When I found that I had secured an internship with Friends of the Earth, Middle East and will be stationed in Jordan for the summer, I was really excited. This would have been my first time in the Middle East and I was looking forward to experiencing an all-new culture and learning about a completely different part of the world. Little was I aware that this summer would turn out to be one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I will be saying less when I say that summer 2013 will always remain close to my heart.
When I told my friends and family that I was spending my summer in the Middle East, everyone’s first reaction was “That’s crazy!”. I guess, my desire to live the crazy life helped me secure what turned out to be the best experience of my life.
With English as my only medium of communication, I gladly packed my bags and hopped on to a flight from US and landed in Amman, the Capital of Jordan. Only when I arrived here did I actually realize that I had a challenging
summer ahead of me in the Middle East! With constant support from the EcoPeace-Friends of the East, Middle East’s (FoEME) staff and unconditional love and welcome from the people in Jordan, my experience only got better with each day. Living in a country, surrounded by two countries having their civil wars going on, it was truly a very overwhelming experience. Having shared a roof with a few Syrian and Palestinian refugees and hearing their stories of how they had to flee from their country, quitting their education was heartwarming and overwhelming at the same time. However, this experience helped me overcome my inhibitions and associate with people from different nationalities, practices and religious beliefs.
When I was told that at FoEME, I shall be working on South Asian Cooperation Movement, a climate change and disaster risk mitigation effort to promote sustainable water sharing over the Hudiara drain between India and Pakistan, I gladly accepted it. Having given the responsibility to write a grant for this initiative, I learnt of the various catastrophic effects of climate change that have been affecting both the nations. Though it was overwhelming experience, it drew my commitment to climate change more than ever. I was involved in this project with people from different nationalities: namely Indians, Pakistanis, Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians. This initiative was a great life experience, which
taught me to appreciate and cooperate with people from different communities representing different interests, yet aimed at collective development. I have never visited Pakistan, but had always heard it is a beautiful country and places like Karachi and Lahore are definitely worth visiting. I always imagined Pakistan to be very similar to Lucknow, a Nawabi city in India and expected to see some of the beautiful architecture with the arches and red sandstone monuments in Pakistan too. I somehow believed that Pakistan and India were pretty much the same nation just divided by territorial limitations. Otherwise, both countries essentially shared the same undercurrents, ancestors and history. In spite of such an intertwined existence, the idea of writing a grant proposal for Indo-Pak collaboration and peace building was a challenging thought. However, little did I know that “Seeing is Believing”, one of the objectives of the Climate Change Initiative was truly going to change my outlook towards things. I saw a very implicit underlying connection between Jordan, Israel, Palestine, India and Pakistan. Even though Jordan, Israel and Palestine were greatly influenced by the Greeks and the Romans while India and Pakistan were influenced by the Mughals, I was able to see how the architecture, food, language, clothing, culture and beliefs seemed to be all stemming from a similar ancestry. It felt like all these aspects have branched out from the same tree, picking up variations along the way, incorporating new cultures and civilizations only to become more unique and beautiful.
While in Jerash, Irbid, looking at a small piece of carving, which highly resembled the carvings on the walls of temples of South India, I felt a rush of belongingness flow through my veins. In that moment, what struck me made me believe in my cause more strongly than ever before.
If Jordan, Israel and Palestine could share similar food, architecture, monuments, ancestry, cultural beliefs and language with India and Pakistan, then why can’t India and Pakistan follow Jordan, Israel and Palestine on lines of environmental cooperation and build amicable ties over water resources, similar to what the Middle East adopted under FoEME’s guidance? Jordan, Palestine and Israel are known to be mother of all controversies and problems and in spite of the acrimonious past, these countries are peacefully involved in the Good Water Neighbor’s project. This should be taken as an inspiration by India and Pakistan to initiate peace building efforts. With an encouraging mentor like Yana, who was always willing to provide insightful guidance at all times and constant help and empathy from Abeer, my experience at FoEME was made very memorable. I was able to overcome all the difficulties that I faced in settling in and at work. Our Director of Amman office, aka ‘Boss’ was very welcoming and was willing to help the interns in any way possible to make their stay in Jordan comfortable. I made very good friends with my co-workers, Abdullah and Hana whom I was directly working with besides having struck an amicable relationship with every staff member in the office.
Another experience I thoroughly enjoyed was the henna party that I attended at Dana’s (my co-worker and very good friend) cousin’s wedding. Attending this ceremony, I was able to witness the traditions of Jordanian weddings and see all the beautiful women adorned in the most exquisite attire. It was a fun and memorable night that I shall always cherish.
Along the course of my work, I got an opportunity to go on many field visits to communities of South Ghor, North Shouneh, and South Shouneh. Interacting with these communities on various issues was a very enriching and fun experience. It was enriching because, this was the first time I was involved in community based work where I got to interact with community leaders and discuss their issues and find probable solutions to their problems. I learnt a lot about the Middle East and the Arab culture and have grown very fond of it. I also managed to learn a little bit of Arabic, “ shweiya shweiya” to be precise. It was equally fun because we used to drive through the scenic Jordan valley for each field visit accompanied by my amazing colleagues, and of course, I got to finally witness the miraculous Dead Sea! Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful water bodies I have ever seen!
The field visit to SHE Eco park was however one of the highlights of my stay and my favorite field trip. Spending an entire day amidst nature made me feel closer to myself than ever before. Walking on the trails, looking at the Beduin camps and seeing the solar installation was very impressive. FoEME has done an excellent job at preserving nature and bringing it to man kind at its untampered best.
Outside of work, I was able to do a lot of travelling over the weekends. Petra, Wadi Rum and Wadi Mujib are by far the three most enigmatic places I’ve ever visited in my life. Over the three weekends that I spent in these places, I felt close to nature and developed a lifelong bond with strangers whom I met during the travel. Besides being a life changing experience, it has made me realize how much I enjoy doing community related work and has made me believe in this cause.
My fellow interns and also my roommates were a vital part of my stay in Jordan. I have built a very special bond with Brittany and Eddie and they feel like family to me. During our little struggles, multiple adventures and learning experiences, we were together in it all. I shall forever retain this bond with them and hold on to the memorable experiences we had together in Jordan.
On my last day at work, I was given a T-shirt signed off by everyone and got the opportunity to take a group picture. Undoubtedly one of the sadder days in Amman, as I was leaving that day. But I know for a fact that I will definitely go back to Jordan one day as the country has mesmerized me. I have nothing but positive things to talk about the country and feel like I have found a second home there.
My experience in Jordan and the Middle East has been life changing one. I left the country with a new spirit and deepened passion to make a difference to the world.
I was amazed by King Abdullah for believing in peacemaking efforts, I have due respect for Queen “Laila” for saying “Educating a woman is educating a nation”, I am surprised by the awareness and efforts Jordan is taking towards Environmental issues. The
beauty and expanse of the country and all the enigmatic adventure travel has a lot to offer to its tourists. I am still in awe of the Arab culture.
To end, I would say that summer 2013 has been by far the best summers of my life and forever shall remain close to my heart. I hope I can retain this passion to do meaningful work and make a difference to the world.
Written By: Anusha Lagannathan