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By nlgyon

This is it you guys--my last post. It's a strange feeling. I'm so excited to see my family, friends, and pets and experience all the creature comforts I left in the states. But I've also just started to really get comfortable here; I've gained a decent grasp of conversational dialect, a good number of Jordanian friends, and several professional contacts. I've spent so many hours establishing a home away from home here, it feels very strange to just leave it all. Plus, there's still so much regional travel I would do if I had the time and the means. But I'll leave on Thursday with no regrets. I've seen, done and learned so much hear that it's impossible for me to leave with anything but gratitude in my heart--for the Jordanians who made me feel at home, for my DPS homies, and for all my professors and advisers.

And on that note, I'd like to thank the people who gave their money and support so that I could experience this rare adventure--my parents. Especially you, mom. I know this hasn't been easy for you, especially with Megan being in the Philippines and all, and I appreciate everything you've done to make this trip as great as it has been, even though I know you just want me to come home. I'm sorry I couldn't make the time to update you on everything that has been going in in my Jordan life, and I can't wait to come home and tell you about everything I forgot to during our Skype conversations. But this probably isn't the last time I'll be away. Until I settle down and start a family of my own, I'm going to keep traveling because the world has too many lessons in it to stay in one place. But just like this semester, I'll always call home, and I'll always come back, hopefully a better person than when I left--a person that you can continue to be proud of. I love you and dad lots, and I can't wait to come home.


By nlgyon

For the bigger adventures in Jordan and the region, travel guides do a pretty good job of giving you the low-down, but I thought I'd throw out some of the best aspects of my travels that you probably won't find in a travel guide.

Honorable mention: Sweet Chili Pepper Doritos

These actually might be available in the US but this is the first place I’ve seen them, and they’re really delicious. Especially with hummus. And I don’t even like Doritos usually.

10. Gerard’s

Really great ice cream. ‘Nuff said.

9. Java U

In a town where fast internet is almost as scarce as the water, Java U’s got your back. It’s a little pricey but if you need to download a lot of stuff it’s worth grabbing some argileh and spending the afternoon in this café in Abdoun.

8. The Dagger Store

That’s not actually what it’s called but it doesn’t really matter what it’s actually called because addresses aren’t really a thing here. Google Translate the phrase for “dagger store” and head downtown. If you head up a small metal staircase to the left of the amphitheater you should find a shop with traditional-looking daggers filling the walls and showcases. If you don’t, just ask around and I’m sure someone will point you in the right direction. The man who owns this store is as friendly as he his skilled, which is very. He can inscribe a message or word on a dagger blade for you and can carve a customized wooden hilt. They make for great souvenirs/gifts.

7. Amigo's

I enjoyed going to this laid-back bar/restaurant off of first circle because of: a decent happy hour, a billiards table, good music at a volume conducive to conversation, and it never really gets crowded before 10 PM or so.

6. مطعم زهور (Meta’am Zuhoor)

Literally, "Restaurant of Flowers." If you enroll in CIEE and are placed in their Jabal Amman residences, this restaurant is located really close--right behind Le Royal. you can get a plate of falafel, cucumber tomato salad, two scrambled eggs, a bowl of hummus with pita, and tea for only 2.5 JD (about $3.50).  The owner is super nice, and either doesn't know much English or doesn't use it, so it's a good place to practice your Arabic as well. Good times.

5. Al-Quds

.50JD for unanimously the best falafel sandwich in town. Located on Rainbow Street.

4. Al-Reem

My go-to shawerma shack. Probably will be the best shawerma sandwich you’ve had. Located on 2nd circle.

3. Bassam the Taxi Driver

When you go to see the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, Petra, Ma’in Hot Springs, Desert Castles, Jerash, Baptism Site, or any other domestic tourist attraction, call this cabbie. His friendly personality and eccentric CD collection turned our 1-hour cab ride into a 1-hour karaoke dance-in-your-seat-to-terrible-music-that-everyone-knows party. Needless to say, he won’t try to rip you off as some cab drivers are known to do. And don’t get your expectations up, but we were treated to juice and snacks on our return trip.

Basssam Al-Shalabi

Cell: 00962 79 693 1381 OR 00962 78 640 5015


2. Moodi Abdalla

If you're going to the Bethlehem/West Bank area, you'll want to meet this man. Some friends and I ended up running into him while looking at some of the art of the separation wall. He's a very talented street artist and super nice tour guide who will show you around some of the famous Banksy paintings in the West Bank for a reasonable price. You can email him at, or find him on Facebook: "moodi abdalla".

1. Café du Paris

Located on Paris circle, this café-by-day-bar-by-night fills up with ajnabiein, “foreigners” every Tuesday for an absurd special on shots of a certain alliterating spirit. It’s nice because, like Amigos, it doesn’t charge for entry, has a very laid back atmosphere, and the music is usually on point. The real value of this place, though, is in the people you’ll meet. It’s a great chance to make friends from all over the world. Oh, and if you’re into hip-hop, the Jordanians that frequent Paris can show you around the Amman scene. If you’re lucky you’ll get to meet a man known as the Beatbox Elephant (go on a do a Google search)—a very talented artist and genuinely fun guy to be around.

Top ten things your travel guide won't tell you about Jordan. #GWAbroad #GWU #Jordan #countdowns #food #tourism

By nlgyon

This year was the first time I spent Thanksgiving with people other my my family members. We wake up and run Parkersburg's annual 5k Turkey Trot. My hometown is one of those nice places where everyone knows everyone so the finish line turns into a social gathering, after which we return to our house in the woods and begin preparing our Thanksgiving feast, and it just so happens that my preparations comes in the form of a post-race nap. You don't want too many cook sin the kitchen, ya know? My family is relatively* small, so the day is relaxing, spent in good conversation over the sound of the television, which switches between dog shows and football games.

My experience here was completely different. Instead of Turkey Trotting, I spent my morning half following along to a business conference in Arabic, aimed at addressing challenges facing Jordan's transportation sector. There were two other Americans in attendance who jokingly cursed me for holding this conference on Thanksgiving.  After the conclusion of the meeting I traveled, still in full business attire, to the UJ campus to attend a CIEE-sponsored Thanksgiving luncheon, at which I was to deliver a short speech about what Thanksgiving means to me, in Arabic. The delivery was mediocre, honestly, but hopefully someone got something out of it. I was just happy to do something new. I'd never spoken in Arabic to a group of more than or 8 or 9 classmates. Afterwards, my friend hosted just about all the kids (there were about 15 people there) in my program for a homemade Thanksgiving dinner, which was delicious despite the scarcity of options for traditional holiday dishes. While we all felt strange being away from out families on the holiday, we made sure that no one felt sad. It was a delightfully raucous occasion. At one point during the feast we each said what we were thankful for, but with each small toast everyone had a joke or comment or story to add so the activity lasted a comically long time. It was a great atmosphere. Everyone was energetic and loud and happy, which I peg as a result of reflecting on the multitude of blessings we all had. After dinner my roommate busted out his guitar and we all sang and talked into the late hours of the night. I have to say though that one culturally-relevant moment is the one moment that will stand out the most from this Thanksgiving. One of my Jordanian friends attended the party, and it was his first Thanksgiving. Just before leaving, he got everyone's attention and said something along the lines of, "I just want you all to know that hearing you all talk about your families, and everything you're thankful for makes me really appreciate being here in Jordan, and I'm really glad I met you all." I was so happy to see someone open his mind to my culture and gain something from it. While I had experienced first had how taking in foreign cultures can be rewarding, I had never thought about it going the other way.


*HA. See what I did there?

Mansaf lamb enjoys a boiled onion.

Fortunately, but unintentionally, I spent this weekend literally swimming in mansaf. Okay not literally swimming, but you know, it was pretty close.

What is mansaf, you ask? It's a traditional cuisine that Jordanians proudly consider their national dish.  While styles of mansaf vary from region to region, it is generally a big ol' plate with a base of flatbread, topped with large-grain rice, sometimes mixed with almonds or pine nuts, which serves as a nest for the most important part--the meat, which is usually lamb or chicken. This mountain of meaty goodness is then doused in a fermented yogurt sauce that is far more delicious than it sounds. Because it is slow-cooked in broth, the meat is ultra tender and slides right off the bone, which come in handy, because traditionally it is eaten without utensils (Get it? Handy. Did you see what I did there?)  The name of the dish comes from the Arabic word that literally (actually literally) means "large dish" or "large tray."

The meal is served on special occasions like weddings or birthdays, or in my case to honor guests. This weekend, the members of my program (Diplomacy and Policy Studies) was invited to our director's hometown of Ajloun to tour an ancient castle there, tour her old school, and attempt to play soccer against some of her family members, who also served us mansaf. The following day I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to volunteer at a local primary school. Some other CIEE participants and I helped to repair the wall surrounding the school and spruced up the faded exterior with some bright yellow, blue and green paint. At the end of the end, we were served mansaf in appreciation for our work. Yesterday, my Arabic professor, excited to spread an important part of his Bedouin culture, came to our apartment building and cooked mansaf for our class. The latter was served in a more traditional fashion, with the cooked head of the lamb placed in the center of the dish, jaw open and tongue out. Many were peer pressured into eating eyeballs, brains, lips, tongues. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough to go around for me. Darn.

Mansaf is a part of this culture you definitely need to experience before leaving, but this advice goes without saying because it is--wait for it--literally impossible to be a guest here without being offered mansaf at least once before leaving.


A view of The Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberius) and Golan Heights from the Um Qais Jordanian military outpost.

I knew it was going to be a great day when one of our coordinators began doling out falafel sandwiches as I sat down having barely got dressed in time to make it to the bus, let alone find food. I wolfed two sandwiches and dozed off with the rest of the bus for the two-hour trip north to the Sharhabil Bin Hasna Eco-Park. When I awoke we were on a dirt road, surrounded by as much greenery as I'd witnessed since my expedition to the Ma'in hot springs; olive orchards spanned the clearings on either side of the road, which was lined with some other type of tree that I didn't recognize, but whose color was just as refreshing to see. A few minutes later we arrived at our destination, which is the home of an organization call Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME). There a representative of the organization briefed us on the issue of water shortages in Jordan, which I was aware of but had not spent much time pondering.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the controversial issues in America--balancing the budget, finding an adequate health care system, debating gun laws and immigration reform are all important issues whose political outcomes will impact thousands, if not millions of Americans. But as I sat in a classroom in the woods discussing strategies to find a sustainable source of water in Jordan, these issues seemed relatively inconsequential. The most concerning thing was that this isn't even a front-running issue. Jordan is forced to ration its water supply at 145 cubic meters per person per year, which is 355 less than the UN standard to be considered to have an "absolute scarcity" of water, and sources of freshwater are shrinking. This in itself is alarming. Now consider how the depth of this problem is compounded by the presence of even more publicized issues such as youth unemployment, refugees, poverty, and public and private sector corruption. So not only do activists have to focus on solving what is clearly an urgent problem, they also have to find a way to spread awareness and lobby for government cooperation. However, Jordanians are a driven people, and I look forward to witnessing the evolution of the kingdom as it tackles all of these issues.

The day ended with a sunset tour of a nearby ancient Roman city first built by Alexander the Great called UmQais, which had a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. If only I could find a way to continue this lifestyle of knowledge, adventure, and falafel when I return...

By nlgyon

Happy New Year, everyone! You might be thinking, "Nick, what are you talking about? Don't you know it's only November?" Indeed. But yesterday marked the celebration of the Islamic New Year, or the Hijri New Year. This holiday signifies the beginning of the Islamic calendar, which started in 610 AD, when the Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina, a journey known as the Hijra, hence the term "Hijri New Year." The first day of the first month of the New Year varies from country to country; some calculate it based on local moon sightings, and others rely on astronomical calculations.

While of little significance to a non-Muslim such as myself, I was happy to hear the Prime Minister announce that Thursday, November 7 was an official holiday. I decided to take the long weekend to chill out at home and work on some long-term projects/job searching. As far as I could tell, there weren't any huge public celebrations like there are for the common new year; it seemed like more of a family-oriented holiday, celebrated by attending mosque and perhaps having guests. There were, of course, fireworks. As often as I hear fireworks, I imagine the complement every holiday or celebration. At least I hope they're fireworks.

I'm sorry I don't have any adventures for you this week; they will resume in a few weeks as I reemerge from a deluge of midterm exams, presentations, response papers, case studies, and scholarship applications...


I usually only go back home one time before the end of the semester (for Thanksgiving). When it comes time to depart from Union Station for my home in the hills, I always look forward to it. I'm excited to return to family, friends, pets, the house I grew up in, and the restaurants that I never really appreciated until I left. We all know the feeling of comfort that accompanies familiarity. Conversely, at the end of long holidays, I'm always ready to go back to DC. I'm excited to return again to my other friends, classes, parties, nightlife, etc. But my desire to return to these two places has never been uncomfortably strong.

However, this past week was the first time I really experienced homesickness. I think a combination of missing both of these homes, in addition to missing creature comforts (like bacon, fresh milk, public transit, burgers, clean streets, English proficiency, good beer, etc...) really just got to me. I kind of just laid in bed, thinking about how great it was going to be to see all my favorite people and places again. Focusing on this made anything else just seem gray.

But after a wasted day filled with a disgusting amount of sleeping, lounging, and Facebook, I just got tired of being homesick; I came to the realization that there's no way I'm going to do everything that I want to do before I leave here, and I'll most likely leave wishing I could come back to experience this that or the other thing. And while I still miss all those things back in the states, I've stopped thinking about it so much. Constantly comparing things to their counterparts "back home" gets you in this terrible state of mind where you fail to fully appreciate what's in front of you. So while I'm still looking forward to my homecoming experience, I've stopped looking ahead to it. That is. I've been focusing on where and when I am right now, and no more, and that has been much more enjoyable.

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem from the rooftop quarters of the Citadel Youth Hostel

What a whirlwind of a week. I visited Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. I climbed the Mount of Temptation, visited ruins of the oldest city in the world, visited the tomb of Yasser Arafat, slept on a rooftop overlooking the Dome of the Rock, woke up to church bells and calls to prayer, touched the Wailing Wall, visited the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and walked the road to where He was crucified and buried. I toured a Palestinian refugee camp and witnessed works by the mysterious street artist, Banksy. I sat in the Mount of Olives and watched the sun set over the Old City, and swam in the Mediterranean. All of these events made for an incredibly surreal week. If you ever study abroad in the Levant or find yourself in the area, these are all things you should be sure to experience. Any further description wouldn't do these attractions justice, though, and if you're interested there Wikipedia articles and travel guides that will tell you anything I could about all of these attractions.

However, what you can't learn on Wikipedia is what you can learn from others. I've always loved making new friends and learning from their life experiences and perspectives, and so far it seems like travel allows you to find new and different experiences and perspectives.

One of the most interesting lessons I learned was from a French girl named Clem. When I met Clem she had just arrived in Jerusalem from New Zealand, where she had spent a few months working and learning English. In our first conversation with her, my friends and I were prone to asking questions like, “What are you doing in Jerusalem?” “How long are you staying?” “What are your plans today?” “What are your plans tomorrow?” “Where are you going after this?” She had come to Jerusalem because she wanted to, and tomorrow she would wake up and do whatever she felt like, and would continue doing that until she wanted to go somewhere else. And then she would do that. It was hard for me to wrap my head around these answers, but it really shouldn't be. Every human lives to be happy, and she's doing exactly what makes her happy. I've always had a plan, and I like it that way. But I had never really considered what else I could be doing, and meeting someone so carefree was really refreshing.

Street art in Aida Camp depicts the community's plight.

As a few friends and I walked strolled past the separation wall in Bethlehem, a voice called at us from across the street. A middle aged Palestinian man was standing in the lot of an old gas station, and the credentials around his neck revealed that he was a tour guide at the Church of the Nativity, where we had just been an hour before. He must have recognized us.

"What do you see in the wall?" he asked.

Confused, I said "The art? Or the wall itself?"

"How do you feel about it being there?"

"Disappointment. Frustration. But I'm not Palestinian, so--"

"We are like caged animals. It is like a prison," he said.

I'm kind of glad he interrupted me, because wasn't really sure what I was going to say. I'm disappointed that such a blatant restriction to freedom exists, that trepidation persists despite all the diplomatic processes put in place to create justice in a tumultuous region. I'm frustrated at my basic understanding of the issue, and even less about what I can do to contribute to the peace process.

As I walked along the separation wall today, I saw graffiti reflecting an air of oppression and the need for drastic change, which was reflected in the words of the locals I spoke to as well. I felt like as a GW student I was supposed to respond with what the worlds' leaders should do about it. I'm still working on that response, but the road to a deep understanding of complex international issue is long. But there's only one way to complete long journeys-- step by step. And after today I'm one step closer.

By nlgyon

For adventurers like me, the first few days in a new place are exciting, and the newer the place, the longer it stays exciting. I think recently thoughI've reached a turning point where the excitement that accompanies the unknown is starting to wear off, and what shows through this fading layer of excitement are the inevitable lows that make up a real, whole experience. I'm sliding into a routine, which is good for productivity, but makes for a pretty forgettable, boring experience.  I've started to use English more readily just because sometimes it's easier for all parties involved in the interaction, which in the end just makes me feel like I'm wasting my time, and that I'm failing to meet my biggest goal. Finally, I'm starting to really miss some things about home (good milk, unlimited fast internet, proximity to grocery stores and restaurants, and more), and even more importantly I'm really starting to miss some people. Life abroad isn't a vacation--you still have good days and bad days.

A lot of times you'll talk to someone that has studied abroad and of course their trip was so awesome, they loved it, etc. People give these types of answers partially out of convenience, because it's impossible to accurately sum up 16 weeks in a small conversation, but also because no one really wants to hear anything negative. It puts them in an uncomfortable position; the listener for some reason feels obliged to comfort someone when they hear they had a negative experience, and feels bad that they had to experience it.

Despite sliding into some of these not-so-amazing parts of studying abroad, I know that they are good for me in the long run because they're not permanent downsides of life--they'll just take some gumption or a change in perspective to overcome. Breaking my routine will help me learn to be more spontaneous. Becoming more persistent in my Arabic usage will yield much better language skills. Letting go of creature comforts will help me be less materialistic and focus on the important things, like friends and family. I don't think I'll stop missing them, but in the end missing them will be a positive experience because of the appreciation I'll have gained for them. I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that expresses a very important but very overlooked idea:

"I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that - I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position - it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is."

-Hugh Mackay