By Jake Weber
"Our program tightened security and traveling due to the events occurring in the Middle East. But I made it to Egypt after the revolution and I saw Cairo," says Amer Hawari, '12. "Nothing to fear like we see on our television back home—it was an amazing feeling to be there at that time. There was a protest in Tahrir Square the day after I went; one person did die, but only from commotion in the crowd. Visiting Egypt at that time felt like being a part of history."
Hawari's front-row seat to the "Arab Spring" was one unexpected facet of his off-campus study program at the University of Jordan, where he is spending the first six months of 2011 studying the Arabic language and culture of the Middle East.
Hawari, the son of a Palestinian father and a Syrian-American mother from California, found some aspects of life in Jordan rather interesting. "There are driving lanes but by no means does anyone respect them, very few traffic lights, and no one ever wears a seat belt. Babies sit in the front seat in the laps of their mothers," he noted. "It’s a developing country and with a lot of construction going on. It should be quite a sight to see in the coming years."
Despite the headline-grabbing democracy movements all around them, Hawari found Jordanians still immersed in issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. "There are a lot of exiled Palestinians and I got to hear their point of view all the time. Every week we have a conversation club with Jordanian students and we discuss different topics. But somehow, every conversation leads to the Palestine-Israel conflict."
Hawari spent some time in Israel as well, expanding his understanding of the conflict. "I saw the integration of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, the fanatics and the regular people interacting—that was really a sight to see," he says. "I was able to make it to all the holy sites of each religion, all breathtaking. I also spoke to some Israeli Defense Force soldiers and got their view on the conflict, which I must say was rather extreme, but nonetheless important to hear."
The experiences, Hawari says, have definitely changed his ideas about the prospect of peace. "Looking at the situation from the U.S., you don’t see people living in the problem. Coming here and seeing things firsthand, I don’t see peace in the near future. I was optimistic when I came but now I’m a bit more pessimistic to the idea of peace. Peace is the ability for two people from different walks of life, even if once enemies, able to live together in harmony and put the past behind them and cooperate in daily life. Not governments simply signing treaties and calling them peace."
Even so, Hawari says, "I’m still hopeful for a resolution. Jordan plays a significant role in the politics of the region, and being here helps me to know their take on the situation. They were one of the first Arab countries to accept the creation of Israel and to be accepting of transients in and out of Israel."
On a lighter note, Hawari sees the infiltration of Western culture in sometimes humorous ways. "McDonald's has a McArabia sandwich that’s pita bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and grilled chicken." He mainly sticks to more local fare, however. "Falafel and shawarma are really big, along with hummus and fresh juice. You can get any fruit fresh-squeezed right in front of you," he says.
"I’ve been fortunate to be in the Middle East with all of the historic changes occurring," he concluded. "This experience will stick with me forever. I think it will help me when I go back to the U.S., to know how people live outside of it and to appreciate how fortunate we are in the U.S."