The wind goes where the boat wants it

December 1st, 2019 by weaverka

Thank God my friend Melissa is a psychology major.

We are beginning week three of my study abroad program’s independent research portion, meaning my days are no longer set by classes and controlled by the chaos that was the SIT office. Rather, they begin with two hours of Arabic tutoring in the local dialect and then are framed by interviews with humanitarian aid organizations and trips to cafes.

In all honesty, my research is going well. Organizations have been very welcoming and responsive, which is the opposite of what I was told to expect. My questions are being answered and the ball is rolling.

Still, I have no idea how to conduct research. I spent all of yesterday trying to find sources for my literature review that would help me format questions and analyze my qualitative date. Nothing. So then I desperately tried to re-word and re-work my research proposal into a question not only worth answering, but one that could guide my interviews in a more purposeful direction.

But this was to no avail.

Finally, discouraged and encouraged all at the same time, I walked 15 minutes from the cafe I had planted myself at for 6 hours to the cafe my friends were working at. And I told Melissa I was worried I would not have anything of worth to bring back to Wofford.

She put on her psych-major pants and in under 10 minutes gave me some steps I could use to code my interview questions and answers, and helped me brainstorm some new key words for my research question. Now I’m getting somewhere.

an example of Amman’s graffiti, which celebrates its diversity

The five of us went on a 2-hour long walking graffiti tour of Amman as our weekend activity this past Friday. The group was about 12 foreigners and led by a former refugee and mechanical engineer turned full-time hip-hop street performer, Aladdin.

Aladdin (pronounced ala-deen, meaning he who rises to the higher religion) is the son of an imam who has chosen his own destiny. That sounds excessive, but it is so true of this man. Aladdin was an early member of the hip-hop culture here in Amman (a story of art very similar to that of hip hop’s early days in the US…except hip hop here is still up-and-coming). He and his friends would perform (rap, beat-box, break-dance, graffitti) in stairways because they could see who was coming and going. If they saw someone who would tell their parents about their art, they would run.

At first, Aladdin’s street performing angered his father, because just like preacher’s kids in the south, there are certain community expectations for the behavior of an imam’s son. But over time, with much grace and patience, Aladdin convinced his family of the beauty of hip-hop as an art form and lifestyle.

One of our stops during the tour was a spray-painted popular Arabic poem at the beginning of a stairwell. But the first line was missing. The first line is so well-known, and said so frequently in Jordanian culture that it wasn’t worth mentioning…it tells you to give up on your dreams when things don’t go as plan, obviously it’s just not your destiny.

“The wind does not go where the boat wants.”

But, that line was missing. The rest of the poem that was in bright red on the cracking stone wall speaks hope to the soul. It tells that actually, you’re not just the boat. You’re the waves. And the wind. And the rudder.

Thus, the wind does in fact go where the boat wants.

Especially if you have friends in the boat with you helping steer and row in the right direction.

My research is gonna go where this little boat wants it.

P.S. There are some beautiful humans in the art community of Amman. I’ll share more about them and the unique space they occupy later.

Take care Wofford,



December 1st, 2019 by weaverka

My time here in Amman has indeed been illuminating. I have seen the highs and lows of humanity, education, friendship, and my own soul. These are never easy to peer into; and the lows have often been full of confusion, panic, and defeat. The highs have been moments that felt like dreams. Days I thought I could only read about in books are now written in my own little blue journal.

So often I have not written or shared because I have been afraid to let the confusion, panic, and defeat out into the open. I already felt like I had let myself down and did not want to add any other names to that list. I wanted to focus on the light, and I try. But I live in both.

I am Grateful and Tired. Full and Empty. Joy and Mourning.

Full of bread and a confidence that feels different than the boldness I have had my entire life. I think now there are multiple forms of courage.
Empty of the all the things I once used to define me and how I fit into spaces. Now I am trying to clear a head that feels so bottomless-ly empty.

Mourning for the life I wanted here. The things I wanted to learn. The love I wanted to feel. The greatness I wanted to achieve.
Joy from the loving friends I did find- in my extended host family, at the gym, in the ragtag group of 5 Americans I get to be apart of. Joy from my morning walks up and down the mountain that is the hill on Mecca Street (playlist sponsored by cringy-non-PC-early-2000s rap and Maggie Rogers).

Grateful for this incredible opportunity. Grateful for the beautiful, creative, welcoming people of Amman. Grateful for minutes that are now treasures I can’t fully share the richness of.
Tired of feeling paralyzed in my circumstances. And tired of beating myself up for feeling paralyzed in my circumstances. Tired of having to forfeit the work I want to do for coping strategies I have to do and hating myself for it. Tired of feeling like I am holding my breath and clenching my fist.

I have 21 days left in Amman. My goal now? Try and see what I can accomplish in 21 days – without regretting the days that came before. Without fearing the days to come. More joy, less mourning. More gratitude, less tightness in my chest.

Shoof, the title of this entry, is the Jordanian Arabic word for seeing. I think I am finally seeing.

All prayers appreciated. All blessings accepted.



Dancing with No Music

November 1st, 2019 by weaverka

Did I look 10000% like an American while I jammed out to old Matchbox Twenty songs walking to the local Cafe dressed in my college sweatshirt and carrying my book bag? Yes. Yes I did.

But, as I told a Jordanian friend the other day, no matter what I do, everything about this five-foot two blondie screams “I’m not from around here!” So, sometimes you might as well just embrace it (within culturally appropriate limits).

This week was a whirlwind, and spent mostly in Arabic. It is rare for me to really use my language skills. But opportunities presented themselves and I loved it. After Geneva, my friends and I dictated a few goals for ourselves moving forward. Our study abroad program has offered little support as to how to navigate this culture, the language, our homestays, and our research. Still, we are determined to make the best of it in our own way.

My main and connected two goals were to A) Just say “yes” (AKA get out more) and B) Hang out with more Arabs (or at least Arabic speakers).

When my Careem (the Arab Uber) driver whipped out his English textbook and asked me to tutor him weekly, I said yes.
When a Sudanese humanitarian aid worker invited me to a refugee cultural night at the local Jesuit Community Center and drinks with some other refugees after, I said yes.
When my host mom’s best-friend asked me to marry one of her sons, I said….well I said no to that, but I did ask if she would teach me to cook.

Today was the second Friday that I have gone to Mama Sabah’s (her name means “morning” in Arabic) for cooking lessons. This Friday I arrived early before Mama Sabah’s daughters, who speak enough English to help us get by, were awake. She began to teach me how to roll stuffed grape leaves and Musakhan, all the while speaking rapid-fire Arabic.

I think there must something special about Mama Sabah. I do not believe my Arabic is any good until I enter her house. Somehow, we both understand each other when we speak. I am not sure if it is because she uses a good mixture of fusha and aamiyaa or because most of the spices we put in the food do not have English equivalents. Whatever the reason, it works. The food turned out lovely. It took from 10 AM-2:30 PM to prepare, with me frantically writing down everything we did; half in Arabic and half in English.

Cooking in Arabic with Mama Sabah is like dancing with no music. There is a rhythm that you can feel, and it has the potential to still be beautiful, yet there’s a certain level of uncertainty. Dancing with no music takes a certain level of “fake it till you make it” and trusting your muscle memory to take over, which is my new approach to Arabic. And also maybe life in Amman.

I do not have the support systems I expected here, so I am creating my own. I am taking chances with friendships and adventures. Asking for help and lessons from people like Mama Sabah to my host cousins to the baristas at the Cafe to the women at the gym.

I am worried my research for the Presidential Scholarship is not going to turn out…the way I wanted it to?…the way it “should?” Honestly, I am just worried it will not turn out at all. But what else can I do but use the tools I have been provided as best I can? I guess I’m gonna send a few emails, read a few UN reports, and dance with no music all the way home from this Cafe.

There are no recipes or timers in Mama Sabah’s kitchen. Everything is determined using your senses. You have to be fully present, or you’ll risk burning the rice or putting too much oil on the giant naan bread. (Not naming any names here, people). So I will try to apply that to my social and academic life here. Be where you are and utilize all the resources you have.

My favorite moment of the day was when, although Mama Sabah handed me a spoon, I squatted down next her on the kitchen floor and used my hands to scoop a garlicy, purple onion mixture onto pizza-sized pieces of bread before we put them in the oven. She noticed my hand smooshing the onions next to hers and looked up at me. The surprised look in her eyes quickly turned to delight as she exclaimed, “Kalilah, you cook like an Arab! Habibiti!”

I may forever look like an American, but y’all, I’m going to try to leave here cooking like an Arab. Cooking lesson #3 is next Friday. Until then, I’ll conduct some interviews and write up some papers. It’ll all come together, Ishallah (God Willing).

Take care Wofford,


You can’t take the Sharqa Al-Ouset out of the girls

November 1st, 2019 by weaverka

I spent the last 10 days on my SIT program’s excursion to Geneva, Switzerland, and it was blissful. I’ll be writing two blogs about the trip, one that is more a personal reflection in addition to this one.

As soon as we landed in the cloudy, cold city we knew we were not in the Sharqa Al-Ouset (the Middle East) anymore.

I’ll be honest, Geneva felt a heck of a lot more like home. The trees and the smell of the cool breeze reminded me of fall at Wofford, and my homesick heart was soothed. My friends felt the same way. We all giggled with excitement that we could walk around as a group (all girls) late at night, and that my apparently European looks would actually blend in here rather than stand out.

“We’re not in the Sharqua Al-Ouset anymore!” we exclaimed as we skipped down sidewalks towards the Pier, looking for a shop to buy cheap bottles of wine. We walked into shop #1 and immediately were transported back to Amman. The distinct smell of a typical Jordanian grocery store greeted us along with cans of hummus and boxes of summak.

We left shop #1 in a hurry, feeling even more disoriented when we passed two shwarma places and an “Oriental” (Arab) restaurant on the way to shop #2, where Umm Kulthum was playing in the background while we picked out our wine. Stepping outside again, we realized that majority of our first day “of escape” in this European city had been spent in the Arab quarter. Arm-in-arm, we briskly walked to the pier, whispering to each other in broken Arabglish.

Because, you can take the girls out of the Sharqa Al-Ouset, but apparently you can’t take the Sharqa Al-Ouset out of the girls.

In front of our fav local sandwich spot…the owner loved us and all his customers knew us.

In Geneva, our days were spent in sessions about migration, refugee statuses and care, NGOs, and iNGOs. We spent most of our nights in the Arab quarter/area, after sampling all the non-European fare the city had to offer. Ethiopian, Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Lebanese; we ate the food of immigrants to Geneva and washed it down with Swiss chocolate. I saw the prettier side of our globalized society in that city.

One of our readings for a paper on refugee integration (which we all pretended to write in the hotel lobby) claimed integration is a two-way street. The host community must accept the refugees and the refugees must accept the host community’s culture and norms, to a certain extent. Both adapt to each other; in order to be fully integrated, immigrants must change the makeup of their host country while simultaneously adapting to the host culture.

I couldn’t help but hum the old School House Rock “All-American Melting Pot” tune in my head after a day on our favorite diverse street in Geneva, despite the hate the concept of America being a “melting pot” receives. I felt like Geneva was a pretty nice “melting pot,” and wondered what it looked like before such diversity came together on its streets. It was probably half the fun, if you ask us girls from the Sharqa Al-Ouset.

You change the spaces you enter into and dwell in, while they change you. How lovely is that? Now for one more story…

Our last night in Geneva, our group plus two of the guys on our program set out to find a few good local spots to drink and (hopefully) dance. After tequila at a very Euro-college-town pub, we found ourselves in a grunge/techno dance club that was having a theme night and a “pay what you can” donation cover fee. The theme of the night was refugees…and the cover donation went to a nonprofit (SOS Mediterranee) which rescues asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean. Of course this would be the club we ended up at.

We paid our covers and danced our little future-humanitarian hearts out to Indian and Arab beats dropped by a DJ from Kurdistan, who himself was a refugee.

Our man DJ Jean from Kurdistan @ La Zoo

Honestly, although Geneva was a break from the Sharqa Al-Ouset, I missed Amman. I was grateful for the moments when we would pass the Lebanese falafel truck, or when I could say “Afwan” (out of habit) to a woman on the train and have her look of surprise soften into a smile. “Peace be upon you,” she would answer back.

May peace be upon us all, especially asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants, and all the potential, complicated “statuses” in between.

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ” Leviticus 19:33–34

Take care Wofford,


Heeah Ma Heeah (it is what it is)

September 14th, 2019 by weaverka

*This is not, as far as I know, a real saying in Arabic*

I say this often in English, especially when things do not go as planned. Consequently, I would say it quite frequently in my Arabic class at Wofford, where things rarely seemed go as I wanted them to. After being scolded for not speaking Arabic during class, I asked Youness (our Arabic professor) how to say my catchphrase.

And now I say it all the more, first in Arabic, then in English.

My time in Amman, Jordan has been a very “heeah mah heeah” experience thus far. First, Customs showed up at the gate for my flight from Detroit to Amman. This meant two things: 1) I was the only one allowed on the plane without being searched (because I’m a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl) and 2) my bags never made it on the flight. They arrived in Amman four days after I did. What did I say while washing my clothes out in the hotel sink?

“Heeah mah heeah”

Adjusting to a new culture is just that, an adjustment. There’s new norms to navigate and relationships to cultivate. I am living alone with an older woman, whereas I had expected to be placed in a large family. I have been force fed more food after 11PM than I have eaten in entire days at home. I will have to rely on others more than I normally prefer to until my Arabic improves.

Again, “heeah mah heeah.”

These are all scenarios, not complaints. I say, “Heeah mah heeah” in a hopeful way, never despondently. Learning a new place, new people, new way of life takes time. I am taking my time, and accepting both my ignorant mistakes and confident moments.

For example, on the way home from school yesterday, my Uber driver was a middle-aged man who spoke no English but had a wide grin and kind eyes. Our 20 minute ride together became a full-on Arabic lesson. He would ask me a question, I would fumble for words until I could respond in fusha (“foos-ha,” AKA Shakespearean Arabic). Then, he would say it for me in Aamiyya (Jordanian Dialect Arabic) and have me repeat the phrase until I sounded like him.

It was such a precious moment for me here, where my Arabic practice has been surprisingly limited. I emerged from his Ford Fusion beaming.

I hope that sometime near the end of this semester in Amman, Yousef will pick me up again. Inshallah (God willing) I will wow him with my Arabic. For now, I’ll just keep taking what is for what it is.

Take care Wofford,