Adventures in Alternative Style

p_20161002_180407Hello from the Fall 2016 MESP ladies!

(and gentlemen, of course. This post is just highlighting our journey as women.)

We are having a blast here in Amman this semester.

Efforts to adjust to the local culture come in different forms. Saying “Marhaba, keef halak?” instead of “Hello, how are you?” is just the beginning.

For us women, the adaptation of dress is a bigger hurdle to jump over. I for one have found the stretch surprisingly enjoyable- it’s an opportunity to be creative and thrifty.

Before coming on the semester, I hit up my local Salvation Army and Goodwill. Which is what I do on the regular anyway, but this time was different: I had specific guidelines in mind. It was more like a treasure hunt than it had ever been before.

I ended up having to stop at Kohl’s for the necessary ankle-length-with-no-slit skirt. Soon, I was on my way to Amman and cultural adjustment and adaptation.


on the wain hada? scavenger hunt

We quickly learned that what we wear here is not just a matter of style, but of cultural respect. In the Middle East, the culture of the majority Muslim population puts an emphasis on physical appearance, and how that interacts with honor and respect.

I know, coming from an American, Christian perspective, the first concern on your mind when you get dressed in the morning is not “how do I make sure to respect others and honor my family” but “how can I fit in and not look like a freak.”

But if you think about the idea of respecting others, and even ourselves, in the way we dress, I’m leaning towards the idea that we could learn something from this value in Islamic culture.

I’ll let you work that out for yourself. For us here, it’s about making sure we show others that we have come to enter in to their world, to meet them where they are at. We want to make sure others feel respected and comfortable while we learn from them. We appreciate our hosts and don’t want to make them feel like they need to bend to our preferences.

That being said, it’s a different system than ours back home, so it takes some getting used to. After being here in Jordan for about 2 months, here are some examples of what we’ve come up with:

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As you can see, it’s about higher necklines, longer sleeves, and long pants. This can be a challenge when living in the desert, so you learn to choose thinner, lighter fabrics (which travel better anyway!) and stay inside during the hotter parts of the day when possible.

The wonderful thing is, if you arrive and realize that you may need a few more items to supplement your wardrobe, you’ve always got Souk Juma to fall back on. Otherwise known by it’s English translation (Friday market), this magical marvel of a secondhand bonanza is open every Friday and is just a short taxi ride away.

I’ve bought a few things there, and I’m not one bit ashamed of it. I’ve gotten 2 JD pants, 5 tunics for 5 JD, purple suede shoes for 4JD… guys, a deal is a deal! When you pay a buck-fifty for a shirt, you’re not going to feel bad if you can’t fit everything in your suitcase on the way home (at least, I won’t… those purple suede shoes are gonna make the cut, though).

Even if I don’t bring all the apparel home with me, I’ve enjoyed exploring this fashion that convenes with Middle Eastern cultural standards. I have a new appreciation for personal presentation, which is something we tend to neglect in the States when we “just don’t feel like it.”

We’ve already joked about how we are taken aback when we see pictures of our friends in (reasonably) short dresses and how weird it will be to wear shorts in public again. I won’t have to worry about that for a while, heading back to Michigan in December, but it’s an interesting thought. We’ve come to a point of seeing our own fellow Americans, our friends and family, and having the same gut reaction as a Muslim, at least for a second.

As we live in Amman, we learn to straddle two worlds. We come from one, work to understand the other, to function in it but not to forget our own. Welcome to the Middle East Studies Program. Ahlan wa sahlan.





Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Originally posted on Facebook by current MESP student Josh Cayetano:


At first glance, there’s nothing special about this photo. Nothing stands out. There’s no glitz, no glam. But this photo is everything.

When I heard the news of the ban on refugees, I was in church with many from Iraq. And before I continue, let me share some facts about them I’ve learned since I met them:

1. They’re better than me at pool. One said in terrible English, “You play billiard as good I speak English.”

2. They love Jesus. In fact, for many, it’s the only thing they carried with them from Iraq. Many go to church every day, because they have nowhere else to go.

3. They are beyond generous. I learned refugees get $14 a month. And still they insist on giving.

4. They are resilient. I interviewed 15 Iraqis in 2 hours and every one of them was determined to learn and adapt.

5. I love them. I had never met any of them before today. But I love them.

6. They don’t want to go to America. They say Canadians and Australians are friendlier.

Shame on us. Shame on our government. Shame on the Levite who lifts his skirt and crosses to the other side. Shame on me for my apathy and shared guilt. Blessings on the Samaritan, Jordan, who has taken in more than her fair share. Blessings on those speaking up. Blessings on the peacemakers. Blessing on my brothers and sisters who have fled, may you run straight into the arms of our Father.

Desert Rose

MESPers participate in weekly service projects during the semester. Donna S. of Wheaton College (IL) reflects on working at Desert Rose, a handicrafts seller that employs low income and handicapped women in Jordan.


Even before the first day at Desert Rose, I knew that I would enjoy the experience. This could be partly because of my tendency to be happy, positive, and excited about upcoming events! Also, Desert Rose is the place where all of my interests meet, where I can do art with other women, one of whom knows Jordanian Sign Language! Her name is Rahab, and she is such a wonderful woman. Upon seeing the three of us, Rahab looked up from her work and gave us two thumbs up and a big smile.

Rahab and I, while the rest of the group ate their bandoura (tomato), onion and peppers with the pita, conversed in American Sign Language and Jordanian Sign Language (Lughat al-Ishāra al-Urdunia, or LIU). We taught and learned from each other! Rahab taught us the numbers, and how to tell time in LIU. I learned that the ASL…

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Friendly Dialogue

This week we had the opportunity to have a dialogue event in a mosque with Jordanian Muslim young people. It was a privilege to learn and grow with these friends. Student Merissa L. of Bethel University (MN) reflects on broken stereotypes in this venue.

The Simplest Smile


Our chuckles fill the Mosque on this brisk night. We sit in an oblong circle with just enough space between each person so that everyone can see each other. My breath is warm on the silky fabric of the headscarf I am wearing and my toes feel a cool breeze between my cotton socks. I am sitting feeling so small and unqualified within this large group of Christians and Muslims. My eyes can’t stop darting across the beautifully worn Qur’ans that glaze the shelves around us. The ceiling is so high and I feel unexpectedly comforted by the similar characteristics between the architecture of this mosque and large churches I have grown up seeing. I am careful not to let the souls of my feet point towards the Jordanians that are respectably sharing with us, a cultural expectation here in the Middle East. I am sorely unaware of what has…

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I See You, I Hear You

Reblogged from David C., a Spring 2016 MESPer from Bethel University, MN. 

I see your pain. I hear your cries.
With tears in your eyes you tell us you were forced to flee Mosul and everything you have ever known. You share with us about how your child is attending a university in America, like any parent I see the joy on your face as you talk about her. Your voice starts to trail off and your head sinks a little bit. Next, you tell us it has been three years since the last time you have seen her. You yearn to see her, but policies prevent you from seeing her.

I see your pain. I hear your cries.
A middle aged man shares how he was a electrician in Iraq. A middle class family with children who attended school, played sports, participated in extracurricular activities, and hung out with friends. As we are hearing this I am struck by how similar our lives really are and start to think about such a simple one worded question: Why? Why had I been given the privilege of being born in a stable country? Why have I not had to experience loss, pain, and hardship like the man who sits two feet away from me?

I see your pain. I hear your cries.
We in America seem to have this preconceived notion that these people are nothing like us, that their ways of life would never coexist with ours. However, hearing these stories I am struck with how similar they actually are. These people onced lived in places not much different from Lino Lakes, Arden Hills, Shoreview, and Roseville. I think about their children. To know that these children have seen more violence and bloodshed in their decade and a half on this earth than most people ever will see in their entire lives in America has power.

I see your pain. I hear your cries.
At the end of our conversation, I am reminded of one thing. The two people I have just heard have a faith in Jesus that is so strong. Attempting to comprehend how they continue to keep persevering through life is so difficult, yet so encouraging and inspiring. We Christians from America can learn so much from Christians here in Middle East. Thinking about what divides followers of Jesus back home, then coming here and seeing faith lived out so passionately and strongly is so powerful and will change you. People who have the freedom to gather collectively each week as well as build and attend entire institutions dedicated to equipping students with a Biblical worldview must be concerned with has occurs in the world each and every day.

I see your pain. I hear your cries.
Regardless of people’s view on government, politics, and policies I believe one thing is made clear: The Christians of the world, especially Christians of America, cannot idly sit back and do nothing. I am not sure what exactly that means. Could it mean allowing people into our country? Possibly. While there are valid security concerns that must be addressed, knowing millions of people who are just like us have lost everything and yet still have the will to continue cannot be taken lightly. The country of Jordan has no long term plan, yet is prepared to keep accepting people no matter the cost. While what works for one particular country may not work for another, America should be seeking ways to learn from countries around the world that are accepting people.

These are complex questions and issues that do not have simple answers. On April 20th, in sha’allh (God willing), I will return to my comfortable home with my family and friends. I will have the privilege of being able to attend a university to fulfill my goals and dreams. I will continue to be haunted by the fact that millions among millions of humans just like you and me are a people with no country, and no home; to know these are real people just like us, not just numbers or statistics will also contuine to haunt me. As I struggle with these questions, I am conforted by the words of Paul as he writes in Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (8:26).

Lots to Learn

Reblogged from Carrie M., Spring 2016 MESPer from Bethel College, IN

It’s 5:07pm, and I am sitting in the garden outside our apartment reflecting on the day, the call of prayer echoing over Amman in a way that can both demand attention and calm a spirit.

It’s been almost ten days since I flew in to my new home for the semester. Because our last week was orientation week (aka information overload), it feels like it has been more like three weeks! Just in our first week, we have already experienced a tour of Amman, a visit to the Citadel and the Roman amphitheater, our first Arabic class, a rundown of the culture here, and our first day at our service projects. Mine happens to be at Desert Rose, a workshop where I will be volunteering with two other girls in my program each Tuesday to work alongside underprivileged women.  They sell and market wood carvings, crafts, jewelry, kitchenware, and all sorts of handmade art pieces from local olive wood—so beautiful! Because one of the employees is deaf, the women can communicate in both Arabic and Arabic Sign Language! Even though you think that it would be worse to learn two languages at once, learning the sign to an Arabic word actually helps me solidify the memory of what the word is. I am so so so happy that I got placed there!

Upon my first couple days of arrival, I noticed the routine, little happenings that already I hardly think twice about. On the first day, we noticed what sounded like an ice-cream truck at least five times driving around our neighborhood, Shmeisani. My roommates and I would have flagged it down looking like giddy elementary girls if Dr. Doug (our professor/house parent/program director) hadn’t informed us that it was actually the natural gas companies making their rounds selling canisters of gas. (Such a downer). Another sound is the birds, which sticks out to me only because back home in Michigan, the birds have been pretty much quieted for the winter. But even now in the dusk they are chattering, jumping between branches in the olive and palm trees. I have already learned that a car’s honk does not have the rude connotation that it does in America—it is a whole different language here. Different variations of a honk could mean “hello,” “I’m right behind you,” “watch out, I’m driving down this street” (which as a pedestrian, I’ve learned to respond to), or even “thank you.” And with road signs, speed limits, personal boundaries and signals considered nearly irrelevant by Jordanians, I have witnessed a few “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?” honks too. Crazy driving would be an understatement, but somehow it all works out!

Although I have never had any urge to live in a city, Amman is an exception. One big distinction has something to do with the rhythm that it holds, unlike any Western city I have ever stayed in. But it’s not just the rhythm, but what the rhythm is based around that differentiates it from the West. Amman like other Middle East cities and communities revolve around their religion as opposed to business for their time. The city wakes up early to the first call to prayer (the fajr) just after the 5 o’clock hour. Throughout the day, the call to prayer signals a slight lull in the city bustle as Muslims pause soon after for prayer. Their day of rest is on Friday, which means that for us, we (like the rest of Amman) will treat Sunday as a work day, usually having a full class day.

Even though there is much structure for the city as a collective, there is also much more give than I am used to. Jordanians have a completely different concept of time than I am used to. For example, you would normally be considered as on time to any event if you showed up a half hour after it “began.” (Anyone who knows me is probably thinking that I should have been born in this culture!)

What is still amazing me, and I am sure will continue to amaze me, is how it’s not just the schedule that revolves around religion, but most noticeably the Arabic language. A common greeting here is assalamu alaikom, meaning “peace be upon you.” When asked how you are, or when talking in a tone of thankfulness, most Jordanians will say el halmdulellah, meaning “praise God!” A response to goodbye is allah ma’ak, “may God be with you.”

One of the first phrases we learned (and the one I can pick out most often) is inshallah—“God willing”. If I were naïve enough to try to place a defining phrase about the way of life here after being here for a mere ten days (which I guess I must be), it would be this one. It creates this sort of space between people and their tasks they must complete, people they must see, and places they must go; and this space, there is room for God to work within His will.

And largely because they have this allowance in their schedules, I am quickly learning that Jordanians are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met! They will drop whatever they are doing to help you or to welcome you. Probably the first time I really realized this is when one of my roommates, Donna, and I went to a Christian church where a friend of her friend’s mom goes. (Any connection is to your advantage here!) Mohna met us part way to pick us up, hugging us both. She translated the Arabic songs and part of the message until the actual translator showed up. She then insisted that we grab coffee after the service and meet some of her friends (where I met a lady who just moved here from Kalamazoo! So crazy!). Mohna asked us afterwards, “So what all are we going to do today?” smiling at us.

We came back to our apartment amazed at how kind she was to us, and learned that our experience was not uncommon at all! Some of the girls in my apartment asked a lady for directions, and she insisted on driving them personally to where they needed to go—not an uncommon thing here. After practicing our broken Arabic (our really, really broken Arabic) on a café owner, he told us (in a sort of amused and excited way) to ask him anything in Arabic that we wanted. He then continued to talk with us, give us a fifty percent discount on our coffee and cake, and give us extra pastries just because we made a connection with him—not an uncommon thing! It is such a new experience to witness the level of hospitality here, and people’s willingness to make our group feel welcome.

Just before I decided to blog, I was going through my Bible to clean out old church programs that I had accumulated over the past couple years. As I was thinking to myself, why do I ever keep these?, I pulled out one from when I visited Kern Road Mennonite back in Mishawaka. I saw some of my cursivey-print handwriting scrawled on one of the pages and it read this: “Resist the temptation to live life with only people that are similar to you. Embrace the diversity of the Body of Christ and in humanity.” I don’t remember the sermon that from that Sunday, but it was such an encouragement to be reminded of this now, as I am tip-toeing my way into the world of the Middle East, learning from a people so different than I. Even from our first Jordanian speaker this morning, I feel I have gained so much! And so, inshallah, I will continue to learn about things and be challenged in ways that I do not expect to.

Check out Carrie’s Blog here

Marhabaan (مرحبا)

Check out these O week reflections by one of our new Spring 16 cohort, Merissa L. from Bethel University.

The Simplest Smile


The last couple of weeks have been a total blur. I can’t remember much in between my time stepping on my first airplane, and right now where I am sitting in Amman, Jordan writing this blog. I am amazed by God’s faithfulness in bringing me here. I am already surrounded by loving adventurers and new experiences. There is so much good to come. We have taken some time within this first week to do the touristy things: traveled to the Roman Amphitheater, saw the temple dedicated to Hercules, drank too much Turkish coffee, and ate all we could at the best falafel shop around (although I think the best is actually in Shmeisani).


Through all of my smiles and the picturesque scenery, I am sorely aware that I have not chosen an easy or comfortable study abroad experience. This touristy week will soon slow, as I learn what my purpose is…

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Mosque Meditations

Written by current student Hope Zigterman (Gordon College, Massachusetts)

It was a giant eight-sided room with wall-to-wall carpeting. The room was lit with a giant circular chandelier and there were stained-glass windows all along the upper part of the wall. The “decorations” included no pictures or paintings, but only geometric designs and Arabic writing. It was a very beautiful and peaceful room.

Before the call to prayer, a few men trickled in and began their individual prayers. One man in a wheel chair came in and he was helped into a chair. A few others grabbed chairs as well – a demonstration of the principle of ease. Following the call to prayer, more men slowly began to enter. They remained pretty spread out, with only about twenty men in the room. However, once the group prayer began, being led by someone calling out a few words softly (all I heard/understood was “Allah”), all of the men gathered towards the front in two long rows. As more men entered, a third row was started. Altogether, there were probably about 250 men. Between 100 and 200 men were there when the group prayer began and the rest filed in as it continued. Afterwards, most of the men dispersed, but a decent amount stayed to complete individual prayers, again, spreading out throughout the room.

What struck me about the service/praying, was that all of the men came as they were. Some came in jeans, some in the traditional long garments, some had hats, some had their construction clothes on, and some wore business suits. The only uniformity was that everyone takes off their shoes before entering. The idea of people coming as they were reminded me of haj (pilgrimage to Mecca), when everyone wears a white robe so that they are all equal. I think it is also significant that on normal days they do not all wear the same thing, but come from wherever there walk of life has situated them. As they all prayed together, they are equal before God. I was impressed by the fact that it was not just older men. A lot of shebab (“young men”) were also praying. Islam is not just a religion for one type of people, but it is for all people, regardless of their race, age, or employment. I was also struck by the sense of peace available in the room. Maybe it was because the carpet made it cozy. However, as I watched the men praying, I thought to myself, that Islam is truly a religion of peace. The men in that room were taking time out of their day and their schedules to come and pray. This takes effort and commitment and suggests a deep belief in God.

Middle Eastern ‘Soccer’ Program?

Written by current student Caleb Sorenson (Kings University, Edmonton, AB, Canada)


I really loved sports as a kid. I was always playing soccer, basketball, and street hockey with my friends. Junior High and High School were both filled with various different teams and sporting events. As I grew older, I realized that sports were not everything in life (it was quite the revelation at the time) and since then I have become more passionate in studying humanities. Hence, coming to the Middle East to study.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that my love for sports could be an entrance to interact with so many local people. Throughout my whole semester, I have been able to connect with a lot of people based on the common ground of sports.

In Jordan, I was invited by teachers at my Arabic school to play soccer in a park it was a great way to meet local people. Another fun soccer game happened in the parking lot outside our program apartment building during a family party that was put on by our landlord.

Every Tuesday, MESP students are a part of service projects. My service project was at a school in a neighboring city to Amman called Zarqa. My time at the school consisted mainly of having one on one time with students who needed help in English. A common conversation I would initiate would be about who their favorite soccer player or team was. This got the students excited because they were talking about something they were passionate about.

Another part of MESP is participating in homestays. The family I stayed with had children who absolutely loved soccer. We would play every night on their drive way. Sometimes they would even invite relatives and neighbors to join in the fun. These nightly soccer games were a great way to bond as my Arabic, and their English, was limited, but we still found a way to connect.

Another part of the semester included travelling to Morocco. This trip was incredibly fun, and a notable experience for me was just chatting to shopkeepers, while drinking very sweet mint tea, about soccer. Also in Morocco on our last evening in Casablanca, I went to the beach and joined local Shabab (Arabic for young men) in playing soccer on the beach. There were multiple games going on, and easily hundreds of people playing on the beach. It was by far the most scenic field I ever played on as the sun set in the evening. This game was particularly fun as my communication with the other people playing consisted of English, Moroccan Arabic, French, and Spanish. It was a great way to practice all of those languages and to meet local Moroccans.

I never knew that when my parents first signed me up for soccer as kid that it was going to be so helpful during my time in the Middle East.

A Night In A Moroccan Medina

Written by current student Nadia Abboud (Bethel University, Minnesota)

One of our days in Fes we traveled far & wide. After a delicious breakfast at our hotel, us MESPers were taken on a tour of the ancient (and oldest) Medina in Fes (supposedly the oldest ‘continually occupied’ Medina in the world!) For those unfamiliar with it, a Medina is an old Arab quarter of a city in a given North African city (it is many shops of basically anything you could imagine from tanneries and pottery-making workshops to restaurants and supermarkets as well as mosques in this particular Medina)

After, we went to Art D’Argile a pottery and mosaic factory to see how these are made in Fes. There is a special clay that’s used for making the pottery and mosaic (also for facial mask) this is then moulded (the pottery on a wheel that’s manually propelled with the feet). Next, it sits out to dry and if desired the clay is dipped into a glaze (for colors like saffron or blue). Then comes the detail. For the pottery it is artfully hand-painted then let to dry before selling. The clay for mosaic is cut into shapes that fit each other like a jigsaw puzzle, then they are pieced together into a design of varying shapes i.e. for a table or coaster. Since we were students, the store owner gave us a ‘special offer’ of 30% off anything in the store (I didn’t have money on me, otherwise I would have been tempted to buy).

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Afterwards we went atop an ancient castle for a panoramic view of Fes. Then was lunch (and a cup of guh-way nos-nos– half expresso half frothy milk) and our interesting speaker who discussed moderate Islam of Morocco.

Finally, free-time! Six of us went to a café (which had at least 4 terraces…we went for the top view) to got a bite before our shopping expedition. I ordered an iced tea which was a Moroccan tea iced. It had quite the flavors going on with lime, ginger, mint, and one other herb I couldn’t quite identify. Little did we know at that point what that evening would have in store…

While waiting outside the Medina for friends to get money from the ATM, we were addressed by a young man of 11 yrs.- Omar. He, like many restaurant representatives, came to get us to come eat at his mother’s restaurant. Of course, we’d already eaten but props to my fellow student, Abby, for still pursuing conversation with him because in the end he lead us on an ‘extended tour’ of the ancient Medina which resulted in fairly good deals on textiles and leather goods. **Side Note- Omar was a quite a gentleman for his age.

Sometime along the way, I believe when we were at his uncle’s weaving/textile shop we picked up another young boy who happened to also have the name of Omar (and of about the same age). This textile shop was deep in the heart of the Medina. It was dark and we walked for a good 30-45 minutes to get to the shop (some of the byways seemed kind of sketchy but we made it, ‘our guide’ had quite a good sense of direction). Once we arrived we were warmly welcomed by Omar’s relatives. One of his cousins gave us a demonstration of how the weaving on the horizontal loom was done for the scarves, tablecloths, and bedspreads. Following this, she proceeded to dress us up in the traditional Saharan (desert) garb. To each a robe and turban was given and the outcome looked like this:


Afterwards, good Moroccan mint tea (compliments of Omar 🙂 was offered to us as contemplation began on our choices of purchase. Deals were made and money exchanged and the next thing I knew we were on our way to a tannery were I planned to buy a belt. I had to haggle a fair bit (with the help of Omar to know good pricing) but in the end I got it for 200 durum (~$20 USD). Here too we were offered tasty mint tea before our trusty guides (Omar-tain –Arabic pun suffix meaning 2 of a given commodity :)) took us back to our hotel for the night. By the end of the evening I was the proud owner of a Moroccan style blanket, 2 scarves (1 was a freebie in a combo), a coin purse, and a leather belt.

Wow, what an experience! As I said, I could have never imagined the night would’ve turned out as it did and we made two new friends out of it.

Well that’s just a taste of our MESP Moroccan experience.