The Honeymoon is Over

Well.

It has been over one month and, as expected, my time in Jordan is shifting from novelty to normalcy. Yet at the same time, everything has undergone a significant upheaval. Another typical Jordanian contradiction.

With social media, it is easy to present an image that I am having an endless-fun, adventurous life in the Middle East… I sort of am, but it also has come with a plentiful amount of trade-offs.

First of all, I had to move out of my homestay. It’s a long story and it is a sad one. I do not want to talk about it so I won’t. However for the sake of explaining the absence of my host family in my future blogs, let it be known that I no longer live with a host family. As unfortunate as it was to leave, it was for the best.

I am now living in an apartment with my roommate Christine. We are adapting to the change: enjoying the independence, missing aspects of the life we had before.

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I will miss seeing this view everyday: morning and night, dusk and sometimes dawn (ha ha, never dawn I was kidding. I do not wake up early for fun.)

Second of all, I am still doing school. Whether it be attending classes, learning Arabic, or the general studying for tests, academically learning about the Middle East is still one of my top priorities. Let me tell you though, we’ve had breaks consistently throughout September. I would say that there has been a total of 14-15 days off throughout this month. Ha ha. We actually are on a three day weekend right now and might have another one next week too. #studyabroad

Third of all, being a study abroad student, I had to go to all these random governmental locations to renew my visa. I really have a new-found respect for all the international students in America. It’s stressful trying to figure out if you have all the correct paperwork, waiting in a police station in a foreign country, and attempting to use a language you are still learning to confirm if you can stay in the country. I still have this general uncertainty of whether or not I went through all the correct legal procedures for renewing a visa. I guess I will have to wait and see if the police come to deport me!

Still, Amman is Amman and life goes on.

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Another regal street cat of Amman. I know better than to touch them (fleas, disease, possibly being attacked, etc.) I just think it’s really interesting how many cats there are and how they slink around the streets.

Since I have last posted, much has happened.

I have traveled east and went to Jerusalem and Bethlehem! It was amazing to compare these cities with what life in Amman has been like. I may be in a region ubiquitously known as the Middle East, but it really is made up of a myriad of cultures and sub-cultures. For four days, I lived like a tourist. Unabashedly, I went to all the tourist sights, ate whatever I wanted, and enjoyed all Jerusalem has to offer. Also I don’t know why I find it so funny, but the currency used here is really shekels.

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Ha, ha some shekels. 3.7 shekels = 1 USD

The Old City of Jerusalem was actually what I pictured what Amman would be like before I arrived: winding cobblestones, multiple storekeepers vying for your attention, everyone trying to get somewhere. Being one of the most holy cities on Earth, every building, corner, and rock held incredible significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Personally for me, it was strange to look around and think to myself, “Oh so that’s the desert where Jesus fasted for 40 days” or “I guess this is where Jesus called out all those market men in the temple and flipped tables” or “Wow, what a nice garden for the disciples to fall asleep in when they said they wouldn’t. Then the Roman guards came and arrested Jesus”. This constant reminder that I am in the region of such religious significance has created a big change to the pace of living in Jordan as well as the tone of my brief visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem; religion and my identity as a Christian is always on my mind. Also seeing how this one religious site can be like any other building or stone in the world really makes you pause and do some introspection.

Anyways, in Jerusalem, you can tell just by the way someone is dressed what religion they practice. The fact that the Old City remains divided into certain regions/quarters based on religion: Jewish, Armenian, Christian, and Muslim demonstrates how strongly religion defines an individual. If what makes you different from someone else is always on your mind, it is no wonder that there is always conflict in this region of the world. Yeah.

Although I am missing a good taco or a warm bowl of 牛肉麵 right now, food has been top-notch all around. Jerusalem had a lot more Western food than Amman; many of our meals were Italian food. I probably perceived it that way because I was in tourist/”treat-yo-self” mode and not in a cultural immersion mentality. Still, it was all very fun to eat.

(Christine thinks I’m being a “try-hard” when I take pictures of my food like this, but look at the captured moment/memory!)

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This is a bread pastry with a date filling.
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Bagel and lox in front of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. We think we saw Peter Dinklage, but we will never really know.
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Pistachio Turkish Delight, packaged. It was a little too sweet, but still exciting to buy and nibble on while walking through the winding corridors of the Muslim Quarter.

Before you go thinking, “Wow, Ester is really living that wanderlust life”, getting to Jerusalem was nothing short of miserable. Although the distance from Amman to Jerusalem is about a two hour drive, the whole land-crossing took me and my friends around seven hours. We waited hours in lines. We waited hours in buses. We waited and watch some people be subjugated to even more rigorous questioning/inspection because they were not tourists or diplomats. We waited hours in the sun. If I had to name a place that symbolized bureaucratic inefficiency and ambiguity, it is the King Hussein Allenby border crossing.

There was a ninety minute period where I did not have my passport. Everyone else was receiving their passport back from the border control, but I was still sitting empty-handed. I kept thinking of how, in that moment, I had no evidence or backing of who I was. No concrete legitimacy to the protection of belonging to a nation-state. It was jarring and I hated it. Also I physically left the country, but I technically kind of never did; it’s complicated. Everything is in constant political flux there.

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Staring at this little sketch on the bus where I anxiously waited to get my passport back.

It was also eye-opening to see Bethlehem. It definitely reminded us of Amman. I cannot fathom how a wall so reminiscent of the Berlin Wall exists. That’s all I will say here about being in the West Bank and Occupied Palestinian Territory.

All in all, I enjoyed this trip. Jerusalem felt refreshing and there is a general consensus from everyone in my program who traveled to Jerusalem and Israel that it was a good break from Amman. Being in Jerusalem and seeing daily life there really got me thinking. Yeah.

Here is a little photo display to conclude my recollection of Jerusalem:

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Damascus Gate: If you keep walking directly straight from this gate, you’ll reach Damascus, Syria in a couple of days.
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I loved walking through the corridors here. Wished all my architects-in-training back at UIUC could see the way the layout of this city worked. It’s incredible. Some moments felt like I was underground, but I would walk a block over and be on the roof of a home without climbing any stairs.
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Giant bowls of tea. Thinking of tea culture here, Ariel. Do you want me to bring back tea or something?
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Downtown Jerusalem and a man in a Mario costume. Somethings really do transcend borders.
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Orange tree? Maybe? It’s just growing amidst slabs of stone. Poetic.
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Young boys playing soccer, another universal image.
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Giant golden Menorah, possibly taller than me.
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The women’s side of the Western Wall. It was interesting being an observer. We made sure to walk out backwards facing the wall like everyone else.
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Jesus’s tomb. Surreal, right?

Just recently, I went on a three day excursion arranged by my study abroad program. We basically went to the crown jewels of Jordanian tourism: I snorkeled in the Red Sea, stargazed in Wadi Rum, and clambered all over Petra (one of the modern Seven Wonders of the world). Uploading photos of this trip is malfunctioning on me. I will talk more about this experience another time.

All in all, September was a time of exploring and traipsing as a full-fledged sight-seer. However, I have been settling into life in Jordan: walking up and down giant staircases to move from one hill to another, trying out all the cafes, making sure I have a well balanced diet and am not only eating falafels, waving off cab drivers trying to charge me 5 JD for a ride, and much more. The process of getting to study and live in Jordan has been such a huge goal of mine. Now that I am fulfilling it, I am struggling to be content with all that Amman is.

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Watched this movie outside at the Royal Film Commission Jordan. It was about a samurai that was ordered to assassinate a cat, but he can’t because he thinks the cat is too cute. Pretty good.

This whole country and culture is an enigma to me. One moment I may be yelled at on the street by young men: “Hey Japan!”; “Oh my god, very nice”; “NI HAO”; “Let me show you Jordan”; etc. But then 10 minutes later, I might be talking with a nice lady that invites me to visit her home and eat dinner with her family or a store owner who generously offers free samples of artisanal chocolate. This city is home to so many amazing ancient artifacts and sites, but it’s also covered in litter. At one moment everything feels hostile and I want to go home, but then immediately after the city is warm and welcoming.

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Sandwich man by the مسجد (masjid= mosque) in L’Webideh, another hidden hero of the city. You can either get a 50 cent JD falafel sandwich with bitter greens, tomato, cucumber, and chile peppers or a sandwich of eggs and cheese. There are these sandwich men all around Amman. They are great, the sandwiches are delicious.

There has not been a day that has gone by without some kind of complication. Still, I think that Jordan is teaching me how to take those unpredictable moments in strides and keep moving forward. Lol. I know, quite the cliche. Still it’s a new lesson to me and that’s what counts.

 

 

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