Hillary takes on Jordan, 2012

Reflections from a Northeastern journalism student abroad

Nothing worthwhile comes easily

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It’s been quite a ride, that’s for sure. Amman, Jordan, thanks for the memories.

One week has passed since we left the dusty, tan capital of Jordan. I didn’t realize how much I missed green. Green trees. Green grass. Green bushes.

I spent a few days in London and it’s safe to say that I’m one of those classic I’m-falling-in-love-with-this-city kind of people. I loved the architecture, the double-decker buses, the diversity of the people (I stayed in a hostel with eight other strangers but I met people from France, Spain, Australia), and of course the accents. Oh, the accents.

I ate Polish, Thai and Chinese while I was there. I bought normal food, wore tank tops, spoke English, met so many strangers in the three days that I was there because I could actually understand them and hold a conversation. It was normal and fun and easy.

And it made me realize just how difficult our time in Amman had been.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve been talking to friends, family, co-workers about my time there. I talk about the heat, how much work we dealt with, how we had to completely cover ourselves, not because we didn’t want to get a sunburn but because we had to in order to protect ourselves, our bodies. I talked about how we couldn’t shower everyday and when we could, to keep it under ten minutes. I talked about the language barrier when it came not only to being friendly but when we had to get our sources. I talked about the differences in culture and the relationship between men and women.

And you know what they told me? “I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

At the time, you’re so immersed in the culture, so fixated on finishing your story, so caught up with your colleagues. I didn’t sit back and think about what we, as a group of 46, were actually doing, what we were experiencing. Being home, eating pizza and getting my UV fill, I have it easy. I can take twenty-minute showers. I can wear shorts and a tank top because it’s too hot. I can tell people no, I don’t want any more food because I’m full and not worry about disrespecting them. I can do all these things that I never even thought about before.

And I can now go up to anyone and ask them questions because I’m a journalist and that’s just what we do. I can do that and not feel intimidated. Because I was forced to do that in Jordan. I was forced to not call or email but show up at someone’s office and demand answers. From people who barely speak English.

I can’t say it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. But like that saying goes, “nothing worthwhile comes easily.” And the memories, the experiences, the skills, all of that was worth it.


Written by horourke

June 20, 2012 at 7:29 am

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Anticipation and dread

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It’s arrived. The most anticipated but dreaded day. Our last day in Amman.

I’ve been here for five weeks and I feel like a completely different person. I’ve seen Petra, I’ve snorkeled in the Red Sea, I’ve been pushed to my limit finding sources, typing until my fingers are sore, sleeping like a rock because I’m not getting enough Zs.

I’ve been stressed more times than not, felt like crying more than I’d like to admit, at times felt like I was going insane. I wanted to punch cab drivers, freak out on the people who wouldn’t stop staring, just give up and go back to Boston.

But I made it through all that. And I would never, ever take any of it back. I honestly don’t know how I could ever repay Carlene for giving me this opportunity.

Not only have I completely expanded and honed my skills as a journalist and a writer, I also have so much more confidence in anything and everything I do. I mean, c’mon, what’s Boston compared to the Middle East?

And I don’t think I could’ve been stuck with a better group of people. These people are amazing, kind, got me through so much but we never let shit get to us. We always had fun, there was always someone cracking a joke and always someone to pick up the pieces.

I know a lot of people who’ve gone on Dialogues in the past and I don’t know if it’s because we’re still stuck together here or not but I feel so much closer to this group of people than I think a lot of people on other Dialogues do. I know we’ll still be causing ruckus back in the Bean.

Maybe because we were forced to adapt to a completely different culture in an environment completely foreign to us. Maybe because we weren’t just partying together, we were actually experiencing and bonding over real things. Maybe because I just got lucky and ended up with better people than I could have ever asked for.

Whatever it is, I will never forget these experiences, how much it transformed me as a person, how I now feel like I can take on anything because we were forced to deal with so much here.

I’ve been looking to this day for so long and now that it’s here, I don’t want to leave. I can’t tell you why but the fact that it’s ending is upsetting.

All I can say is, oh well. I can’t stop time from moving forward. On to the next chapter.

[By the way, I’m aware this sounds like the last one I’ll be posting but stay tuned, folks! There’s more to come!]

Written by horourke

June 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm

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Oh, by the way…

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Youth to Jordan’s government: We need jobs

Story by Hillary O’Rourke

With youth unemployment at nearly 41 percent in Jordan, demonstrators took to the streets of Amman in March to ask that the government provide them with more job opportunities. Photo courtesy of Eman Jaradat.

In early May, youth demonstrators lined the streets in the city of Madaba with signs and slogans calling for the government to provide more job opportunities. Identifying as the Al Azaydeh – or youth – movement, they were protesting unemployment, an issue so pressing here that some say it threatens to thwart Jordan’s status as a modern country.

Unemployment has always been a problem in Jordan, but the country’s youth have recently experienced a skyrocketing increase in joblessness, making the total unemployment rate among them about 40 percent. The loss has been so acute that Jordan’s youth have taken their complaints to the streets in the form of protests and pamphlets.

Hamza Budiri, a 26-year-old electrical engineer from Amman, hasn’t been able to find a job for two years. “I’m unemployed. The construction sector fell in the last economic crisis so there aren’t many jobs out there for me,” said the activist. “I’ve been involved since the Tunisian revolts” – which took place in 2010. “I take part in the weekly demonstrations. I’ve been doing this for more than a year and I can’t find a job.”

Click here to continue reading

Written by horourke

June 9, 2012 at 5:58 am

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The Hiatus

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Hiatusing is the new planking. Trust me, this will go global.

This is how it all began.

Then we took it to the desert.

White boy got ups.

Yeah, we even synchronized it.

Hiatusing off the boat. BOOM.

Another one off the boat. Woo

Written by horourke

June 9, 2012 at 5:40 am

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Best week EVER

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I’ve been sitting at my computer all night, typing, deleting, typing, deleting. I just have no idea how to go about writing this post about this past week. There are no words.

Like I said before, this week was an excursion to Karak, the DANA Nature Reserve, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. From Monday to Friday, we were constantly bouncing around the country.

And it was perfect timing. I was stressing hard earlier on Sunday and this past week definitely had me feeling 100 percent better. Although, Wednesday is our last day (say whaattt!) so these next five days are going to be crazy intense.

Monday we went to Karak and then camped out at the DANA Nature Reserve. Karak is an ancient roman ruins castle on a cliff overlooking the desert. We climbed, tripped, clambered around the stone structures and in the underground tunnels and rooms. We stood on the edge of a wall, one side a sheer drop hundreds of feet below. We scrambled up rock walls and felt like we were on top of the world. We wove in and out of the tunnels and vast rooms in the ground, lit only by the holes in the ceiling, sunlight shining down in a single beam of light.

We all look like ants swarming Al-Karak castle.

Underground room at Al-Karak.

Then we traveled another two hours to DANA. Ate some lunch that consisted of bread filled with weird potato, thyme and cheese (carbs on carbs on carbs, YEAH) and finally headed out through weaving paths on the side of a mountain-hill. It was incredibly beautiful but so incredibly hot. Our tour guide was a pretty cool dude too.

DANA Nature Reserve. We hiked along these narrow paths that wound around mountains in the stifling heat. Good times.

Our tour guide. What a guy.

We ended our day riding a rickety truck on a narrow path that wound down the side of a mountain that ended at a campsite at DANA where we slept in tents. We were surrounded by mountains, rocks, sand, nature. We weren’t allowed to bring soccer or volley balls or allowed to play music. It was simply us and the wilderness. I didn’t want to leave.

The view from the truck we took down. About ten of us piled in a truck that should’ve held half as many, plus our bags. It crossed my mind a few times that we were heading to our death. But alas, we made it out alive.

I randomly woke up at five am and went outside to get some fresh air. The moon was descending over the tents we stayed in. I immediately snapped a pic.

Tuesday brought us to the ancient city of Petra. All of us thought we were our own individual Indiana Jones. A few of us decided to hop on some horses and after finagling with the handlers, we ended up paying 25JD (about $35) for the “Indiana Jones Trail.” Although we were a little annoyed it was that much, in the end, it was more than worth it. I used to be an avid horseback rider back in the day and I haven’t ridden one since middle school. But it’s like riding a bike: You never forget how it’s done. We traveled through the hills, the mountains, climbed up the rocks (hooves don’t seem like the best shoes for rock climbing but these guys are pros), galloped across the tops of plateaus. We sat overlooking the city of Petra, the buildings carved out of the stone right below us. It was simply amazing.

Riding a horse, Indiana Jones style. I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning.

After riding we climbed down a huge “staircase” and were met with this view of Petra.

Such an incredible structure. It baffles me that people actually carved this by hand. It was amazing. And massive.

Walking through the caverns and tunnels of Petra.

Our night ended with us at a cave bar – yes, you read that correctly. It was pretty sweet but cave + bar = exceptionally overpriced drinks. And at the very end, we perfected our hiatuses.

We headed further south to the desert Wadi Rum and camped out there. This was probably one of my favorite places we went to on this entire trip. I know how cliché this is but this was honestly one of the best days of my life. We got to the campsite, tents littered the area, there was an outside dining area, and a bonfire with benches encircling it. People immediately whipped out the soccer and volleyballs and a pretty intense soccer game ensued.

Next thing we know we’re climbing in the back of trucks to go offroading in the desert. I haven’t had that much fun in awhile. We were flying through the sand, climbing dunes, racing the other trucks, screaming “YELA! YELA!” to go faster. Oh, and our driver was definitely the best.

Us rock climbing in the middle of the desert. Yeah, we’re cool.

Plus, they took us to one of the tallest rocks so we could climb to the top and watch the sun set over the desert. What a view.

Us at the top of a rock during sunset looking pretty epic. Photo cred: Clare Coughlin

We came back to the camp and hiatused some more, danced around the campfire, smoked some sheesha. Then headed out to the mud flats to stargaze. The sky was amazing and the moon was so bright it was like our tour guide.

The next morning was what I really came on this trip for: Camel riding! (Ok, just kidding but we did ride some camels.) It was awesome.


Aqaba is the only port city in Jordan, located on the Red Sea. Ironic, but the water was the darkest blue I’ve ever seen. We headed out on yachts that were specifically there for us and ended up near the shore about an hour out. We snorkeled and I couldn’t help thinking I was in Finding Nemo. I’ve never snorkeled before and let’s just say it definitely wasn’t the last time I’ll be doing it.

And then came the jumping off the boat. The boat was two stories high and I don’t think there was one person who didn’t jump off the top several times. It was great. (I lost one of my rings but it’s a price I was willing to pay.)

The J-Crew on the Red Sea.

I could never forget these past few days. I was definitely in need of something like this but I could never have anticipated what we did and where we went. These places are talked about around the world and we had the pleasure of actually experiencing them firsthand. Now I can cross off all of them from my bucket list.

Written by horourke

June 9, 2012 at 5:06 am

Perfect timing

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It’s our last night in Amman until Friday. Thank god.

I’ve been stressing a little too much recently so I think that helped lead to my minor fit I had this morning. After last night’s fiasco with the taxi, I was NOT in the mood to deal with more cabs. And Jess left earlier than I did for more interviewing so I was left alone to stumble around until a cab finally agreed to pick me up.

Little did I know, I’d be walking on the side of the highway through 90 degree heat to find a cab for 45 MINUTES before some measly taxi fella finally had the decency to pick me up.

So, admittedly, while I was walking down the highway I thought it’d be a great time to think about how much easier it is being home than it is being here.

But, no worries, I got over myself.

But I do have to say that this trip is perfectly timed. Well, it wouldn’t be too too bad if we had one extra day before we left. Oh, well.

Tomorrow we leave for a five-day excursion to Karak, the DANA Nature Reserve, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the port city of Aqaba. Camel riding, snorkeling and camping in tents in the desert all included.

After today, it’s well worth it.

We were hit with two lectures, one on feminism and the other with a Jordanian woman journalist who was absolutely incredible. And, not to mention, Laura and I were treated as pretty important people after meeting with the public relations guy at the Ministry of Higher Education. He set up a meeting with the General Secretary for the Ministry. Talk about finding the right connections.

Written by horourke

June 3, 2012 at 11:14 am

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Men and cabs

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I’ve come to the point where I can’t wait to be back in the US.

Aka, I’m about to have a huge rant about cabs and men right now.

I am so sick of feeling violated, uncomfortable and uneasy for no reason whatsoever. I’ve dressed like I’m supposed to, completely covering everything on my body except for my face and hair; I don’t act ignorant or obnoxious, at least on purpose and I’m pretty sure I act like everyone else here; and I don’t call for attention at all.

But yet, when I walk down the street, the majority of cabs and people stare me down like I’m sprouting three heads. Ok, I’ve come to accept this. Whatever.

The thing that’s really pissing me off, however, is the fact that men think they can walk all over me and cab drivers can charge triple what they’re supposed to.

I was just out with friends for dinner. When we decided to leave, all of us live in different directions so we all took separate cabs. Apparently I grabbed the short stick because my cab driver was the worst I’ve yet to experience. And that’s saying something. Since all of them, ok, the majority of them, SUCK.

I got in and told him where I was headed. “Areeb min City Mall.”

“Ok, close to City Mall?”


At this point, I was fine. But soon after he started driving away, he said, “No meter. Seven JD.”

Of course, seven JD is RIDICULOUSLY overpriced. It usually takes, at the most, four JD. So I said, “LA! Four JD!” And he agreed. Oh, was my luck about to run out.

I live about five minutes after City Mall and, after passing it, he decided to have a bipolar freak out. He stopped in the middle of the high way and told me that I either had to pay him seven JD or I had to get out. Well, I didn’t have seven JD on me. And I freaked out.

“Absolutely LA! You said four JD, not seven.” But he told me I had to get out.

Hell no was I getting out in the MIDDLE of the highway where just last night Jess and I were chased down by men in a van who wanted to “get to know us.” We ended up crossing the highway to get away from them.

Not only was seven JD way, WAY overpriced, but I literally didn’t have that much money on me, not thinking earlier to save that much for a cab ride that usually cost four JD, at the most.

I finally had him agree to accept a few American dollars I had on me…

But when we finally got back, I said I’d give him four. He started screaming at me and locked the doors so I couldn’t get out. At this point, I just gave him the freaking money.

I’m so sick of dealing with some of these people who are just such scumbags. I know this has been quite the experience and I would never take it back but I also can’t wait to be back in a place where I don’t have to rely on men and cabs.

[Oh, and just wait for the post focusing on just the men around here.]

Written by horourke

June 3, 2012 at 1:09 am

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