Jordan - Part 1

This multi-part series will document my time spent in Jordan while a participant on a Fulbright-Hays Groups Project Abroad (GPA) program.  I was selected along with 11 fellow teachers from North Texas to spend 4-weeks traveling in and around Amman, Jordan where we will study the country, politics, religion, education and culture. With this information we will develop curriculum to share with teachers and students once we return to the United States. 

I won't be able to update this blog with my professional images while I am traveling due to technology limitations; therefore, my phone images will have to suffice.  After I return in August I will post my favorite images from the trip in a separate blog post.

Part 1

Our arrival in Jordan on Sunday, July 10 came at great cost. As a group there was lost luggage, trips to the emergency room, almost missed flights, missed flights, money issues, items left behind on the airplane, and that was all in the first day. I'd hoped that if we got all of our problems and drama finished with early in the trip it would allow the rest of our stay to be trial free.  It doesn't bode well that since then, we've had additional illness, members of our group interrogated by the police and more money issues.  I feel blessed that my only problem thus far was nearly missing one of my flights. I hope that my good luck will continue.

As stated above, the purpose of my trip to Jordan is to study the country in order to develop curriculum that will be shared with teachers and students back in the United States, although Jordan has been on my bucket list--this is not a vacation. A typical day for us includes visiting various government agencies, NGO's, business divisions, educational organizations, etc., eating lunch and then repeating with more organizations. We will be sprinkling in the occasional historic site and cultural activity. I am very excited that this weekend takes us to the desert, Dead Sea and Petra.

Instead of regaling you with everything I've learned thus far (I already have pages and pages of notes),  or a blow by blow on every meeting, I will keep my entries focused on my big takeaways. 

  1. Urban Planning. The architecture of Amman is fascinating--virtually all the buildings are the same color which makes orientation difficult. Also, the city is made up of at least seven big hills which I wasn't anticipating. 
  2. Hotel. Our hotel in Amman seems to be THE HUB for weddings and key events.  All of these events seem to take place outside of my hotel window late into the evening. So far the hotel has had several events every night.  My hotel room faces the hotel's backyard garden/terrace/pool and I was able to watch a huge political rally supporting Palestine (1000+ people in attendance) and a number of weddings.  One major complaint (besides the noise late at night) is that we can't use the pool at the end of the day because of all the events. The pool is only available for a few hours early in the morning.
  3. Bagpipes. Bagpipes are frequently used in weddings.  Apparently, bagpipes were introduced to the Jordanians during the British mandate period, and they have now been incorporated  in the Jordanian military.  It was fascinating to see a wedding procession in our hotel lobby that included a call and response featuring some energetic singing and dancing, drums and the bagpipe.
  4. Division. Jordan is much more conservative than I had anticipated.  Prior to arrival we had a number of pre-trip meetings to learn more about the Middle East and Jordan. During these meetings it was repeated over and over again that Jordan is a moderate Muslim country--but it is clear that moderate is only in reference to the region and not to the United States. On Tuesday, we visited one of the largest mosques in Amman, and as is typical with visiting any mosque, the women had to cover their hair.  We were stunned however, when the men were lead on a tour of the mosque and the ladies were forced to the tiny women's praying area and we were not allowed to see any other part of the mosque. I have visited many mosques in Turkey, UAE, Morocco, and the United States and I have never been denied access to the main area.  None of the ladies were impressed.  In the two pictures below you will see the grate we got to stare through and the limited view. This only highlights the conservative nature of the country. Of all the weddings hosted at our hotel since we've arrived (at least one each evening) only one of the weddings was co-mingled, the rest we separated into the women's party area and a different men's party area.
  5. Education. In every organization we've visited thus far the prevailing message has been that public education in Jordan is in need of some radical improvements. Teachers are poorly trained, receive low wages, classroom sizes too large, low test scores, etc.
  6. Refugees. Jordan has shouldered a huge burden taking in refugees for the last 70 years. This started with the Israeli/Palestine war in 1948 and continues to today with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  There are approximately 2 million refugees living in Jordan. This might seem like a relatively small number, until you understand that there are only about 9.5 million people living in Jordan. When we met with the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy he tried to get us to understand the burden on Jordanian society of that many refugees. He explained it would be like all of Mexico moving to the United States at the same time. I can't imagine what the response would be like if that happened.  Fortunately, for the refugees for the most part Jordanians have opened their arms, homes and country and tried their best to treat them like guests.
  7. Patience. Traveling is stressful at the best of times, and when you add a group of virtual strangers, a foreign location and at times unclear expectations--it forces you to practice your patience.  Our group has clearly entered the "storming" phase of team dynamics. Given that we will be here for four weeks I hope we exit this phase quickly and get to the point where we can just enjoy learning together and begin overlooking the little annoyances of each other.
One of my fellow travel companions trying to peer trough the grate in the women's section.

One of my fellow travel companions trying to peer trough the grate in the women's section.

The view into the larger section of the mosque from the women's section.

The view into the larger section of the mosque from the women's section.

View of Amman from the historic Citadel

View of Amman from the historic Citadel

What do you want to know about my trip or about Jordan? I would love to hear your questions below in the comments section.

Thinking about taking a trip to Jordan and want more information about safety concerns, check out this in-depth article by All the Rooms.