Dismember Judith: Thoughts While Cleaning the Anatomy Labs at 5 a.m.

Welcome to the Life Science Building. Except picture it dark and cold outside.

You’ve got to keep the boredom at bay somehow. And the tiredness. It’s 5 a.m. and you work the janitorial shift in the Life Science Building. Sometimes you vacuum all of the floors. Sometimes you burnish the tile. Other times you mop the anatomy labs of the second floor. Those are the most entertaining days. If entertaining is the right word.

You start by sweeping. You always reach for the lights as quickly as you can when crossing from one anatomy lab to the other; there’s something slightly disturbing about being alone in the darkness with a multitude of cadavers and shelves full of preserved body parts. It’s that not that you’re scared of a zombie army, rather, you’re scared of bumping into the wrong thing and ending up in a pile of severed arms. It’s a bit irrational and you know it but you leave the lights on anyways so that you don’t have to face the darkness again when you come back to mop.

With no smartphone and no music, your mind is free to wander as you sweep and mop, back and forth, back and forth. The smell of formaldehyde is sickly sweet and after a while, makes you slightly lightheaded. Over the many times you’ve been in these rooms, you’ve noticed different things… the cadavers were the first, of course. The fetuses in jars second (and eternally more disturbing). The preserved legs and arms that look almost petrified, held in glass cases.

And yesterday, you actually read the labels of the bins on the shelves and floor, a realization all by itself: large ones labeled “Upper” and “Lower,” others “Hearts,” “Urinary System,” “Female Reproductive Organs,” “Lungs” and so on. There’s one that says “Misc. (Knees, Hips, and Feet)” in every room and you wonder why those parts are specifically miscellaneous. There’s a very small one labeled “Eyes (Students)” and it takes you a second to realize that it doesn’t mean the eyes of students.

You start singing “Dancing Through Life” from Wicked because it is very stuck in your head.

You’ve taken to naming all of the skeletons and larger body system models. Claire is headless and displays the digestion system. Frederick is a skeleton with a sophisticated chin, and Nearly Headless Nick is the one who’s forehead is always fallen open. The one missing a leg is the “One Eyed Pirate” (galumping around on a peg… the poem goes on about something like “taking the pistol he fires it,” and you spend a couple minutes trying to think of the words).

You’re still working on a name for the skeleton who is biting his fingernails. But you understand the emotion. You’d feel that way if you resided in the anatomy labs, too. You wonder if you should give him a bow-tie for April Fools. You’ve become rather friendly, after all. Maybe you’ll become pen pals when you leave for the summer. You’d learn his name that way, since he’d have to sign the letter.

Any name suggestions?

Everyday you read the names of the cadavers, taped on the sides of the metal containers.  Don was a CPA, and had Parkinson’s. James was a movie industry driver and died of multi-system organ failure. You wonder what in his life made him decide to donate his body to science. You wonder what it was like driving movie people around. Lonely? Boring? Did he have to travel, or could he go home every night to his wife? Or was he married?

Then there’s Charles, who only has three question marks beneath his name. You think about him often, even when you’re not at work. Did he want to be more anonymous? Who was he really? You suppose it would take great purpose and courage to give your body to science, from the person and their family. You wonder once again why they did. You respect them for it, and you’re glad they still have their names.

But before your thoughts can get too deep about the histories and choices of the people who lived in these bodies, you spot something pink on the floor. Is that… bl….? No, you don’t even want to go there. You mop it up and move on. Darn that slightly morbid air in the room.

You go to cross into the next lab, through the in-between TA room that contains more cadavers and all of those things on the shelves. But just before you turn the light on, you realize you can actually see something peeking out of the cloth of a slightly opened bin… you lean closer… it’s large, and obviously human, and… well, you’re not that curious after all. You swallow down that slight adrenaline pressure in your chest and step away with a self-deprecating laugh. Until you see the small whiteboard with a list titled “Dissection To-Do’s.”

Apparently Wayne’s Rib Cage is now in good shape, although I don’t pretend to know what that means.

The first item is “Dismember Judith.” You have to give a chuckle because the statement is just so absurd on a To-Do list. You picture a harried professor talking to the TA, “Make sure you get those quiz grades online before class tomorrow, and find out who had the no-namer, and oh, don’t forget to dismember Judith while you’re at it.”

The linguistic part of your brain kicks on (that’s your major, after all), and for several minutes you try to decide why the phrase “dismember Judith” has such a nice ring to it. It’s not because you have a thing against Judith’s. You decide it’s something to do with the repetition of consonants but after saying the phrase many times slowly and with different stresses, out loud to the listening room, but before you really figure it out you start thinking about what to write for your semantics research paper, due in three weeks. It’s a topic that’s returned to frequently, as it’s getting a little desperate.

You start humming “A Whole New World” because now that’s the song in your head. And eventually, you leave the anatomy labs to go on and mop the geology and blood and animal anatomy labs, saying hi to that one guy from church who is always sitting in that one chair. You still don’t know his name, and you are not good at remembering to ask.

You always feel the need to laugh at yourself in those anatomy labs, to alleviate that slight fear and morbid curiosity that comes with the room. You know that most of that fear is irrational, but being the only thing alive in a room full of cadavers at 5 a.m. does things to you. At some level, you understand why your friends in anatomy classes act so eager and excited whenever it’s brought up, especially in the face of those who are appalled. There’s a measure of bravado needed to face death and dissection, the poking and prodding at the innards of a human body. Humor is necessary, along with the respect that comes as you learn how this body, this miracle works. No matter how great the cause and the knowledge, you will always have a heightened awareness and an extra heart beat when you enter a room that smells of formaldehyde.

Now to lighten the mood a little, here is a cow pie clock from the animal anatomy lab. It says, “A gift so you won’t forget me!” It’s a real one.



Thanksgiving in Amman

I have a 20 minute window of time right now, and I thought I’d put a little something up here, since I’ve been absolutely terrible at updating… more like an unedited journal entry than anything. Here’s a picture of me and my class today – we went to a darling place called The Cake Shop for breakfast this morning (and did our presentations in front of the fireplace instead of the whiteboard) and enjoyed one of the the last days that we have with our beautiful teacher who has brought so much joy to this semester.23754962_1558420027545930_109036661724495625_n.jpg

I really have so much to be grateful for…. too much, it’s overwhelming! The opportunities and experiences and people that have come my way are far greater than I deserve. Even when things have been really really hard here, there have been little acts of kindness to be grateful for, people who support me.

Those here who have given me a hug while I cried, brought me food

Today is the third day of rain in Amman… there was a country-wide prayer on Friday, and then the rain came! I am grateful for that. It’s put me in the Christmas mood, and is very fitting for Thanksgiving. Tonight I’m going to have my first Thanksgiving without my family, but I’ll be surrounded by friends and still have pumpkin pie. That’s something to praise God about. 🙂

Today is my last regular day of studies… next week is a week of testing, and then we go to Jerusalem. Oh, how sad I am to leave this country, but I am also anxious to squeeze that little toddler mischief maker at home and have hours-long talks with my siblings. Every where I go, I have people I love, and that is what makes the gratitude overflow.

Sometimes I don’t like to talk about how blessed I am because I feel the lack of others at the same time, and that makes me feel guilty, you know? But perhaps it just gives me more responsibility to give my all back to Heavenly Father, since He has given everything to me.

I hope everyone is having a lovely Thanksgiving at home, and if you need a smile, just picture this girl, in her jean shirt, beanie, and a too-heavy backpack, who can barely resist laughing and spinning in circles in the streets because it’s finally raining!

I Have a Still Moment.

I am currently sitting in a kitchen chair on the second story balcony of my apartment. It’s dusk, and the evening breeze which I’ve looked forward to all day is cool on my bare feet. The call to prayer is being sung from the mosque across the street, an beloved overtone to each sunset. I can hear an occasional chirp from birds settling down, children playing in the building beside me, and the clink of dishes in the sink in the apartment behind me. I see men and boys gradually emerging from the buildings and walking towards the mosque to pray, and there is a young woman with a shopping bag slowly making her way home. There are bustlings of movement in the open windows… a woman tidying a room, to girls talking on a couch. Two little girls just ran by, chattering and linking arms. And there is a cat, slinking down from the wall to find a warm car to curl up under. Now, in the time I’ve written this, the streetlamps have become brighter than the sky.

Everyday this place has come to feel a little more like home.

Today, this week, is the halfway mark of my time in Jordan. Oh how much I do not want that to be. It’s a reminder to treasure every moment, to sit and soak it in, and to go and experience more. To not take my interactions with these people for granted. This time is precious and I hate to watch it flee from me like the wind in my hair: exhilarating and beautiful and full of smells, sounds, stories… but so fleeting. I can’t hold on to it, I can only make the most of it.

I haven’t written in a while. There’s so much I could tell you that it’s easier not to say anything! But that aside, I thought I’d put a little something on here tonight. Even if it’s cheesy, or simple, or doesn’t capture at all what I wish I could show you. What have I been up to? What have I been learning? Who have I met?

I’ve seen some wonderful things… cities like Salt, where we ate mansaf, the dish of Jordan, with a beautiful family (grandparents, children, aunts, cousins!), saw their farm, and explored the city and the market. The small town atmosphere, and then the beautiful countryside, made me feel so comfortable. I will put pictures at the end! I’ve explored some other cities and downtown Amman, and eaten so much good Arab food that I’m full at the thought.

I’ve grown closer to the people in my group, the friends I’ve made here, and to God. I’ve learned bits of people’s stories and they awe me. People are so resilient, so brave, and so full of heart. I want to share them all with you but know I can never do them justice. Maybe I will share them eventually, and then if I can’t tell them well at least it won’t be for lack of trying.

I have been learning so much, and Arabic only a small part of that. In issues class everyday, we discuss topics relevant to Jordan and the world. I ask Jordanians questions in preparation for these classes, and the things I learn are fascinating and continually push me to expand my view of the world, of people, and to think through my own beliefs and why I feel that way. I’m learning, slowly, to enjoy discussion and debate more fully. Before, I was often frustrated because debate felt threatening, I hated the contentious, loud atmosphere, and I hated to be questioned when I didn’t feel like I had all of my facts and sources lined up or before I had actually had the chance to create an informed opinion. I still feel this way, but am learning to enjoy hearing other people’s point of view, and even if it seems blatantly wrong to me at first, learning why they feel that way. It challenges me and humbles me.

I used to avoid reading the news, feeling like it pulled me down with all of the negativity surrounding things I have no control over. But every day for seven weeks now, I have been spending two hours reading, listening to, and translating the news in Arabic. I’ve discovered that it feels really good to be informed, and to feel real interest in things like the Kurdish referendum for their own state, or what is actually happening in Syria. Often I’ll look things up in English after doing my homework because I want to know more. When I return to the U.S., I want to keep this interest in the happenings of the world. Perhaps they are often negative, but I’ve realized that in a small dose, it can help me connect with people and have more empathy.

There is nothing like speaking in another language all day to teach you more about how you communicate. I don’t mean the words you choose, or the sayings you are most likely to use. I mean the way you function in a group, one on one, or in a tense situation. I’ve discovered to a new degree weaknesses and strengths in my ability to communicate and connect with people. For example, in groups I tend to be the fly on the wall. I rarely speak up, and am very rarely in the driver’s position. This has kept me from becoming friends with people others became close to within the same conversation, or from feeling confident in my ability to be an enjoyable companion. And it depends on the person, but I’ve discovered that in one-on-one conversation, I am often terrible at asking questions that keep the conversation going. I don’t know how to go deeper or what to ask next. Part of what hinders me here is that many of the questions I ask can start to feel fake, shallow, or boring when I have asked them to so many people. This happened when I first came to college, too. When I start to lose interest in people, I am unable to connect. Of course, this makes sense. The more I forget myself, all of my insecurities about language or likability, the more quickly I can grow close to another person. The more willing I am to laugh – at myself, at a joke, and anything! – and compliment and smile, the more genuine I am able to be and feel. These are age-old truths that have been emphasized here because I am trying so hard to communicate. The barriers are twice as frustrating and the reasons twice as enlightening. The need to change feels more than twice as great.

Finally, I am continuing to learn how essential my relationship with God is. There are many days when everything is just so hard, and I’m discouraged, and sick of trying to become better in the language when all I can see is the mountain of mistakes I make and progress that needs to happen. Sometimes I dread going to talk to people as homework when I feel drained and exhausted and don’t know where I can pull a smile from or find another word to say. Sometimes I feel so disconnected… I know that I am where God wants me to be but don’t feel like I am doing what He wants me to do, or even like I know what that is. How can I serve His will on those days when I struggle to connect with another soul?

Those are the discouraging thoughts, and reading my scriptures, praying, and writing in the early mornings, before anyone else has gotten up, is what keeps them at bay. Praying when I feel discouraged, and then going and speaking with people anyways, has led to some of the best conversations and amazing people. I have felt Him carry me through days when I really didn’t know if I had the energy to stay awake in class or understand the reading. And when I follow that nudge to get outside myself a little more and go show love to someone, amazing things happen! I’m not very good at it. But those are the moments when I see glimpses of the bigger purpose within all of this learning and studying. I feel a bit of that soul deep joy. His hand is in it all.

*  *  *  *  *

This has been such a reflective and perhaps a somewhat idealistic post. I hope I was able to convey a little of my inner experience here, beyond the outward schedule and outings. I hope it isn’t so cheesy it’s cringe-y. 🙂 Here are some pictures from the last month. There will be more with me in them and not just cityscapes next time, promise. Still have to bug my friends for the pictures with me in them. And of all the places not seen here… Wadi Mujb (a slot canyon and such an adventure!) and some others from Salt and Irbid. Also, all of the adventures in the coming weekend (we took the midterm today and now have a 4 day vacation!) to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba.

View from my balcony (during the day).
Salt. A view from inside a house that one of the Kings stayed in. Converted into a museum. I love this town. It felt a little more like home than anywhere else.
The house of the family we visited in Salt!
Oh the view… the Dead Sea is off to the left, don’t think it’s actually in the picture at all.
Irbid! So peaceful in the neighborhoods and children running everywhere. We were looking for our friend’s house and the neighbors all came out to stare (in the nicest way possible) and then offer their help.
Amman through a hole in the wall. My artistic side couldn’t resist.
Amman at night. Citadel at the top of the empty hill. City center below. Maybe a little blurry. It’s captured my heart though. See the red moon in the distance? It was HUGE! Biggest it gets all year. (And this is not the view from my apartment, as I realized the picture order at the beginning may lead some to believe.)


Culture 101: The Streets of Amman

Honking, swerving, not a single blinker. Here’s a bullet-list description of Amman culture simply through my experiences in the street, and not just the driving.

A little blurry, but the view from a wandering walk we took a week ago. It has a sort of charm, doesn’t it?

Driving. It’s crazy. Not aggressive, just… lawless.

  • Horns are the primary means of communication. Why slow down and use your blinker before a turn when you can just honk and people will brake for you? Why try to get into the left lane to make a u-turn when you can just stay in the right and then honk your way over? Horns are used to say: “Go ahead!” “Stop!” “Wait, don’t merge, I’m speeding up next to you.” “Oh hey friend!” “Hey look, you’re American!” “Hey, I’m an empty taxi!” (that one is two short beeps) “Hey I’m the taxi waiting outside your house, come out or I’ll keep honking and wake the whole neighborhood up” and “I’m just honking my horn for fun. Isn’t this a cool rhythm?” I’m not kidding about the last one.
  • There aren’t lanes. Sometimes you can see a faint outline of where they may have been once, but even when they’re clear on certain highways, people don’t use them. Why use one lane when you can drive in two at once? Half-merging is normal.
  • Drivers aren’t aggressive. They’re very aware, and don’t get mad when people are cutting in and out around them. They just don’t have any rules about stopping, going, or how close they can drive to other cars or obstacles.
  • Seat belts aren’t a thing. Most taxis don’t have them. Many kids are turned around watching traffic, sitting in the back of a pick-up, or standing with their head out the sky roof on the freeway. I’m a little envious, to be honest. 🙂
Wast Al-Balad – Center of the Country. Not the best picture but you catch a little of the busyness.

Street life. The first one is something I love about this culture’s priorities.

  • Men and boys are sitting together everywhere. Outside their shops, on benches under the bridges (sometimes the only shady place in the city, it seems), on the sidewalk. These people value their time with their friends and family over everything else, and you can see it. Hours are spent just being in each other’s presence, and busy schedules seem pretty nonexistent for the average shopkeeper and his friend.
  • Staring. As Americans, we’re stared at. Being a foreigner here isn’t very normal, especially in the part of the city we live in. Occasionally, someone slows down their car to look at us… a couple of times, they’ve even come by one more time. They love to tell us “Ahla wa Sahla” or “Welcome!” I have met far more people curious and happy to see us than weary and unfriendly.
  • Harassment is real. There’s a reason we don’t walk alone very often. Even in the area where we are allowed to, I don’t always feel comfortable. The staring is more bothersome, and a little more dangerous feeling, when you’re alone. Worse could happen, which is why we never go alone at night, or out of a certain area during the day. This has been hard for some of the girls to accept and go along with. As American girls, we come with an image in this culture, and it’s not a virtuous and respectful one. There is a different view of women and their role and value anyways, and being a foreigner makes it worse. It’s culturally unacceptable for me to talk with guys of certain ages or in certain situations, and going past those lines can give them warped ideas of my intentions. I’m still figuring out all of the layers of this though – there different rules depending on how many or what type of people you are with. I’m truly navigating in different waters.
  • Chivalry is also real. People love to play the part of the hero and feel like they’ve helped you out in some way. They will stop anything to help you get a bus to the right place, give you directions, or tell you where the best mansaf restaurant is. They’ll yell at the taxi driver for you if he refuses to use his meter or wants to give you the “foreigner” price. I had a taxi driver the other day who, when he found out a friend and I were looking for dresses, told us what price was the accurate one and not the foreigner one. So helpful!
A Jordanian dress shop.

The look and feel of Amman. I feel like I’m living in a Bible story.

The view from Mt. Nebo. So much happened here but there isn’t much to look at! Will post more on this trip later.
  • It’s hot. Hazy. Dry but occasionally humid and then the heat is worse. You get used to a layer of sweat on every part of your body at all times. Especially when climbing the massive hill to our apartment. With several pounds of groceries. My favorite times of day are early morning, when the sky is actually blue because the haze has been blown away, and evening, when beautiful cool breezes come through and there is shade in the streets between the buildings.
Me at the Citadel, look at the view! One of the 20 hills of Amman.
  • Speaking of which, it’s built on hills. Hills and hills of tan block buildings, made to look like the Holy City, Jerusalem. There were originally seven hills, but it’s more like 20 now. I love this because when you get to the top, there is almost always a breeze that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s also far less boring than flatness, and it makes the views amazing.
  • The roads are designed in a system of 8 circles. I’d tell you how it works but it still confuses me hopelessly and ruins any sense of direction I was starting to develop.
  • When driving towards the outskirts of the city, expect to stop for herds of sheep crossing the road. You will also see traditional Bedouins camped in the empty rocky plains, with their tents-of-many-materials, sheep, camels, and dogs. I knew there were traditional Bedouins still, but I had no idea they lived in the cities.
Bedouin camp. Sheep, camels, tents.
We stopped and met the camel. Typical Americans.


  • People stop on the sides of the highways everywhere. For the dozens of fruit stands on the sides of the freeway, for the picnic over-look areas (pay to use, but what a view!), or just to stretch their legs. People also walk across the highways without a qualm. Actually, they walk across all roads. At all times. It’s rather amazing that they don’t get hit.
  • The noises. The propane and water trucks come around, sounding like ice cream trucks but not nearly as exciting. Horns, of course. People love to blast music, especially during Eid. It sounds like any city, except when you add in the call to prayer. This sound, five times a day, is so beautiful to me. I’m really going to miss it when I leave.
  • The smells. Unless you are passing a food shop, the general smell is one of stale city air. Just add in common drifts of cigarette smoke, shisha (sweet smoke of a much-loved substance), trash, sickly-sweet rotting something-or-other, and some other unpleasant smells. The smell of cigarette smoke becomes a part of your clothes if you ride in a taxi or enter almost any shop (smoking indoors doesn’t bother them). On the other hand, the sweets shops smell heavenly. And the air on the top of a hill, when there’s a breeze, smells a little like home.
  • The night life is booming. Traffic is crazy after dark and men are out everywhere, spending time together. The air is cool and the moon looks huge. I can’t tell you much more since I don’t plan on experiencing too much of it. 🙂
Small glimpse at a sweet shop!

Hope you enjoyed this rather extensive list! I feel that it contains so much of the culture I’ve experienced on the streets and in the city. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to give you a glimpse of life in the home!

What do you do in an Intensive Arabic Program? (and a bit of a life update)

You might be wondering. Sure, I’m studying Arabic, but am I just tossed into the city and told to go learn? Not at all. I’d thought I’d share a little of how my days are structured in an Intensive Arabic Program. Then, I’ll tell you some of the highlights of my first two weeks! So skip the schedule if it makes you want to fall asleep. (It sure makes me want to fall asleep sometimes!) 🙂

I attend classes Sunday through Thursday, with church on Friday (to be in line with the traditional holy day of the Middle East) and Saturday making up the rest of the weekend. Sundays through Thursdays look like this:

6:00 am – I read my scriptures, write in my journal, sometimes schedule out the next couple of days. Ideally I cram in a little vocab study, but really I’m usually cramming homework or preparation that I didn’t finish the night before. I eat breakfast and leave the apartment for the 12 minute walk to the institute.

One example of breakfast. Tomato, peach, fig, cucumber, a piece of bread. I actually love this kind of breakfast so much.

8:00 am – 9:30 am – In this period, I have either a writing appointment or a presentation appointment, and the time varies by day. Every Saturday, I write 200-300 words in Arabic (about 500 in English) and take it to the first appointment, then revise it and extend it for the next one. I prepare 2 presentations every week, one in the formal and one in the spoken dialect, and get corrections on pronunciation, grammar, and word choice. Then I take my recorded presentations, listen to them, improve them, and present them one more time. These appointments are done with native speakers.

9:30 – 10:45 – This is my BYU class. I have two hours of reading homework due in this class everyday, and we go over our translations with each other in class. We also spend time being encouraged (very needed) and going over things that people seem to be struggling with based on our daily and weekly reports (more on that in a minute). Sometimes, we have a lesson on some aspect of the colloquial language.

All of us in the BYU class, plus teachers, spouses, and children. It’s a great bunch!

11:00 – 1:00 – This is Issues Class with a native Jordanian teacher. We are divided into five classes based on skill level and scores in Arabic 202, so there are seven people in my class. We discuss different subjects everyday, with a list of 20-30 vocabulary words to learn before class. Sometimes we give presentations, sometimes we play games, sometimes we just talk. I love this class because I have a wonderful teacher, Batoul, who makes us laugh and laughs with us. The friendly, lighthearted environment is just what I need when I tend to feel stressed all day.

My Issues Class! Circle from bottom left, clock-wise: Heather, Batoul, Nathan, Jonah, Juliana, Emily, me, Elli. They’re the best!
Jonah giving the most energetic presentation on the perks of Alaska that I’ve ever seen!
Me and Batoul. I look a little crazed, and a little pale, but here you go anyways. 🙂

1:00 – 4:00 – I have a half hour speaking appointment somewhere in this time period, and I also work on my two hours of reading homework. Often, it’s really hard for me to stay focused and on task during this part of the day; although I ideally would always finish my reading, it often ends up being dragged into the nighttime. Often, I’ll go get lunch with a few people during this time too; falafel sandwiches or savory pastries with meat, spinach, or cheese are a favorite.


4:00 – 6:00 – This is when we go out and speak with native Jordanians! I’ve tried malls and museums and shops, but parks and the Jordan University are definitely the most successful for me. I could say this was just the best part of my day – it is for some people. But honestly, it’s so hard for this little non-intrusive introvert. I struggle to just go up to people. I struggle to speak up in a group conversation (I don’t do that much in English either!). I struggle to push sentences out before I have them properly formulated in my head. It’s a work-in-progress, often extremely frustrating, but occasionally really rewarding. I’ll write more about my experiences with this soon!

6:00 – 10:00 – By this time of the day, I’m dead tired. Using the language part of my brain for so many hours wears me out beyond anything I’ve ever felt before. But this is when I go grocery shopping, eat dinner, and prepare for appointments and classes the next day. I fill out my daily report, where I tell my professor and TA how much time I’m spending on assignments, how speaking is going, and how I’m feeling about what I’m doing or not doing. This is my daily chance to evaluate and see where I met my goals and where I was frustrated or fell short. I also try to unwind a little in the evenings but haven’t found the best methods… what are your suggestions? The computer can be quicksand when I’m this exhausted.

I’ve had some wonderful times so far. Last Monday, eight of us went with a family that invited us to Irbid with them, and spent 12 hours picnicking Arab style (not picnic food! A full, traditional meal, with delicious grain and meat dishes, fruit, cookies left over from Eid, nuts, and coffee that none of us Mormon kids drank.) in the Jordanian countryside and then visiting Jerash, a small city with beautiful Roman ruins. It was beautiful that night, with a full moon in a royal blue sky, huge pillar ruins against them with city lights below and the call to prayer surrounding us.

It’s huge. Look how tiny I am.
Ruins with the city in the background. I can’t capture the beauty!
Blurry friends in the amphitheater. You’re voice really does carry in the center. (My camera doesn’t do too well in the almost-dark.)

Thursday night I went to try traditional desserts with a few friends. Booza, or Syrian ice cream, is traditional, not super sweet, elastic-y, and rolled in pistachios. It is very delicious but not at all what you expect from ice cream! Then there is Kanafe, a soft, warm cheese topped with string pastry and covered in a sugary syrup. It’s incredibly rich but absolutely divine!



Heather, me, Emily. James took the picture, and treated us all! When he came out of the sweet shop, he said, “Guys, I don’t really know that much in Arabic, so somehow I got half a kilo of kanafe and two spoons.” Despite the exorbitant amount of sugar, we ate it all!

I’m doing well! I have so many posts in the works that I am excited about: stories of people I’ve met, the culture of the streets, living in Amman, the struggles and joys of speaking, the Church in Jordan, food, and why I’m studying Arabic. I am so grateful for this opportunity, and despite the doubts that I face everyday, alongside my many weaknesses that slap me in the face, I know this is where I am supposed to be. I’m praying for strength and for God to make more out of me than I am able to myself, because without His help, I can feel that I’d be completely lost right now. Instead, I’m finding seeds of hope and encouragement every single day!

Sacrificing Sheep is Still a Thing

The smell of sheep filled the stairwell yesterday at Qasid, the institute where I’m studying. It’s not a pleasant one, as you can imagine, mostly smells like feces. But it is a smell that represents an important part of this week. This afternoon, thousands upon thousands of sheep were sacrificed. Why?

Today is the main celebration day of Eid Al-Adha, or the celebration of Abraham and commemoration of his call from God to sacrifice Isaac (except that they believe it was Ishmael). This morning, there wasn’t just the usual call to prayer that wakes me up at 4:30 and then I hear again at about 7:15… instead there was over an hour of sermons, prayers, and songs broadcast from the surrounding mosques, starting before 6:30. I went out to the porch and watched people pouring toward the neighboring mosque, the women dressed in their best, and the men in a huge variety of attire, from the thobe— an ankle-length, long-sleeved, gown-like piece of clothing— to shorts and a t-shirt. My favorite was a thobe with crocks.

This is the mosque right by my apartment – everyone gathering for the morning prayer and sermon. Taken by Ali Alhasani of Humans of Amman. Don’t know if I can actually use this photo but I’ll consider it advertisement for that Facebook page – it’s wonderful and you should all follow it!

Each family (with the means) sacrificed a sheep today as a physical reminder of the ram that replaced Isaac as Abraham’s sacrifice. It surprised me – this was something I didn’t know still happened in general society. But it carries a personal meaning and symbolism for me; when a ram was substituted for Isaac’s son, it showed how God would sacrifice His Son to save us. One part of me didn’t like that thousands of sheep were being killed today (it is a sensitive issue among many Muslims themselves), but another part found a deeper meaning, and it became a powerful experience for me, too, an opportunity for me to focus on my Savior.

(If you would like more information on Muslim perspectives on animal sacrifice and the meaning behind this Eid, here are some helpful links: Muslim Perspective on Sacrifice, a more Orthodox Perspective, and the Qur’an on Sacrifice.)

Sheep gathered for sacrifice near my professor’s apartment. Photo by Kirk Belnap.

Now, I’m sitting by the front window and watching people gather for huge family feasts. They will be eating mutton and spending the evening together in the way that my family does on Christmas. A third of the meat will be kept for the immediate family, a third given to extended family, and a third given to the poor. Across the main street, a few hundred meters from my apartment, there is a loud party going on at McDonald’s (which is high-end here, double story with a patio and delivers), complete with flashing lights and an American/Arab mix of pop music.

All week the streets have been crowded and the stores bustling with shoppers buying gifts for this week. It’s not like at home, where we wrap our gifts and present them while gathered together; families go shopping together and children put things in the cart without a complaint from their parents. Almost everyone, including all of my native teachers, are off work for a week.

I didn’t realize I’d be coming here at the same time as one of the biggest Islamic holidays, but it has been something I’m so glad I’ve been able to experience! The things I’m learning culturally and otherwise… I could have written about 20 of these just about the past week. Amman is great! So many things I love, so many that are strange, some just plain foreign. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions and exhaustion, almost overflowing with things to take in and process. There’s a whole lot of feelings of inadequacy, and some small successes, and I know that I’m really going to grow! If there’s something you’d really like to know about, let me know!


Goodbye Hamburgers, Hello 50¢ Falafel!

I had an In-n-Out hamburger today, my last one for four months.

Actually, it was my first one in at least eight months, but we’ll ignore that fact for nostalgia’s sake.

Because 50¢ falafel is calling. Along with a language, a people, and a culture I’ve been studying and coming to love for a year. Tomorrow, I begin an intensive Arabic study abroad in Amman, Jordan with Brigham Young University, and boy, am I excited!

Falafel Sandwich, via Google. Pictures of my own falafel sandwiches to come!

In case you’re geographically challenged (most of us are to some degree) or just geographically foggy-headed, Jordan is the lower pink country, and Amman, the little star within:


This program truly is intensive Arabic study. Every day, I’ll spend about 5 hours in classes and speaking appointments with native speakers, 3 hours reading the newspaper and doing other homework, and 2 hours out in the streets and markets and gathering places, meeting and talking with the people. I’ll go to an Arabic-speaking branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Fridays (the universal holy day in the Middle East) and Saturdays will be spent in sight-seeing, house-keeping, and perhaps a little blog-writing.

Will it be hard? Oh, yes. Will I have culture shock? I’m positive. But I am so excited! I know that with faith, prayer, hard work, and a good attitude, this experience will be one of the most uplifting and expanding of my life. It will give me a multitude of friendships, changed perspective, and a bigger heart.

For all of you wanting to keep up with my experiences, here is a blog. The title credit goes to my oh-so-clever dad (did he pay me to say that?), because boy, was I in a funk when it came to that little line at the top of the page. The famous Arab tales, A Thousand and One Nights, sometimes known as A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, tell stories of magic, romance, crime, and adventure, and some of them offer perhaps one of the more accurate portrayals of old Arab culture. Perhaps in this blog, you’ll find tales of modern Arab culture, albeit from the perspective of a culture-shocked, Arabic-ally tongue-tied, American girl. 🙂 I’m guessing that will make it a little more amusing and a little more raw.

So goodbye, hamburgers, and MarHaba, falafel! I’ve a plane to catch at 6 a.m. tomorrow!