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, Life

After two weeks of being sicker than I’ve ever been in my life, it feels like ages ago that I was visiting Germany for classes. It’s hard to even remember most of that trip. Each day I feel a little more functional, I cough a little less, but my neck and back are killing me as I sit up at my desk for the first time in weeks (after sleeping in weird positions), but it feels good to be very lightly productive today. Continue Reading

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After a crazy, unpredictable, unexpected year, I think I have a job. I’m going to be covering breaking news, business, and politics in the Middle East for the English section of a news website here. I don’t know how they feel about the Oxford Comma yet. More details TK once the ink is dry on the contract.

It’s been a weird road getting here, mostly because I haven’t been actively job hunting most of the year. First of all, I haven’t been in one country long enough to seriously apply for jobs, and I was trying to make freelancing work. I still am. I love working for all sorts of publications, the plum assignments they send me on here, the people I get to meet. I’m hoping that having an actual base in the coming year will be helpful for that. That, and I’m realizing I have to be much more aggressive, which just isn’t my nature.

The point is, with freelancing, when it rains, it pours, and in between, it’s just dead. And I’m not great with downtime. I get depressed. It’s been a main topic of my writing for Arabic class. “Ana ma ba7eb a7ass inni kasouleh ou mish moufeedeh.” “I don’t like to feel that I am lazy or useless.” So when I arrived back in Amman, Layth’s mom very kindly reached out to a friend and they arranged an interview for me at an international school. “You won’t have to work with kids,” they assured me. “You’ll be like an administrative assistant.”

Secretary. Okay. On the one hand, it would give me something to do, and a paycheck. On the other, it’s not my field, I don’t want to change my field, and I don’t like being the person who quits after a month or two. I went to the interview, and they asked me: do you know how to type? Have you used Excel before? Can you manage two tasks at once? Do you show up on time for work?

I almost cried in the interview. Not only were these things something a first year university student should be able to do, they wanted me to work about 50 hours a week for maybe $500 a month. I did the math, comparing it to my last salary, and cried even more. And it was halfway out to the airport, so I didn’t even know how I would get there. 

And then on top of it, I felt like I was being ungrateful, which is horrible, because I know all of this came from good intentions, and people were trying to help me. I called my friend who also lived in Jordan and then went through a two-year period of under- and un-employment in the US. She’s highly educated, qualified, and made ends meet by nannying. She told me not to think of the interview as a gendered response – which, of course on some level, the whole job was gendered – but more as a response to the fact that I’m young. Plenty of recent college grads in America are shockingly lacking in soft skills, and actually don’t know how to use Excel. In Jordan, where high unemployment is endemic – especially among young adults – it’s unlikely that I, as a young person, would have even had the opportunity to learn these skills in a workplace at my age. Or maybe I wouldn’t have had the appropriate training courses in university, or access to certain software.

Earlier this year when Layth came back to Jordan, he applied to over 40 jobs and never heard back from any of them, despite being a highly qualified engineer. His sister, an architect, was searching for full-time work for two years. While looking for work, she tried starting her own firm, she designed furniture, you name it. One of my dear Jordanian friends from college had finally gotten a great job with an educational outreach NGO, only for them to cancel all the contracts and close the office in Jordan. She’s been looking since April for another job. Another friend moved to Dubai for work, only to realize she couldn’t afford rent there, and has to live with 5 or 6 other girls.

So I don’t know. Alhamdulilah, as we say. I only had to look for about a month, and this was the first interview I went on. Alhamdulilah, we have a supportive family. Alhamdulilah, this job is something I’m excited about.