Monday, June 17, 2013

What the Middle East Taught Me (وهات ث معدل إيست توجهت م)

or in other words, a 10-day crash course on...lots of stuff.

  • traveling is hard - and tiring. This is especially true when you can hardly communicate with anyone because you don't know any of the language. I think I used to look at traveling in this kind of glamorous view, where I'd just go from place to place and be super cultured and live on top of the world. And I still do want to travel the world! But I definitely learned that traveling is not easy, and it's not like it was when my dad would plan out the entire vacation weeks in advance and then take us there and we wouldn't have to do any of the work ourselves. But even if it's not easy - and maybe because it's such a's so worth it!!!
  • it doesn't have to be perfect to be good. haha oh boy did I learn this. My mom told me this as I was leaving for the airport, and I didn't think about it much because of course things would be basically perfect, right?! haha wrong. Especially at first, I felt like there was so much going wrong. But I just kept reminding myself - it doesn't have to be perfect to be good. And with this outlook, I could just smile at the things that went wrong and enjoy the amazing experiences!
  • a straight-A student does not a smart person make, nor does a "smart" degree make a smart or successful person. The first day at my internship, I sat there in the office and felt so overwhelmed and dumb. And even though I pulled it together and felt like I was able to contribute and experience some degree of success, I definitely realized that just having good grades doesn't mean I'll be the smartest or most helpful person there. While there I interacted with some of the smartest people I know - and not all of these people had straight A's or majored in biomedical statistical engineering sciences or something like that.
  • throwing money at a country does not a developed country make. You've got to change people's mindsets - or rather, they have to change their own mindsets. You can throw all the money you want at a country, but unless the individuals want to change, they're still going to chose to throw their garbage out the window into a pile on the street every morning. (also i really hope no one is offended by this. Jordan is a largely developed, beautiful country, and the example of the garbage is true but is just one instance of one example. this was just one of my many wandering thoughts while there.)
  • if you lose your luggage - even for the whole time - it's not actually the end of the world. I lost my perfectly planned and packed suitcase on my way to Jordan, and all I had was what was on me and in my backpack. But you know what? I DIDN'T DIE. I thought I might at first, but I didn't. And it actually was kind of a growing experience for me haha.
  • it's possible to live off of one pair of underwear, if you have a swimsuit too. tmi, tmi. haha but I was a dork and was too embarrassed to ask the guys to go underwear-shopping with me (and I was almost always with at least one other guy while in Jordan), but I did buy a swimsuit, so...wear the underwear one day, then wash them and while they're air drying wear the swimsuit bottoms the next day, then wash those, back and forth, for 10 old pretty quickly though haha. and you're welcome for sharing that information with you all.
  • don't layer. I thought I was being realll clever when I figured I could just be modest by layering (throw on a cardigan for sleeves, a cute scarf to make the neckline more modest, etc.). But usually these would be gone by the time I got to work because I couldn't stand them in the heat. I don't know how those Muslim women do it! But they're my heroes, for real. And I hope not too many people judged me for showing my scandalous elbows, or something. 
one of my scarves, in a stereotypical girl take-a-pic-of-yourself-in-the-mirror photo

  • Arab hospitality is real. Seriously though, it's amazing! Just one example...we had this one taxi driver, Adam. By the time he dropped us off at the end of our drive - which was like a max of 10 minutes long - he had given us his number and told us to call him if we ever need help (since he's one of the few taxi drivers who speaks fluent English), invited us over to meet his family and eat food and "switch" languages with his kids ("you teach them English, they teach you Arabic!"), offered his connections at the customs office because heard that one of our group members was doing some work over there, and offered us Dead Sea products because apparently he has some of that too. And that kind of stuff happens all the time! (another example: a Bedouin man in Petra was chatting with Nathanael and me and was like, "I live in a cave. You come to my cave, we make BBQ. You call me, and I drive you to my cave." Super bummed we couldn't take him up on it because we had to catch our bus!)
  • the Jerusalem Center really is as beautiful as everyone says it is. and super peaceful.
The picture doesn't fully capture it :)
  • research before you go. there were times when I really wished I had done some more research before I had jumped on a plane to the Middle East. I have no regrets about going! - but it probably would have made the experience just a little easier and probably more meaningful. Then again...not knowing anything makes things exciting sometimes ;)
  • I'm really grateful to be going to the Iowa Des Moines Mission. Ok I was grateful before too - really!!! But, initially I had kind of wanted one of those missions where the missionaries come back with all those stories of how awful their living conditions were and how dirty everything was and how they never had hot water and they ate cochroaches for breakfast. Because I thought it sounded cool. Haha but after dealing with a tiny bit of that in Jordan, I realized that all that fun stuff really isn't all it's cracked up to be, and I can really appreciate the comforts of the States ;) And not having to deal with all that other stuff will allow me to focus on the real work - missionary work! But uh, props to all those missionaries who ARE dealing with those things (my mom said in her apartment in Germany, their apartment was colder than inside their fridge...holy camolie.)
  • amen to good walking shoes. I didn't really have those in Jordan, and I am totally converted to the absolute necessity of them for my mission. 
  • jet lag is real. I can't believe how much I kept falling asleep in the bus the first two days after I arrived in Jordan haha. And then the morning after I arrived home, I was trying to deal with some semi-stressful things and suddenly they were like, the most stressful, exhausting, emotional things ever haha. Then I just decided to take a nap instead. 
  • optimism, confidence, communication. all pretty essential. Optimism, for when I was hot and wearing the same outfit I'd worn a million times and was tired of not knowing what everyone was saying and so on. And confidence and communication for being able to do well in my internship. For a while I was trying to do a lot of it myself, and when I realized that all I needed to do was get the confidence to actually communicate with the manager of the company, things got a lot better!
  • you can make friends instantly. I was kind of amazed how they stuck a group of Americans together in Jordan and we were all friends instantly. And it wouldn't have been such a great experience without them!
  • if you get stung by a sea urchin, tap the sting with a cigarette. best advice ever, and it totally works! I got stung in the Red Sea, and these Arab men kept motioning to me to tap the burning cigarette on the wound. Finally I let one of them do it, and it totally took away the sting and the swelling!
  • Arabic words! I learned a few. It was fun.
  • you can wear anything with a maxi skirt - tshirts, button-ups, v-necks, polos, you name it.
  • all vendors have a "special price" just for you. for example, a typical conversation: me - "how much? (or if I'm feeling really adventurous, "gadesh?")" vendor - "45." me - "oh ok" (and start walking away). vendor - "but for you, special price! just 40!"
  • Hannah is a really great name. I used to think it my name was a little boring, but now I realize it's great because it's super universal - it's easy to pronounce, and it's a name that's part of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam! The people at customs loved it. yaya.
  • prayer calls are awesome. I loved it when I woke up to them!
  • don't turn your back on the Wailing Wall. I had never heard this and thought it was super interesting. also I was kind of enthralled by all the Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, I felt like I was in Fiddler on the Roof!
  • washda (fer dayz). "washda" is the Arabic word for relationships and how these are key in doing business and everything. you hear even here in the states that connections get you jobs and networking is super important, etc. But, it's nothing here compared to how it is in Jordan! You literally cannot do business there unless you have lots of washda. It's kind of crazy.
  • take toilet paper with you everywhere. because most of the time, all the public restrooms have are...these. For the longest time I didn't know what they were and was totally scared of them haha. Then I just started hoarding tissues, just in case. Also lots of the restaurants don't have napkins...they all use tissues instead.
  • hand signals. it was fun learning about all the little hand signals that Arabs use. Like ones for "shut up and wait," for asking for the check, and so on.
  • hotel managers are also like personal attendants. or something like that. but ours was super cool! On the first night there the hotel keeper found Nathanael and me shopping at the "market" nearby, so he took our bags for us back to the hotel while we ate our dinner. And when my friends came by to say goodbye on the last night, he immediately recognized them as my friends(because they're white, haha) and showed them to my room (good thing they really were my friends!). And he was almost always sitting in the corner, smoking his hookah, smiling at us as we came in and out. I felt like he was always looking out for us. Even if he did lock us into the hotel so if I had to get out before like 8 I had to wake him up to let me out...
  • "complimentary breakfast" means pita, hummus, and boiled eggs. and boy was that pita good. The best mornings were the ones when I woke up early and ate pita in bed while reading scriptures and listening to the sounds of a morning in Amman.
  • hotels have beds, don't expect much more. I mistakenly thought that I'd be able to get some toiletries there that I had left in my lost luggage. not quite...though our hotel in Amman did have old soap from past guests! (gross) Most also don't have shower curtains - though they always have squeegees to clean up the water that went everywhere. And my pillow was so hard it hurt my ear.
  • holy hookah. I was so surprised the first time I saw one haha - but seriously, they were everywhere! 
  • nothing beats Middle Eastern juice on a hot, dry, dusty day. they had the greatest flavors and mixes, and they were sooo refreshing. I totally miss the juice there!
  • Jordan is quite diverse - definitely more than I expected. I loved meeting and seeing people from Yemen, Palestine, Syria, and more. 
  • NOT everyone speaks English. pretty sure when Zaytoon was telling us about their program they were like, "everyone in Amman speaks English!" false.
  • a tshirt totally works for a towel. Thanks Nathanael. 
  • internet is a godsend. even though it was kind of lonely when nothing happened on my facebook/gmail allll day, because during the day in Jordan everyone back at home was asleep! But I still think it's so cool how the whole world is connected through this crazy thing called the Internet, and lots of times, I don't even have to pay for it!
  • buy your adapter in the foreign country. I almost bought an electrical adapter here, but I was told to just wait until I got to Jordan - and I'm glad I did. The ones I saw here were like $30, and it was hard to find one that would work in the Middle East, while there ones there were like 1 JD - and it was super easy to find one that adapts from the US!
  • top sheets aren't a thing. I don't think I saw a single one in the Middle East. The first time I went to climb into bed I kept feeling around for my top sheet, then realized that I just had to climb into bed without one!
  • you hold a hijab in place with a pin. did you know that? I did not know that. Finally I know how they stay in place! (and as a side note, I just want to mention how absolutely beautiful Arab women are! I was slightly jealous ;) )
I did not post this on fb because, well, I look terrible haha! But it was a good time. Yay for pudgy faces.
  • traffic laws and lanes are more like suggestions, and crosswalks don't exist. As I said while I was there, "it's chaotic enough that I get a thrill from it, but not so chaotic that I want to go crazy." living on the edge.
  • smoking is everywhere. This includes the man driving your taxi and the person bagging your groceries (gross). Actually if I were to ever consider living there long-term (which I actually would) this would be probably the biggest thing keeping me from doing it. I don't want to die of second-hand smoke, people! 
  • take taxis in Jordan, not in Israel. at least not on the Sabbath, because they rip you off like nobody's business. Even if it's the Jewish Sabbath and the driver is Muslim...anyways, just stick to the metered taxis in Jordan as much as possible
  • King Abdullah! pictures of this man everywhere. It confused me at first because sometimes he has a moustache, sometimes he doesn't...then I finally realized that they were all the same man, just sometimes he has a moustache and sometimes he doesn't (refer to bullet #3 above...)

  • germs don't exist in Jordan. everyone eats off of the same everything that everyone else does! It's great! For example...the Jordanian dish mansaf. Everyone eats out of the same dish...and then if there are any leftovers, they combine it all up and give it to the neighbors, who then do the same thing and give any other leftovers to the other neighbors, and so on and so forth...
  • elevators don't wait. haha. one of the other interns totally got smashed in the elevator door (luckily her backpack saved her). it's like all my childhood fears coming true!
  • don't look at random men in the eye. (or if you're a man, don't look at random women in the eye.) This was really strange to get used to, and when I stepped off the plane in the US, I almost avoided the eye contact of a stranger who was standing there, until I realized that I really didn't have to do that anymore! 
  • carry water with you! I can't believe how thirsty I was all the time. This is especially true in places like Petra...we ran out of water shortly after we ran out of dinars, which was not good planning at all! Always have lots of water, or at least the means to buy some. We're in a freaking desert.
  • be careful that you don't get locked inside. all the doors need a key to lock/unlock from both the outside and the inside, so it's possible to get locked inside your office (or house, or wherever). don't do it!
  • I actually really like Brits. This has nothing to do with the Middle East, except that I learned it on the way to and from there while flying British Airways and stopping in London. But I had always thought that they seemed kind of stuck up, when really they were sooo nice. haha I loved them! (oh but also know that in the UK, peds don't have the right of way. and remember to look right, then left. pretty sure I almost got killed a couple times because I kept forgetting that!) Anyways, 6 hours in that city did not quite suffice. 
  • everyone has the same ringtone. and it got stuck in my head all the time.
  • wear your seatbelt in Israel, don't bother in Jordan. because even if you wanted to, most taxis don't have working seatbelts in Jordan. But in Israel, they yell at you if your seatbelt isn't on haha
  • I love the Middle East - and I love America. I was sure that I'd grow to love the Middle East by living there, and I totally did! But I also gained a greater appreciation for the US and how blessed we are here. And I love both places :)

oh man, that was so great!


  1. I am so incredibly jealous of you right now. Like...ugh. Take me with you next time!!

    1. yeah yeah, I'll take you to the Middle East if you take me to Spain! haha :)

  2. I did not recognize you in your picture above with your headdress! I would have totally thought you were Arab! Yep, they are gorgeous!

  3. You are so cute Hannah, I loved reading this!

    Once I went to Alaska without luggage, so I totally felt your pain. Boy did you handle that one well. I'm so impressed!

    It doesn't have to be perfect to be good. Wise words and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing from your mama! Such a great lesson, I've had to learn that one a few times now. Great post!