Upsala couple returns from two years in Jordan

Dan and Marlene Hovland were Peace Corps volunteers

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
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Dan and Marlene Hovland of Upsala have recently returned home from two years in the Peace Corps. Their time abroad was spent in Jordan, a Middle Eastern country, which is landlocked except for its very southern tip which is on the Gulf of Aqaba, an arm of the Red Sea.

Jordan lies on the east bank of the River Jordan, for which it is named. It borders Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Israel. It shares the Dead Sea with Israel. Most of Jordan consists of the Arabian Desert, but the western portion consists of agriculture and forests.

Dan, left, and Marlene Hovland visited Mount Nebo, where Moses first saw the Promised Land, during their two years in Jordan with the Peace Corps.

It became an independent sovereign kingdom in 1946, after being under British supervision.

The population of Jordan is about 6.3 million and about 92 percent of its people are Muslim.

Dan, now retired, had taught school in the special education departments in both Upsala and then in Little Falls for a total of 34 years. Marlene had recently graduated from school with a degree in community health and sociology, but was unable to find a job.

Dan had once considered joining the Peace Corps in the 1960s, but time got away from him and he never pursued the idea. He mentioned that option to Marlene, and she readily agreed.

“Dan and I had spoken before about doing missionary or humanitarian work, but one needs to raise funds and neither of us was into that,” said Marlene. The Peace Corps offered benefits and many of the expenses paid.

The Hovlands listed on the Peace Corps’ application three different areas of the world they wanted to be: anywhere in the Caribbean, Central America or the Pacific Islands. But when the Peace Corps learned Dan had a background in special education, they asked the Hovlands if they would go to Jordan, a country in need of people with that expertise.

The Peace Corps has 8,000 people in the field during any one year. Each year, 4,000 new recruits are sent around the world to help in 72 countries.

“They must have a great computer system because they match skills with needs all over the world,” said Marlene. “We were even harder since there was two of us to match.”

While in Jordan, Dan taught two classes at Mu’tah University in Karak, Jordan. One was English reading and special education and the other was English reading and counseling. Both were done with an Arabic-speaking instructor.

Most of the students who attend the university are from Jordan, but many come from Saudi Arabia and Oman. About 17,000 students attend the university.

“I supervised students who were attending the university to get a degree in teaching special education students,” Dan said. “The Jordanian education system is still young, about 50 years behind the United States. I brought new ideas to their classrooms, one of which was flashcards.”

Marlene taught at the Karak Career Development Center. Her classes consisted of communications skills and work site dynamics and job application tools. Her students, for the most part, spoke English, so she did not need an interpreter. She also was asked to give talks to various groups on conversational English.

“Because of my health background, I was also asked to give lectures at the Nursing College at Mu’tah University on communications skills for nursing, nutrition for cardiovascular disease and the universal precautions to prevent the spread of germs,” she said.

In one experiment with her nursing students, Marlene had each gluing glitter to their hands. Then, using cold water, warm water and warm water with soap, they washed their hands. The group that used the soap had the cleaner hands.

The Hovlands came away from Jordan with a respect for the Muslim religion.

“They are very serious about their faith,” said Dan. “Most of their customs are based on that faith. They are not a violent people, and are taught to respect other religions. Their faith is based on generosity and hospitality.”

Both agreed they felt very comfortable being in Jordan. They said everyone they met was very welcoming.

“Most people would immediately invite us to their homes,” said Marlene.

They also learned that family was so important to the Jordanians that it would take precedence over work or school.

The two years in Jordan was not all work, though. The Hovlands were given two days of vacation for each month they worked.

“We saw a lot of historic sites and natural areas in Jordan that first year,” said Dan. “We took time to see Istanbul in Turkey and Jerusalem in Israel.”

On weekends, the two Peace Corps volunteers traveled to sites within Jordan. They visited Petra, which means “rock,” and is an ancient village carved into the sides of Mount Hor by the Nabatean tribes. It is estimated the village was established around the sixth century B.C.

The Hovlands visited Wadi Rum, a natural valley cut into sandstone and granite and a popular tourist area. A wadi is a dried up creek or river bed and the area is similar to a national park. Dan and Marlene also visited several Biblical sites such as the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, where Moses first saw the Promise Land; Wadi Mujib, where Moses wandered; the area where Jesus is said to have been baptized in the Jordan River and many Roman ruins.

They also took some of their vacation to come home during Christmas in 2010, and when their two years were up, they spent the remaining weeks of their vacation time seeing Germany.

“Besides our university teaching jobs, we shared American culture with the Jordanians and they shared their culture with us,” said Marlene. “It was a great experience and we wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

They said it was hard to leave their family for two years, especially since five new grandchildren were born while they were away.

“We made many new friends in Jordan, but we are happy to be home with family, too,” said Marlene.

“Insha’allah, we will return some day,” said Dan. “That means ‘God willing’ in Arabic.”

Dan and Marlene said they have much to share with everyone. They are looking forward to giving presentations to various groups on all they learned and saw.