"No Smoking"

There are "no smoking" signs all over Jordan. When I first got here, I was relieved to see them. I am allergic to cigarrette smoke (I have asthma) and I was excited to see that there were places where people were "forbidden" to smoke (I know, why did I come to the Middle East if I didn't want to deal with smoke, right?).

Well, lets just say that they could have saved their money on the signs and stickers, because people don't really pay attention to any no smoking signs.

For example: on the outside of the "Markaz al-Lugat" (the language center at the University of Jordan) are two no smoking signs. And then they are posted inside the building, too. And on the outside of the "American Corner" office, which is in Markaz al-Lugat (in which are housed books about America for the Arabs who are studying Americans).

And, there is a "no smoking" sign on the guy's desk who supervises the American corner.

Right next to the ashtray.
Don't worry, he probably only smokes about 10-20/day in there.

Taxis are the worst, in my opinion (but at least most of the time you can open the windows). I hate riding to church in a taxi because I always get out smelling like I have been in a bar, or something.

One day, I saw a no smoking sign on a taxi. A taxi. I was excited and surprised--until I saw the driver smoking inside the taxi.
I guess just the passengers can't smoke?

When we were still living at the Ambassador Hotel, there was a grocery store/combination food court just a block away from our hotel, so I would go there to do homework occasionally. There were at least 20 no smoking signs in the food court, posted on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.

But somehow, I don't remember a time when I didn't see people smoking in there. Maybe the idea is that smoking is only forbidden "right under" the sign, so if you are right next to it you can still smoke.

Or something like that.

note bene

By the way, I finally finished my Amazing Grace post, if you are interested.


Strange Translations

The newest rage among the Americans here at the University of Jordan is stopping by the "notebook stands" outside the main gate of the university and checking to see if they have any new notebooks.

This might seem strange until you see the notebooks for yourself. English is cool here, but something is lost in translation...

(This one is my personal favorite)


A Souvenir from Jerusalem

This is a spider bite, courtesy of Jerusalem. Isn't it cute?

(PS, for those who worry, like my mother, it isn't a brown reculse because I haven't died yet. And the swelling has started going down.)

Edelweiss in Arabia

After my first class at the community center on Sunday, I was more than thrilled to go again yesterday (Tuesday) and see what fun and surprises awaited me. It would not be so scary if I was in the America or even speaking English, as I have volunteered often in elementary schools there and I absolutely love it. But being in charge for a rowdy class for two hours in Arabic is just a teeny bit intimidating.

This time, however, my friend and co-teacher Gretchen Belnap was there (thankfully, to help with crowd control). And, we were in another room, this time with a round table and plenty of room to get in and out of their chairs.

And the ones who didn't want to be in the Music class weren't there.

The whole experience was much better and made me feel so much better about my ability to control a large class in a different language (I have only been studying Arabic for a year, ok?!).

There was, however, one part of the class in which I felt that my entire purpose for studying Arabic was validated. Gretchen was teaching the class Edelweiss, the song from The Sound of Music, and she sang it for them before teaching them the words.

As she began singing in her beautiful clear voice, the whole class quieted down and sat mesmerized throughout the whole song. In the middle of her song, as the class sat reverently listening, I suddenly was overcome with a feeling of peace and comfort from the Holy Ghost. And I am sure everyone else in the class felt it too. It was as though a little piece of heaven suddenly became available to all of us through Gretchen's singing of this beautiful song about a national flower.

To some, it might not make sense. We weren't singing hymns, we weren't preaching the gospel, but the Spirit was present in a very beautiful way. As I sat thinking about why this moment was so significant, I thought of what the song meant to the Von Trapp family in the movie. The edelweiss was their symbol of hope and freedom and gave them comfort even while wars were swarming around them.

These little kids, even though they live in relatively safe Jordan, will most likely encounter wars in one way or another in their lives. They, too, will need symbols of hope and freedom and they struggle through difficult times in their lives...and although this is something probably none of them had thought about before, it was showed to all of us in a powerful way through Gretchen's singing.

This also gave me a greater understanding for why I am studying Arabic--it is for sweet moments like this. And I didn't feel quite so bad for my failure in class on Sunday!


An Exercise in Disaster

Feeling that my life was not busy enough already, and definitely lacking interaction with children, I have started volunteering at a community center in Sweileh (where I live--but in the poor area) teaching a music class to children. At first, this seemed like an excellent idea. I would speak to children for several hours a day in Arabic (actually, twice a week for two hours a day) and I would be well on my way to changing the world.


Sunday (Friday is our Sabbath here) was my first day volunteering. Let me remind you that I had just returned to Amman after an exhausting week in Israel/Palestine the night before and probably hadn't gotten as much sleep as was needed.

The next morning, bright and early, I arrived at the community center, only to find out that instead of teaching at 9, as I had previously thought, I was teaching at 10.

No problem. I just sat and talked to the receptionist for an hour, praying to be able to teach my class and also trying to understand this dear woman who is Iraqi and was telling me about some of the problems she had faced in Iraq. (Side note: it is times like this that I am most frustrated with my lack of Arabic ability. Ordering food, going the wrong way in a taxi, getting lost--these are all minimal compared with times when people are almost weeping as they are telling you their life story and you miss the key verb about why they are weeping.)

At 10, I walked into my classroom. There were about 30 students, between the ages of 7 and 16, boys and girls (the girls, of course, sitting in the front and the boys all crowded into the back row) together (in the public schools in Jordan, they don't mix genders, so there are boy schools and girl schools).

After introductions all around, I started teaching some English songs. First I started with "Doe, a deer" from the Sound of Music to help teach them the scale (it worked for Maria, it should work for me, right?). Arabs have a much different scale/music style (I think they operate on 4th or 8th notes instead of half notes, like Western music) so I thought the scale would be best to start with.

Picture this: I am writing the words on the board in Arabic and English, teaching them the English, translating the meaning into Arabic, and trying to teach them the tune also. Meanwhile, each student has the need to go to the bathroom at least once an hour, which would not be a problem except they have to ask me each time (which is normal) and in order to get out, they have to either climb over the table or under the table (the classroom was set up with three long tables in a row, with no space behind to walk).

And, all the little boys in the back are definitely not singing and are definitely hitting each other and talking to each other loudly.

And picture me in the front, trying to keep the class under control.

In a different language.

It was kind of like in elementary school, when you had a substitute, and the whole class was bad. But think of how much worse it would have been if the substitute did not speak the language.

And that was me.

It was thrilling, to say the least.

To make matters worse (better?), one of the little girls in the class ran and told the administrators that the boys were being little pests, and she came in, yelled at them, and had the girls point out which boys were acting up. Then, she took all of the boys out, scolded them, and most of them went home, except for two which came back to class and had to apologize to me in front of everyone (in English, although I am not sure if that was part of their punishment or just a reflection of my bad Arabic), and then sat quitely the rest of class.

At the end of class, feeling like a failure, all of the little girls came up and kissed my cheeks (normal Middle Eastern practice) and told me they were excited for the next class, and one of the little boys who had been acting up came up to me and gave me a paper crane whose wings flapped (which he made) and which he had written on the wings, "I love teacher."

And the administrators asked me why I was only coming twice a week and not every day.

And then, as I was walking down the stairs from a pedestrian overpass going to catch a taxi the rest of the way to the university, I fell down the stairs. In front of a whole bunch of men who were staring at me at the bottom.

Self, great day!


Border Problems, Without Being Palestinian

I have recently returned to Amman. Unfortunately. I miss Jerusalem already, and unfortunately I am not too happy to be back to my daily schedule of speaking for hours every day in an extremely hard language and memorizing vocabulary words that have to do with earthquakes and bombings. I guess I should get used to it, though, because in just a couple of months I will be learning Mandarin, having all the same problems! :)

However, I did almost have an opportunity to stay in Israel--not by any choice of my own, but because of problems at the Jordanian border. Picture this: the temperature is about 105 degrees farenheight. There is a large amount of humidity because of our proximity to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River (we used the north border crossing). We have just been driving for about an hour on the bus with limited air conditioning, and we are all in our Sunday clothes, since it is Shabbat. This means, yes, legs sticking to each other with sweat and uncomfortable sitting positions. And we have been working with a slave driver (Dil) for the past week, visiting tons of sites in the extreme heat. And we just all successfully got through the Israeli border crossing (with really nice air conditioning, I might be so bold to add) and shoved about 70 people on a bus with a capacity of about 50.

Without air conditioning.

The bus took us across the "dead zone" between the Israeli border and the Jordanian border, and then we all got off and piled into the very not airconditioned Jordanian border.

And sat. And waited.

What we were waiting for, I found out later, was our busses from Amman and our tour guide/expiditer. Although technically we did everything by ourselves and did not need an expiditer, the Jordanians will not let groups through the border without an expiditer.

This was problem number one.

Problem number two became apparent soon after we realized we didn't have busses or an expiditer waiting for us at the border and so Brian Harker, one of the student admins of the program, called Dakkak travel agency to see what the deal was.

That was Dakkak travel agency, in case any of you are ever looking for an office of incompetent people in Jordan.

The people at Dakkak told Brian that they were on their way, no problem, but when it because apparent that they were not on their way, the border police called Dakkak.

This time, Dakkak told the border police that we were scheduled to come through the border next week, and when the border police asked what they should do, Dakkak said, "Send them back to Israel!"

Which I personally thought was a very good idea, but not very practical for our university schedule. Or our pocketbooks, since prices are very high in Israel. But that deserves another post.

The border police then tried to convince their supervisors to let our group through without an expiditer, but to no avail. Rules are rules, even in Jordan. (If we were in Egypt, this never would have happened. We would just have to pay someone off and we could have gotten through, no problem.) The only thing that was missing was the incredible amount of tension that is present on the Israeli side, but I am more ok with tension than I am with incompetence.


Also, the border police told Dakkak that they would not send us back to Israel, and somehow things got worked out that a bus and an expiditer were sent to us.

One bus. From Amman. To the north border, about a 2.5 hour drive.

Meanwhile, picture 60 Americans stuck in a non-airconditioned small room in 105 degree heat.

For three hours.

It was really fun, to say the least.

Finally, the border police let us through to go through customs and wait for our bus. After walking through customs (they x-rayed our luggage, but we didn't even have to walk through metal detectors. Security?) we were met on the other side with people representing Dakkak.

With a free soda for each of us.

Sorry, but that is not compensation for incompetence and making us wait for 3 hours in 105 degree weather, especially since the Jerusalem Center uses Dakkak every time they come to Jordan. We are one of their biggest clients.

And, we are American. Surely we don't deserve this type of treatment with the country represented on our passports!

Then, we find that we do really only have one bus. So 12 of us were designated as "taxi people." I say us, because I was one of those who was designated to ride in a taxi. For two and a half hours. Without airconditioning. In the 105 degree heat. With a most-likely smoking driver. And I hate dealing with taxi drivers here.

I immediately started praying that I wouldn't have to ride in a taxi back to Amman.

And then, after everyone else piled on the bus and the taxi people were standing around waiting to be told what to do, (and me praying to avoid the taxi) Spencer came and told us to get on the bus.

The full bus.

As funny as it might sound, at this moment my prayers were answered. I didn't have to ride a taxi back to Amman. I did, however, have to ride standing in the aisle, which was quite exciting.

Supposedly, another bus was waiting for us on the other side of the border, somewhere, but we still had to have a border policeman get on the bus while we were still on it and check all of our passports, I guess to make sure they were all stamped.

But, this was a small problem. You see, the aisle was filled with students. And we couldn't get off the bus, in case we made a break for it.

So, the policeman had to get on and shove past all of us and check all of our passports at the same time.

It was really fun.

At this point, I dissolved in laughter. I have a problem with laughing when the stress and tension builds up in particularly inappropriate moments, and this was one of those moments.

Finally, we got through the border, and after about 20 minutes we ran into the other bus and half of us got on the other one.

And, waiting for me on this bus was another surprise.

The same tour guide I had last year when I went with the Jerusalem Center to Jordan. Yes, that annoying tour guide who talked about "tens of caves," "the Kings Highway," and "Mecca Mall."

All in all, it was a great day, taking only about 7 hours to get from the Israel side of the border back to Amman.

All this, and I am American!
(PS, sorry about the poor photos, but taking photos at border crossings is usually not a good idea, but I had to document it.)


A Matter of Perspective

The other day I was eating breakfast at a convent in Nazareth. Although the breakfast was delicious in my opinion, my friend Jason Andrus started complaining about the peaches, suggesting that they really weren't very good. Instead of being yellow and squishy, they were white and hard. I told him that he just had to change his perspective--they weren't the yellow and squishy kind of peaches, they were the white and hard kind. If you were expecting white and hard fruit, they were really quite good. But if you were expecting yellow and squishy fruit, they were disgusting and unripe.

This is the way it is with the Holy Land. A lot of people come here to have a great spiritual awakening, or to see their testimonies unfold before their eyes, or to be overcome by the Spirit and have a marvelous vision in places like Capernaum, the Garden of Gethsemane, or Bethlehem. Instead, most of the time you get noisy, crowded streets, annoying street hawkers, pushy tourists, and piles of ruins. But the testimony builders and faith-strengthening experiences come in quiet moments, like what Sister Hinckley referred to when she visited Nazareth and saw a camel, which strengthened her testimony in a special way. Since the transcript is not available online, here is what she said:

"When I became an adult, my love for the Savior took on a new dimension when we visited the Holy Land. We came into Nazareth at noon. The main street in Nazareth is narrow, slightly uphill; it was crowded with merchants selling their wares: everything from fish from the Sea of Galilee to nylons and pots and pans. The noise level was high. School children were on their way home from lunch. And at the bottom of the street was an enormous camel. And there was a group of children gathered around this animal, just chattering with excitement. There were two boys, about age nine, who were walking up the street, one of them walking backwards as they threw a ball back and forth. I said to myself, 'Is this the way it was when Jesus was a boy? Did he go home for lunch with His friends, and did He stop to look at the camel? And did He throw a ball back and forth?'

"Even though He was divine, omnipotent, the Prince of Peace, the King of Glory, I began to understand more fully that He also was mortal. He lived in the same world that we live in. He had to overcome, just as you and I have to overcome. He had to discipline Himself to get up in the morning to do His chores. He had to study and do his homework. He had to learn to get along with His peers and learn obedience. My love for Him knew no bounds."

This is how I have found the Holy Land. The faith-strengthening times come in quite moments, sometimes when I am least expecting it. Like two days ago, when I visited the Church of the Annunciation, and then walked over to what was supposedly Mary's house. As I walked down among the ruins I was suddenly struck by a deeper love for Mary and a greater testimony of her goodness and purity. I pictured her doing her chores, perhaps overhearing the noisy street outside, perhaps just having gotten back from the crowded market, and having an angel appear to her and telling her that she would be the mother of the Savior of the world.

For the best experience in the Holy Land, then, you just have to change your perspective. You will get out of the Holy Land what you are prepared to receive--and what you are willing to accept.
(This isn't a camel, but it is in Nazereth. This little boy is riding in a suitcase on the back of a bicycle through town. I stopped them and asked if I could take a picture because it was cute. By the way, all three of them were riding on one bike.)

Israel: The Land and the People

Ok, sorry for the lame title. I seem to recall that some movie or something was named this. In any case, it sounded like too great of a title for me to pass up to talk about my favorite parts of Israel, namely, the people and the land.

When I first came to Israel to live in Jerusalem last year, I was only interested in the land and the history. I had no idea what awaited me in the Holy City and I had no intention of being tied to anything but the land in Israel.

However, returning has taught me that the people with whom I became acquainted mean so much more to me than any tel or broken shard of pottery.

My favorite place in the Holy Land is, and will forever remain, the Jerusalem Center. More than my home, the Jerusalem Center was my place of refuge, my bit of BYU in Israel, and the place where I felt the Spirit more strongly than at any of the sites I ever visited. The first time I walked into the Jerusalem Center I felt like I was at home, and that feeling returned as soon as I walked through the gates this time around. While the Jerusalem Center is not a person, I feel that it is living and breathing with the life of the students and the workers and administrators therein.

The people in the Jerusalem Center also remain my favorite people in the Holy Land. In returning to the JC this year, one day for church, one day for a speaker, and one day for a “tour”, I ran into my favorite security guards, Tawfiq and Feras, and Eran, who is an Israeli and has been the director of the Center for the past 21 years.

When I walked into the JC for the first time, for church, I peeked my head into the guard room and waved, and the guard immediately recognized me and did the “shocked face” look. Then, when I went for the lecture, I ran into Feras in the hall, who did a double take, gave me the “shocked face” look also, and then said, “Welcome home!”

Thanks, Feras.

The Huntingtons, who were the professor/wife when I was there last year, were also there and I met up with them several times. I was given a special welcome in Relief Society (I hope that wasn’t awkward for anyone else) and Brother Huntington asked me to give the prayer at the lecture Monday night, introducing me as one of the visiting Arabic students from Jordan “and a former student of mine, last year” (and clearly a favorite, although that part was unspoken).

Perhaps my favorite part is that the lecture was Danny Sideman, who was an Israeli lawyer talking about the Israel/Palestine conflict and especially the separation wall. He gave us an incredible lecture last year and a tour of the separation wall, and I credit much of my knowledge in that sphere to him. After my prayer, he made special note of me and told everyone in the audience that he was especially touched by my prayer, noting that if someone had told him ten years ago that he would lecture to a group of Mormons about the separation wall and they would start with a prayer and he would be incredibly touched by the prayer, he would have laughed. But he was incredibly touched by the prayer, and I was incredibly touched by the presentation, once again (this is him last year).

Thanks Danny.

Tuesday, I went to the “tour” of the Jerusalem Center just to see if I could catch Eran in his office. Thankfully I was able to, and got caught up on news of my mission and how the program has been going since I left. Let me just say something about Eran—when I was at the JC, one night Sister Heyes (another favorite of mine but gone back to the States now) said this about Eran: “If he were to tell me to walk off a cliff and I would be safe, I would do it, because I would believe that it would be best for me, just because Eran said it.”

I totally agree. As much as I chafe against authority figures, when Eran told me to do something I did it, and I did it without complaining.

Thanks, Eran.

In addition to others at the JC, I was also recognized in several places in the Old City. I stopped by the place I used to volunteer, and even though the woman at the front desk was one I had not worked much with, she immediately recognized me. In fact, her words were, “Oh yes, I remember your face very well.”

And then I walked into a T-Shirt shop (this one always creeped me out last year and I tried to avoid it at all costs) and the creepy guy instantly recognized me.


And then I was walking through Nazareth with a bunch of other BYU students, somewhat removed from everyone and wearing a BYU shirt, when someone on the street said, “Are you guys BYU students?” After answering in the affirmative and them introducing themselves as from Utah State, the guy said to me, “Oh yeah, I totally recognize you!” Although I never really understood how, I think they mentioned something about seeing us in a church in Jerusalem—although I am not sure how I would stick out so obviously so that someone could remember me.

Maybe I just have one of those faces?


And Sometimes, I [feel uncomfortable] Being American

Really, I do love America. And I love being American. I have limitless opportunities, my country is a world power, and as an American, I can do almost anything I want.

And this is where the problem lies.

When I talk to people in Jordan about living in Jerusalem and travelling and ask if they have travelled to Jerusalem (1 hour away from Amman), most of them say no. It is too hard for Arabs to get through the checkpoints. And the Israelis don't have to let anyone in if they don't want to.

As we crossed the border from Jordan into Israel, our American tour bus whizzed past lines of cars waiting to cross, because we are American and get special privileges--and some of those cars had been waiting since early in the morning to be the first across when the border opens at 8 am. And then going through the checkpoint on the Israel side, we lined up in our own special room to go through the metal detectors and have our passports checked, while in another room, the Palestinians were crammed together, hoping to get through the checkpoint before it closed at 4 pm for Shabbat.

As much as I love special privileges, sometimes it makes the bile rise up in my throat. And I wonder what it would be like to go through a checkpoint every day to get to school. I wonder what it would be like to send my children to elementary school or junior high knowing that they had to cross a checkpoint to get there, and they may or may not get across.

As much as I love both the Israelis and the Palestinians, sometimes even I am aware of the discrepency in treatment that is given because of the country on your passport.

And for this reason, sometimes I [feel uncomfortable] being American.

(PS, I recently changed the title of this post. I really do love being American. But it does make me feel awkward and awful that I get special treatment when others are suffering. But I hate suffering, too. There is just no way to win with me.)


Back "Home"

Dear Friends, I have returned home. Not home to the America, but home to the Holy Land--the part on the other side of the river. After gazing across to Israel for the past two months, I have finally returned to the land of my forefathers. :) (Ok, sorry, I will stop the Zionist talk now. But I really do feel like I have come home.)

One year and two months later, not much has changed in the thousands year old city of Jerusalem. Except now I can understand the Arabic. It is really exciting to walk around the streets and know what people are saying. Plus, my ability to read Hebrew totaly gives me an advantage. :)

We are going to all of the same places to which I have already been, and it is fun to know everything (yes, clearly as an ANES major who lived here last year I know everything about every site :) and to experience it all again. And in two more months, my parents come over, and I will give them a tour of my places of residence in the last year and a half. (If anyone ever wants a tour of Provo, just let me know.)

Special experiences so far? Many people remembered me. I walked into my hotel and saw Omar, the olive wood carver. I got to know him pretty well last year, so I walked up to him and asked "do you remember me?" Except this time, it was in Arabic. And you know what? He did! And at the Jerusalem Center, the guards at the front recognized me when I walked in, and the Huntingtons (who were over with my group as a professor/wife) were there, as well as my friend Besan from Ramallah (who was at BYU this past year) and a few other people I recognized. And about 10 girls from Women's Chorus who are students at the Jerusalem Center this term, all of whom recognized me. I guess I forget what a small world BYU is.

Finally, (and here I may be bordering on Zionist talk, but it doesn't count because I study Arabic, right?) I really do feel like this land flows in my blood. As much as I was loving Jordan, this land feels like home. And it did from the first day I arrived. And I am pretty sure that every time I come to Jerusalem, I will be coming home.


Amazing Grace

The other night I watched the movie Amazing Grace. In addition to being a nice break from Arabic (although I did keep it subtitled in Arabic and read it for most of the movie--even I occasionally like English things), it reminded me of why I am here, why I am studying Arabic, and especially of what I feel is my Arabic mission.

According to a previous post, I feel the desire to change the world. I actually saw a lot of similarities between myself and Wilberforce, the main character in Amazing Grace--the fact that I get so busy with my work that my body falls apart (my favorite line in the movie? "He doesn't think he has a body. He thinks he is a disembodied spirit!" --said to the doctor when he was telling Wilberforce to not work so hard), "finding God" and wishing for a life of solitude, but realizing that you can serve God and change the world at the same time, etc. In short, I was incredibly touched by the movie, and was reminded of my purpose.

(Sorry, time for class. I will work hard to publish this before any of you wake up.)
(Sorry, guess I didn't work hard enough. Now I am in Israel and this post might not get done for a couple of days. Deal.)

Now, for those who keep up on my blog, my purpose, two weeks after the original post:

Most of the time when I meet new Arabs and talk to them (this happens daily), they ask me why I am studying Arabic. This question is almost inevitable--why study this crazy language? I know many people who study Arabic want to work for the government, but if you remember, I want to write a book and change the world.


So this is the story I tell everyone (in my somewhat broken Arabic):

I lived in Jerusalem last year. While I was there, I finally saw Arabs, and especially Palestinians, as real people, not just terrorists represented in the news. There are a lot of bad ideas about Palestinians in America, and I want to write about book about Palestinian women--their lives and their dreams and their children. I want to show the world that Palestinians have dreams for a peaceful world for their children just like everyone else.

Basically, I want to change the opinion of Americans about Palestinians, especially Palestinian women.

It might sound somewhat gramatically awkward in the English, but this is the translation from what I say in Arabic, more or less.

Whenever I tell the people (and especially the girls) here this, they ask, "Why do Americans think Arabs are terrorists?" I look at them with their beautiful hijabs, fashionable (although rather heavy) makeup, long dress/overcoat type things over their clothes even in the heat (which is rather intense here), and their innocent faces, and say truthfully, "I don't know."

Call it the fault of the news, call it the fault of September 11th and terrorists who are Arabs, or call it the fault of a fearful and uninformed nation, but something is missing in the communication to the world about our wonderful Arab brothers and sisters.

And this is my own "Amazing Grace" mission. I, too, once was "lost" in my knowledge about Arabs, but now after living with them (twice, in two different countries), working with them, and laughing and loving with them, now I am found and now I see.

And perhaps someday I will help change the world. But first, a year and a half in Taiwan, preaching the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

And then...who knows. If I ever do write my book, I will definitely post it on my blog.

Hints for Sick Travellers

(Warning: this post is about illnesses and might be too graphic for the faint of heart--or stomach)

Having recently recovered from a rather severe but short illness, I now feel that I have experienced enough "Middle East sickness" to give hints for future sick travellers. My first illness in Egypt was a mix of food poisoning and the curse of the Nile, and my second illness was a rather nasty virus that has been moving around Amman and that took most of my family here out for a couple of days. (For example, I was so sick that within ten minutes of drinking anything, I would throw it all up, rather violently, and this was even after I had thrown up several times and emptied my stomach of all food that had previously resided therein. I was so sick I could hardly walk the 20 meters from my room to the bathroom. Sorry for being so graphic.)

Therefore, I thought I would give hints for future travellers who would like to avoid, as much as possible, illnesses that come naturally from eating street food and living in a different country.

First of all, I don't drink Coke, or anything caffinated, in the America. I just don't. I call it part of my religion, although I know there are plenty of Mormons that will tell me that the General Authorities drink Coke. I don't care. I don't.

In the Middle East, however, it is a wonderful idea to drink Coke with your street meals. When I lived in Houston, we would use Coke to clean our toilets, because it eats away at anything in its path and completely destroys the mold in about an hour.

And this is what it does to your stomach. You can see that this might be harmful, except that when you eat street food, Coke cleans out your stomach wonderfully. At the very least, it is a good idea to drink something with carbonation, like the wonderful orange Mirinda drink that is abundant here. This helps prevent upset stomachs, and the coke syrup eats away at germs and bacteria.

If you do get sick and can't keep food in in any way, Coke is also another wonderful idea. After your stomach has been emptied and you have lost all sources of nutrients, Gatorade or electrolytes (you can get them in packets here and put them in your water bottle) help immensely. However, if you really can't keep anything in your stomach, drink Coke slowly. Like take at least 15 minutes to drink a can of it.

And then let it sit.

Several hours later, try a little bit of bread. If you can't keep this down (I have found pitas are the best), go back to just Coke. But if you can keep it down, gradually work your way up to other foods. Avoid meat for at least 24 hours after you have kept your bread down.

Above all, make sure you drink enough water so you don't get dehydrated. This is incredibly important.

Finally, I have also been told that "lebene" is excellent for sick people. My family gave me quite a bit when I was sick--but I hate lebene. It is like liquid cream cheese with lemon juice in it, and I can hardly swallow it when I am not violently throwing up. However, it seemed to help others in my family--mine just went straight down the sink, instead of sitting in my stomach for 10 minutes before going into the sink.

Oh, and make sure you have plenty of toilet paper. Carry it with you in your purse, buy kleenexes (or Fine) from the street sellers, or do whatever you want. Sometimes the "toilet hoses" just don't cut it when you are ill.

A Second Love

For the past couple of weeks I have been enjoying Jordan but upset that it wasn't Egypt. We all know about how I fell in love with that country, germs, nargileh, cockroaches, and all, and Jordan is just way too Westernized for me. Way too many people speak English, and I live in a rich neighborhood, with no problems of overcrowding or horse carts in the middle of traffic. Basically, it was not exotic enough for me.

However, last week I went with my roommate (not from BYU) to Wasat-Al-Balad--the closet thing to an "old city" that Jordan can get. It is full of overcrowding, hassling men, sketchy sidewalk restaurants, fresh juice shops, and plenty of old windows. In short, it is very much the Middle East.

And then the other day I was walking through my rich neighborhood, enjoying the evening, when I almost stumbled onto a Bedoin tent.

In the middle of the neighborhood.

I am not sure what it was doing there, but they had sheep in a sheep pen and everything.

I guess I have enough love in my heart for Jordan as well as Egypt and Jerusalem!

My roommate and I at the great restaurant, Hashem. This is where I said I was from Germany and she said she was from Turkey.

This is the day I got my mission call. I am a little excited, can you tell?

On being a different nationality

When I lived in Israel, I could often pass off as being native—most of the time native Israeli, but occasionally Palestinian (I can totally pass if off in a hijab). Whenever I was not in close proximity to other Americans, all of the Israelis would speak to me in Hebrew—which was fun until it came time to answer back, at which time I just smiled at them and tried to spit out some Biblical Hebrew.

However, I really don’t look like a native in Jordan. Maybe if my Arabic was better I could pass off as being Syrian, or as being a half-breed, with my father being Arab and my mother being something else. But mostly, I just don’t look Arab.

Apparently, however, I also don’t look American. Again, whenever I am not in close proximity to other Americans, people try to guess my nationality. Russia and France are the two top choices, although I usually choose Germany when they ask where I am from.

Before you judge me too harshly for telling a non-truth about my place of origin, let me suggest that I am sure I have German blood somewhere in me, and also it is much safer to be a woman from a country other than America—because not only do the taxi drivers want to practice their English, they also want a Green Card!

In Egypt, I told people all the time that I was from Germany. It was quite easy for them to believe it, and most of them did not speak much English. I found I was much less interesting and attractive as a German or Russian than an American.

I have two favorite stories about this from Egypt. The first was when myself and another girl (Gini, who also could look French) were walking down a street in Cairo. We were approaching the French Embassy, just talking with each other, when I saw the guards begin opening the gate for us. They weren’t even going to ask us if we were French! We didn’t even ask them to open the gate! This was when I knew I could pull off this nationality switch.

The second comes from a time when this same girl, myself, and another guy from the group went to a koshri restaurant in Cairo. We spoke to the waiters only in Arabic, and I didn’t think they knew much English (although when I was trying to explain that I wanted a “doggie bag” in Arabic, the guy finally understood and said, (in Arabic) “oh, you want a “boox” (that word in English—I guess you had to be there for it to be funny)). So when the waiter asked where we were from, I naturally told him that we were from Germany. He was shocked and said, “Wow! Wow!” Naturally I agreed with him, pretending that Germany was pretty much the most amazing country to have as my place of origin.

Gini heard, but apparently my friend Griffin didn’t, and the waiter went over to talk to him and told him, “You guys speak English really good!” Griffin was insulted and wondered if that was a reflection on his poor Arabic or something, but I elbowed him and told him not to blow our cover, since I had told the waiter we were from Germany. We laughed about that one for at least two weeks.

Here in Jordan, however, I only pull out the “Germany/Russia” card if I feel that my safety would be threatened by being from America—namely, when I am not in close proximity with other Americans. I am, after all, a female in an Arab country, and I feel justified in saying whatever I want to preserve my safety. (A note to fellow female travelers in Arab countries—it is always best to be engaged or married and from a country different than America—even if you are not. Especially if you don’t have a guy with you. Trust me on this one.)

However, I don’t even have to suggest it. People just assume that I am from these different countries. For example, the other day I walked into a copy shop, and one of the women in there said, “Are you from Germany?” As she was a woman, I told her that I was from America. (Side note—she was a doctor in Criminology and studied battered women in the Middle East. Very cool.) And then a couple of days ago, my taxi driver asked me if I was Russian. When I told him no, he asked if my father was Arab (although I am not quite sure how those two connect…).

However, I have found that I can get in trouble for pulling random countries out of the air whose language I do not speak and to which I have never even traveled, let alone lived. For example, the other day I was at a restaurant in downtown Amman with my American roommate. The guy asked where we were from, and I told him that I was from Germany, while she said that she was from Turkey (her fiancé is Turkish). He asked me where in Germany, and I randomly said Berlin. Turns out he had been to Germany six times, but never to Berlin, thankfully! And then as I was leaving, he almost introduced me to other patrons who were also from Germany!

Maybe I should try Iceland…



Dear friends, I received my mission call.

I am going to Taiwan Taipei, speaking Mandarin, and I leave September 17!

I was shocked and delighted at how fast my call came. It came a week and a half after I sent my papers in!

I was also shocked and delighted when I saw that I am going to Taiwan. My main guesses were Russia or Germany, and no one guessed Taiwan! I think the closest was Tina, who guessed Hong Kong.

I am so excited to serve the Lord. My mission call says, "Your purpose will be to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and HIs Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. As you serve with all your heart, might, and strength, the Lord will lead you to those who are prepared to be baptized. The Lord will reward you for the goodness of your life. Greater blessings and more happiness that you have yet experienced await you as you hombly and prayerfully serve the Lord in this labor of love among His children. We place in you our confidence and pray that the Lord will help you become an effective missionary."

Knowing that President Monson has placed his trust in me makes me even more anxious to be worthy and ready to serve the Lord. What an exciting time!

And how exciting to start learning Mandarin 20 days after I stop learning Arabic!

Transportation and Overcrowding

One nice thing about Egypt is that traffic laws aren’t really enforced. Since there is limited space, a lot of people, and a lot of cars, you do what you can in terms of parking, driving, and even crowding into taxis and other public transportation vehicles. Everywhere I went I saw people double, triple, and even quadruple parked. I heard a rumor, and I am sure it is true, that when people double park, they leave their cars in neutral, so if the person next to them needs to get out, they can just push their car back or forward and then leave. I actually saw this happening several times and wondered at the inconvenience resourcefulness can cause.

In terms of driving, I think I already posted about this in one of my flashbacks, but people don’t really stay in their lanes. Actually, lanes don’t really exist. There are as many lanes as you can fit cars across, and that often changes on the same road. Thankfully I was never in an accident while I was there, nor did I witness any, but I am not sure how they get around driving and parking so close to each other.

Another thing is that the roads are like a free-for-all. There are thousands of breaking-down taxis, fast moving cars, and large busses, like you might expect, but also horse-drawn carts and people everywhere. Everyone just shares the road. (Even though there were so many cars in Cairo, it was easier to cross the road there than here in Amman because people expected you to walk across the road dodging cars. It was normal to see people standing in the middle of the streets, walking between fast moving cars.)

My favorite part of the overcrowding, though, was the fact that we could fit so many people into small vehicles and thus pay much less. Although I was never in a taxi with more than six people, one day a large group of us (24 to be exact) were in Alexandria. To save a bunch of money, we flagged down a large van (called a micro) and stuffed all of us inside.

All 24 of us.

On the way down, we grabbed another micro, and all of us piled in again. The door didn’t close on this one, so one guy stood in the doorway, blocking me from falling out (thank you Jason) as I was sitting next to the door, and people were standing and sitting on top of each other.

This is us piling out of the van. Yes, all 24 of us fit in that.

Finally, when we flew into the airport in Amman, due to some bad planning on someone up high in the administration’s part, we only had one bus waiting for us instead of two. We stuffed all of our luggage under the bus, and what was left we piled into the aisle, sat three to a seat, and had people standing in the stairways and the aisle.

I guess I am getting over my claustrophobia!
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