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By Dominique Bonessi

As my trip is winding down I find myself distinguishing between the things I will miss and the things I could live without.  But instead of focusing on the things I dislike I will concentrate on things that I can’t get enough of here in my country.

  1. The Food: Shwerma, Hummus, Beans, Mansef…..and the list goes on.  I will not be able to go back to the states and eat hummus from the container; rather I will go back and try to create my own hummus—probably cheaper too.  My host mom has also taught me so much about Jordanian cooking from stuffed olive leaves, to summer watermelon and cheese, and almond cake.
  2. Desert Visits: I recently just got back from Wadi Mujib and the Dead Sea—my favorite trip so far—and I realized how beautiful the desert of Jordan is with various places to hike, swim, bike, and explore.  Each wadi with its own unique beauty, colors, and secrets.  This weekend trips have been great for rest and relaxation especially between busy weeks with studying and homework.
  3. Cafés: I know there are great café’s in DC, but as it is in a city they tend to be busy all the time with no space to spread out and get work done.  The café’s in Amman have been my sanctuary for work and--of course—my coffee fix.  Each café has comfy music, couches, and atmosphere to get work done without it being stressful and time consuming.  In DC, I don’t get the same atmosphere for studying with hundreds of people around and students sweating over their books to cram for the next exam.
  4. MBC on TV: Middle East Broadcasting has been a great source for me to simply turn on the TV and listen to Arabic.  In the states I have to dig through the internet to listen to Arabic channels and it is not as enjoyable as sitting in front of the TV with my host mom as we talk about our days and the celebrities on TV.  I especially have come to enjoy the Turkish soap operas and I can understand the storyline better now.
  5. Friends: I have had the opportunity and the honor to meet some of the most amazing Jordanians here and my time here would not have been as enjoyable if it wasn’t for them.  I am truly grateful for their friendship and the time I have spent with them, and I hope they come and visit me in the states and/or I have time to go back to Jordan to see them.

By Dominique Bonessi

Look Up!!!

I finally get what this guy is saying.

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of taking a trip to Wadi Feynan.  If you ever come to Jordan most of your trips will be to desert valleys [wadi] with beautiful multi-colored rocks, uncharted paths, and kind locals.  The tourism industry in Jordan has made a killing off of weekend expeditions from Amman to the valleys including transportation, meals, accommodations, and activities.

I have had several opportunities to stay in traditional Bedouin tents, biked across the desert, watch the sunset, and sleep in the Econo Logde, an eco-friendly hotel in the middle of Wadi Feynan.  And through it all I did it without a phone, a computer, or wi-fi—what a concept.

But really, on a daily basis I don’t have wi-fi or access to internet for at least two-thirds of my day.  I go to school I talk with people in Arabic, I meet with friends and have coffee, and I look up when I walk from place to place.  Disconnecting from my phone and technology has really made me realize how much I use my phone in DC and at school.  But what for?—It is such a distraction and doesn’t allow you to live in the moment.

I also realized that not being constantly connected to a phone also helps me with my Arabic.  Instead of being on my phone I take the time to engage in conversation and focus in on the target language.  I have heard that the iPhone is killing the art of conversation and I agree; we look for any excuse not talk to people who are in the same room as us, and for what?—Take time to turn your phone off and enjoy time with the people you love.

When I go back to GW I think I will try to turn off my data when I don’t absolutely need it and avoid receiving Facebook and Snapchat updates at all hours of the day. I also want to start only using my phone if I have a wi-fi signal and saving those important moments for myself instead of constantly having to share them with the world.

By Dominique Bonessi

They were waiting for three hours.

In Mafraq, just a 12 minute drive from the Syrian border, sitting in crowded oven-like room refugees--women, men, and children—needed clothes.

One-by-one they were escorted by a volunteer to the tables piled with lightly used pants, skirts, hijabs, shirts, shoes, and anything else the volunteers had collected.  The flee market was an organized system with a section for men, women, boys, girls, shoes, and bed sheets.  Many of the refugees were women picking up clothes for a family of two girls and two boys with a baby on the way.

I was working the hijab table, unfortunately, it was the smallest table in the flea market of clothes.  Each woman in the family was able to select a scarf, but we only had one box and a bag of hijabs.  After an hour we had to start turning women away looking for scarves.  Eventually, I gained the confidence to escort a few women to find clothing for their children and husbands.  Many of them just needed the essentials, which made me really rethink the amount of clothes and extra things I don’t need on a daily basis.

After two hours crowds were restless and started pushing on the makeshift barrier between the flea market and the waiting area for the refugees.  Women and men entered the store clenching small blue books given to them by the UN.  One volunteer explained to me that these books were to receive help and services by the local governorate of Jordan.

My volunteer experience was with a group of 50 engineering students from the University of Jordan devoting their labor day to serving the fellow Arabs.  These young college students from Amman who have everything at their finger-tips realize how fortunate they are with the ability to attend a university, have a roof over their heads, and clothes on their back.

Whoever said Arab pride and nationalism were dead has never seen a well-oiled machine quiet like this one.  The truth is, any day the shoe could be on the other foot—no pun intended—and it may be Syrians reaching out to Jordanians to supply clothes, food, or clean drinking water.  Syrians, Jordanians, Palestinians may be the places they comes from, but at heart they have a greater common denominator as Arabs.

By Dominique Bonessi

Amman may not be a New York or a DC with plenty of areas to spread out and study in the sun or walk around, but there the one thing they do have are awesome cafes for studying.

Every weekend I have made it my job to find the best of these cafes by word of mouth, the internet, or just walking around popular areas in Amman.  Here are my top three favorite study places in Amman:

  1. Turtle Green Café: Rainbow Street near 1st Circle.  If you’re missing home and need a place that offers reasonably priced beverages and food Turtle Green is the perfect vibe for you.  This tiny two floor coffee shop is just the surface of the hipster culture in Amman.  The beverages range from Jordanian classics like lemon-mint juice to lattes to green tea shakes.  The salads are also made with fresh ingredients and zesty dressings.  For a study space the café has everything, couches and desks for comfort, free wifi, and the perfect calming tunes of study music.  And if that wasn’t enough there are also really turtles swimming in a tank next to the window.
  2. Beanoz: Across the street from the North Gate of the University of Jordan.  This café has become a hang out spot for my friends and I in between class periods.  The study and relaxation mood changes on any given day along with the music varying with everything from rap to old school Beatles music.  There are very few food options but their omelets, sandwiches, and ice teas are the perfect lunch that is a little more expensive than a regular lunch option, but good for once a week. The barista is also very friendly with everyone and always asks if we need anything.  Finally there is always wifi and chess to play for our entertainment.
  3. Café Paris: Paris Circle Downtown. This isn’t as much of a study place as it is good for a study break.  Tuesday nights are a popular night around 9pm to 12am for drinks, good dance music, and a fun time with friends.  If you couldn’t guess from the title the café is very popular for Jordan hipsters and study abroad college students.  The music varies from hardcore rap to 80s Michael Jackson music, but always a fun time.  The once issue may be the immense about of smoking there is in a given night leaves your clothes smelling nasty, but if you can see past the smoke—no pun intended—you can see this swanky café/lounge offers the best of Jordanian youth culture.

By Dominique Bonessi

So after two weeks back from my spring break, I fell into a rut! Missing my family, my boyfriend, my home, my own bed—wait!!!! I knew this wouldn’t do, I knew I needed to break out of this rut and start living in the present.

Here are some tips I am currently using to get myself out of this homesick rut and reminding myself why I wanted to study abroad in the first place:

  1. Thinking back to your first week, remember how exciting and new everything was.  Remind yourself of your goals had while studying abroad, have you accomplished all of them?  If not, now is your chance—take it!
  2. Change up your daily routine.  Instead of going home or going to the gym right after school, I am trying to find new places and cultural events to attend.
  3. Realize that grades are important, but not everything.  While abroad as long as you maintain a C or better in your classes you will be given credit back at GW.  I am not saying slack off, but remember you have a responsibility to yourself to enjoy your time as much as possible and if that means spending more time with locals and chatting in a café for hours, so be it.
  4. For those concerned with homework, change up the places you do homework in.  I have made it my goal to find a new café every weekend to do homework and I have invited several of my friends in the program to come with me.  Not only are you getting homework done, but you are also spending time with people.

By Dominique Bonessi

After two months in Jordan, yesterday, I finally visited Petra, the historical landmark Jordan is best known for.  We took a day trip three hours driving down to see the ancient site and three hour drive back to Amman.  I didn’t feel like a tourist visiting Petra; I felt like a Jordanian visiting their countries pride and joy.

I also realized yesterday that my time in Jordan is more than half way over and looking back at my first week till now; I have grown in so many ways.

In the beginning of the program, I was shy to speak and talk to anyone for fear my Arabic would be severely judged.  But at Petra, I talked to the locals and on a daily basis now I am able to have regular conversations in Arabic with my University of Jordan friends, my host family, and my classmates.  This has become especially helpful when getting into taxis and the taxi driver asks where I am from.  I often lie to him and tell him I am from Spain that way he can’t speak to me in English and is forced to speak in Arabic to me.  No one really knows Spanish, although one driver decided he was going to tell me every word he knew in Spanish.

Another big challenge was to budget my money at the beginning of this program.  I have come to realize that since Amman is not a walking city taxis rides are a must, but they can add up and become very expensive. In addition, to this issue I also realized that in the first part of the semester I didn’t venture off during the weeknights to do homework with other people or go to cultural events. So instead of returning to home to my house after school, I have been going to the gym almost every day after classes, from there I have been trying to make an effort to get out with my fellow Jordanians and experience Amman.

Granted Amman definitely isn’t my favorite city to live in like DC or New York, but I was told my host mom’s sister that in order to like Amman—and maybe even love it—is by making friends and seeing Amman in all its splendor and not so splendor. During the weekends, I have also tried to get out of my house when we don’t have planned trips and go to a café to do homework.  I have also started a Spanish-Arabic conversational group with a few Jordanian friends and classmates.  The Language Center at the University of Jordan offers a wide variety of languages and most of the students concentrate on two to three languages at a time.  Many of my Jordanian friends who are learning Spanish for their first time have really good Spanish accents too.  At the same time I get to use both my Arabic and Spanish to talk with people, but most of the time I have just been mixing the two while I talk.

With only a month and a half before I leave Jordan, I still have so much I want to do.  First, I would love to take a day trip to Muqaba to see the ancient mosaics, I also want to swim in the Dead Sea, and find a new café every Saturday to do homework in.  I know my time here is short, and I know that I only get to do this one study aboard in my undergraduate year, so I want to do well in classes, but also have more fun befriending locals and experiencing the culture.

By Dominique Bonessi

Just a three hour flight and we touched down in Istanbul, Turkey for a well-deserved Spring Break.

Not only was this a break from the daily routine in Jordan, but it was also a break from the intense language pledge and homework we have been receiving.

We [my program friends and I] chose Turkey because it was a quick escape for a little money.  Istanbul is also a ‘must-see’ city with the best of European and Arab cultures.  It has the best of both worlds half of Istanbul on the Asian continent and half on the European continent.  Everything about this week has been so different from my time in Jordan.

There are more colors, the water and air are clearer, there is a running body of water nearby, and Istanbul—as a tourist city—is used to foreigners.  In a way, I began to compare Amman to Istanbul, not wanting to leave beautiful, historic, clean Istanbul or dusty, dirty, old Amman, but then I realized there is something Amman has that Istanbul doesn’t.

I have been told by many Jordanians and fellow classmates that in order to like Amman and live here you have to experience Amman by night and make friends with locals. After one week in Istanbul I missed all my new Jordanian friends.  Sometimes it’s not the place you go to, but the people you meet that makes your time worthwhile.

So as I got back on the plane today with a bittersweet feeling of sadly leaving my relaxing Spring Break destination and only ready and prepared to take on the rest of my semester abroad, I realized my time is half way through and I feel I still have so much to learn.

By Dominique Bonessi

Fireworks in the middle of the afternoon, large crowds gathering and cheering, and posters covering every inch of school property—election week at the University of Jordan.

Coming from the most politically active campus in the United States, I was pleasantly shocked by how enthusiastic and active University of Jordan students are about Student Body Elections.  However, there are some very big differences between elections at UJ and at GWU.

Primarily, the only day at GW that really has a chaotic energy is campaign postering day.  But at UJ it seemed the posters went up overnight covering every fence, tree, and post.  Students make a huge deal about campaign on a panel and with professional pictures and print outs.

For this entire school week, groups--or as they call them here tribes—have gathered in the center of campus to cheer on their candidate and share more about the platform.  At GW we tend to do this in more of a relaxed atmosphere within the School of Media and Public Affairs with the GW Hatchet, TV, and Radio present.

Another large difference is the type of candidates, at UJ most of the candidates are wealthy male students.  However, at GW we have a wide range of students running male and female—as our former SA president was a female.  Unfortunately, I only saw one large poster for one female candidate, but the rest were all male.

Personally, I think I prefer the diversity in the student elections at GW, but UJ takes home the gold for actively participating and being excited for the democratic process taking place.  For a country in the center of the Middle East, surrounded by countries with problems of corrupt leaders and dictatorships, University of Jordan understands how to act on their voting rights.  To many Americans, loud chaotic crowds and fireworks may seem uncivilized, but honestly the foundation of the United States was built off of these types of phenomena.

Maybe it is us that can take a page from their book, and understand that democracy is an active process, and citizens must demand their rights.

By Dominique Bonessi

A recent Facebook post of mine went something like this:

“Thank you Amman drivers for giving me my first experience of being drenched by an oncoming car and the rain water from the huge puddles that appear from flooding due to a lack of a pipe drainage system.

Its never happened in NYC or DC but Amman you never cease to surprise me lol”

Last week it rained in the desert. When I say it rained I mean every single day there was a heavy dosage of water added to the flooding that was already taking place on the streets of Amman.  Apparently it is the rainy season according to The Jordan Times, and the rain we had only made up 64% of rain totals from last year; meaning, this rain is not enough to carry the country through the summer without drought.

Jordan, as a country with mostly desert, relies on its dams and rivers to supply water to the 4 million people that live in Amman alone.  Unfortunately, the rivers and bodies of waters surrounding Jordan are shared with other countries like Israel that also take from the same water resources.  So as any environmentalist knows this means a tragedy of the commons for water resources in Jordan.

Water is precious, I know as Americans we hear that all the time, and yet it hadn't really struck me until I came to Jordan.  Daily life runs on the amount of water available to people.  My host family has a water tank that is filled every week.  When I wake up in the morning I am constantly reminded of this in my attempt to take a shower. There are two switches in the room that must be turned on in order to heat up the water.  Once those are on, there is a process of waiting from 15 minutes to an hour.  Most of the time I am impatient or I need to get ready for school so I hop in when the dial on the tank is a quarter full.  Warm water in the shower will then only last about 5 minutes—if I’m lucky.  I have learned to keep my showering time to a minimum.

Before I head off to school most of the time, I fill up my one liter water bottle from a water cooler in my room.  The cooler will be our potable water for a little less than a week.  Once that potable water runs out we will have to refill with another water cooler.

Water has a rocky future, not just in Jordan but on the entire planet.  Some strategies that are widely considered are desalinization of water in Jordan from the Suez and Mediterranean.  But these ideas are far from coming to fruition.

For now I am left with  quick showers, purified water, and long rainy days.


By Dominique Bonessi

Women arrive fully covered and once inside another part of their personality is revealed as they uncloak themselves.  The amenities and gym at Aspire Health and Wellness not only act as a place to relax and exercise, but it also an escape for women—well it certainly is an escape for me.

Turkish Bath

In previous blog posts I have mentioned interactions between men and women as being very minimal.  At the gym women can relax, take off their hijab, and be comfortable in their environment.  As an American experiencing an all-women’s gym for the very first time—after a week—I have learned so much about Jordanian women’s fitness, body image, and self-care.

Let me begin by saying that the culture of division between men and women has—in a way—affected women’s views towards fitness and exercise.  The gym is only a small—very small—part of the other amenities like steam room, spa, beauty salon, pool, and Turkish bath (which I am hoping to try out).  Most of the gym equipment is cardio machines and there is very little in the way of free weights, weight machines, and benches.  For being a small gym this is understandable, but again—as an American—I am so used to the idea of large weight area, cardio machines, and several weight machines.  While at the gym I’ve noticed that women tend to stick to the cardio machines, and when I started working out—with the little weights they had--I got stared at as if I were doing something out of the ordinary.  Truthfully, there is not a culture of fitness and exercise for women, but slowly this trend is changing.

At Reclaiming Childhood, the program I volunteer at twice a week, girls learn about exercise, sports, healthy living, teamwork, and leadership.  This program was started by two American girls and it really speaks to the fact that many women don’t consider exercise.  A number of the girls in the program are either overweight or obese, and this program may be the only time of the week they have to get out and move.  However, that is not to say they are not concerned with self-care and body image.

Women in Jordan are gorgeous, they have excellent fashion sense, they know how to apply makeup like pros, and they take the time to pamper themselves.  This is one thing many American women should consider taking more time for themselves even with busy schedules.  Although it may be fair to say that many American women would say they do treat themselves, and that going to the gym on a daily or weekly basis is their method of self-care.

So maybe self-care and body image can take two forms exercise-fitness, and relaxation-rejuvenation.   I will say I am happy to come from a culture where exercise and fitness are seen as essential for a healthy lifestyle, but at the same time I could probably work on my self-relaxation and rejuvenation—now where is that Turkish bath!