Updated: Nov 16
For the last half of May, I left for a study abroad trip to the country of Jordan.
Of the many goals for our stay, the main objective was to study and understand the great issue of water scarcity facing Jordan.
If you were to do a search for the most water scarce countries in the world, nearly every list would hold Jordan in the top five, sometimes number one other times number three.
When it comes to the statistic of number one or number five, the position is completely irrelevant.
How do you compare the pain in someones face when they haven't had clean water for two weeks? How can you measure the struggle for families that save water on their rooftops because the water pipes only turn on once a week. How do you compare the complexities of the political policy of those desperately trying to pave a way forward for their country?
Being among any group of countries that is considered "the most water scarce" already places you into a reality most of the American population have little to no perception of.
That is not to say we do not have our own issues with water in the states, the dangerously low levels of lake mead and other reservoirs are testament to this fact. However the issues that face Jordan are so prevalent it has not only affected the way of life but the perception of the future, prospects of hope, and most importantly ...war.
I attempted to understand and learn as much about these perceptions.
During my time working with the study abroad group I wrote daily reflections, below are some of these reflections that I want to share with others.
I would like to make a note that the May 26th excerpt is deeply personal and more over may be a trigger point for some of my military friends reading this. If you ever are suffering, find your self in a dark reality with no way out, please reach out to me. I've lost many Friends over the years and I would rather take an hour out of my day so that you keep the years left of your life.
Thursday may 19th :
After doing some thinking and adding up the various flights I've had both military and civilian, I realized I've spent quite literally over 500 hours in the air flying. That includes even countless more hours wandering through airports. Traveling through Canada and Austria, I didn't really see anything out of the blue or weird. The smoke sections in Austria (similar to like what they have in Japanese airports) are always an interesting contrast to the very anti-smoking airports in America. However, as soon as we landed in Jordan I noticed quite a little bit of a difference there. It seemed a lot less controlled and in some ways a bit more chaotic. It seemed as if it was more relaxed yet still a lot of tension that comes from the lack of direction.
When checking in through passport control I had a little bit of a rough time convincing them I was in fact the person on my passport (a picture that is nearly a decade old now and a drivers licences that also looks nothing like I do now).
First, they were very questioning and seemed very concerned. However, after some light banter and understanding I was just a simple American on a student trip, their tone and demeanor changed drastically.
It went from what was very serious and angry to that of making fun of how different I looked compared to both of my IDs. This was a nice change from the very stern and strong tone I'm used to through airport security (Especially from our oh so enthusiastic TSA agents.)
Moving along into customs I was actually stopped and ended up having both of my bags completely searched. They kept asking if I like to smoke marijuana or if I had brought any with me. And of course I jokingly said I enjoyed it in the States to which they seem concerned and I realized that type of humor was not something that I could use here in Jordan very quickly.
However, knowing I didn't have anything in my bags, I wasn't really stressed or worried as he continued to search through them. He also became less stressed and worried realizing I had absolutely no illegal substances on me. Once going through all of my bags, he ushered me along and said welcome to Jordan. However, I still noticed a tinge of what seemed to be judgment or stereotype about me being in his country. Perhaps I am perceiving this incorrectly, as I learn more about the Jordanian culture I will come to understand this interaction more.
Arriving at my hotel the "Century Park"
Friday May 20th.
To say I had an amazing day would be an understatement, Jordan has a deeply rich culture with smiling faces and a completely different environment from any of my travels previously. I could definitely tell that as much as we were worried about giving a good impression so were our lovely hosts. They seemed to be very careful at how they chose their words and we're avoiding anything on talk of politics until much later in the day when they were speaking more on water scarcity.
I can tell that they have a very strong opinion of Israel and understand that coming from the States some of us may have no opinion at all of the conflict going on between them.
They seem to be holding back some of their opinions and tones and even in conversation when we bring it up, they seem to immediately change conversation or at least downplay their true opinions.
I believe we will begin to hear more and talk more in detail about the interactions with Jordan and Israel as well as the other surrounding countries as the course goes on.
When it comes to dancing, food and nightlife I can see that Jordan is absolutely full of it.
A hand holding dance circle in the middle of a Jordanian restaurant will absolutely be a memory I hold with me for the rest of my life.
At first I was a little hesitant to act like my usual foolish self as I thought I was going to bother the other patrons in the restaurant.
However, after seeing them take their phones out, clapping, laughing or even in some cases joining us in the dance, I began to feel much more comfortable.
I understood the people wouldn't be too much different from us. However, the more and more time I spend with them the more I understand they are very very similar to us. Just as every other human on this planet, they have a different environment and different tragedies that they have faced in their life. However, their goals and desire for happiness are much In the same as our own.
I haven't seen anything completely and utterly surprising to me however, I am surprised by the level of acceptance of Western ideologies as well as the movement forward and more progressive policy that is present. We are generally taught or told much of this is not common among Islamic culture, and that is certainly a perception I held prior to arriving. Further looks into where the people want the culture to be and where the culture really stems from, apart from the religious context, is something I am excited to see.
Saturday May 21st
In the past two days wandering and exploring the great country that is Jordan, choosing a specific experience as the most memorable is hard.
Climbing atop a two-thousand year old amphitheater and wandering through markets filled with low priced third hand western goods was an experience in itself.
However, if I had to choose it would absolutely be the dinner in downtown Amman. The slow transition into a proper dinner followed by some puffs of some delicious lemon mint shisha, as well as an absolute smorgasbord of delicious food was a complete and under delight.
The finishing off of this food with a wonderful dance and live music of one of Dr. Raed's (the indvidual responsible for this program) favorite songs will forever be a core memory that I look back on.
However, the most memorable experience was when they brought the tea out. After what was one of the best days I've had in a long time, emotions already filled my head but as soon as the taste of that tea touched my mouth I nearly cried.
When I was young my math tutor and family friend(bless her) would make me that very same tea anytime I would show up to her house. Amal (her name) is still a very active part of my life. She is a Palestinian and US Citizen and is very vocal about the political and social issues present in Israel. With good reason I might add.
Growing up drinking that tea was delicious. However, not having it for years only to have it in the very land it originated in was not only emotional but almost like a full circle experience.
My life has been a 'topsy turney' journey filled with pain and contrasted with absolute happiness.
That taste of tea confirmed that the direction I'm going in through life is in fact a correct one and I can't wait to explore more of this beautiful country.
Sunday May 22: One of the most important things I've ever learned while studying abroad, especially with groups, is just how differently everyone reacts to certain scenarios and even more so how they think others should react. I've had many wonderful talks with Spencer (student) prior to this study abroad trip. However, before this trip we never got into the very deep recesses of each other's lives.
As I begin to talk more and more with him, we dove deeper into our own biases and understanding of the world. I've come to realize I have a lot of my own biases and he said the same of himself.
Moreover, I also have witnessed a changing in some of the other individuals here slowly taking down their barriers and understanding the different cultural reality we live in within the states and how different it can be, as well as how similar. One of my favorite changes is the opinion I had of Hannah (another student). At the very beginning of this trip I was completely and utterly annoyed with her entire existence.
She seemed to not care about any of the academia or things I found important and was the stereotypical Instagram girl. However, as we experienced and wandered more, I realized she was simply young and experiencing the world in her own terms with her own perception.
What was one of the most annoying people on the trip that came one of my favorite individuals to be around. She always seemed to have a smile and got unbelievably excited every time something unique happened to her.
She was also ready and willing to talk and wave to all the individuals around us and seeing her get excited as we wandered through town in the car or when people waved at her I couldn't help but crack a smile and appreciate that we were all experiencing something so new together. I must understand that many people haven't had the experiences I have had and moreover I haven't had the experiences they have had, which means we are going to perceive and react to everything entirely different. And for the most part that's okay. That's the part of life where we learn and grow. Monday May 23: The baptism site was one of the strongest political reactions I have ever had.
I took a picture that looked across the small waning Jordan River and in the picture laid both the Israeli and the Jordanian flag.
Two countries that for the most part are unwilling to cooperate with each other finding connection and common ground for a little bit of peace yet still so separate in this simple spot. The idea that I could be shot by simply crossing a river and it was looked down upon to simply wave to another human across the way, was insanity to me.
A group of politicians hundreds of miles, if not thousands of miles away wrote a piece of paper and drew an invisible line saying these people could not learn from each other. They could not cross and they could not talk.
This very invisible border is what caused such a division, it is a huge part of the anger and frustration I believe.
If these individuals were allowed to sit in the same bar to share the same food and sip the same tea, I do not believe we would have the same issues we see today.
The two government's seem to be wanting to find peace yet create more division every chance they get.
It was a humbling experience and made me want to dive deeper into both of the cultures in order to understand more about this insanely complex issue, that is the war of the holy Land.
On a much lighter note, being around Aqaba in the Dead Sea was an experience in itself.
I will never get over the idea that the immense amount of salt saturation can make it so that I can float like a buoy in the water.
It is such a foreign concept yet there I was feeling it, experiencing it, seeing the very rocks and salt crystals that make up the entire valley around us.
Yet it was also interesting seeing water slides and pools and excess water use when it's understood that much of the nation faces both food and fresh water issues. I am curious if the amount of taxes and profit that the hotels bring in is able to counteract the water use and the conglomeration of excess goods that could be used elsewhere in the country. A further dive into the numbers Is certainly needed
Tuesday May 24: (This entry is talking about my perceptions of a host family that would be taking me in for a couple days)
I am unsure how well the family will accept me and I am very worried to go into my past life. I'm worried my military experience as well as the tattoos and nature of my younger years would be accepted among them.
I am sure that they will be absolutely hospitable and regardless of how well they speak English, I'm excited to begin to learn more Arabic. I will learn as much as I possibly can in the time I'm there and I very much look forward to cooking and learning how to cook with the family. But again my own past and my own monsters are the greatest nervousness I face. Many of these families are from countries that my own military was directly at war with and have caused them to flee. Again, however, based on the hospitality everyone else has shown me here and
the complete understanding of a more complex world, I have faith that they will be very excited to enjoy my company.
(Spoiler alert, they were amazing. The father even had some tattoos of his own)
Thursday May 26: (I was asked what my greatest challenge was during my time here)
Without a doubt, the greatest challenge I have experienced so far was our talk at the Mercy Corps and my own mind. When Abuhd (Mercy Corps worker that helps troubled refugee youth by taking them on hiking and camping trips) came up to speak with us on the refugee situation and that of troubled youth. My mind began to think and wander as well as listen to what he was saying.
He began to speak on how these simple children barely the age of 15 that have faced war traumas that even some of the toughest Marines I know have yet to face.
They face depression and suffering beyond anything I could possibly imagine and they have barely entered high school.
As he began to talk, I begin to imagine these people looking into my eyes, understanding their worries and then understanding even more that I am one of their monsters.
To them, I am one of the oppressors, a United States Marine. To them, I am an individual who has caused death and destruction among their families.(Even if I have never directly hurt them)
I tried holding it together as long as I could, but the more and more I thought about it the more I fell into a negative spiral. Finally this climaxed with me wandering into a bathroom with no electricity and construction still being done around it.
I sat upon that porcelain throne and broke down completely and utterly, I have lost my father to drug overdose, I have seen the anger of mankind and gone to countless funerals where I had to look a mother in the eye who just lost her son. Yet nothing compares to the pain I felt in that dark powerless bathroom. In a way it was almost poetical. I felt just as powerless as the lights above me.
I thought of my friends who are currently in countries like Syria and Iraq working with various contracts. I thought about the very contracts offered to me and how excited I was to take them up.
Those very contracts paying me thousands and thousands of dollars to work on missile systems that would simply create more refugees and more pain and I was f****** excited about it.
I began to feel worse and worse and realized I was stuck in a system that used and abused myself and my friends for nothing more than a paycheck.
We are told we are helping and saving these people, and maybe sometimes we are. But you can't look at a 15 year old Syrian girl who had to be forced into marriage in a country far from her home just so she could have food and clothes and believe you are in any way helping.
She has seen her home destroyed her family killed and was never given a choice or way out.
Yet here we are signing up for contracts, getting excited to do everything we can to drop bombs and let bullets fly.
As I fell into this pit of despair, bashed my knuckles upon my head and let tears flow, a simple knock upon the door from professor Eaton saying we are moving restaurants pulled me out of it.
I tried my best to pull my composure together, yet It was still challenging. Finally, I began to contemplate what I could do. What solutions I could find to move forward.
I realized that what I have done in the past and what I was part of is awful in many ways, but it does not have to stay awful.
I can work with these refugees. I could support programs and organizations. I can spread the knowledge and my point of view to those around me. Hopefully creating a better world. It is through the hard work and dedication to helping others that I will find my penance.
I will still struggle with these thoughts and ideas as time moves forward yet as I have in the past, I will continue to move forward.
If you guys want to hear more about my travels and see more stories like this please comment below, I have hundreds of reflections and writings and this is my first time posting anything like this.