As a professor, it is always an interesting experience to be sitting on the other side of the podium taking notes and asking questions. Our time in the morning and early afternoon over the past three days in Amman has been spent in a series of very interesting lectures and discussion. Except for one session, we have been graciously hosted by the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy. That exception was today, where we were welcomed into the Swedish Embassy by Ambassador Charlotta Sparre, who discussed European Union’s foreign policy toward the Middle East.
After a trip back to the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy, we were also provided with the US perspective from Timothy Russell, a former academic who currently serves in the Political Section of the US Embassy based in Amman. Dr. Mohammad Mommani gave a detailed account of Jordan’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to our group today, while the previous day we had heard from two high ranking Jordanian officials (Former Ambassador to Israel Omar Rifai and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamal Abu Jaber) regarding the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel along with broader perspective on Jordan relations in the region. On our first day, we received an overview of Jordan in the Middle East from Dr. Zu’bi Al Zu’bi and the pressing concerns over water in Jordan from Dr. Duraid Mahasneh.
We will pick up on the theme of water and the environment when we leave the lecture hall behind and hit the road tomorrow to travel to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.
Finally, I realized from reading over the previous posts that the participants on the trip are not listed! So here is our “class roster”:
Amber Garcia, Psychology
Denise Bostdorff, Communication Studies
Elizabeth Schiltz, Philosophy
Garrett Thomson, Philosophy
Joan Friedman, History and Religious Studies
John Rudisill, Philosophy
Kara Morrow, Art History
Kent Kille, Political Science
Sarah Mirza, Religious Studies
Mark Wilson, unfortunately in absentia, Geology
While touring the 2000 year old ruins at Jerash, we stumbled upon this and all found it quite familiar! Click on the link.
One of the questions that has come up for me during my brief time in Jordan has to do with Jordanian identity. Over the past two days, we have listened to speakers inform us that anywhere from 40-70% of people living in Jordan are Palestinian. During the Gulf War, refugees from Iraq fled to Jordan. Most recently, because of civil war, it is estimated that 125,000 Syrian refugees are living in Jordan. In the United States, we use the term “melting pot” and “salad bowl” to describe the ethnic, racial, and religious diversity within our country. Here, in Jordan, they use the term “mosaic”. But, I am still interested in how individual Jordanians define themselves (e.g., Arab, Muslim, Jordanian, Palestinian). So, on our visit to the Citadel, I asked our tour guide about his identity. He told me that his mother was from a prominent clan in Jordan and that his father was Palestinian. But, his primary identity was Jordanian. In fact, his facebook banner reads “Jordan: Love It or Leave It”. Jordan has made a deliberate effort to encourage national identity. But, whether or not this effort has been successful is still not entirely clear.
We had an incredible view of the Israeli and Jordanian landscape as we made our initial approach into Queen Alia International Airport. I was lucky to be sitting behind Joan who was able to point out Israel, the West Bank, and the Jordan River Valley. My first thought was how in the world could such an arid, barren landscape support a population the size of Amman’s?
The first day of our program was devoted to outlining this same issue: water and resource scarcity. Amman is a sprawling city where one creamy limestone wall bleeds into the next and rooftop after rooftop is indecipherable with ubiquitous satellite dishes and single unit water tanks. Jordanians fill up these reservoirs only once a week and ration their water carefully. Even with these frugal measures, Jordan surpasses its water quota each year and with a population growing by leaps and bounds due to Palestinian, Iraqi, and now Syrian refugees the shortage will reach a critical point sooner rather than later. The pending crisis demands that national/political/and religious factions work together to manage integral natural resources, a task easier said than done.
The ancient nature of this contested landscape is even more apparent once on the ground. This afternoon we explored the city’s Hellenistic Roman amphitheater and Citadel where archaeological layers testify to early conflicting civilizations as a temple to Hercules competes with a Byzantine church for preeminence on the site. However, the later Umayyad palace and ruined mosque dominate the spot, a testament to early conflict and ascendency in this locale.
I am sitting in the hotel cafe, where internet is free, waiting for a beer, while the England-Ukraine football game is being shown on an enormous screen. Sports announcers sound the same all over the world, no matter what language they are broadcasting in. The city of Amman is a sprawl of streets with no discernible pattern or order. It must be very difficult to learn one’s way around. There are hardly any traffic lights; the traffic just goes. Drivers cut each other off, push forward into lines of perpendicular traffic to get through intersections and rotaries (traffic circles, for you non-New Englanders), and generally do as they please. There are hardly any crosswalks; jaywalking skills are essential. It makes Israeli traffic look orderly.
The monarchy is a ubiquitous presence. Portraits of King Abdullah are everywhere, usually depicting him in military uniform or traditional robes. Also common are pictures showing the five Hashemite monarchs – the current king in the center surrounded by his ancestors.
Our two lectures today were excellent: one on the issues facing Jordan today vis-a-vis its various neighbors, and the other on its worsening water crisis. I knew that water was a serious issue here, of course, but I had no idea that this is the fourth-poorest country in the world in terms of water resources.
Our afternoon excursion took us to the city’s two main archaeological sites: a Roman amphitheatre with seating for 7000, and the Citadel, a hilltop on which there were fortifications, temples, and palaces at least as long as Jerusalem has been in existence. (Amman is the “Rabbat Ammon” mentioned a number of times in the Hebrew Bible.)
Someone else will doubtless talk about the two incredible meals we had today. I hope we will not eat like this every day, or I will require an extra airline seat for myself on the return trip.
When I travel internationally, I always face two challenges related to my sense of direction. First, as family and friends who have traveled with me are all too aware, on a practical level I am very directionally challenged. I tend to get lost, and to do so quickly, despite my best advance planning and map referencing efforts. I seem to navigate best by visual cues, so when I am in new surroundings the lack of familiar landmarks makes it difficult to manage getting from “point A” to “point B.” Given this limitation, I often rely on the kindness of others – so I look forward to the navigational support of traveling as part of a larger faculty group for the first time!
Second, on a conceptual level, as an International Relations scholar a part of me always views my travel experiences through that academic lens. The subjective personal experience is thereby continually supplemented by analytical considerations of the global and political implications. For example, when traveling in Moscow and Brasilia with my colleagues Matt Krain and Jeff Lantis to run active teaching and learning workshops, we could not escape discussing our political surroundings during side trips to the Kremlin and Brazilian government buildings. Sometimes the travel and related analysis is more intentional. For example, last year I traveled to Bhutan, in part to explore their approach of Gross National Happiness for inclusion in my Peace Studies course.
The trip to Jordan and Jerusalem certainly provides plenty of opportunity to consider the political implications linked to our group’s theme this year: Conflict and Cooperation in the Middle East. Throughout the year I brought my Political Science analytical frameworks to bear on readings and discussions, and given the centrality of the Middle East to international relations considerations I will certainly be continuing to do so during my travels. At the same time, the interdisciplinary Hales group discussions over the past academic year have provided me with new perspectives provided from the wide range of personal experiences and academic lenses. I look forward to continuing such engagement with the differing “senses of direction” from my colleagues as we travel and learn together.
This summer ten College of Wooster faculty will be traveling to Jordan and the Jerusalem area for an extended study seminar on conflict and cooperation between Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians. We are supported by the Hales Fund at Wooster administered by President Grant Cornwell. Our field experiences have been arranged by the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) through their Faculty Development program. We have been studying Middle Eastern culture, politics and history throughout the year in preparation for this experience. This blog will be a record of our travel and observations.