Jordan - Part 5 by Krista Boivie

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.


Now that I'm on my fifth post, it's time to be completely frank. Travel is hard, very hard. The constant unfamiliarity of locations, the lack of personal freedom and mobility, the language barrier, putting up with people I don't normally associate with etc. I reached my breaking point yesterday and it's been a struggle to remain positive and friendly when all I want to do is crawl into a small corner and sleep. I've been traveling since the end of June and the exhaustion has set in. I keep dreaming of my own bed.  I think that means that I am definitely not cut out to be a nomad. Okay, enough of my whining, back to what I've been up to...

On Saturday we visited the city of As-Salt. It is a lovely place that is situated along three hills with spectacular picturesque views. We spent the day taking a walking tour of the old city. The Salt Development Corporation came up with the idea of an eco-museum. The concept is to see the whole city as a museum, focusing on integrating people's traditional lifestyle with the cultural property. I love that the focus is on people owning their culture and using this model to help preserve their cultural resources. This type of Eco-tourism allows development to happen in a sustainable way. 

The local mosque is right next door to the Christian church

The local mosque is right next door to the Christian church

After visiting the local Greek Orthodox church, we were given these pieces of cloth as a blessing.

After visiting the local Greek Orthodox church, we were given these pieces of cloth as a blessing.

The only downside of taking a walking tour of the city was that it had to be over 100 degrees and within minutes I was drenched in sweat and exhausted. I have gotten incredibly good at recognizing the signs of dehydration in my body.  I keep expecting that one of these days my body will go into revolt for the constant dehydration I have forced upon it over the last month--but so far my body has held up.

I am surprised you can't see my sweat stains in this picture.

I am surprised you can't see my sweat stains in this picture.

My favorite part of the day was eating lunch in a historic house. The woman of the house served us a traditional dish called Magloubah. This dish has layers of rice, chicken and roasted vegetables. Magloubah means "upside down," because the pot is flipped upside down onto the plate when it is served. The food was delicious and our host was so gracious and lovely. 

Sunday, we had an amazing day touring a school, visiting with a political watch-dog NGO and eating lunch with an organization called the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD). The school was created for Gifted and Talented Students and it was fun to talk with some of the teachers and students.  Everytime I visit with students (in any country) I realize how similar they are to the students I teach.  The students at this school are doing some incredibly interesting research and scientific projects.

Our final stop to JOHUD was wonderful.  Besides the delicious lunch they served, we were all amazed at the work the center is doing for children of the neighborhood.  The program was developed to address the needs of the community and provide training and services for refugees. Even though it was summer break, they had a number of programs going and so we met students from ages 5-24. This was also our first opportunity to meet with some refugee children.  The two main focuses of the center are women empowerment and youth engagement. It was beautiful to hear the story of two little boys who became best friends over a tree.  The Jordanian boy had planted a tree on the grounds of the center and the Syrian refugee boy would come and help him take care of the tree and that is how they became best friends.

As a group we've been wanting to meet with children and refugees the whole trip and today we were able to do both which was really great.  

One of the classes we met with at JOHUD. The girls were learning about how to negotiate difficult conversations and increase their confidence.

One of the classes we met with at JOHUD. The girls were learning about how to negotiate difficult conversations and increase their confidence.

One of the adorable boys who was playing in the center.  I LOVE his glasses!

One of the adorable boys who was playing in the center.  I LOVE his glasses!


Side note:

One individual I forgot to mention with my previous post was that we were able to meet with the famous Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj (see webiste here). I was fascinated to hear about how he became a cartoonist and got his art degree (much to the chagrin of his family). As a political cartoonist, his goal is to entertain, but also to shed light on important issues. He doesn't let the threats of violence and death stop him from tackling sensitive topics (ie: Honor Killings). He was refreshingly honest with us and had a great sense of humor.

Showing us one of his most famous pieces.

Showing us one of his most famous pieces.

I have the feeling that tomorrow will be a pretty epic day on the trip, so I will head to bed and I will write more in a few days.

Jordan - Part 4 by Krista Boivie

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.


We’ve been incredibly lucky to meet some phenomenal individuals who are tirelessly working to improve the lives of people throughout Jordan.  There are three people who stand out:

Dr. Salma Nims from the Jordanian National Commission for Women.  She was a force of nature--intelligent, well-spoken and passionate about fighting for the rights of women in Jordan. I was so impressed with her that after she spoke with our group, a couple of us asked her if she had considered running for the Parliament.  She informed us that she had lost a campaign a few years ago, but that loss led to her appointment on the Commission which is allowing her to help lobby for some fundamental changes for women.

Samar Dudin from Ruwwad. Ruwward, established in 2005, is an organization designed to work with disenfranchised communities by providing education and scholarship funds. The goals for the scholarship students are to make them economically independent, foster creativity, increase their open-mindedness and improve their humanity. The students in return (for their scholarships) volunteer 4 hours a week teaching classes and giving back to their communities. Within minutes of meeting Samar I was humbled by her empathy and passion for trying to improve the lives of the children and youth in the neighborhood.  She is one of the true unspoken hero's of our global society--doing all she can to make the world a better place, one child at a time.

His Excellency the Mayor of Amman - Akel Biltaji. It came to a complete surprise to our group that we were allowed to meet with His Excellency.  He was charming and very candid as he told us about his city and the challenges he is trying to address.  When asked what is the one thing he wants us to make sure to go back and teach our students he said “The answer to EVERY issue at the local, national, and global level is education, education, education.” Also, there are always two sides to every story and it’s important that we teach our students about the Jordanian (Arab) perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(left) Samar Dudin at Ruwward along with two people from our Fulbright group.

(left) Samar Dudin at Ruwward along with two people from our Fulbright group.

Our group meeting with the Mayor of Amman

Our group meeting with the Mayor of Amman

The highlights of this past week also include dinner at the house of one of our Jordanian group leaders.  Her house overlooks a lovely valley and it was a beautiful evening with some amazing food.  

Sunset from her balcony

Sunset from her balcony

We also traveled up to one of the northernmost tips in the country to Umm Quais to see more Roman ruins. The area overlooks the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) and the Golan Heights. We were also only a couple of kilometers from the border with Syria. 

Ruins at Umm Qais

Ruins at Umm Qais

Panoramic view from Umm Qais of the Sea of Galilee & Golan Heights

Panoramic view from Umm Qais of the Sea of Galilee & Golan Heights

Today, we had our first day off and it was lovely to be able to sleep in and not feel rushed.  A small group of ladies and I decided to go to the Moroccan Hammam in the morning.  The only other experience I’ve had with Hammams came while I was in traveling in Turkey 9 years ago and that experience was more than a little traumatic and included a partially nude Iraqi man and me covered in bruises when it was finished.  I would be happy to share the story in person if you want to ask...it is a very amusing tale. This hammam was not nearly as traumatic, but given that I’ve never gone topless before with a group of people I was at times very uncomfortable--however the upside is my skin feels amazing.  The rest of the day was spent souvenir shopping (the first I’ve done all trip) and relaxing.

We have a week left in Jordan before I head to Israel and I’m excited to see what I will learn over the final few days. Until then, I will enjoy the sounds of the wedding drummers and bagpipes from outside my hotel window.

Jordan - Part 3 by Krista Boivie

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.


 

Jordan reminds me of the United States in the 1950s, smoking is ubiquitous and even though they have anti smoking laws, nothing is really done to stop it. Jordan is actively focused on improving themselves both economically and geopolitically, yet they remain for the most part a very conservative culture, which slows down their improvement processes.  Here are my four latest takeaways of the past week.

  1. Women in Jordan an exceptionally well-educated. Over 87% of all women attain post-secondary degrees; however, this only translates into 13-14% of women working in the workforce.  What an under utilized resource! 
  2. Jordan is incredibly safe.  Pretty much every building we enter has security guards, metal detectors, scanners, etc.  I’ve seen more police and military forces out on the street than I’ve ever seen in the United States. The idea that Jordan is more dangerous than the United States is an erroneous one--obviously radical extremism can happen anywhere at anytime, but Jordan does all it can to prevent it.
  3. USAID. Your taxpayer dollars are hard at work in Jordan.  I had never heard of USAID before traveling to Jordan. Apparently this government agency, started in November of 1961, was designed to “work to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.” Jordan has the largest USAID program in the world.  Virtually every organization, NGO and non-profit we’ve met with stated that they got their start from USAID monies. My big question is what measures are in place to help transition from the dependency of the money to self-sustainability?
  4. Water is very scarce. I have become far more water sensitive.  Jordan is the 4th poorest water country in the world and you quickly see how the lack of this precious resource impacts daily life. Toilets don’t often flush reliably, and people in Amman only get water delivered to their houses once a week (not bottled water service, but all the water they use). I hope to take back some of my sensitivity so that I don’t waste so much water when I return.  I know this won’t directly help the people of Jordan, but it will make me feel better that I am being a better steward of the environment.

Now for some of the sightseeing we took part in this past weekend. On Friday (the first day of the weekend), we drove to Jerash to visit the ancient Roman ruins.  The ruins are some of the best preserved in the world.  The site covered a few kilometers, and it has been one of my favorite places we’ve visited thus far.

Hadrian's Gate

Hadrian's Gate

Only a few of the many columns still standing in Jerash

Only a few of the many columns still standing in Jerash

Later in the afternoon we traveled to the town of Ajloun and visited the ruins of a castle constructed during the crusades by one of the generals of the famous Muslim leader Saladin.  It was constructed around 1184-1185. From its location, the fortress dominated a wide stretch of the northern Jordan Valley, and protected the communication routes between southern Jordan and Syria. 

From the top of the castle you can see the borders of Syria and Israel

From the top of the castle you can see the borders of Syria and Israel

Saturday evening a small group of us decided to return to the Roman ruins at Jerash to see the Moroccan Pop Star Saad Lamjarred perform.  We had a fantastic time. It was incredibly cool to sit in a Roman amphitheater more than 2000 years old and see a modern concert.

Saad reminded me of a tamer Arab version of Ricky Martin.  Even though I couldn’t understand any part of the lyrics I still enjoyed jamming out to the music.  

The most troublesome part of the evening was the triple layer of security that we had to pass through.  Each round required a full pat down and an examination of EVERY item in our purses.  Men and women were separated into two different lines, and it took forever to finally get through the third round of their security detail.  Although it was annoying, I am grateful that they took their safety seriously.  Below are some images from the concert and a link to a YouTube video of Saad’s so you can enjoy his musical stylings.

Inside the amphitheater

Inside the amphitheater

Our group ready to party!

Our group ready to party!

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Jordan - Part 2 by Krista Boivie

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.


This past weekend I experienced some of the most incredible sights, but the process pushed my body through extreme conditions. In the end, it was worth all the blisters, bloodied toes, dehydration, sleep deprivation, and lack of food.

After a week of meetings, our group was excited to leave Amman and see some of the most famous sites in Jordan. Our first stop was in Madaba to visit St. George Greek Orthodox Church which was built in 1896 on the ruins of a 6th century Byzantine church. The floor of the church houses the remnants of the original Byzantine mosaic. Unfortunately, only a quarter of the mosaic has been preserved. The mosaic is a map of the area from Sidon and Tyre in the north to the delta of the Nile in the south and from the Mediterranean to the eastern deserts. It is a remarkable historic document.

Part of the mosaic floor

Part of the mosaic floor

We then drove to Mount Nebo and enjoyed the stunning views of the valley in which God allowed Moses to see into the Promised Land.  Although the day was a bit hazy, we could see the Dead Sea, Jericho and Jerusalem in the far distance.

The view from Mount Nebo

The view from Mount Nebo

Our next visit was a surprise trip to the Jordan River to see the baptismal site of Jesus Christ. The river itself was a horrid brown shade that looked filthy.  Across the river from where we were allowed to dip our toes (not pictured) was Israel--it made me want to wade through the river to step into Israel.

Where the four corners meet, that is believed to be the baptismal site of Jesus Christ

Where the four corners meet, that is believed to be the baptismal site of Jesus Christ

I was really concerned with how rapidly my body reacted to the extreme heat at the site. It was a relatively short walk (20 minutes), mostly under shade, from the bus down to the river, but the heat was so intense I was sure that if I'd stayed there another 10 minutes I would have collapsed from heat exhaustion. I have no idea how hot it was outside, but it must have been at least 110 degrees. I lived in the desert of Las Vegas for 13 years and I have plenty of previous experience in extreme heat, but I'd never felt anything like that before. I wasn't the only one who felt the same way, almost everyone in our group felt it was the hottest they've ever been.  I was really concerned because on Saturday we were going to Petra for several hours and I was terrified that I would have a similar experience.  I said a lot of prayers that night.

Fortunately, our last stop of the day was to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea was a fun experience. The water felt oily and I had a blast bouncing around in the water. I only stayed in the water for about 10 minutes before I headed to a nearby resort where I sat in the pool for a couple of hours drinking water and trying to rehydrate and recuperate from the trip to the Jordan River.

Saturday, we awoke early so that we could enjoy Petra before the oppressive heat set in later in the day. Petra was the number one reason why I've wanted to see Jordan and the site does not disappoint. However, I naively didn't complete any research on the site prior to our visit, and therefore I was wholly unprepared for the intense physical demands of the day. My advice for anyone who plans to see Petra is to visit the site over two days--especially if you're visiting in the heat of the summer. Bring good hiking shoes, a hat, plenty of sunscreen and water.

The ruins of Petra cover more than 260 square kilometers and include numerous hiking trails--which means it is almost impossible to see everything in one day. My favorite surprise was that the walk to the famous Treasury lead us through a stunning cavern. I couldn't get enough of the play of light against the sandstone rock walls and I took entirely too many pictures (pictures will be coming soon).

Petra is the ancient capital of the Nabatean civilization founded in 168 B.C.E. The Nabateans were a nomadic Arab group that ended up establishing a trading empire which facilitated trade with the Romans and other groups--especially in Frankincense. At its height, more than 30,000 people lived in Petra. Today there are still Bedouins that live in the caves within the site.  

The ruins of Petra include tombs, an amphitheater, evidence of water engineering and irrigation, roads and churches; however, they're no remaining houses or government buildings. The most celebrated structure in Petra is the Treasury (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). The Treasury was not a bank, but was a funerary monument. It is cut deeply into the sandstone and therefore the elements have not destroyed it yet. What I loved about the building was that the facade of the monument has Greek, Roman and Egyptian references which show the influence of other cultures on the Nabateans.

The Treasury

The Treasury

Due to my lack of preparation, I had worn simple boat shoes with no socks. The walk to the Treasury was wonderful, but I hadn't realized that the site stretched on for miles. As you can see below, I ended up hiking more than 10 miles, tore up my toes with blisters and more than once I thought I would die--either from sheer exhaustion and dehydration or from the wild mule ride I took up the mountain.

My statistics for Petra

My statistics for Petra

One of our group members is Jordanian and she recommended that we rent mules to take us to the Monastery.  Under cooler temperatures I would have not considered the option, but we'd already been outside for more than two hours and I knew I was starting to get dehydrated. Three of us opted to ride the mules. The mule ride took us up a cliff with over 950 steps (66 floors) and most of it was spent with the mule walking on the very edge of the cliff.  It was terrifying and I spent most of the time praying the mule would be surefooted and that I would topple off the side of the cliff. I tried taking a couple of pictures, but I quickly abandoned my camera to hold on for dear life. The view of the Monastery was gorgeous, but I'm still on the fence about whether it was worth it. It took me another hour to climb down (I didn't even consider trying to go back down with the mule...watching one person try that was more than enough for me) because the heat had gotten so oppressive it was hard to breathe and get enough liquids. By the time I dragged my beaten body back to the Treasury I was on the verge of tears. I decided to pay the fee to take a horse and cart back to the visitor center because there was nothing left in my tank to walk the additional mile back to the bus.

Sunday we returned to the Petra visitors center to meet with the director and learn more about Petra and about the preservation techniques. One interesting fact is that 80% of the visitors to Petra only visit the Treasury and never seen any of the additional ruins.  Following his presentation,  we headed for a ride through the Wadi Rum desert.

By any standard Wadi Rum is spectacular--our guide described it as Jordan's Grand Canyon. The majestic mountains with their craggy edges and shapes surround a fairly barren landscape. Bedouin tents dot the landscape and there are a few small Bedouin villages in the area as well. Wadi Rum was used in the filming of Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian and Queen of the Desert.

Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

After driving through the red sand we headed to our campsite for the evening. My expectations were dashed when I saw the rather western style tents. I had hoped for Bedouin style tents covered in various woven textiles.

Our campsite in Wadi Rum

Our campsite in Wadi Rum

The remaining part of the afternoon was spent sitting around or hiking the nearby cliffs. Dinner was a Zerb. This is where they cook the food in deep pits in the ground (lamb, chicken, potatoes rice and veggies) for several hours. We had a very similar dinner the night before at our resort outside of Petra. I preferred the meal we'd enjoyed the previous evening to the one at the campsite.  My favorite part of the evening was the after dinner entertainment of dancing and a reenactment of a Bedouin wedding. Two of our party acted as proxies for the wedding.  It was a lot of fun to dance and celebrate their fake wedding. Given that we'd seen so many different types of weddings at our hotel in Amman it was fun to compare the similarities and differences between the ceremonies.

My head wrapped in the Jordanian style at camp

My head wrapped in the Jordanian style at camp

Monday took us to Aqaba. Aqaba is located on the coast of the Red Sea and from the city you can see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Due to its strategic location the city acts as a special economic zone to help draw in foreign investment and businesses. I loved Aqaba and definitely would love to return. The closest comparison I could make would be that it's the Miami of Jordan (with only 150,000 people and few nightclubs).

We had a few more meetings on Monday, and by mid-afternoon after eating very little over the previous few days, sleeping poorly at the campsite and the general annoyance from spending so much time with the same people--our little group fractured. As I stated in my previous post, travel strips a person down, and can often lead to conflict.  After a quick meal at McDonald's apologies were made and we got back on track. We also established a few norms to help prevent further conflict.

A small group of us then headed down to the coast to spend a couple of hours enjoying the Red Sea. The water was cool, a gorgeous shade of royal blue and the perfect way to unwind from a rough couple of days. For dinner we were invited by His Excellency (CEO of the Aqaba Development Corporation) to the yacht club for a huge meal. Some of our group went out for a private tour of the city with His Excellency, but I opted for my bed because I was still exhausted.

Some additional observations about the country:

  1. Jordan has incredibly attractive people--both men and women. From the Bedouin tribal people that live in the caves near Petra to the office workers, they have lots of gorgeous people. We all think that our bus driver is the Arab Gorge Clooney and I enjoyed a presentation by a gentleman yesterday that looked like the Arab Jude Law.
  2. Jordanians are incredibly hospitable from running into the street to rescue my hat to giving us directions, serving us in restaurants or just talking to people on the street, they are wonderful.
  3. Jordan has delicious desserts. I normally don't like sweets in foreign countries, but I have really liked all the varieties. Lots of honey, pistachios and dates.


The rest of this week has us returning to Amman for more meetings. It has become the running joke of our group that I am very accident prone. My toes look gnarly from their journey in Petra and a run-in with my luggage that sliced open my baby toe, my legs and arms are riddled with bruises and this morning I took a slice out of one of my knuckles while digging around my toiletries bag and encountering my razor blade. Fortunately one of my travel mates has emergency supplies for all needs and has doctored my injuries. Here's to hoping that I don't keep adding to the injury list.

 

Jordan - Part 1 by Krista Boivie

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.

Reflection on 90-Day Challenge by Krista Boivie

The purpose for my 90-day challenge was to find more balance in my life, and initially I worked really hard to tick off all the little boxes in each of my pre-designated categories.  After the first week things became very clear quickly, I would begin to focus on one of the three areas more intently to the detriment of the other categories. Week after week I kept switching priorities, obviously violating the very premise of the challenge in the first place.

My biggest takeaway from the challenge was that I was always acutely aware of my three columns and it did help me to be more mindful of making better choices when I had down time to focus on activities that in the past that I typically ignored (ie: finishing big projects, learning new skills).  However, with that mindfulness I realized that balance is an illusion and that I didn't like it very much.  I missed really diving into an activity and devoting all my time and energy to it, where as on the challenge I was always timing myself to "accomplish" more. Honestly, it was exhausting.

Now that the challenge is over, where do I go from here?  My plan is to focus on the things that matter most, my health and my spirituality and everything else will naturally take care of itself.