Friday, July 20, 2007

Leistler of Arabia

Ten days from now I board a plane in my native Cincinnati, Ohio bound for the Queen Alia airport in Amman, Jordan and my new post as Chairman of the History and Social Sciences Department at King's Academy, a school about 30 minutes outside of Amman.

My dear friend Judy Enszer suggested months ago that I create a blog so that I can record my thoughts and impressions of this major change in my life. My dear friend Judy Enszer even went so far as to set up the blog for me so that I would get started on the blog before I forgot and got so overhelmed by all that is going on. So here is that first entry, an entry entitled, "Leistler of Arabia."

Blogs/memoirs are by definition a deeply personal undertaking requiring reflection and a measure of introspection. I like the challenge of that. I have never jotted down my inner-most impressions really, not just in such a public way as a blog, but rarely even in diary form. But last week I discovered a journal I kept in the fall of 1994 when I first moved to New York for the Klingenstein Fellowship. The journal was about the theater productions I encountered; I would come home from a play or concert, write about 10-15 lines and give the production a grade. I was a faithful scribe for about five months, then dropped the project as I got busier and busier. It was so exciting, however, to re-discover those longago thoughts; impressions shaped by the newness of Manhattan to me, and wonderful to remember impresions and insights from all those years ago. So Judy, thank you for suggesting the idea to me--I love the idea of this blog--in part as a historical recording of what I discover in Jordan, but also as a way to relay stories and challenges and appreciations to friends and family of this new chapter in my life. Years from now, I hope I can come back to the musings in the blog to trace the epistemology of how I grew and changed about the Middle East. Maybe this blog will help all of us enjoy a greater awareness of events that shape the modern Middle East and encourage a greater understanding of the challenges facing our world. Hey, I'm a teacher, so there is bound to be a little high falutin' idealism in here!

I am the first to admit that a year ago I knew very little about Jordan--it came up on my radar screen only a few times in the last 10 years. But since I have accepted this post, naturally I am trying to discover what my new home base is like. I scoured the travel guides extolling the virtues of Petra (newly minted this month as one of the new Wonders of the World!). Almost as soon as I announced that I was going to Jordan, several parents of my students at Hackley called to tell me they had done business in Jordan, or visited Petra, and so out of the woodwork, practically, came these testimonials of how much people had loved connections with Jordan. The other day my dad went to the dentist, and our Dr. Staubitz called my dad into the waiting room to meet a Cincinnati couple who had lived in Jordan for seven years. "Your son will love it there!" they enthused.

I have done a little research since the spring about Americans and their historical wide-eyed interest in the Middle East, and it turns out that American fascination with this region dates back to at least July, 1776, when a young man named John Ledyard yearned for adventure and set out for as he called it, "on a passage to glory." Though he probably did not think about it then, John Ledyard became the first citizen of a newly independent United States to explore the Middle East and record his impressions for people back home. In his journals he wrote, "Beyond is unknown, and my discoveries begin. . . .My heart is on fire."

So here I am--another American man named John L. in another July looking towards an unknown beyond. To be sure, it is an understatement to call it in adventure. But aside from the Middle East, I get to practice my teaching skills, one of my great joys, and so, my heart is also on fire.

I will be in touch,

John L