Living in Jedha for a Night


After much anticipation we finally arrived at Wadi Rum! As we stepped out of the bus we climbed into 4×4 pick-up trucks we were met with vast expanses of rock and sand. As we drove into the desert to Rainbow Camp, our Bedouin host for the night, we were enveloped in a sea of dust and towering rock formations. As soon as we left the initial village of Wadi Rum I was surprised as to how desolate and pure the desert was. It was incredibly peaceful and unlike anything I had ever experienced before. As our Bedouin host drove us to our camp, I acutely realized that it would be very easy to get lost in the expanse of this desert. Once we arrived at our camp our hosts began to sing traditional songs and play an instrument similar to a guitar. As we clapped to the beat of the songs the men started lining up in front of us and dancing! After this they were ready to serve us dinner and show us how they prepared our food. They cooked the most succulent chicken and potatoes for us in this underground oven where they place the meat on metal plates that are connected and lowered down into a circular oven that is dug into the earth. As they pulled out the metal trays to let us see the oven it was incredibly long and narrow! Later on in the night, at about 2:30 AM, we hiked to a rock beside our camp to stargaze. The sky was full of stars. I could see the soft twinkling stars and older bright stars, the sky looked like a maze, a sea of variations of light. As I laid on this rock, trying not to fall asleep, I began to see white lights streaming across the sky. I realized that I was watching shooting stars! Never before have I seen that many shooting stars. If you weren’t watching closely enough you could easily miss them for the fall only lasted for about five seconds.


The following morning we left for four hours of 4×4 tours of the desert. Since we had arrived at night the previous day, I recall seeing the desert for the first time and being in awe. The sand was this incredible rust, blood-orange color! We first drove to a spring in the mountains where we hiked up an enormous taupe colored rock to a small plateau with vegetation to reach a spring, hidden like a treasure inside a cave with a narrow entrance, so slight you could almost bypass it. As we continued on our tour we came to another canyon that was recessed. The canyon had inscriptions from the Nabateans, an old tribe that lived in the south of Jordan, at its entrance. There were three tribesmen carved into the top of the rock, higher than was seemingly feasible. As I walked on the ridges of the rock to reach the end of the canyon, I was surrounded by multicolored rock that reminded me of the Siq trail. At the entrance the rock was a rust-orange with lighter sand colored striations, however the color of the interior of the canyon was completely different. The rock was shades of burgundy, chocolate, sand and rust with golden hues. It was beautiful. All along the canyon walls were Arabic words and images.The rock was cool opposed to the hot dusty breeze of the desert. It was a beautiful place to camp out and listen to Arabic music.

Later we arrived at another camp for another Bedouin meal. Since the heat was at its pinnacle, we rested for two hours before going back out for four more hours of touring. We continued on hiking mountains and sand dunes to a clearing where we could see the mountains that separated Jordan from Saudi Arabia! As we toured we lost track of time. Driving around the desert in the back of a 4×4 made time seem irrelevant and illogical.

The most memorable part of the afternoon tours was watching the sunset on the mountains. At the end of the day we climbed to the middle of a large rock formation and directly in front of us was the sun, descending upon the mountain. The as the sun set the sky turned colors of deep purple, soft pink and vibrant orange with tints of golden yellow. It changed the color of the rock, which went from a blanched rust-sand color to a saturated pink-orange. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. It was a perfect end to the weekend full of desert tours.


A Weekend Floating Between Egypt and Israel


This week my parents and sister arrived in Amman! It was so much fun taking them around the city that had become my new home. As they went on their daily excursions and I went to class, I was excited to be able to spend the weekend with them in Aqaba. The drive to Aqaba was quite long, four and a half hours along the Dead Sea Highway. However, the long hours were worth it for Aqaba was a beautiful and much needed oasis. The town of Aqaba itself was filled with eateries and small jewelry shops. Our hotel was twenty minutes outside of the town of Aqaba and overlooked the Red Sea and the mountains of Egypt. It was so surreal to be that close to Egypt. We could have swam over to it!! Our room was across from a marina and the docked boats on the water reminded me of New England marinas. It was easy to forget that I was in Jordan.

Later that day we decided to venture outside into the Red Sea and it was very refreshing. I had anticipated the water to be very hot like the Dead Sea but thankfully it wasn’t because the outside temperature was 104 degrees!! Since we went to the beach later in the day, the sand had cooled off, so it was not as scorching on our feet. The beach reminded me of Cape Cod beaches where the sand turns to a bed of pebbles on the coastline. It was so relaxing floating in the water. I was fully enjoying my weekend absent of the bustle of Amman and the constant stimulation of city living. I very much felt at home. I was though very surprised at the salinity of the water. When we left the ocean we had a layer of white salt film coating our bodies. It felt amazing to submerge into the hotel pools afterwards. It felt cleansing of all of the salt of the Red Sea.

The following day we decided to snorkel before I had to head back to Amman for classes the following day. I was expecting to have to take a boat out to a farther point to be able to see the infamous coral reefs and fish of the Red Sea but fortunately we were able to just take out equipment and walk right out to into the ocean! I put my mask on, walked about forty meters and saw a swarm of fish feeding on coral. The coral was beautiful, it was colors of soft yellows and red-orange. There were bits of light blue and very faint purples. In niches there were burgendy colored sea urchins and when the sun-light twinkled through the small ripples of the sea, the urchins appeared to be moving with the current. As I sat there floating and watching the fish I found myself enveloped in a school of small minnow looking fish. They were golden, just like a goldfish, and very small. I was surprised at how close the fish came to me. I was mesmerized by the colors of the fish. There were fish of electric purple color. Some were half black and half white-gray with a neon orange yellow streak. Others were black and tan striped. Some were bright red and small, feeding on the color or swimming on top of other larger fish. It was so interesting watching the fish swim around each other, nibbling on the coral without a care about these large lurking bodies watching them from above.


Traversing the Seventh Wonder of the World

On Thursday night we left for Petra since it takes three hours to get there because of checkpoints. Due to recent protests in Southern Jordan we had to take a different route to get there that took even longer! Nonetheless the entire bus was filled with excitement and anticipation to see the seventh wonder of the world. I went up to the rooftop of the Petra Moon Hotel and looked out on all of Petra. It was incredible. The landscape was just like Amman, crowded hotels and homes built into the mountain, lining the skyline.

The following morning we left early for Petra to try and escape the heat. As soon as I walked passed the gates I was mesmerized by the carvings on the pale white, limestone rock. As the guide taught us about the history of Petra my mind began to wander and think about how the Nabateans might have used this site as a trading hub. As we approached the Siq trail I felt so small compared to the towering rocks. As I walked through the canyon-like opening of the Siq trail, it seemed as though the rock was stretching above and on both sides of me for miles. I saw fossils of wheat on the walls of the rock and different niches for gods engraved into the rocks. After completing the trail we came to the infamous Treasury. I was speechless. The size and detail of the Treasury building was unfathomable. I still cannot comprehend how these tribes were able to carve and construct this magnanimous building. It took 100 men ten years to carve this magnificent structure.  The rock was incredibly smooth and the color was uniform which was surprising. It was a vibrant rust colored building with clear Roman and Greek influence.

Next to the Treasury was a Roman forum and amphitheater and tombs! The Nabateans carved ornate tombs for the dead at the top of the mountain and today they stand as large cavernous rooms. It was beautiful to walk through the cold stone and through the laid archways. It is still unfathomable that these structures were built in 312 B.C. andthat these ancient tribes were able to construct such a development with seemingly primitive and inferior materials.

We were supposed to go to Wadi Rumafter Petra and we were on a strict time schedule so our leaders decided to call in donkeys for us to be able to reach the monastery, the farthest part of Petra. As forty donkeys came to pick up all of the students, I was placed on the last and smallest donkey. As soon as the donkey started to walk forward I was lurched. As the donkey started to scale rocks and climb flights of carved and rocky stairs, I was falling left and right. As I leaned left and right and ducked under rocks I realized why I was originally told that the donkeys were an incredibly dangerous way to get to the monastery. When I finally reached the top of the mount, I released my grip on the donkey’s metal saddle. As I climbed to the top of the mountain, completely out of breath, the monastery loomed in-front of me. It was similar to the Treasury in design and had ornate detail along the columns. It was incredibly large and cavernous inside. It was interesting to see that the Nabateans carved out the inside of the mount as well. I decided to follow the signs up to another mountain that was acclaimed to hold the “best view in Jordan,” where a small puppy lived and a merchant stall was set up with homemade metal jewelry. At the top of the mountain I looked out on all of Petra and the unchartered rock on the other side. The stark contrast of this underdeveloped and natural land to the American landscape is indescribable.


Brunching, Shopping and Farming in Amman!


This weekend we explored more more of the city around us as well as the Jordanian countryside. My flatmates and I decided to go to brunch in Abdoun, a more Western and wealthy neighborhood, to a restaurant called Blue Fig. It was delicious! We opened the menu and one of the first dishes was avocado toast, so naturally, since we are millenials, we HAD to order some. They made the toast with a layer of labneh, a local type of yoghurt and the sourness that it brought to the creamy avocado texture made it the BEST brunch I have had since being here. It was so interesting to be part of the different culture in Abdoun where dress and style is less conservative than the area of Sports City that we are accustomed to.

Afterwards we wandered over to TAJ Mall, where we found a roller rink at the front entrance! It was one of the largest malls I have ever seen. It was a very interesting experience to see the American stores such as H&M and American Eagle juxtaposed with Jordanian clothing stores. The mix of culture present in the physical stores was representative of the individuals themselves in Abdoun.

The following day we went on a farming tour of the Jordanian countryside. We spent the day traveling to different homes and experiencing life on a farm. At each home there was a specific activity. At the first home, the woman of the house taught us how to make za’atar, a mixture of spices, including sumac, ground wheat, ground chickpeas, oregano, sesame seeds and olive oil. This spread is then put on bread and baked with more olive oil that acts as an adhesive. Za’atar is by far my favorite food in Jordan—its simplicity is delicious, and it’s savory and salty flavors are incredibly unique to the area.

Afterwards we moved to another farm where we learned about bees and got to try some honey. The beekeeper explained to us the process of beekeeping in Jordan and how in different seasons, you can have different flavored honey. He expressed that in April the bees feed off of a sweeter flower so the honey has a more sour and tangy flavor rather than a sweet taste. At first I thought that the honey would be overwhelming sweet but the freshness and gummy-ness of the wax inside the honey was beyond amazing. It was the best honey I have ever tasted. It was good enough to eat by the spoonfuls!

Our next stop was a larger farm where we milked goats, chased chickens, collected eggs, played marbles and are a delicious, farm-fresh meal. We also learned, or at least tried to learn, how to make the local large, thin bread favored here. The oven that you lay the dough on was a large round dome that allowed for the larger shape of the bread. The bread had a salty after-taste and the grain was a darker brownish hue. It was very hard to make the bread into a round circle as the woman of the house did and my bread ended up looking more like a thin breadstick that you find at a pastry shop rather than a larger circle of dough. After that, the woman of the house made us a delicious spread for lunch, including our just-picked eggs and fresh goat cheese. One of the local family members told me to take a chunk of the goat-milk butter with my bread and dunk it in the sugar. It was one of the most delicious desserts I have ever tasted. I have found here that they have simpler recipes and foods that are so enjoyable.

After finishing our meal, we hiked up a hill where we used a wood fire to make mint tea and a stew with lamb in a tomato base. It was a day full of eating and exploring the countryside of Jordan. It was interesting to be able to interact with and be accepted into the homes of so many different families.They were very willing to provide for us such a rich experience and share part of their livelihood with us. It makes me appreciate even more the food that I am able to buy here and the care with which it is prepared.

The Dead Sea is Dying!!


At the start of this second week we were given a lengthy break because it was the end of Ramadan and the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day national holiday during which Muslims feast and celebrate with family and friends. On Friday (Friday and Saturday are the weekend days here) our institute went on a field trip to Ajloun Castle and had dinner in Jersah. The castle was built during the Crusades and was a peachy sand color that reminded me of the colors of sunsets at the New Jersey shore. We were able to climb all the way to the roof of the castle and have a 360 degree view of the neighboring towns and landscape. It was breathtaking! This area had the “forests” of Amman—the clusters of trees juxtaposed with the arid terrain of the valleys around Amman was incredible. Being able to see across the mountains to the Dead Sea, the beginnings of Damascus, and outskirts of  Israel was unbelievable.

We then left and went to another Iftar at a nearby restaurant in Jersah where we broke the fast, in a traditional way, with a date. After that came plates of hummus, pita, tabbouleh and meats. It was the most colorful assortment of food! If that was not enough we were served kanafa, which looked similar to a bird’s nest with crushed pistachio on top. The nest was fried wheat congealed with a honey so sweet your teeth hurt.

Having six days off of class gave us ample time to go on multiple excursions, including to visit the Roman citadel. After so many years of Latin and Classical studies it was interesting to see the Roman influences in Amman. As we climbed to the top of the citadel, we were left with a beautiful view of Amman. It was surreal to see how the buildings are literally built into the mountains of Amman so that the city “moves” with the terrain.

The following day we left to go to the Dead Sea with our program, making stops at Mount Nebo along the way.We stopped at a scenic outlook to look out at the vast expanse. As we left the bus we saw colossal mounts at a depth indescribable and unable to be captured with a camera. It appeared as though the mountains stretched out for miles. Their striations were colors of burgundy, slate and deep browns that blended to make a picture of seemingly prehistoric times. The mountains surrounded us. Everywhere I turned I saw vast expanses of rust colored mountains and plateaus. The scene was broken up by the narrow winding roads and the scattered huts and tents of Bedouin, native Jordanian, families. As we continued to Mount Nebo we stepped out to a view of trees scattered in an arid landscape. Our guide pointed out the place where Moses struck a rock and out sprung twelve streams. Farther out, through the haze, we could see the Dead Sea and the outskirts of both Jerusalem and Damascus. It was surreal to see the country at peace from so far away when there is so much internal turmoil. We could even see the two tall towers at the center of Amman! Considering we were at least an hour away from Amman it was amazing to be able to see the city center so clearly. The desolate and quiet landscape mirrored the atmosphere of the Mount where we viewed ancient mosaics that displayed intricate designs of animals and wild flowers.


When we finally reached the Dead Sea, we were anxious to enter the water and coat ourselves with the famous Dead Sea mud all over our bodies. Walking into the water was surprisingly difficult as the salt made my body incredibly buoyant. As my legs floated up, I had to work hard to remain on my back and not get the salt in my eyes. I was surprised to find that after some time the salt stung! As we covered ourselves in mud and sat under the sun to let the mud dry, I could feel it adhering to my skin. As I entered the water once again and washed the mud off, I felt refreshed. My skin was incredibly smooth and fresh feeling. When we had had enough of the salty, hot Dead Seaair, we left to go to the pool. One of my friends described the difference between the Dead Sea and the pool as the difference between jumping on a trampoline and jumping on the hard ground—you fully realized the feeling of sinking into the pool after the buoyancy of the Dead Sea.


Ahlan Amman!

As my date of departure approached, I was filled with anticipation and excitement. I was excited to be immersed in the Arabic language and have the opportunity to study in such an environment, but naturally I was nervous to dive headfirst in a new culture. However, I had heard from many others about the amazing experiences they had in Amman, particularly at Qasid, and I was looking forward to creating my own memories.

Before I even boarded the plane, I was given an insight into the Arabic culture and began to appreciate the hospitality and warmth of many of the locals here. Sitting next to me on the plane was a professor at Providence College and her son. She was interested in my Arabic studies and helped prepare me for my oral interview. Additionally, she shared with me some of her insider knowledge about Jordan and its culture. Her interest in my studies and ambitions was genuine, and I knew from then on that I was entering a society where locals would “look out for me.”

Upon arriving in Amman, I was fortunate enough to be placed in a large flat with six other girls! We quickly started exploring areas around Amman such as the downtown markets and the Roman amphitheater. As we drove to various sites via taxi—an adventure in an of themselves—I would stare out the window and try to pronounce all of the Arabic words to myself. It was so new to see store names in Arabic letters rather than strictly English.


As the first week of classes came to an end I could already sense how much Arabic I was going to acquire. In this fully immersive setting both inside and outside of the classroom I was learning so many new words. I also had my first experience with Ammiya, or the colloquial dialectwhen I accompanied one of my friends on an excursion to the home of a local family who lived on the outskirts of Amman. The family had emigrated from Syria to six years ago. The experience was like no other.

The family lived in a three level apartment building. Although their home was not large and they did not have much to offer they openly welcomed us. They were eager to feed us plates of peaches and freshly squeezed orange juice. They quickly asked us to spend the night and to celebrate Iftar—breaking the daily Ramadan fast—with them and their extended family.During Ramadan practicing Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset and at sunset they will eat a larger meal with their family to celebrate breaking the fast for the day. Since my friend and I had never met the family, as my friend knew the daughter of the father of the home, we were humbled to be asked to break the fast with the family. There my friend and I discovered the wonders of fattah hummus, a traditional dish with chickpeas, tahini and fried bread. Although the family was not as fortunate as those in other parts of Amman and lived with worry and longing to be reunited with the rest of their family that was still in Syria, their ability to laugh at each other and enjoy their time together was humbling.

Life in Jordan – From Cats to Kings

Every day when I walk to Qasid in the morning, two cats follow along with me for most of the way, asking me for pets and attention. These cats have become my good friends here in Jordan and I will miss them when I leave in a few weeks. There are many such cats living in the nooks of Amman, and they are generally a tough lot that are used to surviving independently. Jordanians may leave food and water out for them, but cats in this country hardly enjoy the privileged status that they enjoy in a place like Turkey. The cats, much like the citizens of Amman, have to fend for themselves.

The cat friends I have made here have given me cause to think about the nature of Jordanian society. For it is not uncommon for one to see homeless and impoverished individuals sitting quietly on streets and on bridges, sometimes attempting to sell a couple of vegetables or junk jewelry in little stalls. Cab drivers here will often attempt to charge foreigners double or triple fares and houses can fall down due to being built with inferior cement. Like the cats living amongst them, it often feels like Jordanians from a lower socioeconomic status are competing for scraps.

Every society in the world has to deal with the challenge of poverty. I have seen homeless men shouting at pedestrians in Harvard Square and know what it means to struggle with money in both the West and Indonesia. But in Amman I found that it is different, for here the gaps between rich and poor is imprinted in the very colours of the city.

For the majority of Amman, where the cats and the cab drivers live, the primary colour is brown. The sands and dust of the desert have taken hold, and most plants that grow are either weeds or twiggy bushes and trees. The stores are crowded, the clothes simple and the buildings are for the most part simple grey concrete blocks.

But there is a slim quarter of Amman that is different. The primary colour is green, with well-groomed parks and plants marking the places between western chains like Zara and the Body Shop, with malls that could easily be mistaken for any of the malls in mid-western America. And it is in here, in these strange slices of North America, that one can find the King and the rest of the Jordanian elite.

American society is deeply flawed, but there is a powerful national myth in the country that one can ‘pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps’ and go ‘from rags to riches’ somehow. Even if this myth does not often stand up to scrutiny, the driving force behind it is meant to motivate citizens to strive for their own betterment. And I wonder, here in Jordan, where that same motivation can come from? When the city itself is painted in such colours as to vividly display the King living in an entirely different sphere of existence to the common man. And unless one is a child of King Abdullah, those are heights that the citizens cannot even conceivably reach and, indeed, it is impossible for a citizen to even so much as enter the green space the family has cultivated without direct permission from the government.

The motivating power of a national mythology can be invigorating. Young people from every walk of life need to have something to aspire towards. Without that, it becomes more and more difficult for a society to improve itself. With a very deep gap of socio-economic conditions, I cannot help but feel that the ordinary Jordanians are essentially forced to live like the cats that accompany me to school. No matter how much they strive in school or in business or in their chosen field, one cannot rise above a select few who are able to take refuge from the reality in the blissful ignorance of the opulent malls of Amman.

It is this thought in particular that makes me grateful that Suharto (the notorious ex-President of Indonesia who was deposed from his seat by the people in 1998) resigned and my home country of Indonesia is now free of its ‘king’, and that I need to fear no such ceiling as I continue to forge my own life and destiny in North America.

The Color is Brown: A crowded corner of Salt City, a suburb of Amman.
A Heaven for the Few: A resort in the Dead Sea where the riches of Amman usually spend their weekend with the family. A dinner for one in this place costs 25 JOD (36 USD), a number that cannot be reached by ordinary Jordanians.
A Western Luxury: City Mall is one of the most luxurious malls in Amman where you can find anything from H&M to Armani, minus any local brand. Upper-middle class Jordanians come to such places to shop and dine almost everyday.
Al-Dajjaj Kentucky: One thing about the upper-middle class Jordanians is that they love American fast food chains so much. You will not find local food in any mall’s food court (save for fast food shawarma chain). But you will easily find any American fast food chain that you like. From McD to Subway, they’re all there.
The Cat of Amman I: As this cat, people who work in the unskilled industries in Amman are forced to stay in their place. A janitor, for example, would need to sit in the restroom area during her/his work shift all the time because he/she needs to clean the restroom every time a person used it.
The Cats of Amman II

Life at the Qasid Institute

Although there are many challenges for a student living in Jordan, I have been consistently impressed with the Qasid Institute’s approach to language instruction.

My typical day at Qasid is divided in two.

In the morning, I have to wake up bright and early to go to my skill class, which typically focuses on speaking, listening and writing in Arabic. My instructor, Huda al-Bayoumi, is an extremely kind woman who is very understanding of the struggles that students go through here in Jordan. In times when I have been sick or unwell and missed a class, I have found that she is very understanding and always ready to help me catch up.

Still, just because she is kind does not by any means mean that the class is easy. Our teacher encourages us to talk about the places we come from and even have debates in Arabic. Though it is quite challenging, in this class I have had the opportunity to give presentations on my country, and talk about my beliefs, values and religion. By making things interesting, the skills class has made it possible for me to learn in a supportive environment and I think I have improved my language and expanded my vocabulary vastly over the last few weeks.

After a long lunch break, which I typically spend by going back to my home in order to have lunch and then either do some homework or take a badly-needed nap, I return to Qasid where I have my ‘sciences’, which focuses on Arabic syntax and morphology. By far the more difficult of my classes, the science class is taught by Faraz Malik and is quite intense. It focuses on the complex ways in which Arabic words can have different meanings depending on their conjugation and paradigms. There are tests in almost every single day and an enormous amount of homework, but the course does a very good job of hammering home the fundamental lessons of Arabic.

It is this class in particular that causes me to often spend the better part of my evenings at my desk, memorizing rules of syntax and morphological patterns of the words. Classical Arabic is well-known as one of the most complex languages in the world, and mastering its nuances in the space of eleven weeks is not easy, but I do enjoy the challenge and take particular satisfaction in acing Malik’s tests after staying up late the night before.

The student body at Qasid is quite diverse. You have many students who are like me, PhD students from America, who need to learn Arabic. These students, who come from places like Harvard and Georgetown, tend to be a bit competitive, but are nevertheless determined to get the most out of their stay at Qasid as they can in order to advance their careers.

But there are also students who have come here for non-Academic purposes. These students, hailing from places like the Zeytouna Institute in California, have made the trip to Jordan in order to learn Arabic for no other reason than to enhance their personal understanding of the Qu’ran. For them, it is not their careers that cause them to be here, but rather their desire to achieve a higher level of religious piety. Sure enough, however, these religiously-motivated learners can be just as competitive as their academic brethren.

Still, this competitive atmosphere tends to push everyone to work harder and make the most of our time here in Jordan. The two groups mingle together in Qasid in a friendly way. Everyone wants to be at the top of the class, but we still support each other and keep our spirits up even as the demands of Qasid and the pressure of living in Jordan weigh down.

There are often weekly excursions out into the desert, including hiking trips to live with a Bedouin tribe for a night, eat their food and hike through the desert. It is these excursions out away from the insanity of Amman that I like to focus on, for here one gains insight into what Arab culture was like in days before colonization and westernization took hold.

Thus, in spite of all the challenges that I have faced in Jordan, I do think that my learning experience here has been very positive and would like to thank Qasid for being of such great help to me with my Arabic.

Ajloun Fort: Me and Sister Patricia, a beloved Ph.D friend from the Theology Department in one of our trips with Qasid to the Fort of Ajloun.
A Night in the Desert: The male Qasid crew danced to the folk Bedouin song. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no possibility for women to participate in the dance.
Desert Hiking: I sang and laughed with the Qasid teachers and crew on our pick up truck that took us to the hiking locations in Wadi Rum.

“Where is Your Lady?”: A Note on the Racist-Classism in Amman

“Excuse me, but where is your lady?”

These are words I have rapidly become accustomed to during my stay in Jordan, and it has taught me much of the racial nature of inequality in this country.

Typically speaking, when one sees an Indonesian (or Southeast Asian in general) woman in Jordan, she is there because she is employed as a maid or helper for a well-off Jordanian family. I began to see many of these women once I was settled in Jordan. In malls, these domestic workers can often be seen walking just behind their employers, holding their bags and pushing their strollers for their wealthy patrons. I remember watching one such of these ‘classy’ women trying on a variety of designer shoes, asking her maids for their opinions as she modeled her expensive shoes for them.

The assumption then when Jordanians see me in public places is not that I am a PhD student from Notre Dame pursuing a study of Classical Arabic at the Qasid Institute, but rather that I am also one of the maids brought from Indonesia to change diapers and scrub floors. The career I have spent so many years building is invisible to the people here, for apparently Jordanian culture has written the word ‘maid’ on my face. I have often experienced Islamophobia or other forms of racism while living in the States, but these were a new set of micro-aggressions.

This is a prejudice that does not trouble every foreigner, but rather is specifically aimed at women from Southeast Asia (a female friend from Thailand at the Qasid Institute also experienced the same case of racism). At restaurants, I often dine with my two housemates and find that waitresses will often hand menus to my Japanese and British-Pakistani peers, leaving me with nothing until I am forced to ask. Apparently, the idea of an Indonesian being able to eat in a restaurant is quite unusual for Jordanians and they thus assume that I have no need for one. And even when I pay with my own credit card, the card will usually be handed back to my peers instead of me, showing once again that Jordanians think I am simply there as a helper for other students.

By far, these acts of racism have been my greatest difficulty throughout my stay in Jordan, for it has permeated every aspect of my life here. Even when I am going for groceries, I am often bombarded with ridiculous questions from random strangers about “where is my master?”. And even a few days ago, a middle-aged man literally rammed me with his shopping cart for not getting out of his way quickly enough. Combined with the sexual-street harassment I face, it is abundantly clear that Jordanian culture sees people that look like me as inferiors who are not worthy of even the most basic level of courtesy.

It seems that I am constantly being reminded of my place in the racial hierarchy here and it is very clear that Indonesians (and Southeast Asians in general) are not welcome here unless they want to work in kitchens or carry bags.

When my significant other visited, this prejudice took on new forms. Refusing to kowtow to Jordanian prejudices, my SO (who is a Pakistani-Canadian that could potentially pass as an Arab) would hold my hand in public and insisted on carrying every bag we happened to get while shopping. Still, while it was amusing to not conform to these racial expectations and flaunt our interracial match, Jordanian racism still followed us.  For the sight of an Arab-looking man carrying bags for an Indonesian woman attracted stares and giggles no matter where we went.

If this is my experience being an international student in this country, then I cannot begin to imagine what life must be like for actual domestic workers living here. To be at the beck and call of a culture that clearly and unashamedly regards one as an inferior is incredibly demeaning, and it would take the patience of Job to endure it. Thus, now more than ever, do I have more admiration for those women who have stood up and spoken out in the media against the rampant physical and sexual abuse that inevitably occurs as a result of the pernicious racism against them.

But it is these women we must look to for inspiration. For every time they speak out against this systematic discrimination is another step towards ending it forever.

Where Our Kids Play: The picture shows a roller-skate ring in one of the most luxurious malls in Amman. In the weekend it is full with Amman’s rich kids on their roller-skates, while their nannies are standing outside of the ring, keeping them safe.
Waiting for the Masters: Three Indonesian domestic workers are standing outside of the railing, while their ladies are enjoying their afternoon teas at Paul, a high-end French bakery/cafe chain that is very popular among the upper-middle class here in Amman. The railing aptly symbolizes the different worlds that those women occupied (master and servant), and the racism and classism that sustain it.

A City of the Dead

One of the highlights of my journey to Jordan was my trip to Petra.

Petra is a ruined city hidden away in a valley just three hours away from Amman. Much like the Citadel of Amman, this ruin has a rich history encompassing Arab, Roman and Ottoman periods and is quite literally a city of the dead.

The ruins of Petra are composed firstly of graves and tombs carved into the sandstone mountains of Petra. These ornate tombs were meant to be the springboard for rich individuals so they could arrive in the afterlife with style. The graves range from simple hollowed out caves to ornate mini-palaces with statues carved into the rock. Thousands of slaves had to have been employed to build these house-sized graves over the course of centuries.

It is amazing to me that these ancient Nabateans spent so much of their wealth and energy in preparation for their death. Seeing an entire city that the people of Petra made to forge their tombs and glorify their dead is simply awe-inspiring. In a way, this belief system is not entirely dissimilar to that of Islam, for Muslims are also taught to spend their life here preparing for the life that comes after (although of course Muslims are told to do that preparing by doing good deeds, rather than constructing elaborate tombs).

In any case, the largest structure that seems to be intact is the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) in the heart of Petra. It is a massive structure in the heart of a huge valley in the middle of the dead city. We traveled there when we first arrived and it is absolutely huge building with Greek gods and goddesses depicted alongside it. On the way there, aqueducts were carved into the mountainside, which the ancient inhabitants of this land used to keep themselves supplied with water constantly. This treasury was the entry point into this mysterious city and showed how the people that lived here wanted everyone who visited to know of their opulence and might of their city.

Later, we climbed up a mountain path called the ‘thousand steps’ to reach the Monastery top of Petra (El-Deir). This name turned out to be somewhat inaccurate, as the ‘steps’ were so badly eroded and cracked that they were hardly steps at all, and I am pretty certain that there were far more than a thousand.  Exhausted, we eventually had to ask some Bedouins for a donkey ride in order to get all the way up the towering mountain. The Monks that once maintained the monastery up there must have been quite reclusive indeed if this was the only way for a visitor to reach them.

Atop the mountain, we found that unfortunately most of the Monastery was either ruined or closed off to the public. In this case, the journey became more important than the destination. A reminder that our focus in life is supposed to be on the ‘learning process’ and not on the ‘result’.

Still, climbing this historical marvel and looking down at this vast city of the dead (and Petra truly is huge – a real city of tombs and graves) was magnificent, though afterwards my legs felt like blocks of wood. Hiking in a desert is much more difficult than hiking in Indonesia or out in America. The oppressive heat rapidly drains your energy and even if you have a constant supply of water you will soon feel quite exhausted.

A visitor like me thus can’t but feel a sense of wonder when seeing the Bedouin, who live in makeshift tents throughout the path going up the hill underneath the sweltering heat. Like their ancestors from Petra, these Bedouin live in the desert with a certain joy and seem to take pleasure in galloping back and forth across the desert paths that mark the dead city, sometimes even happily living and sleeping inside of the looted tomes.

My trip to Petra was thus one of my most memorable moments in Jordan, for it showed me a unique window into how religions and traditions can shape entire civilizations.

Journey into the After-Life in Style: One of the most ornate tombs of the Nabateans. The Obelisks showed how many people were actually buried in the tomb.
Al-Khazneh From the Bab al-Siq: Despite the name, al-Khazneh is not a treasury. It is a mausoleum built during the 1st century AD under the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris.
The Treasury: The name comes from a myth that ancient pirates hid their loot in the stone urn located up on the second level of the gate. Another version of the myth tells us that the treasure in the urn was of one of the Pharaohs of the Ancient Egypt.
Bedouin Trinkets: Such makeshift booth can be found along the hiking path in Petra. The Bedouin sells almost anything you can imagine in there. From jewelry to stones from the ancient ruins. Their division of labor goes along gendered lines. Wives and daughters take care of the stores, husbands and sons take care of the donkey and camel ride businesses.