Katy Perry Drinking Coffee in Mongolia

Coffee: Not just a drink, a way of life

First of all, you should know that I used to work as a barista at a coffee and jazz house. It was the best job ever. I absolutely loved it. Coming home smelling like coffee and talking to strangers about coffee always puts a smile on anyone’s face. However, due to being surrounded by coffee constantly, I stopped drinking the stuff for the better part of two years. When I started picking up the occasional latte again in college, I found that I’d contracted a very strange problem. I am now super sensitive to caffeine. Whenever I drink a cup of coffee, my body starts to vibrate like an iPhone alarm clock. It’s bad news bears. Those of you who have seen me after a dirty chai or vanilla latte, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Well, guess what? Caffeinated beverages? Yeah, they’re a big deal here.

Example.

Here in Jordan, when a man wants to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage, there is quite the ordeal. The man (let’s call him Khaled) first gets showered (no joke) by his other male friends and then parties in his house. After that, the group follows him out to his car and, together, they make a parade to the woman’s (let’s call her Maha) family’s house. Once they reach the house, Khaled would be invited in and Maha’s dad would say, “Please, drink this coffee.” Khaled would respond, “I will not, until you give me what I ask for.” “What do you want?” They would then discuss Khaled taking Maha as his wife, and can you all please guess how they seal the deal? “Please, drink your coffee, Khaled!” He would finally do so and Maha’s dad would say “Now the deal is struck!” They’d fire guns into the air a couple times in celebration and then it’s all over. So, yeah. Coffee gets people married here. Whoa.

Side note
: Tea is just as important, although, less symbolic. Tea is served when you visit people and sometimes before bed. They sell it just about anywhere you go for extremely cheap. What I find most interesting is how they always come in tiny little cups. I constantly feel like I’m just kicking back shots or something. Yesterday, I came down with a nasty head cold. Diana, my wonderful host “mom” (In quotes because she is so young), served me tea to help me feel better. It’s so nice to have someone baby you when you feel so gross. At this rate, caffeine and me? We’re gonna be best friends in no time. This is all to say – you coffee/tea lovers, get yo’selves over to the Middle East!

“Katy Perry, she is very beautiful, yes?”

This morning, when my Modern Standard Arabic class got out, a couple friends and I decided to go study on some benches on campus. At the time I only thought how it might be a little awkward to be stared at while doing homework, but I figured I’d survive it. Never did I think that some people might actually want to talk to me. But, everyday is a day for surprises. A half hour passed when a group of girls came over and said, “You Americans?” We must have decided they looked friendly, because we responded, “Yep!” with big smiles. They immediately lit up and started asking if we are learning Arabic. We explained quickly that we are learning but that our colloquial…sucks. They were all too happy to have us practice with them and even asked each of us to read our Arabic homework out loud to them. They told me I was “very good!” My day was made. Moments like that, make all of this worth it. I just have to keep thinking about that when my course load wants to drown me. Someday, Grace, you’re gonna be able to communicate with all sorts of people. Just got to to keep swimming.

The girls were so kind and told us that they would be happy to help us anytime. My favorite part of the conversation was when they asked us about American things that they know. I’m constantly reminded that the US is such a strange place. I’m amazed by how much the entertainment industry provides our image all around the world. The girls talked to us about Katy Perry, The Voice (Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Christiana Aguilera, and Cee Lo Green), and Adele. I’m not sure how I feel about those people representing our image, but it was fun to be able to really relate with our new friends. Sometimes I try to imagine what America must look like to those living here. I mean, I had imagined Jordan as this large, sweeping desert, mostly dominated by Petra. And I’m sure a lot of Americans just think everyone around here walks around in turbans. Hahaha. So maybe, America, to them, is just a bunch of fat people (direct result of our plentiful fast food restaurants) walking around New York City, Las Vegas, and Hollywood with a few celebrities scattered in? Sounds about right to me.

Mongolia vs. Jordan

I lived in Mongolia for a good chunk of my childhood. It’s still probably the one place I’ve lived the longest, and for that reason I still have many clear, fond memories. Bundling up for the cold, bitter winters. Horseback riding out in the forests of Hovsgol. Having adventure after death-defying adventure. Sometimes I miss Mongolia. And then I moved here. Now, given, Jordan and Mongolia – vastly different places. But there are a few similarities that I thought I’d share. Ready? Here they are:

1) Fanta. In Mongolia, I used to buy a different flavour of Fanta every single day. Lemon, Orange, Grape, Strawberry, Cool Lime, Jumping Apple, Tropical Punch…the list goes on and on. Here in Jordan, Fanta is everywhere. There aren’t as many flavors, but I somehow feel comforted by knowing a Fanta is never too far away. Yeah, I know, I’m weird. I’m cool with it.

2) Everybody loves to copy American chains. In Mongolia, there was a MonRonald’s. That’s right, your very own knock off of a McDonald’s. The golden arches and everything.  If I remember correctly, it didn’t last very long because the American Embassy came in and said, No-No. But they really truly served hamburgers and fries! Or tried anyway. In Jordan, I have spotted the Donut Factory. The font and coloring are exactly like Dunkin’ Donuts. I haven’t gotten the chance to go in and get a donut yet, but don’t you worry, I will. I love donuts.

3) Waste not, Want not. In Mongolia, there is a new year’s holiday called Tsagansar. You get invited to every friend you’ve ever had’s apartment to eat and eat and eat. I remember hating it. Every apartment we’d go to would have a huge, dead sheep sitting on the table and they’d shave off a bit of the butt and hand it to me to eat. I could never understood why that was necessary. Well, last blog post I mentioned how I had the traditional Jordanian dish of Mansaf. I do not think that I mentioned what kind of meat is in Mansaf, however. Usually they serve it with lamb. I found out that Jordanians don’t let any of that lamb go to waste. Raed, my host “dad”, told me that the brain, eyeballs, and hoofs are the best part. Doesn’t that sound delish? Yeahhhh, no. Haha. Isn’t it comforting though to learn that, all over the world, cultures aren’t wasting parts of animals? Yeah, I was thrilled too.

Well, this has been quite the random assortment. I usually try to come up with some sort of connecting factor between my stories, but sorry, not today! Haha.

Keep adventuring, friends!

Oh, advice: Purchase Mumford and Sons’ new album. You won’t regret it. That is all.

Advertisements

Grace, Grace, Grace the Explorer

Just call me Indiana Jones. ‘Cause Harrison Ford’s got nothing on me. Well, except for the whole Han Solo and being famous thing. But, you know, whatever, I’m working on that too.
This weekend was straight out of a movie. Actually, I think I’ve seen the movies. Indiana Jones, the Mummy, Aladdin, Lawrence of Arabia, and Hidalgo are some that I can think of off the top of my head. Beautiful red sand dunes and setting suns. Bedouin tents with decorated camels. Brilliantly blue sea meeting towering mountains. Ancient ruins with foreign etchings. This and so much more is Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and Petra.
WADI RUM: The Land of Red Sand

 

On Thursday, the students in my program and I had the distinct privilege to skip class and board buses headed to the south of Jordan. The first stretch was four hours long. Leaving the city felt glorious. I love Amman, but sometimes the constant noises and smells can be a little overwhelming. For hours of the drive, the dreary desert land stretched on. However, as we neared Wadi Rum, I started to get excited. Large, alien-shaped mountains stretched across the horizon. And the ground shifted from a cracked, coarse brown covering to a brilliant orange-red, soft sand. I turned to my bus-buddy, Rachel, and said “Well, now we know where they filmed Mission to Mars.”
When we arrived, the touring camp provided us a delicious lunch and loaded us onto jeeps. Off we went, kafia scarves and all. It was hard to believe it was real life at that moment. There I was, just trekking off in a massive desert on the back of a jeep. Dear National Geographic, I want to be your photographer. Or water-girl, if that’ll get me the job so I can do things like this always. Please and thank you, Grace. We stopped multiple times on our jeep trip to take pictures and run around in the sand. My shoes constantly were filling with the red stuff, but it was all worth it for the feeling of walking and sitting in such soft sand.
After these stops, the jeeps took us straight to a herd of camels that were waiting to take us to our camp for the night. Now, camels, they’re weird. They make loud, creepy noises and they never seem really happy. A Bedouin man saw me sizing up the camel in front of me and grabbed my arm and pushed me onto the very camel I had moments before been convinced was possessed. But there I was, atop a camel and clinging for dear life. Quickly, my friends joined me and we were off on an hour long camel ride. (Yes, my inner thighs are still crying out in pain.) I named my camel Fred. He was completely majnoon (crazy), but I loved him anyway. Before I knew it, the ride was already over and we watched the sun set over the Arab desert. It was beautiful.
That night we camped in a Bedouin luxury resort. You know me, I just loveto rough it. So, this luxury thing? Right up my alley. There were beds in the tents and the showers were warm. The Bedouins served their deliciously sugared tea all night long and they made this awesome bread I could probably eat for every meal until I die. When the stars came out, some friends and I journeyed up a sand dune to gaze at the sky. It was astounding. The sheer magnitude of stars can not even be described. I saw multiple shooting stars and was constantly overwhelmed by the beauty around me. It’s interesting though how foreign a night sky can be. The constellations I saw were none of the same ones I see back home, and I was reminded once again that I am far, far from home.
AQABA: The Land In-between
The next day, we left for Aqaba. It’s Jordan’s most southern city on the Red Sea. The most fantastic part about it? Israel has a border city next to it, Egypt is a couple miles down the coast, and Saudi Arabia is equally close on the other side. Simply by being there, I can now say, “I’ve seen Egypt, Saudi, and Israel. No big deal.” Yes, Mum, that counts.
Our program had rented yachts, and so we loaded up and spent the next five hours cruising the Red Sea, snorkeling if we chose to, and eating even more good food while enjoying the sun and sea. It was such a great break from school, Amman, and even (dare I say it?), Arabic. Our time out there ended all too shortly, and we unloaded the boats and piled onto the buses. Then it was time for Petra! On our way we got caught behind a wedding “parade”, for lack of a better way to explain it. (More on that in another blog post). Finally we arrived at “Little Petra”. This is where they allowed the caravans to come, since Petra was considered a holy city and they didn’t just let anyone in. Very exclusive. It was awesome to see, but the whole group was exhausted. So we weren’t very sad to peace out from Little Petra a half hour later.
The hotel our program put us up in was really nice, including gloriously warm showers. Dinner was served a short while after arriving and I was starving. I was told we were going to have the official meal of Jordan, Mansaf. I was ready, man, ready. I sat down and started getting really excited. My excitement only heightened when the waiter brought over a big plater of rice, chicken, and bread. Just as we were about to dig in, another waiter came by with a pitcher of a strangely familiar scent. He started pouring a white liquid all over the platter and said, “Enjoy.
And then it hit me what the smell was. Fermented dairy. Oh, how well I know that smell. Fermented mare’s milk is a Mongolian constant. Now, I want to convey how good I am at not being picky. I have eaten all sorts of things and I am always willing to try something at least once. But smelling this alone made me want to gag. I’m not sure if it was a mix of the memories of eating/drinking it, or if the smell was just that bad. But there I was, faced with a dinner of Mansaf, which turns out to probably be the only Jordanian dish I don’t like. Houston, Andna Mooshkila. (Houston, We’ve got a problem) I tried my best, but I only got about five bites down and I was done for the night. E for Effort.
After dinner, the cops had blocked off our street so that we could have a party in front of the hotel. Yeah, we’re those Americans in the Jordanian countryside. We had our very own DJ, and people teaching us Bedouin dancing. Not a bad gig. However, after about an hour of dancing, I decided I was beat and headed to bed. Day two – check.
PETRA: The Land from Long Ago
Saturday morning we began the trek into Petra. I realized as I made the very hot walk into area, that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The only thing I really knew about Petra is that famous picture everyone knows of. You know, the one that that let’s you see half of the treasury, because the canyons on either side are kind of covering it up? Yeah, I kinda thought that’s all Petra was. Turns out it’s this amazing hike through an ancient city, complete with treasury, houses, tombs, amphitheater, palace, temple, monastery, and markets. I get the whole it’s-one-of-the-seven-wonders-of-the-world now. Despite the heat, my friends and I even chose to take the 900 steps up to the monastery. Totally worth it. Especially because I got to see a bedouin climb up on top of the monastery and jump from column to column. It was so terrifyingly exhilarating. Haha.
Favorite part of the day though? Getting ice cream with some friends on our walk back to the bus. It was hot; I like ice cream. Perfection itself.
Well, there you have it. My incredible journey to the south of Jordan.
I highly suggest you visit the Middle East. There are so many incredible sights, and how much more intense do you look if you pick the Middle East over Europe?! ;]
Think it over.
Here’s a little Middle Eastern “Hey Girl/Boy” poster I made for the heck of it. Hahaha. Enjoy.

A Zombie Analogy

The Walking Dead. It’s a show on AMC that I’m a bit…obsessed with. Back in my dorm room at Cedarville, I would get all cozy late at night as my roommate slept, and watch the latest episode in the dark. Now, for those of you who watch the Walking Dead, you know this is a terrible idea. Not only can some episodes be terrifying (as the show is about zombies), but there are also many surprising moments where you might gasp or even scream. I might have woken up my dear roomie once or twice.

You may be curious why I’m telling you about the Walking Dead. Well, today, I was in it. Let me explain. There is a scene in the first season of the Walking Dead that is truly terrifying. When I watched it, my palms began to sweat and my breathing became extremely shallow. The main characters have to get out of a building but the streets are swarming with zombies. Cleverly and creatively, they decide to rub zombie guts all over themselves so that they smell like and, somewhat, resemble zombies. They step out of the building and walk a few blocks down the infested street. The zombies barely notice them! It’s an amazing moment; you feel absolutely euphoric. And, then, it begins to rain. Within moments, the zombies can smell them and start staring and chasing. Your heart drops as you watch, and all you feel is sudden panic. They’re dead meat.
Today was the first day of school for the rest of the students attending the University of Jordan. We’re talking about a campus, really not that big, that holds 30,000 students. When my roommate and I got dropped off at the main gate, she headed across the street and I headed into the campus. Now, I’m not trying to compare Jordanians to zombies. That is definitely not the intent. But let’s apply the situation. I am one foreigner in a sea of Arabs. I have a ten minute walk to class and, figuratively, it has started to rain. The girls look at me and laugh; the boys stare and holler. And I try to pretend that I’m invisible. Instead of dead meat, I’m just meat. It’s like being the new kid, but times 100. It’s really strange to have to be aware of your surroundings at all times, but also wanting to not be aware at all. But, just like the characters in the Walking Dead, I will survive and thrive in my strange, new surroundings.
For those of you watching/reading the news, you probably want a more political update. I am safe. I promise. The issues going on around this region of the world are incredibly difficult, and I realize that I’m in a very sensitive area. However, you should all know that Jordan is much less of a tension point. There have been demonstrations, but there has been nothing violent. We have been discouraged from telling people that we’re Americans. But, in general, that’s probably a good idea. We kinda have a bad reputation over here. The other night, I heard a great deal of gunshots go off. This was followed by the sounds of rhythmic stepping and yelling. My best guess is that it was a mosque having some sort of celebration, but it’s certainly a little unnerving with so much going on.
The whole male thing here is still a bit of an adjustment. There are days when I don’t feel bothered at all. And then there are days when all I notice are their stares. One time, I was with a couple friends and for about two blocks we were followed by some guy in a car. We’d walk and he’d drive a little forward and stay by the side of the road so he could watch us. It’s unsettling. Today, a group of guys kept asking for my phone number and, when I ignored them and walked away, they yelled out, “But I need you!” Great. The wonderful Stephanie reminded me that Cedarville University’s self-defense class prepared me, though. And that “terrorists got nothing on Lt. Bowersmithhoser (or whatever his name is).” With that reminder, I feel perfectly safe. ; ]
I WENT TO THE DEAD SEA. It was a mixture of  (1) wanting to get out of the city when protests would be going on, and (2) wanting to visit the lowest place on earth. It was unbelievable. A group of friends and I hired a taxi and headed out. It was only a forty-five minute drive down and into the desert.  We all got day passes to a resort right on the beach. Honestly, the dead sea wasn’t very refreshing. It was hot, oily, and so very salty. It was definitely worth it though. You literally had to work to try and get your legs down. Oh, but it stung. They don’t really mention that in the guide book, but, friends, it stings very badly. I lasted about 15 minutes and then was ready for the pool. It was a great day though of relaxing and hanging out with friends. Just what the doctor ordered.

 

…I wish doctors really ordered things like that. I also just realized that I blogged about zombies and the Dead sea in the same post. Oh, how perfect.

Cats, Dogs, and Smokers! Oh my!

Surprise! The Middle East is hot. Now, to preface that statement, it actually can feel like a cool, summer day when you’re in the shade. However, in the direct sunlight it feels a little bit like what I imagine hell would feel like. The worst of it though is being so entirely covered up. I wear long maxi skirts or jeans every day and a blouse that covers my shoulders and usually reaches my collarbone. With this kind of heat, I’d rather be walking around in short-shortshortshorts and a tank top. However, that would attract even more unwanted attention. So, to make myself feel better, I’ve made some extreme decisions. The day I return to the United States of America, I am joining a nudist colony. There’s bound to be one in like…Portland or something. Just thought you all should know.

In other news, cats. You can find them in the trash. You can find them when you hear a crash. You can find them in the house. You can find them eating a mouse. You can find them here and there. You can find them anywhere. Cats, you see, are everywhere. True story. I like to lovingly call them the smelly, starving, dumpster cats. I’m not sure why Amman is so overrun with the poor scraggly things, but they are in desperate need of help. If any of you would like to help me start a nonprofit for the kittens of Amman, just let me know. I’m thinking of turning Petra into a kitten sanctuary. It’s a work in progress.

To complement my animal theme, I will tell you a story about dogs in Amman. Yesterday, some friends and I were on a journey to find ACOR. ACOR is a building that is mainly used to house archaeologists staying in Jordan, but they have kindly opened up their library, wifi, and bathroom for us poor American students. ACOR resides on top of a rather large hill, a short walk from the University of Jordan’s campus. Well, my friends and I accidentally went up the wrong hill. And, in all my wisdom, I thought maybe we could take a short cut to the other hill. We walked in the direction of ACOR and came upon a large, desert wasteland filled with trash, rocks, dirt, and terrible smells. There was a slight drop off, where we had to go down and then back up another hill to reach ACOR. My adventurous spirit cried, “Onwards!” Three steps later I regretted saying anything. The building we were passing, as we headed down the dirt hill, erupted with dogs barking like mad. I was so caught up in wondering how many dogs could possibly be making all that noise, that I was shocked when I realized I had almost stepped on top of an old, dried-out dog jawbone. Suffice it to say, I’m fairly certain we stumbled upon a huge dog pound, or possibly Amman’s most terrifying dog-fighting ring. But, you will be happy to learn, that we did eventually reach ACOR.

I have news. Since arriving in Amman, I have taken up smoking. Sorry, Mum and Dad. I just figured there was no point in fighting it anymore. Don’t be alarmed, it’s not first-hand, but second-hand. Everyone’s favourite. I had no idea how much I had taken for granted concerning the no-smoking laws in America. Today, I was studying in a cafe and the room was so filled with smoke that after ten minutes my chest started to hurt. The taxi drivers I get rides from at least twice a day are often smoking in the car. They usually have their window open but, when I’m sitting in the middle of the backseat, a lot of the smoke comes right back in my face (and, of course, into my lungs). I have decided that cancer is inevitable at this point.

Another note: Water. You know those movies where people are lost and they’re crawling on the desert floor? Their vision becomes all blurry and they start imagining oasis after oasis and they keep mouthing the word, “water” over and over again? I have a moment like that at least once a day. Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but I get really parched here. Haha. I have taken to buying (and drinking) a massive bottle for .30 JD everyday. Yeah, I’m that girl. No big deal. I love water.

Oh, maybe I should say a little somethin-somethin’ about my classes. I’m really enjoying them. My Arabic class is going to be challenging, I think. But that’s for the best, I’m really hopeful to get my knowledge of the language on its feet. My colloquial Arabic is like learning an entirely new language. Yesterday, we had to re-learn all the basic question words. It’s frustrating, but thank goodness my professor is highly amusing. My area studies class are both very interesting. Funnily enough, both classes discussed the same thing on the first day. And that is this: What is your definition of the term ‘the Middle East’? …No one ever has an answer. What about ‘the Arab World’? ‘The Islamic World’? Is it geographical? Demographical? Religion? Language? It seems there are no real borders. There is not just one connecting factor. It all depends on who is asking and who wants to know. I find it to be an interesting dilemma.

In my Middle East: Alternative Perspectives class we watch and discuss movies, books, and writings about the Middle East. The professor spoke about how in Transformers 2, the characters go from being at the Pyramids (In Egypt) and then head over to Petra (In Jordan) without crossing a single border. While this is just an example, he asked, “When we are willing to erase geography (take away borders), what else are we willing to take away to make your film “better”? Ethnicity? Religion?” We blur these lines, just like we blur borders. We see this in so many aspects, especially when it comes to the Middle East. It’s worrisome. I think, we often become lazy when it comes to understanding the vast diversity that makes up the cultures, people, and geography of this area of the world.

Food for thought.

Buffalo Wings and Souk Jara

I have test-success blues. What are those you may ask? The test-success blues are what happen when you do better on a test than you expected and now you are facing a very difficult class ahead. I was placed in Advanced Arabic I, which is where I’m sure my Arabic professor from Cedarville would say I should place (according to where we are in the textbook). However, this means that, this semester, we will go through the entire Al-Kitaab 2 textbook. That concept is terrifying. Last semester, we went through three chapters. This will be ten chapters. My host family told me that when something bad happens, instead of saying “uh-oh”, you can say “Ieeeeee!” …Ieeeeeeeee. But! 12 hours of modern standard Arabic a week should help with the whole learning it thing…moomkin (maybe). 

 
Last night was a ridiculous amount of fun. My host family invited some of their relatives over and Raed made buffalo chicken wings! (Are you shocked by the American choice? ;] )We all hung out in the living room as Jordanian/Lebanese music played and chatted while we waited for the food. It was really interesting to listen to them interchange between Arabic and English. It’s so easy for them. I’m absolutely green with jealousy. Let me tell you though. These wings? The best wings I’ve ever had in my life. Raed is a pro and should definitely open his own restaurant. They were spicy and super-dee-duper awesome.
 
This morning our host family took us to a restaurant that serves the best traditional Jordanian breakfast. It was delicious! Hummus, Feta (a hummus like dish with bread, nuts, and olive oil), Falafel, Peta bread, and Fuul. So yummy. I am loving the food here. It tastes so healthy and is perfectly filling. And if you know me, you know that I am obsessed with eating bread. So I’m in the right place. Then, this afternoon, Saba and I headed over to Rainbow Street again to visit Souk Jara. Souk Jara is a market with tons of little shops. It was so colourful and exciting. I didn’t buy anything yet. I just wanted to get a sense for what they had. And they had a lot – jewelry, sand art, fabrics, dishes, books, spices. Just about anything you can think of.

Then we met up with some friends and went on quite the little adventure. My friend, Tasha, was in need of a soft blanket and had been directed to go to Gardens. We took a taxi to Gardens, paid the taxi driver what the meter said (even though he was trying to get more from us), and then started asking people if there was a store that sells blankets. No one had any idea what we were talking about. And they made sure to make us feel silly for even asking as it would be closed anyway. It’s Friday after all. Turns out Friday is the holy day here. Which, of course, if I’d thought about for even a second I would have known. Haha. It’s crazy how shut down Amman is though on a Friday. Most everything was closed and there was nothing really to do. We finally found a restaurant to at least have lunch at and then Saba and I headed home. We ran into some other CIEE students though who had just come from downtown Amman. They had to leave it quickly though because apparently a demonstration was about to get started. They said a great number of police were making their way into the area. The program said we have to be careful not to be around there when there are protests (which has been happening every Friday for awhile now).

It’s a very interesting time to be in the Middle East right now I think. So much desire for change, and yet, also no desire at all. I’m really excited about being here and learning things from such a different perspective.