September 24, 2020

Exploration, Determination, and COVID-19: Chronicling My Unique Fulbright Adventure Through the Eyes of Dr. Luna Lego

Dr. Kaelin M. Groom (U.S. Scholar Alumna 2019-2020) contributes this photo essay to our blog, and takes us along her adventures in the south of Jordan, conducting research with her fun partner, Dr. Luna Lego.

My, what an interesting few years it has been. When I accepted my 2019-2020 Fulbright Scholar award to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, there’s no way I could have imagined how things would end up so sideways—but what a wild ride. Everything started off so smoothly: My husband and I moved to Jordan with no problems, found a lovely apartment with an even lovelier elderly landlord, my research was all set to go, and I had a great plan for sharing the whole experience in a fun and original way: Dr. Luna Lego.


A few months prior, we had visited a LEGO mega-store where you can choose individual pieces to make custom people. With a collection of multiple faces, different outfits, and all sorts of fun accessories: Dr. Luna LEGO was born—my little plastic doppelgänger. While doing research and living abroad, posing Luna for photos instead of myself or my husband allowed me to share all our wonderful experiences while still maintaining some degree of personal privacy, plus she’s a lot cuter than either of us (and more fun).

So, come along for a photo essay of our… interesting…Fulbright adventure through the eyes of Dr. Luna LEGO.

Little work before we got to play but it was all still very exciting: (A) This was our first day as official Jordanian residents having just finished the long and tedious process of getting our Iqamas (residency permits). (B) All dressed up and attending the welcoming Fulbright Orientation at the Fulbright House in Amman. Luna was particularly excited about all the great swag they were giving away. (C) Topping it all off, this is our golden ticket to Petra: an official badge issued by the governing agency of Petra that granted us access to every nook and cranny of the massive desert city-scape.

Now it was time to get to work. My research is gathering old photographs of Petra and then taking new photos from the exact same spot/time of day/same shadows. It can be quite time consuming but the end product of“Petra Then and Now” will be amazing. (A) All the old photographs were uploaded to a small handheld device, so it was easier to identify view sheds without having to carry around old, and fragile, books throughout Petra. Here Luna is helping find the exact location of a photograph depicting one of the large Djinn blocks near the Siq. (B) This ancient landscape is a photographer’s dream—everywhere you turn something new and interesting comes into view. What a spectacular place to do research! (C) Petra truly is majestic. Sometimes you just have to stop and soak it in, like Luna here above the Deir.

Of course, we had our challenges too: (A) Some of our source materials were difficult to find. Luna and I spent several days combing through old books and archives at the Department of Antiquities and the generous library at the American Center of Research (ACOR) in Amman. (B) Sometimes the weather didn’t want to play nice… we got caught in a couple of rainstorms that made the rocky trails particularly treacherous for Luna. (C) Even when there wasn’t rain, could cover and sun angles weren’t always where they needed to before a precise repeat photograph. Many of our days were spent rushing to a site only to have to wait for hours until the sun was at the correct location.

But our biggest challenge was one we never saw coming…COVID19: (A) We’d been keeping up with the news coming out of China and back home but hoped we would be safe to stay in Jordan. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We packed our things and were ushered to the US Embassy to wait. They had created a socially-distanced sitting area in the parking lot with folding chairs placed 6 ft/1 m apart. (B) You could tell people weren’t all that happy about the situation and it certainly felt strange having to say goodbye to your friends with “air hugs”, but we knew it was probably for the best. Luna was sad to be leaving, especially under such odd circumstances.

And, oh boy, was traveling strange: (A) Hand sanitizer was everywhere! We washed our hands and lathered on the sanitizer at the embassy,then at the airport, then customs, then more airports, and so on. But better safe than sorry, right? (B) We tried to keep our distance from people but sometimes we didn’t really have a choice. On a few occasions, we were packed on buses with very limited space. Luna was struggling to keep it together on the bus to the airport. (C) The airports were eerily empty too. Jordan had closed all its borders weeks ago but agreed to open the airport for a special flight repatriating American citizens, i.e. us. At least it was reassuring to know our two nations were willing and able to arrange our safe passage home.


While we never could have imagined the course our Fulbright Adventure would take, it was certainly anything but dull. And we might not have been able to complete our research or stay as long as we wanted, but we were able to experience how Jordan responds to a crisis and how the famous Jordanian hospitality is only amplified when things get rough. While Luna and I are now safely back in the United States, our hearts remain in Jordan.  

Dr. Kaelin M. Groom is an American Alumna under the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to Jordan (2019-2020). She is part of the faculty at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University.

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