Laura Finaldi in Jordan, 2012

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Birth of the Hiatus

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We spent a day in Petra, climbing rocks, riding horses and making weird faces at camels all over one of the seven wonders of the world (I’ll get to talking about that in another post). You’d think doing all of those things would be the highlight of my June 5. But it wasn’t. The real fun began at around midnight after a night out around town. A bunch of us were chillin in my hotel room late that fateful night when Gina introduced to us something so epic that the word “epic” doesn’t even really begin to cover it. Ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s safe to say that she has invented – and the rest of us have perfected – the next planking. I present to you … the Hiatus.

But how does it work?! You ask. Don’t worry. Let me spell it out for you.

First. You Michael Phelps three times to get yourself set. And when I say Michael Phelps, I don’t mean stand up straight and kind of swing your arms around. I’m talking legs apart, crouched down, arms not quite flailing but still very mobile. Got it? Good. Next step.

Second. You leave the ground. NOW PAY ATTENTION. This is not a belly flop, nor is it a dive. You need to make sure your shoulders are back and your feet are in the air. This is key to making sure your form is correct.

This is Haden doing it wrong.

This is Helen and Gina doing it right

This is Clare doing it off the back of our cruise boat like a fucking boss.

Third. Assuming you’ve done the first two steps correctly, you should have landed on your stomach, NOT YOUR HEAD. OUCH. That’s pretty much it for this step, it’s fairly self-explanatory.

And that’s the Hiatus! Why is it called Hiatus, you ask? It’s not important. Just go with it. (Gina didn’t know what “hiatus” meant when she named it, but now she does). If you think about it, doing the Hiatus is kind of like taking a hiatus. Do the people in the above photos look like they give any fucks? Didn’t think so. Hiatus it is.

The best Hiatus ever known to mankind happened on Thursday, June 7, 2012, just off the coast of Aqaba. We were anchored in on a boat cruise, taking turns jumping off the top of our boats and into the water (we were segregated–J kids on one boat, Arabic kids on the other, except Sam and Ian managed to work their way onto our boat). Gina made a half-joke about someone Hiatusing off the boat, a suggestion greeted with laughter from the group. But that suggestion sparked an idea in Helen’s cunning little brain. She decided she would Hiatus off the top of the boat and then turn it into a dive. And Hiatus she did.

YES.

Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

Oh, PS, always make sure you have a photographer on hand while Hiatusing. If we don’t have a picture, it didn’t happen.

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Written by laurafinaldi

June 9, 2012 at 6:30 am

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A quick but effective post

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Hey guys! Sorry I’ve been MIA for a couple of days. We’ve been on excursions all week in the south part of Jordan. It’s been an amazing couple of days, and we’re only halfway through.

I don’t have a lot of time right now–we’re about 15 minutes away from checking out of the hotel in Petra, after which we’ll be on our way to Wadi Rum. It’s going to be awesome!! But for now, I’ll just leave you with a few photos of what I’ve done so far this week.

Tents at the Dana Nature Reserve, where we spent the night on Monday. It was so beautiful.

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June 6, 2012 at 8:03 am

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You look like an Arab

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This is me right now, right before I wrote this. How Arabic do I look?

If I had a nickel (sorry, 5 piastres) for every time someone told me I look Arabic, I would have at least 2 JD. Which is a cab ride here, so I wouldn’t hate it. Seriously though, every single day, at least one person tells me I look like an Arab. I’ll chalk it up to tanned skin, dark hair, and classic good looks.

But really.

When these statements started I would always say, “thank you!” But now I just laugh because I hear it all the time. I don’t know how this is even possible. Neither of my parents look Middle Eastern at all. I don’t think my siblings do either. I don’t know where I got it from, but I’ll take it.

These are my parents and my brother. They don’t look Arabic. Sorry for using this picture from your senior prom, Dan, it was the only one I could find.

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June 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm

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Let’s go.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012. Amman, Jordan. SIT International School across the street from the British Embassy, down the road from Abdoun Circle. Laura Finaldi, 21, journalist. Let’s do this.

Today is our last big reporting day. From the minute our lecture is over until 3 p.m., I have to hit the ground running and finish a good chunk of my reporting. I don’t actually want to do any work. BUT I HAVE TO. AGGGGHHH. Here we go.

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June 3, 2012 at 7:41 am

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Field Work

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I wrote most of this post yesterday (Friday) so bear with me. But here’s a recount of a crazy day reporting (finally), and things I know I wouldn’t have been able to understand if I wasn’t here as a journalist.

Friday, June 1, 2012, Amman, Jordan – Right now, the Arabic students on our trip are returning from Jirash, an ancient city with beautiful Roman architecture. I’ve heard it’s home to some of the best preserved ruins in the world, with columns, palaces and other ancient structures everywhere. I’m sure it was really cool. But I’ll never know. This is because us J kids opted to skip out of the trip so we could get some reporting done.

Friday is the Islamic holy day–the weekend for us. We haven’t had a free weekend with nothing to do at all since, well … ever. But you see, as journalists, there’s never NOTHING to do. We never get a day off. Every minute we spend sleeping, eating, trying on hijabs for sport or going to the mosque (or, in my case, to church) with our families, we could be writing, reporting or blogging. I’m definitely getting schooled–we all are–but this is how it is.

I was going to use my day off to track down mid-level experts and anecdotes for my story on the recent hike in the price of gasoline 95 here in Jordan. I set my alarm for 9:30 so I could grab the extra two hours of sleep I haven’t gotten in I don’t even know how long. When I finally got out of bed at 10:20, I took my time getting ready, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with Kate and our father, and smoked a few lights before I even thought about getting into the shower. Then it was time for my daily internet digest–Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress.

For some reason, this morning I found myself perusing around astrology.com, which used to be part of my morning routine when I was in Boston. Here, I feel a lot more at peace than I did when I was there, so I’m not constantly checking it in hopes things will improve. But today I figured why the hell not. Here’s what my daily extended horoscope says:

There is a very big difference between being lazy and being relaxed, and you are definitely not lazy! So there is nothing wrong with taking it easy today and saving the heavy lifting and hard work for another day. As long as you avoid the temptation of procrastination, you can trust that what needs to get done will get done when it needs to get done. Until then, feel free to take a long lunch, kick up your feet, and let other people compete in the rat race.

That’s very nice of you, the internet, but for the record, I can a) definitely be lazy … but thanks for kissing my ass and b) not, in fact, afford to take the day off. I was definitely tempted to – I mean it’s in the stars, right? But alas, I got myself out of the house and moving by 12:30. Record time. Game face, always.

Here’s where I stop being annoying and start telling you the relevant things I did

My mission: find a cab driver who speaks English, ask him about how the price hike affects him and have him take me to a gas station where I can talk to owners and employees. Maybe it was the stars above me rewarding me for not taking the day off, but the first guy I found spoke English and was willing to help out. I got in the cab and he drove me in loops around the neighborhood as he spoke, delving past gas prices and going even further, right into his status as an impoverished Jordanian.

He’s 50, a father of six and from Palestine. Each day, he makes 13 or 14 JD, which is less than $20. His monthly salary is about 400 JD, which he uses to support his wife and six kids.

400 JD a month. For a family of eight. That’s for food, rent, and, well, that’s it. Medicine? Better have a good health plan. Clothes? Hope you like hand-me-downs. Don’t even think about stopping at McDonalds for a quick burger on the way home, let alone a drink or a pack of smokes (there’s Trailer Park Boys rubbing off on me) for the road. We’re talking no extra cash, making every penny count.

And here he is, driving my cab. If I hadn’t been a journalist asking him about these things, I would have never understood or even known the guy charging me 2 JD to get to my destination had seen things and been through things I as a girl enveloped in a happy bubble in Boston would never even think about.

We talked for about 15 minutes, and I had him drop me off at a gas station. I exited the cab and approached a worker, ignoring the twinge of fear and insecurity in my heart. The worker turned me over to the owner, who, as it turns out, lived in the States for 22 years. He still owns three gas stations in Chicago. He told me a lot about prices, government subsidies and sales drops. When we were finished, he handed me over to his brother, who offered to drive me to another, larger gas station their family used to own.

So there I was, in a car with two Jordanian men I had just met. One of them spoke English, the other, not even a word. The one who spoke English asked me about my life, school, profession and if I had yet to crack Amman’s nightlife scene. I told him he could spot me and my friends from a mile away on Rainbow Street. Then he gave me his number and told me I should hit him up if I want to hang out this weekend.

I’m skeptical. The cultural differences between Jordanian men and American men will be discussed at length in a different post.

Anyway. He did tell me I could call him anytime if I needed help with any reporting at all. That’s another thing about the people here. They are so nice and so willing to help you, no matter what. It’s not like in the States where it seems like asking them for even five minutes of their time is a major inconvenience.

“We’ve got your back. You need anything, you let us know.”

Thanks bro. I will.

They dropped me off at a large gas station, where I was introduced to the owner, a Palestinian-Jordanian. He led me behind the gas station, up a set of stairs, and into his office, where I was offered coffee and cigarettes. I accepted both. As I’ve told all 12 of you readers, this is customary in Jordan. We broke the ice for about 15 minutes before he started to tell me about gas prices, government corruption, and the economy here, which is crippled, to put it lightly.

I can’t even begin to explain in this post how freaking terrible things are here. People come in from outside companies trying to make Jordan a better place by funding housing projects or water tunnels, but government workers–prime ministers, parliament–will all steal the money for their own benefit.

King Abdullah is not the problem, this man told me, and that’s why he shouldn’t be overthrown as Mubarak and Ghaddafi were. No, the Jordanian king is a good guy with good plans who doesn’t want to see Jordan fall like so many of our neighbors in the region have. I don’t need to spell it out for you. And he even switches out the prime ministers and parliament who are corrupt to supposedly fix things. But it’s not enough. It was so sad to hear this man talk about it. The American economy might not be great, but in comparison, we’re all doing just fine.

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June 2, 2012 at 9:25 am

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Musings at 1 a.m.

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I’ll post something longer later, but for now it needs to be said that I a) am happy with the progress I have made thus far on my reporting and b) have never been happier to hear a Pixies song than I am right now. Kate’s iTunes is on shuffle and “Here Comes Your Man” just came on. Oh how I miss my 90s grunge. I always kind of look like a lesbian rolling out of a hole filled with Jack Daniel’s when I’m in Boston–flannel, jeans, lip ring (oh how I miss you my dear sweet lip ring) which I think is pretty emblematic of grunge … Kaylee would be proud. God damn you Pixies. You’re just too good.
Here’s the song, so you can all share in my joy:

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June 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm

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MY FIRST STORY IS UP!

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You can check it out here, on its main page, or read it below. Enjoy!

Gay Amman: A scene is slowly emerging

Story by Laura Finaldi

AMMAN, Jordan – As the sun begins to set on Rainbow Street, a 28-year-old Ammani graphic designer checks his BlackBerry and tap tap taps on his computer from a seat at the end of the bar. Alone, he waits for friends and bides his time with tea and a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights.

At first glance, he fits into the culture at this café and club: Handsome and slim with shiny black hair, he’s wearing a neat, button-down shirt and trendy jeans. But he stands apart from his contemporaries in one significant way. He is willing to admit he’s gay in a place that does not, and will not, accept him.

“I’m always [at this bar] with my gay friends. Sometimes two of them are looking really gay, and if I see a family member I have to hide from them,” said the designer, who spoke on condition of not offering his name for fear of hostile and dangerous repercussions. “They will make troubles because everyone here likes to talk.

“I’m afraid,” he added – “always.”

While the topic of homosexuality is at least tolerated in Jordan above the whispers it’s relegated to elsewhere in the Middle East, being openly gay is not an option here. Cultural mores deem homosexuality abhorrent and unnatural. To live that way means existing in a sort of exile from the general population. To open up would be worse, dishonoring one’s family. Here, there is no greater offense.

“In Jordan, there is a very negative attitude towards homosexuality, and those who are [gay] are looked down upon,” said Musa Shteiwi, an expert on ethnic and minority relations in the Middle East at the University of Jordan. “I don’t think society is ready to accept the culture of homosexuality.”

Yet, there are at least subtle signs that things could be changing.

A 2011 self-published book called “3aroos Amman” by Fadi Zaghmout involves a homosexual character. He says younger people are buying the book in high numbers, and passing it around among each other. Jordan’s JO, a lifestyle and culture magazine that trumpets its “groundbreaking” and “fresh” approach, published an article in 2009 entitled “Sex in the City?” about the gay scene in more cosmopolitan Beirut. The second part of its headline reads: “OK, the ‘city’ isn’t New York this time – it’s Beirut. But the Paris of the Middle East is going through its own crisis of sexuality now – and Amman could well be next.”

To acknowledge the gay scene here, even in small mentions like these, is to begin to normalize it, experts say. But theory does not yet reflect reality: gays and lesbians in Jordan are still forced to exist off the grid.

“[The gay people] are very strict with who goes into that community and whether or not that new person is really gay or not or if they will get exposed or not,” said Ashraf Alqudah, a clinical psychologist at the University of Jordan. “They don’t want to be publicly exposed. The ramifications of that are huge. They can lose dignity, respect. They just can lose a lot.”

NOT A CRIME, BUT GAYS ARE TREATED AS CRIMINALS

No Jordanian law explicitly prohibits homosexuality. Offenders will not be thrown into jail for being gay. But to admit to homosexuality is to subject oneself, still, to public humiliation, beatings and even death by those who find it unnatural and in violation of the will of their god. Furthermore, because Jordan is an Islamic country, and Islam unequivocally views homosexuality as a sin, it is, by default, seen as a crime. Therefore, people who engage in the lifestyle have no choice but to keep it quiet. As a result, there are no available figures or data to suggest how large the population is, or how it might have changed over time.

“Many of the gay people are closeted. They have bad feelings in their heads” about what will happen to them, said Zaghmout, who wrote his novel with the hope that he could spark discussion about the acceptance of homosexuality. And while he admits things are getting looser for gays in Amman, he doesn’t believe much has changed beyond the borders of this capital city of 2.5 million. “I don’t know if it has evolved in other places than in Amman. More people are coming out, and more people are knowing about the issue, but not to the extent that they should.”

Others, such as Shteiwi, are seeing a shift – if only in one demographic here. “I think [the perception] might be changing among the upper class, especially those who have been educated about sexuality and gender,” he said.

In many cases, experts agree, the extent to which a person is accepted depends on his or her gender. In Jordan, men have more freedom than women. So if a male who comes out is rejected by society, he can escape Jordan, if necessary. But for women, the punishment is much more severe. Since even a heterosexual relationship in which sex is involved out of wedlock is not allowed for women, coming out as a lesbian is a particularly dangerous risk that could result in disfigurement and death.

“The closer to the culture the family is, the more likely the woman or the girl will be killed,” Alqudah said. “Killing is not an option in religion. But it is the first option in the culture. Most of the time [a lesbian] will just be imprisoned at home until she gets married.”

ThursGAY AND OTHER ATTEMPTS TO MEET UP

At Books@Cafe, a bar just off Rainbow Street near Amman’s first circle, men sit across from one another at small tables, sharing an arjelah – the Arabic version of hookah pipes.

Here, it is “OK to be gay,” said a waitress, earnestly.

But the 28-year-old graphic designer, still there with his smokes and drink, said that’s not always true.

As an alternative, he sometimes tries to come up with other places for him and his friends to express themselves safely. “At my place, every Thursday [we have a party]. It’s called ‘ThursGAY,’” he said. Usually about 10 people show up.

His friend, a 23-year-old male freelance makeup artist, hair stylist and costume designer who is also gay, said he, too, tries to be with others in the lifestyle. He meets people on networking sites such as Manjam, GayRomeo and Grindr to find people like him with the ultimate goal of coming together. To be with each other – either in the shrouded confidentiality of a private home, or in the anonymity of a chat room online – is to feel part of a community, which is a critical component of keeping one’s sanity in such a hostile place, they said.

“Mainly, there’s groups, or families. They take care of each other, they stand by each other, they help each other get hooked up,” the 23-year-old said.

He stopped speaking, though, interrupted by the entrance of a friend. The tall, thin man with a chopped trendy haircut, striped sweater and skinny jeans was apprised on the conversation, but showed no signs of wanting to participate.

“I’m not gay,” he said abruptly.

“Yeah, and your mom’s a virgin,” the graphic designer said. The two exchanged a giddy laugh and took sips from their cups of tea.

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May 31, 2012 at 6:16 am

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