Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bringing in the New Year

Before January ends, I want to write briefly about the unforgettable New Year I had back in Jordan. I promise my next post will be about Germany, but my last couple weeks in Jordan were a whirlwind of last minute sightseeing, project work, and emotions. I have decompressed since and would love to share this last Middle East adventure!

On New Year's Eve, a good friend and I took the bus from Amman to Aqaba, a coastal city in Southern Jordan on the Red Sea. Aqaba (and the Red Sea in general) is known for being a great snorkeling and diving site. Upon arrival, Catriona and I immediately rented snorkel gear and wetsuits and headed for the water. Like everything else in Jordan, this experience totally exceeded my expectations! No more than 10 meters from the beach, I felt like I was transported into Finding Nemo! The fish were exquisite, the plant life was unbelievable. It was just incredible.

While we could have explored for hours, it was a bit chilly. We warmed up and walked along the beach, watching the sunset and marveling at the fact that we could see Israel and Egypt across the water. Even more interesting was the signpost near our hostel that read "10km to Saudi Arabia". A nice little reminder of where I was in the world.

That night, we ate the most delicious fresh, grilled fish ever. I hadn't had fish since Japan and this was a welcome change from lentils and pita bread. I think the only thing Catriona and I could talk about during dinner was how good the fish was. Ok, now my mouth is watering, excuse me while I go get a snack... :)

The next day (New Year's Day), my travel buddy had to head back to Amman. But I traveled to Wadi Rum for a one day/one night tour of the desert. A whole group of us bobbed around in the back of jeeps and pickups as our Bedouin guides showed us the sights. Here are some of the highlights:

Met this guy when I first arrived.

This was the first of many rock scrambles/ hikes/ climbs for the day, to what used to be a spring. I didn't see any water, but was greeted instead by some goats!

This was my ride for the day. The sun was out and it warmed my cold bones. 

Next, we went to this HUGE sand dune. One of the guides gave me his board...I attempting to stay standing, but it was much more fun to just sit and slide down. Also, I unknowingly brought a bunch of red sand with me to Germany. I am still dumping it out of my shoes and finding it in my bag. Oops.

Here are some ancient camel hieroglyphs! I'm only partially convinced that these are ancient... Come on, how easy would it be for people to just add some nice carvings into the rock...? Just kidding. I'm sure they're legit. ;)

Our lunch spot. The most "in the middle of nowhere" I think I've ever been. We gathered some kindling for a small fire so we could have hot tea. I was glad I got to have more Bedouin whiskey before I left Jordan.

The afternoon was filled with more hiking, the supposed site of Lawrence's house (Lawrence of Arabia), interesting trees, and a climb up to a rock bridge that ensured I exceeded my adrenaline limit for the day.

Yep, that's me up there on the bridge... Now, I'm not afraid of heights, but I am quite cautious. I was acutely aware of the fact that one wrong move of my weary legs could be detrimental... Let's just say I was glad to be back solidly on the ground after this climb. This whole day also made think about how we really can't do stuff like this in the U.S. Tour companies or parks would be way to concerned about liability issues. You'd have to sign some kind of extensive waiver and follow all the rules. My tour guide/jeep driver, Ahmad, didn't seem to concerned about safety, just that we have a good time.

We watched the sunset, with more hot tea, before heading back to the camp for a delicious meal and chatting around the fire. When I got up from the fire to head to bed, I happened to look up at the sky. What I saw literally took my breath away. I have NEVER in my life seen so many stars. Despite the cold, I wandered a little way outside the camp in the pitch dark, laid down with a rock as a pillow, and just took it all in. I had spent the day marveling at God's creation, but being underneath that blanket of stars, I couldn't help but pray and sing praises to Him.

I can understand how the Israelites might have complained a bit after 40 years of wandering around in the desert. But you know what, I would quite like to wander around Wadi Rum for a few weeks, eating manna and exploring the vastness. One day just wasn't enough. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Three Little Sheep and Other Tidbits

The holidays were a rough time. I found it was a time when I wanted/needed to talk to people from home most, but those people were busy traveling home or waist-deep in holiday preparations. I did end up having a fabulous Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with lots of really wonderful people, but something else that cheered me up significantly was a visit to the Center of Hope for Special Education. 

Just before Christmas, a group of young adults with special needs at this organization put on a small production of the Christmas story. My friend, Veronika, and I had the extreme privilege of watching a rehearsal of the play a few days before all the family, friends, and members of the community were invited to watch. The play was narrated by one of the teachers, but the students did an excellent job repeating their lines, entering at the designated time, and knowing their places throughout the performance. It was awesome!

I think my favorite part was the three little sheep who accompanied the shepherds to go see baby Jesus. And I also enjoyed the star that the wise men followed. :)

Mary and Joseph awaiting their visitors.
Three sheep.
Can't miss the star!
Everyone has arrived!
This organization is a kind of school for young adults with intellectual disabilities and it serves a low income part of Amman. They provide academic lessons as well as some life skills training. I was so impressed with how involved each student was in the play and the rest of the daily activities. The atmosphere was welcoming and calm and each student worked diligently.

I was also impressed with some of the things the organization has created themselves to promote learning. Take this cool map of Jordan for instance:

Different cities and points of interest have a corresponding LED light on the map. Students can press one of the buttons on the red panel on the right and see it light up on the map. Cool! (Or maybe I just really like maps...) It's this kind of creativity that I like to see when I visit different places.

There are a few other tidbits of information I want to share about the portrait of disability provisions in Jordan:

As for the policy side of things, I learned that government involvement is quite complex. There are four main government entities that have some sort of influence on the special needs community: Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, and the Higher Council for Person's with Disabilities. While there are sufficient laws and policies in place, there doesn't seem to be much implementation oversight and there is very little standard procedure for dealing with particular issues. I heard numerous stories about well-meaning people sent on a wild goose chase to various ministries in order to get the right information or paperwork filled out. Frustrating, to say the least.

Interestingly, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which has a strong presence in Jordan, is currently working with the government and other organizations to make improvements. JICA regularly sponsors trips for Jordanian individuals working in the special needs community to learn about how things are done in Japan. (At a parent support meeting I attended in Jordan, I heard from a woman who had just returned from a trip to Japan. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that her generalizations about the situation in Japan were similar to my own!) In addition, JICA is sending an individual to work in the Ministry of Labor this year. Her goal is to help integrate people with special needs into the work force. While I do admire this goal, getting another government ministry involved will certainly add complexity.

Finally, I want to comment on the wide use of social media in Jordan. I found that most communication happens through social media. Nearly every organization I visited has a Facebook page, often their only web presence (no accompanying website). Parents and other inquirers use this as the main way to contact the Jordan Down Syndrome Society, for example. Also, the parent of a child with Autism started the Twitter account AutismJO, which now has more than 500 followers. For people in Jordan, social media is helping organizations be part of the community at home and around the globe as pictures are shared and connections are made.

Well, there is lots more to tell, so feel free to ask me about it sometime! I certainly can't write everything here, but I look forward to sharing more with interested people in the future!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Facebook Posts from Jordan

Since my Facebook posts from Japan were so popular, I thought I had better compile a list for Jordan as well. Here's a glimpse into my everyday life and some random thoughts from the last three months!

1. Emirates is my new favorite airline. I highly recommend it.

2. Comment from my mom as I flew red-eye from Tokyo to Amman: "We get two sleeps before you even get one." Time change is weird.

3. I am finding it difficult to refrain from doing the peace sign in pictures now...

4. I thought I was getting more confident and becoming a real traveler, but then I met some people at the hostel in Jordan... I'm still a newbie for sure. There are some intense travelers out there.

5. I'm juggling like 6 different time zones at this point. I feel so smart and well-connected.

6. The Abdali Flea Market is a sensory overload and a gold mine for cheap clothes. I love it!

7. How the first Watson Fellows survived without google maps is a mystery to me. Even in a country where addresses are a new phenomenon, google maps is invaluable.

8. May have just purchased an album of 55 Arabic Pop Hits. Get ready friends, DJ Hannah has all kinds of new material.

9. One of my favorite things to do in a new country is figure out my go-to snack foods.

10. Love me a Jordanian sunset. #palmtreesillouette

11. Hannah's oatmeal Japanese style: with milk and bananas. Hannah's oatmeal Jordan style: with yogurt and honey.

12. Walked to the store to buy pita bread and hummus, only to hear Call Me Maybe playing over the loudspeaker in the store. Kinda killed my Middle East vibe.

13. One stop shopping for all your smoking needs.

14. Totally startled when a little kid shot off a pop gun as I walked past. He laughed at me. haha

15. Snacks for the bus ride home from Petra. These'll go straight to my hips.

16. A taxi driver insisted that at 22 I should be married with two babies. Guess I'm a bit behind...

17. Amman is a MESS before and after a futbol match. The streets are chaos with honking cars decked out in Jordanian flags sitting in stalled traffic. Kids are let out early from school in anticipation of the traffic. And I could basically watch the entire game on my walk home going past all the packed out cafes with big screen TVs.

18. Saw Hunger games with these lovely ladies!! Complete with Arabic and French subtitles.

19. There is a huge difference in street harassment when I walk with a guy than when I walk alone or with another girl.

20. Plastic palm tree. At least it doesn't need water?

21. I don't remember the last time I had hot chocolate. Cafe Strada for the win.

22. I actually used a cross walk today. That's a first.

23. Saw sowers sowing seeds!

24. I bought apples from Washington! They traveled a long way!

25. In a taxi on my way home one evening, stopped at a light and the driver starts honking... This is typical, but the light is clearly red so I was confused. Then a man appeared at the driver's window selling a hot cup of coffee! Quite the entrepreneur on these cold winter nights!

26. Pita bread, figs, bell peppers, Arabic coffee, falafel, hummus. These are a few of my favorite things!

27. Not a big fan of tile floors. My feet are cold.

28. After much pondering, I do think I prefer the cold here in Jordan to the heat and humidity in Japan.

29. I need a snuggie.

30. Any guess on what this is? There used to be two of them sitting on the street too... #disappearingact #whatisit #hopeitdoesntexplode

31. Best Christmas tree ever. With real candles too!

32. I was convinced there were ice cream trucks all over the city because I always heard these loud jingles coming from trucks on the street. Come to find out... gas can delivery isn't exactly ice cream...

33. Practicing patience and pomelo peeling.

34. So thankful for Facetime! I love my family.

To be honest, while I am certainly excited to see what adventures lie ahead for me in Germany, I am quite sad to leave Jordan. It has been an amazing three months and the country totally exceeded my expectations. I have met so many wonderful people here and the sightseeing was incredible. Jordan, I hope to see you again someday!!