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,


Not As Planned

February 1st, 2019 by estesle

January 31, 2019.  193 days, 4632 hours since July 23, 2018.  One 20th birthday, one Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in Brazil, 10 days in the world’s driest desert, a visit to one of the seven Wonders of the World, 20 volunteer hours with a surfing-mentoring program, 20 days of an internship with a non-profit sustainable textile company in Cusco, more cups of instant coffee than I’d like to count, a dozen beaches, a few museums, 1 semester of classes, a collection of interviews, an exhibition’s-worth of curated art by Chileans, Argentinians, Uruguayans, and 1 Peruvian.

And I’m not ready to leave.  I’m not done.

Truthfully, I think it’s because my month in Peru wasn’t super productive research-wise.  I made a lot of mental observations, and my internship was certainly enlightening and from that experience I will be able to draw some conclusions for whatever form my findings take in the coming months.   So before I let it hang over my head like the gray clouds outside this café where I draft this blog, I’m putting it out there.  I’m owning it.  But I’m also questioning it…

Why? Why was it hard to tap into the artist community here in Cusco? Did I make enough effort to contact artists? Was it wrong to opt for an internship–an opportunity I thought would structure the end of my research–instead of the chance to live in Lima, a more modern city with significant distance from Peru’s heart of the indigenous world, i.e. Cusco? Should I have opened my mind more to female artists who run workshops that produce copies of religious imagery adorned with gold? I considered an interview with one such a woman, but it didn’t feel right.  Plus, when I brought up my project, I noticed a difference in her voice. She spoke more quietly.  Did I say something wrong? 

Actually, I’m pretty sure I did.  “Feminist” and “women’s rights” seem to be un-welcomed vocabulary here.   I tried to leave those words out once I realized that.  This is something I’ve noted and will influence my final conclusions.  The lack of interviews from Peru is actually appropriately symbolic of how prevalent I felt the topic was here in the valley–the sacred valley.

It’s valuable to note that the hashtag, #NiUnaMenos, launched a revolution against “femicides” when it arose in Buenos Aires.  Chile and Uruguay, then eventually Peru (in Lima, however), duplicated these protests.   It began in 2016.  Just yesterday I saw the Instagram story of an artist I met in Chile; she was lamenting the death of a friend, the 6th “accomplished” femicide in Chile in just 2019 so far.  One month in.  Peru, only 9 days in, had already documented 5 femicides in 2019.  Peru is just different from Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.  I believe many of the women want the same things and live with similar ambitions, but Peruvian women don’t have the same empowerment, the same freedom.  I suddenly worried if I had endangered any women by asking them in public if they’d speak with me about their work, their lives as Peruvian women and artists.

So 4 weeks and 0 recorded interviews later, I zip up my suitcases with one work of art to take back and share with you.  And, admittedly, it’s by a male artist.  But it says “Quechua is the new black”; the image is collaged from a pasted photo of a Quechua woman.  So I’m counting it–but here’s what I have to say about it…

We (college-aged Americans) are familiar with the “___ is the new black” thanks to the show Orange is the New Black.  A TV show based on the entertaining and heartstring-pulling moments had by women in prison,  its title playfully uses the idiom that essentially declare the first item the new vogue, the new fashionable thing.  Following this logic, “Quechua is the new black” implies that to be Quechua–an indigenous group from the Incan-ruled Andes–is now the cool thing.  And I believe there is a movement of pride from the indigenous peoples.  However, whatever my lens or predispositions may be, I read “black” as a reference to the race, not a metaphor for a thing of fashion.  I thought, Hm, so if Quechua is the new black, does that mean Quechua people are now at a stage in their own rights movement comparable to the experiences of black people today? 10 years ago? 30 years ago? And maybe because every piece of art I see with a subject of a women, I thought furthermore along.  Are Quechua women of Peru like the black women in America, where feminism has not been addressed with the concerns and needs of women of color entirely in mind? Where black women feel like and are in the afterthought of white feminists? Are the women in Lima neglecting the issues Quechua women face as they move forward in the rights movement that has taken shape in South America? 

I’m not sure if these questions were part of the artist’s intentions (we’re in the middle of emailing now, since he–like every other artist I’ve tried to contact–is based in Lima).  I feel guilty that I spent a month here and didn’t get an interview…when I visited one of Threads of Peru’s (my internship for the month) weaving communities we collaborate with, I brought my camera to take photos for Threads’ marketing stock, and I quickly established relationships with the weavers.  I just didn’t feel comfortable using (i.e. exploiting) their lifestyle for the benefit of my research.  The women I interviewed in the other countries were so enthusiastic to talk with me.  Their art often thematically matched my research–not just their already-sufficient identity as South American female artists.  But the intricate weavings I worked with day in and out weren’t about access to contraceptives, abortion rights, or domestic violence protection; they’re about supplementing their family’s income, because the annual income of an indigenous women who works with Threads of Peru increases by 50% on average .  Yet still I wondered: where do these women fit into the narrative I have been weaving over the past 6 months?

Clearly I’m not done.  I’m leaving with more questions than answers, yet I feel this was somehow the higher goal of a project like this.  Wofford sent me to South America, trusted me with their grant to safely travel and sustain myself for a few months, and expects me to come back with something.  Yet I hold onto this faith that overall I have something to be proud of, even if this last portion of my research did not turn out like I had hoped (hm, I bet there’s a lesson there, too).  So tomorrow I return–with questions, some art I’m pretty excited to transform into an exhibit come October, and incredible growth and experiences tucked into my passport holder for the next time I hop on a plane to visit these places again, hopefully discovering new cafés in more towns to write about.

My suitcases are a little worse for wear.  Some of my sweaters are pilling and stained.  My weight fluctuated dramatically throughout the whole time.  My hair is more or less the same color and length.  I can’t think in one singular lenguaje at a time anymore.  The music on my Spotify looks a little different, thanks to additions from Denise Rosenthal and Inti-Illimani.  I could tell where to get the best burger in Valparaíso, the best brownie in Montevideo, the best café latte in Cusco.  I now have friends to reach out to all over the States, plus a few in Paris. I count these as wins.

I’ve also been keeping a countdown on my Instagram, and when I concluded today’s final post before I depart early in the morning tomorrow, I mentioned my next destination following a brief stint at home to exchange wardrobes and visit with friends and family: France & Italy!  A friend I made in Moshi, Tanzania (while abroad for summer ’17 with The Space), and who is from Italy, just commented to offer her help should I need it while knee-deep in pasta and Roman ruins. Her message came after returning to my “place of stay” (in the home of a friend of a friend, but not quite a homestay) this evening.  We don’t keep in touch at all, but I suppose we mutually tap the “like” button on each other’s posts.  Feeling utterly despaired about leaving this part of the journey and not just moving onto the next South American country, I feel comforted in the reminder that everywhere we go, we have the opportunity to connect.  I had no idea while living at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro that meeting Claudia would lead to a local’s aid while studying abroad in Rome, but here we are.  This realization comforts me as I leave behind all the places and people I came to know over 6 months.  I hope that I can either be that local connection for one of them, or that our paths cross again like mine and Claudia’s are bound to intersect once more on the streets of her home.

Bear with one on more reflection of the idiosyncrasies of long-term travel abroad, will you?

My Canadian and Peruvian co-workers of the month took me to lunch for my last day; afterwards, I haphazardly walked the cobblestone streets of Cusco one last time.  It drizzled for hours.  I had two goals for my last few hours and a few hours to fill in around them. First: find a ring, since I had purchased one in Chile and another in Uruguay, so I figured I’d complete a set. Second: visit the Koricancha, a famous site in Cusco with a lawn beside it where I frequently sat on a bench with my favorite Cusqueñan lunch.  By the time I reached the Spanish church built on top of the most important Incan temple *rolls eyes*, I learned it had just closed.  I laughed to myself, for it felt like an ironic ending to my time in South America.  To double the irony, with all the rings I saw, I failed to pick one.  I met neither of my goals, yet didn’t feel like the day was wasted (a huge lesson from living abroad).  I took both as a sign that I just have to return to Cusco (hopefully just a weekend stay before busing north to Lima and the surf spots along the coast) one day.  So as I stood a little aimlessly on Avenida El Sol near the bus stop deciding if I should stay downtown or catch a taxi back home, I walked past a man carrying some handmade rings.  I turned my head and he caught me in a moment of weakness.

Hola bonita, buscas un anillo?” he called back at me.  I wasn’t going to be rude, so I swiveled my gate 180 degrees and explained to the clearly-Argentinian that I actually had been searching for a ring all day long.  He invited me to look sin compromiso, or without an obligation to purchase one, but was sure to explain that buying one would help him continue to travel and see more of South American.  While I entertained the thought of supporting him, he made me a regalito from the extra wire he had hanging around his shoulder.  We talked back and forth a little while.  As he twisted the wire into a new form, I thought about the day walking back from a similar afternoon of wandering in Valparaíso.  It was the day I received a call from my dad that he was officially in remission (he had been going through chemo when I left the States back in July)! Spirits high but feeling extra distant from home, I walked a few miles from downtown to the boardwalk that takes–took–me to the metro station where I climbed the stairs to the overpass, and across the overpass to the hill, and up the hill to my homestay.  When I had just reached the entrance to the sea-side path, another man had caught my attention and reeled me in.  He insisted on also giving me a gift; that time it was the ring itself.  The best way to show my gratitude for his small generosity was to explain to him that this ring will always remind me of a day of great news.

That ring looks just like the ones this man in Cusco, Emanuel, had made.  This time, standing under the rain, I was 24 hours from my dad, from home. I searched my coin purse to pay Emanuel.  When I looked up, I saw in his palm a wire flower with a built-in stand so I could sit it on my desk or dresser, per his suggestion.  It was not the ring I was looking for, and technically it was made by an Argentinian but one I met in Peru.  A little like my research and this whole adventure, the ring represented a moment and a feeling much larger than itself, plus I found it on its own time and in its own place.  On top of it all, I had been thinking incessantly about growth throughout the day.  I hadn’t planned on growing so accustomed to life here, but here we are, hours from take-off, some 4632 hours since my first take off on July 23, 2018, and I can’t imagine a day without things going not as planned.




I know I did not write as much near the end, so I hope if you’re interested in seeing how my research comes to fruition, please stay tuned for updates about my upcoming exhibition in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts in Fall 2019! Thank you to those who read along and kept up with my adventures as I pursued answers on the role of art in the South American women’s rights movement.