Amman and Dubai Travelogue – 2015

January 15-16, Travel to Amman

This is my third trip to Amman and, as with all of my international travels bar none, it came with complications.

I flew from Madison to Chicago, where I had to wait 4 hours to get the flight to Frankfurt, Germany. The flights were uneventful. The time in the Frankfurt airport was ridiculous. First, of all, I had two very heavy carry-on bags with me that I had to schlep up and down steps. The airport is absolutely enormous- so you walk and walk and walk and walk, up and down escalators, until you climb up some stairs- and there is a tram. When you walk and walk some more until you get to the security point, where you have to put everything on the conveyer to be scanned. However, in Frankfurt, this meant that the agent took about every blessed connector, cable, etc. from my bags. I couldn’t believe it! It took me forever to put everything back once I got through the scanner.

The electric signage for flight departure times and gates continually changes, but when Amman appeared, there was no gate. The terminal rep had told me it was gate 54, and the flight to where ever that was posted immediately above Amman said Gate 54, but Amman only said “Gate.”

For the flight to Amman, a huge crowd of us piled into an accordion bus (you know, where the back swings back and forth when you turn), nose to nose, for the longest airport bus trip I have ever experienced. I really thought that we were going to drive to Amman.

Then, it was raining and instead of putting out both stairways up to the plane (front and back), they only put out one. A steep one. My shoulder hurts just thinking about the strain of dragging/carrying the two bags up the stairs and through the plane to the very back.

Then, when we were settled, another busload came (for whom they did put in the rear stairway). Unfortunately, almost everyone carries many bags and suitcases, so there was great difficulty finding places for them. One man took his suitcase into his window seat, which was narrower than his suitcase. So that certainly didn’t work! Then there were two young women who made a big fuss about sitting together. They tied up most of the busload of passengers trying to board, complaining, one sitting in the middle seat next to me then ordering me up and down, standing in the aisle. Yikes!! One man finally gave in and moved- and he was a lovely guy. I had fun talking with him. He also showed me his prized possession: a large watch that has a compass, shows the altitude and humidity, and also tells time. Wow!

I thought I had been so clever on this flight by ordering a special meal. Let me tell you- NEVER order a gluten free meal on United-Lufthansa. It was gross and completely inedible. Luckily, I had packed some edamame.

My experience at the Amman airport was a nightmare. Again, down steep stairs to crowd nose to nose in a bus to take us to the terminal. Lots of walking. Then into a line to exchanged USD for JOD because a visa costs 40 JOD. I gave them 80 dollars and got back 51 JOD! Then into another line to purchase a visa and go through customs. When I got to the counter, the young man spent five minutes counting money or something, never acknowledging me even when he looked up and saw me.

When I finally got through, I couldn’t find my luggage. Luckily, they have pushcarts so my two heavy bags were much easier to maneuver. After wandering around for a while, getting more and more nervous about the delays because I knew someone had come to pick me up, I saw one of my suitcases. But the other one wasn’t there.

I imagined conducting training the next day wearing the informal change of clothes I had packed in my carry on. On to another line, to tell an agent about my lost luggage. When I asked when the suitcase would be delivered, he said the same time tomorrow (which would have been 6:30 p.m.) I teared up.

Then, as I was leaving their office, one of their staff asked me which bag was missing and he located it in Security. What a short-lived relief! So, I followed him to Security, where I could see my bag but they wouldn’t let me get it. After about 30 minutes, a young woman arrived and they let me in, to be patted down by the woman. Next, they opened up the bag and began to take everything out, opening all the bags into which I had placed the materials for each of the 10 days of training. I was beside myself by now.

I started to cry, because I’d been there for an hour and a half, I still had a long drive to the hotel, had to set up the training room, iron my clothing, have lunch (at 11:30 p.m.), take a shower, etc. Since I wasn’t able to sleep on the flights, despite taking a melatonin that made me moderately sleepy, I was exhausted and also needed a bathroom!!! In my defense…

When they released me, I had to go through the last hurdle, where I had to pick up my bags (my suitcases were 50 and 55 lbs. respectively) to put them on a conveyer belt to be scanned. And then THEY insisted on going through my bags again. I told them I had just come from Security, but either they didn’t understand or they didn’t care.

A man named Jamal was outside with a Mercy Corps sign, so I stopped to ask him if he was there to pick me up. He didn’t think so, but I did and he scrolled through his phone and found my name. He had to do some fancy packing because only one of my suitcases would fit in his trunk.

The drive to the hotel must have been 25 minutes. I didn’t see any snow, although they had some last week, with icy roads that created over 95 accidents. Somehow the palm trees soldier on, despite the cold.

I checked in, got up to my very small room and unpacked everything I would need for tomorrow. Then Zaid, my contact, came with his wife to help me set up, which was very sweet of them both. He is great for my ego, because he told me that, after taking my train the trainer program three years ago in Amman, he can’t bear to sit through training because it is so bad. That’s why he wanted me to come to Amman to train his staff. It is lovely to be so appreciated!

The room was very workable, with lots of walls and the tables and chairs set up as I had requested. Apparently, Zaid oversaw the set up process. The only possible glitch thing is that there is an LCD projector on the ceiling but nothing to connect with it… Zaid arranged for a hotel IT person to meet with us around 6 a.m. to set up whatever is needed. Let’s hope he can because I don’t want to act out my PowerPoint!

We finished about 10:30 p.m., at which point Zaid said that he had hoped to take me out to dinner. Would I like to go now? I thanked him for the gracious offer and asked for a rain check, citing all of the things I had yet to do.

Including this email.

Well, it is now 2 a.m. and my hair is almost dry. Everything is laid out for tomorrow (clothing, shoes, jewelry, makeup, files and computer). I’ve ironed, eaten, showered, charged my computer, Nook and phone; figured out how to set the phone alarm to Jordan time. Set two other wake up calls- one on the phone and one on the TV. I hope at least one of them works, because they are all set for 6 a.m.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin facilitating a two-day Interest-Based Negotiation training program for 25 staff and community members. Wish me sufficient energy, endurance, good humor and effectiveness! Obviously, I’ll be training in my sleep….

January 17, Amman

Well, today went amazingly well. First, thanks to Jerri, I had something to put under my eyes to hide how tired I was. The bed was SOOO comfortable, but I only had the four hours of sleep in 36 hours and I did not look perky and alert before makeup!

The breakfast buffet was amazing. I was good, confining myself to fresh fruit and nuts, with a little smoked salmon and cucumber. Just the pastries alone were mind-boggling.

When I got to the room, I commandeered a gentleman to show me how to turn on the LCD and then connect with it. It took two men, thirty minutes, three different cables, and two different outlets to finally make it work. I was incredibly serene throughout the entire adventure, which goes to show how tired I was!!

The downside was that the cable ran across the entire room, so we had to move tables and chairs so no one would trip or inadvertently yank the cable and pull my Mac Air toppling to the floor.

The group is wonderful, with great senses of humor, very appreciative, very engaged,
with lots of questions. They love the ducks and other prizes I give them. Zaid told me he still has the duck he got in my TOT three years ago.

By midafternoon I realized that there was a group of four at a back table who clearly had difficulty with English- which meant that it took them 3 times as long to read than anyone else in the room. Tomorrow I will split everyone up and require that each person sit with someone who can assist them with English translations.

We had lots of interesting discussions. One dealt with the difference between interests and positions. We decided, based on my strenuous encouragement, that positions are rigid and reactive- I won’t back down from this position- whereas interests are what we would like to gain, although these are flexible and can be reconfigured as the negotiation proceeds.

We had terrible difficulty agreeing as to what a BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) was. My belief was that a BATNA is based on your key interests- what you really need, versus what you might like to gain. Zaid and others who had already been trained by Mercy Corps in this subject, felt that a BATNA was what you do if the negotiation fails- such as demonstrating or striking. We went back and forth, temporarily agreeing to disagree. A number of participants were understandably confused and requested more discussion tomorrow.

After the class, Zaid, Heba, and Morad discussed this further with me. Essentially, we concluded that both Zaid and I were correct:

There are two different types of BATNA- Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement:

If I can’t get everything I WANT, what do I absolutely NEED to get?

This BATNA can be used at two different points in a win/win negotiation:
to select a satisfactory option that meets your key interests;
or
to come to an agreement if nothing else (common interests or objective standards) has been effective

If I can’t get what I absolutely NEED to get, what other ALTERNATIVES
do I have within my scope of power and authority?

This BATNA can also be used at two different points in a win/win negotiation:

to bring up in a strategic manner during a negotiation if it is
not going well (i.e., if we can’t come to a mutual agreement, this is the negative action I will take, such as demonstrate or go on strike);
or

to implement when no agreement has been reached.

I emailed this to Zaid to make copies for everyone, which should help to clear things up enormously.

Lunch today was also spectacular. I’ll have to take a photo tomorrow so you can see what I’m raving about.

The only issue I have with the training is that people smoke immediately outside the room, which is where the “tea” is set up (coffee, tea, juice, sweet rolls). I had a few small coughing fits and explained how allergic I am. They’ve been wonderful at moving away from the door. However, when I need to bring them back in after break, I have to go through some smoke.

Today, Saturday, is the second day of their weekend- but 21 of 25 people came. Some came late, so we started later. After our first break, I started exactly when I said I would and the many latecomers cleaned up their act for every subsequent break.

I’ll conclude this with a few of the lovely comments they put on today’s evaluation, beginning with my absolute favorite: “Presenter is knowledgeable and has a diplomatic lovable character that makes it easier to interact and understand.” “She’s great.. I feel comfortable talking to her and she has very good time management. She gives us a fair time to answer our questions, she was so patient.” “Loved the atmosphere that was created by the colourful room and the classical music background.”

I was relieved to see this evaluation comment: “Very close to the participants and giving the opportunity to all to participate/ and give the chance for whom who has difficulty in English language.”

I had a fascinating chat over lunch with a Dutch, now Jordanian, gentleman. (Well, he chatted and I ate and listened.) I’ll tell you about it in my next missive.

Amman, January 18, 2015

Today was the second and last day of Interest Based Negotiation: Getting Past No.

However, before we got into the content, we spent about an hour discussing BATNAs and working through different, increasingly complex negotiation scenarios. This cleared up participants’ confusion.

Unfortunately, that night (during my shower, of course) I rethought the entire thing and realized that I was way off base. I came up with this instead:

The Relationship Between Essential Interests and BATNA

Essential Interests answer the question: What do I absolutely NEED?

Essential Interests have two separate uses:
to determine which negotiated option is best
or
to identify the best alternative if an agreement cannot be negotiated (BATNA)

The Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement answers the question: If I can’t satisfy my Essential Interests through negotiation, what other alternatives exist within my span of control that could help me get those Essential Interests satisfied?

For example, if you won’t agree to perform a specific service for a specific price, my BATNA will be to find someone else who will.

Another example, if you won’t agree to a fair objective standard so that we can negotiate an agreement, my BATNA will be to find someone in authority who can pressure you to do what I want to accomplish.

One party’s BATNA will quite often have a negative impact on the other party. For example, if I find someone else to provide the service I want, you will have lost a potential client, which might lessen your potential income.

Another example, if I find someone in authority to pressure you, that may be more unpleasant than negotiating an agreement with me right now.

A BATNA can be mentioned during a stalled negotiation to motivate the other party to work toward a negotiated agreement rather than suffer the consequences if the BATNA is implemented.

If no agreement can be negotiated between the two parties, then both will then implement their BATNAs.

I’m waiting to hear what Zaid thinks before I bring it up a final time with the participants.

This was a difficult day in many respects. When I arrived in the training room, I discovered that an entire bag of candy, a Koosh ball and a soft die were missing. I know that the hotel staff had seen me collect the candy from the tables and put it into a plastic bag, which I then placed into my suitcase. The Koosh ball and soft die were missing immediately after the participants left the session, but they also might have been taken by staff who came in to clear cups and plates during breaks. It is just so disappointing.

That night, I put everything in my suitcase and locked it. The managers were very concerned and took care to be there when I left the room (at 7 p.m.) to lock it up and leave the key with security.

One module of today’s training concerns active listening. I start off the module by asking the participants to identify inflammatory comments that people make. Then, no matter how often I modeled and explained how to paraphrase and then ask an open-ended clarifying question; or stressed how important it was to simply reflect back to the speaker what you think was said- without expressing what you think or feel about the statement, most of the participants had extreme difficulty. It wasn’t until we broke for lunch at 1 that I finally understood the problem: they were so inflamed by the comments that they couldn’t calm down enough to paraphrase rather than immediately react and propose solutions.

At lunch, I sat with Michael who owns his own company and has done social media contract work with Mercy Corps for the past three years. He explained how he met his Jordanian wife passing in an airport; that he really enjoys working with the Mercy Corps project folks- particularly when they go out into the field to interview people and film documentaries. He has two little children, who are growing up trilingual: Arabic, Dutch and English. His family travels to visit Holland twice a year to stay for a month at a time, while his folks come to visit once a year and stay for a while. During that time, he takes them to all of the interesting sites and ruins throughout Jordan.

I asked him if he has planted any tulips and he says that he always brings tulip and other flower bulbs from Holland to plant in his in-law’s garden, where they bloom profusely.

He has a company that installs water basins that enable people to plant crops and flowers in desert areas. They also sell organic fertilizer, seeds, etch. It sounds fantastic. They also do a variety of projects to improve the quality of life for people in poor circumstances. They got people to donate money so that they could build a chicken coop and provide chickens, feed and information. Unfortunately, the chickens died during the recent cold weather.

In the afternoon, we had to make up a lot of lost time, so instead of small group activities I had to use large group discussion for over an hour. Not ideal, but necessary.

Then it was time for people to take the post-test. Because of the difficulty some people have in reading English, what should have taken 5 minutes was taking 15 minutes and counting. I felt stressed by the fact that I knew Hala had to leave by 5 or shortly thereafter because she has to pick up her son at daycare. I finally asked Zaid to have one woman leave the room to complete her posttest while we scored it in the room. She was gracious about it and I was incredibly grateful!

Everyone did much better on the post test, a few were just a few points shy from 100%, and one young woman scored 21/21 correct, whereas she had previously only had 11/21 correct. So, yay them and yay me!

After people left, I needed to move all of the pipe cleaner creativity to my pipe cleaner creativity table, reorganize the materials on the participant tables, take down the Interest Based Negotiation agenda map (which Zaid took) put up the agenda map for Designing and Delivering Dynamic Learning, and write out the learning objectives from all 6 days on flip charts for a beginning activity the next day.

When I got back to my room after 7 p.m., I had to create two certificates of completion templates for Mercy Corps to duplicate for the participants in both classes. I also completed and submitted a proposal.

I haven’t been able to get to bed until 1 a.m. and I’m seriously sleep deprived. But during my shower, I realized how very wrong my belabored explanation of BATNA really was- and what it should look like instead. So, I had to type that out and send it to Zaid before I went to bed.

Amman, January 19, 2015

Today was my third day of training in Amman and the first day of Designing and Delivering Dynamic Learning.

When I used the metaphor of a kaleidoscope for interest based negotiation, the group had a difficult time coming up with creative relationships. Today, however, when I asked them how good training is like a slinky, they were bubbling over with ideas. What a difference two days make!

The training day went well and we accomplished everything I planned. However, we had another late start because apparently a 9 a.m. starting time was considered a mere suggestion rather than a requirement. Zaid spoke to that later in the morning when everyone had finally arrived. It’s definitely not on the scale that I experienced in Kenya and Zambia- people are late by minutes or half hour increments, not by several hours.

It requires a lot of time and patience when training a group that includes folks who have difficulty reading and speaking English. I have to give many examples, be careful to speak slowly with silences for the listeners to catch up or get a translation from another participant. And of course I have some difficulty understanding their language or their meaning when they speak up, which they all do. So, they feel comfortable, which is terrific. I just have to be very careful with the words I choose and to explain any idioms I use.

For example, they weren’t clear on what pros and cons are, or what it means to “wing it” as opposed to planning a lesson. Because they are translating, they are very literal.

Immediately after lunch, we had a great time using the peg system I came up with to help them learn the LESSON design process. The idea of the peg system is to use whole body learning to help learning and retention.

I had them all stand up.

For the needs assessment step, I had them pretend to pour something into an empty cup.

For the learning goals step, I had them point their arms straight ahead and move two steps to represent the 2 learning goals.

For the learning objectives, I first had them pretend to shoot an arrow. Then, for the three sub steps: I had them pretend to put a key in a lock to represent the key content, lay one hand on top of the other several times to represent learning levels, and pretend to drive a racing car saying “whoosh!” to represent the active verb.

For the agenda, I had them count the fingers of one hand.

For the learning activities, I had them pretend to look through binoculars (to meet the needs of visual learners), put a hand behind their ear (to meet the needs of aural learners), and hop up and down (to meet the needs of kinesthetic learners).

For evaluation, I had them pretend to use a magnifying glass and search the floor.

They got a real kick out of it and so did I!

We successfully ended the day with four groups who created learning goals and objectives pretty well working on their own. The test will be what they do tonight on an individual basis. I’ll have to review 22 partial lesson plans (containing goals and objectives) during the session so I can return them so the participant can complete the rest of the lesson plan (agenda, learning activities, durations, materials, and means of evaluation) for my review on the third day.

I had lunch with Hala, who has her masters degree in human resources and serves as a project manager for Mercy Corps, and with Dena, who is a civil engineer working on her masters in counseling (through an online course with an American university). Dena would like to set up a Life Line service for suicide prevention. She says that the rates of suicide in Jordan have greatly increased, due to the economy, conflict between Jordanians and Syrians, increased costs, and decreased availability of jobs, housing, and access to education due to the Syrian influx.

Hala explained that when the Iraqis came to Jordan five or more years ago, they were wealthy and self-confident. They quickly moved into the most expensive part of Amman, where they are now the sole occupants.

When the Syrian refugees began arriving three years ago, they were poor and unsure of themselves. They have taken jobs away from Jordanians because the Syrians will work for less and provide the same quality. When they wanted to move out of the refugee camps in the north to move into Amman, rents in Amman increased because the Syrians are subsidized, so Jordanian landlords hike up the rents one and two times the original rates because they know the Syrians will be able to pay them.

I asked Hala how much longer she felt that Jordan could continue to take in refugees and she said that Jordan’s resources were already stretched too thin to accommodate everyone who is there now.

This evening, Zaid and Morad picked me up at 7:30 to take me out. It was so funny, this is the very first time I have been outside since I came here late Friday night. I didn’t even know where the exit door was!

Zaid drove a hybrid car with all sorts of bells and whistles. He told me that he used to be someone who could leave the job when he went home and have pleasant dreams. Now he has nightmares and is continually stressed. Apparently, he manages a staff that is currently down to 6 people to complete 36 projects in 3 years. These projects begin with community mapping, asking community leaders to submit applications and undergo interviews to see whose communities have needs for services, setting up all the logistics for 40 community meetings, teaching proposal writing so the leaders can submit their project proposals, reviewing the proposals and then handling everything related to implementing the projects: budgets, procurement of supplies, contracts with vendors or consultants, etc., etc. Just one of those projects is a health care center that had to be constructed. The amount of work is astounding!

We first went to the Amman Citadel, which is 7000 years old!!! It sits on top of one of the 7 hills of Jordan and the view at night, both looking down into the valleys and over to the other hills, was magnificent.

Then we went downtown, where we met Heba and Heba, two of his staff who are also in my training. We went to a very Spartan looking restaurant owned by a friend of Zaid’s in order for me to try the Jordanian dish called mansaf. It is made with flat bread, yellow rice with nuts, a special yogurt made from jameed (Zaid said it’s like stones and salty before it is soaked in water), and lamb. You’re supposed to have enough yogurt mixed into the dish to be able to eat it without utensils by creating ballsl You eat with your right hand and keep your left hand behind your back. When you eat, you lean back in your chair so that you don’t spill into the common dish, since a large dish is placed on the table to be shared by all.

We used spoons and, despite my initial misgivings, it was quite tasty. Then Zaid said that traditionally the head of the lamb is placed in the middle of the bowl- and that the tongue and eyes are very tasty. Yikes!!!
It was somewhat smoky in the restaurant, but I didn’t say anything because they had been going to take me to a seafood restaurant they like. However, since people both smoke and use hookahs, they knew it would be too smoky for me.

Next, we went to get a special dessert called kanafeh, which is served warm and is very very sweet. The funny thing is that there are two of these exact same stores about a block away from each other and one is always empty (it has chairs and tables) and the other can have lines around the block and there is nowhere to sit). We did wait on line. People eat the kanafeh standing up, some browsing through a bookstore that has racks outside along both sides and in front of the tiny and apparently very famous bookstore (which is piled high with paperback books). It is run by a very old man. I asked Zaid, Morad and the Hebas (!) if anyone steals the books and Zaid explained that anyone who values books would not steal them.

We walked by another restaurant where the King and Queen come to eat because it serves terrific humus and falafel. Both the bookstore and the restaurant had photos of the King and Queen, both together and separately, sitting and eating, as well as talking with the bookstore owner.

On the way back to the hotel, Zaid explained that Syrians have influenced the Jordanian culture. While stores used to close early, they now stay open late. (in Syria and Egypt, Zaid said that all of the stores are open 24/7!)

He also voiced a fear about the issues in the Middle East. Right now, Jordan is stable, but he doesn’t know how long that will last. Jordan is like a small boat currently riding very treacherous seas.

It was a lovely outing with very gracious and funny folks. I had a lovely time and learned and saw a great deal. This is one of the best aspects of working in a foreign land!

Amman, January 20, 2015

Today was the second day of Designing and Delivering Dynamic Learning for Mercy Corps in Amman.

I was quite pleased with the participants’ home practice assignment, which was to create a lesson plan from needs assessment to goals to learning objectives, using a template that essentially asks them to identify what the learners will do to: define terms, explain the benefits of what they’ll be learning, identify any necessary tools or resources, describe the procedure involved and then practice what they have learned.

The participants got a kick out of my putting a happy face sticker on their lesson plans.
They love the toys. Today they earned little star stamps (which they stamped on flip charts, their manual, themselves and each other- in reward for identifying different creative learning activities they could use to accomplish one objective! They also earned bendable pink flamingoes in reward for completing their in class lesson plans: designing the agenda, selecting learning activities and their duration, and determining a means of evaluation. They really did a great job!

I had lunch with Ahlam and Jamila. Jamila travels an hour and a half from Amman to the Syrian camps to do child protection work with the refugees, and then travels back. She has been doing that for two years I think and it is emotionally exhausting work. I may be confusing who does what, because I know that Ahlam also works with children.

Jamila said that when she volunteered to take a job working in the Syrian camps, her friends and family warned her that it would be dangerous and she would be attacked. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened, but both Jamila and Ahlam said that working with the Syrian refugees has made them change their own values and perspectives on life. For example, Jamila said that she used to always buy the most recent and expensive things. If her phone got scratched, she would buy a new phone, etc. Now she realizes that these things have little value compared to safety, security, family, etc.

Oh, I just have to comment on Nour, who is a petite, beautiful young woman who received her master’s and began her own project despite being in her mid-twenties, which I was told were very unusual achievements for someone her age. She was sitting with a plate piled high with various desserts. I can’t imagine where she was putting it all! (And yes, that is envy you hear in my voice…)

Just after lunch, Monther (who is involved in outdoor experiential learning, has dreadlocks tied up in a bunch on his head, a long black beard, beautiful eyes and an incredibly fast and creative mind) led us in an energizer. We formed a large circle out in the break area (which was incredibly smoky due to a large conference next door) and held hands.

Our first task was to say and do what he said to do, which included: jumping in, jumping out, jumping to the right and jumping to the left. Then we were to say what he said but do the opposite- so if he said jump in, we were supposed to say jump in while jumping out. The instructions to jump to the right or left resulted in folks bumping into each other as some when one way and the others went the other way.

The last task was to do what he said but to say the opposite of what he said. So, if he said jump out, we were supposed to jump out but say jump in.

It was a great energizer because of the movement and jumping, as well as the laughter it continually generated.

The day was unusually tiring and stressful for me because I had to try to review and comment upon or revise the submitted partial lesson plans, while still facilitating the class. Every break, someone came up to me with issues or questions, so I had absolutely no down time. I always know it will be a trial to review and return the home practice so that the participants can take it home again to complete the lesson plans. It is worth the effort because it is the only way that the participants and I know that they understand and can design their own lesson plan.

All of the lesson plans, by the way, dealt with serious work subjects: child rights, child protection, proposal writing, conflict management- which is what their projects are about.

This may be TMI, but I have not discovered how to take a shower without literally creating a pool of water on the bathroom floor. I must not be the only one faced with this problem, because the bathroom is a short step down from the bedroom hall floor.
I’ve asked them to fix it and presumably they came and did something, but whatever it was didn’t resolve the problem.

It’s a good thing I’m so exhausted by the time I finally get to bed, because there is major construction happening right next door and it continues all through the night!!

Speaking of which, it is definitely time for me to get to bed.

Amman, January 21, 2015

Today was the third day of Designing and Delivering Dynamic Learning for Mercy Corps in Amman.

I realized today that most of the participants are in their twenties. Many of them, both single men and women, still live with their families. Their mothers cook and clean for them.

The women in the class fall into three categories. There are the women who I think may be Christian (I know at least one definitely is) who wear Western clothing and nothing on their heads.

There are young Muslim women who are very stylishly dressed (tight pants and very high heeled shoes) and wear a close fitting cap and headscarf, which may be very colorful and long, so it drapes beautifully around their heads and their shoulders. Their make-up (particularly beautiful eyes and bold eye brows) is obvious yet perfect.

There are other young Muslim women who wear an over garment that looks like a very long coat and comes in a variety of colors and designs. I’ve noticed that the women coordinate their head caps with their over garments. These over garments are very loose, although some wear a belt with theirs. Most of the women have been wearing some type of stylish boot, since it is quite cold here right now (in the 30’s and 40’s F). However, others wear sneakers.

Oh, I spoke with the young petite woman who had such a pile of desserts on her plate. She said that she took a bite of each one, but ended up just eating fruit because the desserts did not taste as good as they looked. She also told me that she only eats on meal: a late lunch. My stomach started growling just to hear that! She does it to stay slim.

Today was also tiring (I think they all will be because I’m tired!) because I was trying to review and revise the lesson plans that now include an agenda and learning activities.

Again, for the most part I was quite pleased with their creativity in their choices of learning activities. Since I had left over happy face stickers from the first day of the training (when the participants had to select the learning objectives that they felt most important and put a sticker next to them), I put happy face stickers on the lesson plans yesterday. So, of course, I had to put another happy face sticker on them after I reviewed them a second time.

I spent an hour and a half after class with Nour, who is not confident with his English ability. It took that time to work through what I expected, what he intended, what he wrote, where it needed to be revised, what needed to be added, etc. He is very serious about learning how to design a lesson plan- in this case, for a time management class he’ll be giving in a few weeks.

When we were done, he pointed to the ring on his right hand (I think) and invited me to his engagement and birthday party this coming Saturday. It was such a sweet invitation and I sincerely wish I could attend. Unfortunately, as I told Nour, I need to leave for the airport immediately after our last session on Saturday.

The poor guy. He is apparently reading the day’s materials over again in the evening, then reading the next day’s materials so he will be more likely to understand what we are talking about. And he is busy with all of the logistics involved in an engagement party. Yikes!

I hadn’t reviewed Islam’s lesson plan and I thought she was going to wait until tomorrow. But no, she kept peeking into the room. So, at one point, Nour got up so Islam could sit and talk with me about hers. She is a lovely person (as is everyone) and very committed to conducting good training. We had a great discussion and came with some new activities to go along with what she had previously planned.

There were some really funny moments today. I had the participants write down a motivational challenge they face with their participants, roll up the paper and insert it into a balloon. They then had to blow up the balloon and tie it. A few of the women needed someone else (another women in all cases) to blow up the balloons for them!

Then they gathered in a circle with the instruction that, as soon as I started playing music, they should bat the balloons back and forth to each other, trying to keep as many in the air as possible. When the music stopped, they were supposed to grab a balloon that was a different color than their balloon and prick it. Ahlam was a stitch because she had a pin and went around pricking the balloons for folks.

They had a blast batting the balloons around. Then they had to recommend solutions to the challenge written on the paper that was in the balloon they now had in hand.

Shadi read his, regarding a participant who talks too much, and then handed it to Heba saying that she had experienced this and could explain how to handle it. I didn’t catch the entire comment, so I assumed he was actually referring to Heba, because she does this. Later, when I had lunch with Zaid and we were discussing this, he agreed that he had thought the comment referred to Heba. He said that it is only when she speaks in English that she says the same things over and over again (because she is unsure of her English). She comes straight to the point when she speaks in Arabic.

Two challenges were poignant problems. One, helping parents with disabled children come to training about how to integrate them into the schools. Apparently, they stop just outside the door to the classroom and leave because they are embarrassed and/or guilty about having a disabled child. We discussed the idea that changing the title of the workshop to something like: Helping the Differently Abled Student Succeed in the Classroom and approaching the discussion of the children from the standpoint of their being differently abled instead of disabled might help to address this issue.

The other issue pertained to participants who come into the classroom with a current history of conflict between them. Focusing on mutual interests, doing a variety of team building activities, helping people see that they share the same human needs, activities that had them virtually walk in each other’s shoes, were all very effective approaches.

There was a lot of talk about how to handle bullies in classes with teenagers. Having them assist the facilitator (so s/he can keep a close watch on the behavior), giving them responsibility (since they may act as bullies to get attention), recognizing that they may not be bad children, just mirroring what they have possibly experienced themselves, and calling them on their behavior might be good solutions.

I suggested giving them a star for each day they “behaved” themselves, or giving team stars if everyone cooperates with each other. When a certain amount of stars is accrued, the individual and/or team would get a small prize or privilege. Nour said that he was dealing with teenagers, but Hala retorted that it didn’t matter. Given how the adults in the class went gaga over the small toys I’ve been handing out, even teenagers would be receptive to similar recognition and reward.

Oh, on a side note, Jamila told me happily that my advice to her yesterday had worked like a charm. She had told me that she is exhausted when she gets home after the long trip to and from the Syrian refugee camp, but she never has any time to decompress because her son jumps on her the minute she walks in the door. I had suggested that she talk with him (he is 8) and explain that she needs an hour to herself when she gets home. She said he gave her that hour, watching the digital clock to see when the hour would be up.

Later, the participants had to pull an object out of a bag and give a 2-minute presentation. Monther was hysterically funny. He began by asking if anyone in the room was stupid (1 person raised her hand!) Then he asked if anyone in the room hated to be around stupid people. (Almost all raised their hands). Next he produced a packet with a flair, explaining that it included pills of wisdom that they could purchase. Perhaps you had to be there, because I’m certainly not capturing his demeanor and timing. It was wonderful!

We only got through 10 presentations, so we need to finish with the remaining ten tomorrow morning. I told the group that we would begin exactly at 9 a.m. with Heba’s presentation- and if they wanted to show her respect, they would be in the room at that time. Hmmm, I guess we’ll see.

Amman, January 22, 2015

Today was the fourth day of Designing and Delivering Dynamic Learning for Mercy Corps in Amman.

Well, most of the folks got to the classroom by 9:10, so they did what must have been their best to be here for Heba. And it’s a good thing that they were here.

Heba Asaad had selected an American Idol toy microphone and she did her presentation in a wonderfully creative way. She first asked me to let her use some classical music. Then she began by asking the group what one word came to mind when they saw the microphone. Dream was one of the responses.

She turned on the music, asked the group to close their eyes and think about their dreams. For the visualization, she asked them to think about their dreams, what are they, who supports them in their striving to make that dream a reality, who would they like to include in their dream realization, how far were they along in reaching their dreams, and was it too late for them to fulfill their dreams. When she had them open their eyes, she asked them again, was it too late? They all said “no,” and she concluded with a strong message to pay attention and work consciously toward their dreams. It was very powerful.

Dalia began her presentation with a role-play. Magd lay on the floor and Morad dropped litter all over her. Dalia explained that Magd represented Mother Earth and Morad represented human beings. She then gave an impassioned speech regarding our responsibility to take care of Mother Earth so she can take care of us. Her prop? A plush carrot!

Mohammad was terrific. He introduced not as Mohammad, but instead as a long list of numbers, explaining that he came from Pluto with a special product to help us. He split the group up: one side of the room feared thieves and the other feared that they were too busy to recognize their children’s accomplishments. He asked the groups how they typically dealt with their fears. Aa’la said that if she heard a thief, she would hide in her bed. Heba said that she would give her children chocolate as a reward. Then Mohammad showed us his prop, a toy clapper gun. He explained that it would solve both group’s fears: if they heard a thief, they could use the clapper to scare the thief away. If they were busy, the parents could use the clapper to applaud their child. It was outrageous and brilliant!

Morad came with a screwdriver and a measuring tape. He asked the group to identify them and then requested creative ideas for using each that did not involve house maintenance. The responses were hilarious. I won’t repeat what the men could measure with the measuring tape!

After lunch, Monther set up a spectacular team building game. He split the group into three groups of six and had each group sit in a circle. He took three magic markers and looped three long thin cords around each marker. Then he gave the members of each group one of the cords, with the marker facing downward. He took the cap off of the marker and pointed to a sheet of paper in the middle of the circle directly under the marker.

The groups’ first task was to draw a circle with the marker, which required great coordination and teamwork. The two groups with a majority of women had no trouble. The group that was entirely men had great trouble. When we debriefed the groups later, Zaid explained, they had wanted him to lead them and when he said he led enough, each of the other men decided to lead at the same time!

The next task was to draw a triangle. Again, the women-dominated groups completed the task very quickly, while the male group struggled.

The last task was to draw a rectangle and then a circle within the rectangle. The women-dominated groups managed this easily, while the men’s group was completely unable to do it.

It was a terrific game that I definitely plan to use for teambuilding training in the future!

We ended the day with a relay race that I set up, where the two groups (A and 1) competed against each other to complete words or phrases completing each letter in LEARNING ACTIVITIES (which was written vertically, one letter below the other, on flip charts.) They had a terrific time and were incredibly noisy. We did this out in the large hall where the tea things were set out. The groups had just one letter to go when the manager came to tell us that there was a conference meeting next door and we were too noisy. I felt absolutely terrible about it- and I wondered why in heaven’s name the manager, who had been watching us!!!, hadn’t said anything earlier.

We took our noisy debriefing back into our classroom.

So, it was quite a day- and these were only the highlights!

Amman, January 23, 2015

Today was the fifth day of Designing and Delivering Dynamic Learning for Mercy Corps in Amman.

I had the breakfast I have had every day: fresh pineapple, kiwi, orange, grapefruit, strawberry and banana, with almonds and apricots. Just delicious! And frequently the orange juice is fresh squeezed.

I realized today as I sat where I have always sat, facing out the window on small shrubs, palm trees and profuse geranium plants, that I have never seen a bird there at any time. When I mentioned that to the hostess (who is from Romania via Italy) she agreed- no birds, no bird song. Strange.

When I got to the training room, it was open but the “tea” items: pastries of every kind, “American” coffee and hot water for tea, that have been there by 8:30 a.m. every day were nowhere in sight. Nor could I find any manager to turn on the LCD projector. Then I realized that this was Friday and that many men spend several hours praying in the mosque.

Everything finally arrived, but too late for some of the sleepy coffee drinkers.

We began with a game led by Morad, who looks like a big cuddly bear, is very bright, continually questioning and much larger than life. He split the group in half and one half was blindfolded. That was interesting. We didn’t have any cloth, so Dia cut up paper lengthwise, taped them together, and then I made a triangle to let their noses poke through. We then taped them to people, using an index card between both sides of the “mask” so we didn’t tape anyone’s hair. The women who wore headscarves didn’t mind having the masks taped to their scarves.

Morad had set up a virtual obstacle course in the lounge by moving armchairs at different angles. The blindfolded team had one leader who could see to direct them to get through the obstacle course. The other team was instructed to keep the blindfolded team from getting to their goal (arm chairs and sofas in another room). The catch was that the obstructing team could not touch or stand in the other team’s way.

I wondered how they would manage and then I discovered their plan: Making as much noise as possible, drumming on furniture, yelling, snapping their fingers, singing, etc. This made it almost impossible for the blindfolded folks (9 of them) to follow their leader’s voice. And some of the obstructing team mimicked the leader’s voice and led the unsuspecting blindfolded person in the wrong direction. They actually got Nour to sit down on a chair and Dia to sit down on the floor, far from their ending place.

When the leader had managed to somehow get all but these two to the final goal, she tried to lead Nour. Unfortunately, everyone on the obstructing team gathered close to him shouting and making as much noise as possible. Nour finally completely lost it, striking out with his arms and legs to try to make them move away. It was funny to watch at the time, but later his stress manifested in a rather violent way.

The teams were switched, Morad moved the armchair obstacles (a good thing, because I had watched Nadia pacing off how to get to the end goal!) and off they went. However, Amjad was wise to the problem of the noise, so he arranged to lead only two of his team at a time and was very effective, despite all of the yelling. This is when Nour
starting shoving people, bumping into them and breaking all of the rules with his erratic and violent behavior. Even Morad, who tried to haul him away several times, was unsuccessful.

Then, just before Amjad got his last pair of teammates to the goal, a manager came over to us to tell us there was a conference next door. A different manager had told me there would not be any conference to worry about- and Morad had also checked and received the same misinformation. So we tried to get the obstructing team to yell softly…

It was a great exercise concerning teamwork, trust and communication. I think my ears are still ringing!

After lunch, Monther led the group in another game called handcuffs! He lined everyone up in a parallel line, paired the folks facing each other and handed each a piece of cord. One line was told to use slipknots to create handcuffs for themselves and place them on both of their wrists. The other line was told to create the handcuffs but only place them on one wrist. Monther then looped the loose cord over the other person’s handcuff and finished handcuffing the person who had only had one hand in a cuff.

Their task was to separate their handcuffs without taking them off. It was hysterical to watch the problem-solving going on. People would duck under each other, only to find that the cuff cords still stayed crossed. One pair (Amjad and Dia) figured out that if they turned away from each other, the cord came uncrossed but they were still handcuffed to each other.

One pair, I think Heba and Islam, got so tangled up that the cord was tight around Heba’s arms and I was concerned that she might not be able to move! However, eventually they figured out how to separate themselves (I think).

Then Monther demonstrated that, by looping one of one person’s handcuffs under one of the other person’s handcuffs, it was possible to disconnect the cords while keeping the handcuffs on. I imagine that this explanation doesn’t give you a good picture of the solution, but it was very simple and elegant.

It was a great team building and problem solving game.

The content for today included a role-play: the package tour case. This involved 6 travel agents who were supposed to decide the order, length of days and feature to be highlighted on a travel brochure to all 6 countries. Each of the players had a specific role with information about the country and any special secrets or concerns.

Two groups (predominated by females, by the way) decided to collaborate rather than compete and create a tour that would be nicest for the tourists- instead of jockeying for longer stays during the beginning and ending of the tour when they were told that tourists tend to do most of their buying. They also created lovely colorful brochures on flip chart paper, with pictures of the highlighted features.

The third group, predominated by the men, decided to use tricks, lies and attacks, plus secret agreements and alliances. This involved a lot of posturing and yelling, so much so that the two women just retreated (in good fun).

The other major activity was a team leadership hands on activity involving the creation of a Tinker Toy merry go round. The teams were impeded by Voices of Reality, who would make a team member leave, or take away critical pieces, or impose obstructions (intended to represent the typical types of interruptions that teams face (lack of staff, lack of resources, laws and regulations, etc.) Interestingly, three women chose to play that role.

Then the fun began, because Morad started chasing Nour (a female- yes we had a female and a male Nour), around the table and the room because she took some critical pieces and wouldn’t give them back. This went on for a while until he cornered her near the door, grabbed the pieces and shoved her out the door. He then leaned against the door to keep her from getting back in. Around that time, Mohammad (another team leader) decided that he had had enough with the Voice of Reality for his team (Ahlam) and strong-armed her out the door. Morad pushed Mohammad out as well and when I pointed this out, Morad said that he didn’t care about the other team!

I finally got him to let everyone back in, only to discover that Amjad had taken the phone from his team’s Voice of Reality (Aa’la) and was threatening to drop it into a glass of water. To say that these guys took their merry go round making task seriously is an understatement! He was teasing, of course, but he wouldn’t give her phone back until I promised that the Voices of Reality would lay back and stop interfering now.

It was fascinating that the group that finished first (with two engineers) made the merry go round exactly to specs- while the other two groups make merry go rounds that revolved but looked very different from each other. They had a blast.

We also discussed the use of metaphors in accelerated learning. Then I had each group select a topic and identify a metaphor. I had expected that they would just tell me what the metaphor was but no- they liked drawing pictures. For problem solving, they chose the metaphor of a diseased tree. Ahlam did a lovely job drawing the tree with good and rotten apples, the roots with worms! Talk about getting to the root cause. (I know, that’s a bad pun).

For communication skills, they drew a man (with beard and head covering) and a woman playing ping-pong. A great metaphor for the sender, receiver and message.

The third group drew stairs, I think for program management.

Two issues consumed a great deal of time. One was the need for all of the men to leave to go to pray for 45 minutes. During that time, Nadia asked what learning activities could be used to teach neural plasticity. We suggested the game we played yesterday (to try to draw shapes); to ask what the participants can do now that they couldn’t do before; to have them read something written backwards or without vowels; and to have them draw themselves as an animal, vehicle or food. The drawing itself wasn’t important, but the characteristics associated with the image (a fast car or slow bus, stale toast or an ice cream sundae, etc.) were. I had them do this activity and it was very revealing.

The other issue was how to split up the group for tomorrow’s facilitation practice. We had originally planned that we would have 3 rooms, for 7 in a room. The folks with me would facilitate their self-designed learning activity in English. The participants in the other two rooms were free to facilitate their activities in Arabic.

Today, we asked who wanted to be in my room- and everyone raised their hands! Since I couldn’t possibly videotape 18 people (we found out we would be losing a few to work responsibilities) in the time available, I suggested that I could review the activities facilitated in English in the other room by watching their videos and sending them my feedback. I thought that satisfied them, but then it was asked if they could just go to two rooms, with 9 people videotaped in each.

I spent the first part of the lunch break trying to figure it out. I offered them two alternatives: one where they would have 45 minutes to prepare in class before the facilitation practice began, but they would only have a half hour lunch. The other gave them only about 20 minutes of in class preparation, but they could have the entire hour for lunch.

Jamila suggested that we skip lunch entirely because, as Nadia reiterated, everyone would be so nervous they wouldn’t be able to eat. Both Zaid and I thought that a half hour lunch shouldn’t be such a hardship and decided in favor of lunch.

So tomorrow everyone is on notice to get to the classroom by or before 9, so we can play a Jeopardy comprehension-checking game and they will have enough time to prepare their flip charts, etc.

I asked Zaid about transportation to the airport tomorrow after the session. He hadn’t realized that I was flying out tomorrow. They had apparently planned for everyone to go out together to celebrate the end of our 8 days together. I feel awful (on many levels) that I can’t stay. We’ll end the session by 5 p.m., I’ll have everyone help me tear down the room and repack my suitcases, and I’ll be on my way to the airport by 6 p.m. since I have to check in by 6:30. My flight leaves at 8:30.

So, I have just finished packing everything I have in my room. I’ll take that suitcase and my carry ons to the training room, so I can leave from there.

Oh, on an entirely separate note, my “nonsmoking” room has been very touch and go. Clearly, someone smokes in the room next to mine, and the smoke comes through the wall where my bed is and where my shower is. Last night I was almost in tears because I was trying to wash off the smoke from today and smelling the smoke in the shower.

So today I noticed a guest relations desk and complained. She explained that I was actually on a nonsmoking floor (you could have fooled me! A very noisy group congregated in the lobby near the elevators for at least two hours, smoking up a storm).
She said that the people on this floor had specifically requested to be a non-smoking floor.

I didn’t say this to her, but it seems to me that housekeeping would be very aware of cigarette ashes in the rooms.

What I’ve learned is to not only ask for a nonsmoking room, but also for a non-smoking floor- and a guarantee that the rooms on either side of my room do not contain smokers.

I have loved the people in the class, but I have hated all the smoke. To not even have a smoke free haven in my room was the last straw!

In anticipation of packing to travel, I asked the room service guy who brought me my nightly small chicken Caesar salad to tell me which Jordanian coins (they are huge and very very heavy) made 1 JOD. I was able to unburden myself of 5 coins as part of the 3 JOD I leave housekeeping every day. Hurray!

I still have about 20 JOD and I think I can convert them to AED in Dubai. I’ll probably end up with 50 AED, which is great because I have not had a moment to shop here at all. I’ll be interested to see what Dubai has to offer.

I think I’ve chatted on long enough.

January 15-16, Travel to Amman

Today was the sixth and last day of Designing and Delivering Dynamic Learning for Mercy Corps in Amman.

I checked out and had a porter bring my two heavy bags and heavy carry-on bag down to the training room. This involved going by elevator to the -2 floor, and then walking up steps. No way was I willing or able to do it myself. I gave him a good tip!

We began the session with Jeopardy, which they really enjoyed. They were able to answer most of the questions, which was very gratifying. One table ended up with 280 points, with the table closest to them earning 160 points. So, you can tell that the winning table had either learned the content from the week very well or just on a hot streak! Actually, their ace in the hole was Aa’lia, who answered almost all of the questions for her table. At the end of the day, she got a perfect score on the posttest!

After receiving instructions and standing to give the feedback pledge, the group had 45 minutes to prepare their flip charts (since no PowerPoint was allowed). I watched with fascination as Dena wrote a complex word search puzzle on a flip chart. Yikes!

Everyone was very busy. Then 15 minutes before we were to begin, Dia came to me with a memory card for his activity. Somehow he had missed ALL of my warnings that only flip charts and handouts would be accepted. I don’t know how he expected me to do anything with a memory card and my MacBook Air, anyway. So, he really had to hustle to create his flip charts. I don’t know if he was even able to take our 30-minute lunch, because he was in the room drawing when I came back into the classroom!

There were some absolutely wonderful activities that folks created. The highlights included the following;

Heba Asaad created a game about the seven factors of communication. She split the eight people into four teams. The A teams at each table were given play dough and a secret message they were supposed to communicate to the B team without writing out words.

Then she placed clown masks on the A team so, when the B team was asking closed questions to try to ferret out the message, they wouldn’t be able to read the body language of the A team, who could only nod yes or no. She then introduced a list of the seven factors and asked the participants to identify where each factor came into play. Just wonderful!

Dalia used an art project to deal with the issue of inter-gender violence in Jordan. She separated the participants into two table groups of 4, handed them a blank flipchart and asked each person to draw in a corner of the flipchart a picture of a good relationship between a man and a woman (husband/wife, father/daughter, brother/sister, etc.) Then she had the tables pass their flipchart to the other table and told them to “ruin” the relationship. When they had completed that, she had them pass the flipcharts back to the original tables. She first asked them how they had felt when they drew the good relationships (peaceful, happy, safe, loving) and next how they felt when they saw their ruined pictures (angry, hurt, sad, depressed). She used this to lead into a discussion of the nature of male/female relationships in Jordan and finally concluded with a passionate summary of the current level of violence, particularly against women.

Nour had a wonderful game to check the participants’ retention of the five interest based negotiation concepts: separate the people from the problem; focus on interests, not positions; generate options for mutual gain; rely on objective standards; and keep your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) in your hip pocket. She created a game “board” composed of squares of paper with different numbers on them, 1-10 I believe. She had two teams with four on one team and three on the other. The fourth person was given a special assignment.

She instructed team A to read a content card to team B. If the team B could answer it, they got the number of points represented by the number on the top of the “board” square (which had the correct answer written on the opposite side). If team B had difficulty answering the question, they could ask the special assignment person to read three options from which they could select an answer. If they selected the correct answer from the options, they got half of the points.

Unfortunately, because she was so conscious of the 10-minute time limit, she gave them written instructions but no time to read them. Her description of the instructions left them confused and the wording of the questions, with little time to read the English and reflect on the answer, led to a number of wrong answers. With changes to these issues, the game will be a great way to check their comprehension.

Morad created another terrific game on the subject of conflict management. He lined up the group on two sides of a masking tape line. He then instructed each side to do anything in their power to get the other side over to their side. It was fun to watch Nadia trying to entice MagD with koosh balls and prizes (she apparently told MagD that she would arrange for me to give the koosh balls to MagD!) Others pulled or pushed each other, tried reasoning, tried bribery. It was pretty noisy and chaotic.

Then he had them sit at the tables and review a list of 10 questions related to the activity, such as “what happened,” “why,” etc. After they answered the questions, they discussed their different observations and rationales. He ultimately related their answers and the experience to three key points. One of these was the importance of reflecting rather than reacting. Just great!

We kept to our planned time of 25 minutes per person, so we were able to take our half hour lunch break, return to the facilitated practice sessions and conclude that as planned by 3:40. Although they had one less person, for some reason the other room took longer.

I was heartbroken when I heard about their experience. A “master trainer” had been invited in to provide feedback. Apparently, he would jab out 5 fingers to let them know they only had 5 minutes left, and one finger when they had one minute left. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he cut them down so much he brought many of the women to tears. Ahlam came in claiming that she would never do her activity again, because he had undercut her confidence so brutally. When both groups reconvened, I first apologized for their experience (the fellow was in the room with us but I don’t know if he was listening to my criticism- or maybe I was able to manage to stay somewhat diplomatic.)

I explained that the intention of the facilitation practice and feedback was to build their confidence in their own competence and creativity. I asked them if the feedback that they received from their peers was positive and helpful and they all agreed. So, I told them to focus on that feedback and ignore anything else.

The debriefing discussion was best summarized by Aa’lia and Heba when they said with radiant smiles on their faces that they learned that they could create their own learning activities without relying on anyone else. Hurray!

This was such an appreciative, loving, creative and warm bunch. I always end these long programs with a celebration. I give them small bottles of bubbles and tell them to start blowing bubbles when I begin the music, which is ”Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. At some point, after they’ve been blowing bubbles for a while, I ask them to thank people in the class whose participation helped make their learning experience rich. They immediately went to each other and ultimately all came around me, blowing bubbles all over me and thanking me. It was lovely, if somewhat wet and soapy!

Then Zaid came to the front to thank me formally for coming to conduct the program- and to provide gifts from the class. First, he gave me a beautiful plaque with a mosaic of the tree of life in the middle. Then, two magnets of a Jordanian man and woman- very cute. Next, coasters with pictures from various places in Jordan. After that, an exquisite box with hand embroidery. And there was even more! A beautiful silken shawl. I was overwhelmed by their generosity.

We posed for funny group photos, then everyone zoomed around (mostly the women!) taking down the kites, gathering all the table toys, putting the markers back into their boxes, and literally packing me up! I need to take them everywhere!!

Then, to the fleet person provided by Mercy Corps for the 30+ minute drive to the airport. When we got there, I tried to give him a tip for carrying all three of the heavy bags to place them on a trolley, but he wouldn’t accept it.

Finding out where to go once I got inside the airport was a challenge, but I finally found out where to stand to go through a passport check, then where to go to stand in another line to get my ticket and hand over my luggage, (where some kind fellow standing behind me helped put my bag on the conveyer belt for me), then to another location to pay for the extra bag (at least they never weighed them, thank goodness!!!), then through a security check- and finally out to walk to the gate, after getting lost.

I found a non-smoking café and had a late dinner of chicken Caesar salad (I think my blood now runs with Caesar salad dressing!) and eventually went to my gate. My ticket said that we would board at 8:15. Nope. Not until 9:20-although that is actually when we got on a bus to go the plane. A man kindly gave up his seat for me, and then when we got to the airplane and had to climb lots of stairs, another man offered to carry it up for me. At one point I said that it was very heavy and he probably hadn’t realized what he was in for- and he agreed!

The good news is that I was able to start typing up this email during the waiting time in the airport. I also have a seat that has lots of legroom, just not much butt room!

I feel wonderful about my time in Amman and it sounds like Zaid would like to have me return. That would be lovely. I would just insist on having weekends to recuperate next time!

Now that the exhilaration has worn off, I’m exhausted. Time to pack up my laptop.

Dubai, January 25, 2015

Today was my first day in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

I actually arrived about 3 a.m. because our flight from Amman was delayed. My Nook hasn’t been holding a charge, so I was at a loss as to what to do for the duration of the flight. A kind man sitting next to me saw me struggling to get the movie remote out of the side of my seat. It took a number of efforts over the course of a half hour, but he finally dislodged it and I was able to watch a movie.

Again, a kind passenger helped me get my heavy carryon down from the overhead rack.

Once more, a very very long walk, then two escalators up, then one escalator down- I lost track! We first went through passport control. It looked like there were possibly 2000 people in different lines. It only took 20 minutes to get through. All of the stations that I saw were manned by men of Dubai, wearing floor length white robes that look like shirts at the top and long white head scarfs held in place by a thick black cord.

Our carry-on bags were screened, but I didn’t have to take anything out. Then, when I got to the baggage carousel, there were my bags just coming around the corner.

Next, through customs where they placed my luggage on the conveyer belt, took it off on the other side and sent me on my way. What a huge difference from my experience in the Amman airport!

My taxi was still there, thank goodness. On the drive to the hotel, my driver told me that he was Pakistani and likes living in Dubai because it offers something that few Arab countries offer, and that Pakistan definitely does not provide: safety, security, and a fair judicial system.

He told me to avoid the large shopping malls- other than to tour them- and instead to shop in smaller places because this was the beginning of two months of sales. Unfortunately, my hotel is quite a distance from the metro and the downtown, so he told me that taxis would cost 50 AED. Now divide that by 3 and you know what that would be in dollars.

He also advised me to seek an exchange rather than exchange my money at the hotel if they gave a rate lower than the one he gave me. Quite honestly, I’m still so tired I don’t remember what it was, but I do know that the hotel clerk advised me to go elsewhere to get a better rate.

After the sumptuous accommodations I enjoyed in Amman, this hotel is like a Holiday Inn. The room is tiny, the bathroom offers no amenities (not even a bar of soap or a glass) although there is a soap dispenser for the sink and in the tub. However, this room has the best lighting I’ve ever had in any hotel and the room smells fresh and clean, with no smoke (what a relief!)

I don’t like the shower. First of all, I couldn’t figure out how to work it. The faucet looks like a thick horizontal tube, with the ability to spin both ends. I could not figure out how to get hot water and then how to get more than a dribble from the shower. I think that the shower only dribbles, which makes me glad that my hair is so short! At least here I won’t be getting water all over the floor!

By the time I was in my room, it was almost 5 a.m. I emailed my contact to let him know I would be able to meet with him around 3:30 p.m.

The bed is very hard and so are the pillows, so I do miss my bed in Amman!

When I got up and checked my messages at 2:45, I saw that my contact had replied to my email saying that he had to leave at 4 to pick up his children- so he hoped I could come earlier. I tried to call him from the room, but I learned that I had to go buy a phone card. I tried to email him that I was ready (no breakfast other than a rather brown banana I brought from Amman), but it didn’t seem like he received it.

So, I went down to the lobby, where I found hordes of people checking in or out. I went back to my room, sent him another message (I don’t know how effective a message line that reads “Please read your email” is…), and then thought I could use Skype to call him. No dice, because he’s not on Skype.

Just when I had given up hope, I got a call that there was a driver to pick me up. I had packed everything I needed for this workshop into one bag after I got into the room earlier, so I was ready to go.

My hotel is in the Silicon Oasis, which has a huge building whose top looks like a pineapple. There are palm trees everywhere, which have to be watered. We took a few roundabouts and it only took about 10 minutes to get to my client’s building.

My client, who apparently took training from me in Jordan three years ago, greeted me. She explained that the participants are all scientists with doctorates who think they know everything they need to know. Hmmm..I wonder what they’ll do when they see how I’ve decorated the room.

The huge training room was set up in two ovals, despite the fact that not only had I sent the room layout I prefer, but that layout message was lying right there. We commandeered some folks to move everything- and by then I was sweltering. It is very humid!

I stayed to put up the kites (butterflies and fish), the agenda map, put items on the tables (there are three for 15 people), and then work with the IT guy to get my PowerPoint up and ready. They have a very high tech set up (that my Mac didn’t recognize) so he had to come up with another option. Then he wanted to show me that I could touch the screen to change the picture. He was so proud of this technology, that even when I explained that I don’t stand near the screen, he showed it to me anyway.

I left there after 5 p.m. and finally had something to eat in the restaurant. They were amazing- I could smell some of the smoke from the bar next door (I later saw the door between the restaurant and the bar was open) so they let me try different seats before I was comfortable. Then the person who I must assume is the manager saw my Nook and asked if I needed more light, which I did. So, they turned up the lights!

Then I asked Jasmine at the desk if there was someplace I could get a pedicure, since I wanted to be able to wear sandals. She arranged for it and then I had to find a taxi. That took some doing because not many taxis drove by and the first two the security guy and I flagged had no idea where the salon was. Finally, Jasmine came out and a taxi appeared so she was able to explain where to take me. Bless her heart.

The salon was only about 5-8 minutes away. I have had pedicures in Nigeria, Kenya, Trinidad, Amman, and America -and they are all different. This pedicure in Dubai was different in that I also received a back massage! How about that! After all my training and traveling, it was very welcome!

I modeled my new pretty toes to Jasmine and Jane at reception, both of whom had helped me. Everyone is very nice and that makes such a difference when you’re traveling.

Tomorrow I’ll be picked up at 7:30 (my choice), because the training will begin at 8:30. Ghazi assured me that most would be there by then. Since this is their work site, I should hope so!!

When he asked me when the training would start (we’d had numerous conversations via email on this matter) he said that he hoped I could end by 4, which had not been my plan at all. I am expected to teach two days of content in each day, so I need as much time as possible. However, he said that we could always take a few hours on a third day. How nice to have that option.

Time to get ready for bed.

Dubai, January 26, 2015

Today was Day One of a two-day Technical Trainers’ Toolbox in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

I had really been worried that the participants, all of whom are scientists with doctorates, would be put off by my butterfly and fish kites and the Koosh and other toys on the tables.

Boy, was I wrong! They loved the toys and the colors! They threw Koosh balls at each other over the breaks and at least one of the women started to dance to the music. They like how cozy the kites make the room feel.

Participatory training is completely new to most of them, so it was an interesting day. We built lesson plans for two of their work topics: climate control models and soil salinity mapping. My client is the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture and the participants were from many different countries: Pakistan, Tunisia, Syria, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Great Britain are those that I can remember.

This was a jam-packed day of lesson design content, but we somehow managed to complete it by 4 p.m., since people had to leave to pick up children, etc. Writing on the flip charts was somewhat challenging because they kept rolling away. I also had to read the cartoons and materials very slowly, with great emphasis, so that everyone could understand. However, that surprised me because it would seem that English is the only common language they possess.

Speaking of children, this is the second time on this trip that a female participant has asked me how to handle issues with their children (specifically, with their young male children). I’m not sure why they think I would have any useful information, but I try to be as helpful as I can. In her case, she is spoiling her two sons because she feels guilty about leaving them so she can go to work. I suggested that she negotiate a contract with them, describing the behavior that was acceptable, identifying the consequences for poor behavior, and defining privileges or rewards for a week of good behavior. I don’t get the sense that she is going to do anything differently, however.

I can see how cold it is in Wisconsin and have read about the upcoming blizzard for the East Coast. Today in Dubai was sunny, probably in the low 70’s with a nice breeze- it felt like spring to me, although it is really their winter! I went outside whenever I could and even opened doors to the outside when the room got too warm and stuffy. It turns out that they had not been running the air conditioner because it is noisy. They finally turned it on and my kite butterflies started to flap in the breeze. I thought they were going to fly!

The poor IT guy. I was able to set up the USB connection with the projector all by myself. When he came to check on me, he noticed that I was playing my iPod and asked if I would like to broadcast it through speakers in the room. Again, my Mac was incompatible with their system, so he solved the problem by placing a microphone in front of the iPod. I thought that this made the sound rather tinny and told him I’d prefer to keep things simple. I think that my refusal to play with his toys is depressing him, although he is too gracious to say anything. He just continues to offer other bells and whistles.

On my way home, I asked my driver if he would be willing to take me to an exchange so that I could convert my money. I didn’t realize that we would have to travel the distance we went, but I was glad to get the money (181 AED in exchange for $50 USD!) This also gave me an opportunity to see another part of Dubai. This must have been an open market, because men were pulling huge carts laden with tomatoes or lettuce, etc. My driver was masterful, threading his way behind lots of cars parked in our path, avoiding hitting more than one person who jumped out in front of him, etc. By the way, they drive VERY fast. I have not seen any posted speed limits, which probably explains that.

On the drive back to my hotel, we went by a large-ish body of water that had a large flock of flamingoes. I also saw beautiful flowering hedges, graceful minarets, fountains, roads bordered by densely planted palm trees or shade trees, and what must be the Dubai skyline. I’m going to ask the folks tomorrow what I should plan to do for my day or so of “free time.”

Just looking at the brochures in the lobby, there is a Dubai Dolphinarium, museums, tours of Abu Dhabi, a 6 emirates tour, dinner in the desert, the Global Village (the “largest open-air cultural and entertainment venue in the Middle East”), a Dubai city tour, Dubai at night, dinner cruises, and desert dunes tours and safaris that promise “thrilling desert bashing,” whatever that means, a camel ride, sheesha, henna painting, belly dance, sand boarding, sunset photography, a tanura show – whatever that is, and a bbq buffet dinner.

I’ll be lucky if I have time for one or two of these!

I was delighted to discover that the two issues with my bathroom that I had told reception about this morning had been addressed. They had replaced the burnt out light over the sink and they had fixed the shower, so hopefully I’ll be able to take one without standing under a dribble.

I have continued my routine diet of fruit salad (minus nuts, since none were on offer) for breakfast and a chicken Caesar salad for dinner. Their herb-roasted chicken is absolutely delicious! This morning, I also swiped some fruit and a chocolate muffin that was filled with liquid dark chocolate- really luscious. My lunch was a 6” turkey sandwich from Subway. There is no tea or pastry table. I was really spoiled by the Jordan experience!!
The good news is that my Nook and phone are now keeping their charges as they have always done in the past. There must have been some problem with my converter or with the current in the Amman hotel. I’m very relieved, particularly in anticipation of my very long flight home.

I’m very tired (I think it’s going to take a while before I recover from my travel from Amman). It is now 8:50 p.m. in Dubai, while it is 10:50 a.m. in Wisconsin.

Good night, or good morning, depending upon where you are!

Dubai, January 27-28, 2015

Day Two of a two-day Technical Trainers’ Toolbox in Dubai, United Arab Emirates was extended to a half Day Three, which I’ll explain in a moment.

January 27: Day Two

Somehow we managed to get through all of the activities I’d planned for the morning, so the participants would have 50 minutes in the afternoon to prepare their 10-minute participatory learning activity. There were two caveats: (1) no lecture and (2) no activity they had facilitated before.

Because there were 14 participants and I could only schedule in 7 for the rest of the day, I had previously arranged with Ghazi to have a separate video camera and room. That meant that 7 participants would need to be given feedback by someone other than me. They didn’t like that idea. It was finally decided that the 7 people (who had to facilitate their activities today) would do it today and the rest would come in tomorrow morning.

Ghazi started us off and he was absolutely brilliant. He used an art project and questions, and really modeled how to engage the participants completely for the entire 10 minutes. I was thrilled.

Unfortunately, the next facilitator stuck to lecture entirely. I think he is new and feels that he needs to prove himself. I was very disappointed, because he seemed to understand (at least academically) the adult learning principles and participatory techniques I’d been teaching and modeling.

The third facilitator was only marginally better, choosing to refer to a case study he’d used before. So, both number two and number three blatantly ignored my two caveats. Grrr!!!

Number four used brainstorming and questions, which was pretty good.

Aziz was number five and he was fantastic! He had created a horticultural game that engaged everyone, satisfied all learning styles, and was both educational and a lot of fun.

The next one was also quite good, and the last was excellent. Hurray! We ended on a high note!

Everyone then took the post-test and increased their scores by 10-15 points, so they (and I) were very pleased.

January 28- Day two and a half…

This morning we had a role-play, a case study, two games, brainstorming- and one lecture. Ouch!!

Then I met with Setta, who is the Director of Partnerships and Knowledge Management and is the one who suggested I be brought here. I will be giving an hour briefing to the Scientific Director and Director General tomorrow and we discussed what I should include.

Then I met with Ghazi to see examples of training proposals and presentations he designed. I was surprised to see that the proposal specified that the training was for people 25-40. When I asked Ghazi about it, he explained that they wanted to target young people who were more likely to use what they learned and be in positions where that was practical. Older people were typically managers and this particular training was not targeted at them. He acknowledged that the junior people who should attend the trainings are often bumped by managers who want to visit the country.

Ghazi coordinates all of the logistics for enormous conferences all around the Middle East and Africa. It is very impressive!

What a loving man. He had brought an extra banana and apple for me while we waited to go to lunch- and asked for water to be brought when I had a small coughing fit.

He had cartoons and brochures on the wall, as well as a poster he did years ago for a company where the slogan he created was “sweet from salt.” ICBA now uses that slogan, because they can get sugar from date trees that are planted in sea water!

Henda, his wife, joined us to go to a huge mall where we sat and had lunch in the food court. I had chicken tikka and French fries (!), while Ghazi had a big Mac and Henda ate a happy meal! They apparently come here at least once a week to buy happy meals for their two little boys (when there are good toys). Henda came back to our table with two huge bags, because she had purchased two happy meals for each boy so they would get the same toys. Ghazi is Syrian and Henda is Tunisian- and they met at an ICBA conference.

By the way, I discovered that everyone at ICBA calls it IckBa rather than ICBA!

The lunch and driver were very educational. First, I saw incredible electric wire towers like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Second, the food court was spotless, with chairs and tables in radiating rows. It was incredibly well organized, and Henda explained that Dubai puts a lot of money into this. Even the gas stations have very clean and well-organized rest rooms and prayer rooms.

Third, as we drove out of the mall parking lot, there was a terrible stench. Ghazi explained, as he sprayed some air freshener in the car, that we had just passed what we would call in the States a honeydew wagon. There are no septic tanks, so everything has to be piped and carried away. After treatment, the sludge is given to ICBA to use as fertilizer in their enormous test fields.

Ghazi gave me a driving tour of the fields, where they test what will grow in fresh water, part saline, brackish water and seawater.

Let me tell you what I learned about ICBA from reading their strategic plan. It has an international team that includes soil, crop and water scientists, and policy and socioeconomic experts. They focus on challenges in marginal environments- of sustainable production, use of saline and alternative waters, environmental impacts, natural resources assessment and management, and policy and governance.

It has excellent research and training facilities, including an experimental farm, soil, water and agronomy laboratories, and a genebank of salt-tolerant germplasm with over 11,000 accessions representing 260 species.

They operate in six arenas: research innovations, assessment of natural resources in marginal environments, climate change impacts and management, crop productivity and diversification, aquaculture and bioenergy, and policies for resilience.

I read the strategic plan to build my talking points for the management briefing around key provisions for capacity building and a knowledge hub. Then I met with the videographer to create a brief montage of excellent, good, and bad facilitation to accompany my briefing tomorrow.

I asked him where he learned to work with cameras and video and his answer- Youtube!!! While we waited (and waited) for the videos to download into a movie edit program, we had a fascinating conversation. In no particular order, I learned that: Arabic is a very complimentary language- and there are lots of ways to say “good morning” that are in increasingly complimentary language!

By the way, I had thought he was American, because his English was terrific. However, it turns out that he is Lebanese.

He spoke about the government of the Emirate of Dubai, who is a sheikh and, as with the rulers of the other emirates in the United Arab Emirates, is part of a ruling dynasty. The good thing about him is that he makes decisions quickly. The bad thing is that he can change his mind easily. I was told that Dubai used to have a law that gave people who were unjustly fired 3 months of compensation, and those who were justly fired just one month of compensation. After the economic crisis when there were many layoffs, he changed the law so that everyone only got one month of compensation. Why? Because he owns half of the businesses. And if you don’t get a job within that month, you are deported.

He told me that he spent two months in Phoenix so that his wife could have their second child there. The reason was that when she had their first son in Lebanon, even though both he and his wife had visas to live and work in Dubai, the government refused to give their 6-month old baby a visa, claiming she was considered a threat to security. It took a huge effort to get past this.

So, he wanted his next child to be born American and have an American visa. He figured that if things got too bad in Dubai, he could send his son back to America.

He loves how people respect others in America, or at least that was his experience. When I asked him to explain, he gave a few examples. First, we pull over when an ambulance is behind us. In Dubai, no one pulls over and people die because they can’t get emergency care. Second, we slow down for children. In Dubai, people keep speeding without any regard for children in the street. Third, he is very impressed by how America came together over the shooting of a black man. Shootings occur all the time and no one cares in Dubai.

He also spoke to discrimination. Lebanese are discriminated against. A glaring example:
A Lebanese friend of his pulled his car over on the yellow line at the edge of a highway to check something. It is illegal to park there. An Iraqi who was swerving in and out of traffic and moving at a very high speed swerved around a truck and crashed into the parked car. The Lebanese’s 20-year-old daughter was killed on the spot. The Iraqi went free and the Lebanese spent 6 months in prison!!!

So, needless to say, he wants to move his family to America. He is 100% in favor and his wife is 5% in doubt, so he said that they were 195% in favor! He said that Dubai is a transient place, that most people who come to work there end up moving somewhere else.

He really opened my eyes with his perspective, which was completely opposite the perspective I received from my Pakistani driver when I first arrived in Dubai.

I think this message is long enough. I just have two more things to mention.

First, I found out that my aged cat, Jake, is very ill. He is in good hands but it is very hard to be so far away when I know he won’t really relax and eat well until I’m home. So, it was very good that I was distracted by work and preparation of my report and sitting with the videographer

Second, Sissy (actually Dr. Dionyssia Aggeliki Lyra, who is a post doctoral fellow from Greece and a very enthusiastic and natural trainer) invited me to go with her and a Pakistani postdoctoral fellow, Shugufta, to visit the Global Village tomorrow after work.
Global Village is the largest seasonal cultural extravaganza in the region that offers visitors an amazing array of festivals, shopping and entertainment in an open-air theme park.
This entertainment and shopping destination is open from November through to April and hosts over 70 participating countries presented in over 36 pavilions, with more than 50 fun rides and 26 restaurants offering food from around the world.
Also included at the Global Village this year is “Illumination World” a Lantern city with popular monuments of the world. Come and see the world light up.
It is apparently a terrific place to shop, particularly since it is sale month in Dubai. It was very sweet of her to invite me and I’m looking forward to it!

Dubai, January 29-30, 2015

January 29

I went into ICBA at 8:45 a.m., first to talk with Setta and Ghazi about a talking point paper I wrote last night in preparation for a management briefing this afternoon.
Then to continue coaching the upload of the three videos I decided to highlight- just a minute or two of a poor, good and excellent facilitation from the last two days of the class.

At 10, there was a staff meeting, so I sat in the lobby to work on another proposal for a different client. I was supposed to meet with a group involved with a climate change project at 11, ostensibly to help them redesign an upcoming training program. The staff meeting went on until about 11:55, at which time Setta sat down with me to discuss the points she wanted me to stress during the management briefing.

I wolfed down a Subway sandwich (the same thing I’ve had for lunch all but one day while I’ve been at ICBA) and then met with the group at 12:30. Adla (remote sensing scientist), and Karim and Rashyd (climate modeling scientists) were eager to learn how to put into practice what they learned during the class. I was thrilled! We brainstormed a variety of learning activities and a revised flow of some of the content- and I’m sure that they will follow through to use it.

Then I met with the Director General (DG), Dr. Ismahane Elouafi (a bright, lovely woman, who just had a baby 3 months ago) and the Acting Director of Research, Dr. Shoaib Ismail, as well as Setta and Ghazi. I gave both of them a Rubik’s cube, which the DG pulled apart during our conversation (saying now she would be ready to put it together later). (I also gave my driver and Ravi, the IT guy, ducks for their children. They were pleasantly surprised.

The DG was very receptive to my observations of the participants and my recommendations for future curriculum design and intensive train the trainer workshops. Setta is talking about having me back this summer when it gets to be 104 F and no one goes outside! Yikes!

Oh, I felt terrible. Charbel is the videographer who spent so many hours yesterday and most of today trying to create the short video to show during the management briefing. He came into the meeting about 2/3rds of the way through and was going to play the video, but he told me that he only had the last few minutes of the excellent facilitator. Since I needed her set ups of two different activities at the beginning, I thanked him but didn’t want to show it. Setta immediately said that, once the video was completed, he would show it to the management team later. I absolutely hated cutting him off, but it would not have provided any benefit. Later, I left him a long note of apology. I hope he understands and forgives me. We had discussed several times what I needed and I know he had notes about it. There was probably some difficulty isolating what I wanted in the time he had available.

Then I met with Khalil, a hydro geologist who is involved in negotiating Arab Gulf water rights with Syria, Iraq and Turkey. He was interested in learning more negotiation strategies, particularly when dealing with people who have a history of mutual distrust.

I was able to suggest some activities, including appreciative inquiry (think about a time when you got past your distrust of someone- who was it- who was involved- what happened- and what would your wishes be for how the group interact with each other based on your previous successful experience?); and using an affinity chart and nominal group technique (each delegation of approximately 8 representatives from each country is led by a senior delegate who does most if not all of the talking- this way, the less senior members would have a –more anonymous- say to encourage their engagement and ideas).

I’ll be sending Khalil information on these strategies. He certainly has his work cut out for him- and he’s already doing a great job, from what I’ve heard.

Next, another meeting with Setta to discuss a proposal she is working on, possible certification of waste water specialists and other specialists (in coordination with another organization and a Canadian university, I believe), as well as my availability to assist long distance in the development of a training program they need to create and pilot before the end of the summer.

At 4:30, Sissi was ready to go to Global Village and Shagufta was able to get out of a meeting so we could be on our way. You should have seen the parking lot. It must be acres and acres! Sissi treated me to the entrance fee and told me that most places have a line just for women, so it goes very quickly, which it did.

How to describe Global Village. Hmm, maybe a cross between Disney Land, Las Vegas, a world bazaar, an amusement park, with enormous areas devoted to different countries (lots of beautiful things!), rides, entertainment, music, acrobatics (ever see two people standing on the shoulders of someone who is jumping rope!!!???) and lots of restaurants and colored lights, including dancing waters (with laser lights and music).

I’m so glad that Shagufta was along. She is a sweet faced, melodious voiced, tiny woman from Pakistan, who is *** on wheels when it comes to bargaining (which you have to do). There was something I wanted and she bargained them down from 250 AED to 50 AED!!!

Sissi was looking for a belly-dancing belt (with coins than jingle) for herself and a friend, since they were going to take a belly dancing class (it’s good for the abdominal muscles). We were unsuccessful in the AED and Pakistan and Turkey shops, but hit pay dirt in the Egyptian area. As a matter of fact, after she bought two (bargained down in price by Shagufta) from the first shop we saw, we realized that every Egypt shop had them!!

We walked for quite a while and then had dinner in a Turkish restaurant. The waiter was handsome and flirtatious, Sissi ordered a huge amount of food to share, in addition to the chicken kebob I ordered. So, we shared pita bread, Turkish salad, and French fries. They both shared a piece of their dorner sandwiches (chicken for Shagufta and lamb for Sissi), and I insisted they share mine as well. During this time, it happened that we were seated right opposite the dancing waters, which I videotaped. Very pretty, very cool and very loud! We also had entertainment right next to our table, where one of the servers was serving ice cream and fooling with the customers. He would do some flourishes with a large paddle as if he were filling a cone, and then hand an empty cone to the customer. Then he’d pretend to serve the ice cream upside down from the paddle. He also hit some noisy gourds to get people’s attention. He was a real showman and both the adults and the children loved him.

I suggested that I should pay for our dinners, but Shagufta was incredibly generous. She insisted on paying for our dinner. She also loaned me her metro card so I could get around Dubai. The card gets you on the bus, the subway, and can even be used for parking!! I was worried about how I would be able to return it to her, but we agreed I would leave it at the hotel for her (along with some training gifts for her and her 12 year old daughter).

I should tell you something about Sissi and Shagufta. Sissi, Dr. Dionyssia Aggeliki Lyra is a postdoctoral fellow, as is Dr. Shagufta Gill. Sissi is Greek and has a job in the Greek ministry from which she has had a 3-year leave. She feels that the work she is currently doing at ICBA is exactly right for her. Her current research is:
valuation of agronomic characteristics of selected Salicornia bigelovii and native halophyte populations using seawater irrigation
Seed multiplication of Salicornia bigelovii populations by using groundwater irrigation
On-farm management of available water resources (low quality, brackish, saline water and aquaculture water residues) for setting seed production and optimizing crop production
On-farm demonstration of using available technologies (desalinated water from RO units) for managing farms
Her areas of expertise include:
Agronomy and management of field crops under stressed conditions
In vivo and in situ screening and evaluation of crops resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses
Optimization of management practices for efficient use of resources, for maximizing crop yield and minimizing environmental risk
Morphological, physiological and genetic diversity in crops and weeds
Symbiotic plant life-forms with other plants (with emphasis on non-mutualistic relationships)
Biological control of parasitic plants
Soil and climatic impact assessment studies on crop production and weeds dispersal
Analysis of plants distribution with the aid of Geographical information (GIS) and Global position (GPS) systems
Her project lasts for another year, so she has asked for a fourth year of leave from her job. Greece will allow her a total of 5 years leave. She and her husband have a house in Greece and that is where her parents live. She is an only child and has a very close relationship with her parents. This is the first time she has lived in a different country. She goes home every 3-4 months. She would love to stay at ICBA, which would be possible only if she got funding for a new project. But her work is project-based, and she would like some stability and security, so that she and her husband can have a child. Needless to say, she is very conflicted about where to focus her future.

Shagufta is working with growing soybeans using different types of wastewater. Her areas of expertise include:
Research on Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Planning, execution and reporting of research
Use of stable and radioactive isotopes in soil science and plant nutrition studies
Soil microbiology and biochemistry
Chemical analyses of soil, plant and water
Laboratory and field experiments
Advisory services on soil/water quality
She is certain that she will look for another position when her project ends. ICBA can only support a certain number of scientists and the current scientists don’t look like they’ll be leaving any time soon. She said that school is very expensive in Dubai and she would rather move somewhere else.

We walked for about 40 minutes after dinner, through enormous crowds. Getting me back to my hotel was a real problem. The Silicon Oasis is new so it was difficult to find it. But finally, we did. And I was too bushed to do anything but take a shower and go to bed!

January 30, 2015

I forced myself to get up in time to have breakfast and take the 10 a.m. shuttle from the hotel to Dubai Mall. The trip took 30 minutes, with a stop in the middle at the Mall of the Emirates. I found out how to get a ticket for the hop on-hop off bus, choosing to pay for a 48-hour rather than a 24-hour ticket. I knew that I would be coming back tomorrow and this was cheaper than paying for the 24-hour tickets. The bus was a double decker, so I sat up top in the sun. There were also an enclosed air conditioned area and a covered area.

I enjoy touring new cities this way, because I find out all about the different areas as well as the history. I took the red bus, which had 16 of the 27 stops both the red and the blue buses make. The driver gave us a package of earphones to plug into speakers at the seats, where we could choose from 12 different languages. Very clever.

The architecture is amazing- all sorts of very tall and attractive buildings, with lots of geometric shapes (because that is part of Arabic art). Palm trees are everywhere, carefully irrigated, as are flowers and other trees and even grass in places.

Random facts I remember from the audio: Dubai began as a fishing village. When oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Sheikh was far sighted and dredged the Dubai creek so the old tankers would come through Dubai. He set up a “free zone” so that other countries could establish offices and set up their own financial laws- a free zone is like a country within a country. The Sheikh’s family has ruled Dubai for over 200 years. The Sheikh of Abu Dhabi is the President of the United Arab Republic and the Sheikh of Dubai is the Vice President and Prime Minister.
The current Sheikh loves cars and has over 150 of them, which he drives himself without bodyguards. He also drops into government offices to check to make sure they are treating his people properly.

Dubai has enough oil reserves to last until 2040, but the Sheikh wants Dubai to have other things to sustain it. Innovative entrepreneurs are attracted to Dubai, and tourism, particularly retail, is huge. There are a number of mega malls and more being built daily.
As a matter of fact, there was building going on everywhere I looked in Dubai. One major building project will be the opera center, providing an enormous venue for music, art, and theatre.

Rather than try to tell you everything I learned, I strongly encourage you to look up Dubai and the Burj Khalifa (the incredibly tall building that has something like 28,000+ windows and can be seen for miles from any vantage point). I took the entire trip, about 1.5 hours, and got off at the Dubai Mall to get some lunch. My God, you should see the thousands of people everywhere.

On my way to lunch, I saw the Dubai aquarium (right there in the Dubai Mall!) Sharks, manta rays, all sorts of fish. Part of my ticket gave me “free” access to enter the aquarium. If you’ve ever been to the aquarium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, it is initially set up the same way: you go in a long tunnel where you are walking under and next to the fish. There were three levels to the aquarium, with lots of different fish, turtles, and sea creatures (otters, penguins (?), crocodiles, etc.) I took lots of photos.

Then to the food court, with lots of American (Burger King, MacDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken) as well as various ethnic fast food restaurants. I ended up having Chinese, which was all right.

Then I had to find where to exchange my $ for AED. I wandered up and down several levels of the Mall before, after asking four different people, I found the exchange. Next, outside to get the red bus again, because I wanted to go somewhere that I could get some nice gifts to bring back home. I also needed some water, and when I asked the woman at the bus stand where I could get some, she handed me two small bottles. How nice!

I had to travel 6 stops to get to the Old Souk, which is a bazaar filled mostly with textile merchants. I sure wish that Shagufta had been with me because I haggled but I have a feeling I was definitely in the minor leagues, if I even made any league. There were so many people you could barely walk down the narrow road and alleyways. However, I was moderately successful in my purchases although it took hours.

Then, to wait for the red bus and travel back to the Dubai Mall, where I planned to find a bathroom (!), have dinner, and get a taxi back to the hotel. It must have taken over an hour and a half to drive the 30 minutes back to the Mall, because there was bumper-to-bumper traffic and no one lets anyone else in their lanes. I thought we would never get there!

My taxi driver, who knew exactly where my hotel was, took only 15 minutes to get me back after I had my pad Thai dinner.

Tomorrow, I am going to take the shuttle to the Mall of the Emirates, where I can pick up the blue bus. It will take me to the man-made palm-shaped island and the Atlantis hotel, the beach and docks, wild wadi, and eventually to the Dubai Mall. There, I plan to take the red bus again to the spice souk and to a place where I can get a “free” dhow cruise down Dubai creek with my ticket. That should be enough of a day!!

My flight leaves at 6:30 a.m. from Dubai on Sunday, so I can’t stay out until all hours the way I’ve done tonight. I’ll need to pack and be ready to go by 4:30 a.m., I imagine, if not before. I’m going to check with the front desk tomorrow.

Dubai, January 31, 2015

Last night, I checked my flight arrangements for tomorrow and discovered that I will be leaving the hotel at 3:30 a.m.! At first, I thought that was when I had to be at the airport. Either way, I’ll be getting up brutally early tomorrow. So, I spent hours last night packing. I’m afraid that, with gifts received from Mercy Corps and ICBA, as well as gifts I’ve already purchased, my two suitcases are as heavy (hopefully not heavier) as they were when I first set out on my Middle East adventures.

Two interesting, including one somewhat traumatic, events happened that I forgot to mention. First, on Tuesday night, I mis-keyed my room safe and could not figure out how to reproduce the wrong entry so I could open up the safe. I tried, on and off, for two hours. I had given up and hoped against hope that the hotel had some master program to open it (my cash, jewelry, important papers!). Luckily, after trying all sorts of combinations that evening, on Wednesday morning I tried something different and the safe opened. Hallelujah!! I’ve always been very careful in the past and never had any difficulty. I’ll have to stay more alert…

Second, on Wednesday just before lunch, Ghazi came and told me to follow him to collect my contract payment. In all my years of training and traveling, I have never been paid (in dollars!!!) on the last day. With my fee and per diems, this was a relatively healthy sum- and very impressive in an envelope. You can bet that I quickly placed it (carefully) into my hotel room safe when I got back. And now I’ll be traveling with all that cash. I have to put it somewhere safe for traveling and I’m still mulling how many places I should put it- of course, with carry ons that I’ll keep with me at all times. Just a tad stressful.

I’ll be getting the shuttle to the Mall of the Emirates in a half hour. I’m wearing a pashmina that I bought yesterday, because for some reason I did not pack any light short or long sleeved blouses and I got badly sunburnt on the bus. I plan to cover up with the pashmina and sit under the canopy so I don’t get more sun.

My shower never progressed beyond a very light spray. I am thinking that either: (1) it is a problem with the water pressure or (2) it is a conscious decision on the part of the hotel to conserve as much water as possible. All of the African and Middle Eastern countries that I have visited have water-conserving toilets. It would be nice to see them in more homes and buildings in the US.

More after my trip…

I took the blue route today- from Dubai Mall. My idea of just getting it at the Mall of the Emirates was unrealistic once I realized that it was the last stop before the Dubai Mall. If only the cityscapes bus went back and forth instead of in a grand circle.

My shuttle mates also pointed out that I could get the shuttle back to the hotel at designated times. There had been no need to get a taxi, although it would have taken an hour instead of 15 minutes. So- I’m glad I didn’t know this last night!

This route took us past the Union building, where the 7 emirates signed to become the United Arab Emirates on December 2, 1971 after England withdrew. This day is celebrated just like our Independence Day, as a national holiday with parades and fireworks.

We saw many beautiful mosques- one every block or so. And this area, Jumeira, is very posh, right next to the Gulf. The retail and restaurant buildings were lovely, as were the residences. We were also able to see the Dubai skyline- and the buildings look different from every new angle. I just love how beautiful and unique they are with their Islamic architecture. I don’t recall the name of the architectural firm responsible for many of the buildings, but their motto is “stay different” and they certainly have!

There were all sorts of huge colorful kites in strange shapes flying over Jumeira Beach. I’ll have to look at my photos to see them more clearly, because I was madly snapping photos as we drove.

Random information:

The metro runs automatically without an engineer. The metro stations are approximately every block so that people do not have to walk far in the intense heat. Each station is painted inside to represent either the earth (green), fire (red), wind (yellow?) or sky (blue). Their air conditioning is the best in the city. The metro was inaugurated on 9/9/99 at 9:09 and 9 seconds by the Sheikh, who cut the ribbons at each of the 30 (I think) stations.

The great grandfather of the current Sheikh made Dubai tariff and custom-free in order to attract companies. There are now 29 “free” zones, each of which focuses on one type or retail or service: financial, automotive, apparel, gold, fish, spice, etc. This enables large corporations from different countries to establish offices and own property.

The flag of Dubai is green (earth), red (courage), white (peace) and black (I think the audio voice said for command, but I’m not sure).

It takes 25 seconds to go from the very bottom of the Burj Khalifa to the observation stand, which is below the last two floors. The ride up sounds pretty hard on the stomach and the ears!!

Jumeira means “embers,” so called because the sand gets so hot it used to burn the soles of the feet of the pearl divers and fishermen.

The Gulf water has a very high salt level because it is small and confined, and the warm climate makes the water evaporate, so the remaining water is highly concentrated.

There is a huge hotel that is built to resemble a sail right on the beach- the Burj Al Arab Luxury Hotel – jumeirah.com‎. It is the only 7-star hotel in the world.

Driving in Jameira, we passed a restaurant named the Talent Restaurant. This is because this is where all of the movie stars come to vacation and eat- and will apparently pose for photos. Who knew?

Because land is at a premium and in great demand, the Sheikh is not only reclaiming land but also building it proactively. There are the world islands, I don’t remember how many but many, owned privately and accessible only by marine or air transport.

We went to the Palm Islands – The Palm Islands are two artificial islands, Palm Jumeira and Palm Jebel Ali, on the coast of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. As at November 2014, only Palm Jumeira has been completed. This island takes the form of a palm tree, topped by a crescent. Wikipedia

Incredibly beautiful mosaic mosque, sumptuous residential buildings, and the Atlantis, the Palm hotel- which has an aqua venture where people can skin dive or swim in plastic tubes in shark-infested water, an aquarium with thousands of fish and sea creatures, a paradise that caters to every dream or wish held by the extremely rich.

When someone buys a smaller residence on the Palm Islands, they are given two keys- one to their new home and one to a new car, usually a BMW. If they buy a grander residence, they get a free Lamborghini! I don’t even think I got a handshake when I bought my house!!! I saw one billboard that said that 4-5 bedroom semi-detached villas of 3,479 square feet were AED 1,280 per square foot (approximately $360). I’m sure that the residences on the Palm Islands are much more than that!

There is a marine area with very tall residence buildings because every home is supposed to be only 5 minutes from the Gulf. Since there was a premium on land, they had to build up.

Yesterday when I was eating my lunch/dinner at the food court in Dubai Mall, there was a small parade of drummers, banner holders and three costumed bears, touting a toy store.

The latest enormous project in the area is a Mall of the World, which will be an entire city within a city, with the retail area enclosed so people can walk from shop to shop outside without getting burnt by the sun. It is supposed to be completed for the 2020 World Expo, which Dubai will be hosting. When they got the word they had won, there was a weeklong national holiday!

There is a sea turtle rescue program that has released something like 700 turtles
back into the Gulf over the past 5 years.

There is an actual ski slope, replete with snow, towropes and everything else necessary for a functioning ski lift, inside the Mall of the Emirates!!! I actually watched people skiing!

There is also an enormous grocery/retail/electronics/everything you can imagine store. I asked where I could buy dates, because dates are the only palm trees that grow easily in the area. After 6 years, each tree produces an amazing number of dates and will continue to do that for over 100 years. There are also over 100 different varieties of date palms.

Given this, there was an enormous display (I realize I’m using enormous frequently) of different kinds of dates. I didn’t end up buying any, because what I really wanted were figs- and I found those.

I took photos of 10-20 bins of different kinds of nuts, of different kinds of olives, of different kinds of rices, etc. There are all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables, many different kinds of cheeses, probably anything anyone could want. And given the fact that there are people there from all over the world, that is not very surprising. But the prices are high, at least compared to Woodman’s prices in Wisconsin.

I have never in my life been in such crowds, wearing everything you can imagine, pushing baby strollers or grocery carts, strolling along 3-4 abreast, an incredible people-watching (and hearing!) experience. I think I’ll need some hours of complete isolation to recover. ☺

Well, I’ve got to get up in a few hours so I’d better try to get some sleep.

I’m so glad I scheduled these two additional days in Dubai. If and when I come back, I know all of the places I’d like to revisit and more I’d like to see. But next time I’ll bring sunscreen, a hat, and light long-sleeved tops!

Oh, great news! My cat, Jake, is doing a lot better, finally eating and talking (usually he is very talkative). I am so relieved and thankful!!

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