Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Work Visa = SUCCESS!

I GOT MY WORK VISA!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today I had my appointment at the Ministry of the Interior. The Israeli government doesn't publish it's Visa process, nor do they have anyone whom you can contact with questions about how to apply. This means that the only way you can find out what you need to bring to your appointment is through word of mouth, but because there's no standardized procedure, you can be asked for just about anything depending on who you are talking to and what kind of mood they're in that day. Basically, you're walking in mostly blind, hoping that somewhere within the stack of papers you brought are the documents that they will ask for. It was incredibly nerve-wracking for me, but luckily my experience was fairly smooth and mostly painless. I'm just so glad that it's over... and that I now have a year-long visa!

The other big excitement today is that to get home from my appointment, I rode the bus from Jerusalem, through The Wall, and into Bethlehem ALL BY MYSELF! I know, I know... quite an achievement. I was unbelievably proud.

I promise that in my next post, I'll share all the details about where I'm living. I may even give you a tour of my new home! Get excited!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Palestinian Statehood

I hope that you each had a chance to listen to Mahmoud Abbas' speech to the United Nations today. As the President of the State of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, he was responsible for submitting an application for the admission of Palestine as a member of the United Nations. Essentially, Palestine wants to be recognized as an Independent State in hopes that through this they can reclaim their land and gain their freedom. They are currently the only occupied nation in the world. 

Unfortunately, President Obama has already said that even if this application gets approved, the United States, as a staunch supporter of Israel, will use its power to veto the decision. I have found that despite this harsh reality, the Palestinians that I have talked to are incredibly excited about the vote, and seem to hope that this will bring new light and awareness to the injustice that they face every day. Currently, more than 120 countries in the world support the Palestinians by recognizing Palestine as a state. The following map does a good job of showing these countries - the dark green countries recognize Palestine, the silver countries do not, and the lime and olive green countries either outright do not recognize Palestine OR are abstaining from the decision/refusing to comment.

Today was definitely a day filled with joy here in the West Bank. Here is a tiny glimpse into the town of Ramallah during the speech: 


And, for your viewing pleasure, here are two stellar pictures of me in Nativity Square in Bethlehem right before Abbas' speech started:

If you didn't hear the speech, I encourage you to read the transcription of the English translation HERE!

I'll leave you with a quote from the speech that both touched me and hurt my heart:

"The time has come for our men, women and children to live normal lives, for them to be able to sleep without waiting for the worst that the next day will bring; for mothers to be assured that their children will return home without fear of suffering killing, arrest or humiliation; for students to be able to go to their schools and universities without checkpoints obstructing them. The time has come for sick people to be able to reach hospitals normally, and for our farmers to be able to take care of their good land without fear of the occupation seizing the land and its water, which the wall prevents access to. Or fear of the settlers, for whom settlements are being built on our land and who are uprooting and burning the olive trees that have existed for hundreds of years. The time has come for the thousands of prisoners [often only accused of organizing peaceful demonstrations or throwing rocks as they are being attacked] to be released from the prisons to return to their families and their children ... My people desire to exercise their right to enjoy a normal life like the rest of humanity."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


So after a long (for this impatient American) and quite stressful border crossing... I'M IN PALESTINE! The border crossing here is quite an interesting process, with bus changes and no-mans-land and other interesting facets. But I'm exhausted, and so that is a story for another day (maybe tomorrow?). I got a 1 month tourist visa, but I will inshallah (God willing) have a work visa after my appointment at the Ministry of the Interior next week.

My month of language training in Jordan came to an end after our fantastic IIJP regional retreat (with the MCC staff from Iraq, Iran, Jordan, & Palestine). I had an absolutely incredible time (even though there wasn't any reliable internet... hence my lack of blog posts), and I will definitely give you a summary of the retreat later. In fact, I feel like there are a few blog posts that I need to write in order to officially bring my time in Jordan to a close, but again, those are going to be put off for another day.

It is only 10pm here, but I'm both physically and emotionally exhausted. This day definitely took more out of me than I was expecting. I am currently staying with Ryan and Ingrid, the MCC program administrators in Palestine. They are lovely people and have a beautiful home here on the Mount of Olives. I, along with the other Palestine SALTer, will have a few days of Palestine orientation, and then will be moving into my new home on Friday. I will be living with a host family, but in a separate part of the house. Basically, it is the best of both worlds. I'll have a family to connect and spend time with, but I will also have a bit of privacy and quiet.

I promise that I'll write more once I've had a bit of sleep. Thank you each for your kind words of encouragement, your support, and your prayers. I couldn't do this without you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chatting with Taxi Drivers!

So as you may have guessed, my Arabic tends to be slightly subpar. In class, we just moved from only speaking in the past tense, to beginning to learn present tense. I feel like I've gone from knowing a little bit of Arabic, to knowing absolutely nothing. Weird, right? Now that I'm trying to remember two tenses, it seems that everything I've learned has flown out the window.

Now, the majority of the time, this isn't too problematic. The people I've lived with all speak English. The people at the MCC office all speak English. My classmates all speak English. So no problem, right? Wrong. In order for me to get anywhere, I have to take a taxi. Now, while I have encountered a few cab drivers who spoke a bit of English, the vast majority that I've met only speak Arabic. This means that I need to know the name of the place I'm trying to go (which limits my traveling/adventuring down to the three locations I know how to say in Arabic).

Just like in the States, some of the cab drivers don't really talk at all, and some are quite chatty. While most of my rides are pretty quiet, occasionally I'll get a driver who is up for playing the "lets communicate using the 8 words you know in English/the 8 words I know in Arabic/sign language/charades" game! I've even taken to carrying around my Arabic/English dictionary with me so that I can look up a word if need be. 

So far, I've had some incredibly interesting conversations. First, there is usually the "where are you from" guessing game. Most of the time, the US is their first guess, but I've also gotten England and France. Yesterday as I was coming back from class, I had a cab driver who told me "you so tall... beautiful! In Jordan: no tall. In America: TALL! You wear short skirts? In America, wear short skirts!" Keep in mind that he was trying to act out the word "skirt" while driving a taxi (which can sometimes be a dangerous feat here). Hilarious!

I've gotten to sample some pretty incredible Bedouin music with a Bedouin cab driver, discuss Jordanian politics with a Palestinian driver, and have numerous conversations about how difficult it is to learn Arabic and/or English. I've also had three marriage proposals, and two offers to help me convert to Islam. Sadly, I've had to turn down each of these kind offers with the excuse that it would disrespect my family if I got married/converted while I'm away from home. I was told that is the best way to say "thanks but no thanks" ... blame it on your family. I have to say, it has worked out quite well so far.

Being able to talk with cab drivers has been a really great way to not only practice my Arabic, but also to learn more about Jordan. It has also been a great time to help break American stereotypes simply by talking and joking around with people. Also, the drivers are usually shocked that I have green eyes, and they either gape at me for 30 seconds or get absolutely giddy, which is a great way to break the ice.

Overall, I've had a great experience with the drivers here. Every single one of them has been kind and fair. I haven't been ripped off at all yet (which unfortunately happens sometimes, especially if you look like you don't know that 2JD is enough to go just about anywhere in Amman). My car rides have become a highlight of my day, and I'm a little bit sad that my time in Jordan is coming to an end. At the end of this week, we have a retreat with the rest of MCC's Middle East staff, and then I'll be heading to my host family's house in Palestine! Wish me luck in my last week of Arabic classes!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


--The super cool/posh/refined thing to drink with my family here is Turkish Coffee. You make it by boiling ground coffee beans in a pot, and then pouring it into a mini size teacup. The grounds settle to the bottom, and you drink until you get to them. The first time I had it, it did not look at all appealing, but it is definitely growing on me!

Turkish Coffee

--The light switches in my house are the opposite from home! In order to turn the light on, you push the switch down, and to turn it off, you push the switch up. I'm always accidentally plunging the room into darkness when I just meant to turn on a second light. Confuuuusing!

--In my host family's house, the TV is almost always on, and it seems that the only things that are ever playing are 90s American action movies. I've seen more random movies in the last two weeks than ever before in my life (Goodfellas anyone?). Even worse, sometimes people don't realize how old they are, and they ask me if "Americans really dress like that?!" And I have to explain that indeed we did... 20 years ago.

--About 40% of the population in Jordan is actually made up of Palestinians, and apparently the percentage in Amman is more around 80%. After the mass-exodus in 1948, many Palestinians came to Jordan, as it was a close and relatively welcoming country. In fact, about 2 million Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, with only about 340,000 still living in refugee camps.

--Amman was originally built on seven different hills, or "Jabals," but now spans 19. Instead of having a "West Side" or a "Tower District," they have "Jabals." You give directions based on these areas, and everyone knows them. For example, I live in Jabal Amman, and the MCC office is in Jebel Weibdeh, two of the oldest areas of Amman. I can tell any taxi driver in the city (whether they speak English or not) which Jabal I want to go to, and I'll get there. 

View from Jebel Weibdeh

--Almost all of the buildings here are made out of concrete or stone, covered with thin slabs of white limestone. This makes it incredibly difficult for me to navigate, since I'm used to having obvious landmarks like: the house with the pink door, or the little log cabin, or the steel office building. I'm getting a little better at this, but it's slow going.

--Some of you may remember the 2005 suicide bombings of the the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel, and the Days Inn here in Amman that killed 60 and injured 115. Well, I happen to live right across from the Radisson (which has since reopened under the name "Landmark Hotel"), and we have a gorgeous view of it from our kitchen window. I knew that this building looked familiar, but it took me two weeks to place where I knew it from.

Landmark Hotel, Amman

Overall, things in Jordan are wonderful. Language classes are increasingly difficult, and at this point I'm basically just trying to get a firm groundwork of the language that I can build on over the next year, instead of trying to remember every single word, phrase, and concept that we are being taught. I'm definitely a bit overwhelmed, but I just keep telling myself that I only have seven classes left, and so I need to make the most of them.  Because the summer vacation just ended for school-aged children, our language classes have been moved to the afternoon. This is making it a lot easier for me to be awake and functioning in class! I can't believe that I only have another week and a half here in Amman. Soon, I'll be off to Palestine!

Friday, September 2, 2011


Today was the two week anniversary of my arrival here in Jordan. While I have definitely had some incredible experiences (which I will be posting about in the next few days, when I'm not feeling quite so whiny), I have also encountered some down-sides and harsh realities to life here. While many of these realities are more abstract, political, or philosophical, there are two physical realities that I have encountered here: bug bites & blisters.

Bug bites continue to be the bane of my existence here in Jordan. I woke up this morning to these beautiful sights: 

Four bug bites on my arm.

Nine bug bites on my leg/ankle/foot

Weird angle, I know, but you get the idea.  THIRTEEN NEW BUG BITES. They literally appeared overnight. It seems like such a silly thing to worry about, but they're driving me insane. Its pretty hard to sit still and focus in class for three hours everyday when my body feels like its on fire. I've usually been getting between 8-12 new bites every night for the last two weeks. Do the math. Tragedy.

As a spoiled American, I'm not used to minor inconveniences like bug bites, and I'm even less accustomed to blisters. Walking to and from class each day in flip-flops has given me some pretty intense blisters on both of my feet. I mean, I could wear sneakers, but its sooooo hottttttt. At home, everyone drives everywhere. I live about 5-10 miles from the places I go daily, so driving saves me a lot of time and usually just makes more sense.

All in all, I have a new appreciation for people who deal with these two seemingly insignificant problems. Have bug bites? Just use some Benadryl! Oh wait, WE DON'T HAVE THAT HERE. Bug spray also seems to be non-existant. Got blisters? Just drive. Oh wait, a lot of people throughout the world don't have cars, and definitely don't have spare cash to be spending on taxis. MCC pays for my food, housing, living, and occupancy expenses, which includes taxi rides. This means that when I get blisters, I can just hop in a cab (like I'll definitely be doing tomorrow) knowing that the cost is taken care of. What about the people who can't? What about Jesus, a man who travelled all over present day Israel, Jordan, and Syria in shoes that probably weren't too comfy? He walked and healed and blessed and taught. He changed the world, despite his blisters.

What about the women around the world who have to walk to the market to get food for their families? Today, I was hanging out with Cindy, the MCC representative in Jordan. We walked about a half a mile downhill to the weekly Friday market to get fruits and veggies, and then had to trudge back up the hill, our bags overflowing with produce. By the time we got back to the house, we were both overheated and exhausted. Going to the market was an incredible experience, and I had a great time, but it was sooooo tempting to just get a cab to take me back to the house with those bags. I didn't, mainly because I knew that wouldn't give me an authentic market experience - and I really wanted one. But I had the option. What if it wasn't just a half mile walk back from the market? What if it was a mile walk? Or a five mile walk? Would I still have walked? Who knows. But so many here have no choice but to ignore their aches and pains, bug bites and blisters, and just keep on moving. I admire their determination, and I hope that by the time I leave this place, I will have absorbed a bit of their perseverance.