What Does Community Mean?

When I was in Jordan, community was all around me. The taxi driver was worried about me when I was sick. The people at the grocery store said hi to me and asked me how I was (and it seemed like they actually cared). It felt like everyone was worried about me, cared about me, wanted to know how I was doing and what they could do for me. Over there, it’s not strange to tell strangers all about your problems, and for them to give you advice. It’s not weird to talk about politics or religion with people you don’t know. In Arabic, there was no word for privacy. It actually had to be made up by Europeans.

When I came back to the US, the thing I noticed the most was that everyone seemed so lonely. People sit down by themselves and watch TV on their own laptops, with no one around them. People don’t talk to each other in the same way that they did when I was in Jordan. You’re only supposed to tell the people closest to you about your problems, and you’re not supposed to talk about politics or religion with anyone, not even at your own families’ dinner table. It feels like Americans make it a point to be separate from each other.

I don’t think it’s better this way. When the community cares about you, and you can talk to anyone you know about your problems, it feels safer. It feels like you’re not alone. It feels like you don’t have to handle everything by yourself, even when you’re in a strange place and you don’t speak the language very well. It feels better than it does here when you can walk through the streets, go to a coffee shop, sit down, drink your coffee, and never talk to anyone beyond a hi. I miss the way everyone in Jordan wanted to know more about me and wanted to be friendly with me. Here, we put a premium on friendliness; we’ll only be friendly if we think there’s a benefit to us.

If we care about a person, it’s usually because of some reciprocal relationship. My best friend supported me through my break up, so I’ll support them through losing their job. In Jordan, there was no expectation when you helped someone get through something. There was no reason to expect that you would ever see this person again, but they still cared about you. It was the most amazing thing to experience.

What does community mean in the US? To me, it feels like we’re lacking community. There are interest groups, like the outdoors community or churches, but we don’t have a true community the way they do in other places. Here, we will only care about each other if there’s a reason to care about them. If there’s a stranger crying in public, we don’t ask them what’s wrong, we walk by them and look down, embarrassed by their public show of emotion. We don’t help our neighbors, and we care about our friends but only because we expect them to care about us as well. If we weren’t so stuck in our own self-interest, America would be a much nicer place to live.

What does community mean to you? What do you think we could do to encourage a greater sense of community?


Why is Adventure Only for the Rich?

I was on a first date a few weeks ago, and the man I was with said something I hadn’t thought of before, “It seems like you’ve done a lot, you must not’ve had much time for dating in your life.” I was surprised at the thought because I’ve dated off and on since I was in high school, but it did say something to me; I’ve been on a lot of adventures.

I’ve never turned away from an opportunity. I made every effort to travel when I was in high school, I moved heaven and earth to study abroad last summer, and I’ve moved every two years since I was in middle school. That’s all been very hard for me, but I always knew that the decision to go on another adventure wouldn’t be a decision I would regret.

I was able to do a lot of the things in the paragraph above because my parents had enough money, and they were willing to help me travel. I couldn’t have even afforded the plane ticket to Jordan when I went there. I was very lucky that my parents helped me to become the person I am today; they helped me to see the world, and that has shaped my worldview forever. But what would happen if my parents hadn’t made enougrock-candy-trailh money to pay for college, let alone send me to foreign countries?

There are programs for poor students who want to study abroad, and those programs are very effective and very important. But why has society put a premium on adventures? Most of the things I’ve done that were adventurous were also very expensive. Why do we only look at expensive things as adventurous?

Isn’t trying out a new restaurant adventurous? What about going to a new city, or going
hiking on a strange trail? Why are those things somehow less than getting on a plane and flying halfway around the world? They certainly take less effort than traveling, but it’s the fact that they’re so easy to access that makes them beautiful. If those things were adventures, what excuse would anyone have to not go on an adventure?

If we take this approach to adventures, where the big things are adventurous but so are the little things, people would be going on adventures every day, not spending most of their time planning adventures that will only really be a week of their lives. Maybe we should spend more time going on little adventures, instead of trying to put together a few big adventures to go on once.

If we went on adventures every day, life might be better. We might have more fun in our lives, and watch TV less. We might meet new people, and experience more things before our time is over in this world. Isn’t that worth something?

What would your little adventure be?

6 Months After Jordan

My time in Jordan was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was difficult, and awesome, and overwhelming, and soothing all at once. I look back at the time I spent there, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go, and to see all the wonderful things that I saw when I was there.

I still think about my host mom, and how sweet she was. All she ever did was take care of me and help me. For the longest time I think she was worried about me, because I was too shy to ask the maid to make me food, so my host mom would bring me food in my room while I was watching a movie or doing homework. As sweet as she was, my host mom also ran our house. I hope that someday I can bee as good a mother, and as wonderful a person, as she was.

Jordan taught me to rely on the people around me for information, and for help. When I lived there, there wasn’t a lot of things on the internet, like bus schedules. We had to ask someone else to help us every step of the way, whenever we went somewhere. It was amazing how many people wanted to help us, and would give us so much if we only asked for it. The men there tried to protect use from loud American men, and they treated us as if we were their own daughters a lot of the time. It was wonderful to feel that taken care of by an entire community.

One of the things I have never been able to forget is the wall between Israel and Palestine. I’ve been to Berlin, and I’ve seen what’s left of the Berlin Wall. The wall between Israel and Palestine looks just like it, but taller and with more razor wire. The Palestinians are trapped by a wall that keeps them in the West Bank. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the wall, because I thought that there was nothing like that in the world anymore. I still feel angry and sad about the way the Palestinians are treated.

I have never been the same after my stay in Jordan. I see stomach oppression everywhere now, and I’ve had to learn to live with the fact that I cannot do anything about it. I have seen the suffering of a third world country, of an occupied people, and of the human condition. I would never have seen anything like it without leaving the US, and I am so thankful for the understanding of Arab culture that it’s given me in these turbulent political times,

Lessons From Jordan: Community

Community is important. Even if you don’t really know what that is. Even if you’ve never experienced it. Community is having a big group of people, who might not even know who you are, and -here’s the kicker – care about what happens to you. When I was in Jordan, it seemed like everyone cared about what happened to me. The taxi drivers worried about me when I said I felt sick. My host mom would bring me food and snacks if I was sitting in my room for very long. My teachers asked me how I was feeling, and they all wanted to know.

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The Grand Husseini Mosque in downtown Amman. Mosques are known for fostering a sense of community in Jordan.

If someone was upset in public while they were in Jordan, everyone and their mother would want to know why. Right now I’m panicking about graduate school in my university’s library and no one has said anything to me, but in Jordan someone would be trying to comfort me. When I was sick in Jordan, I hailed a taxi to go home from the university (taxis are the only way to get around there), and the taxi driver was worried about me. He asked me all sorts of questions, then he told me what to do to feel better; he looked really worried about me for the rest of the drive. All that attention can feel kind of stifling, but at the same time it was nice to know that the people there were all looking out for me.

My host mother was very caring as well. She volunteered to help me with my Arabic, and she helped me with everything while I was there. She was often worried about me and my host sister (another American). One night, during Ramadan (the streets are dead in the daytime and come alive at night), my host sister and I came home after 1 AM, and she called us to make sure were okay, and to see if we were coming home soon. It was sweet at the time, because Jordanian streets are sometimes scary at night. Also, whenever either my host sister or I stayed in our rooms for a while to relax, she would bring us snacks. And see if we needed anything. And check in to make sure everything was okay. It was all very sweet, and even though it seemed like she was imposing at first, I got used to it.

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My host mother with my host brothers.

My professors were all really caring too. If someone was sick, they were very sympathetic. I had to leave in the middle of class multiple times, because I would suddenly feel ill after I ate dairy. My professors were always worried about me rather than annoyed by my interruption. I admire this group of people that are so caring towards each other and towards foreigners, not just in their own family circles and around their friends. I got to experience a level of community I hadn’t encountered when I was in America. It’s been hard switching back to my American perspective, though.

Being back in America, the contrast is really obvious because a lot of the time, people won’t even talk to each other on the bus. In Jordan, if you got into a taxi it was expected that the taxi driver would talk to you, ask you if you were married, how old you were, why you were in Jordan, etc. All the questions felt very invasive at first, because I’m used to my life being private, but after a while I got used to talking to everyone I met about my life. Now, it feels strange to get on a bus packed with people, and no one talks to each other for the whole bus ride. It feels like Americans are all by themselves, and that’s how they want it to be. To me, it feels sad. I feel more isolated in America than I used to in Jordan.

How do you think we could build a better sense of community in America?

Eco Tourism: a Right Way and a Wrong Way

Elephant Safaris are a major part of Sri Lanka’s eco tourism industry, but are they all as responsible as they claim to be? Sri Lanka is renowned for having one of the most biodiverse and species rich countries on the planet, with Conservation International even declaring it as one of the worlds biodiversity hotspots. With the endemic […]

via The Good And The Bad Of Elephant Tourism In Sri Lanka. — Bemused Backpacker

Rock Candy Trail: Beautiful Olympia

In the Capitol Forest, there’s a trail called Rock Candy Trail. It’s 5.5 miles long, and it isn’t very steep, just a fun hike. I went there with my dad the other day because it wasn’t too hot like it usually is in August. The capitol forest is West of Olympia and straddles highway 8, which runs from just outside Olympia to a town called Elma, where my family lives.

To get to the trail head, you drive on highway 8 until you reach Summit Lake. Across from a small convenience store Rock Candy Rd. starts, and you take that road until you reach a sign that says trailhead parking. After you park there you walk for a few feet along the road, and you’ll reach the trailhead on the left side of the road. It’s marked well, you can’t really miss it.

Once you start hiking, it almost feels like you’ve lost all of civilization. The road does allow quads and dirt bikes during the summer months, but there aren’t very many people that go there for those things. The scenery is beautiful, and the slope isn’t very steep. I would recommend bringing hiking boots if you have them, there are a lot of loose rocks that can easily twist your ankle if you’re not careful. The trees are beautiful, there is some old growth cedar that you can’t find outside a protected area anymore because of the logging that goes on in Western Washington

At the top, there’s not a really good view, the trail just opens out onto a road. If you follow the road, I think you’ll end up at a creek, but I’m not sure. There would be a better view at the top if a few of the trees were logged, but that’s not possible because it’s protected land. It’s a beautiful hike, though, and great for beginners. The whole hike (there and back) took my dad and me about two and a half hours.

Marathon Park: Beautiful Olympia

I went to Marathon Park yesterday with my dog, and it was a lot of fun! The park has a walkway that goes around half of Capitol Lake in Olympia, Washington, and a lot of locals go there to jog or walk their dogs. It’s a very nice park near downtown Olympia, and from the bridge over Capitol Lake, you get a nice view of Downtown Olympia.

The park is dog-friendly, but make sure your pooch is on a leash when you go there because some of the dogs I passed were aggressive towards my 3-year old Blue Heeler. The park has a big lawn area on one side, but I wouldn’t recommend using it to play fetch or anything like that with your dog because the area is patrolled tightly by Washington State Patrol, and there are a lot of other dogs present so it’s easy for yours to get into trouble.

Marathon Park is about 1.5 miles around, but if you get bored you can always take a trail up to the Washington State Capitol Building, right up the hill. There are doggy bags available for any messes your pooch has made at the trailhead, and it’s a nice walk up to the Capitol building. The trail has a lot of switchbacks, and it’s not very steep, so it’s friendly even for those of us who are out of shape.


Surfing in Westport, WA

Yesterday, I went surfing in Westport, WA. Westport is a little coastal town with some touristy parts, and industrial shipyard, and industrial fishing. Known in Washington for the fishing there, Westport is an easy day trip from the Olympia area. I’ve been going to Westport since I was little when my family goes to the beach we usually go there. We can also go to Ocean Shores, but it’s very touristy and more crowded than Westport.

Westport also has a beach where you can surf. There are multiple surf shops there, and you have to get a wetsuit in addition to your board, but other than the wetsuit it’s just like surfing anywhere else. I went through the Steelwater Surf Shop on the main road in Westport, and the have really nice wetsuits and boards. There’s also a surf shop across the road that is a few dollars cheaper (about $3) but their boards are made of foam, and the lighter boards make it harder to catch waves. Their wetsuits are also thinner, and it’s doable to use a thinner wetsuit than the ones at Steelwater, but they’re not as comfortable.

My dad and I also got a lesson when we went surfing this time around. The first time we surfed in Westport we didn’t get lessons, just rented boards and headed out there, but there’s a really difficult cross current the sweeps you down the beach at the surfable area, so we wanted a lesson about how to handle that. Steelwater’s lessons were expensive, but the instructor we had was very helpful, and under his instruction, I was able to stand up on my board for the first time.

Surfing there was a lot of fun, and for first timers, I would suggest going to Steelwater because of the better equipment, and the awesome lessons my dad and I received. Westport is also a nice town to walk around in, so if you’re ever in the area definitely visit!

Hobbies: the Easiest Way to Change your Life

What hobbies do you have? Why do you have the hobbies you have? For most people, the answer is “It was there, so I did it.”I actually used to knit as my hobby. I don’t know why, I hated the activity of knitting! My best friend taught me to knit during the spring of my Senior year of high school, and I continued the hobby until winter quarter of my first year of college. I knitted for no reason at all, just because I could and I was bored.

I don’t understand why I continued knitting even though I didn’t like it, and I’d never really liked it. Now, most of my hobbies are outdoors. I read inside, but I have hobbies like kayaking, surfing, hiking, and CrossFit. I enjoy all of my hobbies, and they all add something to my life, unlike before when I was stuck in this endless loop of either being bored, or doing something I hated.

I think watching TV is my hobby too, especially Netflix; I’m not happy about having to include that on my list though. Watching Netflix doesn’t add anything to my life, it’s just a way to spend my time without having to put much effort into working out or going outside. Sometimes I need that, but I’m going to stop watching Netflix all day as soon as I get a day off. It’s not a healthy habit, and I would rather go hiking by far.

Sometimes it’s hard to see that how you spend your time reflects on you, and that it changes the way you see yourself. When I spend a day hiking, I feel great. I always feel good after working out, and I’m really proud of myself for continuing to try and surf, even though it’s really hard. But when I spend the day in my pajamas, laying on the couch watching Netflix, I don’t feel good. I start being hypercritical, and I feel tired at the end of the day even though I barely moved. I’m going to change my Netflix hobby, and it won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.

What hobbies do you want to change?