God [Allah] willing! It’s a phrase I hear many, many times a day here in Jordan, from practically everyone around me. Sometimes it seems hopeful, sometimes it seems like an excuse, sometimes it kind of just seems like “like,” a default word to fill the gaps when you don’t know what else to say. I’m not usually one to think that things are ever out of my hands, but since coming to Amman I can really see the comfort in this phrase. Things don’t always go as planned here. It’s a good reminder to keep things in perspective.
For instance, I got hit by a car this week. It shoved me forward about ten feet while I shrieked and almost crumpled under it, but mashallah* the driver finally slammed on his brakes and not my body. After catching my breath, all I could do was laugh. Many things in Amman, in IEDP, and in life in general haven’t gone the way I expected, but I’m still alive!! [Incidentally for anyone worried, it wasn’t a major collision and luckily Penn’s insurance coverage is great 🙂 I’m planning to go to the hospital for a check-up, just to be safe].
*Yes, that is the past tense of “inshallah,” and yes, I googled it. My Arabic is still a ~little~ nonexistent.
I’m learning that transportation in Amman is kind of the ultimate “inshallah” experience. In fact, at a required training from the UN Department of Safety and Security I was explicitly told that one of Jordan’s biggest dangers is its inconsistent drivers. In a weird way, I’ve kind of enjoyed that, however. Amman, while frustratingly the least walkable city I’ve ever lived [and here I will refer you to Photo Exhibit A, below], has also gifted me introduction to a wide array of Uber drivers, upon whom I’m completely dependent to get to and from the office each day. Yesterday my Uber driver wanted to buy me coffee. Today I was handed a caramel. Rabi explained the meaning of his name– “spring”– before designing me a detailed travel itinerary for the upcoming weekend. One driver refused to use the GPS and got upset when I couldn’t provide directions. Last week another got us lost in a parking lot and scraped the underbelly of his car so badly that I’m sure he had to get it repaired; I heard and actually felt it crunch on the curb. I talked with an engineering student hoping to buy himself a new Mercedes and pass on his current car to his mom [LOL PRIORITIES]. And I met a professor who teaches in one of the provinces. I never know what to expect for my daily commute, but so far that’s been really fun and a good way to interact with people. Every time I open the app now, I’m like “Inshallah, here we go again. What do you have for me today, Uber?”
Photo Exhibit A: My unintended urban hike to go watch the World Cup Final. My walk started on the side of the highway, next to an almost-meadow overlooking the city. For a while I then had some unpaved gravel “sidewalk.” I got to a bridge but it had no walkway, so I got pretty lost trying to figure out how to descend into and then climb back out of a little valley underneath. The trash and boulders covering the hillside stairways did not help. At one point I not-so-gracefully scooted along on my butt and I think some people might have watched me from their apartment? Whatever, I made it to the bar eventually haha.
Besides my regular home-office treks, my most notable travel has been to Jerash, a city with some of the best-preserved ancient Roman ruins in the world. It. Was. Awesome. I went with my roommate’s Japanese friend and the two of us, like complete tourist suckers, paid the fee to watch a bunch of performers in historical garb recreate legionnaire battle formations, fight gladiators, and race chariots. There was even fake blood involved. I regret nothing. After exploring the grounds for a few hours we went to lunch with our driver Mohammad, who has eight brothers! We had a pretty funny conversation about family dynamics and how birth order and sibling gender affect personality. The three of us also accidentally ended up at one of the fanciest restaurants I’ve ever seen. We sat on a beautiful veranda overlooking the hills, were immediately served Evian, and literally ate with golden spoons. I joked that the place probably belonged to a James Bond villain; we all agreed it would make a great setting for a proposal or wedding.
So, what’s going on at my internship? Well, this week quite a lot! Jordan recently released its Education Strategic Plan 2018-2022, outlining its overall approach to educational development over the next 5 years. This is a really important question, especially considering the fact that 54% percent of the population is currently under the age of 24. Under Jordanian law, education is a “right for all.” This is wonderfully inclusive and allows school access for many vulnerable groups like the 600,000 Syrian refugees in the country. But it is also perhaps a bit too broad and doesn’t distinguish the particular needs of different students, or recognize priority areas. So this week UNESCO ran a special three-day workshop at the Ministry of Education to make sure that gender was being systematically addressed as one of these areas. I was there to take notes, photograph, and assist our special expert from UNESCO headquarters with her presentation. I’ll also be helping with a follow-up article for the website.
As it turns out, much like the concept of gender itself, realities for male and female students in Jordan are not so clear-cut black and white; both face unique challenges. Males are dropping out at higher rates and receiving lower quality education, while females demonstrate better learning outcomes but low employment. During the workshop, UNESCO’s gender expert introduced a Strategy on Gender Equality in Education that runs parallel to the government’s overall five-year Plan. Each day had a different focus: policymakers, information systems developers, and instructors. The goal was to help these groups build their capacity to recognize and develop specific activities to prevent male/ female disparities in education. I loved watching them make teams to fill out and present logframes for their chosen objectives– it was like a “real life” version of Dr. Thapa’s M&E class. Another interesting connection: on the first day there was a heated debate over the importance, or lack thereof, of male teachers for younger learners; then, on the second day, I actually got an alert on my phone that local teachers had gathered outside the building for a protest on this very issue! Clearly our conference was well-timed and relevant in targeting an evolving situation.
Until next time, friends~ Inshallah!