Friday, December 6, 2013

Tribes on Campus

Last week at the University of Jordan, a professor (typically referred to as "doctors" here) was driving on the UJ campus (typically only doctors are allowed to drive on campus) and struck a female student, putting her in critical condition. According to one of my professors at UJ, the student is now in a coma. In the US this would be a terrible tragedy, but after some shows of support for family and possibly a lawsuit, the incident would likely be forgotten. In Jordan it's more complicated, because according to the campus rumor mill the girl and doctor were from different tribes.

I think tribalism is hard for many Americans to understand, and comes with many connotations of barbarism and backwardness. I think this is largely a product of most Americans' backgrounds: at some point your ancestors got off a plane, boat, or walked across the border to the US, and there was no tribe or family system in place to support them. They were forced to start over, and over centuries of upheaval, migration, and expansion to the West, North, etc., so were their ancestors. This stands in sharp contrast to the Middle East and other older societies, which have inhabited the same spaces for thousands of years. One of my Jordanian friends told me his tribe has more than 200,000 members, and that he knows 1500 of them. He can trace their history back to pre-Islamic times; about 2,000 years.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Outings and Pictures (Including Petra and Wadi Rum!)

Alright, so this is the post I've been promising for a long time but not delivering.

The Treasury in Petra
CIEE (the program I'm staying with) has hosted a number of outings to different places in Jordan. They hold three, one to Petra and Wadi Rum, two to other places of which you get to choose. The Petra/Wadi Rum trip is overnight, the others are not.

This is the link to my giant Facebook photo album, which includes all the pictures from these trips. I'm too lazy to reupload all of them here, sorry, but this should work okay even for those people who don't have a Facebook. It includes pictures from both CIEE trips and my personal travels.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Don't worry, you're American."

The simple fact about having an American passport in Jordan is that it's essentially like having a superpower when it comes to dealing with agents of the Jordanian government. Jordanians are going to treat you like a guest, but also gonna treat you like an American. The Hashemite government is going to treat you with kid gloves.

When I arrived at the Jordanian customs checkpoint inside the airport, I didn't know what hotel CIEE was staying in, the name of the person I was meeting, or anything about my host family. Nevertheless, the conversation with the officer at the checkpoint went something like this:
"Why are you coming to Jordan?"
"To study."
"Where are you staying?"
"Um... with a family..."
"I don't know".
"Okay" *stamp*
I could have been carrying or doing just about anything in Jordan, but instead I paid 20 JDs and was issued a visa at the border. I didn't have to do anything ahead of time or send anything to the Jordanian embassy in America. I know at least one CIEE student has an African nationality (even though she studies at US university and lives in New Jersey) and she's faced serious challenges in maintaining a valid visa in Jordan.

Many of my Jordanian friends here face huge hurdles when it comes to getting a US visa. The ones who have successfully visited America have mostly done so using the J1 work and travel program for students, which allows a student to work for three months in America (usually doing some menial labor) and then travel around for a month. Non-student Jordanians, however, have a tougher time. Applying for a US visa costs hundreds of dollars, requires an in-person interview, and a load of paperwork from the embassy. The average Jordanian probably can't afford to pay ~300 JDs for a visa they may not even get.

The reason for this is because the US government is concerned that some Jordanians who visit may simply overstay their visa and illegally immigrate to the US. The concern is not totally unfounded. One Jordanian told me rather bluntly:
"They think if they let me into the US I would throw away my passport and stay. And they're right! I would."
"Because it's the land of opportunity."
Even inside Jordan, having a US passport means the police here usually won't even look at you twice. I'e ridden the bus to and from Aqaba in the past, which is usually stopped by the police here at least once each direction. When the police got on the bus, they began collecting ID cards from everyone. When they saw the passports of my American friends and I, they didn't take them. In fact, they didn't even look at them to see the identity page or if my visa was valid. Every Jordanian citizen, on the other hand, had their ID's taken and presumably recorded. A number of Syrian refugees on board were taken off and questioned.

Last weekend, some soldiers actually talked to me a little bit, which was a change. I was driving with an American friend and Jordanian friend in the vicinity of the Dead Sea (which is close to the Israeli border) when we ended up going through a Jordanian army checkpoint. The soldiers ordered my friend to pull his car to the side of the road after seeing his ID. We handed over our University of Jordan ID cards, then the soldier demanded to see our passports, which only I had (in the back of the car). My Jordanian friend told me to give it to him.

I stepped around to the back of the car and got my passport, then handed it to the solider. I'm fairly certain he didn't speak any English, so the following conversation took place entirely in Arabic.
"Do you speak Arabic?", he asked me.
"A little"
"You're a student at the University of Jordan?"
And then he was done. Still, the incident stood out to me as the only time any member of the security services took an interest in me beyond the cover of my passport.

I suspect the reason for this is at least partly the Jordanian economy's dependence on tourism for capital. A tourist who had an unpleasant time with the police is unlikely to come back to Jordan and spend more money. Nonetheless, it's a little strange to be treated like a supercitizen in someone else's country.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Afraid Abroad

My favorite quote in Arabic is one taught to me by my Macalester professor:

".الخوف لا يمنع من الموت لكنه يمنع من الحياة"

In Arabic, it means "Fear doesn't prevent death, but it prevents life". The quote itself is from Naguib Mahfouz, who was a famous Egyptian novelist and the only Arab to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

I have something of a conservative personality, but I try to push myself to live life as the quote suggests. Before going to college, I really failed to do that at all. I was repeatedly invited to study abroad, but declined. To high school me, the thought of being in some other country with zero friends, zero family, zero knowledge of the geography, and zero understanding of the language was just too terrifying.

Monday, November 4, 2013

All the King's men, a proposition, and an incredible act of hospitality

I apologize for not writing for so long - I got sucked into midterms and a bit behind on my schoolwork after my Eid al-Adhak break, and sort of put off writing any thing for my travel blog. So I'm sorry. But not that sorry.

Daily Life (حياة يومي)

At this point, I've sort of settled into a daily routine here in Amman. On Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays I have class at 9:00 AM. On Mondays and Wednesdays I have it at 8:00 AM (Friday and Saturday are the weekend here, since Friday and not Sunday is holy in Islam). So every day, I get up about an hour and a half before class (in theory), get dressed and wander out onto my street to find a taxi. Samira, my host mother, usually leaves the house before I do, riding to the school where she teaches with her daughter-in-law. She always leaves me a cup of tea and either fried or boiled eggs, something I consider an incredible act of generosity given how much work she already does for me and her sons.

The ride to the University of Jordan usually takes about 20-30 minutes. Today, however, it took more like 30 or 40. As we were riding, I noticed Jordanian soldiers holding M-16s spaced approximately every ten meters along the edge of the street. Traffic had slowed basically to a crawl along the entire length of Medina Monawarra street, atypical even when there's been an accident. I asked my taxi driver in Arabic why the army (al-jeesh) was out in the streets today. "The King is going to Parliament", he said. The net impact of the King's trip on my life was that I was fifteen minutes late to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) class today.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Taxi Amman

If you don't have your own car in Jordan, you're probably going to be riding a taxi. Public transportation in Amman here is limited and somewhat unscheduled, while privately operated buses tend to operate only on the most profitable routes. Biking and walking are rather dangerous due to a general lack of sidewalks and a Jordanian tendency to park on sidewalks that are available. Taxis, on the other hand, are literally everywhere. Unless you're on a side street or an an alley, there will be an empty taxi available within a few minutes. The exception is on Thursday during the evening rush hour. I've gone almost an hour without finding a taxi. The exception is on Thursday during the evening rush hour (basically the start of the Jordanian weekend). I've gone almost an hour without finding a taxi.

If you wanted to call a taxi to pick you up at a specific place, your only option is Moumayaz Taxi. Moumayaz is slightly more expensive than other taxis, but are the only company that takes fares by phone. They can be visually differentiated from all other taxis because they are silver rather than yellow. I've never had a reason to take a Moumayaz Taxi, because it's always been extremely easy for me to flag down a yellow cab instead.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fifteen forcible sexual offences at Macalester in the last three years

Every year, Macalester is required by federal law to release a report detailing campus safety and various safety/security policies. This includes statistics on reported crimes against students, and where they occurred. This is typically distributed at Mac via email by Terry Gorman in the form of a long PDF. I decided to read this report, to save you the trouble of sifting through it.

Overall, Macalester is a pretty safe campus. Over the last three years: zero homicides, one robbery, one aggravated assault, one stolen car, and a handful of burglaries in the dorms (lock your doors, people). Unsurprisingly, each year there are several hundred write ups relating to illegal drug and alcohol use, although few are referred to the St. Paul Police.

The most disturbing fact in the report is the number of sex offences. Macalester has had fifteen forcible sex offences over the last three years, including six last year. The report doesn't distinguish between types of sex crimes, so they could be anything from fondling to rape. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that any amount of sexual assault on campus should be considered unacceptable. It's worth noting that this report only includes crimes reported to security - and according to RAINN, only about half of all sexual assaults are ever reported.

Very little about any of these incidents is every publicized for obvious reasons, including their eventual outcomes. But I was reminded once again of Anna Binkovitz' article last year in the Mac Weekly. Her rapist was allowed to stay at Mac, graduate and collect his degree:
I will also be tied to what I see as a pattern of survivors of sexual assault who are forced to watch their school choose to protect the future of criminals over their own safety...
I want my Macalester degree to be associated with the amazing people I see everyday, but when we allow predators to graduate without having to learn from their mistakes, we are ensuring that our school’s reputation will be determined by their future actions.
And I think that pretty much says it all. I don't normally try to plug my own blog beyond posting new stuff to my personal Facebook, but please consider sharing this with your Mac friends on Facebook or Twitter using the buttons at the bottom. The more attention this gets, the more likely something will get done about it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Republic, if we can keep it.

This week, Sagebrush Scot is happy to have Jeff Garcia guest-blogging. This article is primarily a response to last week's editorial by Sam Doten in the Mac Weekly.

In Spring 2013, an embattled administration dealt with a discrimination lawsuit, a controversial student campaign, and the resulting probations. We have now, of course, come back into fresh controversy, and new accusations toward our institution. The conversation about Macalester marks a resurgence of radicalism on campus: the affected groups see administrators as unfeeling elitists that muffle “undesirable” voices -- a serious and unfounded charge.

The media around this reeks of conspiracy. Last week, one writer made a call for “true democracy” as the solution to a supposed purge of activists from leadership, going so far as to include words like “subversives” and “undesirables” in discussions on probations. Problematic language aside, the assumption is that if the administration is kept out of student affairs, the campus will run as a direct democracy, where students will be fired into activists, and rally to chastise the big, bad admins.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Short Takes

I'm still waiting for my camera to be returned to me, so I still don't have pictures of Wadi Rum. In the meantime, I thought I'd post briefly about some of the little things here I notice every day, but that aren't really worthy by themselves of a full length post.


Living in Jordan makes me much, much more appreciative of the strict littering laws in the United States. In my home state of Oregon, intentionally discarding garbage is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and/or $6,250 in fines. Police enforce it with relish. A friend of mine in Oregon loves to pick up anything he sees other people litter and passive aggressively hand it back to them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Meet a new country, same as your old country

The more time I spend in Jordan, the more I am struck by the things here that really are not different from what I was used to in the United States.

This is not a revelation, I would imagine, to anyone who has traveled abroad for an extended period before. Globalization means that as an American, almost everywhere you go has a McDonalds and a Starbucks. In Jordan, American style restaurants dot every corner near the university district. Advertisements for Ford and Pepsi abound. Two and Half Men and How I Met Your Mother, subtitled in Arabic, are broadcast on the TV alongside Turkish dramas. English is the country's unofficial second language, and almost everyone in Amman can read the alphabet and at least say a few words. On Sunday nights, many of us American students go to Buffalo Wings and Rings, watch American football on the TV, and drink beer. If the beer was cheaper ($7 US a pint!) you would probably think you were in the US.

CIEE students watching NFL football on a Sunday night in Amman.
It isn't just American influence that is pervasive in Jordan. A Korean television dance show called Helm as-Shabab (Loosely translated: the youth's dream) is popular on television as well. Samsung tablets and phones are heavily advertised and used. In Petra, I saw a lot of Chinese tourists, signs in Chinese, and even some Chinese imitation restaurants. Perhaps one of the most remarkable moments from my time in Jordan was at a birthday party held for one of my host family's grandsons. The party was held at Burger King, and the kids played games and danced to music. The birthday boy's favorite song? Gangnam Style. I pondered the implications of sitting in an American restaurant in Jordan listening to Korean pop music. The world is flat, and it's getting flatter all the time.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Jordanian architecture

I'm going to write a longer blog post with pictures about my trip to Wadi Rum, which I returned from yesterday. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced my camera, and I don't want to write that post without pictures if it can be helped. I fear I may have left it on the tour bus - if that's the case I'll have to try and scrounge up some pictures from other people. In the meantime I will hope it turns up, and write about the interesting ways Jordanians build their homes.

This is a pretty standard Jordanian home, pulled directly off of Google images. I saw dozens and dozens of buildings like this as I rode down the Desert Highway toward Wadi Rum. The only buildings that don't look this way are commercial buildings (like hotels) and government buildings.

The most noticeable feature is the support columns with rebar still sticking out of the roof. Almost every residential building, especially in rural Jordan, looks like this one. Why? It's planning ahead for potential expansion. My host mother, Samira, explained to me that she didn't think the best use for her family's money was to simply let it sit in the bank. "If it sits in the bank, yani, it disappears. We put it back into the house, and it will always be here yani."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The King and Jordanian Politics

Politics in Jordan is interesting. The current ruler of the country, King Abdullah II, is a monarch who still retains lot of power. The country has a parliament, but the King sets their agenda and can (and often does) replace the Prime Minister and other government figures at will.

Perhaps the most interesting article about King Abdullah's reign is this March interview with him by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. The overall gist of the article is that the King loves the US and wants to transition to an American style democracy as soon as circumstances allow. But the king also made numerous blunt and somewhat derogatory comments about various Jordanian political factions that he claims stand in the way, calling tribal leaders "dinosaurs" and the influential Muslim Brotherhood (known as the Islamic Action Front in Jordan) a "Masonic cult".

The king seems to believe that he cannot give up his authority without first creating a strong and diverse political culture in Jordan, lest the nation fall into the hands of the Brotherhood or devolve into tribal factionalism, which remains a challenge in Jordan:
Earlier that day, in his private office in Al Hummar, which overlooks the wealthy neighborhoods of West Amman, the king had explained to me the reason for the trip to Karak: he was trying, in advance of parliamentary elections in January, to instruct these tribal leaders on the importance of representative democracy. He wanted, he said, to see Jordanians build political parties that would not simply function as patronage mills but would advance ideas from across a broad ideological spectrum, and thus establish for Jordan a mature political culture.
The interview provoked a strong reaction from many Jordanians. The Royal Hashemite Court here backtracked on Abullah's comments, saying he was misrepresented. If you read the comments on the article, many supporters of the King claim the interview was fabricated wholly or in part.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A people, a language, and thoughts on learning it

كوب شايkoob shai – cup of tea

Today, as I loitered on the University of Jordan campus waiting for my class to start, I decided to go and grab a cup of tea from one of the many cafeterias that are scattered about. Tea and coffee on the UJ campus are extremely cheap by American standards – a cup runs 0.10 JD, which is about 15 cents in US dollars. In the cafeteria, I am again confronted by a common scenario – I don’t really know what to do here. I don’t know where the cash register is. I don’t know what everyone is saying. I manage to order a cup of tea the old fashioned way – saying shai and gesturing.

After I pay, a girl I don’t know approaches me. “Did you get what you wanted?” she asks. I tell her I did. “I just wondered,” she says sincerely, “A lot of people here don’t speak English, so I can help if you need it.” I thank her I got everything, and leave.

I tell this story because it illustrates both the best part of studying abroad in Jordan and the most challenging part. The people of Jordan that I study and live with are overwhelmingly kind and helpful, like the girl who offered to help me. But my general inability to really speak and understand the language is a growing source of frustration.

The University of Jordan campus.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Snapshots from a week in Jordan

Getting There

As I board the Air France flight from Detroit to Paris, the French crew greets me: "Boujour". I know so little French that I don't even know what the proper response is, so I mumble a greeting in English and scurry down the aisle to look for my seat.

The plane is headed for Charles de Gaulle airport, and I'm concerned about being able to communicate once I get there. I ask a friend who travels internationally a lot if people working at the airport speak English. "Don't worry", he tells me. "Just stand there looking confused and keep saying 'I'm American.' They'll understand."

I find my seat in the center aisle. The middle-aged couple sitting next to me are Americans - I can tell because all the Europeans on the flight a) all look like Daniel Craig and b) are reading a copy of Le Monde. I initiate a brief conversation and discover that they are from Green Bay, Wisconsin. The wife is an ophthalmologist and the husband is an accountant; they're flying through France on their way to the wedding of a friend in Italy. I ask, Have you ever been to Europe before?" Mr. Green Bay admits he has not, and a brief look of fear washes over his face. I can empathize. I consider passing along my friend's advice, but decide it might not be as well received.

At this point, the well dressed European in front of me reclines his seat so that it rests directly on top of my kneecaps. This is of course the ultimate dick move you can pull on an airplane. Mr. Green Bay looks at me sympathetically, then admits apologetically in a whisper that the guy had done the same thing to him when they first boarded, and that he had convinced him to switch to the seat in front of me. I resign myself to watching Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand, which as it turns out is an excellent movie. Mr. Green Bay shrugs: Nothing I can do, his face says.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The last word on KWOC

If you're a first year, transfer, or not a Mac student and you don't know what KWOC is, Sean Ryan at the Mac Weekly wrote an excellent article about some of their activities toward the end of last semester. For KWOC's side of the story, you can check out the link to their Tumblr page in the sidebar of this blog.

As we head toward the new school year, I want to reiterate my opinion that KWOC should wind down their campaign against Macalester's purchasing card contract with Wells Fargo. This is not a new opinion coming from me, but I feel it is important to address the issue again because KWOC activists have announced they intend to launch a three year campaign to force PBR and the college to end their business relationship with Wells Fargo. If they continue their campaign for the next two or three years, it seems clear they will achieve little except dividing the student body and damaging Macalester's reputation.

President Rosenberg has made it clear that he has no interest in ending the Macalester-Wells Fargo purchasing card arrangement at this point, saying in a meeting with KWOC organizers that:
“I have a great deal of respect for the two people [Wheaton and Walker] who spent so much time thinking about this decision ... Your tactics have shown that you don’t understand me. I will never make a decision based on increased application of pressure or threats.”
Perhaps even more damningly, more than 200 Macalester students signed a petition organized by Mac GOP activists supporting the administration's decision to retain the Wells Fargo contract. When your campaign has resulted in more than 10% of Mac's hyper-liberal student body is siding with the campus Republicans over your student activist group, it should be clear you went wrong somewhere along the line. This article is intended as an exploration of where KWOC went wrong and what everyone can learn from their mistakes as we enter the new academic year.

Before I dive into that, however, I need to say something. I truly respect KWOC organizers as people. One of my closest friends at Mac is a KWOC organizer who participated in the blockade and was disciplined for her actions. She's a brilliant student, a hard worker, and a dedicated person. I have nothing but respect for her. I have no doubt that she and her friends do everything they do with the best of intentions. But on this issue, we do not agree.

It's also important to emphasize this: I do not support Wells Fargo. My money is in a little bank that operates in the Pacific Northwest and invests in my hometown's community. Wells Fargo shares some responsibility for the current foreclosure crisis and I have no love for them. There's a reason they got sued by the Justice Department and paid $175 million dollars to settle allegations of racist lending.

Now, back to the point: where did KWOC go wrong?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Suing telemarketers (and their enablers)

Some people know that over the course of the last semester, I sued a telemarketing company in small claims court lawsuit for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. A story about that lawsuit, authored by myself and some classmates, has been posted over at the Life of the Law. Due to space constraints, it doesn't have all the details, but it provides a good overview of what was certainly my most personal foray into consumer protection laws:
Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991 to put a stop to unsolicited phone calls. The TCPA is rather unique because it specifically allows individuals who receive these illegal calls to sue the telemarketers in small claims court where the average person can get justice for minor damages and they don’t need a law degree to do so. It offers plaintiffs relief of between $500 to $1500 for violations. 
It is illegal under the TCPA to initiate or cause to be initiated “any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system [ATDS] . . . [to any] cellular telephone service.” 
The TCPA also prohibits “any call using any automatic telephone dialing system to any cellular telephone service.” In short, those annoying automated Averett had been getting are illegal under federal law. So, with the help of some fellow Macalester students, he sought protection under the law.
The full story behind them company I sued, Callerid4u, can be found on the Telecom Complaince News Press. To sum it up: they are a "telecom utility" company that makes money by routing millions of illegal robocalls thorough US numbers (instead of online) and sharing the resulting "dip fee" revenue with overseas telemarketers.

I also ended up losing my small claims court lawsuit, which alleged that Callerid4u "caused to be initiated" illegal robocalls by sharing the per-call revenue with telemarketers. It seems clear that new legislation will be required to end this practice, but I have little hope anything will get done in the current political environment. I emailed the information on that blog, which is all sourced and appears to be accurate, to a number of press organizations and legislators. No dice so far.

But I haven't gotten a robocall on my cell phone since.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Admissions Practices and Pulling Calves

Every year, Macalester's Admissions Department puts up a class profile showing some statistics about the incoming class of freshmen. This year, the Class of 2017 came from 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. It doesn't say how many, or what percentage, came from a rural area. So I thought I would write about my experience being a rural student at Macalester, and do my best to explain for any of my interested urban and suburban classmates what it is like to come from a small town in the middle of nowhere to the big-city environs of Macalester.

I started thinking about this back in March, when the New York Times published an article highlighting a simple problem confronting college admissions departments - low income, highly talented high school students aren't applying to "selective" colleges (as defined by Barron's top 238). According to a study by the Brookings Institution, only 34% - about a third - of high achieving, low income students attended selective colleges. Many of these students could probably get in - if they would apply. But they don't. The authors noted that the students who don't apply to selective colleges do so because they are from:
[school] districts too small to support selective public high schools, are not in a critical mass of fellow high achievers, and are unlikely to encounter a teacher or schoolmate from an older cohort who attended a selective college.
In response to this study, Professor Claire Watkins of Bucknell published an excellent Op-Ed for the Times, describing the challenges rural students like herself had faced in attempting to apply to selective colleges. She talked about the experience that she and a friend had while traveling to enter an academic competition in Nevada in high school:
Looking to size up the competition, we asked what high school he went to. He said a name we didn’t recognize and added, “It’s a magnet school.” Ryan asked what a magnet school was, and spent the remaining hour incredulously demanding a detailed account of the young man’s educational history: his time abroad, his after-school robotics club, his tutors, his college prep courses. 
All educations, we realized then, are not created equal. For Ryan and me, of Pahrump, Nev., just an hour from the city, the Vegas boy was a citizen of a planet we would never visit. 
Now, I am not a "high-achieving, low-income" student. I was fortunate enough to be born into a family with a relatively high income,  and both my parents had four-year degrees from a good state university. But I am a rural student. Home is a small ranch in Baker County, Oregon. Baker City (the county seat) is an old, struggling mill town in Northeastern Oregon that is about a two hour drive from Boise in Idaho and a five hour drive from Portland, the state's main population center.