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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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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Anthropology, Grad School, Life

My close friends have heard me talking about grad school for the last 2 or 3 years – and today I found out that I was accepted at University of Münster’s Visual Anthropology, Media and Documentary Practices MA program. I got the email while sitting outside at a cafe waiting for a friend, and while I sat there I just kept thinking “I want to remember how perfect my life is right now.” The program, for me, is the best of both worlds, combining #filmmaking with a solid social science background. I do 90% of the coursework online, which means my research and film projects can be done in #Jordan, and twice a year I travel to Germany for seminars. Last year I was accepted to a MA program and my potential adviser told me I had one of the strongest applications, yet I still would’ve come out with at least $60,000 more in student debt – and would’ve had to move back to the US. The fact that I can study this field I love without uprooting my life and career in #Amman (and sabotaging my marriage) and without taking on more debt feels too good to be true. I can’t wait to meet my cohort this fall, but right now I just feel incredibly #thankful for everything that brought me here, especially for Layth and his unending love and support. Now to pay tuition! #gradschool #whowantstoteachmegerman (at Amman, Jordan)

Life

We’ve been on an epic Eid al-Adha staycation for about the last nine days, and it has been so perfect. At first, part of me couldn’t help but think of all the places we could have run away to in Asia for nine days, but ticket prices put me off traveling anywhere (the equivalent of trying to travel the day before Thanksgiving in the US). Plus I hadn’t had a day off in about two months, so staying in was just what I needed. Layth and I marathon watched Narcos and munched on sweet potato fries and sambousak. I actually cleaned our house. And I am very nearly done with redecorating the upstairs flat, after reupholstering a couch and two armchairs, plus many trips to Ikea and many hours cleaning, carrying out old furniture, and hemming curtains. 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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So, in addition to my job as a journalist that takes me to hospitals on the Syrian border and southern Jordan to meet with tribal leaders, I also apparently moonlight as a chair reupholsterer.

I’ve just finished my third and biggest project so far, a sofa, removing the sad, old floral fabric and finding its inner glam with teal velvet.

I took inspiration from this midcentury couch from West Elm, but being priced at $1300 originally, and the fact that there’s no West Elm in Jordan, I decided to emulate it.

For this couch, I bought 16 meters of fabric at 4JD/m, total 64 JD ($90 US)
Paying the tailor to sew new cushion covers: 50 JD ($70 US)
So a total cost of about $160 plus some elbow grease and tools I already had to transform an old couch.

Obviously this one is a two-cushion couch and the arms are styled a bit differently, but the color is pretty dead on and I think it looks great. Plus I even picked up some nesting coffee tables from Ikea that are pretty similar to the one in the West Elm photo.

This is all going in the flat above ours, which we’ll hopefully be renting out soon. So, tragically, I will not be enjoying this couch personally, but I am jealous of whoever gets to curl up on it in the winter in Amman.

I also reupholstered this beast of a wingback chair, which originally had red and gold fabric on it that just made me think of Gryffindor house from Harry Potter, and now I have to do the same to its mate so there will be a pair of them.

More pictures TK once the apartment is all set up and looking pretty.

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Some things in Jordan are frustrating, expensive, and confusing. Like dealing with bureaucracy in any way. But some things that I expect to be difficult or expensive or take a long time (because they do in the States) are actually really easy. Like tailoring a wedding dress.

I’ve been putting off/dreading getting my dress sized for months. I didn’t know if it would take months, if it would be some really awkward process, I didn’t want to go alone and didn’t really have a friend to go with me, didn’t know how much it would cost, etc. So much so that I didn’t get it done until after our reception date in Amman, if we were still having one here. But I figured I should do it while my mom was here, so I found one tailor listed online on Gardens St., hoped there would be others in the same area if that one didn’t work out, so last Sunday we went.

Predictably, I found the shop and saw it had been converted into a hair salon. So I went into a formal dress shop next door, told the lady I was looking for a tailor, and she directed me across the street into a shopping plaza, downstairs, to the left, and there I found Said’s little hole-in-the-wall shop. I realized later he was located next to several other tailoring shops, but his was the first one I saw.

I was sort of expecting a girly bridal shop – or at least a woman working there – and those places probably exist, but Said directed me to a little dressing room, where I changed into my too-big dress, and then he pinned up the sides. As he did so, two very conservative women walked in and took the opportunity to gawk at me letting a guy touch me to pin up my dress, which was mildly mortifying. But rather than crawling back to my home on whore island, I changed back into my regular clothes and went to ask when it would be ready and how much.

“Today’s Sunday?” Said asked. “Uhhhh…. Wednesday. I can have it for you by Wednesday.”

And the cost? 25 JD, about $35 USD.

I did have a bad dream that Said decided to alter my dress using bright blue yarn, but I went back today and he did a good job. And I left him a couple of skirts to hem up too, for 5 JD more.

Said is angling for an invite to our wedding party in the US, but he also told me that his application at the embassy had been rejected a few times, so I’m not sure there’s much I could do to bring him to the party. Sorry Said.

I don’t know how this works in the US, but anyone I know who’s gotten married, it seems like dress altering is a months-long process that costs at least a few hundred dollars. I’m not sure if that’s because people are trying to lose weight before the wedding and they do multiple fittings, or if it’s because tailors get booked up months in advance, but this was really easy. And assuming my metabolism stays the same for a few more months (I’ve only ever been five pounds heavier once, and that was in a Rochester winter when I was drinking a lot more beer and eating like a college student) I think I should be good.

The only bad thing about this was then trying to catch a cab to go to work, but that’s a rant for another day.

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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Thousands gathered at King Hussein Park in Amman, Jordan to celebrate the centennial of the Great Arab Revolt on June 3, 2016.

This was so much fun to photograph – it felt like the fourth of July/being at the county fair – complete with an airshow, bouncy castles, bubble soccer, and face-painting – but the flags were Jordanian and kids were encouraged to climb around on top of tanks.

Photos by Lindsey Leger