dispatches from the Middle East - shared cabs and night rides

It’s been a helluva week, and I cannot be happier than ever that it’s over, especially after recent events at work. The weekendd starts tomorrow, and I’ve got some pretty fun plans for tomorrow. Cordu, a fellow intern at JT, and I are gonna go to Souk Abdali, a weekly market that sells everything from clothes straight from the wholesaler to fruits and veggies and toys. I think I talked a little about it in one of my first posts, but yeah. It’s a mecca for bargain stuff, really. Anyway, I know that I was hoping to finally write some more analysis-type stuff on things that’s happened to me, but that’ll have to wait over, you’ve guessed it, descriptions of things I did today!! Yay!!!!!!!!!1

First of all, I finally got to meet my sources and did a group preliminary interviews and somewhat solidify what I’m gonna be reporting on. Just so that I can send my pitch letter back to outlets in Seattle. So far, a lot of it is still really up in the air, but the NGO I’m hoping to profile says that they may do some field work in the next couple of weeks and I could come with. Exciting to have this project finally move, even if just a little bit. In addition, though they’re not promising anything (understandably), there might be a possibility that I could come and cover their work in Zaatari or Azraq refugee camps. Guess we’ll see, but fingers crossed.

Now, on to the next point. I also got to go to ballet class!!! Yippeeee. It’s been a month geez…. My turns are not what they used to be, nor are my balances and strength. But who cares, dancing feels so good, and it makes me feel amazing afterwards. After that, I had iftar in one of the malls in Sweifiyeh and went back to work and all that. Finished work at about 10 p.m. and then decided to go check out Rabiah neighborhood where the Israeli embassy is. I couldn’t find it after walking around the neighborhood and asking around, but it did seemed a little quiet in the area, so I decided to go back home. I told the driver to go to Jabal Lweibdeh where I live, and apparently he didn’t know how to get there from where we were. Guess what, neither did I. He also spoke about as much English as I do Arabic, only like a even a little bit less. So we kind of just drove around a little bit and at one point, this girl hailed my cab and said to go to Tajj Mall, which is a fancy mall in a fancy part of town. The driver said to come in (sharing cabs is kind of a thing here). She thanked me for letting her share the cab with me. I think the driver told her that I didn’t speak Arabic and he didn’t speak English. Well guess what, she started speaking English and got super excited. Apparently she’s a Jordanian who was born in New York and currently lives in California, but she’s in town for the time being. She comes to Amman about once every year, kind of like me and Jakarta.

Anyway, we exchanged numbers and she told me to call her if I got lost on the way to Lweibdeh lol, and we made plans to hang out later on Friday. But anyway, we passed by Abdoun, the fancy part of town I mentioned, and apparently they closed down the streets around the U.S. and Israeli embassies cause of things happening in Gaza in Israel, as well as possible protests happening here. There were protests and attempted sit-ins at the Israeli embassy last night, with arrests and stuff. There were also things going on in Irbid, which is a ways north from Amman. Rajive told me earlier that it may be crazy tomorrow around al Balad with public rallies. Not exactly sure what he means by that, or what might happen, but I guess we’ll just see. Everything that’s happening around us is fucking crazy.

Moving on with the story though, after we dropped Tala, the New Yorker-Californian-Jordanian at Tajj Mall, we set off for Lweibdeh. At this point, the driver knows where to go and how to get to Lweibdeh. But of course, we stopped for these two guys who also shared the cab with me. They didn’t speak English tho, so I couldn’t make friends or eased the awkwardness. But we went to somewhere I’m not really sure where, but it was in East Amman (Abdoun, Tajj Mall, and Rabiah are all in West Amman, the more well-off part of town), and it was kind of a ways away from both Abdoun and Lweibdeh. It was kind of awk, but I don’t really mind it though, I like driving around at night and kind of get to see the city glow with life at night, especially during Ramadan where the lives extend all the way to Sahur (that’s the Indonesian spelling, the Arabic one is apparently suhoor), which is the pre-dawn meal that people have before a day of fasting during Ramadan.

Anyway, afterwards we finally went to Lweibdeh, and the driver tried to make conversation with me, but we didn’t speak each others’ language, so we ended up conversing via informal sign language and gestures (lol). It was kinda weird, but he was nice and not awkwardly weird or rude or whatever. Anyway, I got home around 12 and drank a beer and now writing tis post while watching the news on Al Jazeera. Damn it’s depressing. The news is fucking depressing. And it’s fucking hot here.


dispatches from the Middle East - random stuff I thought about during Arg v Ned

I’m ruining my lungs here. Can’t help it, everyone smokes: argileh, cigarettes, whatever. I don’t do it too often, but the taxis here always ride with the window open so all the exhaust from the cars go into your lungs, which is pretty much like smoking. I don’t mind it too much though, plus Seattle has a lot of trees so once I’m back in the PNW it’ll be like a cleanse. Anyway, so after work I decided to hail a cab to al-Balad to people-watch and see the vibe during Ramadan. Plus I was hoping there would be protests against Israeli attacks against Palestinians, cause the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, sent out a statement calling that people should protest in public squares against the Israeli attacks. I heard they were gonna organize it Wednesday night after the Taraweeh prayer (a prayer that you only do every night during Ramadan, and it’s hella long compared to the usual prayers, I’ve been through it), but I wasn’t sure if that meant also carrying out the protests the same night. Other parties say they were gonna do it Thursday night. I heard there was a sit-in this morning though at the Israeli embassy. Good for people for taking a stand on the issue. Just the whole conundrum is taking and destroying too many lives. No one should have to ever live with that. Personally, as someone who grew up as a muslim and actually know firsthand what the teachings are, it makes me so sad how people are actually using those teachings to kill people, as if anyone’s any better than anybody. Being here, back in an environment entrenched in the religious and cultural values I grew up with, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about individual vs. collective religious identities, but I think I’ll save that for another post cause it’s a whole other can of worms.

But anyway, the crisis that’s going on all around me. Who knows when any of them’s gonna stop. And here I am watching the world cup. Here WE are watching privileged men kicking around balls to benefit a multimillion (billion?) dollar company, while people in the host countries are getting evicted, while families across the world are being torn apart. You feel so small and so helpless when you think about the calamity of the whole thing. On my end, I’ve been doing some reporting on my stories that deal with some of these, but things are going so slow. Literally everything. Not to mention that I’m kind of losing my motivation for work due to recent events. But of course, I can’t lose motivation, but right now I’m kind of stumped on what to do and what I can help with at work. I’ll see if I can catch the meeting tomorrow. The thing is, I don’t even know if the meetings are going on or not. Every time I go there, it seems like it’s never going on, so yeah, I’m stuck. I’ll probably try to find some community-based story ideas soon. I wonder what the Asian community here is up to, maybe I’ll visit al Buhturi street one of these days. It’s harder to just go up and talk to people on the streets, mostly cause I can’t speak Arabic and there’s not a good chance that people would know English, but I guess I should try anyway.

Anyway, earlier this month I was hoping to do something on informal-tented settlements, but apparently the government has been doing some major crackdowns on illegal camps, and the camps I was hoping to cover had been disbanded and the people sent back to Zaatari or Azraq, the official refugee camps from UNHCR. I’m so sorry for them. From what I’ve heard, they’ve been making progress — a Seattle and Amman-based nonprofit had been helping them earlier in June with water supply, herb gardens, medical things and all that. I hope that the refugees can still maintain their sense of community though, but the situation’s just so bleak. Anyway, let’s hope I can finally meet my sources tomorrow, I reaaaalllly need to get this story going.

Welp, I’m starting feel a little lightheaded thanks to this argileh (water pipe) that I’m smoking. I really don’t understand how everyone handles it. Like every night and every day just smoking? At this rate people will have crappy lungs by like age 30 or something.

You know, I took a cab here, and when I got in there was a kid in the front seat. I thought, “oh cute, little guy’s joining daddy for the ride.” The driver asked me where I was going, and I said Washat al Balad. He said “how much?” and I was like “um, just use the meter?” Well guess what, he decided to drop his son off first at another part of town and then stopped to smoke cigs and pick up stuff while the meter was running. When I told him to get me where I was going he was like “wait wait.” What an s.o.b. I  went out of the cab to get another one but then he came running and repeatedly apologized. Apologies my ass. I should’ve just gone ahead and get a different cab. I ended up paying 7 JDs. Seven fucking Dinars cause he left the meter on the whole time. That was after I argued with him for like 10 minutes inside the cab in my broken Arabic and his broken English. Fucker. Guess that was my first cab horror story. Ugh.

But anyway, I’m at this cafe in al-Balad, smoking argileh and drinking coffee, and of course I’m the only girl in the entire cafe. Why. Does. This. Always. Happen. #fuckpatriarchy #wheremyladiesat. Thank God the guys are at least somewhat respectful. They just gave me the once over and stare a bit occasionally, but that doesn’t really bother me. Plus the game was on, so I’m sure they have better things to worry about. Also the owners and waiters are really nice so I can’t really complain too much. Here’s a video I took of where I’m at.

The game tho. It’s halftime and still at 0-0. It’s like pulling teeth. It’s the second half now, and I’m feeling lightheaded from this argileh. OK I should stop smoking now. But honestly, people-watching is so much fun, much more fun than watching football. I love it, but I haven’t figured out how to turn the love into something yet. I’ll keep thinking in the back of my mind. I like people. I like getting to know them and hearing their stories, despite what my behavior toward people that might tell you otherwise. Sometimes I can be a little cold and standoffish, but that’s mostly cause I feel so awkward and get so insecure and it literally makes me so anxious to make the first contact. But I think I love places better than people. I get attached to places easily because they’re so fascinating. They’re like the silent witness that watches over the lives walking through them. The lives evolve with time, and then so do the places, but at the same time the place will always retain the history. For some weird reason, I really identify with that, being a silent witness to changing lives. But maybe I don’t want to be so silent about it, I want to convey how beautiful the lives are. I just don’t know what I can produce out of that yet.

I hope I can sleep well tonight, I haven’t been sleeping well for the past few days, and I usually go to bed around 2-3 a.m. so that’s not exactly healthy. But I’ll probably go to the meeting tomorrow and hopefully be able to meet with my sources.  Or maybe I’ll go on that photography trip I’ve been meaning to do. But now, my roommate’s cat is poking my toes for God knows whatever reason. He has a foot fetish. True story.

As it has been the case for much of my time here, there are so many thoughts in my head and a lot of things to reflect on. I’ve been meaning to post some of my reflections on traveling, religion, privilege, and shit like that on the blog, but for some reason I feel like I also need to document the mundane things too, like me watching football and smoking and drinking coffee.

I read somewhere recently that “stories are attempts to share our values and beliefs. Storytelling is only worthwhile when it tells what we stand for, not what we do" (Simon Sinek). But honestly, I think that this blog and you know, the whole Internet, is big enough to have room for all kinds of stories. Each one has its value, especially in travel writing.


dispatches from the Middle East - Ramadan Kareem

It’s already the second week of Ramadan, but it’s never too late to say that (I think). “Kareem” means “generous,” because the month is said to be a generous month and during which people should be generous. It’s sad that although it’s a holy month for Muslims everywhere, many are still oppressing and marginalizing and harming others under the banner of Islam.

But anyway on the more privileged side, Ramadan is making things slow as hell. There’s really not much to do at work and people get lazy. It’s starting to rub off on me and I need to stop it. Alas, I’m just spending most of my time working on stories that I hope to pitch to other outlets, you know, just to keep busy. In theory, that sounds great right, except that people are taking a hell of a long time to respond to my calls or emails.

Sooo yeah. I guess I’ll just travel around town and see things or people watch or something. I’ve been wanting to drive around West and East Amman and do a photography project. The West is basically all this fancy-schmancy part of town with nice malls, big houses with pools in the backyard, tall buildings, and expensive cars. East Amman, on the other hand, paints an entirely different picture. There’s cramped living situations, poor folks, lack of sanitation, and the likes. It’s like a microcosm of “East” vs “West” in international terms I guess, if you want to look at it that way. Also, I badly need to dance. It’s been almost month and it’s killing me slowly from the inside.

Anyway, I had Iftar with a family friend, Suha, and her family yesterday. Their home is on the outskirts of As Salt, a smaller city like 30 minutes north of Amman. It’s so beautiful. Plenty of wide open spaces with hills and valleys. The view of the city from the hill I visited is also really beautiful. It’s quiet and breezy. The weather is relatively cooler than Amman. Plus, we had iftar outside in her yard, so it was a really nice atmosphere as the sun set. I actually almost lived here, before I decided I would find an apartment on Weibdeh insted. I feel like it would’ve been great, except that I won’t have the kind of mobility I have now, or the kind of freedom I have now. I’ll take more pics when I come back there.

I’m definitely visiting again though, especially with the kind of feast they prepared for Iftar. Holy crap. I had like 4 helpings of mansaf, which is rice with scattered marinated meat and nuts that you eat with yogurt, because they didn’t accept my plate being even remotely close to empty. I ate and ate. There were also pita bread with really good hummus and this sauce that has tomatoes, chilis, and freaking cilantro. Dear Lord. The taste mixed and mingled happily in my mouth.


I was pretty much struggling to finish my plate when they asked me whether I wanted another helping. Oh God. I politely rejected and accepted a cup of tea, which came after several gulps of lemon water and Pepsi of course.



Afterwards, I just kind of sat there while Suha forced her son to finish his plate. I haven’t ate that much in a long time, but of course that’s not the end. Suha’s father passed me a plateful of fruit, and I could only manage to eat one. Then I helped Suha with making qatayef, which is what Suha’s mom called “Arabic pancakes.” It’s basically this pancake thing that you fill with various stuffing and then you pinch the edges the close the pastry. It’s shaped like a large dumpling. You can fill it with cheese, walnuts + coconuts + grapes (my favorite), jam, whatever really. Then you fry it. It was so good and sweet. I wanted to finish it, but of course I’m a tiny person and despite my big appetite, my stomach could only take so much. I managed to eat half a qatayef. After talking for a little bit more, Suha offered me this sweet Middle Eastern almond drink thing and some more tea. The almond drink was so sweet but it’s sooo good. I’m pretty sure my body was 80 percent food at that point though. I didn’t know how I managed to handle it. I couldn’t even muster the energy to take more pics of the food, or my food baby.

After I politely asked to go back to Weibdeh, they gave me this huge care package with pretty much everything I just ate and more. There’s puddings, a big bag of fruit, a container full of attaiyef, and the chicken and rice dish with bread, hummus, and the magnificent sauce I mentioned above. Oh and some Pepsi too. Idk what it is with people here and sodas. Even when I’m at the JT office and eating Iftar there, there always seems to be sodas. So there I was carrying this big container full of food. Happy and so full. I don’t remember the last time I ate that much or felt that full. Probably during Thanksgiving. Iftars here are kind of like Thanksgiving, except it’s a whole month of Thanksgiving dinners. Mahmoud, the front page editor at the JT, summarized Ramadan so accurately: “the first two weeks, people only think about food. The last two weeks, they think about clothes for Eid.” True.

But anyway, Suha drove me back home. I had meant to call Rajive, the production/proofreader staff manager who took care of the Mideast and World sections at the JT, that I couldn’t come to work (I originally said I was going to come after Iftar). But you know, food got in the way. And I called the JT and nobody answered. Oh well. At that point it was already 11 p.m. anyway, which is the deadline for the paper to be sent to the printer (makes me miss The Daily. Everyone gets delirious when it’s almost 11 p.m. and the paper’s not done yet).

But afterwards, I dropped my care package home and went to a café near Duwar Paris in Weibdeh, despite me being deadly full and sleepy. It’s so cozy and has the hipster feel, with cool paintings on the walls, murals, and a chalkboard wall. There’s a Banksy mural of a girl patting down a soldier near where I sat. I met a fellow Indonesian whom I met on FB. She’s much older than me but totally the life of the party. So you know, what the hell? Meeting new people’s great. She invited me to a housewarming party that her friend’s holding on Friday. Most of her friends are gonna be there, which is like a lot of expats from different countries and spanning different ages. I would be the youngest one though (as always. I don’t know why this always happens to me). So there’s that. I’m definitely coming to Graffiti Café again though, the people who work there are nice. The barista who was serving when I went is this fashion designer who’s really friendly and witty. I like witty people.

Anyway, I went home at 1 a.m. and immediately passed out cause I was ridiculously full, especially after drinking another cup of tea. Even when I woke up in the morning, I was still happily stuffed. I’m not fasting today, but I ate some qatayefs again for breakfast anyway just in case I got hungry while I went about my day. I didn’t. I decided to go to the JT to see if I could catch the meeting. I missed it, and there was nothing for me to do, so I decided to send a few emails to follow-up on the stories I’m working on. And now I’m waiting for pages and stories to edit, slash Facebooking slash monitoring my Digg Reader. So you know, fun stuff. I’m not even hungry yet. But I probably will be once it’s Iftar time again. I always get free mansaf or roasted chicken and rice here. It’s gooooood.

Well if you made it this far down the post, congrats. If you’ve been following my posts and was expecting a blog post with a somewhat well-researched perspective about current issues in the Middle East, sorry bout it. Instead, you’re stuck with my rants and half-assed descriptions of the things I did and the food I encountered. Cause you know, it’s the first two weeks of Ramadan, and all I think about is food.

But real talk though, I’ve written a lot of journal entries actually, and there are some things in my mind I’m dying to get out, but it’s all in my journal and I’m way too lazy to transfer it all here. Maybe soon. For now, Ramadan Kareem!


dispatches from the Middle East - walking alone in al Balad: the catcalls, wolf-whistles, and ‘ni hao’s

So yesterday I roamed around downtown Amman, or Wasat al-Balad. Before I had even gone, I looked at this online magazine 7iber, which has a kick-ass events calendar (but of course the whole website is in Arabic, so I had to use Google Translate and read things in broken, Google-translated English. Yippee). There was something about an open house for an art space/creative residency program called Spring Sessions. Basically they developed projects that looks at the urban development in downtown Amman, whether it’s using videography to comment on the class system, using street noises to create abstract oral histories, or even using ethnography to look at the different populations that have or is still currently inhabiting Amman’s downtown area. They were also gonna have music performances (which ended up being amazing, see pics below. Maybe I’ll try to upload some of the videos I took).




I found the name of the place I need to go to, the street name just in case, and I made sure I memorized its facade and its surrounding stores. I hailed a cab and told him I needed to go to downtown Amman, Saadeh street. He knew where it was right away. I was relieved but also slightly concerned. “Is he really taking me to the right place though? This seems wayyy to good to be true.” It was. I stopped in front a hotel in Amman’s 5th Circle, not where I was going (turns out there’s another Saadeh street, which is on the 5th Circle, and according to people, that was also downtown). No one in the hotel knew where I needed to go or spoke very good English. So I decided to hail another cab and go to the downtown area I was familiar with, near the Roman Theatre (turns out later when I got home, I found out that the place I needed to get to was called Wasat al-Balad. Well now I know). As we approached, he asked me something in Arabic. I panicked. “I don’t understand, I can’t speak Arabic well,” I said in Arabic with a pretty convincing accent (thank heavens I spent all those years reading the Koran and learning how to write and say things in Arabic, despite understanding next to nothing). The driver smiled knowingly. He dropped me off near the market and said “Welcome to Jordan” with a warm smile. I smiled awkwardly and thanked him repeatedly in Arabic. I’ve been here for two weeks and of course I’m still about as green as the emerald calf-length skirt I wore that day.

So there I was walking around Wasat al-Balad alone, with my canvas bag on one shoulder and camera bag on another. I ended up finding where I need to go after walking around for like 10 minutes. Despite it being quite warm, I wore my cotton cardigan anyway. I figured better to be sweating lightly on a cool fabric than to not cover up and get roasted under the sun. Also, I’m a woman traveling alone. Covering up would probably be wise.


But of course, it was wise yet in vain to some extent. As I walked along the streets, so many interesting humans passed me by. The sight of jewelry and bags and fabrics. The smell of Arabic coffee and homemade perfumes from the shops and the fresh fruit from the juice stands. The sweaty foreheads and cackling kids and honking cars. SO many things to take in. Unfortunately for me, I was an interesting sight to many of these people too. As I walked by, shielding my eyes behind my dark sunnies, catcalls and wolf-whistles and sizing looks were thrown at me. A few of them actually made hearts with their hands and tried to serenade me (I know right). Of course there were a lot of “well hellos” and “good afternoons” and all that, but you know the interesting thing? There were A LOT of “ni hao”s and “annyeonghaseo”s and “konichiwa”s. Like a lot, a lot. Like a shit ton. Like where is this even coming from? I mean of course needless to say, I don’t have anything against those languages and cultures but it felt…weird (an understatement, everything was pretty much harmless but just mildly annoying. OK maybe more than mildly. Like really annoying). It felt weird (and offending too to some degree, but mostly weird) to be stereotyped to a culture that is, yes, part of the larger ethnic group I’m in, yet at the same time not a culture that I belong to.

Let’s look at the racial context here. Yes I’m gonna bore you with this. This anthropology stuff is really fascinating to me, let’s break it down. I’m Asian. I’m Southeast Asian. I’m Indonesian. I’m Sundanese, one of the second largest ethnic group in Indonesia after the Javanese. When you look at it from a race (genetics) point of view, Native Indonesians are of the Mongoloid-Australoid race. Mongoloids are thought to populate Southeast Asia (Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Brunei, and the likes), Siberia, the Arctic, parts of the Americas, the Pacific Islands, and small parts of South Asia (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and all the “Stan”s). Australoids, on the other hand, populate Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, New Guinea, Melanesia, the Indian subcontinent, and some parts of the Middle East. But linguistically, Sundanese people like myself are of Austronesian origins, a language family spread through Southeast Asia, Madagascar, the Pacific, and continental Asia. So a bunch of different things.

Then of course, all that background is just me, one person from one ethnic group. Indonesia has  over 200 million people and over 300 ethnic groups, so you can’t really typecast anyone there into a certain race, and everyone has vastly different ancestries. But I guess to put it in shorter terms, I have closer ties to the Pacific Islander ethnic group than I do the Asians of the East Asia (China, Japan, North and South Korea, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Macau). So no, technically I’m not “Asian” as in East Asian, I’m more a Pacific Islander. (Although when you look up “Asian-Pacific Islander Americans,” Indonesia is neither listed under “Asian” nor “Pacific Islander,” so well, you know, #awk for me to be celebrating API Month? Just kidding but not really but just kidding). 

Anyway, this is a little off topic but important. For many many years, Pacific Islanders, a really diverse group, is just brought into the umbrella term “Asian” and they want a change. Good for them. Why does this matter? Well because their experiences are different. If you look at Asians, they are socially, politically, and economically more well-endowed, have more representation, and constitute a large population in non-Asian countries. That’s not to say they don’t face oppression and marginalization, but they do have the privilege of being in a group large enough to entail representation, whether in the government, media, academia, what have you. But Pacific Islanders, on the other hand have it different. Even at the UW, they make up less than 1 percent. Many face issues like education gap, large high school dropout rate, which leads to crimes etc. etc. Yet most of their issues aren’t being paid attention to because people think they’re “Asians,” and of course, “Asians don’t have it so bad, right?” (in case you don’t pick up on it, that was /sarcasm/ because wrong).

Now why did I get into all of this shit? To prove a point that I felt I don’t belong to the “Asian” group, and to have like more than 20 people in one concentrated area in a totally foreign country with its own rich history assume an identity to which I don’t belong to feels so weird and kind of alienating. Sure, it’s offensive to some extent, and there’s racial power dynamics at play there and all that, but I don’t want to get into that here and now. The whole thing feels weirder than offensive to me because I don’t look Chinese, or Japanese, or Korean, so under basic logic, I just couldn’t understand it. I could say my name and have people look at me, and they would believe me if I told them I have an Arabic father (though I do not). I have told people in the U.S. that I’m “part Bangladeshi, part Native American” when they asked me “What are you?” (classic.) and they actually believed me. The Palestinian woman who sat next to me on the plane from Chicago to Amman, though she doesn’t speak much English, went out of her way to ask whether I was from India. But never have I ever been under the assumption that I was from Korea, or Japan, or China, or anywhere in East Asia. Of course I have some assumptions as to why this happened, and of course it’s racially charged.


Sexist street harassment’s a universal thing, but I’m sure when it comes to racially charged things, white people and black people and brown people from different backgrounds would experience it differently. I’ve heard of stories of Black folks getting kicked out of a place in Bali because “they don’t like Blacks” or a white couple getting hired to be stand around stores in China and check out the merchandise so people will want to come to the stores because ofc, “Westerners like it.” Notice the different treatments, and try to guess why these things happen. Think of history when you try to guess.

Race as a social construct exists as a real thing, and it’s different in every place. And of course, it’s never black and white, it’s always all shades of grey.

On my first day, one of my editors at the JT told me: “People will be nice, and polite, and rude, and racist. I don’t know why Arabs are racist, we don’t have reason to be. We’re not better than anybody.”

Another one of my editors asked whether I’ve had problems with taxis. I told them I expected a lot worse but felt underwhelmed. The people I talked to or the posts I saw on the Internet said some drivers actually deliberately skipped turning the meter on when they know their passengers are foreigners. I was warned and of course took precaution, but it hasn’t happened to me yet. “It helps that you’re not blond and blue-eyed,” my editor said.

Before I left Seattle, I asked a Jordanian-American columnist at the SeattleGlobalist.com. Most of the people I talked to about the experiences of working as a journalist in Jordan were white. I told her I was wondering how different my experiences would be, being a non-white American. She said it will be different of course, and it will be just like in any city.

When I found out I was going to Amman, the chair of the Department of Communication asked whether I had any concerns or questions. I told him I was thinking about how my experiences would  be, being foreign to a country, being American, but not a white American. I wasn’t asking him of course, he himself was white and had not had much experience with foreign reporting, but he thought it was good that I was thinking about it.

Well this was one of the ways it was different. It has made me think of a whole lot, especially that the concept of race is such a big can of worms. A lot of people’s always thinking of a “post-racial society,” in the U.S. and probably in other places too. Maybe, I wouldn’t know. But honestly, I feel like the worms, the wounds, the baggage in this can is gonna eat us alive before we even get to the kiss-and-make-up part of the process. It’s gonna take a while.


dispatches from the Middle East - first impressions.

Holy fuck. It’s my third day in Amman, and already I’m feeling the wash of sensory overload. There's so many things to see, do, and think about. Like a shit ton. 

If any of you missed the news, I got a scholarship to go to Amman, Jordan and intern at The Jordan Times, an English-speaking newspaper based in Amman. So here I am.

First of all, I love Jabal Lweibdeh, it’s the neighborhood I live in. The neighborhood is beautiful and so relaxed, and there are plenty of pleasant shops around. A lot of art spaces too. Below’s a pic of a quiet street in Weibdeh. It’s around noon on a Friday, which is a day off, and most Muslim men are away in mosques for the Friday prayer.


Well, back to my holy fuck sentiments. There’s just so much going on I really don’t know where to start. But Amman reminds me a lot of Jakarta. There’s pockets of residential neighborhood just like Kemang, Antasari, Cilandak, or Pondok Indah (if I were to draw a parallel, where I live is kind of akin to Cilandak, which is actually where I live in Jakarta). Then there’s the central business district, which is actually really similar to Jakarta’s SCBD or Bunderan HI areas. But here, the city is especially colorless. All of the buildings are beige, although the insides can be colorful. Striking colors pepper the city on shop signs, marquees, billboards, or even laundry and carpets that hung on the balcony. And unlike Jakarta, most areas are separated by patches of dry land (it is a desert after all). The makeup of the town is also divided to these traffic “circles” based on the different hills, which are damn steep. The city’s very much a car city though. I also visited other neighborhoods today. Abdoun is pretty much like Pondok Indah, full of fancy houses and modern attractions. Some of the malls here are also ridiculously similar to places like Senayan City or something. 

On another note, I visited the Roman Theatre today. Damn it’s gorgeous. And then there’s a weekly flea market that has a shit ton of cute things. It took a lot out of me not to buy anything. I’ll probably return next week and raid it. On yet another different note, I’m having major ballet withdrawals I’ve started doing pliés in my room with my roommate’s cat watching (yes, we have a cat).




Now on to the journalism part. Holy fuck. There's so much going on. Like how do you even start writing? First of all, I don’t know if you noticed, but Middle East’s political situation is pretty depressing you guys… For the areas in conflict, there seems to be no end in sight. There’s the situation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or ISIS, if you don’t know what that is, the Inquistr has a pretty rudimentary explainer on the background, and whether to call the jihadist militant group “ISIS” or “ISIL”). In case you don’t pay attention to world politics, which I recommend you do, ISIS is pretty much gaining international attention, not to mention reportedly planning on infiltrating Jordan. Yet, some also say that the situation is largely overplayed by the media, and Jordan isn’t that vulnerable to threats of ISIS infiltration. For one thing, Jordan is relatively more stable than its neighboring countries, and although sectarian sentiments do exist, it’s not as extreme as in other countries. I guess pretty much most of the Middle East is fundamentally sectarian. They have very strong ties to their roots and have major concepts of honor. That, when coupled with the identity crises between nationalism/secularism on one hand and Islamism (or in some cases, Christianism) on the other hand, and then coupled yet again with problematic and un-empathetically drawn borders from the colonial period (see Tarek Osman’s piece from last December for background), politics in the Middle East get pretty damn depressing.

Iraq is only across the border, yet their society is slowly crumbling away. Even the Iraqi government is pleading for help in the form of air strikes from Washington (Obama denied, but this Thursday, the U.S. government announced that it will send 300 military advisers to help Iraq’s army repel the advance of Sunni insurgents).

When you’re sitting comfortably on your idyllic Western lifestyles, it’s easy to look at it and sigh, shake your head, analyze the situation for like two seconds, and then forget about it. Here in Amman, a pretty safe city in a relatively stable country as someone who’s only going to be here for less than three months, similar thoughts occur and I still have that privilege to forget about the situation, but only to some extent. There’s so many more stark reminders of the calamity of the whole situation when you’re closer to the conflict and actually have to keep up with it for your job. You get stark reminders that these are fucking human lives. There are people who are evil enough to kill other human beings, drive them away from their homes, and tear families apart. But as much as we all would like to think of it as “good guys” and “bad guys,” it’s hardly ever that simple. It’s real shady, and they’re all gray.

Then there’s the Syrian refugee situation. Holy molly. If you’re not familiar with the conflict, which not many are, a friend of mine who also received the same scholarship I did and will be going to Sierra Leone to intern at paper based Freetown, wrote a thing about it recently for a Seattle news outlet. Get familiar. Hopefully one of these days I can get access to one of the refugee camps in Jordan (the UNHCR recently opened a new refugee camp) and write a story on one. God knows if there will be people who will talk to me during Ramadan, but I would so want to do something on the Azraq camp during Ramadan or Eid. Stuff has been done on the existing Zaatari camp, but not as much yet on Azraq since it’s still new. When you look at the Zaatari camp, now the fifth largest city in Jordan, you feel pretty bleak real fast. The gender-based and power-based violence that occur, children having to work so young, disputes between refugees wanting to get more resources, rich Arab men coming to the camps only to pick up young Syrian girls to marry in exchange for money for the family, sexual violence by the guards or other refugees, the list goes on. But also, the lack of agency that these people have is so heartbreaking. They don’t have things to do, things to see, things to talk about. It’s a fucking desert. They just want to go home and go back to their lives, but who knows when that’s gonna happen. Instead, they’re on the outskirts of a country that’s not theirs, living a subsidized life provided by people and agencies giving their time, money, and energy for them. That kind of dependency has got to do things to your humanity. Not to mention there’s  added trauma from the things they went through before they even got to the camps. By the way, today is the UN’s World Refugee Day. It’s a shame that in commemoration with this, humanitarian crises are just beginning or still continuing.

Then there’s the LGBTQIA+ community. The challenges they face and resilience they show in living their identities in an oppressive society has always amazed me. Maybe one of these days, I’ll get to writing about a local drag queen or something.

The Jordan Times. I met the managing editor there yesterday. It seems that she’s more concerned with the getting to see Jordan and visiting tourist attraction part of the trip. Which is great, but still, I came here to work. I’d love to still write a couple of pieces for them, especially about things going on within Jordan outside of Amman, like the surrounding governorates and cities. Yes, the dire regional crises is worth covering, but so is the day-to-day lives of people in the country. But given how very watered down the JT’s coverage is, I hope I get to freelance and write feature stuff for different outlets too. The above topics are just a fraction of the things to write about here. It’s crazy.

Welp, that was a long post, but it helped a lot with sifting through all these thoughts. It’s only been three days, and I’m already thinking of returning here maybe after I graduate. Then again, it’s only been three days. Ask me again in a month and we’ll see if the city has driven me crazy.

Also this is gonna sound so basic, but the Middle East is damn hot…..



This year in photos, pt. 4.


This year in photos, pt. 3.


This year in photos, pt. 2


This year in photos, pt. 1

the tirades of a young adult ix - an analysis of airplanes, holidays, and home


At the Tokyo Airport
by Koon Woon

Cold juice, cold Mt. Fuji,
A child alone dining.
Empty plane, empty heart.

Vast auditorium.
Hearing six tourists talk
About America.

Six bites of hot chicken.
Six swallows of cold juice.
Six hours, America.

Child alone, lonely child,
Here, six lotus petals
From Buddha, Mt. Fuji.

Where are your friends, your friends?
Where is your family?
In Buddha’s lotus palm.

Man alone, lonely man,
Where lies your loneliness?
In the mist of the world?

I literally started tearing up when I read this. It brought so much nostalgia, fear, sadness, joy, and just a whole jumble of bittersweet, confusing thoughts and feelings. At the core of everything, this is about homesickness peppered with missing the feelings I get when I’m on and/or near airplanes. Being on airplanes have always meant that I was going to some form of home. My trips back to Jakarta mean that I would visit familiar faces and places, feel some bittersweet nostalgia, and contemplate on where I’ve been and the person I’ve become. On the other hand, my trips back to Seattle mean that I would be home, be able to go to the coffee shops I always go to, see the people I always see, do what I always do, and live my life. Somewhere between that, I would change and grow and learn. Oftentimes I wouldn’t realize what I’ve learned or how much I’ve changed ‘till I actually do go back to Jakarta.

It’s funny how homesickness works for me. During regular days, I usually get homesick because I miss my parents or my cats. During summer breaks when I’m in Indonesia, I would get homesick cause I’d miss my regular reading spots and the coffee shop baristas that know my name. I’d miss the people I usually spend time with, the dance studios I go to, the broken-down couch I usually flop on after a long day of dancing. I feel like for me, and for a lot of people who’ve had similar experiences, it’s a never-ending feeling. It’s like no matter where you are or which home you’re in, there’s always that ever-present threat of homesickness, feeling of missing something, and not ever feeling completely whole. You’re always trying to do this weird dance; you try to weave in identities, experiences, languages, transnational spaces. You’re stuck in this limbo of two cultures (more challengingly, in a society that fears ambivalence or ambiguity). But despite the challenge, you do it anyway, because otherwise you’ll lose a part of yourself.

I usually go back to Jakarta either over the summer or winter break, though I’ve only gone there over winter break once since I moved to Seattle. Still, the homesickness is always multiplied over the break because everyone goes home for the winter holidays. As much as Seattle is home for me, so is Jakarta. That’s where my parents, family, and childhood friends live. Yes, I do have family here (my sister’s here, but I’ve found I have so many more relatives by circumstances than blood relatives in the states. I love them, but I usually never realize that until the winter holidays. Funny how life works, huh?). This time of year, most everyone get to feel what I feel whenever I go back to see my family: a mixture of confusion and awe at how such different characters and personalities can actually be related (for better or for worse) through a combination of miraculous selections of genes and simple fate. Whether you love or hate your family, whether they’re shitty to you or not (I myself have been privileged enough to have a loving family, but it’s important to recognize that some people don’t have that privilege and amazingly, they survive regardless), I don’t think you can’t not be in awe of this fact. Usually I get over it pretty quickly, but sometimes I still do feel envious of people who get to go through those weird moments with and feel those weird feelings about their families.

As silly as this might sound, I do miss airplanes, because being on airplanes means I should expect tears some 10,000 feet above sea level no matter how cheerful I was before that. Looking out of airplanes as the plane took off means I have a few minutes to take in a sight that I could only see once every year (if life permits). Obviously these don’t happen on some airplane trips, but it happens often enough that it becomes the first thing I associate with airplanes. Entering an airport to check-in means you’ve just went through a process of packing and/or unpacking, with maybe some not-so-pleasant life reevaluation thrown in the midst of the process. Being at airports during layovers means that you get to say you’ve been at some foreign country, if only to experience its culture through something resembling more of a bathroom quickie than a night of lovemaking with foreplay and shit. The seemingly countless hours on a large, enclosed cylinder with complete strangers mean you have so much time to reflect and to think (a.k.a. the worst things to do when you have so much thoughts and feelings). Being on airplanes mean you’ll watch really good and really bad airplane movies, and then after the x-number of movie, you get sick of them. You’ll hate airplanes and being on a 10+ hour flight more than anything in your life. It seems no matter how often I go back and forth between Seattle and Jakarta, I will never stop noticing these little things and the flood of bittersweet thoughts that come with them. As level-headed as I am most of the time, I will never stop romanticizing the trips home — whichever home I’m going to. This past summer, I went home for just three weeks. I thought I could do it and not romanticize it. I went home, hung out with my friends and family (plus cats), went and danced at my old studio, visited places I usually visited, and more. It was a nice, relaxed, low-stress trip. I thought I wouldn’t get attached, and, more importantly, I thought I wouldn’t cry. But as the plane took off and the towering buildings turned minuscule, I started bawling like a baby. I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel that way. It was supposed to be like a one-night stand, not saying goodbye to a lover only to be in a tragic long-distance relationship. Yeah, all of this is melodramatic, but it’s valid.

I wouldn’t ever have felt any of this had I not board that plane four years ago when I first went to the States. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this post had I not packed my bags and said goodbye to my friends, family, then-boyfriend, and everyone else. Uprooting and traveling; it’s hard, it’s fun, it’s enlightening, it’s exhausting, it’s weird, it’s scary. Now, sitting here writing this at 12 a.m., I realize that it was necessary. Funny how life works out, huh?






This is Foo-Chan, the Japanese equivalent of Grumpy Cat. But instead of being grumpy, he just looks like he’s disappointed all of the time. 




Vision of a dancer.

A profile of myself by Annisa Rizky Amalia

Music: “Penthouse Serenade” by Errol Garner

Check out her vimeo

If you’re interested in a curated version of my life, check out imy.vsco.co

Let me back in.

First collaboration with Annisa.

Choreographed and danced by Imana Gunawan

Concept and direction by Annisa Rizky Amalia and Imana Gunawan

Shot and edited by Annisa Rizky Amalia

Music: “Let Me Back In” by Explosions in the Sky

**DISCLAIMER: Please respect the hard, creative work of persons involved in the project by not reusing any elements of it especially without permission. I reserve the rights to the choreography, I do not own the rights to the music.

Coco and I.

Coco and I.

Instead of saying “I am Trayvon Martin" it would do more good for white people [and non-Black people] in solidarity with the Trayvon Martin case to recognize all the ways they are Zimmerman.

As in, if you live in a “safe" suburban or gated community that is mostly white and that is considered a “good" neighborhood because it excludes people of colour [especially excluding Black people] then you benefit from the same conditions that created Zimmerman.

If you benefit from “police protection" to your property that depends on racial profiling of people of colour [especially Black people] and brutality towards them then you take part in the same systems that create Zimmerman.

If you have the racial privilege to work, move, live in mostly white spaces and have limited contact with… [Black people], particularly “low income" …[Black people], then you live with the same social and economic policies of casual segregation that create Zimmerman.

It’s good that people recognize the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s death, but if that recognition is not accompanied by the work to recognize and undo the systematic economic, social, educational and employment policies that create neighborhoods where Black people are seen as threatening trespassers - and how people benefit from this racial privilege - then no true anti-racist work can occur.

Nobody wants to say “I am Zimmerman" but until we recognize how Zimmerman reflects institutionalized racism there will continue to be more Trayvons.

El Jones (via writeswrongs)

this post is especially relevant for many desi people in my city who are extremely wealthy, privileged, and anti-black.

(via badass-bharat-deafmuslimpunkstar)

Truer words were never spoken, and never so eloquently either. -i

A photo illustration for an article I wrote on site-specific dance, photographed by Joshua Bessex. (And yes, that’s me.)  
  Read the story here : http://dailyuw.com/archive/2013/06/05/arts-leisure/close-site-specific-dance#.UcKFpGruV29

A photo illustration for an article I wrote on site-specific dance, photographed by Joshua Bessex. (And yes, that’s me.)

Read the story here: http://dailyuw.com/archive/2013/06/05/arts-leisure/close-site-specific-dance#.UcKFpGruV29

What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.
But thinking atoms, whose far-seeing eyes,
Guided by thought, have measured the faint stars,
Our being mingles with the infinite;
Ourselves we never see, or come to know.
This world, this theatre of pride and wrong,
Swarms with sick fools who talk of happiness.
This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
This temporary blend of blood and dust
Was put together only to dissolve;

from Voltaire’s “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster”, used in the dance piece “Dark Matters”, choreographed by Crystal Pite and performed by Kidd Pivot (via cricketrahne)

Love love love this poem and Kidd Pivot’s performance. Read the full poem here: http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=349&chapter=28298&layout=html&Itemid=27