Sunday, June 29, 2008


Last night I hung out with friends from last year.  It was awesome to see them again.  Jordan is somewhere I did not think I would get to for awhile, much less within a year of leaving.

Today we headed north to Jerash.  In the center of that city is possibly the best persevered roman ruins in the world.  People have said these Columns and amphitheater rival Rome itself.  It takes a good half hour to get to the other side of the park, all through massive cobblestone roads lined with columns.  

We ended up watching a rather entertaining gladiator show that even Russell Crow would be proud of.  I have decided the next car I am going to get is a chariot.  

Then we conquered Ajloun castle.  This is one of my favorite places in Jordan.  There is always a cool breeze, and gorgeous views of a very pretty and tree filled northern Jordan.  This was an islamic castle built against the crusaders by Salhadins cousin.  Like last year it ended up shooting cool pictures in dangerous positions.  However we got to show off to the pompous saudis, who insisted on taking their pictures with our girls.  (the girls were not game, thank god)

Then we headed to what I think was a tourism celebration, where us, Leeds University in England, and a Jordanian university met and heard speeches mostly in arabic.  They were honoring the Kings deputy on Tourism, and the former minister of tourism.  I talked to the man of honor for a little bit, and learned he had family in West Allis.  He was concerned about all the flooding we had.  I spent a lot of time talking to the captain of the tourism police.  he informed me of his UN service, and told war stories about the b=hell he saw in Bosnia.  He also informed me that George Carlin has passed away.  I am very bummed.  Today we start very intensive arabic.  

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Under the Desert Stars

Dana Nature Reserve was once again a highlight and a sheer spectacle to behold.  On the way out we took a rather hippy looking tour bus.  It managed to break down.  There was a wire involving the accelerator that had come loose.  once they found the problem it was fixed rather quickly, but it took them a fair amount of time to find it.  The particular road we were on does not bode well for our group.  It runs through the middle of the desert.  100K south of the latest breakdown was where I managed to get my “weekend from hell” transmission break dow last year.

Once we got to Dana we did what was supposed to be a 2 hour hike.  We found some caves and a 15 foot rock face that we wanted to climb.  This ended up taking an extra hour.  However there was a large amount of team bonding.  The place is very pretty, and is unlike the flat desert region one has to travel through to get there.  At night, for a few hours before the moon comes up is an amazing night sky.  The group went out on a rock a few yards from the campsite and seemed to start to really gel.  

staying and eating with us at Dana was a group of agriculture researchers from Palestine.  They were really interesting to talk regarding the Palestinian struggle and Israel messing up some of the research they were doing.  

In the morning we had breakfast (OMG I am so sick of these breakfasts, I NEED Pancakes!) and then went to the Dana village 8 km away, via bus.  I neglected to tell the group that is where we started last year, and hiked the 8km to the campsite.  All in all a good trip.

They way back was more of the south eastern desert in all of it’s vastness shooting by the window.  Ended up once again at City Mall, where Security had been beefed up to include a whole platoon of soldiers.  I am not in any danger, I think it is just a precaution due to the fun that is happening next door.  It is probably good the Palestinians researches were in Jordan on holiday.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


We are finally settling in.  The room is continuing to be spiced up, with the added touch of flowers in honor of Patrick’s birthday.  Today we ran around the citadel, a roman ruin on top of the city, then the old Souq (arabic for market), which is the center of the town.  That was intense, and our group got separated in an alleyway dedicated to selling fruit.  At least it smelled good.  Eventually we made it back, and everyone ended up in a really nice restaurant, which I had no idea was in such a poor area.  We ate the Jordanian national dish mensaf.  This is rice, a steamed yogurt used as a binding, and lamb.  It is very good.

Then we hiked up another hill to Wild Jordan, a very posh place run by the Jordanian version of the DNR in conjunction with craft makers from Bedouin areas.  

I got my phone today and will soon be able to drop lines stateside.  Tonight we are prepping for Dana Nature preserve.  This is a lot like the badlands national park.

The internet is down for two days in the hotel, and we will be traveling, so by the time this gets posted, hopefully more can be said about Dana.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

So with 41 minutes left in the trip the pilot made an announcement:

“all passengers must be seated while flying through israeli airspace and buckled in.  NO EXCEPTIONS!”

yea that was interesting, never had that happen.

Today we went to Mt. Nebo, saw the promise land from Moses point of view, and then to Amman’s newest western hangout, Carfour.  This is a french version of wal-mart, and rocked.  Normally I would not be excited about a shopping center, but I got a lot of stuff for my new home for the next 2 months.  

The hotel room is small, but will hopefully work to house 3 guys.  So far we toured the city with a bus and it was great to see the old hangouts.  We even passed the area of my host mother, whom I still need to get into contact with.  There has been so much construction, Jordan has really sprang up in the past year.  Tomorrow we get in some fun walking.

A bulldog above

The sun was setting off the left side of the aircraft.  I managed to see it dip[ below the horizon, with shortly ensuing blackness off towards the south.  The sun set below the clouds about and hour ago, and there is still a  blood red tint to the northern sky.  Somewhere over the atlantic my team and I get closer and closer to our destination.

The flight is interesting.  This is supposedly a shorter flight than last year, but I am not sure with the travel times being significantly better than layovers.  Security was very intense on this flight.  I looked and think I could spot a few air marshals.  We were greeted with a security system just for our gate, that involved the second checkpoint to go throw.  A handful of fully armed DHS agents met us with a cheery gaze in-between the second checkpoint and the plane door.  The other passengers they looked a bit more apprehensive about.  In the back part of the plane, the majority of women are Hijab.    

This makes for a wonderful mix of arabic and English being spoken on the plane.  It is also a family flight, meaning there are probably 30 young kids who are trying to stay occupied for a very long haul.  There is nothing like the sound of a choir of screaming babies, when one has 8 hours to go.

The baby in front of us is cute, and has a pacifier, and is therefore very quiet.  She likes to play in the aisle, and the American girls have taken good care of our new Jordanian friend.  

The alphabet acquisition is coming along fantastic.  This group is the best prepared, and is directly positioned to make the best strides in learning out of the previous groups.  These kids are very very smart.  Some of the discussions have just been astounding.  No one has super conflicting politics, or if they do they are hard to figure out.  Rest assured I will find someone I do not agree with.  

Last year upon take off I was filled with dread and nerves.  What if I didn't eat anything, what if they don’t like me, what if I can’t learn it, why the hell am I leaving my friends, family and girlfriend for 2 whole months?

This time all I could think about is, when are we going to get there.  I felt like last year was a great way to get my feet way, and towards the end I felt full assimilation.  This year I want to make sure my team feels more of that assimilation for a longer period.  It truly is a euphoric experience.  I sort of envy them going over not know what on earth they will be going through.  I do not know what will happen to me, but I can at least count on previous experience.  These new students are only counting on the leadership teams experience.

The leadership team for this group is amazing.  Everyone has a real grasp of arabic, far superior than mine.  They are doing a wonderful job reinforcing the arabic alphabet.  I still think I am the best when it comes to networking though, so I know I will hold my own in the effectiveness of the program.  I can not wait to see how this will play out.

I grew up in so many ways from being over there, (or I guess over here)  I hope the other kids realize that about themselves.  They all have so much potential, I hope that culture shock does not hold them back too much.  They seem to be bonding rather well, though I am worried about the lack of male interaction with the females.  Normally all the problems in the group last year stemmed form the interest of the American boys in the girls.  (so it was only one guy that had an issue, but it started because he attempted to get with a girl on the trip.)  I can safely say though that 20 american teenagers were in close proximity for 2 months, and there was not physical relationships.  We are attempting to get a repeat on this trip.  However, if the males are not even talking to the females, then the females, and there are lots of them, will seek male attention form Jordanian men.  they are going to get lots of it, and therein was where the real threats came last year.  No one was ever in any danger, we just don’t want our young american girls running off with people we do not know.  anyone who knows teenage girls knows they are not going to ask the team leaders if she can go on a date with Jordanians.  

One of the nice things about a stream of conscious writing is that I can change mid thought.  Some of the girls and guys were playing cards-(we have only been airborne for 1 movie) and the steward came and told them no leaning over the backs of seats to play cards.  Oh well at least they were talking.

I might get the chance to write again from this tin can between the world I know and the heavens, but sleep is getting the best of me.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


DC kicked my butt today.  We had alot of really important briefings.   We then watched the mmovie Encounter Point, regarding peace groups that consist of Palestinians and Israelis.  

Why on earth would anyone go to Jordan?

I have been asked that question alot.  In 6th grade, I was sitting in Mr. Farnsworths class.  The principle came over the PA system and told us new york had been bombed.  Since then I have had a fascination with what the heck is going on.  I wanted to know all about our “targets” which were arab muslims.  Supposedly these people, whom I had never heard of, decided that my fellow americans.

Jordan was the best way to find that.  I found out that there is very few people who would even entertain the idea of the destruction of America.  Jordanians wept when those towers came down.  

We are going there to learn arabic and be cultural ambassadors.  Jordan does not have alot of American traffic.  There is no oil, and it is located between two very hot areas.  These reasons, and the budding tourism of Egypt and Israel, keep Jordan out of the lime light.

Jordan is a somewhat westernized, very safe country.  It has a tradition of alliance with it’s neighbors, including a peace treaty with Israel, and it’s kings wear suits.  Jordan is the safest place to learn arabic.

It is for that reason, as well as the culture and hospitality which I have fallen in love with, that our team will be in Jordan.

Personally, I wanted an experience like none other.  The other side of the world, in the heart of the Arab Street, is one hell of an experience.  There is no better wya to learn arabic, than to live there.  The feeling of assimilation one feels after getting through such an experience does wonders for the maturity level.  I am young, mobile, and a little bit crazy, hence why I will soon be heading to Jordan.

Monday, June 16, 2008

We went to the national Mosque today.  Most had no idea that our country has a national house of Islam.  We do, it is open to everyone, of all faiths.  it was christened by President Eisenhower, and the corner stone was provided by our own Government.  The girls did a wonderful job putting on their Hijabs, as is required to enter into the mosque.

All the students are doing very well getting to know each other.  The bonds of the team are really coming together.  I am not really worried about anyone in terms of culture shock.  Our leaders are fantastic.  Tomorrow starts the heavy lifting in terms of DC work.

Friday, June 13, 2008


A lake disappeared this week due to the insane amount of rain we are getting.  I hope this makes up for the utter lack of rain I will be experiencing while in Jordan.  Packing, while working on throwing a Grad party for myself is turning out to be interesting.  It’s a very existential feeling, trying to fit everything one needs for 2 months into a bag.

I finally have got in contact with most of our team.  Everyone seems really cool.  There also seems to be a female majority on the trip.  

I have some long plane rides ahead so, inshaallah, I can knock out some bigger thoughts.  If anyone is interested in Jordan, the book I just finished was Live from Jordan by Ben Orbach.  It was very good, and is helping me get more and more excited for the trip.  

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bulldogs on the homefront

 I am from Waunakee WI, you may have heard of our largest suburb, Madison.  Ok, so only a few people in our town tell that joke, because only a few people live there.  it is about 9000 people.  My high school runs about 1000 students.  No one has gone to Drake for a few years, and people recognize it, but do not have a clue where it is...

Yesterday, I went to 14 graduation parties.  Most of these are all with the same people, so by now everyone has said as much to each other as they could.  So now people are trying to interact with the families.  I wore my Drake shirt, which I picked up at orientation.

My Drake shirt was like having gold at some of these parties.  I found out alot of my friends families all come from Iowa.  Upon entering the parties they immediately wanted to share how much they love Drake Relays, or how pretty the campus is, and how they are so thrilled I am going there-even though I just met them.  I have also met alot of Alumni in my town.  All of these people are upper middle class, and gainfully employed in their field of study.  Both of Kelsey's parents went at Drake, one is teaching, the other is in technology.  Angela’s dad went to law school there, and is now a federal judge.  Rachel’s attended Drake, and is also a teacher.  Where ever you go, bulldogs will be there to support you.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

I am officially a Bulldog.  I got all the classes I want at orientation on Thursday and Friday.  It was a pretty sweet orientation, and got me very excited to be heading off to Drake come fall.  We had a lot of interaction with out future classmates.  Drake seems to be drawing kids from all over, and there is not a stereotypical student that I can pick out.  There was 2 times when I got to interact with professors.  The Dean of Arts and Sciences college, who insisted we call him Keith was the first one.  Just the way he talked and the mannerisms in which he spoke and worked the room was really different than High School.  You can immediately tell their is a very high level of intelligence with the professors, but also the ability to relate.  

The marketing department for the college people also seem like a really nice group.  I had a meeting with one guy, who has some sweet tattoos.  That is definitely not something I expected to see.

I am very stoked to have met a lot of IR kids.  The arabic language is going to be represented.  I met a guy who will be in Jordan while I am there this summer visiting his Iraqi family.  It is a very big plus for the university to know that bulldogs both go, as well as come from abroad.

I finally found some of the more kids who are coming to Jordan on Facebook.  I am really stoked to go but have to take care of this little thing prior to heading off.  tonight, at 7pm me, and the 250 people I have known forever, will join the ranks of Waunakee alums, as the Class of 2008.  That’s right folks, tonight I, Ian McKinley Weller, Graduate!!!!!!!!!!! 


Monday, June 2, 2008

2 weeks n gone

It is just under two weeks till I head out. I have been attending graduation parties and getting sunburned enough to hopefully hold my own once I get into the desert. This is a trip I have been longing for ever since I left last summer.
I wasn’t sure if I would get to go back to Jordan. When I found out, I am pretty sure I started crying in excitement. For those who know me, they know I do not like to show emotion. Going back means once again getting the opportunity to hone and sharpen my craft.
After Jordan I will have just enough time to do some laundry, before I head to Drake for International Relations.
I have finished up about half of my shopping for Jordan and still at a loss for what to get for host families.
I am getting to know the crew this year a little better as time goes on. Facebook has been a wonderful tool in communication. Everyone seems really cool, and will have something special to offer.
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