April 29, 2007: Petra
I just came back from two days in Petra. Just spectacular. Obviously, the “Rose City” was beautiful, a city created by destruction, carving into the steep cliffs and discarding material. Warned by friends that it would be crowded during the day, I entered the park at opening time, walking through the siq, the thin cavern opening onto the city alone with only sounds of my heels crunching the dust.
And so, by mid-morning, I had seen the entire city and embarked alone to climb Jebel Haroun, Mount Aaron, where Moses’ brother Aaron died and still lies. Rambling through the desert, generally not in sight of a path, climbing up the steep slopes, basking under the large sky. I passed small Bedouin campsites, some permanent with concrete and clotheslines, some only ratted tents flapping in the dust-ridden wind. A herd of sheep meandered by, unconcerned with my presence; a small animal’s skull lying in a dry riverbed, it bleached to perfection, me grateful for packing extra water.
The ascent was rigorous and perfectly so, only occasionally marked by small stacks of stones, but constantly headed toward the ubiquitous white shrine that dotted the peak in the distance. Aaron’s grave.
Arriving at the top afforded a magnificent, clouded view of the region so central to millennia of histories, both mine and my many brothers. Peaceful and humble in this extravagant setting, the whitewashed shrine declared nothing, decorated only with a single crescent sitting atop its dome. Simple, ineffable – this place has weightiness.
I disembarked, trekking down the hill without that final longing glance. Sharing tea and smoking argilah with Bedouins until dusk settled in the valley; watching the first stars wink into existence and recognizing the end of Shabbes; silently recalling traditional havdalah tunes to give thanks for another week of life. And, tomorrow, a return bus to Amman and to purposeful application.
May 2, 2007
Today we were able to clarify my role with Partners-Jordan. It appears my work will be threefold: develop a three-year strategic plan for the organization; assist the production of a networking event for civil society organizations and the Jordanian Parliament; and provide services and trainings to build the internal capacity of Partners-Jordan. Another way to view it is: managerial long-term planning; programmatic design; and skill-building. A good survey of the not-for-profit world, I hope.
May 5, 2007
Today was the first day of a five-day communication and leadership training in Aqaba, a south Jordanian city that lies on the Red Sea. Unfortunately my role will be limited because the training is in Arabic; however, I am looking to be involved as an advisor for informal discussions during meals and other breaks. I also see myself being helpful with the trainers, both in being a sounding board for the participants’ ideas and concerns as well as providing tips from Insight’s arsenal.
Anyway, I found myself at one break speaking with three members of the Jordanian Ministry for Political Development, a ministry that apparently does not exist anywhere else in the world. It was a great conversation to investigate their interests – personally and as representatives of the ministry – and start thinking of ways to work with them in the future, either through Partners-Jordan or Insight. I definitely see a potential connection here; it will be a fun challenge to see if I can make that happen.
May 6, 2007
Over the summer, I prepared greatly for the “Pepulator” game, a pricing exercise that we use to discuss negotiation skills and mindsets. I thought it was a big deal to run part of the program, making announcements and working with half of the group. And it was, especially when the concepts were new to me.
But doing that same work in Arabic – or some rough approximation you might term “Arabgleezy” (Arabi plus Engleezy) – was the real challenge. It was fun, of course, because the exercise brings out so many emotions, thoughts, and personality types, whether in a room of American financial advisors or Jordanian non-profit directors. But it is certainly difficult to hold informal conversations about the exercise when our mutual vocabulary is so limited.
May 10, 2007
Like a sibling who won’t stay on the apportioned side of the car or who maliciously shows off his birthday gifts when yours won’t arrive for another eight months, I am confronted daily with the propane truck. That vile minister of spite continues to torment me with its tin ice-cream call. And my only responsive action is to sulk downstairs and buy another falafel sandwich.
May 11, 2007
I spent the day preparing surveys for the internal planning sessions I will be facilitating with Partners-Jordan staff and board members. I understand the importance of this work, but I recognize that I feel more worthwhile – and am certainly more productive – when I work directly with people, facilitating meetings or preparing through face-to-face conversations…
Tonight, I went to a hammam with a handful of friends of mine, all Americans. A hammam is a Turkish bathhouse, something that has to be experienced. After changing into a swimsuit, you shower briefly then enter a steam room, cuts above a simple sauna. The tiled walls, normally employed to keep houses cool, only served to reflect the steam imported through the vents above. It is so hot that you cannot sit up straight, you cannot look up to the ceiling, without burning your forehead, or ears, or nose. Just steam, heat. Beautiful.
After a cold shower, we plunged into a Jacuzzi and dry sauna before a scrub down, massage, and more showers. The dark room was lit only by a collection of dim metal lamps whose intersecting cubic shape cast its luminescence in geometric patterns, yellow on the beige walls. And we finished off the evening with mint tea and trash-talk over games of backgammon. What else would a handful of American guys do on a Friday night?
May 12, 2007: Reflections from an Amman Café
Sitting down at a table next to me is an elderly woman, hunched but spritely, the years of wearing a hijab clearly not a problem. In another setting, not in a café in Amman, but in the backwoods of Poland, or in New York City, the Yiddish babushka might be brought to mind. But not here. Shuffling over, her husband lags minutes behind, two-thirds suit and one-third body. The olive material is pressed and neat, tailored for a man a foot taller and years younger. If it were black, if we could call his wife bubbe, his crisply starched and bleached shirt would have clearly shown his religious dedication to another Abrahamic faith. But not here.
A young man, probably my age, walks by in traditional Jordanian garb: a white head-to-toe robe, a red-and-white keffiyyeh (headdress). He could easily be my brother. In some sense he is, the Semitic genes not diluted after so many generations and miles apart.
I have watched it before and consistently see it: the indescribable proximity of the people, the beliefs, the expressions of community and faith and generosity and love. Abraham’s children, Ishmael and Isaac: the mythological fathers to the Arabs and Jews. The Torah depicts Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac; the Qur’an describes the same with Ishmael. The progenicidal father, the boy-cum-patriarch saved by the personal intervention of God, the inevitable march of time to this point in history. And the incontrovertible recognition of holy victimization: it is I who is persecuted, who is God’s favored; I who am the direct recipient of destiny. (I do find it fascinating that both peoples mythically flourish only because the father is prevented from following through on his sacrifice; the only occurrence of a father who truly kills his son is God’s fated destruction of His Son, Jesus, in the Bible).
In addition to the religio-genetic linkages between Jews and Arabs, the psychological condition and tradition of righteous persecution is strong for the faiths. In the United States, we see only recently the power derived from persecution: numerous groups claim to be persecuted, shut out from power and mistreated. Only in the last forty years has this claim been advantageous in the U.S.; now, it seems almost to be en vogue to vie for the dubious honor of persecution.
And yet centuries of tradition, history, myth, and religion contributes to the beliefs of righteous persecution among Jews and Arab Muslims. The Jewish stories are well-known, from the multiple expulsions from the Holy Land to the Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogroms, and the Holocaust.
But what in Islam? Persecution runs from the first inception of the religion, when the Prophet Muhammad was disbelieved by the ruling Quraysh tribe, first simply looked upon as a crazy man and eventually forced to flee from Mecca with his small group of followers. Within Islam, the divide between Sunnis and Shi’ites stem from mutual persecution: the Shi’ite believe the right leader – caliph – following the death of the Prophet Muhammad should have been his cousin, ‘Ali; the majority Sunni followed the tribal leaders. Sunni and Shi’a kingdoms practiced mutual harassment, leaving the myth of righteous persecution strong in both strands, so strong that the 1979 Iran-Iraq war, thirteen hundred years later, employed the same rhetoric of uprightness and destiny.
And now the same persecuted mindset exists in Jordan, in Palestine, in Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, London and Detroit. The creation of Israel, or the disastrous capture of Palestine, only enhanced the perception of persecution, from checkpoints to McDonalds. The King of Jordan is loved but often criticized as being politically subservient to America, an emasculation of immense proportions in the Arab-Muslim mindset. Though the majority of styles and brands and movies are directly imported from the “West”, though the democratic reforms were derived through great pressures from America and Europe, though the theories and skills we utilize for conflict management trainings come from Americans and Jews, the sense of righteous persecution persists.
This is not to say the mentality is somehow illegitimate. One might wear Adidas clothes and eat McDonalds and still be angry with what one sees as the endless subjugation of Palestinians. Another might live in a wealthy family and still never quite feel safe with full assimilation into non-Jewish societies. In fact, this is probably a healthy, nuanced attitude: no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater and reject all things touched by the “West.” Or to reject all things connected to Islam or Arab culture. However, it is clear that the mindset of righteous persecution persists, both for Jews and for Arab Muslims.
The belief that Abraham, our celebrated fore-grandfather, nearly killed our forefather results in a mentality amalgamating survivalist strategies and recognition of destiny: I survived then, so I survive now, and I will continue to survive. I will persist, with patience and passionate righteousness.
May 16, 2007
Tonight my taxi driver, a twenty-two year-old Palestinian from Nablus, told me all about how his favorite drug was not, in fact, marijuana but actually ecstasy. His car pumped trance through the system so my heartbeat had no choice but to rave along. The pin-sized blue and violet lights dotting the inside of the car seriously impaired my ability to see the road; I couldn’t imagine what my driver could see through his light- and drug-induced haze. Just before we pulled up to my hotel, he told me all about his dream of running a home for children orphaned in the Iraq war.
May 22, 2007: Social Profit and Cause & Effect
I have known for a long time that I wish to work for the betterment of others, my primary goal being social profit. I traditionally thought of it as working for a non-governmental, non-profit organization (NGO). And now I recognize this can mean so much more: governments, international organizations, socially-conscious for-profit companies, and so on. It can mean working directly for the benefit of an individual, such as an E.R. doctor might; benefiting a larger group, such as a teacher would; or working to benefit masses, through government or an organization like the International Criminal Court.
For me, the choice is not whether I should prioritize social profit over financial profit (I do), but rather at what level can I be most effective. I love working face-to-face with beneficiaries as I did as a mediator in high school, and even previously in Gulu. The immediate changes, the immediate effects are so personally rewarding to me. And yet, I fear that I am not maximizing my effectiveness by working directly with individuals, for it greatly limits the number of people I can help. As a teenager, I wanted to be a teacher: effecting groups of children, year-in and year-out, seemed to be an effective way to help students individually while touching on many lives. Meanwhile, I am also attracted to large-scale systemic changes that effect large numbers of people.
What I’ve noticed is my assumption that the intensity of my potential help lies in a zero-sum game with the number of people affected. In other words, I take for granted that depth and breadth of change are inherently opposed.
One of the first lessons I learned at Insight is that things are rarely, if ever, zero-sum. If we see depth as a psychologist working with a single child, and breadth as broad, systemic governmental policies, then it is easy to view the two on a single axis. To separate them effectively requires a willingness to search for creative solutions to meet both interests, depth and breadth. An example of this is recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus and other low-interest microfinance entrepreneurs seeing an opportunity to affect a mass of individuals deeply.
The other side of this issue regards my attitude. When I say I want to be as effective as possible, my underlying interests are to maximize the number of people I affect and to maximize the quality of their experience. This reflects on my own values: rather than simply offering a smile and handshake to an IDP in Gulu, I want to help that person rebuild their home, plant new crops, and cope with the psychological effects of the war. And do that for each of the 1.7 million IDPs in Uganda.
Today, 2005 Insight Fellow Dan Green and I had a short chat online that was surprisingly deep, given the medium. We’re in similar places in our lives, trying to discern our future directions and what role we want to play in the world. Dan put it eloquently: “I want to see change, but change on a bigger front than most people like to see it. At the same time, I don’t see myself working for a massive organization because I need to see real, tangible progress.”
This leads to a few thoughts: first, why is it important to see tangible results? What is our interest in doing so? This may be ingrained in Dan and I, but I also think it comes from a healthy skepticism about most large-scale projects, even ones in which we are involved. It is generally thought that any project claiming to affect the lives of millions is ripe for overblown claims, negative side-effects, waste and corruption within the project (many government programs come to mind here). Tangible results, then, may be the most effective (albeit not necessarily the most efficient) way to guard against such common pitfalls.
Moving past “Why?” I think about the “What?” of tangible results. What are we really looking for? Our purpose is to do “good”, as much of it as possible (depth and breadth). We need concrete products to justify our efforts. So the justification process is really an evaluation of our work as causing positive effects.
Certainly, large-scale organizations undertake evaluations of their programs. I took part in this in Northern Uganda with USAID’s programs; there were certainly issues with the programs as well as the evaluation itself, which had to measure output, not impact. But how often do individuals undertake this process? Are there individuals in USAID who are responsible for the programs in Northern Uganda but cannot trace a direct line of cause-and-effect between their efforts and the impact in central Africa?
Of course there are people like this; the majority of USAID employees are based in Washington, D.C. and are never face-to-face with the results of their labor. For me, this is where the seeds of dissatisfaction sprout. If I do not feel effective in my role, how can I continue to feel worthwhile? In “Beyond Reason,” Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro describe three qualities of a fulfilling role: it has a clear purpose; it is personally meaningful; and it is not a pretense. In my opinion, underlying all these is the need to feel effective, the need to feel worthwhile. If my role has a purpose, it must result in positive effects. If my role in the social profit world is meaningful, it must result in the betterment of people. And if it is a real role, it will have real effects.
And so I return to where I started, thinking about how and where I will guide myself. It is not an answer, I still have not found north on the compass. But it is another piece to the puzzle, acknowledging my desire for clear lines of cause-and-effect in my work. How to create these pathways? Another thought for another day.
May 25, 2007
Last night, my colleague and I went to a farewell reception for the British Embassy’s Political Attache, who had worked here for over four years. It was a pleasant event, albeit overly formal, based on Jordanian culture.
Since the reception, I had the chance to envision myself in a similar role, working for an American embassy in Jordan or some other place. I’ve long been interested in the Foreign Service, a situation which seems like I could serve my country constructively while having a real impact on peoples’ lives. Government, of course, can be difficult to work creatively within, difficult to draw a direct line of cause-and-effect…
There are parts of that life that are attractive, and parts that are not. I do wonder, though, if there aren’t more creative situations to explore, new ways to address the systems… And yet, numerous leaders, moral exemplars, I have always admired, call for individual responsibility and action. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela all called for us to seek out truth, alone or through organizations, and to act upon it: “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (Gandhi). A call from an individual who proved that can happen, that an individual can change the world forever…
May 30, 2007
After another tiring day, it was not the best situation to be in: attempting to find a taxi shortly after midnight on a deserted street in the balad, the downtown area that marks the line between upper-class West Amman and poverty- and refugee-stricken East Amman. Not that I have ever felt unsafe here; more that I felt I ought to feel unsafe.
When I was picked up, I was in no shape to bargain; this ride was going to cost me at least twice what I ought to pay. Meters after 11:00 pm are technically still in use; in practice, everyone knows they will be used just as little as seat belts during any part of the day. Because of that, I was determined to get a good story from my driver. Instead, he did me one better and showed me a video.
Two videos, in fact, on his cell phone, with dim light and strong pixilation. The first one glorified Saddam Hussein, splicing cuts of his speeches with majestic portraits of his gleaming smile and immaculate general’s uniform, medals on his breast and beret perched jauntily atop his head. Small pink hearts traversed the screen to ensure this glorification was nauseatingly inappropriate.
What led to this was his insistence that he loved Americans. He mistook me for Syrian, then Moroccan, then Dutch. He was not surprised to find eventually that I am American but, like everyone here, assumed I had Arab blood. We communicated as I do here often, with my ill-recollected Arabic and his taxi-driver’s minimal but working grasp of English.
But the Jordanian driver, Mahmoud, insisted he loves Americans. We are good people; he has no quarrels with me, or my family, or my friends. But what happens when we have quarrels with him, with his family, with his friends and neighbors and brothers?
Mahmoud loves Americans. If we had wanted to fight Iran, those Shi’ites over there, he would have marched alongside us. He illustrated his commitment by taking his hands off the wheel and emulating the rat-tat-tat of machine-gun fire. I stopped myself from simultaneously steadying the wheel and bailing through the door at however many kilometers rushed by us per hour. Doing neither, I continued to listen: he would have marched with the Americans, would have fought alongside. He has no quarrels with me or other Americans.
And this is where the first video was shown, a decorated dictator with hearts haloing his head. When Americans attacked Saddam, he hated the American government. Saddam was the beacon for Sunni Muslims, a power to which they yearned. Leadership and strength not against Americans but indifferent to them, he insisted; simply pure, raw power. He could hardly be bothered to shift his eyes from the phone to the road, as if the real safety lay embedded in that square inch of pixels.
The second video was not so glorifying, not so cute, not so propagandistic. It showed the hanging of President Saddam Hussein. His somber suit over a crisp white shirt, his beard neatly trimmed. Saddam’s face and the noose slipped around his neck were the only visible objects in the dim lighting. A prayer was said, some men shouted, and Saddam snapped down. The end.
I had never seen anyone die, and never even seen a video of someone dying, at least not so personally. I was sick for the waste of life but not for Hussein. For the physical devastation imposed upon populations. For the political damage of alienating thousands, millions of Muslims who were positive toward, or at least indifferent to, the United States. For the psychological damage of those dealing with death.
If I were tempted to draw a foreign policy conclusion I would reiterate the same comments made by millions: that combating terrorism is necessary; that it is idiotic to treat only the violent symptoms and not the underlying concerns, causes, and interests; that our foreign policy has made the world a more dangerous place. But I’m not tempted to do that, certainly because I could not argue for it more logically or factually than others. No, for now, I wallow in the experience: Saddam as hero. America not wearing the hero’s cap or villain’s mask, but a new, strange place: the seat of indifference.
There is little more dangerous than a myth. It is mythology that incites the strongest emotions, powers the greatest revolutions. Mythology was a great factor in the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. In Serbia, Milosovic utilized the myth of 1389 and its six-hundredth anniversary to power genocide. Myths are difficult to create and moreso to break. And yet, create a myth, is exactly what we have done. Saddam will never be remembered as a tyrant; only the strong, Sunni man that the Americans murdered on Eid al-Fitr, a main Muslim holiday.
Saddam the hero, America the nonexistent. This is truly a different place.
June 1, 2007
Tomorrow I’m providing a Training of Trainers (ToT) that I prepared. There should only be about eight people at the training, but they all know the basic material. That means there will be no sure-fire impact of a group of classic exercises and stories; it also means I had to construct a program specifically for today. I’m only a little nervous – at this point, at least – not because of a workshop but because it’s a strange conglomeration of material: negotiation framework in the morning; difficult tactics and facilitation exercises in the afternoon. I decided to call the day a “Refresher Workshop” to emphasize this is not going to be groundbreaking exercises but rather a way to push the skills they currently have. At the least, they will be a friendly group; I can have some fun, play with their comments, push their participation.
I’m excited about the day, having a chance to stand at the front of the room, utilize my skills and, hopefully, have some good thoughts and ideas come out of the day.
And just in case things go downhill, I bought some sweets at the market tonight to use as a reward!
June 2, 2007: Training.
I had a blast at the workshop today, leading a Training of Trainers (ToT) session for internal and external Partners’ trainers. Given their familiarity with certain ideas and the desire to practice facilitation, I designed a day that focused on the Seven Elements of Negotiations in the morning and moved on to discuss difficult tactics and facilitation exercises in the afternoon.
It was a long and ultimately satisfying day. I was a little slow in starting, in part because I was feeling out the participants’ level of familiarity with the subject, and because I was feeling out my own level of comfort with the material. It was also very fun to get another chance to deliver lectures and lead activities, especially – I have to admit – getting to act out the difficult tactics.
All went well, fortunately, and we were able to cover some good topics and have fun while doing it. I’m hoping to lead a few more before I leave, although that seems doubtful given the time and effort it takes. In any case, I feel the day was successful, meeting most of my goals.
On the way home from the office, I became lost in thought, quietly oblivious to all diversions around me. I allowed myself to gaze beyond the open window onto Amman’s stone buildings, orange with reflection of the setting sun, resting complimentary to the fading blue sky above, itself slowly wilting the afternoon’s light into dusk and, eventually, the depths of twilight. Far away, the horizon ceased to be the limit of my vision and flowered into that doorway through which all limitless possibilities grow.
June 3, 2007
It has been exactly one year since I arrived in Boston, wide eyed and expectant, unaware of what journey I was pursuing. Looking back to this time last year, it is easy to say I’ve changed but difficult to specify how. I can name certain skills I’ve learned, traits I’ve emphasized or worked to overcome, even changes in my mindset. And yet I think the most powerful changes, differences can’t be named. I will have to look forward to the reactions of my family and friends.
Before leaving my home in California, on this day one year ago, I printed Whitman’s exhilarating opening lines of “Song of the Open Road,” a celebration of the beautifully connected unknown, a celebration of exploration of the world and the self:
light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
And now I have travelled, and now I know the earth sufficient and perfect and awaiting work. And now I understand the final lines of the poem, those words calling, yearning for uprising, demanding company in personal, riotous exploration:
Allons! the road is
It is safe — I have tried it — my own feet have tried it well — be not detain’d!
Let the paper remain
on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Camerado, I give you
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
June 6, 2007
I spoke with my parents today regarding some potential work between Insight and their respective organizations. How strange it was to speak to them on a business level! I found everything about it changed, from the vocabulary we employed to our tones of voice. It’s fascinating to notice that the subject of our discussion, which involved business development, would cause us to unconsciously shift our manners completely.
June 8, 2007
In a bookstore with friends today, in between a Chinese dinner and cookie dessert, I found an old copy of “Getting to Yes,” alongside “Beyond Reason” and “Beyond Yes.” I quietly moved the copies onto the top shelf where they would be displayed more prominently. This is one book I am happy to evangelize.
June 10, 2007
Two men with sugary mint tea, smoking argila. One expels smoke with his head back, transfixed by the thick swirls and curls above. His colleague, slicked hair and dark stubbled cheeks, excitedly contesting the voice on the other side. The bright yellow tablecloth emblazoned with a sharp red Lipton Tea insignia. Two men speaking, one might even say arguing if one didn’t note the grins plastered across their faces; the first dimpled and gray, the second in jeans shorts and hazel eyes. An Egyptian man silently sings, woos his blonde beloved on the television while classical Arab soloist Fairouz echoes her loss throughout the patio.
June 11, 2007: Board Meeting
I facilitated a board meeting for Partners-Jordan today to procure ideas for the strategic planning document I’m putting together. Overall, the session was successful: we came up with a better sense of the mission of the organization as well as specific programs that might help move toward that ultimate goal. It was a good discussion for the board members to have, I believe, as it allowed them to clarify differences in opinion and brainstorm options that satisfied the differing interests.
It was not an easy session for me, in part because the members transitioned to Arabic frequently and in part because I had trouble reframing their comments. It was also rushed; their schedules were not such that we could entertain a discussion as full as a process-junky might like. In any case, it was an interesting day that provided me good ideas for putting together this plan.
June 13, 2007: Doha
I flew to Doha, the capital of Qatar, to meet up with Insight Partners Associate Emily Epstein, who running a workshop in Dubai over the last few days. Despite planning the whole adventure in one week, over email, we met up successfully. I think it was the first trip I’ve ever had where I did not talk to my travelling companions before seeing them in person, at the destination.
I’m hoping it will be a chance to explore regional nuances outside of Jordan, as well as spend time with someone from an Insight background who shares the same vocabulary, the same mindsets. And, of course, it is wonderful to see Emily in such a foreign setting!
June 15, 2007: Doha
Emily and I bargained our way through the souq (market) today, though with scant success, I’m afraid. It seems that our knowledge of negotiation theory was out of place when searching for sweets, spices, and traditional jewelry. In fact, we found that using difficult tactics was the most effective way to reduce the price in this setting, although there were clear limits: walking out of the stores, as with the good-cop bad-cop routine, were surprisingly useless. Not at all like in Morocco, where they would do anything to keep you in the store. I think the best tactic was Emily’s sequestering of specific amounts of cash, showing them all she had, and pleading with them – even though the final count used four currencies from three continents. I think it helped that she was one of a very few women to be without an abaya, the black full-body covering.
It was 107 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the day. It will be 110 tomorrow. I don’t understand how this city will grow into a major international metropolis with heat like this. And the irony of the situation is that, due in large part to the use of the oil that makes this place wealthy, the temperatures will continue to climb. When does a Gulf State develop the first fully-domed city?
June 17, 2007
I arrived back in Amman today in a sorry state: I had forgot to bring my Jordanian dinars in my carry-on, and so I had no way to buy a visa and re-enter the country. After negotiating with customs guards, I was able to run into the airport for a few minutes to use the ATM and withdraw funds. This was the second time I had entered a country on a provisional basis with the equivalent of a hall pass. I love travelling.
Coming back to the country, I felt comfortable nostalgia, as though this was my home. I didn’t realize how comfortable I have gotten here, in Amman. Like Gulu, it goes back to finding routine and a home even so far away from home. I’m also struck by how soon I will be leaving, in less than ten days; yet still so much work to do and experiences to have in the city.
First stop? The shawarma stand.
June 21, 2007
Packing tonight, I was struck that I am all but done with this journey. It seems almost unfathomable that I will be back among English-speaking populations in a few short days. It’s almost unfathomable to me.
June 22, 2007
One last Friday brunch with my Norwegian friend, Svein, turned into a suggestion that we head off to the Dead Sea. He had been there a few times; I had been there once but only years ago, on the Israeli side. We quickly rented a car and took off, swerving through the city like true Jordanians until we reached the roads overlooking the beautiful desert.
Arriving at the Dead Sea, we waded into the bitter, slimy water, slicing our feet on the sharp salt deposits below. As the salt concentration is so great, the wounds cauterized immediately. A few hours of floating and eye-stinging later, we watched the sun began its westward journey, leaving us to fend off the darkness.
Svein suggested we head a bit farther down the coast to where he heard there were some fresh-water springs. We spent the next two hours rambling through hot springs and waterfalls, rivulets and soaked stones, passing groups of Bedouin teenagers under the three-quarter moon. The purity of this water flowed in beautiful contrast to the Dead Sea, clean and cleansing.
We drove onward, sharing water and pumpkin seeds with a handful of Bedouins our age overlooking the whole region, and drinking mango juice from atop Mount Nebo, where Moses looked down upon that land he would never enter.
A brilliant way to spend a Friday night, the effects of internalizing certain attitudes encouraged by the Fellowship. I don’t know if I’ve ever said so frequently, “Sounds great, let’s do it!”
June 26, 2007: New York City
I arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport this afternoon, surprised to be surrounded suddenly by Americans after seeing so few for so long. Standing in line to enter one final country, I was struck by the differences: this was the first country where those standing in the “Citizens” line were as ethnically diverse as those in the “Visitors” line. I swelled with pride for my country; for our default of tolerance; for our belief in concepts like freedom and rights; for our ability to debate whether or not we actually are tolerant or free.
I’m sure that, over the next few weeks, I’ll face various forms of culture shock. But this experience has been far more than culture; this year will open me up for other types of shock, I’m sure. Already I’m aware of settling into my brother’s apartment and old patterns of relating, old mindsets, old habits of communication. I don’t hesitate to see “old” as inferior; rather, as less skilled and certainly less purposeful.
Going into this year, my major challenge was to open myself up to a different mode of thought: one of purposefulness and reflection, of inquiry before advocacy, of utilizing specific skills and techniques in all parts of my life. It was difficult, no doubt, but new situations and people provided the perfect stage to do so. Already, I can tell what my future challenges will be: translating those ideas into the world I’d gotten used to, the people I know, the “old” situations.
And thus I return to a new set of challenges, an urgent new beginning embedded within the life-long journey:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, who am I?
And, if not now, when?
— Rabbi Hillel