Becoming more knowledgeable about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

After my studies, I visited Israel and Palestine before I traveled back home. Wow. I feel ten times more educated about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict just by visiting and seeing the situation up close. My very first experience was at the border. My friends had visited the area before I did, and apparently they had no trouble. I, on the other hand, did find a two-hour interrogation waiting for me before I could cross. The border guard took my phone and read all of my conversations. She asked me questions about the various conversations I had, and probed all the contacts I had with Israel. That was, at max, two. She ended up calling one of them, which I thought was incredibly rude, inappropriate in that it involved an innocent person unrelated to my border crossing, in addition to the clear violation of privacy. This experience alone dissuades me from visiting Israel again. I understand that the area witnesses high levels of violence but, as an American, I felt these violations were inexcusable. If I’m already fed up with how the government is neglectful to our rights in America, where I receive ten times more respect, then why should I stand for such disrespect in Israel?

Anyway, I thought Jerusalem was beautiful. But, yet again, the conflict bubbled up to the surface as I toured Jerusalem and the country at large. In Jerusalem, I could only visit the mosque, Aqsa, for a limited period of time. Due to miscommunication with the Muslim and Jewish guards, perhaps on account of their less-than-stellar English, I could not visit Aqsa. Note that these two guards were in two different locations letting in two different types of tourists. The Muslim guard guards a more direct entrance to the mosque and allows Muslims 24-hour access, if they can prove they are muslims by answering questions about the Qoran.

As I went through the country, I saw signs only in Hebrew. I visited my friend in Golan Height, a territory occupied by Israel after the Six-Day War, and found out some interesting information regarding this. While large portions of Israel contain mainly Jews, the place where he lives, Golan Heights, contains mainly Arabs, as it was taken from Syria after the war. And despite the fact that many signs here do have English and Arabic, it was not always like that. After complaining, Arabic was added to signs only a few years ago. This again underscores the tepid relations between Arabs and Jews in the country.

Finished my last test!

Whew, this summer flew by. Tomorrow I will be off to Israel and Palestine to top of my trip. Because my computer has been broken, I will not be able to upload all my pictures and videos until later, when I’m in America. But I think I’ve surprisingly learned a lot about the region and it’s culture, as well as its political history, through my short stay here and through the engaging learning I experienced in my classes.

Pretty much every Arab I’ve talked to refers to the Israeli blockade and control over the West Bank and such Palestinian territories as “the occupation” or “the occupied lands” so clearly they’re using politically charged vocabulary from the beginning. I’ve met a number of Palestinians here in Jordan and the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very personal to them. One friend of mine doesn’t want to visit Palestine (he’s Palestinian) because he would have to go through the trouble of obtaining permission from the Israeli government, something he does not feel he ought to do to visit the homeland of his people. Many Arab friends of mine here would not even consider visiting Jerusalem at this point because of the Jewish expansion into eastern Jerusalem, where Arabs now live.

I find it interesting that Jordan is sort of becoming a melting pot of Arabs as one of the only stable countries in the region. Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, and Tunisians come to Jordan as refugees due to the current conflicts in their countries. If handled correctly, this influx of workers could be a boon to the Jordanian economy, as many refugees may be pushed not because they can’t find work, but because they are educated and forced to flee due to violence, signaling that they would be economically useful. On the other hand, this could also exacerbate the Jordanian unemployment rate. I talked with someone who said that many people aren’t technically economically productive workers in the sense that their government jobs could easily be eliminated and the country would function normally. The government is a very large employer here so this clearly signals a problem. I suspect that the reason the government can afford to employ all these people who really don’t offer any economic utility because the government receives foreign aid from countries like the United States and Saudi Arabic. This aid has essentially created an economic bubble in which the Jordanian people, particularly those employed by the government whose jobs aren’t necessary, can enjoy the luxuries of the first-world without having a sustainably first-world economy. I’m afraid this bubble will burst, leaving many in Jordan unemployed. I also have hope though that, due to this economic aid from countries like the United States, the Jordanian workforce will become better educated and able to respond to the demands of a globalized economy, positioning Jordan for future economic stability. The educated youth are much more pro-Western and serve as the hope for the country so I hope they will also help lead the country economically into first-world status.

My learning for the summer is over! But not for long!

(8/15/2013)

Sorry for not posting for a while! My computer broke, and it is still broken, but I can use community computers for a limited period of time. If I hadn’t been busy with final projects, and if the hours of operation were after instead of during my class, I would have written more within these past few weeks.

I had my last class of Arabic today and I feel a little bit sad. I have been challenged consistently this summer, and one of the things I’m grateful for is my teachers who have pushed me so hard this summer to do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing without them. As I mentioned before, I moved up from level 3 to level 4, skipping quite a few chapters in the main Arabic book that teaches basic grammar. In level 4, everything I did was in Arabic. I was pushed to read articles on my own from legitimate news sources, and it wasn’t easy. I moved beyond the articles specifically tailored to Arabic learners to articles from news sources such as Al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic. Of course, the vocabulary and grammar were hard, but after this summer, any article on any subject is manageable for me. Only the most complex grammar is outside my reach in terms of understanding. And while there exist thousands of words in Arabic that I still don’t know, I have been given the tools to decipher their meanings and study them on my own. It will take time, but I think I have all the tools, all the basics and fundamentals to be successful in Arabic now.

One thing I wish I had focused more on from the beginning of my studies in Arabic is the dialects, particularly the Egyptian dialect. I was not able to practice Arabic here as much as I would have liked because I could not speak the Arabic language that many of the people here spoke. It wasn’t impossible, and as most people here understand the academic Arabic I was able to be understood completely fine. However, in terms of listening practice and practice talking like a normal person, I did feel a little hindered because the Arabic dialects were not focused on in class. But now with the amount of improvements I have made this summer, I think I will be fine. And I have also made a number of Arab friends that can help me with such studying when I return to the States.

The Arab Spring

Wow things have been messy these past few weeks. In Egypt, the democratically elected Mohammad Morsi was overthrown by the military. In Syria, Bashar Al-Assad has started gaining momentum as the rebels begin to fight one another. And in Turkey, if you want to consider it part of this movement, we haven’t really seen much news lately. Lack of interest? Either way, these past few weeks have been relatively eventful, and perhaps will go a long way in impacting the future of the Middle East.

First, let’s talk about Egypt. I remember very clearly the night of the coup in Egypt. I first read about it on facebook. I turned on the news (in Arabic) and there was the army giving the announcement. Then I noticed the din of car horns, louder and more annoying than usual (which is pretty loud and annoying), so I gathered that these people might be excited about the overthrow of Morsi. I talked with my language partner later, and found out that, according to him, many Jordanians actually supported Morsi. My Saudi Arabian friend had a more condescending approach to the situation in Egypt, noting that it seemed like Egypt really didn’t know what it wanted. Arabs of stable countries view the situation in Egypt, one in which a dictator was overthrown in favor of a democratically elected Islamist…who was overthrown because of his incompetent government, as one in which as less-educated people suffer from their own mistakes.

Ramadan is frustrating.

It’s been a week and a half of Ramadan already. I’ve already suffered from the inability to shop on Fridays, and now today is a Friday during Ramadan. Luckily I only needed water today, and as that’s such a basic commodity of course a few shops would be selling that. I was really proud of myself today though because I got revenge (sort of) on this guy that ripped me off weeks ago. I bought a candy bar that was clearly marked half a dinar, and the guy charged me like 2 dinar back then. And I only bought it to get change! Well today that was one of the few shops open near me, so I went in, and asked how much a bottle of water is using the correct, appropriate vocabulary. It was only .35 dinar, so I paid and left, successfully.

Anyway, I’d like to talk about Ramadan in general. I’ve noticed some very interesting things here. I think the fasting hours are between about five in the morning until eight at night. This means you cannot eat, drink (including water), or do many other things, including smoking, sex, or maybe even swearing. Considering that pretty much everyone smokes here, I think it’s crazy that they go so many hours without it when they’re likely very deeply addicted to cigarettes. I’ve heard that it is illegal to eat in public during Ramadan, and it’s generally rude as well.

I got hungry one time and went to the mall next to my school. The only food place open was McDonald’s. I bought a McFlurry and quietly ate it in a corner, and only after talking with a Jordanian friend did I start fearing that I may get arrested. Luckily, there were few people around to offend other than the workers at McDonald’s, and I think eating inside places like that is acceptable.

It may seem like Ramadan is a very strenuous time for Muslims, and theoretically it should be, except for the fact that they basically become nocturnal during this month. Things are quieter during the day, but activity quickly picks up during the night. So of those fifteen hours of fasting, perhaps as much as eight or ten of them by the cheatiest of cheaters could be spent on sleeping. But naps definitely help mitigate the cruel fifteen hours of no sustenance. I think many people also don’t brush their teeth during that time, as the chance that they might swallow toothpaste or water could jeopardize their fast.

I’ve also noticed an increase in beggars over the past week. I generally don’t respond well to beggars because I live outside of Chicago, so it’s a well-known fact that many people living on the street just use whatever money they receive to buy drugs. Here I’m sure things are different, but I’ve grown so used to refusing to even look at beggars that I just don’t respond well. Well, I’ve been twice faced with a beggar in my face. One girl knocked on our apartment door and started begging for money. Another girl tried to sell me something, and I kept telling her no until her sister came up to me and started grabbing my arm. I brushed them off me and quickly got out of there because I’m not gonna get mobbed by a bunch of little Arab girls on the street. But this increase in beggars matches an increase in charity during the month of Ramadan. People believe that charity and good deeds in general during this month have their effects multiplied due to the fast. So if you’d receive recognition by God for giving to the poor, this recognition becomes exponentially greater when fasting.

I apologize for the lack of updates over the past few weeks, as I have been busy with my class lately. I’ll be sure to post updates about the last few weeks though, as my classes have dealt with incredibly interesting issues–in Arabic–like the Arab spring and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

صفي صعب جدا! ولكني أحبه جدا!

غيرت صفي في يوم الثلاثاء. كنت في المستوى الثالث لكن فضّلت أصعب عربية فغيرت صفي و الآن أنا في المستوى الرابع. في هذا الصف زملائي و أنا نقرأ نصوص صعبة من الجرائد أو  نستمع إلى الأخبار في الأنترنت من مصادر متنوعة و نتكلّم عن مواضيع و قضايا شيقة و  ممتعة. هذا الأسبوع تكلّمنا عن التعليم في الشرق الأوسط و في أمريكا و الأخبار من بلدان كثيرة. إن شاء الله سنتكلّم عن الصلة بين إسرائيل و فليسطين و النساء في الشرق الأوسط و أشياء أخرى و أنا ثائر جدا! أتمنّى أن أصبح أن أستطيع قراءة الجرائد في العربية الفصحى بعد هذا الصيف فأقدر على ممارسة العربية في اليابان عندما أسافر إليه في المستقبل

I changed my class this week on Tuesday. I was in level 3 Arabic here, but I wanted more of a challenge so I requested to be moved up to level 4, and I moved up with no trouble logistically. Practically, however, my new class is really freaking hard! We read semi-authentic to authentic articles in class, then we talk about them. There are a huge number of vocab words I don’t know. I thought I was alone in that at first, but it turns out that quite a few people are in the same situation I am, in that, as foreigners, we have a very small vocabulary at this point. We talked about education in the United States and the Middle East this week, as well as other news around the world. In the future, we’re going to talk about the situation in Israel and Palestine, the state of women in the Middle East, and many other worthy topics. I’m really excited about all of this because I was starting to get impatient regarding my language-learning experiences. I know I have basic skills, but I want to move at a faster pace to become more competent in the language, and this class change was exactly what I needed. This extra push will also help me maintain my language skills when I travel to Japan in the fall, as it gives me the ability to practice Arabic by reading newspapers. I can’t wait to improve my Arabic exponentially this summer.

الناس في الأردن لطفاء و أحبّهم كثيراً The people in Jordan are nice and I like them a lot.

أظن أن هذه التجربة حلوة كثيرا و الآن أستمتع بكل شيء في الأردن. أفكر في أن أحاول أن أقرأ جراءدا مثل الجزيرة ولكني الآن لا أستطيع. أبدأ أقرأ مقابلات في الإنترنات لأن فيها مقابلات بمفردات جديدة لتعلّم العربية سهلا.

I think this experience so far has been very worthwhile. The people here are really nice and I’ve received many favors from them. Once a taxi driver helped me find my way home and didn’t charge me the full price. Another person bought me dinner. I have been able to speak the colloquial Arabic well enough that people start talking back to me a little to fast. This has made me even more acutely aware of my very narrow vocabulary, so I’ve started to build that vocabulary so I can better communicate what I want. I plan to read articles online using a site called foreigncy.org, which helps you read authentic Arabic articles with a step-by-step process. This is probably gonna be hard the first few times, but I think after a while I will get used to it and it will become natural for me to seek out articles in Arabic, which is exactly what I want.

تاكسي! و الشوارع و السيارات Taxis and cars and roads

Wow, taxis are a necessary evil. First things first, taxis find their way by landmarks. Do not tell them street names at all. They will not know any. Even if it is a major street, they don’t pay attention. I’ve heard that part of the reason is that the streets are new and renamed. The bigger reason,  I think, is that they just don’t direct themselves the way we do. So never, ever tell a taxi a street name. They may know it, but it really enables a bad habit that you will need to quit very soon. I suggest that you look very carefully at where you need to go and where you live in order to give directions by landmarks. Use stores, banks, hotels, hospitals, anything that you think will stand out.

You will be amazed by cars here. Really, it’s fascinating. After three days here, I was in awe yesterday at a car that was driving in its lane. The streets here have very little regulation. I think it’s pretty standard to not have lanes marked, and instead to view the street as a place where you can drive pretty much anywhere but the wrong side…except sometimes it’s ok to do that too. U-turns are common and there are even places in the street marked for u-turns. People sometimes stop in the middle of the street to do stuff. People honk horns like it’s the cool thing to do. In America, it’s rare to hear someone honk their horn. Here, it’s weird when someone is not honking their horn. People honk their horns at bad driving, to pedestrians crossing the street to alert them a car is coming, to celebrate, and because they’re bored.

Internet and Phones are troublesome

I arrived in Amman Friday morning, and only now am I getting stable internet connection. Before I had to hurriedly buy a phone plan, then use internet on my phone. That was a bad idea. I quickly ran through 10JD by using internet and texting people too much. Because I put credit on my balance instead of choosing a prepaid plan, the rates were much too expensive and my balance depleted quickly. Now I have about 100GB of internet at my house and whatever internet is left on my phone from getting a plan after learning my lesson.

I totally didn’t expect this problem to occur, but that’s in part because I didn’t really understand how the internet worked. It was kinda magic to me at home, where I could just idly browse the internet without consequence. I didn’t care about how much internet I consumed, and sometimes I simply wasted it by looking up stuff when I was bored. Now, as the locals are, I am acutely aware of the limitations of the internet here.

One thing I regret though is not getting an Android phone or an IPhone for this trip. I hate to say it, but I think IPhones are ideal for travel at the moment, especially if you need to type a foreign language. IPhones have Arabic, a language that, while it has many speakers, seems to be a rare addition to smartphones. I only have the option of downloading really bad apps with my Windows Phone, so I’m starting to miss my Android phone on that note as well. Even with Android apps, however, nothing can compare to a built-in keyboard at the moment, as it really eases the transition between languages.

Also, either buy an unlocked phone, or get yours unlocked in the states before travel. This allows you to use local phone rates (rather than the higher international rates of your own phone company) by buying a sim card from one of the local companies. These are: Umniah, Zain, and Orange. Do not put credit on your sim card! Choose a prepaid plan! Compare the prices yourself and you’ll see the benefit.

Takeaway travel tips: Mind your internet usage! Buy a phone prepaid plan, and research them before you come here! Make sure your phone is unlocked before you come, as you need it to buy a local sim card to get a local company’s plan and pay lower, local rates!

Beginning to Listen

For the past few days I have reviewed my previous Arabic books to study the colloquial form of Arabic provided. Up until now, my Arabic classes have focused on the Modern Standard Arabic portion of the books, yet the Egyptian and Jordanian dialects of Arabic have been written alongside the formal Arabic this entire time. Of the three books we used, I’m only up to the second chapter of the second book, so that leaves eighteen more chapters for this second book and another few chapters we covered in the third book. A very long road ahead. As my goal is to test into the highest level of Arabic I can (yet this test only focuses on Standard Arabic, so obviously by practicing the Jordanian dialect instead of focusing solely on Standard Arabic my ultimate goal reaches beyond that) I definitely need a lot more practice. Today was the first day that I really started using the listening practice for the Jordanian dialect. I’m proud to say that by the second and third times through, I understood most of what they were saying! Getting used to how they say words will certainly be a challenge, but after staring at and writing the Jordanian version of certain words for the past few days, it felt very liberating to hear those words as they were intended and to see the circumstances, which included body language and emotion, in which they were used. I have much practice to do, but I also have made great strides in these last few days, so I expect these last two weeks to be very productive.