Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Keep off the grass

One of the things being abroad does, is makes you really appreciate your own country. Right now I am spacing out to American music enjoying the weather. We just got done with class, and people are taking naps. I am in the courtyard of our hotel where I can see down onto the main road. There are some things that get to me after awhile about Jordan. The biggest is the amount of litter. It is everywhere. I just saw a guy who works at the hotel, finish a bottle of water. Then he walked tot he door of the hotel, and just launched the empty bottle out into the street and vacant lot below. Someone once said all monarchies are like this. People do not feel as if they own their country, and therefore they can litter all over it. However, once you get inside their homes, they are perfectly spotless, because it is one of the few things they do own. I am thankful, that our country, is fairly clean. (Also for those little details, like actually taking a part in the ownership of the country via voting-yanno?)

Monday, July 28, 2008

These are a few of my Favorite things

I miss a lot of my friends, family, and other important people.  in terms of materialistic things though, heres the list:

Good Chocolate Shakes-For whatever reason, the McDonalds and Burger king machines are perpetually broken.  The ones made in blenders at coffee shops, are not up to par.

Root Beer-I finally found there is some in the country but it is way too expensive, and every wisconsinite knows A&W does not even come close to Sprecher’s

Cheese Curds-There is something close here called a Sambousa.  It suffices and I have found a good restaurant close by.

Driving-survived my first accident in a taxi the other day.  It is nearly guaranteed to get in at least one accident if you spend amount of time here.  The driving is insane.

Free Refills

Tap Water

Jokes in English-when translating, not that funny, go figure.

Good Internet Connection-sorry for the weird times this comes up

Cheap phone calls, texting is cheaper but less personal

A good cell phone

Laundromat-not the bath tub

Bon Fires

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Floating and Mika

Had a really good weekend.  On wednesday I went out to dinner with my favorite Jordanian family.  then on Thursday we went, in luxury, to the Dead Sea, courtesy of His Majesty King Abdullah 2nd’s Fund for Economic Development.  Floating in the Dead Sea is an amazing experience, and is one everyone should try before they die.  (The picture will come soon)  On our way back we were given tickets to Mika, who is a pop star for Friday.  This was a  pretty cool concert, even though I knew very few songs.  The concert took place at the Dead Sea.  It was organized as part of the same festival that I saw Diana Krall at, although in a different venue.  The next morning, we met with students who had just sent a year in the US.  This helped ease their reverse culture shock.  We also went and saw Batman The Dark Knight.  This was a really intense movie, and Heath Ledger gave an amazing performance.  One more normal week of classes, then heading south for the tourism places.  Only 6 more classes left.  I got my room mate, who seems pretty chill.  I also got my student advisor, so Drake is seeming very close.  I am very excited.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It is always in the back of my mind.  Did I make the right decision?  The answer is an obvious yes, if only because there is no way to change it.  I am having a decent time.  Bumming around here beats bumming around Wisconsin.  I  have been listening to The Graduation Song by Vitamin C.  “As our lives change, come whatever, we will still be friends forever.   Will that be the case? Time will tell.

I finally had a really good day.  It started a good Fusa class, followed by the cancellation of my dreaded amia class.  We went to cheer on the Iranians for 3rd place, and they won.  They are so thankful, and we hang out with them at night at the hotel.  I don’t know how much impact we had, but I think it was a ton.  They ended up playing Bahrain again, who managed to muster a cheering section complete with drums.  We had 20 screaming american teenagers, and once again prevailed.  Then I went out to dinner, taking special time to read a letter I received from one of my most favorite girls in the world.  Earlier that day, I received a video message from other friends.  It is really nice to know I am missed. I was prepping, and tomorrow will deliver a briefing to Jordanian high school studnets, and more importantly, their parents about life as a an american high school student.  They will be exchange students in American high schools for the upcoming school year.  Then on Thursday, the Dead Sea, whooot whoot!  If you couldn't tell things are starting to swing for the better.

The thought of college life is always present.  Yesterday we were supposed to find out our room mates, but internet has been really crappy at the hotel.  Oh well it keeps me from being too homesick.  Hope you all are well, and thanks again for the well wishes.  

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I was in much need of a vacation.  The alums, Opal, and I headed down to Aqaba, Jordan’s only port and beach town.  There we beach bummed at the beach camp patrick and I came to know from last years weekend from hell.  I gave a personal salute of disrespect to the town where last year, a knife wielding little punk came after us after we suffered major car trouble.  The whole reason for going down was because I wanted to snorkel.  Sean and I hopped on with a scuba dive boat, and stayed around the coral reefs off shore while they went below.  The entire boat was Jews from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  this made for some rather enlightening conversations, as we only get the Palestinian perspective from any arab we meet in Jordan.  It was some of the best snorkeling I have ever seen.  If it weren't for the waves and the wind, it would have topped Hawaii.  The fish and coral were spectacular, and we could get very close.  There is an issue that has developed, in terms of personal appearance.  Living in a conservative society means polo shirts, if not full sleeves and long pants-no shorts.  This has done absolute wonders for the rainbow of colors my body has become due to tan lines.  All of this has manage to be undone by the wonderful sun of Aqaba, which when combined with the insane amounts of humidity there, leads to the worse sunburn I have had.  Mother, I assure you next time I will wear sunscreen.  The internet is down at the hotel, which is a major pain. The embassy has decided to not advice americans to go to the downtown part of the city due to the recent shooting.  This really sucks, as it is the best shopping area in town, and the only way to see what real Jordanians do in their daily life.  As of now we are only allowed to go to the places where americans hangout, namely huge malls and craft areas.  (I wonder what the thinking was for that one, only allow americans to congregate in areas known as hangouts for westerners?)  Oh well, we will find more creative ways to talk to the other side of Jordanians.  Hope everyone is well.  

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Security Update

I am alive, along with the rest of my team.  None of us were at the shooting, as everyone is living snugly with their families.  The embassy today said it was a tourist shooting because apparently there were a few lebanese killed, and the event took place at a symphony concert.  This is the second time shots have been fired in the amphitheater area.  The previous time a German tourist was killed.  We are all safe.  The city air is not even tense.

I will be incommunicado as I am doing some traveling for the next few days.  Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cheerleading Diplomacy...Bring it on Again

Before I expand upon this tale, I want to state that we are completely safe here.  The worse thing that could happen is something nasty with traffic.  In terms of terrorism, Jordan, and especially our team are very safe....

Turns out there was a reporter in the stands at the Iranian handball game.  He did his duty and gave what would have been a very boring sports recap a personal twist.  He managed to send his report back that included the highlights of the game as well as our presence.  Screaming cheering american kids supporting the arch enemy of their government to a win in handball.  Apparently we managed to make not just the print media, but radio, and television as well.  The commentary that came with it went something along the lines of this...

“The Iranian Handball team beat Bahrain in the Asia cup for youth with no small help from their cheering fans.  These fans consisted entirely of American students.  As George Bush prepares to make war on Iran, his children (Hey, that’s us!) cheer on the team.”

Normally making the news is something I prefer to never happen if we are abroad, but this is a diplomatic exception.  I honestly do not know what military, if any, action will be taken against Iran.  The fact is though, there is now a small portion of Iranians who know that not all Americans are bad.  This is real grass roots diplomacy.  We now spend our evenings talking to the coaches at night.  Zainab translates, which is also quite a sight to behold.  She picked up her farsi skills, which from what I could tell are damn near fluent, after living there for just one year.  This once again backs up my plan of if I ever find myself dictator of a country; I am forcing every student upon completion of the 11th grade to go live abroad in areas where America might not be the best anymore.  Get out of town, and head to the Middle East, or South America.  By the time that generation attains power, all foreign policy issues would be taken care of.  Imagine the influence spending a few hours cheering on Iran has had on their team, their families and their compatriots.  The possibilities are endless.  

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cheerleader diplomacy

I finally accomplished my last goal in Jordan, with a little less than a month to spare.  For 2 months last year I went without root beer.  Last night, it was rumored that Mecca Mall, (there’s an oxymoron for you) which is a mall more american than the Embassy, had a 50s diner that served root beer.  Sean Zainab and I hoped in the cab, avoiding being converted to Islam, though Zainab received explicit instructions by our cab driver to do just that, and finally found root beer.  Straight up, A&W, out of the can root beer.  Al Hhmdilallah-Thanks be to God. 

The next day we went to Ajloun for a relaxing weekend in nature, under the stars in little bungalows.  This was pretty cool.  The idea was to get the students, who had just survived a week of host families to completely relax and chill.  

When we got back one of the most entertaining, yet awkward things got to take place.  In our hotel arrived Iran’s national young adult handball team.  (Handball is a cross between basketball and ultimate.)  We decided upon arriving back in our hotel, to watch them play Bahrain.  Thats right our sworn enemies, the state which supposedly harbors terrorist, was playing one of our best friends in the region.  Due to the Iranians staying in the same hotel as us, we were cheering for them.  I spoke with them the day we left for Ajloun and they were very nice, but seemed to speak almost soviet style english.  The handball finals for asia are taking place in Jordan at what resembles a small small old school gym in Jordan's sports complex.  needless to say, we were the only fans there.  when you get 20 screaming high school american students into an empty gym cheering on their sworn enemies...the Bahrainis did not stand a chance!  Iran loved that we were there supporting them, and ended up winning by 5 points.  At the end when we passed by the locker rooms there were high fives all around from the Iranians to the students, and then the Bahrainis even thanked us for watching.  The Jordanian security forces who probably assumed they would have an easy day were holding people back to let the americans get through.  It was all a very weird day, but I am very glad we went, and that Iran won.  Chalk up another way to do diplomacy, cheering for peace.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Night to Di for

It was an amazing night.  Diana Krall, the Jazz singer came to perform at the Citadel in Amman.  Something like 2000 years ago the Roman empire constructed a bunch of columns on the highest hill they could find.  The standing columns and the church thats left were the backdrop to Diana’s 2 hour performance.  I have decided this is the best location of any concert I have ever been to.  It was all outside and the stage was a bare bones speakers and light trusses.  this meant the glow of the green minarets could be seen for miles out behind her.  Being in the center of the city was majestic when she stopped playing, turned off the lights, and the call to evening prayer rang out over the hills.  A slight breeze was blowing in the warm air, which prompted to band to start playing “Windy” without missing a beat somewhere in the second song.  It was amazing jazz music, and the crowd roared for the encore of Get Your Kicks on Route 66.  

The security was amazing.  The citadel is still a city on top of heavy walls.  Everyone 25 feet was another soldier making perimeters around the festival grounds.  I imagine this was the first time there was such security at the place since the time of Caesar.  

It was just a perfect night.  Ended up seeing a bunch of people form the embassy, and met some young jordanian professionals to share the evening with.  We were talking about the plight of refugees shortly before the show started when I saw something that made me long for certain people back home...

The big dipper was pouring its magic right onto the stage.  In between the stars of the jazz world, and the stars of the constellations a shooting star streaked across the entire sky.  I have never seen one last a full 6 seconds before.   THe timing was perfect, the place was perfect, and only having certain people here would have made it any more perfect.  

Monday, July 7, 2008

Get out of Town

These are just a few of the ways to go abroad, any google search could come up with more.  Most of these are High School oriented, as most colleges have many opportunities on campus to go abroad...  



Germany Exchange-

State Department List of Exchanges

People to People

Sean and I had the most successful meeting possible the other day.  We were told to meet at the King Abdullah Economic Fund for Development.  It was never very clear what we would be doing, so we went in with low hopes.  We dressed up for the occasion, and prepared to be acknowledged at the meeting, but were not sure if we would even speak.  One of our largest roles is working on connecting our team, as well as futures teams, with youth in Jordan and civil society in general.  My favorite Jordanian family, the Al Bashir’s, who I am still certain run the country (as it appeared last year), managed to set up this meeting for Sean and I to work on getting our Civil Society mission complete.  We entered the room and were introduced to everyone.  Turns our the Al Bashir family had arranged for a personal meeting for us with the Royal We Are All Jordan Youth Commission.  We ended up with a gold mine of contacts and possibilities to pursue.  

Things are getting into a pattern.  Almost everyone is in home stays now, and we are living in the hotel.  This has given me time to start reading, and I managed to find a book on Pirates.  With any luck I will get to go Pirating in Aqaba when they students are with their families for the weekend.  

Friday, July 4, 2008

America Abroad

It felt good to go home.  I loaded up in the taxi told him we wanted to go to america and he took us there.  On the 4th of July we attempted to get as much American spirit, Apple Pie, and Baseball as possible.  The only way to do this, without going to the newest State of the Union next door, was to go to the Embassy for their community day.  It was not nearly as entertaining last year, unless one was 6 years old.  There were clowns, face painting, and what seemed like a knock off of telletubbies mixed with Dora in oversized costumes performing in Arabic.  The pool looked appealing, but that who conscious thing about there being a water shortage for half the country, and the Americans frolicking in aqua bliss did not sit right with me.  We did meet some pretty cool people.  One guy was an air force attache who helps the Jordanians spend the military gift we give them every year.  We got to talking about how Jordan is still one of the few places in the world that being American automatically gives you rock star status.  Another guy just got out of Monterey Defense Language School, who had an interesting perspective.  We talked to a business man who was somehow involved with moving between Amman and Baghdad.  The ambassador was not there, and neither were the FSOs who I normally talk to.  They are having new assignments (Which sucks for our program.)  I did get a chance to meet some people whose blog I have been reading.  They are FSOs in Amman, one is Economic and the other is consular.  Their blog is  We ended up playing hot potato with water balloons.  There is nothing as satisfying as watching American Foreign Service Officers, Jordanian soldiers in combat fatigues, American students and little kids of both nationalities tossing water balloons to each other.  If I ever become head of any country, water balloon diplomacy will become the new foreign policy directive.  

After we all got off of american soil, the host families came to pick up the students.  That involved a lot of ferrying up and down stairs and small talk with them.  Everyone should have an amazing time.  Most of these families are LOADEDDDDDDDDDDDDD with money.  I think a few of them have indoor pools. (Did I mention a water shortage?)  some still do not have families, or they families were on vacation, so in honor of our nations birthday we did the most american thing we could think of after the embassy party.  We went bowling, then to McDonalds.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Chasing Waterfalls

“Oh yea, there apparently is alot of water, make sure you have good shoes on.  you are going to get wet!”  This was the direction we got as we got off the bus.  After trolling along the dead sea highway we made it to my new favorite spot in Jordan, Wadi Mujib.  This is a rock bed stream, which culminates in a 50 foot waterfall 3k from where we start.  The only way to get there is to talk up stream.  This is no Six Mile creek.  There are 4 or 5 smaller rapids and falls the involve ladders, ropes and vaulting each other up whitewater.  The constant immersion in water feels excellent.  There were tiems going up stream that the water was up to my waist.  There were times coming down that involved sliding down rapids into a pool over my head.  Being able to stand under 50 foot falls is probably the best shower I have had in my time here. Who would have thought there are tourist rivers, much elss waterfalls in the middle of the desert?  

Tomorrow I get to head o the Royal High Commission on Youth, to hopefully start my real job of networking for youth contacts and civil society.  

I apparently missed Rhythm and Booms, once again.  This used to be my favorite way to celebrate our nations independence.  Last year it was replaced by a differnet party.  Imagine who kind of fun can happen when Americans get together, in the middle east, for the 4th of July, at the Embassy.  I can’t wait.  I am going to get real hotdogs, amybe even cheese curds!

Happy 4th!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Lost in Translation

Finished my first week of arabic.  Unlike last year, I can finally read, and fairly well.  Arabic is hard.  There are a few letters that have no english equivalent.  Sometimes they will write arabic but have it as an english word, which ends up very butchered.  There is also no P sound in arabic which is what lead to this blog.  I managed to find a grocery store I assumed I was very familiar with.  Those who live in my home town, have most definitely shopped there, or even worked there.  This was a bad translation attempt at one of Waunakee’s landmarks...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

frisbees and windows

I survived half the week of arabic so far.  That is 10 hours of instruction under my belt in two days.  yesterday I tired to teach my Ameia (Jordanian street Arabic) teacher how to throw a frisbee.  It was horrible and he managed to hit a window.  We have gotten a few games of Ultimate with the other americans and the Jordanians who hang around the Language Center.  Jordan must be perceived as safer due to the influx of American students.  My arabic has gotten a lot better.  Almost everyone in our team speaks another language fairly well.  Most of them are spanish and french, which they started in middle or high school.  Imagine if we started Arabic and Chinese in the first grade.  Our Foreign Policy issues would be taken care of in 10 years.  Culture shock is setting in for some of the students.  They are very smart and very committed, but there is a lack of closeness between the entire group.  Some little groups have started to form.  I assume that will change when they move out, which will be very soon leaving me and the 3 other alums to living in the hotel for the rest of the summer.  We have our first test in a few hours so I should probably go study for that.  Hope everyone is well.

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