Monday, July 9, 2012

Consequences of Foreign Lands and a Stunted Sense of Reality

I am in a fight to the death with Amman, the beige gem, the land of sand and screaming winds.

Eventually I'll probably do something of a top 10 moments post. I think by now we all know that I don't respond terribly well to structure, and writing comes most easily when I am organically inspired. Unfortunately, this city has me paralyzed.

It's not that I don't love it. It's that I don't know it. I don't know where to start, and at this point, I don't have the cash to start with. When I stay in, I'm plagued by a sense of failing as a traveler, and find myself wallowing in lethargy and self loathing. For all the beauty I'm surrounded by on a daily basis, it's been a dark couple of weeks. This kind of low is rather foreign to me, and though I can feel myself climbing out, if you had asked me a couple of days ago, I wouldn't have known what to say. Coming to Amman has been, I think, one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Back home, I tend to be pretty fearless. I confront the unknown. I explore. Even in Istanbul I was constantly energized by this intense longing to discover. Here, I'm mostly just afraid, and as a result, lonely really for the first time in my life. The way I feel, the way I have made myself feel, is more foreign to me than the city. I can't explore Amman properly until I get myself under control.

And so my mission in Amman, first and foremost, is to center myself. I need to fill my time, and the only way to do that is to get over myself and get out into the city.

I've been here for awhile, and even with my sudden frozen state, I've experienced too much to really write it all down.

(For the record, I am currently out with new friend and fellow North Carolinian named Evan Gearino, a NC State student here researching  perceptions  and awareness of the Palestinian conflict among college students. He has the happiest voice of anyone I've ever met, is really good at Arabic, and generally just a cool guy. I ran into him today on campus after meeting at a July 4th party and he allowed me to tag along to Hollywood Café, which sounds super American, but in reality is wonderfully Jordanian.)

So let's start with classes.

The University of Jordan is record breakingly unorganized, but it all seems to have worked out in the end. My main professor, Dr. Mothanna, is a riot. He's a 5'6" balding man with broad cheeks and beautiful blue eyes, and he possesses the kind of infectious smile found exclusively in children. His enthusiasm is heart warming, as is that of several of the students in my class. I'm thinking of one in particular, Somi Kim. She's Korean, and has the happiest and loudest voice of anyone I've ever met. She repeats every word that comes out of Dr. Mothanna's mouth, with a smile and a quick nod of the head. Her high energy physicality is fascinating, she moves in long and languid strides with stiff arms, and her gestures all become very quick and repetitive, somehow expressing all she needs to from the way she moves her neck and shoulders. She's easily the best student in the class, and certainly possesses the best energy. My closest friend in the class is  Danna, just barely 16 and studying while she stays with her grandparents here in Amman. We're both pretty quiet, but share a love of Biskrem cookies, and enjoy the feeling of solidarity as we try to understand what the hell is going on in our grammar lectures.

Jasmine, my roommate, is a never ending source of energy and ideas. She is a writer, an artist, a designer, and a force to be reckoned with. She is her own art, and is always the strongest presence in the room. She is helping me crawl out of my self-imposed cage of t-shirts and jeans, encouraging me to explore brightly colored dresses that I would ordinarily deem as something I could never pull off, and happily introducing me to her world of bright pink lipstick, blue mascara instead of black, and the knowledge of my "colors." All of this initiation into her world of up-cycling used clothing and blending the anthropology of designs has led to a wonderful and entirely unexpected thing: photo shoots.

Cameras, on the whole, make me nervous. They still do, I guess, although the ANTM antics of my counterparts during my travels abroad last summer, Ian and Jessica, helped me to outgrow it. Still, though. A month ago, I wouldn't have really believed that I'd be standing on a terrace at sunset, wearing a bright orange 1960s cocktail dress, nude pumps, and a Bedouin chandelier on my head. Twists and turns, my friends, twists and turns. And yet, due to the perfect combination of Friday market finds, color coordinated props, and the magic light of sundown, we had an impromptu photo shoot. And it was magnificent. Jasmine has a far more carefully trained eye than I, and she's teaching me how to see the integrity of the composition as a whole, rather than focusing solely on the human in the photo. It led to another impromptu photoshoot, featuring me in what appears to be a romper from the 1930s or 1940s, and a very WWII hat, scaling our front terrace and hanging out with our building's harrus (حرس , which means guard) and friend, Atef. He's a good sport, and when we ask him to run out on quick grocery runs, he usually sticks around for coffee or juice. The night of the photoshoot, we spent about an hour watching belly dancing videos (which were gorgeous) and looking at pictures of him and his kids in Egypt. He's a wonderful guy, and we're lucky to have him.

As it happens, last Sunday, Jasmine and I attended an exhibit opening at The Studio, a gallery, print making studio, and workspace founded by recent college graduates Ghalia Barghouthi, Muna Amareen, Sarah Hatahet and Sara Rashdan. It's an incredible space and has a wonderfully inclusive and stimulating energy. We were there to see the new work of Omar Al-Zo'bi, whose tongue in cheek, graphic,  "mass produced" creations are humorous and lend themselves to the questions of what we're consuming and who's behind it. While there, we met Serene and Basma, artists in their own right, and women looking for an outlet for their creativity. Serene works in film and photography, while Basma is making the transition from art to fashion, and eventually to performance design. We met them at the top of Abdali (Friday Market), close to the center of the city, armed with a box, a suitcase, and a duffel bag full of clothing, accessories, and make up.
We didn't end up making it into Abdali at all- we didn't need to. The Jazzy Jeff, high waisted 1980s pants and obnoxiously bright yellow crop top we had chosen looked pretty darn good next to the taxi, and our favorite taxi driver, Yusuf, was kind enough to let me climb all over it for about an hour. Our quartet attracted quite the audience, and by the time I was standing on the taxi we had attracted about 10 people, plus a few very friendly men in a truck, as our viewers. 

We headed to The Studio, and shot Basma on the balcony in her own designs, with me in a 1940s pastel jumpsuit. Basma's t-shirts are inspired by the geometric designs on Jordanian trucks, and are pretty cool, if you ask me. I can't wait to buy one! Basma ended up in another of her designs, a rich ochre draped jacket and black leather leggings. I was graced with the opportunity to model one of Jasmine' designs, a bright green, regal dress with beautiful, diamond detailing on the back, the sleeves, and the hem. It made me feel like a queen! I'm learning so much from these photo shoots in terms of art design, how colors work with skin tones, how lines and environment can be in dialogue with clothing and the human body, and how to tell a story in a single shot.

We finished the evening off with a beer and promises to meet up to curate the photos soon, and before you know it they'll be up on facebook.

There's a lot more to write about, especially because none of this post has very much to do with Amman itself and more to do with the people. For now, I'm headed to the police station to extend my visa. Wish me luck! More to come!

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