Saturday, June 4, 2011

Final Moments: Reykjavik Airport

I am at the end of yet another countdown. Though I think this one was definitely one of the more trying countdowns. I am sure the world, as its own absurd entity of trial and tribulations, carefully planned this one last attempt to break my spirit. But alas! I am in the final hour and a half of a 16-hour-layover until I load the plane to go to Seattle; my last leg that brings me back to the United States of America.

Being back in the US is a really odd concept to grasp right now. Sweden has been astounding. Whether it was just being with someone who had a long history of accepting my oddities, or the entrance into a “1st world” or “developed” country—I felt so at home. I understood the people, they understood me, my awkward humor, and most of all: they shared my love for coffee, tea, and pastries! Their concept of chatting over coffee with pastries is one that I personally think every country should emulate: FIKA, how I’ve loved putting your definition into practice. See below for example “A” of Fika in Sweden with Neen-bo-beens.

Here is the after photo:

Yes, we ate all of it.

What a beautiful way to finish up my travels, with big larger-than-life cinnamon buns and coffee. The theme of this week has definitely been coffee—in fact I’ve already had three grueling cups today in attempt to get the internet. However, unlike Jordan, you actually have to buy an account here in Iceland.

Which brings me to my next travel story…

Yes. I have been in Reykjavik Airport for a cumulative total of about 13 hours.

Once I board this plane, I will have been at the airport or in a plane for 22 hours.

When I arrive in Seattle it will be 30 hours. I personally think this is very impressive! Accepting my fate early on was certainly a strong playing move by me. The fact that I knew I would be twiddling my thumbs for the majority of June 3rd, 2011, allowed me time to prepare, and a calm general acceptance of doom to center in my hypothalamus or whatever facet of your brain that makes you calm…

Let me tell you about the airport. Downstairs: BORING. Metal seats and a chilly breeze from outside (fortunately I had this fantastic blue blanket, and Nina’s sweatshirt to create a makeshift hobo-home for myself next to two other poor souls doing the same thing I was).  However, you can buy one cup of coffee and get as many refills as you want—this I milked until I handed the coffee container back to the barista to refill it. Though I got maybe one successful hour of sleep, the coffee, GORP, and book Unscientific America, kept me company until 12:00pm, when I was allowed to re-check my bags.

At this point, I could go upstairs! THIS was exciting. Not only does Reykjavik airport have a HUGE sunroof, but they also have long black cushiony-plush couches perfect for napping. I took full advantage of this, after playing with the nail-polish in the Duty Free store.

Well, anyway, I ‘m sure the details of Reykjavik airport are thrilling for you, but I figure I should do some kind of closure for this blog!

Recalling the title, Real Hummus, I can safely say I’ve never had as good of hummus as I did in Jordan. That was a given. I am sure Hashem’s restaurant trumps all other hummus-types I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what they do…but Nina and I attempted hummus and it did not look like Hashem’s. Though it was tasty.

So, what is the Real Hummus that I’ve learned on my travels? Well I learned how to entertain myself for 16 hours in the airport—this is also known as “patience” I believe…J

Often people say that after students come back from doing a “semester abroad” they have changed—they have life-changing plans fizzing and stewing inside their brains. Well, I can assure you…the only thing inside me is a whole bunch of hummus which I’m sure has monopolized all artery real estate since February.

Anyway….as I wrote before, I thanked Jordan for opening my eyes to all aspects of a culture I never would have understood no matter how much I read about it. The same goes for Israel/Palestine (though not the same depth), and Sweden. Perhaps I will later have that “aha!” moment, though I’m not expecting it, nor neglecting it. I know how to travel more intelligently and with more preparedness. I know how to relate to the people I want to relate to. I know patience. I know what I want to learn more about, and I know I don’t know. But I think most importantly, I know how to be a fool, and that being a fool often teaches you how to be a genius.

No matter what I’ve learned or missed out on, I feel as though I’m coming back to Seattle satisfied, more understanding, full, and very, very broke.

Thankfully, this is America, and I have a job lined up.

So thanks for reading this you three or four people. And I apologize in advance for repeating stories you may have read over this coming summer.

See you soon,

Inside the Natural History the "Human Case"

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bunny Observation

Location: Random forest outside Berlin Airport

Date and Time: Dilemma. Is it 10:13 am or 9:13 am? I guess 9:13 am.

Reason for Visit: Connection from Tel Aviv, Israel to Goteborg, Sweden.

Present Activity: Rabbit observation. There is a little brown rabbit that hopped out from under a car and began to clean her paws. It is probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

1.       Streets are clean.
2.       There are trees.
3.       There is grass.
4.       Everyone’s car is from the past two decades.
5.       It is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
6.       No sandstorms.
7.       Everyone looks like me.
8.       Everyone is smiling!

Welcome to a “developed” country. Oh my goodness.

While I’m waiting for this flight, let me reflect on my last journey: Israel.

Israel was an illuminating experience. In six days I visited three different areas, the Palestinian camps, the holy city, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. Going from nothing to super-metropolitan city in short-shorts and banana-hammocks is a culture shock I really did not expect to find. Not to mention Jerusalem, the city I figured was going to be full of religious people humming versus from the Bible and the Quran, was in fact just a tourist trap.

UN resolution sign in front of the camp
I can’t elaborate too much about the location of the camp, though it was in Bethlehem, and my favorite memory of this trip was blasting Justin Beiber in the beat-up car of a Palestinian friend through the streets of Bethlehem. Otherwise the camps are exactly what you expect them to be, constantly in construction, bare minimum provisions, controlled by the Israelis and the supplied by the UN (speaking of which, I saw a lot of UN cars zooming around while I was there…). Though the people consider it a jail, they are generally more laid back in some areas of interaction—like with women. They are so oppressed that they need to give “their own people” (the ones in the same situation) some slack, especially in the Muslim world. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.

Inside one of the houses, where I slept

Jerusalem was my first experience couchsurfing, which was incredibly positive. I dropped my stuff with some Israeli officers in training for a few hours while I toured the Old City (very very very touristic, though I did touch where Jesus was born and died. I saw the Dome of the Rock, went to the Western Wall, and fought off yet another Arab marriage). After I got into the center of Jerusalem, its really quite an interesting mix of people. The vast majority there are Europeans or liberal, yet religious Israelis, with this interesting mix of Israeli-Arab culture, where the Arab culture comes through when you see the touristic items, tea, and food. Couchsurfing was great, the folk I stayed with graciously accepted me without question and fed me, walked around Jerusalem with me, and helped carry my bags to the bus station.

Where Jesus  died
Western Wall notes

Tel Aviv. Ohhhh Tel Aviv.
This part of the trip was particularly interesting. I stayed with a friend I met in Aqaba, who at the time was with his girlfriend (at this point his girlfriend was in the States, interesting timing, isn’t it?). In any case, it was a bit of a struggle in the home front, especially because the first night I arrived we went for a night time dip and all our stuff was stolen. Thankfully my passport and over-clothes were brought back, though they stole 600 shekels from me, which was frustrating to say the least. Not only that, but the night after, I was hanging out with two Israelis and one Russian girl I met on a tour, and one of the Israeli’s had his phone and money stolen! So, lest I say, I don’t trust the Israeli beach.

Tel Aviv on the few rocks on the beach
Though, Tel Aviv is great. Losing the money forced me to live off 100 shekels for the next 3 days (by the way, that’s about 30 USD) which meant I checked out a lot of the city, had a lot of conversations, and had to resist a lot of cute pretty and cheap dresses I couldn’t afford. Though the stolen money made me lose a little bit of hope in humanity, it was restored by the fact that there were still so many wonderful people I met. Once I was looking for money and I suppose I took too long and a man behind me just said, you must not have it, I will buy you your sandwich, because I am a nice guy. Another instance I went to the bathroom and a man gave me a rose. Another time I went to the bathroom, was supposed to pay a shekel, but didn’t have any on me and couldn’t communicate it in Hebrew. This was apparently very endearing to the old man, who motioned for me to wait, handed me a lemon, and kissed me forehead.

The last instance was that the Israelis and Sasha (Russian girl), the folk I was hanging with on the beach,  didn’t like the sound of the guy I was staying with, and so we all just sat on the beach telling stories until 4am instead of me going home. We attempted to sleep for a bit but surrendered to how cold it was without proper blankets. Then the next morning we all got up and went to his sister’s house where we all took turns showering the sand off us and making tea and sandwiches.

So, people are good. Tel Aviv is like Europe  (I assume, I‘ve never been), and it shows absolutely no evidence of the conflict going on outside of it. Everyone I met there is very straightforward and very open-minded…At least more so than I have been used to in the last four-ish months.

I think I’d like to return to Tel Aviv, but definitely with friends. Jerusalem, however, I could definitely live in…and I hear Eylat is supposed to be incredible--something about dolphins.
Tel Aviv Art

So, thanks Israel, for teaching me who to trust, to giving me a backbone, for showing me ancient religious tourism, and for showing me good people do exist in light of bad situations.

Now…onto Sweden!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Difference

At this particular moment I am sitting in a cafe overlooking greater Jerusalem (AKA, Al-Quds).

This is a very big change from where I was in Jordan, and before now, in a Palestinian camp set up and provided by the UN.

The best way to describe my feelings right now are different. I haven't quite decided what to make of my experience I just had in the PA camp, especially in comparison to Israeli-Jerusalem, where I am surrounded by so much Western-influence I'm not sure where their culture is. The camp was basically like Amman, but dirtier, smellier, more populated, constantly in repair, and full of oppressed, and anxious inhabitants ready to get out of their jail as soon as possible. Nonetheless, I really appreciated meeting them, and blaring Justin Bieber through the streets of Bethlehem.

To try to put it the economics in perspective, I was just eating falafel with my friend before we left the camp: it was 4 sheckels. Now, I just paid a little under 30 sheckels for  an Americano and a very fancy but delicious apple-cheese pastry. Granted, I am in tourist land---as the Old City is to my right, which means there is a lot of khaki-white shirt-camera-around-the-neck tourists in their Jesus-sandals walking about who drive up all the prices. But here, things are clean.  The walls are not peeling, the  people are bare-shouldered (something I am thoroughly enjoying, especially when having to carry around my backpack and a duffel), and there is green. What does green mean? It means water. What does water mean in the middle east? Money.

In any case, today I stay in Jerusalem. Tomorrow I grab the bus to Tel Aviv--I am slowly leaving the East, the camels, and the falafel, and trading it in for overpriced lattes, soups, and salads. This isn't despair, or disappointment, its just different.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see if I can negotiate leaving my bags at this cafe for 2 hours to go take a look at the Old City without 50 pounds on my shoulders--

See you later Jordan

Let me preface this that I don’t know when I’ll have internet next, but this entry was written on May 19th, at 11pm.

I leave tomorrow morning at 6:30 am.  Well, that is at least when I start my journey.

Before I leave, I wanted to somehow mark the end of Jordan. All day today I felt as though I was supposed to be followed around with a trumpet or something, announcing my dispatch from the program. Obviously this wasn’t the case, and my entire day has been very anticlimactic. Nonetheless, I’ve said my goodbyes, I’ve looked at places in a that way you look at something that you know you won’t be seeing for a while, and I have packed up two bags of STUFF. In fact, a good one third of it (at least) is all presents, as I got rid of a bag of clothes already that are worn or I just didn’t want anymore.

So here I am. Sitting in my Jordanian bed for the last time, broken armoir to my left holding my duffel bag, coffee table to my right covered in socks and underwear set out to dry. I tried to stay awake to hang out with my host parents, but my eyes had other ideas for me, and I resigned to sleep in that Jordanian bed of mine. A buddy of mine said to me the other day, “Aren’t you sad?” And I told her, “yeah, I suppose…but I am ready to go, you know?” she acknowledged this, and concluded, “true. But aren’t you sad you can never do this again? I mean, you can come to Jordan, but not like this.”

This cynical realization is absolutely true. I will not be able to return to Jordan the same, with the same people, with the same experience and with the same intention ever again. I don’t know how exactly I’ve changed from this experience, but I wanted to give Jordan a bit of a thank you before I left.

So, Jordan…You Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,
Thank you.

Thank you for introducing me to good coffee, incredibly fatty foods, your secret internet cafĂ©s, Rainbow Street, twenty qirsh falafel, sage tea, Maglouba, Wadi Rum, the Bedouins, humanity, generosity, insanity and sanity, argelieh, lemon ma na-na  juice, Petra, Sahlab, Madaba and Ma’in Hot Springs, beautiful CIEE students, shaaby shabaab hisses, the most incredible family I could ask for, tears, happiness, bliss, content, self-realization, sand-storms, the saltiest sea ever, beautiful fish at Aqaba, music, Hashem's, haggling, street cats, security and confidence,  little homework, minimal motivation, sunsets and desert sunrises, Arabic and all its friends, the appreciation of dresses, the politics, the hatred, the protests and corruption, and all the other pleasures and smiles you’ve given me on a day-to-day basis.

Thanks for everything Jordan, you’ve been grand. But now that you’re done, I think I am ready to go home. Though, I have to say..home is a very weird concept to grasp at this particular moment. We’ll see what happens when my past hits me in the face.

Bishufek, Urdun—see you in the future.

Wadi Rum Aftermath

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Existing in the Exit

Two days ago the reality of my exit from Jordan became apparent. I’m not sure what exactly triggered it, perhaps it was the idea that I was under the five-day countdown or the “dis-orientation” CIEE had us listen to…But nonetheless, time came buzzing into my mouth mid-sentence, as if I wouldn’t mind.

 I now only have 3 more full days in Jordan. One of which is being spent in Petra, one is for goodbyes to my friends, and one is goodbye to my family. Somewhere squished between those emotions there is a fifteen-paper that I need to finish and a subsequent presentation on said paper.

But wow. Three days, three days, three days. I tried saying it aloud to myself today and it still hasn’t quite hit me. I thought typing would help. I leave the country in three days. Friday morning I head to the border, hopefully with my and giant backpack, some paperwork, and some of those memories stuffed into my back pockets.

Some lovely human right before I left sent me an email telling me how excited she was for me, and how my experience open my eyes in an elusive fashion. Well, I’m not sure if I’ve had time to process everything quite yet, but I can tell my dedicated four readers that I walked into a giant grocery store the other day in one part of Amman I had never  travelled to, and I practically had a panic attack. My job was to find Nutella. Instead, I found myself in the technology section, an entire floor away from the groceries. That being said, I guess it helped me realize how assimilated and accustomed I have become to this life.

In fact, after buying that Nutella (and some Peanut Butter) and eating mostly Nutella and Peanut Butter for a lunch and dinner, I was greeted with a gratuitous stomach-ache in the middle of the desert in Wadi Rum. Though, don’t get me wrong, Wadi Rum, for the second time was absolutely astounding. Especially because this time we were really out in the boonies—which was also why my plan to get to Petra the next day didn’t work out—because we were in the middle of no-where.

So I am used to the food, life, culture. I am just finding out things about Jordan I didn’t know about before—like hobbies I might like to pick-up, places I would like to visit more often, mahals I’d like to work at, apartments I’d love to share…But I am excited to travel again, to start anew, to go home, eat, drink and be merry, and yes, Mom, I will be making a slideshow for Grandma and Peepaw.  I only ask all of you to be preemptively patient with me and my constant shock, potential disdain for American greed, and impending panic-attacks in the middle of Cotsco.

I’ll write one more blog before Israel and Sweden, but after that…who knows what will happen! The journey is almost over, the experience is almost had.

In the words of that lovely writer whose name I forget,
                “So it goes.”

....In other news: PETRA photos!
Petra "Taxis"

THE TREASURY! What makes Petra famous...

Atop "The High Place"

The High Place Sacrificial rock thing

A cave with craaaazy rock colors!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Realizing You Are American

Recently we had a discussion in Internship Class about a contemporary critique a girl wrote from her time spent in Tibet. She essentially wrote that over privileged American’s are paying for an experience in an underdeveloped country for their own personal gain, and that they can never really get into the culture, and will always be treated like guests of honor because they are marked with that “American-ness” that defines them with a specific stigma. They can never really be “Global-Citizens”—only be more globally conscious.

In any case, we were talking about this, and my point of view practically drooled out of my mouth, but I forgot to write about it here—until now. My perspective on this is that, despite this girls’ clear pessimism for her study abroad program and that she also lacked insight and effort—one huge part of studying abroad is coming to terms with your nationality and your background and staring it in the face.

This may seem absurdly obvious. Because of course, everyone tends to know where they come from, and they know the history of said country and they have that mentality that yes, yes, I’m from _____. BUT, I don’t think anyone really gets behind their nationality and background. Especially if you are American in the Middle East. I say that because there IS a stigma here if you’re America. You trump everyone in terms of privilege here. People like to know you, and simultaneously like to hate you, just because you’re American. Well, if you really want to be immersed, accepted, and make friends. When they ask, “Where are you from?” you say, “America”—stick behind that, no matter what the next few comments are, and then ask them about something else.  It’s impossible to see the world without taking into account your nationality, and your background—so why hide it? If you acknowledge and accept that you are American and people will see that differently, you can move on from it and talk about much more fun things like music and food, as opposed to Obama and bin Laden.

Anyway, if I had any advice for future study abroad students it would be these two things:
1.       Know yourself, know your nationality and get behind it. Don’t deny it, don’t walk around it, don’t pretend you’re the nationality of the country you’re in because you aren’t and you won’t be. It’s the whole “beeeee yourself” from Aladdin. J
2.       Expect the unexpected and be able to constantly change your plans
3.       Bring more money than you ever think you’ll need for studying abroad.
4.       Expect to be depressed at one point, and recognize it when you are so you can get out of it.
5.       Take hold of all the chances you can—say yes more than saying no.
6.       Do and be exactly as you want to be.

I’m not saying these are right or wrong to follow, but I wish someone told me some of this stuff before I left in a more realistic setting. But who knows, I probably wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it for myself.

I have my first out of four Arabic Finals tomorrow.

Oh me oh my!

(on another note, I was roped into an Aerobics class today at the gym. Hilarious experience).

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama is Dead?

Apparently Bin Laden was finally found and killed.

This event has triggered probably the most emails from the Embassy, telling us to watch out...but really, no one here has even signaled discontent. Jordanians are more preoccupied with the past Barcelona vs Real Madrid game last week.

Its funny, I'm sure there is a whole hubub about it in the states, but interesting timing isn't it? There are uprisings all over the Middle East, and now is the time Osama Bin Laden is located, and killed. Its convenience certainly begs for further investigation of American secret police. But who would investigate the death of the face of an international murderer? Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed by any means, only spinning this piece of news in a  separate direction.

So. Here's to Amurrrika! You finished Bush's mission.