It has been an interesting week here in Jordan.
On Tuesday, the government announced its decision to lift subsidies on fuel derivatives like gasoline and cooking gas. They said the decision was necessary because the subsidies have been a huge contributor to Jordan’s growing debt. However, the decision has sparked a strong opposition from Jordanians across the country.
On Tuesday night, there were large protests held in Amman and in cities around the country against the raising of prices. On Wednesday, these protests only escalated and violence occurred in a few places, with police and demonstrators getting injured. The protests were not only directed against the lifting of subsidies but also against the government and the king. In the northern city of Irbid, one protester died due to police returning fire. In addition, teachers began a general strike that included other unions as well. Thursday was Islamic New Year, and although protests continued throughout the country, they were more subdued and peaceful than the previous two days. On Friday, the protests were again larger although they remained more peaceful in tone. Saturday saw more of the same. On Sunday, protests were held in various locations throughout the day and the strike that began on Wednesday continued with the teachers’ unions and other professional groups. Some universities were closed.
So what does this all mean for a study abroad student?
Well, since our safety is the number one priority, the program staff here in Amman have been keeping us very well informed and giving us (at least) daily updates on the situation in Amman and Jordan. It has been clear from the beginning that the staff is really here for us, but this week they have been doing plenty of overtime and all of us students are very grateful.
On Wednesday, the program staff cancelled our classes to avoid any possible problems with protests. Although our university remained opened, we were instructed to remain at home to be on the safe side, since travel could be potentially difficult and it still wasn’t clear if protests would become violent. For me, this meant a day of sleeping in, hanging out at home in pajamas, and having a movie night with my neighbors who are in the program.
On Thursday, we already had classes off for Islamic New Year. Many of us (including myself) had plans to travel to Jerusalem on Thursday for the three-day weekend. However, on Wednesday night, the program suspended any travel plans that required land travel through Jordan due to various roads being closed by protesters and the police. Although we were all disappointed that our trip was cancelled, it became clear over the next couple of days that program had made the correct decision in not allowing us to travel to Jerusalem. Instead, I had another fairly lazy day. The girls in my neighborhood and I went to a friend’s apartment and hung out for the afternoon. To be on the safe side, we returned home earlier than normal.
Friday was much like Thursday, although before going to a friend’s apartment, a group of us went out to eat at a sushi restaurant and hung out at a mall for a little. Once again, we returned home well before our usual curfew.
On Saturday, it was apparent that classes were coming soon, so my friends and I went to an internet café to get some work done (although probably not as much as I should have gotten done over my four-day weekend).
On Sunday, classes started again. Also being cautious, our program moved all our classes off campus and into their offices to avoid potential disruptions from protests or the general strike. Although the new location is not perfect (clear walls on classrooms is a little different), it was impressive the program was able to arrange a place for well over 100 students to take classes in on such short notice.
Although things have felt a little tense here in Jordan, my experience has been rather normal. I have easily avoided protests and been able to travel throughout Amman without any real problems. While gas prices have gone up, taxi fares haven’t yet so we have been sure to tip taxis to help make up the difference. Bus rates also haven’t changed yet. I expect some prices to go up soon (the price for a falafel sandwich already went up by about 7¢, which still means it is well less than a dollar). By listening to the program’s recommendations (as well as my host mother’s advice), I have been able to avoid dangerous situations while still enjoying my time here.
It will be interesting to watch this situation unfold from Jordan. The government has shown no sign of reversing its decision while protests are continuing into a seventh day. For some selfish (and other less-selfish reasons as well), I hope things calm down significantly in Jordan and the region over the next couple of weeks. As exciting as it is to be in Amman right now, I still have a few places I really want to visit (I’m looking at you, Dead Sea). In five short weeks I will be home, and yet I am nowhere near finished exploring all Jordan has to offer.