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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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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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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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

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Since we had our first dinner gathering last night and our house is pretty much guest-ready, I figure it’s time for a virtual house tour. Plus, it feels like all my awkward adolescent years spent watching HGTV (when I thought I could be an interior designer) have been leading up to this moment.

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Living room before & after. I think the only thing we kept is the little white lamp on the table (now in the kitchen), and the coffee/side tables,which we want to replace eventually. Next task is to get some art on the big blank wall and probably paint the green wall a different color. We got the new couch, curtains, and floor lamp from Ikea. Carpet is from Kashmir by way of Sri Lanka. Pillows are from Jordan and Turkey.

It’s taken us several months to get the house looking like this – while the house was fully furnished, and we kept some of the big things like the bedroom sets and a lot of appliances and accessories that were in the kitchen – we replaced a lot of furniture and most of the decor. So that meant slowly moving furniture out of this apartment and into another, or deciding what to donate/sell, and slowly buying furniture as we were able to afford it. I bought a chaise longue that was crazy on sale when a store was closing down. And with my first paycheck here I bought the kitchen table and chairs.

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Usually, this meant me and Layth’s mom sneaking over here during the day after she had brought grandpa to a relative’s house, or while he was taking a nap, so that we could redecorate without him “supervising.” But one day we did come home – before we had fully moved in – to find him standing in our living room, upset and confused about why we had moved the furniture. What to say? He’s 95 but still not used to slowing down – he’s used to running a hospital with hundreds of employees, having a busy social life and a big family around him. It’s difficult and it makes me feel guilty about changing things – especially since everything was in good condition, just either felt way too formal for us, or outdated – but ultimately we’re the ones who will be living here every day, so we might as well like it.

The house is still a work in progress, and maybe not ready for prime-time yet, but it’s definitely starting to feel more cozy as we settle into a routine here and start getting art on the walls.

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Master bedroom before and after: We switched the bedroom furniture with the guest room (sorry guests! this one was just more to our taste. I promise the other bed is comfy too.) Curtains are Ikea, the bed cover and sheets are Vera Wang and Bloomingdales (purchased at an outlet shop in Swefieh), and we added some more of our own carpets.

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The bathroom’s not much different, but we did change the shower curtain and bathroom rug, and we added a corner storage unit and a new medicine cabinet, replacing the little mirror that was above the sink before (all from Ikea).

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The guest room! It has a queen-sized bed, two nightstands, a dresser, and a big wardrobe for clothes or extra storage space. Other than moving this bedroom set from our room and removing some of the extra accessories that we didn’t want to keep, this is pretty much the same as before. I would’ve liked to change the curtains in this room (they’re the same blue drapes as in the “before” photos) – but judging by Layth’s grandfather’s reaction to us changing the curtains in our room (”but the blue color is nice! but they are good material! why don’t you like them? why did you spend money?!”) Changing these curtains will have to wait a little while.

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The office, before & after: AKA, my new favorite room in the house. We got rid of that bizarre desk and moved in the desk and shelf unit Layth had in his old place (from Ikea, per usual). There’s also a comfy chaise longue next to the window, and a TV. There’s still some bulky cabinets on the left wall, but once we figure out what to do with them we might move things around a little in here.

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Sadly, this made me realize that I have only four physical books with me in Amman – and most of them are language-learning books. Granted, I have at least 60 books on my Kindle, but I do miss my books back in the US, especially photography books and poetry, things that don’t translate well on a Kindle.

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