Thursday, June 30, 2011


So there's  bunch of things that I've noticed here that are considered normal,. and my family cn't seem to understand why I think it's strange, but they're kind of cool. So here you go.

The irony of seeing a Dodge Caravan with a license plate from Iraq kind of threw me off for a moment.

Being at one of the relatives houses and having them joke that with the new car one of the husbands had just bought he might be able to fit into Abdoun, which is  region of Amman that's really upper class, and where one of the other host students in our group's family lives, and just noticing the very strict distinction of classes here.

The failure of my attempt to eat my vegetables first so I could just eat my rice plain. Word of advice, if you don't want something, eat it last so nobody feels the need to refill your plate despite repeated "la shukran"s,, or no thank you's. Seriously

The fact that if you're sick, the over the counter drugs here are actually prescription antibiotics. That they just kind of hand to you. No, Mom, I'm not sick.

The annoyances of the fact that the paper here is about two inches taller than the paper in America so it doesn't fit into any of the folders I brought from home. But the new one I got here is pretty awesome, but not even recognizable as what we would call a folder at home.

The fact that coming home from school to falafel balls is awesome.

The fact that they have something like a mulberry tree in the neighbor's yard, and So I'm down for berries whenever here. Honestly, they taste better than mulberries, but they stain your hands worse. Also awesome is the fact that n3na, or mint, just kind of grows everywhere. And olive trees. There are literally olive trees growing out of the cracks in the sidewalks.

Feeling really urduneea, or Jordanian, when I felt annoyed that we got rice instead of pita at a Yemeni restaurant we went to. I don't know what I'm going to do at home without pita.

Ice cream cones from street vendors here are served with  little cone stuck to the side to use as a spoon. And if you don't want to use it, the typical method of eating ice cream to bite, not lick. Just saying

I love it here. It's awesome. .

Bird Watching

This is just one of many tales of miscommunication that occurs when I can't understand what my family is trying to tell me. The best time was when I'm pretty sure I told my host dad I needed to eat the computer for homework, but this story is more interesting.

So what I thought we were doing was bird watching. I was so sure that's what they were trying to tell me, and my little brother was pretending to be a bird and such, so I thought we were going bird watching. Which didn't really make any sense, because there aren't really birds here. No joke, people joke that the national bird is the plastic trash bags that line the edges of every road. Anyways, we get in a taxi, my host mom, two sisters, and brother, and off we go, to what I think is going bird watching. Actually I think we were going to  legitimate park, but it was closed, so we ended up at what I can only describe as the strangest park I've ever seen before in my life. First of all, it was jammed full of people, and wasn't very big. It was bordered by  sidewalk, where the women walked in circles endlessly, and in the middle was some sort of  playground and a massive sandbox. Near the edge was a fenced in soccer, football here, court, and a man renting argylas, which was an unexpected sight in a children's park. But hey, I'm getting used to it being everywhere here. Buildings here don't have air with some smoke, they have smoke with some air. That's just how it is, people smoke nonstop, especially the men.

So me and my younger host sister start walking around what was literally a sidewalk track, and we walked in circles for a couple hours. I guess that's just what exercise looks like here. I got lots of stares for not being hijabi, but whatever. I'm getting used to that too. Although I wouldn't mind having a shirt that reads "Please don't stare at the ehjnabeea (foreigner)." That'd be nice.

Israel and Palestine

So this whole Israel Palestine thing is something people just don't discuss here, because the views are extremely pro-Arab and you don't want to accidentally bring it up with the wrong person and have it turn into  massive fight or anything. But there's one thing that was interesting about it that I want to share.

I was looking at my 13 year old host sister's textbooks, and flipping through her geography book. She was pointing out the countries names in Arabic, as they weren't labelled in English. When we got to the Middle East, she pointed out what in America, or fi Amreeka as they say here, is known as Israel. She had never heard the name Israel before, or had any idea of an equivalent. They call it "feelesteen" and just have Palestine. Which is just strange that different parts of the world are so stubborn in their acknowledgements of the world that people don't even know about the other side's perceptions.

Birthday Cake

So my host sister just turned five, and for her birthday we made a cake, and they were trying to explain what we were going to make, and the sister said fruitcake, which really confused me because what I think of as fruitcake is disgusting, and only old ladies eat it. I tried to ask if they decorate birthday cakes here, but they got really confused and didn't understand anything I was saying. Turns out the birthd\ay cake we made here was actually a pineapple upsiude down cake, which made me really excited because Oma hasn't made one of those in such a long time, and the fact that we made one here is just funny.

The strange part about it was that they had to go buy these little packets of baking powder down the street before we could bake. Baking is literally such a rare thing that they don't even stock baking powder in the  houses, which was just strange to notice. Anyways, that's all about the birthday Happy Birthday Muna.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


So I want to tell you about Neda. She lives Next Door, and is super awesome. Last night, she gave me a bowl of berries from the tree in her yard. Breaking all the health and safety rules, I ate them. It was delicious, and totally worth whatever risk there was.

So today, I got over to her house to go see the other exchange student who lives there, and we wanted to talk to her host brother, who is super shy. His typical response to me coming over, or to anybody at all, is to run into his room and barricade the door shut. He's in his twenties.

So anyways, the first thing that Neda does when he goes into his room is run to the door and tell us to go outside to the window, which is a really awesome thing for a lady her age to say. She is super awesome.

Okay, moving on to what else I did this morning. I got up, and kind of wandered upstairs to see what was up, as my host family was still sleeping. Average wake up time here is around noon, and my getting up at ei is considered extremely early. So I wander upstairs to the next family November us, and they are awake, getting ready to go out to their farm in a town a few mountains over near a small town called Salt. So I ended up getting into a car, going out to this farm to help build a house. Just kind of on a whim but it turned out fantastic.

First of all, it is gorgeous. There are mountains everywhere, and they are huge and gorgeous. secondly, it is so close to the green line and the west bank. My ten year old host cousin was in the car with me, and he just kind if pointed out the window and pointed across the valley and told me that it was the green line and the other side was the West Bank. It is strange to see that place that has been on the news so much in the states as a far away place, and just kind of point out the window at it.

So we get to the farm, and the difference between farms in Illinois and farms here is that here, farms are olive and nectarine trees on the side of a hill. I can not describe it, I can post pictures when I get home. But I still do not think that will do it justice.

So later, we went downtown, and here is the only thing that is weird about Amman. I know that many Internet websites say that it is common to see girls without hijab, but I do not know what city they are in. If I see someone without a hijab it is very strange. So when we go downtown, we get stared at, and honked at, and yelled at. the typical yell is WELCOME TO JORDAN is their accent, which is almost Italian. We get kind of harassed a lot, but just yells, nothing physical. So whatever, downtown was fun.

Well, I have to go. I love it here, so so so so much. bye!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ajloun and Downtown

So we went to Ajloun, which is an old castle, which pretty much meant we were in the sun, which meant headscarf. It's cooler to wear it, so I did. Also, in that city, outside of Amman, hijab and niqab are even more common than in Amman. Every local woman wears at least hijab, maybe niqab. Especially the women from Saudi, wearing the full face cover, and then the men in what looks like a white robe and  head cloth. I don't know what they're called.

That night, I went to downtown Amman with my host family. It's kind of insane,, with seven people in a compact car, adding in the traffic, but it was fun. And I totally ignored any sort of health rules, eating street food and fruit from vendors before it was washed. I don't suggest that, but I'm fine.. 

At the Embassy and Safeway

Going to the US embassy was an experience, to say the least. First of all, there are Jordanian soliders all up nd down the street. This is a common sight anywhere in Amman to see soliders armed with big machine guns just walking around, but at the embassy there are a lot of them. Also, there are literally tanks just sitting there, with people in them holdings those big guns, ready to go. The line at the embassy to get visas and such is very long, and people are lined up outside before it even opens, sitting on the ground like the next iPod was coming out, except here this is every day.

After the embassy, we took taxis to the store. Taxis are an interesting business here, with the traffic and all. But to make sure you don't get cheated by a taxi, you have to first make sure is a meter, it is on, and it starts at .250 JD. If there isn't, you point and say "Aadaad?" And the driver should turn one on. If he doesn't,. you open the door and leave. Once you start driving, if the meter moves too quickly, you say "Hallas," and get out and leave. If he talks too much, you leave. Leaving is common, and I've done it. That's just how it works here.

As far as talking too much, that's because of the gender roles here. Women do not, under any circumstances sit in the front of the taxi. Also, women do not look in the rearview mirror, as direct eye contact with a guy here is considered to be flirting, and you don't want  taxi driver to get the wrong idea. Talking is also considered flirting. So, when we have two or three girls walking down the street, we've developed the "I'm not here" look, which is lowering your head to the point where you don't even think about talking to us if you're a guy. We still get honked and yelled at. but that's just because we don't wear hijab and look like foreigners.

Anyways, random thought, escalators in large stores here aren't esclators. They're moving walkways, like at O'Hare, but on a steep incline. Scariest. Thing. Ever.

Week One

So this is going to be a flurry of short posts. I'm going to see what I can do before the bus comes. can do before the bus comes.
My family is fantastic, so wonderful. Our house is the lowest level of a three floor building, where my host dad's sisters families live on the upper two floors. The second floor's family is hilarious, and has a bunch of little girls, and the third floor's family actually lives in Saudi, but they're here for the summer.
The house set-up here is different though. Most of the other exchange students houses aren't like this, and are a bit bigger, but I still like this house the most. "Small house, big heart," my host mom says. The house has six rooms. There's the room you walk into from the front door, which has a few couches, a dining room, another smll living room, my bedroom, which is just a tad smaller than a dormroom, the bedroom for the other six people in my family, and the kitchen. The thing is, the sink is in the dining room because it doesn't fit in the bathroom, the washing machine is in the kitchen because it doesn't fit anywhere else, and the bathroom is quite different from the states.
This isn't the norm here, just my house. There is a toilet and a bidet, right next to each other. Between that and the door, there is just enough room to stand, and so a showerhead has been mounted on the wall right there. There is simply a drain in the middle of the bathroom, and when you're done with a shower there's a squegee broom that you push all the water on the bathroom floor towards the drain with. It was an experience to take my first shower here, and not know how to use the water tank, and keep hitting the toilet during my ice cold shower. (Here, you have to manually turn on a water heater for hot water. It's a menacing tank on the wall.
My host family is great though, but I don't really want to write about them, just for privacy and such.
There are a few other things that in general differ from the culture in America. The sleep schedule for pretty much everyone, including the little kids, is bed around 1 or 2 am, and sleeping later. Unfortunately, I have to catch the 7:30 bus or so, so I just sleep less.
Another thing, there is what we call "Jordinian time," meaning that time doesn't exist. Buses leave when full, not on a schedule. When someone asks when you'll be back, the answer is "Yanni, thamanniyeh, inshallah," meaning "maybe, eight, if god wills it." Which really means you have no idea.
The reason for this is traffic. Amman's traffic is insane. There are lanes painted on the roads, but lanes aren't lanes. Cars weave back and forth through each other. Screeching halts are more common than turn signals. And so accidents happen, and traffic jams happen, much more than the states. My host mom is scared to drive, and for good reason.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Meeting my host family

I'm very confused by this keyboard, it's just Arabic letters, so pardon any typos. It's not a normal keyboard.

We got to Amman yesterday morning around 3 am, and watched the sun come up as we drove into the city from the airport.  You know how there's that image of the Middle East as really dusty and sandy, and all the buildings are that off-tan color? It's totally like that, and every building is that color. There was lots of stuff to see, everything from entire pigs hanging up to dry out the meat to soliders with massive automatic guns just standing around. There's actually a lot of soldiers like that with the really big guns, just around on the streets. It's a bit strange to see, but not really scary. I asked my host family about it, as best I could in Arabic, and they just kind of brushed it off

I have three sisters and a brother, and only one of them speaks English, and even her only barely. The parents don't, but that's good, because I want to learn Arabic. Thje school is very nice, except that I was this keyboard had Eng;lish letters. It's strange.

The food is very good, my host mom is an amazing cook. They made french fries last night, trying to be American, but then a lot of other arabic food as well. For breakfast, I was trying tp cook an egg, and asked for some cooking opil, but they filled the pan with about two inches o\f oil. Apparently here, eggs are deep fried when they're cooked.

Anyways, it's fantastic, but I should probably get back now. We have oriention that I need to get back to.

Ma salaamaa!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Getting Ready for Some Serious Travel

So we're leaving the hotel here in DC in exactly 13 minutes. They're very prompt. We'll be flying to Frankfurt, and then to Amman. This takes three days. It's Wednesday, and we get on a plane tonight. But then, we don't get to Amman until Friday, so it's going to be a long couple days. It was strange to get dressed and braid my hair this morning and think that this is what I'm going to look like for the next three days, unless I want to change my clothes randomly on a plane. Which I don't.

So today we finished up orientation, which was necessary but bland. We went over rules and such, and handed out our stipends, passports with visas (which are really pretty, actually!) and our cell phones for in Amman. That's right, I have, in my backpack, a cell phone with Arabic instead of English. I'm so pumped. OH, AND I GET TO TEXT WITH IT! I think it's funny how my first texting phone is going to be in Jordan, in Arabic.

So after getting all the logistics out of the way, we took a quick quiz on Arabic. I was pretty happy with how I did, but we all definitely are beginners, and have a lot of work to do. So after we went through the quiz, we started having ammiya lessons with our assistant resident director. He's a really good teacher, and we got through a lot of stuff for the short time we had left here in DC. Ammiya is the local dialect of Arabic that is spoken is a certain region. The ammiya in Jordan is Levantine, and is also spoken in Syria, Palestine, and a few other countries in the region. MSA, or modern standard Arabic, is a formal, written language, and is not anybody's native language. People learn the ammiya as their first language, and then study MSA in school. MSA is a formal Arabic, used in the media and printing, as well as formal speeches. But for day to day use, ammiya is the spoken language. So, apparently it's silly to speak MSA day-to-day, and it's silly to write ammiya, which is going to be, well, interesting to keep straight, but challeges are fun.

Also, I know a lot of people wanted to send letters, but the postal system works differently in Jordan. People don't really send letters, and so houses aren't labelled with street numbers like in the USA, and there isn't a postman that goes door to door. There's a post office, but people don't just stop by to see if they got a letter, they go on certain days to get bills and such, which they know are there. So mailing me isn't really an option, but I can send letters back to America. So if I have your address, I can write, if I have time. But mailing me doesn't work, and won't work. It's not that I don't know the address to give you, I literally won't ever have an address.

I'm really excited to meet my host family though, and start classes. Talking about going to Jordan for two full days of orientation has made me just that much more excited, and I can't wait to just get there and dive in. No more English! The resident director said my host family doesn't speak English, so it should be really good. I'm not nervous, just really looking forward to it. But I have three days now of travel before we get there, so we're ready for a long haul. I'm just going to study, and sleep, and study, and sleep. It's wonderful.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sera - The Most Important Person Ever. Maybe.

So I met this girl named Sera. She is standing next to me. She just told me to say that she's a little bit bipolar. But apparently not. We're strangely hyper, so please ignore this post. Actually, she says it's the most important post ever to be written on this blog. We're in the hotel lobby, where the keyboards are at this awkward height, too tall for chairs and too low for standing.

Sera is on the computer next to me. She's smiling awkwardly, or attractively, depending on the source, while read this aloud as I type it. She doesn't understand anything. I feel like I misheard something.

She just deactivated her Facebook. What a daredevil. That's probably smart. My friends always spam me when I'm away on vacations and such. Yeah, Louisa, I'm talking to you.


If you actually wanted to read about my trip, ignore this post. It's a bonding experience post.

(Everyone else on the trip is chill too. Sera just happens to be right here. She wants to know whether that's a compliment).


Day Two of Orientation

So tday we had a full day of orientation, just chilling in the American Councuils office in the morning, and then doing various stuff in the afternoon. Which was more interesting in the afternoon, so I'll probably talk most about the mosque here in DC.

First of all, yes, we wore headscarves. (We also started our long sleeve long pants clothes all day, which was hot at first, but I got used to it. I'm going to be so pale when I get home. So pale!). I have lots of pictures, but I don't have a cord to upload them now, put they'll pretty cool. Apparently I looked like an Eastern European, which is cool I guess. The imam, or leader of the mosque, was really cool. He was this big awesome guy who seemed like he was from the Caribbean, and was wearing a rock and roll t-shirt. But he talked to us about Islam, and was really into it, an very spiritual, in his own way. The mosuqe was gorgeous, more pictures to come, but not yet. There were tiles all over the walls, which were from Turkey, and then the ceiling was super ornate. They said that the windows were from one country, and the lights another. It was very international.

We had to take our shoes off at the door, but it was carpeted inside and really nice. So we went in with our headscarves and socks on, and sat on the floor. There were  people praying in there, and it was rather peaceful. There was an elderly gentleman praying when we first got in, and I'm not sure what he was saying, but it was some sort of a chant and it was rather soothing. Various people came in and out of the mosque, coming and going. There were other women, who all seemed rather pleased that we were wearing the headscarves.

Oh, this is stream of conciousness, because I don't have much time to write. But we were talking about our school in Amman at orientation, which is the Qasid Institute. They have some rules for students there that would be strange to think about in America. As a student there, I am officially not allowed to go to various other Middle Eastern countries, including Palestine and Israel. It's in the student contract, which just wasn't something I expected. But other than that, it seems like a really cool school, and I can't wait to get started.

As for my schedule for the next couple days, it goes something like this. Tomorrow we have orientation all day, and then our flight leaves that night. It's overnight to Frankfurt, and then we get to spend all day in the Frankfurt airport. Apparently it's an awesome airport, and there's a movie theater in the airport, so we should be fine. The flight to Jordan leaves Thursday night, and gets in Friday morning. We spend the next night in a hotel, just to get situated, and then on Saturday we meet our host families.

From what the resident director has been able to tell me about my host family, the mother doesn't speak English, and the father speaks a tiny bit, and the eldest daughter can read and write well, but barely speaks. Also, the entire extended family of four households lives all in a row, so apparently we'll be having people running around everywhere, and cousins and such around. I'm thinking that'll be fun, and it kinds of makes me think it'll be like Owen's Road. Which is cool.

So everything is going really well, and everyone in our group is amazing. Aside from the fact that the hotel pool has more chlorine than I thought possible, it's awesome. And the pool is pretty much irrelevant. I'm really excited to get to Amman and start classes and such, and we're already studying and such. We have our first test tomorrow, but I think it's just for placement at the Qasid Institute. Well, off to go study!

Ma' Salaama, or "go in peace," which I think is how you say goodbye. GOODBYE!

First Night in DC

So we landed on our plane last night, off an easy flight. It was much faster than I would have guessed, we were only in the air for a little over an hour. First thought when I got on the ground? The trees look different here.

We all met at the baggage claim, and while I knew of one other girl that was on my plane, who I met at the airport, apparently there was another kid from the program on my plane, sitting in the row behind me, but I had no idea. It was kind of funny when we realized it once we got off the flight.

After we all met up, we walked to the American Councils office in DC and watched a movie called Budrus, which was a documentary from the Arab viewpoint about the conflict of the Green Line and the Israeli defense fence in the area around a town called Budrus. It was a pretty good movie, but it was very biased towards the Arabs. I suppose that's the viewpoint we should be getting used to, but my Israeli friends wouldn't have liked it.

After that we went back to the hotel, went for a quick swim, and then pretty much went to bed. I'm rooming with just one other girl for orientation, and she's pretty chill, or "tight" as she would say. (She says tight a lot. It's chill). We should have probably gone to bed earlier than we did; we ended up staying up until one in the morning. But seriously, who would be able to go to sleep? We were definitely too excited.

So today, we've got a full day of orientation stuff, with everything from presentations from the state department to a visit to the national Islamic Center and a mosque. So I will definitely be wearing a headscarf at some point today; it's in my backpack. And the long sleeves and long pants are already getting kind of hot, and I haven't even gone outside yet.

Well, I kind of need to go. These hotel computers are at kiosks, where you stand and type, and the keyboard is at an awkward height where I keep making stupid typos. That's all right though, because I'm going to Jordan! But we're still in DC for another night, but that's okay. Bye!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Last Few Hours Home

So my plane takes off around one o'clock, which translates into leaving my house at ten or ten thirty. Which leaves about two more hours at home. I'm all packed and ready though, so I would totally be ready to leave now though. I suppose waiting two hours here is better than waiting two hours at the airport though.

I'm ridiculously excited. I don't even know how to say how excited I am. I'm flying to DC, and then we spend tonight and tomorrow night in DC at orientation. Wednesday evening, I think it is, we leave on a plane to Frankfurt. We arrive the next morning, and then have the entire day as a layover. The flight to Jordan leaves that evening, and lands in Amman around two in the morning. Which I think ends up that we get to Jordan on Friday, but by that point my brain is going to be so messed up I don't even know. And if the times listed on my schedule are in local times, it'd really only be Thursday afternoon when I get to Jordan in the early morning. Or so I think, but it hurts my brain to think about being in the future. Amman is eight hours ahead of Chicago, so with that flight schedule and then jet lag, it should be interesting. Adding in the fact that I can hardly sleep when I'm think excited anyways.

I'm freaking out. In a fantastic, really good way. I can't wait.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Study, study, study and study...

Seeing as how in about two hours, when people ask when I leave, I'll say "tomorrow," I think I have every reason to be giddy and slightly freaking out. I'm all packed, very happy to be back in a small suitcase, all my paperwork filled out and in my carry-on. Everything is set and done.

Except for that one thing. The Arabic.

Studying a language for a trip like this is, at least for me, very different from studying anything else for school. In school, sure, I can memorize the names of phyla of fungi for my freshman honors biology class, or the ideas of prominent philosophers for my sophomore AP history class, but I know that once the year is over, I'm not worried about remembering any of it. In the case of cramming as much Arabic into my head in the next two days as I can, it's a different story.

Flipping through my note cards, copying sentences to practice handwriting, it starts to dawn on me what I'm going to be saying over and over once I get there. I'm studying not just to study, but to use. In fact, every word I learn in Arabic is one less word that I'll have to say in English once I'm there, and that's more motivation than any test could ever be.

أنا أسفه، أنا مش فاهمة. The strange thing is, I have no idea whether that's right or not. I got it off the Peace Corps website, so I hope it's right, but maybe it's not. In this respect though, there's the strange idea that I'll know if it's right soon enough, when I say it to the first person who says something I don't understand. Hopefully they'll correct me if it's wrong. This might be the first time I've ever really looked forward to getting into a situation where I can say, "Ana asfeh; ana mish fahema," or "I'm sorry; I don't understand."

أنا إسمي ديانا. أنا عندي واحد أخ، اسم تيم. أمي اسم بيتي. ابي اسم جوناثان. I'm sure my host family will want to hear about my family at home. I've got a photo album packed, of friends and family, and life here in the states, and I'm looking forward to breaking out the album and seeing how well I can explain who is who in Arabic. Hopefully they'll correct me as I go. "Ana asmee Diana. Ana a3ndee wahed akh, asm Tim. Ummee asm Betty. Abee asm Jonathan. "My name is Diana. I have one brother, named Tim. My mom is named Betty. My dad is named Jonathan."

There's more I can say, but the challenge of studying a language in such a short amount of time leads to the problem of trying to guess what might be most useful. I've chosen to be able to say things like "I'm a student," and "I've got class," instead of my colors. Numbers, though? I should probably work on those. That might come in handy.

And then there's the magic phrase - "Where's the bathroom?" It's the one that everyone thinks I should know, and they're probably right. And yet I still need to learn that one too. I'll figure it out.

I love the challenge of learning a language, especially with a chance to use it right before me. With just hours until I leave, I'm so excited. Well, I guess it's time for me to spend some more quality time with my stack of note cards.

The Jacket

I forgot to pack a jacket.

My suitcase was already filled to the brim, but it was fine. My little suitcase closed and was fine.

The jacket doesn't fit. Now I have to use the big suitcase. I hate using the big suitcase. It's too big. I hate being the person with the big suitcase, which I know I won't be, but I'm usually the person with a really small suitcase. Which I like.

Hm, what can I get rid of that takes up a lot of room so I can switch back to the little suitcase?

EDIT: We're back to the little suitcase. It just took some creativity.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Packing List Extravaganza

This is probably way more than you ever wanted to know about what to bring to the Middle East. But maybe you're like me, and got really annoyed about not knowing what to pack. Obviously I haven't gotten there yet, so I might end up posting later about everything I packed wrong, but we'll see.

I have a strange fixation on having as little luggage as possible, and for this trip, it meant that I felt the need to put everything into one small suitcase and a backpack sized bag. And by small suitcase, I mean one that I think could be carried on and not checked if I wanted to.

But that doesn't necessarily mean I travel particularly light, it just means I know how to fold clothes to make as many fit as possible. I just finished packing, and at last count, I had around eight t-shirts, one dress shirt, four button down shirts, four tank tops, six long sleeved shirts, one pair of jeans, one pair of khakis, two pairs of special travel pants, and one floor length skirt. (If you're thinking that I can't wear short sleeves and tanks tops in the Middle East, you're right. They're just useful for layering). And on top of that all my other stuff somehow fit in there two, after about thirty different arrangements in the suitcase. The secret is rolling up your clothes in tiny little balls like in the military, not folding them. Seriously.

The stuff that actually took up the most room was the gifts for my host family. Most of it fit pretty well, an I didn't have a problem with most of the gifts, except for the baseball hats. They kind of bothered my perfectionism of having everything fit flat and neat in the suitcase. They're not box-shaped, and they're not flat, but they're not rolls, so they can't get stuck in with my shirts. They're this awkward shape, and the brims wouldn't stay flat, and they frustrated me! They just ended up on top.

Okay, as far as toiletries go, that's honestly not something I want to discuss. Bring whatever you need, and remember that you can always buy more there if you run out. There's no need to bring the extra-large bottle of shampoo. Toothpaste is the one thing I bring a lot of. I get kind of freaked out by strange toothpastes. And then there's always the thing about three ounces (100 mL) of liquid/gel or less in a carry on bag. At least that's what it is right now, maybe it changes. So make sure that most of your stuff is in your checked bag, because you don't want to have to throw out whatever liquid you felt you couldn't be separated from for a few hours.

Now that I'm on the topic of checked versus carry-on. Usually my family and I try to carry on everything. I actually don't remember the last time we checked anything. But, on this trip, I will be checking baggage, mostly for the reason that not all of my liquids are three ounces or less in my bag. So then comes the challenge of what to put in your carry on bag and what to put in your checked bag. The general rule of thumb, which they also reminded us of for this exchange program, is to put anything you need in your carry-on, and other stuff in the checked bag. That means passport, identification card, tickets, visas, that stuff needs to be in your carry on. (Also, if you're travelling internationally, extra photocopies of your passport are sometimes useful should something happen to the actual thing. And extra passport photos if you need a visa).

Also, bring whatever you need to live for a few days in your carry-on. Two shirts, a pair of pants, a hairbrush, and so on. And extra glasses, if you wear them. Buying new glasses on vacation  is not cool. Packing this is your carry-on is where the military rolling comes in handy, so they stay in neat little rolls in the bottom of your bag, instead of coming unfolded and taking up half your backpack.

You mean you don't know how to military roll clothes? Gasp! Click here,and be enlightened.

And then there is some stuff that I'm bringing just because I have a host family there. I already talked about packing the gifts for the host family, but as far as having gifts for host families, make sure you do. Stuff from your area seems to be the best bet, from what I've been able to read ahead of time. The fact that I live near Chicago makes that an easy choice, at least for me.

Also, bring a photo album of "home." I haven't been yet, but people I've talked to who have done similar trips before have said that it helps if the family doesn't speak English, to start conversations, and so they can see your family, and so that you have something to look at if you get homesick. I've never really gotten homesick before, but we'll see.

And electric adapters. Bring one. I have one that can be used for almost any outlet, which is nice. My mother has a set of a bunch of them, and you just have to figure out what to use. Just have something, because you don't want to get stuck without it.

Oh, and if you're a woman, bring a couple large scarves that could be used as headscarves. I've heard varying reports on how conservative different regions are, but everyone seems to agree that long sleeves and pants are necessary, and having a headscarf in your bag is smart. That way, if you feel like you're getting too much attention, or for any reason, you can simply put it on, and you'll be good. I'm not sure how it is in Jordan, I've read different stories, depending on the area and people they were with. I'm guessing that for me, it's going to matter most on my host families preferences.

I'm not sure how useful this is going to be, but I also stuck a little memo book in my  bag. I figure there might be situations where it could help to write a destination for a cab, or to write down a new word so I don't forget. Or something. I feel strange not having a paper and pen on me at all times.

Well, that's pretty much it. I packed other stuff too, but this is long enough. 73 hours until I leave!!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fashion Rules

In my school, we have a really relaxed dress code. While I tend to stick to sweatshirts and t-shirts, jeans and basketball shorts, people can wear pretty much whatever they want Skirts fall high above the knees, and the collars of shirts are low. Straps are thin, and fabric is sheer. Sometimes, especially near the end of the year, the guys like to "hoss-cut" their shirts, cutting off the sleeves of their t-shirts so that the isn't anything left on the sides of the shirts, just leaving a piece of fabric with a hole for the head.

And so I consider my dress to be pretty modest. But for this trip, we'll be wearing long pants and long sleeves the whole time. So I've spent a lot of time in thrift stores this week, trying to find clothes that fit those requirements. I've figured out that it's really hard to find clothes around here that fit the requirement of covering up that much skin, so clothes are ending up layering, with a long sleeve t-shirt on the bottom, and then I can wear whatever shirt on top. It's going to be hot.

As far as pants, I just got some light khaki and 'travel' pants, and a floor length peasant skirt. That part was so much easier than shirts.

Then, I went and got a couple scarfs that are big enough to work as head scarves if I need to. I don't know if my host family is going to be more comfortable if I wear one, but I know that I'm going to need one at  least a couple times, so I got some.

It's weird to think that maybe my normal, rather conservative clothes here might be considered quite revealing in Jordan, it's weird to think about. I wonder what they'd think about the girls in the mini-skirts and tube tops. It's not even worth thinking about.

Host Families

I've been waiting for this occasion for a long time. I've checked my emails over and over, waiting for that one certain message. And today, it arrived.

And yet, it wasn't what I expected. Seeing an attachment about my host family, I opened it. I had been waiting for a street address I could give my friends to mail me at, or what the kids were like so I could decide what gifts would be appropriate. But it didn't really help me with either of that.

First, it said the last name of my family. Instead of their address, it said Amman, Jordan, and then the region of the city they live in, which doesn't help much in the sense of mail. That'd be like if I were trying to write a letter to someone in Chicago, and just wrote "The Loop" as their street address. Well, that's all right, I figure, reading on.

It then lists their home telephone number, which is great and everything for once I get there, but not of much use right now. The telephone number looks strange, but I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's just because I know that it's my phone number for the time I spend with them this summer.

Here we go, finally something useful. An email address. I send a quick email to the address, unsure of exactly who the email is for, as the name in the email address is neither the mother or the father's name. But it's someone in the family's, so I send a quick email introducing myself. I don't want to write too much, because I don't even know if they speak English. I type the greeting, مرحبا !, in Arabic, hoping it's the appropriate greeting. Maybe السلام عليكم would have been more appropriate, but I'm not sure yet. I guess that's another thing that I'll learn when I'm there.

Next thing is the members of the family. There is a mother, a father, and four children. The mother and father have written their names, but none of the children are named. I'm not even sure if they're boys or girls, which is bizarre. I was going to try and figure out gifts, but the gift for a nineteen year old girl is much different than a gift for a nineteen year old guy. The three other kids are younger than me, but that's all right. It should be fun.

The rest of the paper is just the exchange program saying that that's all the information they can tell me about my host family, and that I'm free to contact them, but they might not speak English, so they might not be able to answer. I hope they don't speak English - when trying to learn Arabic, I think I'd learn better if I had to use it at home too, instead of some English and some Arabic.

Well, I leave in six days now, and after a couple days in DC for pre-departure orientation, and then a travel day from DC to Frankfurt, and then to Amman, I'll meet them soon enough. I'm so excited, and can't wait to get to know them!