Welcome to Jordan (Mar 19 – Mar 25)

My first week in Jordan was one full of excitement. Read it about below!

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March 18, 6:00 am. The alarm went off. Time to check if I packed everything I needed and head towards Den Bosch central station. Mom and Dad said goodbye and the adventure had begun. After leaving Schiphol Airport, I had a layover in Athens for 8 hours before heading to Amman. I had the chance to go the city center of Athens, see the Acropolis, have dinner and enjoy the Greeks. It was too short to fully appreciate Athens but long enough to know that I will be back 🙂 After heading back to an empty airport (my flight was at 23:50), I arrived in Amman around 02:00 on Sunday morning, March 19. I got picked up by Noor, a local member of AIESEC Jordan.

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Side note: The week here starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday. This is because Friday noon is the one time in the week Muslims must worship together at the mosque. In recent years, however, many Muslim countries have adopted the Western practice of closing offices one day in seven, and some have opted for Friday instead of Sunday.

Jordanians are really hospitable. The first set of questions I got asked here were: ‘Do you need anything? Are you hungry? Do you want anything to drink?’ They won’t take no for an answer. After kindly refusing, we were probably still on our way to get me a typical Jordanian dish, shawarma. Time to break the ice. ‘I am vegetarian and not hungry’. The reaction was telling: ‘Noo…. You are going to miss out on so much stuff! Can’t you take a break from being a vegetarian?’  I’ll swap my shawarma for a falafal, which is amazing here!

Being a vegetarian in Amman is not hard, however telling people you are a vegetarian is hard.

After a long day of flights, taxi and metros I finally ended up at my host’s apartment. My host is Tarek, a Lebanese-Jordanian with a beautiful, not even a month old, apartment near 6th circle, a busy and hip location in Amman. I am really lucky with the host I got. I am free to come and go as I please. I am feeling at home (click the link to see exactly where I live) and Tarek is also a nice guy to hang out with after work. After sleeping in on Sunday and skipping my first day at the volunteering internship I explored Amman near my place. It is really Western where I live. Within a kilometer, you can find a KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Carrefour etc. Really convenient and easy. Even our own Bavaria (without alcohol obviously) is not far away. Definitely not what I expected before I came here!

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Sidenote: Alcohol is legal in Jordan although it is not a big part of the culture to drink. In a cafe, you will see most people drinking water, tea or cola. This is mostly because of their religion but probably also caused by the high prices of alcoholic beverages. You will see a lot of people smoking, though. Smoking is allowed almost everywhere (banned in public places little under a year ago), and people will do it everywhere they can. In Jordan more than 60 percent of adult males currently smoke some form of tobacco and counter to trends in the West the rate is going up, not down. This is about 20 percent in The Netherlands. Even if you are not smoking here, it feels like it because of the second-hand smoke. Even if the second-hand smoke is not going to hurt your lungs, the exhaust gasses from the innumerable cars will do the trick. Air quality is not deemed important in Jordan. Overall the environment doesn’t have it easy here. Trash gets tossed out of the car as easy as taking a breath and trash burnings are a daily practice.

Trash gets tossed out of the car as easy as taking a breath and trash burnings are a daily practice.

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On Monday I had my first day at JOHUD, the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development). JOHUD is the largest and oldest development NGO in Jordan. With 450 employees and around 4000 volunteers, they maintain a strong presence in Jordan’s poorest communities through a network of 51 community centers. The Chairperson of the Board of Trustees is Her Royal Highness Basma Bint Talal, part of the Jordanian Royal Family. I work in the Innovation Lab in Hashmi Shamali in Amman.

This Innovation Lab in Amman is one of five in Jordan and is funded by UNICEF, the EU, The Government of Germany and the Norwegian Refugee Council. The Innovation Lab is part of the International Club House Network in Boston, supported by MIT Lab & The Museum of Science. The Jordanian Innovation Labs aim to empower adolescents and young people in the country, particularly the most-at-risk and vulnerable youth, by providing them life skills training, access to information and technology, and opportunities to positively engage in their community. Read more in this link.

Side note: The Hashemite Royal Family in Jordan is respected everywhere you go. In general, people love King Abdullah II. He is omnipresent. When you eat in a restaurant, you will see his picture. When you drive around in Amman, you will see his emblem on cars. And almost every other government building has a royal reference to it. He inherited the Hashemite crown in February 1999 following the death of King Hussein. The dynasty has held power in Jordan since 1921. He is educated in Britain and the United States, and Abdullah is seen as a bridge between traditional Arab values and the surging westernization of Jordan’s younger generations. Queen Rania is known for her philanthropic work, pushing for better educational facilities for Jordan’s school children and supporting efforts to empower women. Some see Rania, 44, as a symbol of the contradictions that still exist in the region as it tries to come to terms with modernity. She is a business graduate who left her job at a multinational to marry into a monarchy that has ruled Jordan for decades — at times an iron rule. Jordan is also involved in the international fight against ISIS pledging to hit the militants ‘hard in the very center of their strongholds’ following the horrific burning of a Jordanian air force pilot. Below you see a picture of King Abdullah II with Saltbae, a Turkish chef famous from his iconic sprinkle of salt.

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After my first day at work, it was time to indulge on the Jordanian kitchen. Together with Eike, also a volunteer at JOHUD from Germany, I went to Hashem. Hashem is one of the most famous restaurants in Amman. There’s no menu at Hashem Restaurant, but they serve a basic set of dishes that never changes. After you find a table, you’ll immediately, or at least pretty quickly depending on how busy they are, be delivered a plate of vegetables – onions, tomatoes, and mint. You’ll also get a bowl topped with bread. You can then choose your main dishes, falafel is a must – and the owner even claims falafel was invented in Jordan. They also have moutabel, ful medames, hummus, fattet hummus and probably a few other dishes I missed. Check this link to see some awesome photos of the dishes!

After Hashem, we had desert at Habibah Sweets. And not just a desert, we had Kanafeh. Kanafeh is a typical Arab dish. Kanafeh is a Mediterranean dessert that originated in the city of Nablus in Palestine. Nablus is still famous for this dessert, and in fact, the dish is often called kanafeh Nablusi in this region. It is a sweet, cheese-filled pastry made with a special dough and topped with syrup and sometimes topped with pistachios and cashews. See me enjoying it:

The second day at work, Tuesday the 21st of March, the Innovation Lab celebrated Mother’s day. We invited about 150 mothers from the neighborhood to show them what we are teaching the kids and to make them less hesitant to send their kids to the Innovation Lab. It was a huge success and altough we initially 150 mothers, 400 came! Since going, often after school, is optional some moms do not see the value in it and would rather have them work. Showing them what the Innovation Lab is about, helps them appreciate it.

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When the second day ended it was time to get another Kanafeh, but now from a Syrian sweets restaurant. Although Habibah is generally concerned the best Kanafeh in town, this one was way better! The added nuts made the difference! Tuesday night is also karaoke night at Books@Cafe, a gay-friendly bar in the city center. Read more about homosexuality in Jordan here.

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On Wednesday it was time to share some Dutch culture. Before I left the Netherlands I bought a huge amount of Stroopwafels. They are liked literally everywhere I have been and are a great way to break the ice and explain the Netherlands & Dutch culture better. There were some interesting questions and perspectives shared. Something I hope to do a lot more while I am in Jordan.

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Sidenote: During my first week, JOHUD had a training event for UNICEF and provided lunch every day. This gave me the perfect opportunity to taste a lot of the Arab kitchen. Below I share some photos of the dishes and us enjoying it! (Prepare to get hungry). A full description can be found here. On Thursday we had the national Jordanian dish; mansaf. Mansaf is a dish of rice, lamb, and a dry yogurt made into a sauce called jameed. Mansaf is so important in Jordan that it’s been known to resolve conflicts and restore peace with tribes in Jordan – that’s the power of food. It’s also common to eat at Jordanian celebrations, parties, funerals, family get-togethers, and festivals.

Typically in a traditional setting, the big mansaf platter would be placed on a table, and you would stand around with all the other eaters, left hand behind your back, and eat only with your right hand. After some jameed is poured over your rice and lamb, you first grab a piece of lamb, mix it with rice on the platter in your fingers, and when you have a good amount, you transfer the rice and piece of lamb into your palm. Eating it without the lamb is delicious as well! After you have a nice mansaf ball, you then eat the entire thing in one bite – a bite that includes rice, lamb, and jameed. Your fingers should not touch your mouth or lips, so you almost need to drop the mansaf into your mouth. Then repeat, and repeat again. And keep eating until you’re stuffed. Mansaf is a Jordanian meal you won’t walk away hungry from. It gets messy.

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On Friday, the first day of the weekend, I went to visit the host family of Eike. They live close to Baqa’a. Baqa’a camp is one of six “emergency” camps set up in 1968 to accommodate Palestine refugees and displaced people who left the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. See here a nice video giving some background information. The camp, which is the largest in Jordan, is about 20km north of Amman. Between June 1967 and February 1968, the refugees and displaced people were housed in temporary camps in the Jordan Valley but had to be moved when military operations escalated in the area. When Baqa’a was set up it was already a large camp, with 5,000 tents for 26,000 refugees over an area of 1.4 square kilometers. Today it has 119,000 registered Palestine refugees live in Baqa’a camp. Every day there is a huge market inside Baqa’a where they sell practically everything. We strolled around the market until the host, Suhieb, had to leave for the Friday prayers. After the Friday prayers, the most important prayer in Islam, we had a typical Arabic lunch with the host family, sitting on the ground, men only. Suhieb also showed us around, showing where he grew up and how it changed over the last years. He showed me some beautiful places and was really grateful to be invited so warmly.

Obviously we ended the day with KANAFEH

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Saturday, the last day of the weekend, was a chill day. The weather was beautiful, a warm 23 degrees. It was a nice day to stroll around a little and enjoy Amman. In the evening I played a soccer match with some Jordanian friends. I will tell you one thing: Playing football in Jordan is completely different than back home. We were supposed to play for two hours but actually played one. The other hour was spent on bickering whether it was a foul or not, who should take the penalty etc. That happened a lot, especially since every touch, is used to kiss the ground. It’s a different way of playing football, let’s keep it at that.

In Arab Football; Arjen Robben would be more like Tom Beugelsdijk

And so a week ended and it is Sunday again, the first day of the week. I have some awesome things planned for the upcoming weeks. I will share them on my website!

Ciao from sunny Amman 😉 😉 😉