January 24, 2002 - Portland Press Herald : Jordan RPCV involved in the Middle East

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Jordan RPCV involved in the Middle East

Read and comment on this excerpt from a story from the Portland Press Herald on a Jordan RPCV and her involvement in the Middle East at:

Interest leads to involvement in Middle East *

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Interest leads to involvement in Middle East

Jan 24, 2002 - Portland Press Herald

People from Maine, such as former Sen. George Mitchell, and organizations with ties to Maine, such as Seeds of Peace, have intrigued me and inspired my interest in the Middle East. My first connection to the region started with a friendship formed with an Egyptian exchange student during my senior year at Gorham High School. It was the first step of what was to become my deep involvement in the Middle East.

We graduated in 1995 and it was this friendship that was a driving force leading me to study abroad at the American University in Cairo during my junior year at Wheaton College. That was five years ago and I have spent a significant amount of time in the Middle East since then.

While at Wheaton, I was a double major in political science and international relations with a concentration in the Middle East. The Arab/Israeli conflict always interested me the most. While studying abroad in Egypt, I spent a significant amount of time talking with Palestinian students deeply affected by their exile status and the fact that they had no real nation to call their own. Thus began my quest to learn and absorb as much information as possible about the conflict and the lives of those directly affected.

After graduating from Wheaton in 1999, I joined the Peace Corps for a tour in Jordan. I left for Jordan in July with 40 other volunteers. We spent three months in intensive Arabic and cultural training in small villages. My host family was the most rewarding relationship I developed in Jordan. Even after I moved to my permanent village, I spent a lot of time with them. We still talk today.

After training, I was an English teacher at a public girls' school in a rural village. I taught several grades and was an assistant physical education teacher for all the girls. There were many challenges, but the changes I feel I made in the lives of girls in a male-dominated society is what I remember most.

The firsthand encounters I had with Palestinian refugees and seeing the effects of living in exile were incredible. I witnessed how this virtually landless population manages to live in wretched conditions. I have the utmost respect for the people trying to obtain full sovereignty over a section of land they can once again call Palestine (22 percent of what was Palestine in 1947).

These past five years have taken me all over the Middle East. From Turkey, to Israel, to Syria and Lebanon, it has never ceased to amaze me how different these cultures are from our own, and from each other.

My favorite locations were a secluded mountain village in Lebanon, the outskirts of Jerusalem and Ramallah, and the quiet quarters of Aleppo, Syria.

My ability to speak Arabic opened doors on my travels that otherwise would have been shut. For this reason, as well as many others, I am constantly studying to become fluent in the language of the land that I have come to call my second home.

After finishing my Peace Corps service in November 2000, I returned home and began work with BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H. I worked as a contract administrator for about six months.

I returned to Jordan in July 2001 and worked as an independent volunteer for the orphanage where I assisted during my Peace Corps service.

The experience I had with these kids is hard to put into words. They had been through more pain and sorrow than most people ever go through in a lifetime. Being able to converse with them and show them love and support was more rewarding for me than an office job. After finishing my independent volunteer work last September, I planned to travel with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer through Southeast Asia. But after Sept. 11, we decided to forgo our trip and head home.

I am often asked what the next five years will bring, and my answer is always uncertain.

After returning home and re-adjusting to life in the States, I started working for a family friend who runs a local company. David E. Wallace & Co. Pipe Organ Builders refinishes old pipe organs and builds new ones.

I also applied to master's programs in public policy for next fall. Since I was unable to travel this past fall, I plan on traveling a few weeks this spring. I also will return to Egypt this summer for a two-month intensive Arabic program at the American University in Cairo.

My goal is to be completely fluent in both colloquial and formal Arabic (aspects of which can be very different). When I return from Cairo, I hope to start my master's program.

I have no idea where this degree will take me, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will lead me right back to the Middle East, to the culture that I am so enamored by and the region that so desperately needs help.

Who knows? Maybe I will return before that. Cairo is always so nice in the summer.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Special Reports - The Peace Corps int he Middle East; COS Jordan



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