Bri Hollis in Jordan 2012

Reflections from a Northeastern journalism student abroad.

A final farewell

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Sitting on my bed in my air-conditioned room and my computer plugged in without the assistance of a cumbersome, clunky adapter, thoughts of the past five weeks and the events of the past two days battle for attention in my head. My experience in Jordan is now just a moment in time, and my times there, which were once prominent in every conversation, have diminished to memories . Strong memories, but memories nonetheless.

It’s been a whirlwind of confusion since I’ve gotten home. Heartbreak has found its way into my “welcome back,” making me feel guilty for the smile that creeps on my face every time a thought from the Dialogue enters my mind. And as my heart goes out to those on the front line of this tragedy, I’m consumed by the strongest feeling of gratitude I’ve ever felt. Especially regarding my time in Jordan.

Gratitude for the people I’ve met, the hospitality I’ve received, the discoveries I’ve made. My growth as a journalist, my time studying under Carlene and Geoff.

In every event, from pulling up to Logan Airport on May 10th to touching down at LAX on June 15th at 1 a.m., I was met with an unmeasurable amount of warm reception. When we all first saw each other at the airport – the J kids at least, I didn’t know the Arabic students were on the same flight as us until we were actually on the plane – we giddily hugged and re-introduced each other. If anyone was nervous, their anxiety diminished quickly. We were welcomed once again on the bus from the airport in Amman to the Imperial hotel, by Ahmad, our compassionate, friendly host at SIT. He immediately made us feel at ease, and excited for our journey-to-come. At SIT, we were further welcomed by the warm smiles and lively demeanor of the rest of the SIT staff. And finally, our homestay families, who took us in and treated us as their kin before we even stepped through the door. I felt just as at-home meeting them as I did when I landed in Los Angeles nearly 36 hours ago.

Samantha and I were talking about the weird dynamic that takes place on these types of trips. Everyone is close, and we’re so used to being in each other’s presence. Then we go home, many of scattered across the country, and life gets back in the way again. We want to hold on to this feeling that things aren’t going to change, that we’ll be as close as we were in Jordan, but it’s so sadly unrealistic. I’m really going to try to fight gravity on this one, though. Because I’ve been touched by almost every one of these crazy, intelligent, quirky, one-of-a-kind individuals. I have ridiculous and sentimental memories with all of them, and have made friends with people who I would have never expected to.

Like I’ve mentioned before, this is the first journey of this sort that I’ve gone on that doesn’t revolve around athletics. But my fellow journalism students felt just as much like a team to me as my volleyball girls do back on campus. Complete with our captains – Sam, Matt and Melissa, our grad students who lead by example and keep us on our toes. Coach Carlene, who takes no prisoners. And the rest of us, knowing Carlene and each other on all different levels, all coming together to get the final kill, winning game 5. We produced a kick-ass compilation of smart, robustly reported articles that represent our countless hours of hard work and perseverance, just like a hard-fought win.

And although the other students seemed like our adversaries in the beginning, we were all wearing the same jersey by the end. Well, except for me, because I’m still the libero (the player on the court that wears the opposite color jersey). It’s funny, just think about it for a sec. Anyway, whether we were reporting in the streets or learning the Arabic language inside the classroom, we all experienced this together, and we all have a great commonality because of it. I’m so lucky to have met each and every one of you, and if any of you see me on campus and pretend not to know me, I will do everything in my power to cause you physical and emotional pain.

Aside from coming away with strong relationships, I’m taking something concrete with me: three hearty clips that represent my progress as a reporter. I’ve learned how to manuever through a land dominated by a foreign language. How to speak to professionals about controversial topics without offending them. How to compile information obtained abroad into an article that fits the needs of my audience at home. Procrastination and timidity are erased from my vocabulary – they only result in weak, under-reported stories. I have a heightened standard for my writing and reporting now, because if I can do it in Amman, I sure as hell can do it in the states.

While in Amman, I wasn’t a journalism student. Carlene wasn’t my professor. I was her correspondent and she was my editor. My finished stories weren’t assignments marked up in red and returned to me with a grade. They were submitted, critiqued, deconstructed, and then reconstructed into publication-worthy pieces. We were treated as professionals and were expected to act like professionals, with maturity, integrity, composure, and punctuality. Surviving and thriving in this intense environment has shown me that I’m ready to be a real journalist, ready to work for a professional publication and knock their freakin socks off.

It was an honor to learn under both Carlene and Geoff (even if it was sometimes forced upon him) on this trip. They are two intelligent, amazing journalists and human beings, who wanted nothing but for us to thrive. This is the fourth class in a row I’ve taken with Carlene, starting in Spring 2011, second semester of my freshman year, in J1. And she thinks she’s finally done with me…funny.  Does the word “directed study” ring a bell for you?

I’ve learned not to take things for granted, especially women’s rights, workout availability, communication, water and food. Regarding all of these, I have absolutely nothing to complain about in America. I can have a political voice, run in public, have a conversation with anyone, shower daily and USE TOILET PAPER,  and not ever have to worry about putting scraps together to make a meal. I have a newfound appreciation for the opportunities the country I was born in has provided for me.

And now I say an official goodbye to the Dialogue. To this moment in time that has provided me with relationships and life lessons that I’m not likely to ever forget. The burn of inspiration I felt around every corner during my experience will never die out, and I thank all of you who made this a possibility.

Written by BriHollis

June 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm

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Third article posted…

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Worked on this one till the last possible second before my host-family’s goodbye party for Caroline and I. I spoke with journalists, editors and other professionals in the industry about the progression (or lack thereof) of press freedom in Jordan since the Arab Spring.

Activists in Jordan disappointed Arab Spring did not bring about a freer press

Story by Bri Hollis // Photo by Anthony Savvides

Osama Al-Rbeahat, a 26-year-old customs and border-control agent for the Jordanian government, is trying to get a message across. He has actively and fervently participated in political demonstrations for the past year, calling for constitutional reforms that place the majority of the power with the people.

But despite frequent Friday gatherings with fellow demonstrators, his message is being falsely portrayed, Rbeahat said. And he blames the media.

“They pass the negative image of the citizens or ignore the fact[s] and the truth,” he said through a translator. “The newspapers [give an] incorrect testimony that did not happen in the demonstration.” Or, they don’t acknowledge the protests at all, he said.

Rbeahat calls himself a victim of what others would describe as a state-run media. Characteristic of much of the Arab world, the press in Jordan is widely influenced and monitored by the government. In fact, the government owns all of the country’s official television stations and 70 percent of Jordan’s Al-Rai newspaper, which is a sister paper to the country’s most popular publication, The Jordan Times.

“The media is heavily state-run and most of the major publications people read are owned by the government,” said Fateh Mansour, program manager for the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists in Amman.

But after the Arab Spring – a series of political uprisings that began in December 2010 in Tunisia and spread through the Arab world –press restrictions in the Middle East were supposed to loosen because governments were promising to be more open to the people. At least that’s what people thought would happen.

“People were enraged about the things the government was hiding,” said Rami Kouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. “[The government] said it would strive to make its actions more public, make itself more available.”

However, that’s not how it has played out. Jordan is merely giving an impression of having a freer press, media watchers say. Prominent publications – including The Jordan Times and JO Magazine, with a circulation of about 9,000 copies a month – over the past year have finally begun to publish in-depth pieces about controversial topics such as the influx of Syrians fleeing their country and heading to Jordan.

But fear of criticizing the parliament among other issues such as fear of being black-listed among public officials or even fined for criticizing Islam, still exists. That tends to drive away the media from reporting stories in their full form, as in Rbeahat’s case.

“They need to report the truth,” he said.

Jordan is currently No. 128 on an index that ranks how free a country’s press is. Finland leads the pack. The United States stands at 47, according to the 2011-2012 press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, a US-based organization that strives to protect and defend journalists’ rights internationally.

The level of media freedom in Jordan’s neighboring countries – Syria is ranked No. 176, Iraq No. 152 and Saudi Arabia No. 158 – contributes to the image of Jordan having a freer press than it actually does.

“Jordan has a good amount of freedom compared to other Middle Eastern countries,” acknowledged Cory Eldridge, features editor and staff writer for JO Magazine in Amman, an innovative, English-language social and cultural publication. “It’s just not necessarily free in the Western sense.”

Because people are freely talking about the protests – as well as the governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen ousted because of them – some think there they have more of a voice here. As a result, journalists are responding despite the risks.

Said Eldridge: “It’s like you’re in a dark room. You take small steps because you’re scared the red lines are going to hit you in the face. Now people are walking farther. Before everyone wanted to stay away. They’re taking a few more steps and realizing they’re not really hitting the red lines yet – there’s more willingness to touch them.”

Electronic media plays a part in this as well, and its use has expanded among both journalists and the general public since Arab Spring began. With a newfound fearlessness, citizens are posting their religious, political and social opinions. This has “raised the ceilings” for journalists, said Mansour, because journalists know that such critiques exist in cyberspace and therefore feel more comfortable formally commenting on similar issues.

But many obstacles still exist for journalists, and most in the industry don’t hold out hope that it’s going to get better.

“I doubt a free press according to Western standards will ever exist,” said Eldridge, who graduated from the University of Oregon in 2007 and can readily compare west to east standards. “Even if journalists do push,” he said, “if the government doesn’t want to loosen press restrictions, they won’t do it.”

For now, though, it looks as though they’re not pushing. According to a 2011 survey by the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists, 87 percent of a pool of 500 media practitioners in Jordan said they still heavily self-censor their work.

“Too many journalists are too scared, too unprofessional,” affirmed Rana Sabbagh, a longtime journalist in Jordan and executive director of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization designed to promote fearless, credible reporting. “They’re afraid to criticize, to push. They don’t go the length journalists need to go to, to get the truth…to get the right story.”

For example, in early February, it was revealed that more than 51 journalists had succumbed to the bribes of former chief of the General Intelligence Department Mohammad Dahabi.  According to published reports, he allegedly paid them to refrain from publishing information regarding a money laundering operation he was accused of being involved in.

Another roadblock to a free press is access to pertinent data to support the pieces journalists want to write, some reporters said.

“One of the biggest obstacles for journalists today is getting information,” said Rana Al Husseini, a practicing journalist for 18 years who writes primarily for The Jordan Times. She is best known for tackling the very controversial issues of violence against women in Jordan and specifically, the brutal murders of women who are killed by their families in the name of honor. “It’s not very easy to find information. I think this causes a huge problem.”

Because the government isn’t budging, journalists are hampered from fulfilling their duty to the public of providing them with full, adequate reports. Fear to move forward stems not only from fear of violating press law, but physical and verbal threats as well. There is a general lack of punishment for such acts, which enables these apprehensions, experts say.

This is something Mansour and others at the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists are trying desperately to change.

“[A] major problem is that journalists’ press rights aren’t only being violated,” said Mansour, “but their human rights as well. Many are threatened, physically attacked, and the [courts] are doing little to stop them.”

Written by BriHollis

June 14, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One flight to go

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I’m so jetlagged that I’m not even feeling the effects of it anymore. Gina and I passed out at 7 last night and woke up at 10. Went back to sleep at 12:30 or so, then woke up around 7. It’s around 8:30 in Amman, but I’m sitting by the window, as greenery and brick buildings replace the brown city I just spent five weeks in.

It’s still surreal that I’m in America again, but it hasn’t hit me completely yet. I’ve never been on the east coast during this time of year, and campus is beautiful. My flight’s at 7 tonight, look for another post when I arrive in California.

Written by BriHollis

June 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Second article posted..

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Jess’ and my double byline is up and running – unlike the general Jordanian population – on the main site. Here it is below. Specially recommended to you workoutaholics. Enjoy!

Fitness first? Not in Jordan, where most people choose not to exercise

AMMAN, Jordan – Shaded paths wind throughout Al Hussein Park, a multi-leveled, lush space in West Amman. Dirt trails stretch through Sport City, a wooded park on the outskirts of the city and insulated by trees from the cacophony of honking car horns.

Yet these spaces aren’t teeming with runners trying to punch out a few miles before work. They’re largely empty, a reality that speaks less to the quality of the parks and more to a culture that honors tea time but doesn’t much value regular exercise.

“I don’t think [going to] the gym is very important,” said Ehsan Eljarah, 27, a taxi driver from West Amman. “I have to work and have no time, and work is more important.”

Ahmad Bakheet, 21, an engineering student at the University of Jordan, seconds Eljarah’s notion.

“I play football once a week at the university,” he said. “I play games with my friends, but I am too busy to play more than once a week. I have exams and homework, and that is more important to me.”

And though a healthy exercise regime and diet have been inextricably linked to an increased lifespan, improved mood and diminished risk for disease, the Jordanian population remains, for the most part, uninformed.

The obesity rate in Jordan increased from 19.5 percent in 2004 to almost double that – 39.8 percent – in 2010 according to studies from the CIA World Factbook and Hayder al-Domi, professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Jordan.

Diabetes is becoming a prevalent issue in Jordan; 13.6 percent of the population is currently suffering from the disease, and an additional 12.4 percent is pre-diabetic. As health problems such as high blood cholesterol and colon disease also increase countrywide, local health professionals are seeking to promote healthier lifestyles.

Nour Hamemeed, a clinical nutritionist at Petra University in Amman, has been working to create encouraging incentives for students to live healthier. She analyzes their lifestyles in order to create personalized exercise and dietary plans – free of charge. But she says the motivation just isn’t there.

“Most people don’t keep up with the plans I give them because they want to lose weight like magic. They end up not sticking to the diet and exercise,” Hamemeed said. “People want to go to sleep fat and wake up thin.”

Dr. Abdelkarim al-Khawaldeh, president of the Jordanian Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, agreed that many Jordanians aren’t willing to put forth the effort to be healthier.

“Our people are used to the easy life. They want to sit in the car or watch TV or sit at the computer, and they don’t walk a lot,” he said. “They should exercise more, eat small frequent meals, and the main thing is walking; because it is easy, you don’t need to pay money, you don’t need a special time, and you can do it anytime and anywhere.”

Hamemeed collaborated with several other lab technicians in the university’s nutrition department to create the Petra Walk, a program where students, employees and their families are invited on a five-mile walk around the school. Around 40 attendees were present at the most recent event.

“We only had it once last year and once this year, but now we are going to try to have it every two weeks,” Hamemeed said. “It’s more fun because students are walking together and other people can see the students having fun and want to join.”

Part of the challenge, Hamemeed and Khawaldeh say, is that there is no culture of participating in strenuous exercise in Jordan. And in Amman specifically, the city’s terrain further complicates the issue. The majority of roads are clogged with traffic and drivers who do not yield to pedestrians. Sidewalks have steep curbs, are blocked by parked cars or trees and often end without warning. Many are dotted with rubble. In fact, exercising outdoors is so rare that when a runner is spotted, he is often approached and asked from what or whom he is trying to escape.

This forces exercise-seeking residents to either utilize the limited outdoor spaces, or to splurge on a pricey gym membership. With most gym fees averaging around 120 Jordanian dinar a month, about $169, most locals are unwilling or unable to pay.

There is also a widely held belief that exercise is a burden, Hamemeed said. That’s why she emphasizes fun ways to exercise, such as dancing and aerobics.

Buthaina Haddad is a testament to how appealing group workouts can be. Lounging in the air-conditioned comfort of Fitness First Platinum, a posh gym in an upscale Amman neighborhood, the 46-year-old mother is a committed exerciser.

As she peeked over a copy of The Jordan Times, she chatted and laughed with some girlfriends, similarly dressed in black spandex and exercise gear. Haddad tossed her hair, curled and highlighted, over one shoulder and explained with conviction the reason she’s been willing to forfeit more than $6,800 to Fitness First over the past four years:

“It’s very important to work out,” said the energetic and fit stay-at-home mom, underscoring the natural feel-good benefits that come with an endorphin rush. “[Exercise] is an anti-depressant. I am happy and refreshed and healthy.”

Haddad works out five days a week, and though she encourages family and friends to engage in a healthy lifestyle as well, almost no one takes her up on it.

This could be changing, though. Other local gyms are beginning to offer special programs to foster increased participation. Incentives include fitness classes, sports competitions and personal training sessions. Most centers also reserve a time window exclusively for women, because Jordanian culture enforces dress and appearance restrictions. Female-only sessions ensure that despite the difference in gender roles, women have a place to feel comfortable and accepted while exercising.

The movement has also slowly begun to penetrate the public school system. Throughout elementary and high school, students are required to attend gym classes once or twice a week as a primary source of fitness education. Jordanian universities have competitive sports teams, though they are far less competitive than their Western counterparts. Students looking to play a sport submit written applications to earn a spot on the court or field. Universities also offer indoor and outdoor space for recreational athletic activity.

Hamemeed emphasizes the importance of small changes to kick-start the movement. She explains that small adaptations to daily routines can be a strong, motivating incentive to make a permanent healthy change.

“People make excuses that it is too hard to find time and places to exercise, so I tell them other things to do. Go shopping and walk there – and if you drive there, park your car far away. Take the stairs, not the elevator,” advises Hamemeed. “If someone really wants to lose weight and be healthy, despite the circumstances, they will do what it takes.”

Written by BriHollis

June 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm

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Please meet the coolest person on this trip…

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This is Gina-Maria Garcia my best friend. I thought that I’d share with the world how great, amazing and beautiful she is… so here the link to her blog. Check it out! (sic) #journalismjoke.

Here IS the link, come on Gigi.

Written by BriHollis

June 9, 2012 at 6:04 pm

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Dana, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba (Sorry for taking so long to update!)

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This is a long one.

Memories of the past four days swirl through my mind in a vibrant array of sights, laughs, emotions, experiences and physical pains that I almost feel unworthy of being able to take part in. I have absolutely no idea where to begin, because I want to capture the entire experience in this post. Everything from the quirky incidents to the speechless moments, from the “hiatus” seeing one of the seven wonders of the world.

Dana Nature Reserve

A beautiful camp site located in a small valley amidst sprawling collections of desert rocks. One, that I spotted on my trek down the mountain, looked like a pig. It was awesome. Before heading to our camp, we had lunch (which consisted of a collection of different types of bread, one was like a pretzel dog and everyone’s favorite) and went on a really cool hike through the reserve, where we learned how to make glue from onions. True story. I was super excited to finally touch my volleyball a little, but the rangers told me I couldn’t bring it down, and I almost cried.

MyNeu’s next picture of the week? I think so.

We got to the camp around 5 p.m., sat under the shade of the communal tent, drank some really REALLY hot tea, got situated in our sleeping tents (I was with my trio of course, Caroline and Gina), and began to explore. Sam, Eric, (Sameneric from Lord of the Flies, anyone?) Gina, Caroline and I went to go hike up the Pig Rock – as named by yours truly. Sam and Gina dipped out prematurely, little dinguses. And the rest of us conquered the steep, thorn-ridden climb up the mountain. It wasn’t an easy feat, we were literally scaling the rock at one point. Caroline had to sit on Eric’s head once to get down from a rock. I thought I was going to fall off because I was on the ground pissing myself laughing. She got down like a champ, but was shaking and freaking out and her face was ghostly pale for a sec. Then I started laughing and none of us could keep our poop together.

Climbing to Pig Rock

The view was impeccable. Some forlorned antelope kept us company. But then we realized we had to go back, and that meant UP the rock we struggled to get down. Aside from my legs being cut up after falling into a few thorn bushes and Caroline’s rock-burns on her butt from sliding down, we made it back to camp unharmed, where we enjoyed  yet another dinner of dajaaj wa ruz – aka chicken and rice, and pita. Then we all just chilled out, hanging under the tent playing movie trivia games and enjoying each other’s company. Taking it easy so we could be well-rested for our hike through Petra the next day.

The trio. Our campsite is in the background.

HAH but of course, I decided to be over-ambitious and wake up at 6:45 to run up the mountain. Should’ve known it was going to kick my ass and then laugh in my face. My eyes were bigger than my endurance, and I’m still not used to the heat and temperature here. Almost passed out at the top, regrouped, and ran back down. Relieved to reach the camp and eat breakfast, only to take on a 10-times-as-grueling, 4-hour, uphill hike up sand hills and steps forged into the mountians of the lost city of Petra.


So surreal. A brown and gray landscape with homes and monastaries built into sides of mountains hundreds and hundreds of years ago. I was inside an Indiana Jones movie (literally – The Last Crusade was shot there), getting asked if I wanted donkey, camel and horse rides, climbing into crevices that were once functional rooms, bounding up the 1,000 steps that lead to the top of the mountain. My legs and calves still stinging from my morning workout. Like Matt said, it was the coolest Stair Master I’d ever been on. Disclaimer, I’ve never actually been on a Stair Master because they’re a smaller, more dangerous version of my biggest fear: escalators. But you get the point, if we could snap our fingers and climb through Petra whenever we wanted, life would be perfect.

Gina and I kept talking about how we felt like we were in line for a ride at Disneyland or something. We were in awe the entire time, thinking and talking about how lucky we were to be in Jordan. With each other, with our amazing peers and with our intelligent, totally awesome professors.

Nothing I say can do this place justice, here are some pictures.

Such a trek, but worth it.

And as the sun went down, the “hiatus” was born. Gina had just learned what the word meant, and since she’s a little weirdo, started saying it all the time, in place of everything. Using it in every way except its proper context. During a period of boredom and restlessness in the hotel that evening, we gave the word an even better meaning.

A “hiatus” takes place when you perform Michael Phelps’ pre-race ritual of swinging your arms  back and forth so that they hit the opposite shoulders, and then leaping onto another surface, lifting your chest and arching your back, throwing your hands into the air. It began on hotel beds, and proceeded to include sand dunes, cots, and the Red Sea as the trip went on. We’ve coined the term “hiatus-ing,” and it is now an integral part of our lives.

Wadi Rum

My absolute favorite part of the trip. One of the top 5 best days of my life.

Back when Caroline still liked us. She ditched us in Aqaba.

We off-roaded in topless jeeps, climbed up and ran down sand dunes, ate chicken and lamb that was made in a hole in the ground, rode camels, hiatus-ed onto our beds on the floor, played soccer and volleyball with the camp employees, watched the sun set on top of a desert rock and slept under the stars.  I can’t imagine anything else that I would rather spend 24 hours doing.

An unfortunately weak attempt at a desert hiatus.

Running down the first hill, I managed to slice my toe open on a rock. I felt a little tinge as I was running down, but it wasn’t a big deal. So, as you can imagine, I was shocked to see 50 blood droplets on the floor of the jeep when I was getting into my ready position. I looked down at my toe, and ew. Santa Barbara Cinco de Mayo round dos. (Don’t continue if you have a weak stomach). My foot was covered in blood, sand, and even some small rocks. A flap of skin was hanging off, acting as a door welcoming infection on infection. So I’m fine with twisted ankles, torn muscles. But cuts, burns, and stings? La shukran. No thank you. And we still had two more rocks to climb! But after Eric (who I bled a lot on, sorry), army-man Ian, a Hello Kitty bandage, some gauze, medical tape and a horribly evil alcohol pad, I was able to stuff my foot back into my shoe and VERY slowly climb the next one.

Emergency toe surgery. Not a good picture of the wound.

The sun never sets on a badass…

… or is it a jackass?

With more assistance that I would ever like to have, I made it up the rock in time for sunset. And wow. The scene was more beautiful than anything else I could imagine. And it wasn’t just the light casting mysterious shadows on the rock, the warm colors of the sky, or the balance between the soft licks of the sun and the cool breeze on my body. It was everything, everyone. The smiles, the laughter, the pensive expressions, the hugging, the picture taking. About to get all sentimental and crap right about now, but I started tearing up. Thank GOD I had my sunglasses, or I would have looked like a hot mess.  When I didn’t think I could hide it anymore, I blamed it on the wind and the sand. I was just  honestly so thankful and happy to be here with this group of people. People who could appreciate the experience and how lucky we all were to have seen things we’ve seen so far. We were all tired, exhausted, hungry, sweaty, sandy, dirty, but so ridiculously happy. I missed seeing that, because too many times over the past year have I seen people take so much for granted.

On a lighter note, I adopted a ghecko when I got back. He was freakin’ adorable, and we named him Ahmad, in honor of one of our SIT leaders, who’s a total boss. We played with him until dinner, passing him around and having him crawl up our heads. Then we let him go. It was painful. I miss the little fella. We prentended we sent him off to college, so I wouldn’t have to be as broken inside.

At dinner I spit up water on Carlene’s foot at dinner. Gina and I were dying at Hillary’s hiatus picture from earlier, and I had just taken a sip of water. Attempting to be slick, I turned around and spit out my drink so I could continue laughing without choking. And sure enough, Carlene’s right there. Holding Cal, looking at me with a “really? reaaallly, Bri?” expression on her face.

“Did you just spit on my foot?”


“I think you did…”

“Yeah, I’m so sorry”

And the laughter continued, from the three of us now. Hearty, genuine, my-eyes-and-lungs-are-gonna-pop-out laughter. As everyone watched, not seeing the humor of the situation.

We had a huge cuddle-fest under the starts. There were like 30 mattresses all laid out next to each other in the open air. Another surreal experience, falling alseep under the stars. I could hear the sounds of the night, distant animals. It was awesome.

“If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can” – GM. You mean..”If you don’t love yourself, who will?” “HAHAHAH” No relation to the picture, but it just happened. Wanted to share.

6:30 a.m. rolled around, time to wake up for our camel ride! Casual. Nbd. Just rode a camel around the desert for 20 minutes. Knocked that one off my bucket list. His name was Moses, and he was really tall.

I didn’t want to leave, but Aqaba turned out to be all right I guess…


Riding a boat through clear waters, the view of a white-sand beach, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia posted up in the backdrop. Yeah, it was okay.

This was my first time snorkling somewhere besides a pool. And I was in my own little world, swimming near the reef, watching fish dart away from human movement, looking at a small octopus. The amount of cool things I was doing in this country continued.

After snorkeling, we ate lunch and jumped off the second story of the boat, posing in the air, while Matt whipped out his awesome photography skills on our action shots. I got really bad stage fright before my first jump though, everyone was watching me and I felt super awkward. But I got over it. Good story, I know. You’re welcome.

G had an awesome Tebow pose, and Hillary hiatus-ed in a way that put every other hiatus to shame. Very impressed, you should be too.

Hillary (aka Helen), Queen of the Hiatus, is to my left. Some freak is on my right.

Saying goodbye to these four days was a bummer. Realizing that we’re going home on Wednesday is an even bigger bummer. But we’ll save that for another post, hope you enjoyed/stuck with these 2000 words.

Written by BriHollis

June 9, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The “Broke” travels to Amman

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A “Broke” is a self-defined classification of the kind of jokes I make. The word functions both as a combination of ‘Bri’ and ‘joke’, and the idea of a ‘broken joke’ because my jokes – apparently – aren’t as funny/witty/clever/innovative/groundbreaking/spectacular as I think they are.

A couple brokes have slipped out here and there among the SIT kids, welcomed with a polite courtesy (better defined as pity) laugh. As for the ones I make around native Arabic speakers…they trail off into a distant land, or become swallowed by my hyena-esque laughter that tends to follow.

But yesterday, my host sister Leen, bless her heart, thought one of them was hilarious, and even went along with it. Please note that  Kristina, my best friend from home, actually finds me to be – besides charming, all-knowing and intelligent – the funniest person on the planet. But given that she’s the only one, it appears I was ruthlessly tricked into thinking everyone would relate to my…unique humor.

Anyway, after we went shopping at the markets on Rainbow Street, Leen, Caroline, Dalya, Leen’s friends Wajd and Dana and I were sitting on a bench overlooking the city. Some young men were playing the guitar. A mellow, but happy song. Being in a good mood, I started dancing, and Wajd said “Bri no! Don’t dance to it, silly! It’s not hard music!”

“So it’s soft, like a kitty?” I responded. Then proceeded to pet an imaginary cat, waiting for the burst of laughter.

Still waiting.


Not even a chuckle?

I look up and Caroline is already staring at her phone.

Then out pops Leen, saving the day. Laughing, and petting Samsa (my new kitty) with me.

Written by BriHollis

June 3, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized