Our trip to Jordan during spring break this year was most likely the best experience of my life. I have always been fascinated with the culture and the language of the Middle East, but Jordan exceeded my expectations of what it would be like. After spending some time at King’s Academy and the amazing city of Amman, we had a little change of pace and went to an eco-park run by FoEME also known as Friends of the Earth Middle East.
FoEME is an inspiring organization for multiple reasons. The goal of FoEME is to protect the fragile environment in the Middle East while also bringing together the people of the region. The most important of the environmental projects they are working on is conserving water in a region that does not have much to start with. When you look at that mission, an understandable reaction is to shake ones head. Can a grassroots organization really save water in a desert environment while also advocating for peace in one of the most unstable areas in the world? They definitely can, and have. Unable to tap into the power and recources that many big organizations have, FoEME has relied on persistance and word of mouth. A great example of the success they’ve had is their work with ending the RedDead Sea project. The plan was to dump large amounts of Red Sea water into the Dead Sea to offset the Dead Sea’s shrinking size. FoEME knew this was not a good idea because it would upset the ecosystem of the Dead Sea and would cost Jordan money they simply did not have. Because they refused to give up, FoEME was able to get the project canceled despite its support by many powerful organizations like the World Bank. Even more impressive than their environmental work though, is their ability to unite people from places in conflict, such as the Palestinians and Israelis.
My time at the eco-park and working with FoEME was inspiring. Everyone I talked to from the organization was knowledgeable and passionate about what they did. While at the eco-park we engaged in a combination of activities from helping make a bird house out of used bottles, to having tea with Bedouins, to swiming in a sulfur pool, to biking along Golan Heights which boarders Syria, Israel, and Jordan. The Golan Heights was perhaps the most beautiful and eerie place that we went to in Jordan. The cliffs, combined with the Jordan River, provided a spectacular view – but there were also subtle reminders of the problems the Middle East faces. On the other side of the Jordan River, in the middle of the cliffs, was a long and threatening fence, built by Israel. The fence reminded me that the area is still in dispute and that Israel does not feel comfortable keeping their borders open. Unfortunately, this fence also creates a barrier towards peace. We were standing about 100 feet above the Jordan River, but according to FoEME, the Jordan River used to be that high until Syria built damns further upstream to block much of the water. Golan Heights is a perfect metaphor to describe the situation in the entire Middle East. The Middle East has a lot to offer in terms of its beauty and its history and its people, but economic and political problems plague the region and keep it from being what it has the potential to be.
My entire experience in Jordan from staying at King’s Academy, to working with FoEME, to camping with Bedouins was unforgettable. The Middle East is an incredible place that sadly gets a bad reputation. Although the region certainly has its share of problems, I urge people to go and visit so they can better understand the situation and hopefully change the misconceptions that come from living in America, a country that often seems sadly Islamaphobic.
Link to the FoEME Website: http://www.foeme.org/www/?module=home
Photo 1: A picture of our group in the bird house that I mentioned earlier in the post.
Photo 2: The view afte taking a 5 minute walk away from the eco-lodge. Much more green then in most of Jordan
Photo 3: The view from the cliff we were standing on at Golan Heights. The Jordan River is clearly not what is used to be
Photo 4: A picture of the fence that Israel built on the Golan Heights.