Saturday, June 11, 2016

Petra - Kingdom of Nabateans

Just before Indiana Jones found "the Treasury", he may have found our able teacher-guide, Mr. Abdullah, in one of the thousands of crevices in the Siq (canyon into the hidden city of Petra). A great hike through the ancient city of limestone temples, which honor many ancient cultures - Greek, Roman, Egyptian, pre-Islamic Arabia, Assyrians ... Talk about respect for diversity and multiple faith traditions! The Nabateans clearly had that. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ramadan Kariim!!

It was just announced that Ramadan officially starts tomorrow, Monday. Here is a sweet message we received from our host partner, Qasid Institute. 

Dear Denis Sullivan,

With the arrival of the month of Ramadan, we will preview changes to the daily routine in Jordan (and throughout the world).

Of the most visible changes will be that nearly all markets  and restaurants are closed for most of the day.   Eating, drinking (and smoking) publicly also become essentially unlawful in light of the fast being observed by over ninety percent of the people.  At sunset, however, city life reawakens in full.  Mosques overflow in the evenings.   Invitations to festive dinners from neighbors, family and friends are common.   

Whether you are observing the sacred month or not, we invite you to enjoy the climate of personal purification and social good will and hospitality it entails.   

Here at Qasid, we will provide a room available throughout the day for those not fasting to eat and drink, comfortably. 

Thank you,

Qasid Institute

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Day with Syrian refugees - outside Za'atari refugee camp and informal farming collective

Friday, the holy day of the week here in Jordan (as with most Arab/Muslim societies), we filled our day with Syrians (all refugees; some working as farm laborers) in the northern Badia (Bedouin, semi-arid region of Jordan).

We started outside the famous/infamous Za'atari refugee camp and the "Freedom Wall" that has become a site where many supporters of the refugees come to write their hopes and dreams on the wall.

Our guide was Ms. Dema Al-Aoun (similar name as our president, Joseph Aoun), a human rights lawyer and someone whose family sponsors nearly 500 Syrian refugees in a system that enables the Syrians to work (legally) as farmers.

After the Freedom Wall, we went to Dema's family farm, met her father (former Brigadier General in Jordan's army, and a successful pediatrician in Amman), and then went to the farm where we met with the leader of these 500 Syrians (an elderly Syrian woman, a "Sheikha" from a rural area of Aleppo, in northern Syria).

We heard about the lives of single mothers, migrant laborers, and the burgeoning population of children in this community.  In one tent, over 50 small children (ages 2-8) met with our students, all of whom brought toys to give to the children.  We also brought face paints (per Dema's suggestion) and sure enough, this was one of the highlights for the kids!  Plus of course the "futbols" (soccer balls).

It was an education; a fun day; a difficult and challenging day, emotionally if not also physically for some.  A great success, all around.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Women, Islam, and Politics in Jordan: Professor Abad Al Saud

Dr. Abad Al Saud brought her life experiences to our students today in Amman.  Dr. Abad was the youngest woman ever elected to the Jordanian Parliament.  She is a professor, and a former Dean, at Islamic University in Amman.  She spoke about women in Islam, women in politics, women in Jordanian society and as business leaders.

Dr. Abad spoke entirely in Arabic, with frequent phrases in English; my friend and brother Nidal translated throughout the lecture as well as the discussion.

Our students were well informed about women's issues (and general political issues), with questions ranging from the quota for women in Jordanian Parliament ("do you favor the quota system?") to her view of Western Feminists and Feminism ("I find a lot of common ground, but also women working at cross-purposes across the globe.") to her view of the role of religion in American politics and questions of violence against women and sexual harassment in Jordan -- what are the reasons behind it, and what are the solutions ("religious or political").  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 25: Happy Independence Day, Jordan! 70 years of Independence from Britain

In celebration, our dear volunteer, Ms. Aya Nidal Zannad, gave all of us a red "kefiyah scarf" to wear, in solidarity with our hosts, the Jordanian people.  Here we are in 'Umm Jimal, "Mother of Beauty", in northern Jordan, near Za'atari refugee camp and outside of the city of Mafraq. This is an ancient Roman city, also part of Byzantine Empire and later the Ottoman Empire. The city was built out of volcanic rock.

Below, our host Sheikh Khaled (Sheikh/leader of a local tribe in Mafraq) hosted us at his brother's farm, and then at his own house, where his wife prepared an amazing "light meal" (not light) for us to enjoy.  the Sheikh also taught us about his role as tribal leader, marriage counselor, dispute resolver, and otherwise problem-solver for issues (large and small) that affect his 18,000 tribal members.

"I can see Syria from my mound!"
Below, students are channeling Sarah Palin by pointing to the distant Syrian village beyond the northern border of Jordan.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

(Remember me?) Back in Amman, Jordan Dialogue 2016

'been a long time without posting ... time to get back in the game!

I'm in Amman with students on my "Jordan Dialogue 2016"!  Had to stop in Beirut (thanks APSA-MENA!), prior to joining up with my group here in Amman.  I want to give a shout-out to Mr. Charles, Ms. FaHu, and Lt. Briskin plus the inimitable Dr. Shakir for leading the group here ahead of me.

Now we're all together and my first day with everyone was a trip to Ajloun Castle after they all toured Jerash ... Note - I was standing right in front of this group, but they insisted on using the selfie stick!  And I found a kindred spirit with a nearly matching hat.  Plus, a non-selfie with the amazing Farhana.

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Ajloun Castle - built by nephew of Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin), in AD 1184-1185. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Syrian refugees in northern Jordan

We've been in Jordan now for over a week; it's been a crazy-busy 8-9 days already: orienting students to Amman and Jordan and their Homestays; starting Arabic classes; guest lectures; and a quick trip to the Dead Sea as well.

Yesterday, we visited a Syrian refugee community of around 200 people in the north of Jordan, near Mafraq.  We were asked to set up a "community center" in the form of a UNHCR ("UN Refugee agency") tent.  It was a simple task, given the eagerness of so many NU and Project GO students.  We accomplished it in less than an hour - and our students were asking to do more ... "what next?" they asked, hoping that we could contribute even more than we just did.  But that was it - the Syrians have so little already, and our efforts were so minimal, yet the end result is a nice tent for young kids to hang out and play, draw, or do whatever they and their parents want them to do.

After our visit to the informal camp, including several visits inside the "tent homes" of several different Syrian families, we had a debrief at Mr. Jihad Al-Tabini's home outside Mafraq.  Jihad is the brother of Dr. Raed, our host at SIT.  Jihad is the one who organized the whole day, and we asked him to tell us what more we can do, what more we can give, to this community.

The students are eager to come back a few times in the next few weeks so that we can establish even more of a dialogue with these families, and so that we can offer our help even more than we have so far.  Let us hope we can give them more - and let's hope that it is what they want, not just what we want to give - but what they need us to give.

Here are a few pics of our efforts: