AMIDEAST lounge. Everything is settling in nicely. This new sense of peace as I’m getting used to Amman is very welcome, as actually getting to the country was an extremely hectic experience. I flew with two friends of mine who are studying in the program with me, and pretty much everything that could have gone wrong with our flights did go wrong. After a cancelled flight to Toronto, three delays to Frankfurt, and a missed flight to Amman, I started to think that maybe this was a bad sign. However, we were lucky to have each other and made it to Amman only a couple hours later than originally expected. It felt great to have my friends by my side, and while we sat in the airport waiting to be taken to our hotel, it felt right to be there. Even though the trip to Amman was rough, I am not going to let my experience in Amman be a reflection of that.

Before I left for Amman, I was hesitant to tell people where I was studying abroad. When asked, my response was often met with surprised wide eyes. “To Jordan?” one of my track coaches exclaimed. “Isn’t that by Syria?”

It hurt to hear comments like that, and I will admit that it scared me a little. But I made sure to remind myself of why I wanted to study abroad in the MENA region in the first place; I don’t want my fear to hold me back from seeing the world and all its wonders.

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The view from the top of the Roman Amphitheater. Photo Credit: Samantha Manno, Spring 2018.

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in studying the world and the different cultures that occupy it. Language has always fascinated me and I view it as the portal to understanding different ideas, values, and people. I entered my freshman year determined to learn a new language, but I didn’t want to take a European or western language. Being American, I see that the western world influences so many things, not necessarily just international relations and politics, but media and music. I have lived my whole life within this extremely influential sphere, but it is not the only one I want to know.  Chinese and Japanese appeared too daunting so I chose Arabic, a language that I knew nothing about. As you can guess, this decision changed my life.

Since I am a religious studies major, I am driven by justice and a strong sense of morality. These motivations have specifically attracted me to Jordan, and the MENA region as a whole, due to its religious history and reality and its quantity of refugees. Studying in the MENA region is so valuable to me because I get to live in a country most people know little about, or are too afraid to explore due to its representation in the Western media and the fear of the unknown.

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View of Amman from the Citadel. Photo Credit: Samantha Manno, Spring 2018.

More to come in a few.

Sam

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Introduction to Spring 2018 Blog Correspondent: Samantha Manno

Greetings! Salaam! Marhaban! My name is Sam Manno and I will be a Blog Correspondent for the Spring ‘18 semester in Jordan. I am a Junior majoring in Religious Studies, with a double minor in English and Arabic, and I am the secretary for Students for Justice in Palestine at my university. I attend Kenyon College, a school smack-dab in the middle of nowhere Ohio (seriously, we are surrounded by cornfields). Kenyon is very isolated and it truly feels like you are living in a bubble. Kenyon is proud of its bubble-of-a-campus on top of a hill, and I can understand why. Studying at Kenyon has been a great experience and I have made some amazing friends and have learned so much. However, as I enter the second semester of my Junior year, Kenyon has also taught me that I need a break from “life on the hill,” and am ready for the most amazing and challenging experience of my life.

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A snapshot of Kenyon’s nature reserve. Photo Credit: Samantha Manno, 2018

Actually…I have no idea if I’m ready to study abroad in Jordan. In fact I am terrified. I sit here typing this intro post in the comfort of my home and I realize I really do not know what I’m in for. The only time I have spent abroad is in Amsterdam for two weeks with my best friend Minke. However, I recognize that part of the beauty of this experience is the unknown. The challenges I will face are what will make studying in Jordan so worthwhile. While I will probably be super homesick for a while, and will have moments in which I will absolutely hate being pushed out of my comfort zone (because honestly, who  likes being uncomfortable?), I know these experiences will help me grow so much that it will be totally worth it.

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In the Netherlands, on the other side of the Atlantic. Photo Credit: Samantha Manno, 2018

While I have never traveled to the Mid-East, I have done my fair share of travelling within the Midwest. I spent this Christmas in Chicago, where my dad lives. My family bought me many skirts, dresses, and shirts that I can wear in Jordan, and I proudly gave them a fashion show to showcase my new “hey look I’m studying in Jordan” style. I am spending the rest of my time in Cleveland, Ohio, where I live with my mom and sister when I’m not in school. My boyfriend and I took the bus from Chicago and Cleveland and we were forced to stand outside in -6F weather while waiting for it. I swear my toes were going to fall off and if I had to stand outside for two more minutes I would have started crying. So it is safe to say that I will not miss the wind of the “Windy City” or the lake effect snow of Cleveland, but I will dearly miss my family, boyfriend, and friends .

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Photo Credit: Samantha Manno, 2018

But I also want to focus on what I am looking forward to.I believe that religious studies is great lens through which to explore and understand the world. I choose to study religion because I want to expand my understanding of different cultures and have the chance to travel and see how religion weaves its influence throughout different countries. I am compelled to study in a region where the majority religion is different from that of the US and to try to better understand the role it plays  in politics and everyday life. In Jordan, Islam’s impact will be the most easily perceptible to me as a study abroad student, but the undertones of the Christian minority are other aspects that I wish to explore.Since I am involved with SJP at my school, I hope to work with Palestinian refugees and I am excited to live in a country with a stance on the conflict that is the opposite of what I usually encounter in the the United States. I can’t wait to bring this knowledge back home.

To sum up, I’m pumped and I’m horrified. More soon.

-Sam

 

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“Hospitality as Reflected in Language” by Maureen Lincke

This past week, my Arabic teacher invited our class to her home for dinner. The experience was amazing considering no teacher of mine has ever crossed the realm of school into our real lives, let alone invited me to their house to meet their family. Salam, my teacher, demonstrated the hospitality that I’ve become used to in the Middle East, but on a much larger scale and I was once again struck by the inherent trust that comes with the cultural expectation that each Jordanian will care for their neighbors. Salam invited us into her home as though it was expected, and I was so grateful to meet her family and try the dinner they make every Friday.

This trust is unique to Amman as a city, and something I find fascinating because of its large scale. To my knowledge, a culture of hospitality is limited to small towns, where accountability to actions is higher. In a large city, there is such a strong sense of anonymity that hospitality is almost entirely absent. However, Amman has refigured this stereotype in my head and shows that scale does not necessarily indicate measures of accountability. That is, just because Amman is a large city does not mean its inhabitants have no sense of common courtesy to the average stranger. This culture seems to be reflected in the language in ways that are not transferrable to English.

I have recently been having conversations with other students on the program about our desire to speak in Arabic more. This always seems like a strange conversation, however, because in the middle of expressing a desire to speak in Arabic more, I am struck by the fact that I could be holding the conversation in Arabic. As native English speakers, we seem to need some sort of dire situation to arise before being compelled to speak in Arabic, and thus we only learn necessary Arabic, rather than conversational Arabic. It seems to me that we miss out on very many subtleties within the language that are married to the culture of hospitality. At Salam’s house, for example, each person we met had a list of greetings that they went through when I initially introduced myself. There is something to say and a response for when food arrives and when you’ve finished, when you sneeze, when you enter and leave a home, and when you would like someone to take a seat.

Although initially this part of the language seems small and insignificant to becoming fluent, I have found that these courtesies are what involve me in my surroundings. They are tied to first impressions and I have found that if I don’t attempt to say the proper response, the relationship is jeopardized by awkwardness and often very difficult to revive. My time with Salam’s family not only helped me to understand the culture of hospitality in Jordan, but also the language structures that entrench it into a mindset rather than just a social phenomena.

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“Jerusalem: Clarifying Palestinian and Israeli Identity” by Maureen Lincke

This past week, I had the privilege to travel to Jerusalem over fall break. For the first time, one of the central conflicts of this region was given a physical place and my understanding of the conflict was clarified, which then subtly changed my perception of this place politically defined as the Middle East. The first day, we took a tour with a group based in Hebron called Youth Against Settlements who are against illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. We were shown through one of the more volatile checkpoints into the city center, where Palestinian families and business owners have been pushed out by the IDF forces there to protect Israeli settlers. Our tour guide was a Palestinian sports journalist who guided us through the politics shaping the violence, and explained the unjust treatment of Palestinians by the IDF forces in Hebron.

The tour was important on a level that is difficult to describe to one not familiar with life in Hebron or the West Bank, but it can be related to the necessity of hearing underrepresented stories. Although I loved Jerusalem, the Jewish story was very accessible and I was given a picture of the conflict that was heavily weighted towards the state of Israel. In order to understand the occupation and ongoing struggle of the Palestinians to be recognized as autonomous people, this tour was a necessary part of my visit. The group I toured with was friendly and peaceful and very open to holding conversations with us about their lives and the reality of life as a Palestinian in Hebron, for which I was enormously grateful. They cared about our safety and well-being and I would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Bethlehem or Jerusalem.

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Despite the politics, and my own guilt that my Jordanian and Palestinian friends from Amman can’t visit Jerusalem, the city was very beautiful. The history is tangible, especially in the old city, where we spent hours walking through hundreds of small shops that have been there for generations. At Razzouk Tattoo, the Razzouk family has been tattooing in the same small parlor since the year 1300 and we saw design blocks that were just as old. Although the rest of our trip was wonderful and we were collectively enchanted by Jerusalem, I was struck by how isolated the Israeli cities are from cities in the West Bank, which furthered the importance of our visit to Hebron. Jerusalem is only an hour away from Hebron, but the stark difference in infrastructure and dress makes Jerusalem seem almost European, and it becomes clear what story has been historically emphasized to tourists in Israel.

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My time in Jerusalem changed my understanding of what it means to be Palestinian. Because the Palestinians are denied many rights, including claim to a physical country of their own with cohesive infrastructure, it can be difficult to grasp who the Palestinians are, as an ethnicity as well as body with a unique and common nationality. In the face of an ill-defined border, bureaucracy surrounding citizenship and rights to travel are determined by much more arbitrary rules that easily become racist and exclusionary in nature when applied by the IDF. Despite my limited knowledge of the conflict, my time in Hebron made it clear that an institutional change was necessary to ease the tension that permeates every part of the city that I visited. No city that lives under such violent pressure will be able to culturally thrive, and it becomes necessary to work with local groups such as Youth Against Settlement to find a path to creating a livable environment.

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“How to be an Active Outsider” by Maureen Lincke

This past weekend I had my legs waxed with the mother of one of my friends on the Frisbee team. Feeling like an outsider was enhanced by not just a significant language barrier, but also by the fact that I had never had anything waxed before. Neither my friend’s mother, Hind, nor the woman who came to her home to do the waxing spoke English, but the experience of waxing for the first time has the effect of making fast friends with the other people in the room and the barrier was secondary to the feeling of vulnerability. Without going into details about waxing which I assume is painful regardless of where one is in the world, the experience was extremely fun and challenging to my conception of “outsider vs. insider.”

Maybe I had thought that going to a woman’s home in Jordan to get my legs waxed with her would serve as a suitable initiation into becoming an insider to women’s culture in Jordan, but I can’t say I feel any more enlightened. These experiences are vital to my schema for Arabic language, but in the fluid entity that defines culture, there is not a clear path to becoming an “insider” to any of the societal sects. As an Arabic language-learner, it seems to me currently that mastering Arabic fluency is the key to becoming an “insider.” But this brings to light an important question of definitional clarity, and I’m not sure I know how to define an “insider” of Jordanian culture. Hypothetically, if I was to one day master perfect fluency of Arabic, and spoken Jordanian Arabic, it is true that my place in Jordanian society would widen with increased conversational opportunity. But it seems as though the facts of my experience will automatically place me in a position of “outsider” to Jordanian culture.

My experience with waxing my legs, while relatively awkward and illustrative of my present outsider status due to an inability to converse in Arabic, was actually a positive experience with defining myself as an outsider. As an outsider, there are ways to present myself as a passive learner and ways to present myself as an active learner, and this differentiation seems more important than that of outsider vs. insider. There’s not a way for me to come off as Jordanian, even in the multitude of presentations that identity can take, because I don’t speak Arabic. Confronted with this fact, it becomes important to become an active outsider to Jordanian culture by watching interactions and engaging in conversations in ways that don’t involve complex language. The most wonderful discovery I have made about being an outsider is that language isn’t always necessary to interact with other people, or that sometimes a single word can get your point across. This is how I have gone about becoming knowledgeable about culture, by actively listening to the conversations around me. And this is how I can present myself as an active member of Jordanian society, even if I cannot become an insider.

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“The Simple Accomplishments of Learning Arabic” by Maureen Lincke

What is most remarkable about learning a language is being forced to restart a very basic form of human communication. There is an initial feeling of excitement and eagerness to dive into something new, and then there is an uncomfortably intimate moment where the language opens up details of your personality that are connected to how you use language. So, for example, I consider myself personable and good at meaningful small talk, but without the Arabic language tools, I have found myself facing the fact that I am unavoidably awkward and a little cold in all my interactions.

On Monday morning, I do not have Arabic lessons so I like to walk to the coffee shop that is close to my house and Skype my sister. Getting to coffee shops early, within the first thirty minutes of the opening, has always been the best time to get to a coffee shop because the coffee is fresh, it’s quiet, and I’m the only one using the wifi so the connection is fast. If there is no one else in the coffee shop though, it becomes much more necessary to make a little bit of small talk with the barista. On one particular morning, I ordered a latte and a cookie but I couldn’t think of a single topic of conversation that I could maintain. I know plenty of ways to ask for directions to my house, ask for change, or say ‘spicy chicken’ but none of these topics merited any relevance that morning in the coffee shop so I just stood there and tried to telepathically communicate small talk to reestablish the comfortable quiet of the morning.

It’s not easy being abroad and realizing I’m playing into an American stereotype by speaking very very poor Arabic, but it’s made better by an encouraging teacher and by days where I flawlessly direct taxi drivers to AMIDEAST. I am surrounded by Arabic-speaking people who are willing to interpret my haphazardly strung together words, and for this, I am grateful. It has helped me come much further than I did in the first month of learning French in high school because I am surrounded by opportunities to practice. I find, despite how elementary my Arabic is, the more I attempt to blunder my way through an interaction in Arabic, the more encouraged I become. Regardless of how useless the interaction is, I am much more pleased by simple accomplishments and simply recalling a word spontaneously almost ensures my ability to permanently add it to my vocabulary. I am grateful for the simple pleasure of recalling the word for ‘banana milkshake’ in the middle of a restaurant, even if that’s all I can order for myself.

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“Art in Amman: the Familial Photographs of Karimeh Abbud” by Maureen Lincke

Yesterday my roommate and I had some time to explore Amman and happened to stumble upon the Khalid Shoman Foundation, which is an art gallery near Paris circle. It was an amazing area and we were able to see three exhibits, distinct from one another by separate buildings. The main exhibit was Desert Soundcapes by Ammar Khammash who “explores the landscape of Jordan and Palestine to unearth a hidden order, a secret code, or an undiscovered musical scale hidden in the millions of flints in the desert” (Sahel Al Hiyari, exhibit curator).

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My favorite exhibit, however, were photographs taken by the first Arab woman photographer, Karimeh Abbud. Her photographs document her life in Palestine during the British Mandate–around 1920-1930–and was such a compelling view of the everyday life of a Palestinian. Because Abbud advertised herself as a family photographer, her photos are intimate and honest in a way staged photographs from that time are not. Her photographs are staged, but there is an unmistakable familiarity between the photographer and her subjects, which is different from the stiff black and white portraits that share no relationship with the photographer or, by extension, the viewer.

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The familiar lifestyle of a home in Palestine was not a part of the images I have seen of Palestine up until this point and I felt so delighted to look at the playful snapshots captured by Abbud. Knowing the everyday, even mundane, parts of life is the most vital, and the most overlooked part of the history of a people. So upon walking into the exhibit, I was so grateful to have the opportunity to see the work of a woman deeply connected to the home lives of Palestinians before the country transformed forever into the complex political question-mark I know it as today. Especially in the context of my classes (The Arab-Israeli Relations), it is easy to become caught up in the historical tragedy, or the violence produced, and put this as context for every Palestinian. Although it is a sad story, the political realities are not wholly representative of the memory of Palestine. There are very real memories of holidays, food, school, and friends that also shape the history in addition to the British Mandate, which are so well captured by Abbud’s photography.

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There were books documenting the other exhibits hosted by the gallery, and the overwhelming majority were Arab artists entrenched in what it means to be Arab, or Muslim, or Palestinian, or of some other Middle Eastern identity, in the present context. This is the first art gallery I have seen so far, but I really hope to come back and see all the other exhibits they host because of the unique intimacy offered by art, especially politically driven art. And, as Edward Saaid might say, everything is political because everything produced by humans is done so in the context of a culture with a political structure that influences that work, often subconsciously. My classes are going to be wonderful and I am really looking forward to them, but these art exhibits supplement my knowledge of individual stories that are often missed when learning an entire history of a group of people. In other words, I am so grateful I was able to see such happy snapshots of everyday life for Karimeh Abbud in the midst of reading about the contentious history of the British mandate. Life continues to go on, even in the slow process of a politically changing landscape.

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