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A Week In Jordan

September 14, 2012

My first trip to Jordan left me with barely enough time to breathe. Between traveling to different parts of the country, attending lectures for a MidEast studies class and reporting abroad for the first time, all while trying to learn about the Jordanian culture outside of protests and Syrian refugees (what I was focusing on), I was lucky if a got a handful of hours to sleep at night.

This time around, there are no obligations to meet for lectures or travel excursions. There is no requirement for daily blogging, though on the days I don’t, I am haunted by my former journalism professor’s emails…”Don’t deny them…” It’s up to me how busy I should be, and getting work depends entirely on my personal motivation. Though it is entirely different being here without much structure, some things are the same, such as my struggle to balance work (finding stories, reporting stories, pitching stories, keeping up with the news, and learning Arabic) with enjoying the hospitality and company of the people, which is what convinced me to come back in the first place.

This past week, I have been schooled not just in Arabic, but in some people’s view of what’s happening in Syria and their frustration with the United States for not having a stronger role. Also, the internet – when I asked a friend if they were outraged by the press and publications draft law changes here in Jordan that have been recently endorsed by the lower house of Parliament, they laughed. “Who is protesting this law? People who are rich, the ones who have internet.” He spoke about visits to his hometown, where a lot of people don’t even know what Facebook is. He asked me, “As a journalist, which protest is more important for you to cover, if you have to choose – the people protesting because they can’t buy bread, or the people who want a free internet?” These are things I didn’t think about while I was tweeting about open Internet in America. He thinks that regulation happens already, so there’s no difference if it becomes a law.

I am still woken up every morning in the same way I was before, with a cacophony of sheep “Baaahs,” roosters crowing, and the ice cream song that plays incessantly from the trucks selling propane. Strange things still happen, like my room being fumigated and food accidentally becoming a casualty along with the namoos, mosquitoes. The Gates of Jordan are still beautiful at night, and the traffic is still nightmarish.

Too much!

Casualty.

The Gates of Jordan from Al Weibdeh.

Traffic in downtown Amman.

Still live by it.

But it feels so different. The story I reported with my friend Matt Kauffman has completely changed. When I was here in May and June, there were no refugee camps. The number of people killed in the conflict in Syria was estimated to be close to 10,000 by the UN. There were 24,000 refugees. Now, some activists put the number of those killed to be about 23,000, and Jordan now hosts the highest number of refugees in the region, nearly 87,000 registered or waiting to be registered by the UNHCR. The government puts the number closer to 200,000. There is a main camp in the north, Zaa’tari. Even Angelina Jolie has recently visited – now you know it’s important (No sarcasm here!).

What happened this past week with the death of U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other officials in Libya, along with protesters storming US embassies in Egypt and Yemen, makes me painfully aware of the importance of improving and importance of facilitating understanding between Americans and this part of the world. I hope what has happened will motivate people to try to understand, rather than respond with more violence.

Though I know this is a tall order, I was hopeful when a friend said to me last night that the film was a very terrible thing. But she doesn’t believe in violence, but diplomacy. “We should negociate. Not do this [violence].”

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