Viewing entries tagged

dispatches from the Middle East - first impressions.

Holy fuck. It’s my third day in Amman, and already I’m feeling the wash of sensory overload. There's so many things to see, do, and think about. Like a shit ton. 

If any of you missed the news, I got a scholarship to go to Amman, Jordan and intern at The Jordan Times, an English-speaking newspaper based in Amman. So here I am.

First of all, I love Jabal Lweibdeh, it’s the neighborhood I live in. The neighborhood is beautiful and so relaxed, and there are plenty of pleasant shops around. A lot of art spaces too. Below’s a pic of a quiet street in Weibdeh. It’s around noon on a Friday, which is a day off, and most Muslim men are away in mosques for the Friday prayer.


Well, back to my holy fuck sentiments. There’s just so much going on I really don’t know where to start. But Amman reminds me a lot of Jakarta. There’s pockets of residential neighborhood just like Kemang, Antasari, Cilandak, or Pondok Indah (if I were to draw a parallel, where I live is kind of akin to Cilandak, which is actually where I live in Jakarta). Then there’s the central business district, which is actually really similar to Jakarta’s SCBD or Bunderan HI areas. But here, the city is especially colorless. All of the buildings are beige, although the insides can be colorful. Striking colors pepper the city on shop signs, marquees, billboards, or even laundry and carpets that hung on the balcony. And unlike Jakarta, most areas are separated by patches of dry land (it is a desert after all). The makeup of the town is also divided to these traffic “circles” based on the different hills, which are damn steep. The city’s very much a car city though. I also visited other neighborhoods today. Abdoun is pretty much like Pondok Indah, full of fancy houses and modern attractions. Some of the malls here are also ridiculously similar to places like Senayan City or something. 

On another note, I visited the Roman Theatre today. Damn it’s gorgeous. And then there’s a weekly flea market that has a shit ton of cute things. It took a lot out of me not to buy anything. I’ll probably return next week and raid it. On yet another different note, I’m having major ballet withdrawals I’ve started doing pliés in my room with my roommate’s cat watching (yes, we have a cat).




Now on to the journalism part. Holy fuck. There's so much going on. Like how do you even start writing? First of all, I don’t know if you noticed, but Middle East’s political situation is pretty depressing you guys… For the areas in conflict, there seems to be no end in sight. There’s the situation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or ISIS, if you don’t know what that is, the Inquistr has a pretty rudimentary explainer on the background, and whether to call the jihadist militant group “ISIS” or “ISIL”). In case you don’t pay attention to world politics, which I recommend you do, ISIS is pretty much gaining international attention, not to mention reportedly planning on infiltrating Jordan. Yet, some also say that the situation is largely overplayed by the media, and Jordan isn’t that vulnerable to threats of ISIS infiltration. For one thing, Jordan is relatively more stable than its neighboring countries, and although sectarian sentiments do exist, it’s not as extreme as in other countries. I guess pretty much most of the Middle East is fundamentally sectarian. They have very strong ties to their roots and have major concepts of honor. That, when coupled with the identity crises between nationalism/secularism on one hand and Islamism (or in some cases, Christianism) on the other hand, and then coupled yet again with problematic and un-empathetically drawn borders from the colonial period (see Tarek Osman’s piece from last December for background), politics in the Middle East get pretty damn depressing.

Iraq is only across the border, yet their society is slowly crumbling away. Even the Iraqi government is pleading for help in the form of air strikes from Washington (Obama denied, but this Thursday, the U.S. government announced that it will send 300 military advisers to help Iraq’s army repel the advance of Sunni insurgents).

When you’re sitting comfortably on your idyllic Western lifestyles, it’s easy to look at it and sigh, shake your head, analyze the situation for like two seconds, and then forget about it. Here in Amman, a pretty safe city in a relatively stable country as someone who’s only going to be here for less than three months, similar thoughts occur and I still have that privilege to forget about the situation, but only to some extent. There’s so many more stark reminders of the calamity of the whole situation when you’re closer to the conflict and actually have to keep up with it for your job. You get stark reminders that these are fucking human lives. There are people who are evil enough to kill other human beings, drive them away from their homes, and tear families apart. But as much as we all would like to think of it as “good guys” and “bad guys,” it’s hardly ever that simple. It’s real shady, and they’re all gray.

Then there’s the Syrian refugee situation. Holy molly. If you’re not familiar with the conflict, which not many are, a friend of mine who also received the same scholarship I did and will be going to Sierra Leone to intern at paper based Freetown, wrote a thing about it recently for a Seattle news outlet. Get familiar. Hopefully one of these days I can get access to one of the refugee camps in Jordan (the UNHCR recently opened a new refugee camp) and write a story on one. God knows if there will be people who will talk to me during Ramadan, but I would so want to do something on the Azraq camp during Ramadan or Eid. Stuff has been done on the existing Zaatari camp, but not as much yet on Azraq since it’s still new. When you look at the Zaatari camp, now the fifth largest city in Jordan, you feel pretty bleak real fast. The gender-based and power-based violence that occur, children having to work so young, disputes between refugees wanting to get more resources, rich Arab men coming to the camps only to pick up young Syrian girls to marry in exchange for money for the family, sexual violence by the guards or other refugees, the list goes on. But also, the lack of agency that these people have is so heartbreaking. They don’t have things to do, things to see, things to talk about. It’s a fucking desert. They just want to go home and go back to their lives, but who knows when that’s gonna happen. Instead, they’re on the outskirts of a country that’s not theirs, living a subsidized life provided by people and agencies giving their time, money, and energy for them. That kind of dependency has got to do things to your humanity. Not to mention there’s  added trauma from the things they went through before they even got to the camps. By the way, today is the UN’s World Refugee Day. It’s a shame that in commemoration with this, humanitarian crises are just beginning or still continuing.

Then there’s the LGBTQIA+ community. The challenges they face and resilience they show in living their identities in an oppressive society has always amazed me. Maybe one of these days, I’ll get to writing about a local drag queen or something.

The Jordan Times. I met the managing editor there yesterday. It seems that she’s more concerned with the getting to see Jordan and visiting tourist attraction part of the trip. Which is great, but still, I came here to work. I’d love to still write a couple of pieces for them, especially about things going on within Jordan outside of Amman, like the surrounding governorates and cities. Yes, the dire regional crises is worth covering, but so is the day-to-day lives of people in the country. But given how very watered down the JT’s coverage is, I hope I get to freelance and write feature stuff for different outlets too. The above topics are just a fraction of the things to write about here. It’s crazy.

Welp, that was a long post, but it helped a lot with sifting through all these thoughts. It’s only been three days, and I’m already thinking of returning here maybe after I graduate. Then again, it’s only been three days. Ask me again in a month and we’ll see if the city has driven me crazy.

Also this is gonna sound so basic, but the Middle East is damn hot…..


A photo illustration for an article I wrote on site-specific dance, photographed by Joshua Bessex. (And yes, that’s me.)  
  Read the story here :

A photo illustration for an article I wrote on site-specific dance, photographed by Joshua Bessex. (And yes, that’s me.)

Read the story here: