New Project at MoSD

My last week in Amman has been a really great one. I've just started working more with a coworker named Hadi, and he's been great to work with.

There are a few things about Hadi that make him awesome. First of all, he loves to teach, and takes every opportunity possible to teach me something about the Arabic language and his culture. He once sat me down and talked to me about the Qur'an for an hour in the middle of the work day. He would tell me to turn to a page, and then recite it from memory as I followed along in the text. It was actually a really cool experience. People in western countries, myself included, have a very limited understanding of Islam, so I cherish every opportunity to learn a thing or two about this religion.

Hadi is a great teacher because he speaks better English than anyone else in the office, so we can communicate in both languages. He helps me out whenever I need to know a new Arabic phrase, or when I'm having trouble understanding other colleagues. Hadi picked up English when he lived in California for a few years. He loves to tell me about the "small village of Bakersfield" that he lived in. Now, he works in the Societies/Charities department coordinating social projects with NGOs.

Hadi is also probably the most entertaining coworker in the ministry. He loves using English swear words and saying what's up in his best American accent. 

He has many friends living in Palestine, and he has a lot of interesting stories about their lives. Hadi is part Palestinian; his mother's family is from there, yet he has never been able to visit the country. His family once owned land there, but it now belongs to Israel, technically. Hearing stories like this has given me more perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I almost feel guilty having visited Palestine, while so many Palestinians living in Jordan are unable to visit.

Hadi also recently introduced to me an awesome project that he's working on, and I get to be a part of it. An NGO called Sisterhood Is Global Institute (SIGI) approached the ministry with the idea of making a 13 episode mini-series about life for women in Jordan. The ministry signed on to provide some financial support, but we are now working to find other sources of funding.

We will be working for the next several weeks to spread the word about this project in order to give it a little more exposure. I'm excited about this project because much of the western world knows very little about life in the Middle East, and they know even less about the lives of women.

Today Hadi and I met with a freelance reporter from the UK to give her some information about the project. This reporter focuses on women's issues, and we are hoping to give her examples of how the ministry is helping to empower Jordanian women. We also discussed potential subjects for the mini-series. The ministry employs a lot of women, and many of the representatives of the NGOs that we work with are women. 

I'll keep everyone updated on how this project goes! I only have a few more weeks here at the ministry, but hopefully we are able to get the ball rolling in the next week or two. I can't wait to see the finished product. 

Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr, and Aftermath

Ramadan has finally come to a close. This past tuesday we saw the crescent moon, meaning Ramadan was over and Eid Al-Fitr had officially begun. I definitely enjoyed Ramadan; it provided a really interesting insight into a religious culture that I don't have a lot of experience with. Honestly, though, I am so glad that it's finally over. 

Eid was pretty interesting. The city felt completely empty during the day, but during the nights it would suddenly be packed again. I honestly had a somewhat limited Eid experience. I was sick for about two days of Eid, so I spent most of my time in bed. The usual Eid traditions include traveling to the homes of family members and feasting with them, but I didn't get to do any of this.

Now that Ramadan and Eid are over, people are getting back into their normal routines. Sunday was literally my first full day in the office that wasn't during Ramadan. The whole office environment was much more enjoyable though. I was so excited for Ramadan to begin because I figured it would be the truest example of Arab/Muslim culture, but I don't think it really is. Even for Muslims, life is very different during Ramadan. This isn't a bad thing, of course; that's the way that it's supposed to be. But now that it's over, the general mood of the office has improved immensely, and I'm enjoying it a lot more. While this is partly due to the fact that I can now eat and drink in the office, it's also because most of my colleagues are just more friendly now.

Of course, this isn't true for all. While some people use Ramadan as an excuse to be irritable and grumpy, others seemed to be particularly calm and patient. They take advantage of the time as a test of patience and spirituality, and many of them handled themselves really well during the day. Now that it's over, it's interesting to compare the behavior of people from during and after Ramadan. Altogether, I enjoy being in the office a lot more now that Ramadan is over. Beyond that, the city is just more pleasant. There is way less traffic. Travelling to and from work use to take up to 70 or 80 minutes a day, while now I can make the same round trip in about half the time. Now, every restaurant is open all day. I can drink water in the office and no one will be offended. The only downside is that now people smoke throughout the day no matter where they are.

The people of Jordan love to smoke. My roommates and I have one cafe that we prefer because it is a non-smoking cafe. We were speaking with some Arab friends about this and they complained that it is ridiculous for a place to have a no smoking rule. We then described the smoking culture in the United States and he was disgusted to find out how rare it is to be allowed to smoke indoors. It's not that this is a major issue for me, I don't smoke cigarettes and I don't enjoy the smell, but it's not as if I've never been around smokers in my life. The difference is how casual it is no matter where you are. Smoking in the office is completely normal, for instance. I didn't realize this before, of course, because nobody was smoking during Ramadan. I do have coworkers who don't smoke. Many of the men that I spend time with tell me that they quit smoking when they had children. Coincidentally, these guys are my favorite people in the office.

Let me walk you through my day in my office, because I found this pretty funny. First of all, during Ramadan the work day was from 10 AM to 3 PM, but now that Ramadan is over it has changed to 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. I arrived to the office a little late, around 9 o'clock. When I first walked in I was greeted with cheers from two colleagues and a bowl of candy. Someone immediately handed me a cup of coffee as I sat down at my desk. They then go through some customary Arab greetings.

"Hi David. How are you? What's new? How is your health? How was Eid? You look well. Are you well?" This is all in Arabic of course, and with the guys that I am better friends with it is accompanied by the customary three kisses on the cheeks. 

There was clearly much more energy in the room today. My good friend Mahmoud said, "Today is the first day after Ramadan, so we must work." Immediately after that, two coworkers entered the room, both carrying their morning coffee. The two coworkers sat down, making five of us in the room, and we proceeded to chat amongst ourselves until 11. There was a pitcher of coffee passed around the room. Some of the guys drank three or four cups in that two hour period. The energy level was seriously through the roof.

Around 11 the group dispersed. It was time for everyone to get to work. I kept myself busy during this time, continuing my research on an NGO that the ministry works with. Around 12:30, though, the office emptied out. I guess it was a lunch break, though I never saw anyone eating any food. I stayed at my desk and ate my lunch, and people trickled back in a little after 1. There was a some conversating as people settle back in at their desks, but it got quiet pretty quickly and people worked diligently for about an hour.

Starting at 2, people began wondering around the office again, looking for conversation. At about 2:50, I asked a coworker if it was time to go home. He told me that the work day now ended at 3:30, and that we had to stay and work. So, from 2:50 to 3:30 we sat around chatting before finally leaving for the day.

Clearly, the work environment here is really low stress. I don't consider it a bad thing either. Everyone here enjoys their jobs, and as far as I can tell people are actually getting their work done. While I enjoy being productive in the office, my favorite part is talking to my coworkers and practicing my Arabic. When it comes down to it, this is the main reason I am here, and I'm doing my best to seize every opportunity to gain more insight into Arab culture.

This weekend I'll be visiting Aqaba, Jordan's only coastal town. It's located on the Red Sea and I've heard that it's beautiful, so I'll be bringing my camera. My next post will detail this trip.

Roman Ruins and First Week at the Ministry

Today marked the beginning of my second week working at the Ministry of Social Development here in Amman, and I am just closing in on two full weeks in Jordan. It has been an amazing experience so far. I'm getting much more familiar with the city, thanks to a couple of friends and a bunch of taxi drivers. While the culture is obviously completely different from the United States, it has not been difficult to adjust to thus far, even a week into Ramadan.

One thing that will improve my experience here is improving my Arabic. The Arabic spoken in the work place is a dialect called Amiyya, which is essentially spoken exclusively in Jordan, although it's similar to most dialects spoken throughout the Levant. While I do have some experience with Amiyya, most of my studies have focused on FusHa, a traditional form of Arabic from which the dialects have all stemmed from. FusHa is not used in conversation in the Arab world, though it is used for writing, and things like the news. So, while my FusHa is useful for speaking, reading and writing, it doesn't help me much with listening. 

My office building. It's way too big to fit into a photo taken from across the street!

My office building. It's way too big to fit into a photo taken from across the street!

As for the work I've been doing, it's really been all over the place. I spent most of my first week settling in to the office and finding a good fit. I'm currently stationed in the Societies Department, which focuses on Government-NGO relations. I've spent a lot of time with the audit department, partially because they are the most fun group in the office, but also because they work with a lot of NGOs based out of non-Arab countries, meaning their reports and financials are always in English. 

The work environment is pretty entertaining here! My first day was the day before Ramadan, and I was offered at least 4 or 5 cups of tea/coffee during my half-day at the office. The one other intern here happens to be from BYU, and my boss was absolutely shocked to discover that this intern wouldn't drink coffee or tea. 

Now that Ramadan has begun, the work day is just 5 hours, from 10 AM to 3 PM. Approximately 4 of these hours are spent working, while the other hour is spent taking many social breaks through the day. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from about 4 AM til around 8 PM every day for the entire lunar month of Ramadan. The meal to break the fast is called Iftar, eaten around 8 PM, and the second meal is called Suhur, which is usually eaten as close to the start of the fast as possible.

The Umayyad palace.

The Umayyad palace.

It's been a pretty cool experience to see how everyone at my workplace adjusts their lifestyle during this period. Some people are extremely tired from having Suhur with their families at 1 or 2 AM. Their diligence is really impressive; I get tired at work after a full night sleep and a breakfast in the morning. The biggest noticeable difference is actually the cranky taxi drivers (and sometimes cranky coworkers) who aren't able to smoke their cigarettes throughout the day, since not smoking is a part of fasting.

Besides work, I've been doing a lot of exploring Amman. This last Saturday Evan, Anthony and I visited the Roman Citadel. The Citadel is a collection of ruins from the past 4000 years (seriously). It is located in the middle of the city, and it was incredible. The Citadel is located on top of one of the seven "Mountains" in Amman, though they are really more like large hills. It contains mainly Roman and Umayyad ruins, but archeologists claim that a tomb nearby dates back to 2300 BCE. The picture to the right is an Umayyad palace which was built around 730 CE. The palace was definitely my favorite part of the ruins.

The Roman temple to Hercules.

The Roman temple to Hercules.

The bulk of the ruins are from the Roman empire. The largest standing ruins are the leftovers of a temple to Hercules. Most of the temple has crumbled sometime in the last 2000 years, but the part that still stands is huge. There is a huge cistern not far from the Umayyad palace, which was built by the Romans as well. The ruins themselves are cool, but it still blows my mind that these 2000 year old structures stand in the middle of the capital city. We truly have nothing like this in the states!

Down the hill a little ways is the Roman Amphitheater. It was built around the same time as the the other Roman ruins, and there is a great view of it from the temple to Hercules. It seats 6000 and is still used for music festivals every year.

A view of the Roman amphitheater from a spot near the temple to Hercules.

A view of the Roman amphitheater from a spot near the temple to Hercules.

A couple days after my visit to these ruins in Amman, a group of archaeologists announced that they found a previously undiscovered monument at Petra presumed to be around 2150 years old. We're planning on visiting Petra sometime in the next couple weeks. It should be awesome. They're supposedly in way better shape than these ruins, so I can't wait to get out there and see them. 

That's all for this post. Yesterday a small group of us visited the Dead Sea, so my next post will include some photos from that trip!

First Days In Amman

After ages of planning and preparing, I have finally arrived in Amman, Jordan. I was officially accepted to my summer internship just four or five months ago, but I have actually wanted to spend a summer in Amman since I first took an Arabic class when I was going to BYU in 2013, so I'm obviously very excited that this time has come. 

My first week in Amman has been a lot of fun. I unknowingly flew in the day before a huge regional holiday (The 100th Anniversary of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire), and the weekend here is Friday and Saturday, so I haven't been in to my internship host office yet. Tomorrow will be my first day. Because of this, my roommates and I have spent the last several days settling in to our apartment, and running around the city finding good spots to eat and get coffee.

The streets have been packed over the last several days. As I said, Thursday was the Centennial of the Arab Revolt, so most businesses were closed for the day. Thursday and Friday nights both included a lot of fireworks, as well as fighter jets flying right over our apartment. We've done our best to avoid spending too much time outside during the day, as temperatures have reached the upper-nineties almost every day. 

Altogether, the past several days have been a good adjustment period for getting over the jet lag, and adjusting to the new time zone. I expect things to get much more exciting over the next couple days, as tomorrow is my first day working at the Ministry, and Ramadan begins at sundown tomorrow. Going forward, I am hoping to post at least once a week, most likely on Fridays or Saturdays. Thanks to everyone for reading!

* I have taken some photos already, but I have not uploaded any to my computer yet, so thank you to Anthony Calacino for providing the two that I used for this post.