Because my last name is Arabic, a significant emphasis is placed on who my father is. I am defined in terms of him. I stand in line at customs, and the agent isn’t sure what to do with me. “Where does your name come from?” I tell him that my great grandparents on my dad’s side were Lebanese, but I’m mostly Irish. He writes Lebanese down. I emphasize that I am not Lebanese. He gets confused and asks for help from another agent. They ask me who my father is and who my grandfather is. I tell them their names, and they seem satiated. I’m in.
Let me go back. My name is Nichole and I’m one of the 2015 GW UNESCO Fellows, and I’ve been placed in the Amman office. Prior to starting my studies at GW I lived and worked abroad for about 8 years including several countries in the Middle East, so I’m quite familiar with the region and it’s quirks. I have focused my studies on education development, and more specifically, education in emergencies, teacher professional development, and education innovation. I’m so excited to see how UNESCO is impacting education for Syrian refugees in Jordan through its portfolio of supported projects.
Back to first impressions, it is a bit of an unfair term, since I lived in Amman in Nov-Dec 2013 while studying Arabic. During that time I met up with several people I knew from other phases of life, one of them being the brother of a previous colleague. After arriving in Amman I started to message the people I knew here, and found out that this acquaintance is actually working on a UNESCO supported project, and knows my supervisor very well. What a small world!
In Amman, I’m living in a neighborhood called Shmeisani. It’s a more well to do neighborhood that is near to work, and also close to the neighborhoods that are more lively (Jabal Weibdeh and Jabal Amman). My roommate is a professor at a local university in business management. She told me that her university has increased its student capacity beyond the “legal” levels to incorporate the influx of students that normally, if not for conflict and political stability in MENA (Middle East and North Africa), would be attending university elsewhere.
The UNESCO Amman office is in a three story house located in the Abdoun neighborhood of Amman, behind a fancy shopping mall. The education sector office is on the 3rd floor in the attic of the building. Everyone in the office is helpful, friendly, and extremely generous. I’ll be working with some of the local staff on monitoring and evaluation of projects relating to education for Syrian refugees.
My first week at the Amman office, I was lucky enough to attend the UNESCO launch of the #Unit4heritage campaign (a culture sector initiative).
One of Jordan’s princesses, Wijdan Ali, was in attendance and gave a speech about the importance of protecting cultural heritage. The performances were spectacular and included traditional Bedouin singers from Petra, and a troop of young Palestinian Dabke dancers. The Dabke troop was having so much fun, audience members got up and joined in the dancing. Overall, it was a great introduction to UNESCO in Amman. I’m excited to work in this office, and be part of such a wonderful group of people.