Amanda Ostuni in Jordan 2012

Reflections from a Journalism student in Jordan

A vacation for education: Looking back on my Jordanian ‘school’ days

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I’ve told you how and why I ended up spending 4 and a half weeks in Jordan. Now let me tell you what I got out of it.

“My task which I am trying to achieve is by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see. That–and no more, and it is everything.”
– Joseph Conrad

Through this post I will try to make you see and understand the wonder of Jordan and just how much I got out of it. But even a writer like Conrad can’t make you feel and see something as much as you would if it was your own experience, so I encourage you to reflect on a similar experience you’ve had or to go out and have your own because an experience like my time in Jordan builds your mind, your heart, your soul and there is no greater thing than that.

The Jordan Dialogue experience made me a better writer, gave me confidence in my career. I learned that even when I don’t know the place and don’t speak the language, I can put a story together. If I can do it in that scenario, I can do it anywhere. I received praise for my writing for a well-established, successful journalist. I learned I have a knack for copy-editing. I went into the trip fearing I was way in over my head but I now know, I’m better than I give myself credit for and since confidence is the key to success, that’s a lesson I really needed to learn.

My peers on the trip have made me notice things about myself and become a stronger person. When group dynamics led to someone being left out, I saw just how far I am willing to go to do the right thing and be kind to all- and when I wasn’t feeling great about where I fit in, I saw that I could have done more. I also realized I can’t be so fragile, I must not let people dictate how I feel about myself and ruin such a great experience. So I came out a stronger individual.

I also learned a great deal from the Jordanians we met, that gave us lectures, from my family there, from the things we saw.

Lesson 1: Magic is everywhere. We went to sight after sight that filled me with awe and inspiration. Traveling to these places are an adventure and I want to go on many more adventures around the world. My desire to see the world was enhanced more than ever.

Lesson 2: Stereotypes are never realistic. Folks back home, when they heard I was going to Jordan, made comments like don’t get blown up, say hi to the towel heads, they don’t like Americans or Christians. And people would hear Jordan but immediately lump it in with the Middle East and also say have fun in Israel. I knew before I left, based on those instances, that we really have a narrow-minded view of the Middle East and I am determined to change that. I would take up foreign correspondence just to get people to open their eyes and see how wrong they are to generalize. But once there, even kinder stereotypes that I had- that they would all be fully covered, they would all be praying all the time, they would live in weird houses or palaces- was wrong. Many people had houses just like you would find in the US. My host family almost never prayed. Everywhere you looked you would see someone in traditional garb and yet you would also see someone in jeans and a tight plain t-shirt with their face and hair fully visible. As to those who know worse stereotypes, people in Jordan love Americans- they just don’t love American politics- and there is no religious hatred between Muslims and Christians. It’s tense with Jews because of the Arab Israeli conflict, but in general they are a very tolerant, generous people.

Lesson 3: I’ve never been a follower of foreign affairs or politics. I want to be interested, I just never have been. A lot of things said at the lectures kind of went over my head but two things stuck with me. Perhaps because I am a sociologist major and also tend to want to see the good in humanity, but two issues in the Middle East discuss puzzled me intro interest. The identity issue of Arab people is one. It seems silly to me that they struggle so much and that it’s so hard and important for them to choose, accept, and proclaim whether they are Jordanian because they live there now, Palestine because that’s where their ancestors are from, Arab because that’s the proper identity for people of the whole region… the whole identity question seems unneccessarily complex. The other issue is the Palestine-Israeli conflict. I know there is a lot involved with this but to me it seems so simple. Why did Jews who were persecuted in some lands get their own country but Palestinians who now face the same kind of struggle, can’t get theirs. And why does the land that is holy to both religions have to be all or nothing. Why is it so impossible to simply share it? Since when do religions get to claim and own lands? These two issues have officially drawn me into the world of Middle East policy and I hope to one day write a book on them to understand it better myself and help others like me to understand.

This trip opened my eyes and improved my life in more ways than one. It is so incredibly important for people to live these types of experiences because the best way to end stereotypes, to unite people of the world, to understand the lives of people outside your own bubble is to see a place for yourself and live amongst the people. I wasn’t there for very long and I learned so much. Imagine how much and how good a global society we could become if everyone, particularly those in the elite nations stepped outside their comfort zones from which they sling stereotypes without a stitch of knowledge to back them, and actually entered these other worlds? Since it’s not likely that I could make people do this, the least I can do is write about the real lives of these far-off people to try to make others see what their lives and those places are really life. While I don’t know if I will end up a foreign correspondent, I do know that if I did, I would be doing something of great importance and that’s what a job should be so whether or not I become one myself, I thank those that are and plan to read what they write from this day forward so I can stay connected to the world I got a sneak peak of this past month.

Written by aejo1991

June 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm

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Flashback; At the beginning

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Before I post my blog that will reflect on what I’ve done and seen and learned in these past four and a half weeks, I want to take you back to the beginning, to how I ended up in Jordan and why.

My initial reason for looking into the Dialogue program wasn’t that glamorous, I’ll admit. See, I want to do a study abroad somewhere like Australia, Italy or France. But my mother thinks study abroads are merely students partying in other countries and taking easy, silly classes in order to be able to party as much as possible. When she heard about the Dialogue program she thought it was better academically, and more doable financially so she said I have to do a Dialogue first. Her notion of study abroad is off-base but, whatever, fine, a Dialogue is still cool. 

One reason I chose Jordan was even less glamorous. It- or rather the original destination of Egypt- was the only one that was a journalism program. However, I was honestly interested in going to Egypt. I absolutely love ancient history and the pharaoic era. I also love the movie The Mummy so I was excited to get to go there. I knew nothing about the Middle East at the time. I hadn’t kept up with what was going on in the region at all. The only thing I knew was what people brought up in class. So, in preparation for the interview, I did a ton of research on Egypt and the Arab Spring. A lot of the info was tough to take in, as I had no background, but as I read, I became more excited we’d be going to such a busy and intense environment. I felt like a badass.

When I found out I was in the program, my mother and I discussed the safety issue and how we’d tell my father I was doing it. He wasn’t pleased with the idea but I contested all his worries, insisting they weren’t rooted in actual facts, and through a solid and research supported argument, I ended up making him feel a bit more comfortable, though I was going to go no matter what. So my mother and I set to shopping, as none of the clothes I owned were suited for the cultural rules and temperature of the area. When the trip was changed to Jordan I was disappointed and nervous. Disappointed because I had been dreaming of pyramids and Brendan Fraser, and nervous because now I had to do another round of researching since I really didn’t know anything about this new destination. It didn’t seem like it was as rich in history and sights worth seeing, but I wasn’t dissuaded because it was still a chance to see a new part of the world, while gaining credit and journalism experience.

So I continued researching and shopping. We were assured it was safe, the people here were very nice, and it would still be a great experience and I was easily convinced.

And our professors who assured as that it was no consolation prize to losing Egypt were absolutely villified.

Written by aejo1991

June 14, 2012 at 5:30 pm

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Rice, Chicken, Goodbyes, and the last night in Amman

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My last supper in Amman was one of the best meals I had while in Amman- a common dish of rice and chicken- but the chicken was wonderfully seasoned and the rice had almonds in it, which I’ve discovered a love for. I was glad to be eating with my family, but it made me sad because that was the first time we had sat down and all eaten together since the first weekend. I felt guilty for going out or getting fast food all those nights and though a lot of the reason for our lack of family time was our busy schedule, I wish I would have tried harder to eat my mother’s food with her and my siblings.

My last supper

Amman family dinner

After dinner it was time to finish packing. When the last item was stuffed into my bags and I’d sat on the suitcase to get it to zipper, Talal helped us grab a cab. Of course, I managed to lose my phone in the packing process (unless I lost it in a cab before then) so that was a bummer, but there was no time to worry about it. We gave our gifts to the fam (I gave a necklace to my sister, movies to my brother, and bathroom accessories to my mother), and hugged Farah and Sammah goodbye. I nearly had to fight back tears. 

Me and my mamma hugging goodbye

 

 

My Jordanian Family. Never gonna forget ’em, always gonna miss ’em.

 

We dumped our bags at SIT and headed out with a bunch of people to Salute, a swanky outdoor bar we’d visited a while ago. We had our last experience with the ridiculous tax on drinks and service, though we had finally wised up and realized it’s better to order from the bar so you just pay for yourself. We raised our glasses in a toast to Sean, who had to leave us too early due to a tragedy back home, and to Amman. Eventually we paid our last tabs in Jordan and headed back to SIT to see everyone else and wait for the bus.

 

The entrance down to the place we spent our last Jordanian dollars on our last night in Amman

 

 

 

Jordanian Nights; our last view of Amman after-hours

When the bus arrived we loaded it up, ran around collecting lost people and items and then boarded it. I had a long goodbye with Talal, my brother, as he was there to see everyone off. I made sure I was the last to say goodbye and he promised he’d be coming to the US one day and would FB me. I think I’m going to miss him the most, as he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. We drove through the beautiful Amman night- or morning to the airport and a few hours after arriving there, were seated in our seats with our trays locked and seats in the upright position as we watched Amman and then Jordan shrink below the ascending plane.

Last look at SIT

 

Ahmed says goodbye on the bus

We were really gone. It’s over. Man I hate this part. I’ll keep on eating rice and pita if it means getting to stay a few more days in this place I’ve come to call home, though it’s only been so for a short time. Bye rice, by pita, bye Arabic people I can’t understand, bye family. The fat lady has sung.

Written by aejo1991

June 14, 2012 at 4:54 pm

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It ain’t over till the fat lady sings

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On Monday I had talked to Carlene about my situation. I wanted so badly to complete three stories but it was looking unlikely and I don’t want my grade to suffer. She needed a copy editor so we decided I’d focus on copy editing stories on Tuesday, but if, at the same time, I could get more reporting done for the story, I can write it and hand it in after we’re back in the States.

So, I spent the morning editing a couple of stories and putting the last edits on my own Olympic story. At about 2:30 I headed out for my last attempt at reporting. I managed to successfully find the Ernst and Young building and though I showed up without an appointment, I had received an email response from someone who runs the Mid East division of the Company saying someone from Amman’s office would love to talk. So I gave the name at the desk, waited about 15 minutes and then finally got my meeting with the woman. She didn’t have a lot of answers and said the man from the email, Tom would have them, but she gave me good quotes. For some reason, she was uncomfortable with the idea of being quoted, but I’ll have to convince her to get over it. My next stop was HP and Microsoft, though I only planned on taking a picture because I gave up on their office managers getting in touch with me and was just hoping I’d get to someone else from the companies when I was back home. I walked through the park to the offices, took the picture and when I was three quarters of the way out of the park, I got a call from the managing director at HP. So I turned back and did an impromptu meeting with him. He was very good and generous enough to push back a meeting in order to talk to me.

 

The elusive Ernst and Young building, standing tall on the side of a main road.

 

I returned to SIT, happy I had gotten some answers at last but sad because I was running out of time to enjoy the day. I copy edited one more story and was hoping to head downtown for last minute shopping but a cabby said it would take far more time than I had, as I had to get home for a goodbye dinner with the family. Instead, I went to Sweifieh and picked up a few things there.

Written by aejo1991

June 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm

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Blitzkreig Bop, reporter style

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After the meeting with the King I got cracking on my work. I went looking for Ernst and Young but after wasting 3 Dinar, gave up and headed to King Hussein Business Park to try to demand an audience with someone at HP and Microsoft. I even tried a company called MBC, hoping it might be an American company or an Arab company with an office in the US. It didn’t, but its sister company did, though they weren’t available until Tuesday and I knew I probably wouldn’t have time to talk to them.

HP and Microsoft, side by side in the King Hussein Business Park

I trekked through Amman once more, until I had to

 

I trekked through Amman once more, until I had to meet the J students for our thank you and farewell to Carlene. We ordered drinks, got food from Subway next door and presented her with a necklace. It wasn’t long after that when the laptops all came out. Journalists.  We all had so much to do, we couldn’t afford to not be doing it but we didn’t want to leave the social setting so we set to work right then and there.

Unfortunately, the Internet was terrible and I needed it so I went to a place nearby. I ended up camping out there forever. Long after everyone left the first place, I was there working. I had decided to try a new strategy for the business story: contact the American headquarters. So I was calling every company, via Skype, and going through every channel and extension line they threw at me. I left messages and sent emails, desperately hoping for a better turnout than I’d been getting with the Jordan folks. And, boy did I quickly see how much more attentive Americans are to their emails and voicemails. I got a number of responses quickly, though most were sending me to different contacts, but still, it was progress.

I ordered a frappucino during that time, just so the waiter wouldn’t bother me about being there just to use the Internet. As I worked, I ignored looks from other patrons, a few sketchy people begging for money in Arabic, and the blasting combo of the soccer game and Arab music in the background. When I was done trying all the contacts I could, I combed through my video and pictures of the Olympic training session to find a few good ones to send to Carlene. Since I had to take snapshots from the video, it took quite a while, so I ordered an oreo shake. Earlier that day I had had a vanilla milk shake.Subway, two shakes and a frap- ugh such a fattening day. Gotta be going on a diet. Anyway when I finally looked at the time again it was nearly 12 30 and Talal was calling to see where I was. So I called it a night, packed up and went home.

Written by aejo1991

June 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm

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Amanda and the King…’s uncle

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On Monday I started the day sitting at a coffee table in my living room with only me and my laptop. Just an ordinary moment in the life of a journalist, or a college student in general.

But come 10:30 am, I found myself sitting at a press conference table in Amman’s Cultural Center with all 46 students, the professors, and oh yeah, the former crown prince El Hassan bin Talal. He was the crown prince until Jordan’s late King Hussein decided to name his son (current king, Abdullah II ) to the title instead, shortly before he passed away.

Prince El Hassan had invited us to the Center to discuss Jordanian politics, culture, and more. He gave an initial speech but then the floor was open for questions.

Forgive my bluntness and perhaps, boldness in saying this, but he was a bit frustrating in that he did not answer any question clearly. I don’t think he was dodging questions, I think it was just a misunderstanding on his part or something. But don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed what he had to say and learned a lot. He was hard to follow but the man knew what he was talking about, shared his opinions -of which I was impressed, had a sense of humor and was all too willing to extend his time with us so we could all get a chance to ask more questions.

When we originally disbanded the meeting, he went to sit with Sam and answer a question for her story before he left. Then I jumped in and asked one for my business story- about how Jordan benefits from things like the FTA and how important it is to have that. Soon so many people were crowding around, they decided to just go back into the conference room.

During this part two q and a session Joey asked a question about industry. I was zoned out and didn’t hear the question but was pulled back to the present when the Prince said, “Oh I just answered a similar question for a young lady, where is she?” Dennis helped locate me and then the Prince said “Why don’t you answer it?”

Ever have a deer in headlights moment where you know you should panic or do something but all you can do is stand their dumbfounded? Yeah, that was what I felt like. I laughed, hoping he was kidding but when he sat silently I knew he wasn’t. Oh crap. The prince of Jordan just asked me to talk about a topic I don’t know in front of 46 peers and if I don’t say anything he’ll think I’m rude or dumb. Crap.

 I had been paying attention before, but I only had only heard about 50 percent of what he said and I only could follow and understand about 20 % of that. So I combined my best bs skills, with what little info I had retained and began to answer- or rather, ramble.

I had picked up two concepts from our conversation: it’s about building a manufacturing base and that agreements and promises made by other countries mean nothing if they are not actually doing anything to help Jordan’s economy. So I went to town on them and hoped I was making some kind of sense and coming remotely close to answering Joey’s question, though since the Prince hadn’t been doing a great job, that wasn’t that important.

After saying what I hoped was enough, I sought help and asked the Prince to take over. He did, and my moment passed, though I think in that time my heart may have actually stopped for fear. The professors assured me later that I did a great job and Carlene and Anthony expressed sympathy for the situation I was thrust into. Terrifying as it was, I learned the importance of being a good bser and really trying your absolute hardest to retain information your source gives you. You never know when you’re going to have to prove to him that you were listening. And the ability will definitely be nice to have when your source is literally royalty. My time with the Prince, or the King’s Uncle wasn’t quite like Anna’s in Anna and the King, but it was quite interesting as far as I’m concerned.

Written by aejo1991

June 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm

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Second Story from Amman: Jordan and the Olympics

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Small squad with big dreams: Nine athletes will represent Jordan in Olympics this summer

Story and photo by Amanda Ostuni

It’s only 9 a.m. but it’s already 82 degrees as Nadin Dawani works out on a faded red track. Her appearance is unexceptional: white Adidas pants and matching sneakers and a grey long sleeve shirt with a Superman logo on the chest. It’s her mission that stands out.

Dawani, 24, is one of nine athletes heading to London this summer hoping to land Jordan its first ever Olympic medal.

Sweating under the blazing sun, she and her teammate Mohammad Abu Libdeh jog, do 50-meter sprints and a drill that the head of the taekwondo coaches, Chen Chiou Hwa, explains is meant to improve coordination.

“In taekwondo, coordination is very important,” said Hwa.

Nadin Dawani is one of nine athletes heading to the Olympics this summer in London. Her hope is to score a gold medal in taekwondo for her country. It would be Jordan’s first medal ever in the games.

Dawani, Libdeh and their other teammate Dana Haider are the three Jordanian taekwondo athletes who qualified to head to the Olympics this summer. Only two other athletes – boxer Ihab Darweesh and equestrian Ibrahim Bisharat – also qualified to represent the country.

Jordan does have four other athletes who will go to London as wild cards, a designation to countries who the International Olympic Committee believes need a special boost to become competitive. Those athletes can compete, but they’re not expected to earn a medal.

What’s more, taekwondo, a fighting-based sport in which the athletes try to knock out the competition over the course of three two-minute rounds with a minute’s rest in between, is a sport in which Jordan has always stood out. In 1988, two members of the team did actually win bronze medals. But because taekwondo was a demonstration sport at the time, the medals didn’t count.

This year is Jordan’s ninth Olympic appearance since joining the games in 1980 and the country’s hopes are pinned to these athletes competing in individual sports. The only Jordanian team sport to contend so far for a spot in the 2012 Olympics was the football (soccer) team, though the basketball team will participate in a qualifying tournament beginning with a game against Greece July 2, then a game against Puerto Rico July 3. If they make it to and win the semi-final round July 7, they will have earned a spot in the Olympics.

It doesn’t bother Dawani that her country is outnumbered.

“You feel proud you are representing a small country that still has great athletes,” she said.

Hamzeh Hassan, communications center employee at the Jordan Olympic Committee (JOC), is optimistic about this year’s team, both because it contains the first Olympic Jordanian boxer and because it is a record-breaking number of athletes competing for the country.

“We’re planning on [achieving a] gold because we have a chance,” he said, “but we’ll take any medal.”

The JOC became the umbrella for all things sports in Jordan in 2001, by order of a royal decree established by King Abdullah II. Prince Feisal Al Hussein currently serves as committee president and the organization has been working to expand Jordan’s athletic status and opportunities across the board.

“We’ve updated rules and laws for sports, started bringing in more money for sports, we’ve hosted world championships,” said Hassan, stressing that the JOC is working to enhance Jordanian sports.

Athletes such as Dawani provide hope. The accomplished star is one of the best Jordan has, as she was the first woman from Jordan to qualify for the Olympics for the games in Athens in 2004. Just a teenager then, she came within one win of receiving a bronze medal, finishing fifth.

She began her taekwondo career at a young age. “When I was 9, I saw my little brother when he went to a taekwondo club and I wanted to try it so I did and continued it,” Dawani said later that hot June day, driving home after her two-hour training session during which she and Libdeh did taekwondo basics training.

“Taekwondo…is all in the brain, hands and legs. It’s about 30 percent legs, 70 percent hands and all mind,” said Dawani of the sport, for which they train in a variety of ways such as running and weight lifting.

When Dawani joined the national team in 2001 she started to love the “art” and the competition and knew taekwondo had become more than a hobby.

“Of course you have to give things up, your social life should be limited,” said Dawani on life as a professional athlete. ”[But] I love what I do.”

However, because the sport is not successful professionally and Jordan isn’t a country where professional athletes are financially set for life, she attained a business administration degree from the University of Jordan and then a job in the business development department of the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company. When she manages to find free time, she spends it with her parents, 21-year-old brother Khalil, her fiancé Rami Khano and her friends.

Forat Tarawneh is a 21-year-old judo player who is a fan of taekwondo and Jordan’s athletes in the sport. He is a member of the Facebook fan page for his favorite athlete, Dana Haider, and says, via an email interview, “she represents the example that young athletes want to be like her to reach the Olympics in accordance with the capabilities of a poor country as Jordan.”

Dawani hopes that by being successful, she and her fellow athletes will set an example in a country where women are not expected to play competitive sports.

“I wish we could change the mentality of people here and in the Arab world in general,” said Dawani. “In Jordan it’s been getting better. Day by day the idea of girls fighting is more accepted.”

For her, London will represent a final push for a medal. Regardless of the outcome, Dawani is calling it quits and getting married in October. That doesn’t mean she’s giving up the sport entirely. She said she might open up a club to help teach children her sport.

But for now, she is focused on bringing honor to her country and hopes her teammates are able to as well.

“We’re a small country,” said Dawani, “but we have the ability to be something.”

Written by aejo1991

June 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

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