My International Thanksgiving

Last week I cooked up my first Thanksgiving dinner for a small international crowd in Amman.

Throughout my childhood and up until a few years ago, my Thanksgiving was always spent at my grandparent’s house. There were always exactly 11 McAdams family members seated at the table and we always had exactly the same dishes. (I was truly a child comforted by routine.)

My first Thanksgiving without the other 10 McAdams family members was in 2006 when I studied abroad in Cadiz, Spain. I felt very sorry for myself that Thursday morning as I attended classes, and I still have never felt so far from home as I did then. That afternoon the program director roasted a big turkey and we had a potluck dinner at a restaurant in front of the baroque cathedral. I brought sweet potatoes with multicolored marshmallows: the only type I could find were the novelty shaped spirals.

It remains in my (very bad) memory as one of my best spent meals in Spain.

Thanksgiving in Cadiz

Thanksgiving in Cadiz

In 2010 I was living abroad again, this time in Fez, Morocco. I was part of a close group of expats, one of whom bought a live turkey and kept it on the roof of her house until taking it to the butcher on Thanksgiving morning. That afternoon, I made buttermilk biscuits and green beans with onions at Lillie’s host family’s house. We went to a potluck dinner that night in the old medina, at the house I eventually lived in for 6 months.

Thanksgiving in Fez

Thanksgiving in Fez

This year, with no American friends around, I thought I’d let the holiday pass unobserved. I mentioned the upcoming holiday casually to my Italian roommate who promptly got very excited about the prospect of stuffing a turkey “like they do on TV”. So I bought an 8 kilo turkey and made Thanksgiving dinner the way my grandma used to for two Italians, a Jordanian, a Lebanese and a South African. The apartment smelled like home and we all ate too much, true to McAdams tradition.

Thanksgiving in Amman

Thanksgiving in Amman. (L to R: Hamza, Laura, Jennifer, Paoula, Taline)

Thanksgiving in Amman (L to R: Taline, Jennifer, Marta)

Thanksgiving in Amman (L to R: Taline, Jennifer, Marta)

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India’s Teardrop

It is settled. The McAdams siblings will be celebrating Christmas 2013 in Sri Lanka.



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Amy’s Eid Visit to Jordan

Eid al Adha has come and gone, and so has Amy. She was in Jordan for just three short days over the break, but we fit in so much during that time.

After picking her up from the airport and feasting on Jordanian salads and BBQ chicken and beef, we woke up early on Monday to do the Wadi Mujib gorge hike with Hamza and Faris.

Beautiful Wadi Mujib is one of my favorite hikes in Jordan.

Beautiful Wadi Mujib is one of my favorite hikes in Jordan.

After the hike Amy and I checked into the Mujib chalets across the street and spend the rest of the day relaxing by the Dead Sea.

Our "hut hut": think very comfortable camping.

Our “hut hut”: think very comfortable camping.

We found some mud on the shore and slathered it on for smooth skin. It did not smell good.

We found some mud on the shore and slathered it on for smooth skin. It did not smell good.

Unlike when I went in hellish-hot July, the Dead Sea in October is absolutely lovely.

Unlike when I went in hellish-hot July, the Dead Sea in October is absolutely lovely.

I can't wait to go back.

I can’t wait to go back.

The next day we woke with the sunrise, had a delicious breakfast provided by the chalets (boiled eggs! coffee! hummus! corn!) and headed off to see the site where Jesus was baptized on the Jordan river. Pricey at 12JDs but its one of those places we had heard about since birth, really, so it was pretty high on our to-do list.


Amy on the Jordanian bank, dipping her feet into the river where Jesus was baptized. The platform across the river is Israeli.

We headed back to Amman to see the Citadel, rest up, and have a simple falafel dinner at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants.

Thursday we forced ourselves out of bed before dawn, met up with Hamza, and drove down to Wadi Mousa and Petra. I’ve been in Jordan for nearly 5 months now, but it was my first time into the site. With Hamza’s help and my work ID, I got into the park for the local price: 1JD. Amy’s ticket, being a foreigner, was 50JDs. We paid up and joined the crowds.

Petra really is worth navigating the ocean of tourists and the high entry fee. It is one of those sites I had seen in hundreds of photos, but they could never really capture the experience of taking it all in for myself. We packed a big picnic lunch and spent the day in the expansive town.



The Amphitheater


Tombs behind camels available as taxi service

Feeling energetic, we took the somewhat strenuous hike up to the Monestary.

Pretty Petra-pink sand

Pretty Petra-pink sand

The hot trek up is worth it, though, as you round the corner and see this.

The hot trek up is worth the view as you round the corner and see this.

We scarfed down our picnic at the top of the world.

We scarfed down our picnic at the top of the world.

We drove back to Amman the same day. I dropped her off for her flight back to Kuwait early this morning.


I miss her already.

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Hands-on Science Saturdays

I’ve started looking forward to setting my alarm for early wakeup on Saturday mornings. For the past month and a half, the Scientific Cultural Society and I put on a 2 hour workshop every week for Syrian refugee kids in partnership with Syria Bright Future.

Syria Bright Future is an all-volunteer organization run by Syrian psychologists and psychiatrists to provide mental health services to Syrian refugees in Jordan. They bring in groups of 25-30 kids every Saturday morning for fun science stations with us.

This week, we had five stations: one where kids learned about batteries by creating their own with lemons, pennies and nails.

Batteries with lemons, iron nails and copper coins.

Batteries with lemons, iron nails and copper coins.

Kids learned about measurement (and theoretically, vibration) by creating their own pan pipe made out of drinking straws.

At one station, kids modeled the lifecycle of a butterfly with pasta.




At a fourth station, kids are challenged to build the tallest marshmallow tower possible and to have it withstand a jello earthquake.

Kids are challenged to build the tallest marshmallow tower possible: and have it withstand a jello earthquake!


And finally kids learn about fingerprints and investigate the patterns of their own fingerprints.


It is my dream to expand the program to include longer sessions and to have kids come back week after week. That way they could really explore in more depth the topics they are interested in, and develop important skills; particularly, the skills used to gather information about the world, the skills needed to make sense of the information they gather, and then the critical thinking skills to apply information in new situations and in solving problems.



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The assorted catch-up post: Facebook, UNESCO, and Eid al Adha

I’m back to regularly posting on my blog, especially now that I have disabled my Facebook profile for good. I’ve checked Facebook every day for nine years since I created an account as a college freshman at the University of Washington, and it is really time that this habit dies.

(But I am possibly replacing one internet addiction with another: follow me on Twitter at @mcadams_l!)

Since my last post, I have been continuing work with the UNESCO Amman office. I am very lucky that my boss, Claude, has been giving me progressively more responsibility, and this past month I have organized an official donation ceremony, drafted up a contract, processed more than my fair share of payment requests, waded through current project budgets, and what I’m most proud of: writing up a concept note and then a project proposal for a scholarship program for Syrian refugee and vulnerable Jordanian undergraduate students. Whether or not the project will actually be approved and go through is quite uncertain at this point; however, it was an excellent learning experience and a lot of fun to be creative and design my own program. I even got to meet with the Jordanian Minister of Higher Education in the process. I’ve been collecting information from 5 or 6 prospective Syrian scholarship recipients every day at the front door (it has all been due to word-of-mouth) so  I hope I can soon post good news announcing that the project will move forward.

The internship at UNESCO also allows for a lot of flexibility in my work: just this week I tagged along with project managers from Questscope to observe more Non-formal education centers, this time in Ghor al Safi, a town in the Jordan Valley, Umm Sayhoun, a village neighboring Petra, and around Amman. Each center is quite unique, with their own strengths and areas for improvement, which I’ve been able to understand somewhat more after speaking with facilitators, students, and administrators.

I’ve also been designing hands-on science days for Syrian refugee kids in Amman with my friend Hamza’s organization, the Scientific Cultural Society. Every Saturday morning we host 25 – 30 kids and have fun with science.

Kids are challenged to build "earthquake"-proof marshmallow towers.

At this station, kids are challenged to build “earthquake”-proof marshmallow towers.

Next week is the Islamic holiday of sacrifice, the Eid al Kebir, or Eid al Adha. I really enjoyed celebrating this holiday in Morocco in 2010. You can read about how the Eid is celebrated there from two past blog posts. (We sacrificed a calf!) I asked Hamza how his family planned to celebrate Eid: were they going to buy a sheep and, as the oldest male in the household, was he going to be the one responsible for actually doing the sacrifice? He laughed in my face: his family will buy meat from the butcher, he’ll receive envelopes of cash from his grandparents, and he’ll visit family. Hamza’s family may not be sacrificing an animal themselves, but there are pens of sheep all throughout the outskirts of the city waiting to be taken home, so somebody in this city is doing some sacrificing.

This year I’ll get to celebrate with my sister. She gets some time off molding minds in Kuwait and will be coming to Amman for a week, so I’ll show her around the city, we’ll float in the Dead Sea, and perhaps road trip it down to Petra. I can’t wait to have her here.


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