Editor’s Note: Education Week Assistant Editor Mary Ann Zehr is on assignment in Jordan to report on the education system of this strategically located country in the Middle East. During her two-week visit, which began April 1, she will also be filing occasional reports for edweek.org.
A friend who was a freelance journalist in Iraq last year gave me two pieces of advice about reporting in the Middle East. She said to hire the best interpreter I could find and to stay in a full-service Western hotel.
The story so far:
“Interpreter Is Valued Colleague on Reporter’s Journey,” April 14, 2005.
“In Jordan, Days Off Are Time for Religion, Relaxation,” April 11, 2005.
“School-Smoking Rules Get Hazy in Jordan,” April 6, 2005.
“U.S. Education Reporter Visits Jordanian Schools,” April 5, 2005.
I followed the first bit of advice, and I’m glad I did. I ignored the second piece of advice, and I’m glad I did.
My friend had recommended the Hyatt or Four Seasons Hotel in Amman because, she said, if something went wrong, I’d have a full array of services to back me up.
I chose the Hisham Hotel, which has about 25 rooms and is located in a neighborhood full of embassies, and, according to my Lonely Planet guidebook, is popular with journalists and diplomats. It has pansy and snapdragon beds out front, and a fish tank in the entranceway to the lobby. It employs an around-the-clock front-desk staff of three. It is, coincidentally, two blocks from the Hyatt.
So far, I haven’t met any journalists or diplomats here. But I’m sold on the advantages of staying in a hotel run by nationals of the country I’m writing about.
For one, I’ve found some good sources. The hotel manager and the hotel receptionist have candidly shared their opinions with me about private schools and public schools in Jordan and agreed to put their names to those opinions in print.
If I were staying at the Hyatt, I don’t think I’d be standing in the lobby after a day of visiting schools, chatting with the front-desk staff about what I observed that day, as I do at the Hisham.
During one such conversation, Ziad Karawi, the hotel manager, suggested two probing questions I should ask Khaled Touqan, the minister of education, during my scheduled appointment with him. And Mr. Karawi helped me understand the reshuffling of the government in Jordan that is happening this week.
Prime Minister Faisal Fayez has resigned, according to an April 6 article in The Jordan Times. With his resignation, the Cabinet is also to be replaced. What I care about is whether Education Minister Touqan will keep his post and I’ll still get to interview him.
I asked Mr. Karawi why the government is being reorganized. “The Cabinet is replaced about every six months in Jordan,” he said with a smile. “This one lasted longer than usual.” The Jordan Times says that Mr. Fayez’s government was formed in October 2003. According to Mr. Karawi, foreign policy wasn’t Mr. Fayez’s forte.
Adnan Badran, a biologist, educator, and former UNESCO official, has been named the new prime minister.
Today’s edition of The Jordan Times didn’t say if the new Cabinet had been named. Again, I turned to the desk staff at the Hisham for help. The Arabic newspaper named the members of the new Cabinet, according to the desk staff. Twenty-five ministers, including four women, had been named. And yes, Mr. Touqan had kept his post.
Mr. Karawi had said that some ministers may keep their posts, especially if they have policies that are in line with those of King Abdullah II, Jordan’s 43-year-oldmonarch.
It’s good to know these things, heading into an interview with a prominent official in a foreign land.
Meanwhile, I enjoy the personal feel of the Hisham.
The hotel’s owner, whom I know only as “Mr. Hisham,” presented me with a tote bag with the name of the hotel stamped on it. A waiter in the hotel’s restaurant gives me a short lesson in Arabic each evening. Breakfast, which is included with my $45-a-night room, becomes more elaborate each morning. It started out being juice, toast, and tea. This morning, in addition to the standard fare, I was served a cheese omelet garnished with cucumber and tomato slices.
Yesterday morning, the hotel receptionist who was getting off his night shift, offered to drive me to my first appointment.
Arab hospitality is shining through the service of this small hotel—my home away from home.