Life, Middle East, Travel, USA

Well, I’ve booked a ticket – the countdown is officially on for leaving Amman. It still doesn’t feel real yet – it feels real in the sense that I’m packing and my house gets more bare with each passing week, but it’s hard to imagine that I won’t be coming back after a few weeks in the US. Continue Reading

Life, Middle East, USA

Do you ever get an idea into your head, and once it’s planted, can only act as though it’s happening, even if you haven’t got a solid plan?

About six weeks ago, for the first time, it occurred to me that it might be time for a change from living in Jordan and from the kind of work I’m doing here. At the time, I was wrapping up a consultancy where I was archiving and editing a large amount of video footage from Syria. A lot of it was either gruesome or heartbreaking to look at day after day, but I think the part that wore me down was the repetition of it – the same stories happening year after year in this stupid war. Suddenly I couldn’t even face my own fieldwork here – often filming or photographing refugees in their interminable stay in Jordan – and I couldn’t face another year in Amman.

In early March, I asked Layth what he thought about me applying for jobs in the US – to see what kind of opportunities are out there and whether my skills and background were even marketable. He thought it was a good idea, and if I got something, it would take some of the pressure off our eventual move to the US, knowing he might be waiting for a work permit or be searching for jobs for a while. So I started applying for jobs, not focused on any geographical area, but only applying for jobs I’d be genuinely excited about and willing to move halfway across the world for. To my surprise, there have been a lot of interesting video opportunities out there, and I’ve even had a few good phone interviews so far. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much, since it seems too good to be true that I could find such a great job this quickly.

So now I’m in a weird place where, if I get a job, I could be moving to the US in three weeks’ time. Or I could be looking for six more months. At least I am in the luxurious position of not being in any real hurry to leave – there’s no lease or job contract ending to worry about, and since I’m 100% freelance again, I can choose how much I really want to work, and what kind of projects I want to take on. Anything I can save for a move is obviously helpful, but honestly, about three days of video work per month is enough to cover my expenses here.

If nothing else, I’m pretty organized when it comes to packing. Compression sacks are your friend.

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Life, Middle East

Trauma, or at least stress, is something I think about a lot. My immediate instinct is to say that my job is not as bad as it could be – it generally involves me looking at or editing graphic images from war zones, filming, photographing or interviewing people who have undergone pretty extreme physical or psychological trauma, or on the “light end,” editing lengthy reports about issues like child poverty and child marriage. Because data and sociological reports are so much less taxing than the particulars of narrative work. I see videos of horror-stricken Syrian men holding children’s limbs in the aftermath of bombings – I’m not there myself. I meet children who will need physical therapy for years to come as a result of their traumatic injuries – but I’m not the one who was injured.

Which brings me to this quote I read recently:

“Almost every trauma survivor I’ve ever had has a some point said, “but I didn’t have it as bad as some people” and then talked about how other types of trauma are worse. Even my most-traumatized, most-abused, most psychologically-injured clients say this… What does that tell you? That one of the typical side-effects of trauma is to make you believe that you are unworthy of care.”

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Food, Middle East

The Middle East, as you may be aware, has some amazing food. I’ll admit, I get sick of eating the same thing over and over, and right now, I pretty much can’t eat anymore felafel and hummus. But I have had some truly wonderful meals here, and most of them have been in someone’s home, in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or even cooked out in a field. But if all else fails, there is really nothing quite like a bowl of fresh figs, ripe to bursting, still hot from the sun hitting the tree in a village in western Turkey.

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Life, Middle East

I never used Uber when I was living in Washington DC. Between the metro, buses, and a zipcar account, Uber and taxis were something I used maybe twice in three years.

But in Jordan, I depend on Uber to get around. Usually I’ll try to flag a regular taxi before calling Uber, but there are times I’ve waited 40 minutes to find an empty taxi. And then if you do manage to find an empty taxi, the driver doesn’t want to go where you need to go, or wants to charge you 5-10x the normal price because of “traffic.” There is always traffic in Amman. Always.

And if you do get a taxi, the driver almost always treats you to an onslaught of extremely personal questions. I think every woman I know here has been sexually harassed or assaulted by taxi drivers. One Jordanian girl friend told me about how she was once in a taxi that got stuck in traffic next to a sidewalk cafe where people were smoking argileh. The driver launched into a diatribe about seeing women smoking in public, blaming my friend for getting him stuck in traffic at such an offensive place. Recently, after news broke that a Jordanian writer had been assassinated in front of a court, a taxi driver praised the killer’s actions to my colleague who was in the car. Continue Reading

Middle East

This weekend I was on the road with the European Union Election Observation Mission, traveling around southern Jordan on a field visit. We met with political and tribal leaders in Tafilah, Aqaba, Maan, South Badia, and Karak, and I tagged along to take pictures. While most of the time was spent driving or in offices for meetings, these are some of my favorite images, including a huge tent for campaign rallies outside of Karak, training election workers, Bedouin guys sitting at a coffee stop, and a Roma family.

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Food, Life, Middle East

Ever since I started planning in earnest for our stateside reception, I’ve been trying to think of little gifts/thank yous to leave at each seat, and also to think of ways to bring both of our cultures into this. The restaurant serves hummus, baba ganoush, and tabbouleh, so we’ll be having that alongside crawfish etouffee and muffuletta orzo. And I’ve been picking out a few favorite Arabic songs to play.

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Middle East, Travel

A four-day Eid weekend took us south to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba and the Red Sea, with a fair amount of off-roading along the way.

Layth took us on the scenic route to Petra, via a turn-off south of the Dead Sea – and luckily we we were in the trusty Feroza, and luckily Layth knows these roads really well. We passed quite a few “road closed” signs, but pressed on as it wasn’t physically blocked, and it was actually paved for the first part – I guess this road was pretty much unpaved until quite recently. But we came to the unpaved part, and going up the steep switchbacks made for some stunning views of the valley as we made our way to Petra. Continue Reading

Life, Middle East

Amman house tour, part 2: somewhat less in-progress! Goodbye green wall, hello artwork and more decor.

Sharing because 1) I want to persuade more friends to come visit me, 2) my mom arrives on Sunday and I’m a little excited to play hostess/tour guide in Jordan, and 3) I’ve never had a house that looks even remotely put-together, so this still freaks me out a little.

Since last time, we got a new balcony table (seen in the first picture through the window, although it’s covered with a table cloth), hung a whole lot of pictures, painted some walls, added some shelves/storage, rearranged some things (especially the office – rotated the desk, moved the chair and ditched the old cabinets), replaced our shower heads (the guest bath just didn’t have one), and got the guest bathroom ready to use – shower curtain, rugs, storage, all that.

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