Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Friends of the Earth Middle East

I somehow stumbled into a nice internship with Friends of the Earth Middle East, a wonderful group which brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists. The group focuses on water conservation, environmental protection and restoration, international water relationships, and peace building through shared environmental goals.

A lot of shared water
The idea is that these three groups of people--Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians--share many of the same environmental challenges. All three live in water-scarce environments, for instance, and must innovate to conserve water. And if a solution works for one place, it'll likely work for another.

Friends of the Earth Middle East doesn't directly tackle the conflict, but, by bringing people together and not talking about the conflict, they do a great deal to advance peace.

I'm responsible for social media: Facebookblogstweets, etc. (Yes, those links are meant to be clicked.) I was initially less than enthused, because my job seemed like the typical young person without skills internship: do internet things! But by the end of my first day, I was ecstatic. My job has a real challenge (marketing a sensitive issue to sensitive parties) with a real reward (forging more cooperative relationships between Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians).

Friends of the Earth Middle East may sound innocuous to Americans, but it's doing some pretty radical things for the region. I was shocked, for example, that the entire Amman office uses the word "Israel" and (even more radical!) officially supports a two-state solution. When walking around Jordan, I always use the Arabic "Falastine" to describe the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It's just too sensitive of a subject for people here. A friend and Fulbright English instructor mentioned that one of her students once called the land "Israel" and provoked an lot of yelling and tears.

Similarly, Palestinian leaders promoting the organization face backlash from people who claim that they're normalizing an intolerable situation by working with Israel. For many, amicable cooperation with Israelis signals a surrender to the status quo.

Friends of the Earth Middle East faces criticism in Israel, too. Some Israelis fear close ties with Palestinian groups. The (right-wing) Israeli foreign ministry actually trails one of the Israeli leaders of the Friends of the Earth Middle East.

But Friends of the Earth Middle East and its proponents counter that communication is imperative. Regardless of people's feelings towards the governing entities of Palestine, Jordan, and Israel, these entities exist, people live under them them, and these people struggle because there's not enough water. Any honest assessment of the conflict has to acknowledge these things.

By collaborating with each other on the level of civil society, moreover, the three offices of Friends of the Earth Middle East manage to accomplish things that their governments have little flexibility or inclination to achieve. The Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians of Friends of the Earth Middle East share knowledge, meet with each other, and achieve tangible results. Plus, the very act of collaborating promotes goodwill. Conflict resolution becomes achievable when people get together and speak about non-conflict-related things, instead focusing on taking the time to acknowledge each other's common humanity. What better way to recognize each other as members of the same species than to talk about one of humanity's key common denominators: water.

Tara + River Jordan = Love 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I look Arab.

Or at least that's what people here tell me. It's happening more often these days. I'd like to believe it's because I now have amazing Arabic, but, in reality, I think it's because my freckles have faded.

Over the summer I fell for a trashy TV show called Covert Affairs. It's about a young, female CIA operative who speaks a million languages and travels all over the world. In one scene, an Italian captive inquires about her ethnicity.
"...lovely Mediterranean eyes. You have a drop of Italian in you, maybe?"
"I'm American"
"But before that?"
"Before that? I was American."
I go the same route.

I usually just say I'm min asl Amriki, mia b'mia (of American decent, 100%). But sometimes I ask what country they think I'm from. Often people say Jordanian. Recently people have been saying that I look Lebanese. I'll take it as a compliment; Lebanese are generally considered good-looking (either by nature or by plastic surgery). Also they are the palest.

So, to my dear family who was concerned about me blending in: things are going just fine.

At a Muslim cemetery in Egypt. (What type of Arab do I look like?)

Monday, March 12, 2012

word nerd

I'm in the middle of my last week at Qasid, and in the middle of my final essay.

Essay-writing is usually a stressful thing for me: I'm picky about sentence structure, and I obsess over verbs. But writing essays in Arabic is oddly liberating. I know that, no matter how hard I try, my Arabic essays won't be beautiful. (Give me another year!) My grammar is odd and my verbs are eh.

That said, my essays are probably pretty entertaining for my teachers. I write about important, intelligent-sounding things (like Jordan's refugee policies and Turkish-Iraqi water tensions), but with a mixture of scholarly and kindergarten vocabulary.
Turkey takes water from its rivers to give to the Kurds that live in the southern Turkey but Iraq doesn't like this activity. 
  التركيا ياخذ ماءي من أنهاره لإعطاء على الكرديين الذين يسكنون في جنوب تركيا و لكن العراق لا يحب هذا نشاط
There are three pretty crazy things about Arabic writing. Thing one: punctuation is sparse. (See the sentence above.) It's hard for me to part with semicolons and colons, but I'm managing.

Thing two: it's good form to start your sentences with a verb. (Likes King Abdullah Star Trek = يهب الملك عبدالله ستار تريك) Plus, because you don't have to conjugate the verb precisely if you're using it in the beginning of a sentence, you oftentimes don't know who the subject is for a little while. Thus the focus is more on the action, rather than the person doing the action. This style seems to be changing, though, especially in newspapers. (King Abdullah likes Star Trek = الملك عبدالله يهب ستار تريك) That's right: Arabic grammatical structures are inching closer to English. Globalization?

Thing three: parallelisms are good form, not just a sneaky way to increase your word count.
At first falafel was delicious and tasty, but now falafel is not good and not delicious.
  أولا كان الفلافل لذيذ و ممتاز و لكن الآن الفلافل ليس جيد أو لذيذ
Efficiency is an American value.

Monday, March 5, 2012

dead 2 red

race route

Maybe the most common sentiment uttered in a travel blog: I've neglected this for a while...but I'm back, I promise! If nothing else, this blog can help me remember how to write in English. Inshallah. Hope y'all enjoy.

This weekend, I ran in a relay race from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea...that's about 250km, which was divided up amongst 10 teammates. Considering my training had been limited to carbo-loading, I did pretty well. No injuries. I shouldn't be allowed to get away with things like this.

My team finished in 23hrs, 27 minutes...just under the 24-hour cutoff time. Second to last place, I think, but we also happened to be one of the few teams who didn't cheat. Not that it wasn't tempting: the late-night wild dogs and early-morning sandstorms definitely had me questioning my sanity. But we plowed forward.

This is how the race worked. We gathered at the Dead Sea at 4pm, with our costumes ("Super Slow Superheroes") and sent our youngest runner off on a 5K. One car measured the distance with its odometer, and our other two cars carried our team to the 5K mark, where runner 1 passed the torch to runner 2. Etc.

super slow superheroes
Things got a little more complicated at night, because we were running along an unlit highway in the middle of the desert. (OK, to be fair, we passed through an occasional village or cluster of tents. Once, I even saw a factory. "Run towards the light!" I told myself.) So starting around 6:30pm, one of our cars was responsible for trailing our runner. The "chasing" car was responsible for providing the runner with light, making sure the runner didn't fall asleep, and chasing off obstacles, like wild dogs and curious (drunk?) shabab (young men).

race strategy
Occasionally, during the daylight hours, people would watch us from the side of the road. Not cheer, watch. Although there are a number of athletic people in Jordan, athleticism is still a pretty foreign concept here. In Amman, when expats run along a road, Jordanians stare quizzically as if to ask "what are you running from?" So in these more rural areas, we were met with stares of utter disbelief. I'm sure our exposed legs and/or tight tights did nothing to assuage their shock.

Race officials estimated around 700 participants. Some opted to bike (I'll do this next time). Many ran. I'd guess that at least 50% of participants were expats, but I'm not sure. I was pretty shocked to discover that there were 700 at least mildly athletic people in the vicinity...but there were! Jordan, I've underestimated you once again...

Anyways, it was a wild, delightful, and totally fatiguing 24 hours. I slept through my hotel breakfast the next morning.

no, I'm not on Fulbright. I just have smart friends.