Sunday, July 14, 2013

Seville/Cordoba: Week 2

View of La Giralda from Alcazar
This past week I visited the Alcazar of Seville and spent the past two days in Cordoba. But before I get to the sightseeing facet of my presence in Spain I should give an update on my research. This past week it hung by a thread. Having reached the end of one roll of microfilm without seeing nearly as many documents as I expected, I began to wonder if that was the end of the line. However, after talking to one of the archives' research assistants I learned three more rolls of microfilm remain pertaining to Wilkinson's relationship with the Spanish Crown. This was a huge relief. 

Because of the high volume of researchers during the summer months and the lack of microfilm viewing machines, I'm doing everything I can to arrive every morning at the archives well before it opens (8am). Each day I sift through General Wilkinson's correspondence with Spanish Governors of West Florida, Louisiana, and Havana. For each individual letter I record the date and its place of origin in an effort to retrace Agent 13's path through the American frontier. While creating my exhibit in St. Lawrence Special Collections last year I found that given a chronologically concentrated distribution of correspondence and trade related documents I could literally track a historical figure's path and actions through time/space. It's a simple concept really. Yet when carried out on a wider scale with hundreds of documents, each letterhead marks a single waypoint in the complex journey of that person's experience. Whenever I find a particularly important document I take care to record excerpts or some even in their entirety. This has proved to be an effective method for building the foundation of a historical narrative.

That's enough for now recounting my research methods. As you already have begun to see, I've been balancing my hours in the archives by visiting local historical sites. On monday I finally visited the Alcazar of Seville. It has long been a residence of various Muslim and Christian leaders in Spain and is still used by the Royal Family today as one of many places of residence. The prevalence of Islamic art and architecture throughout the Alcazar is breath taking. The dome directly to the right was just one of many ornamental ceilings throughout the palace. 

 As I was exiting the Alcazar there was an artist selling her impressions of Islamic patterns just outside the palace gates. After talking to her for a bit about her work, I found she shared my appreciation for the cultural diversity in Spain of centuries past.

This weekend I had the privilege to see the remnants of convivencia in Cordoba. To the right is a castle I saw while traveling by train to Cordoba on Friday. After looking at Google maps I still can't figure out what it's called.
The Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba
Yesterday I visited the Cathedral of Cordoba. I've called it a hybrid Cathedral-Mosque above because although the Catholic Church now owns it, in reality most of the structure still remains in appearance a mosque. In terms of function however, I recently learned that the Church bars Muslims from praying within the structure. 

Later yesterday afternoon an hour in the Catedral-Mezquita I made my way to one of the three remaining synagogues in Spain. This statistic does not include synagogues built more recently, but refers to the three synagogues that survived destruction during/after the Reconquista. The picture below is of the Hebrew inscription that marks the year of the synagogue's completion (1315).

To end this post, here is a picture I took today overlooking the River Guadalquivir, the Roman Bridge, and the Cathedral of Cordoba. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Seville: Week 1

After sitting on the tarmac in Montreal for an extra hour, missing my connection to Madrid in London-Heathrow, and my luggage spending the night in Madrid as I settled into my apartment in Seville- I made it. Although a lot went wrong travelling I knew it would all be worth it. Seville is fantastic. I haven't seen a cloud all week. Everything is in bloom. And I have the privilege to walk past some of the most iconic structures everyday as I walk to the archives. One iconic building is the bar "El Rinconcillo" featured above. Which if you look closely was founded in the year 1570! Something that constantly reminds me of the  historical saturation of every single building, church, and bar is the recycled materials that went into their construction. Directly above you'll find consecutive circles making up the foundation of a predominantly brick and mortar building. One of the Spaniards I'm living with told me each circular stone was cut from a Roman column. To me they look like mill stones, but either way you can see how the structures themselves are mosaics of different eras and cultures. Another example of this sort of layering is the Torre del Oro, built by the Almohads to control the river, later a prison, now a naval museum, the tower still shows many architectural signs of Arabic influence. Coincidentally the skyscraper in construction across the river looks almost identical to one I photographed for my blog while I was studying in Jordan.

The two following pictures are two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites down the street from the Torre. I id my best to do the Cathedral and the Archivos justice but they are gigantic. The Archivos are what have drawn me here to Seville. More specifically, they contain hundreds of documents pertaining to General James Wilkinson or as the Spanish knew him Agent 13. Yesterday, I wrapped up my first week of research in the Archivos. My eyes needed a break after the hours I spent sifting through piles upon piles of parchment and spinning through microfilm of Wilkinson's correspondence. Though I originally thought I'd be able to peruse Agent 13's correspondence by hand it turns out the collection is damaged and off limits to the public. Luckily for me everything off limits was converted to microfilm in 2010. To be honest I don't mind missing out on complete access, I can cover more ground buzzing through microfilm slides than a stack of letters anyways.

After failing to enter the Cathedral today, as I was lacking a document with my date of birth on it, I decided I'd adventure around near the river. I ended up hanging out in one of the parks reading the newspaper. I think this massive building through the trees might be part of the university.

Every commute to the Archivos or anywhere in central Seville takes me through a serpentine path of cobblestone roads. I am very lucky to be staying so close to the Archivos. I'm only 15 minutes on foot.

To end this post I thought I'd go back in time to when this project was just beginning to crystallize. I've included a picture of me in front of the sign for my exhibit in St. Lawrence special collections. It was only beginning to dawn on me how much awaited me in Los Archivos de Indias. If your interested in what my exhibit entailed here's the catalogue/report I organized I can't believe how much my research has developed in two years. I want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way; Dr. Schrems, Tim Cryderman, Mark McMurray, Paul Hagget, Dr. Jennings, Dr. Ponce-Vázquez, Dr. Eissenstat, Martha Sawyer. The list goes on and on. I believe justice has yet to be done in the case of General James Wilkinson and I'm doing my best to form a more impartial interpretation of his connection to the Spanish. Thanks for reading.

*The Watertown Times owns the right to this photo.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Month in Seville, Spain

It has been over 4 months since I last posted. I have gone through some reverse culture shock since I have been back in the United States, though nothing too stressful. Apart from double checking where the bottom of my shoe is pointing as I cross my leg or pronouncing hard consonants too strongly in English most of my adjustment has been subconscious. I often miss shwarma, hummus, kanafe, and day by day miss the opportunities I had engaging my friends in Arabic while studying in Jordan. I'm writing now as I stand at the juncture of another trip abroad, a month in Seville, Spain. Though Spain represents the confluence of all my interest in Middle East meets West history, I will ironically be spending time there to research the correspondence of an American: General James Wilkinson. More on that later. 

In this post I have for you one of my efforts to build upon the skills I picked up while studying in Jordan. While a student at Amideast I had the pleasure of taking the course offered in Islamic Art. The professors were world-class and possessed a wide range of specialties in various art forms (ceramics, wood working, and illumination). For the second half of the semester I elected to specialize in wood carving. I was lucky enough to learn from an Indonesian master named Aziz. I hope at some point he sees that I have been able to continue our work together in class. This spring I bought a few chisels and set out to carve my girlfriend a picture frame for her birthday. Here's the time lapse photography. 

Between finding time to carve and planning out the design, the time lapse from start to end was about a month. After drawing, stamping, chiseling, and painting I was happy with my results. Feel free to ask me any further questions about the process. After centuries of Muslim influence on southern Spain I anticipate to see similar patterns in the older structures of Seville. Additionally, I will take a couple side trips to the great mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada to appreciate Spain's history and cultural syncretism. Despite my deep interest in the vestiges of Muslim influence, my core purpose for spending the month of July in Seville centers on early American history. 

More specifically, I will spend my days sifting through the correspondence of General James Wilkinson held in the General Archives of the Indies. Why General Wilkinson? Why are his letters held in Spain? After proving himself as a valuable aid-de-camp during the American Revolution under Generals Benedict Arnold, Washington, and Gates, Wilkinson himself became the youngest General of the Continental Army (age 20). This in conjunction with the fact that he would later become Commanding General of the US Army for over 15 years makes his career a worthy research topic. Beyond his service to the United States Wilkinson also maintained a covert relationship with the Spanish throughout much of his military career, receiving multiple payments for leaking information the Spanish deemed important (regarding the frontier). You may have already made your mind up about Wilkinson, along with most historians and his biographers. Though, the same writers who call him a traitor or scoundrel raise the question, but cannot adequately explain, why the Founding Fathers (who knew about his connection) kept him in a position of power. I do not seek to exculpate Wilkinson with the time I spend in the Archives of the Indies. I simply believe there is more to the story of why he became so useful to leaders in Philadelphia, Madrid, Washington, and Havana. I aim to capture this alternative narrative with my research.

While I'm in Seville I will be updating my travel blog on my progress in the Archives and my experiences. Thanks for reading. And I almost forgot, thanks to St. Lawrence University for funding my trip with a variety of research grants and to the Cornwell Family for the research they promote through their funding of the Tanner Fellowship.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Week 15/16: Finals and Cultural Syncretism

I have been looking forward to writing this post all semester. It is the culmination of all the attention I've paid to the similarities between English, Spanish, and Arabic. But before I get to the final list of linguistic similarities I want to talk about my new found taste in hip hop and the concerts I've attended over the past week. Recently I have started listening to more rap music. I wasn't that conscious of it until I realized that hip hop doesn't exist in Jordan like it does in the States. I think it's a representation of missing home. Yet, I'll be somewhere over the Atlantic a week from now.

Last weekend I visited the National Music Conservatory to listen to traditional music and watch a Dabka dance group. The singer pictured above was unbelievable. Being a westerner, If I closed my eyes I couldn't tell whether or not I was listening to Feyruz. The picture below is of St. George Cathedral. I performed there the past two nights with my choir Dozan wa Awtar. I didn't find out until later but one of the princesses from the Royal Family was in attendance. The decorations were unbelievable.

The list that follows speaks for the way that I look at the world after four months in Amman, Jordan. In the Modern Era, it seems commonplace that cultural differences are given more weight then similarities. Cultures and societies around the world tend to overlook their similarities due to competition for resources, nationalism, and pure xenophobia. The need for an other or an outsider is fundamental to the way that nations have formed and boundaries have been drawn over the past two centuries. Though cultural divergence is a common trend, my beliefs form a counter-argument centered around cultural syncretism. Cultural syncretism addresses the similarities and the abilities of disparate identities to meld together overtime. I believe one of the best sets of indicators for this process are the sounds and words languages impart upon each other with prolonged exposure. I would argue that the remnants of Arabic we still see in Spanish and English came from the eight hundred year exchange amongst Arabs and Europeans in the Iberian Peninsula. I hope these observations lead you to see bonds that we never take enough time to notice as English, Spanish, or Arabic speakers. No matter your culture or language I hope these connections help you too to look for the similarities amongst all the differences. 

Overarching Observations: (some of these might require some background in Arabic)

  • Sun letters/Moon letters: oftentimes one can see the loss of ل in English and Spanish words taken from Arabic 
  • The Arabic article 'al' still remains within many words
  • Key terms remain within our vocabulary because of the impact Arabic thinkers had on Math and Science 
  • Just as in Arabic dialects the letter qaf (ق) can also make a 'g' sound
English-Spanish-Arabic (English phonetic spelling): On specific words I have comments on meaning and the circumstances in which I realized the possible relationship.

*disclaimer* I guarantee there are typos throughout, if you notice any feel free to correct me. I'm sure some of these connections are not based on anything other than coincidence, in which case I'd like to apologize to those who have a background in philology. For words that have no comments the meaning is the same across all three languages.

  1. alchemy-alquimia-الكيمياء (al kemea): If you have read The Alchemist you might appreciate this instance of linguistic overlap. 
  2. alcohol-alcohol-الكحول (al cahool): As you can see with many of these first entries that the article 'al' still remains in many words making them dead giveaways in terms of lineage.
  3. alfalfa-alfalfa-الفصفصة (alfasfisa)
  4. algebra-álgebra-الجبر (al jabr)
  5. algorithm/logarithm-algoritmo/logaritmo-لوغارميان (logarmeyen): I'm not sure if this is relevant but I noticed the words algo (something) and ritmo (rhythm) within the word algoritmo. This is probably a coincidence.
  6. almanac-almanaque-المناخ (alminah):  In Arabic almanac literally means "the climate." This is one of my favorite connections because of its undeniable relationship between the languages in question. Every American remembers hearing about Poor Richard's Almanack in middle school. Under the pseudonym Poor Richard, Ben Franklin published his almanac to give the colonies a rough forecast for the coming seasons and help farmers decide when to plant/harvest. So in a sense the meaning climate still remains in the English word almanac but we are often unaware of how it traces back to Spain and beyond to the Middle East.
  7. asthma-asma-ازمة (azma): This is another surprising connection I made a couple months ago. While travelling around Amman by taxi, cab drivers always use the word azma because its meaning in Arabic is blockage or crowdedness. The linkage is obvious yet I still am not sure if azma in Arabic has any relevance in the field of medicine.
  8. bathtub-bañera-بانيو (banyu)
  9. camisol-camiseta-قميص (qamees): It's possible this connection comes from French rather than Spanish and French colonial rule in the region rather than Al-Andalus.
  10. cave-cueva-كهف (kehif)
  11. cipher-cifra-صفر (sifr): Here is another representation of linguistic exchange through Math. Cipher is not a common word in English, I see cifra more commonly used in Spanish. Sifr means zero in Arabic. Though cipher or cifra can mean any numerical figure in Math, the first meaning in an English dictionary is actually zero. And according to you can call someone a cipher if you want an alternate route to calling them a zero or a low life.
  12. cotton-algodón-القطن (al cutin): From studying the Jordanian dialect of Arabic I have experienced firsthand how the letter ق qaf can be changed to make a 'g' sound. This would explain the difference between the Spanish and English words for cotton.
  13. coffee-café-قهوة (kahwa)
  14. cow-vaca-بقرة (bakira): One starts to wonder why the letters 'p' and 'v' remain in the Spanish alphabet when speakers persist in pronouncing them as the letter 'b'. In Arabic this sound and pronunciation is consolidated in the letter ب or 'ba'.
  15. cup-taza-طاسة (tasa)
  16. cut-cortar-قص (qas)
  17. drawer-girador-جارور (jirour): It's correlations like this that make me wonder if I'm picking up on English words that have been recently taken into use by Arabic (freezer, to save, fabricate). Yet, the presence of girador in Spanish leads me to believe that there is a common lineage behind these words.
  18. el Cid-el Cid-سيد (sayd): I hate to be break Spain's nationalistic bubble but el Cid, the Catholic Crusader hero, took his name from Arabic. In Arabic one uses sayd as a formal reference such as Mr. To set the record straight el Cid most likely spoke Arabic. Furthermore, he fought as a mercenary for Christian rulers and various Muslim princes of Al-Andalus. So my question is how does one make a crusader out of el Cid? The answer comes by means of the Spanish historian Ramón Menendez Pidal and his contributions to Franco's propaganda.
  19. enough-bastante-بس (bas)
  20. f***-j***-***هذ: those who know the words I'm talking about can see the relationship, but for those who don't know the spanish f-word comes from the Arabic to throw a 'bad' substance on someone. 
  21. facade-fachada-فساد (facade): corruption in Arabic
  22. guitar-guitarra-قيثارة (gethara)
  23. until-hasta-حتى (hata)
  24. hallelujah-hallelujah- الحمد لله (al hamdulilah)This is one of the common phrases you hear in Arabic. Ask anyone how they are doing, the response most of the time is alhamdulilah. It sounds similar to hallelujah and creates the same idea as "thanks be to God."
  25. hopefully-ójala- ان شاءاللة (in shah allah): This is great example of the continued presence of the Arabic word for God or Dios in Spanish.
  26. jewel-joyería-جوهرة (jaohra): This was one of my first realizations here in Jordan. I was in a restaurant eating humus with my whole program when I looked across the traffic circle and sounded out the word for jewelry shop for the first time in Arabic. I was immediately struck by its similarity to Spanish.
  27. kiss-besa-بوسة (boosa)
  28. lamp-lámpara-لامبة (lamba)
  29. lemon-limón-ليمون (lemoon)
  30. Matt(check mate)-matar-مات (matt): I have gone by Matthew in Jordan because my shortened name literally means dead in Arabic. More importantly, the term check mate in chess and the verb matar (to kill) show a relationship to Arabic. Check mate in Arabic actually means the leader or king is dead.
  31. masticate(to chew)-masticar-مستكة (mastika): I saw this on a gum wrapper the other day and it reminded me of the verb to chew in Spanish and the uncommon equivalent in English; masticate.
  32. Messiah-Mesías-مسيح (maseeh): When I'm asked my religion by cab drivers, which is about twice a week, the word for Christian that I reply with in Arabic is the equivalent of saying Messiahan in English. It's not a direct translation but it seems Messiah could be related back to semitic lingual roots.
  33. mirror/mirage-espejo/espejismo-مرآة/مرية (miraya/mir'a)
  34. music-música-موسيقى (museeka)
  35. to nail-clavar-نيل (nayila): I cannot verify this correlation in google translate, but my assistant director assures me that the statement to nail a test has the same meaning in Arabic and the verb has a similar sound.
  36. olive-aceituna-زيتون (zaytoon)
  37. other-otra-اخرى (akhra)
  38. oud-oud-العود (oud)
  39. oven-horno-فرن (forn): I believe in Gallego and Portuguese the word for oven is forno. This swap between 'h' and 'f' seems to be common within dialects and languages of the Iberian Peninsula. It seems that it might relate back to Arabic.
  40. pharaoh-faraón-فزعون (faraon)
  41. Portugal-Portugal-برتقال (bortuqal): Portugal closely resembles the word for orange in Arabic.
  42. potato-patata-بطاطة (batata)
  43. priest-cura-خوري (khoury): Though there are other words for priest in Spanish and Arabic vocabulary, sacerdote or kehin, my realization about a common last name of Christians in the Middle East leads me to believe it impacted the word cura in Spanish.
  44. rice-arroz-الاُرز (arruz)
  45. ruckus-lío-الرقص (al rukis): This is another instance of unlikely linguistic relation but usefulness in remembering the Arabic verbal noun for dancing.
  46. Sabbath-sábado- السبت (al sabt): Even though the word Sabbath shows some relationship to Arabic the holy day is the first day of the work week in the Middle East. Yes, the weekend in Jordan is Friday-Saturday as opposed to Saturday-Sunday.
  47. scorpion-alacrán-العقرب (al akrub)
  48. she-ella-هي (heeya)
  49. shrimp-gambas-جمبري (gambree): My first full day in Jordan I saw this word in a restaurant menu. Because it looked similar to gambas in Spanish I pronounced it with the English 'g' sound rather than our 'j' sound. It turns out what I thought was the Spanish way to pronounce the word is also correct in Arabic.
  50. star-estrella-الثريا (atraya): I recently learned the word for chandelier in Arabic (atraya). Though, it was not until I found out that Arab poets frequently call a special star 'chandelier' that I realized the possible relationship to estrella in Spanish.
  51. sauce-salsa-صلصة (salsa)
  52. sugar-azúcar-السكر(asukr)
  53. tea-té-شاي (chai)
  54. tomato-tomate-طماطم (tomatum)
  55. thou-usted-استاذ (ustezz): Though ustezz specifically refers to a professor or teacher in Arabic, speakers often refer to one another with ustezz as a sign of formality. This shows a direct relation to the formal usted in Spanish. The closest equivalent we have in English is thou. Hemingway uses thou a lot in For Whom the Bell Tolls to convey the formality of usted in Castellano Spanish.
  56. yacht-yate-يخت (yakt): This is one of the first words/cognates I learned in Arabic class.
  57. zephyr-céfiro-زفير (zafeer): Though Zephyr is the god of the west wind in Greek mythology the word means exhale in Arabic.
If I am realizing this similarities in the Middle East than it means these common words and sounds existed here before they were transferred to Spain. Though it's possible these similarities were transferred by other routes and languages in which I have no background. I know some of you reading this speak Turkish, Italian, German, French, Swedish, maybe even Farsi. If any of these observations make sense within languages other than Spanish, English, and Arabic feel free to post your realizations of common linguistic lineage. Also, if you realize any new similarities I'd love to hear them. Thank you for reading all the way to this point. I'm leaving Jordan 4 days from now. If you are Jordanian I want to thank you for this experience and for contributing to such a welcoming culture.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Week 13: Thanksgiving/Biblical Excursion

*I apologize once again if the formatting is off...

Thanksgiving Part 2
 Believe it or not, I celebrated Thanksgiving twice in Amman. Between the two dinners, three turkeys, cranberries in a can, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and homemade stuffing I consumed everything you'd hope to find in the States. We even watched the Charlie Brown special together on Hulu! It was an interesting change of pace as my American friends and I explained our customs to Jordanian guests. From explaining Thanksgiving in another cultural context I realized how some things are simply lost in translation. For example the dog show is against the grain of Middle Eastern customs as dogs are considered unclean. Also American Football does not gain the same resonance in Arabic culture as it does for Americans. It was refreshing to have so many symbols of home sitting out on a table for my taking. I have to admit, I am really beginning to miss our cuisine and portion sizes.

 Last week my program went on our final excursion to the key Biblical sites of Jordan. Above is a mosaic from, if I remember correctly, a 6th century church in Madaba. The mosaics there are unlike anything I have ever seen in Jordan or anywhere else in the world. At one site, it felt like a single mosaic could fill an entire school gym. Maybe I'm evoking hyperbole, but it's the best I can do to convey my sense of awe.

Here is the view from Mt. Nebo. I learned that this is where God led Moses at the end of his life in order to show him the Promised Land. I had no idea that, according to tradition, Moses died up on Mt. Nebo. Judging by the statues and tributes to Pope John Paul II it seemed that he had been there around the year 2000.

Pope-mobile mosaic
Here you can see the Jordanian take on the Pope-mobile, Queen Rania, his Majesty King Abdullah II, and his Holiness Pope John Paul II. This is actually a real mosaic! It is placed right near Jesus' baptism sight in commemoration of the Pope's visit in 2002(?). Just like whoever decided to place it there, I thought the mosaic was a fantastic example of inter-faith relations.

Baptism Site
Though the Jordan River has receded to the Jordan Creek, this spot is said to be Jesus' Baptism site. It was hard to wrap my head around how one baptism begat a new Abrahamic religion which begat the belief system of billions. My time at all of the biblical sites brought me back to my days in Vacation Bible School. I'm sorry if this entry seems a little short, but I'm doing my best juggling final papers, rehearsals for my Christmas concert, and final exams. In case you were wondering some stores put up Christmas trees here in Jordan. Because I am in a Christian choir I have been able to get in the spirit by singing all of our traditional carols in preparation for our concert on the 12th and 13th. I am saving the best for last with this blog. My final entry will be a compilation of all the Arabic words I've picked up on that show a possible relationship with Spanish and/or English. I've been looking forward to sharing them with you all semester because of their importance for inter-cultural understanding.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weeks 11/12: Aquisition

I thought I'd center this post around my core motive for studying in Jordan- acquisition of the Arabic language. "Why" you might ask, why am I learning Arabic? My earliest interest in studying Arabic emerged during my introduction to the Spanish language. From our first classes in middle school onwards I slowly was informed of how many Arabic words and sounds remain in the Spanish language. From fifth grade on I was left wondering how these similarities came into existence. The short answer to my question came from taking a class in the history of the Islamic world during my freshman year of college. Since then building an in-depth understanding of the history of cultural syncretism in the Iberian Peninsula has become my academic focus. I believe the study of an era when Abrahamic religions, Semitic languages, and Romantic languages thrived together is highly relevant with the current state of the world. Therefore my core professional goal is to help people understand one another's language and culture. This might take form in teaching, translating, or foreign relations. Before I get down to the specifics of Arabic I'd like to present my Halloween costume.
I was Scuba Steve and my friend Martha was Scuba Cindy

There's no way around it, Arabic is difficult. And there is no single Arabic language. Here in Amman I've been learning colloquial Jordanian Arabic and Modern Standard (Fus-ha). It's discouraging but besides reading the newspaper or watching television most of what we learn at universities in the States isn't something you'd use on a day-to-day basis in Jordan. This is not to discredit the importance of Fus-ha. I still highly recommend you pay attention in Modern Standard Arabic as some Jordanian adults intersperse more formal phrasing and vocabulary to strengthen their points. Not to mention, any important legal document or political speech will most likely be in Modern Standard Arabic. Yet the truth is still obvious when I speak or dream in Arabic, I have acquired much more of the colloquial tongue than Modern Standard. Again Arabic is difficult. But there are strategies I've learned that someone with no experience can use to pick up on grammatical structure and phrasing. Now that I think of it, this might work for any foreign language. The hint is, listen for the way native speakers of Arabic speak English. Listen to the common trends of how foreigners restructure English grammar in what seems to be a peculiar or incorrect manner. Sometimes this will reflect their projection of Arabic grammar onto the English language. This strategy came from my early days of understanding almost nothing and making the most of the fact that many people in Jordan speak better English than a lot of westerner speaks Arabic. I'll use some examples now. You will always hear Arabic speakers say "as you like" in English. It's something we don't say that much in the States, or at least in New York. But in Jordanian Arabic the polite phrase zay ma bidak (as you like) is used all the time. Another example is Jordanians accounting for time passing by saying things like "before two days" or "before thirty years." In English we'd normally just say "two days ago." But by listening closely to the abnormalities in grammar you can pick up on the Arabic tendency to account for the passing of time with qabla yeomayn (literally before two days). I'm not sure if this strategy will make sense just on paper. That is something I have been facing, the difficulty of conveying the spectrum of my experiences from across the planet. I'm doing my best though. 
After one more anecdote I'll move onto some more pictures. I walked out of the gym this past weekend and a man with his family in the car pulled up in front of me. He called ya shab (hey you youth) and proceeded to ask me for directions to a street near my house. I was first surprised that I knew what street he was talking about and even more when I realized I didn't realize I was being adressed or giving directions in Arabic. It just happened. I was dumbstruck after they drove off. 

If the formatting works out this is a picture of the first true winter sky I saw in Jordan. One day last week the clouds rolled in, it rained on and off for 12 hours, and it has been cold ever since. I honestly don't know what the temperature is. It is all relative to me right now. I know this mindset will fall apart as soon as I step of the plane in Syracuse come December.

This is the school gym I played volleyball and basketball
in this past weekend with a group of fellow choir members.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Week 10: Aqaba and Spontaneous Combustion

*Disclaimer: Somehow pictures I deleted after encountering formatting problems are still showing up within this post. I'm not positive, as I can't find them within the actual document, but you may see a fish with sharp teeth that I had for dinner, swords on the wall of a restaurant constructed completely out of aluminum foil, umbrellas hovering over a street, more pictures of the air show, and possibly duplicates. I'm sorry if this looks scatterbrained, but at least I was able to include all the pictures I had originally planned on showing you.

Hello again. Before I tell you about my week in Aqaba I'd like to touch upon a realization I had today about the trash situation here in Amman. Today I realized a great way to explain it to someone who isn't here is with the concept of spontaneous combustion. I know it sounds ridiculous, but sadly this is something you can probably hear all about nowadays on the History Channel. I could probably write a whole separate blog about my grievances pertaining to the programs passed off as "history" on what used to be my favorite channel. But anyways, what brought me to the topic of spontaneous combustion was my walk back from buying shwarma today for lunch ( I eat shwarma probably 4 times a week here in Jordan). As I was walking through the vacant lot facing the Amideast building today I looked down and all around taking in a toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, jeans, a shoe, a shoe sole, water bottles, plastic bags, a spoon, and other random pieces of garbage. It hit me that every vacant lot in Jordan looks like a scene from the Twilight Zone. If you were here every day you would see burn marks or actual fires amongst all the garbage. This is because burning garbage is actually the method used by sanitation crews to combat all the trash that piles up. As tangential as this description was I think it's still useful to convey one of the realities of studying abroad in Amman. Now I'll move forward to speak about my time in Aqaba.

I last wrote the night before I left for Aqaba. The bus ride to the very southern tip of Jordan is actually somewhat long, clocking in at about 4 hours. Though it felt much longer getting down there then it did coming back to Amman and real life. Driving to Aqaba actually felt like we were on Mars. The southern deserts of Jordan are the most desolate I have ever seen. It still baffles me how the Bedouins thrive out there. They are true survivalists. On the bus we would drive for 20 minutes or so without seeing another soul to either side of the road, and then lo and behold there would be a Bedouin tent surrounded by a flock of sheep and two or three camels. Upon our arrival to Aqaba we were bombarded by taxi cab drivers offering us rides to our hostel. Twelve jordanian dollars later our entire group made it to the hostel/campground by cabs. We were half expecting to camp with sleeping mats and tents the entire week. It turns out we reserved a structure that was half way between a room and a tent. Throughout the week it gained names such as the FEMA Shelter and the haunted house (due to the black plywood and orange tarps). At night the winds would rap all the tarps against the shack and wake us up at random intervals. But otherwise I slept well as actual beds were provided.

Here we are somewhere near the coral formation that guidebooks call the Japanese Gardens.
I wasn't able to see the actual formations as the sea gets to shallow right above them and
puts snorkelers at risk of being stuck by sea urchins. I was cleaning my mask at the time the picture
was taken. In the background are a few yachts and Egypt against the horizon. Interestingly enough
the word yacht in English is actually Arabic in origin.
As I was hoping for I ended up spending a large part of my break underwater. Our second day there I bought snorkeling gear and spent the next few days exploring the coral directly across from our campground. Sadly much of it seems to be dying. I'm guessing the pH might be off because %60 of the reef is grey and turning to stone. On one of my group's self lead snorkeling excursions I was lucky enough to identify and prevent everyone from swimming into the path of a lionfish. I actually spotted it indirectly, at first I saw a school of minnows bugging out in a way I'd never seen before. They were forming into a ball and contorting like a flock of starlings evading a hawk. Then as I looked up past them there was a maroon colored lionfish looking in their direction (it also was looking towards our group). It lumbered around in a way that reminded me of the black bears I saw in a neighborhood near Seattle a few years ago. From what I've seen of dangerous animals they are oftentimes conscious of their abilities and therefore move slowly and assuredly with no concern for their surroundings. Thank God we got everyone out of there with out getting pricked. I actually celebrated Halloween by going scuba diving for the first time. Despite my mask being too tight and my subsequent migraine I had a positive experience. I definitely would consider taking a certification course when I return to my home university. On Halloween my friend Martha and I dove with two Irish dive masters on an old Russian tank. Technically I think it was an 70s era anti-aircraft vehicle. It was placed there by one of Jordan's former kings to create an artificial reef. Underneath it I saw a lionfish about four times larger than the previous one. It honestly looked like a porcupine was under the tank. Though I didn't see it, because their skin changes color and texture, my guide also pointed out a stonefish to me underneath the same vehicle. Apparently a sting by them is one of the most painful a diver can experience.

One of the days we were in Aqaba a group of four single prop planes appeared on the horizon heading directly towards our beach. It reminded me of the quality show I used to watch on the History Channel; The Black Sheep Squadron. It turns out it was a group of stunt planes who ended up putting on a half our show of stalls, flips, and synchronized flying. The picture above shows three of the pilots putting their planes into a stall at the exact same time. Now that I think of it this air show may have been in celebration of Eid al Adha. This Islamic holiday commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own son and God's intervention/substitution of Ishmael for a ram. The story is one of many that asserts the similarities between the Bible and the Quran (though in the Bible Isaac was to be sacrificed). In Jordan everyone who has the financial means is also expected to sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha. Nowadays sheep seem to be sacrificed more than rams or any other animal. The past two Eid al Adha holidays I've celebrated with the Islamic Culture Club at St. Lawrence University. However, this year I had the privilege of spending the entire holiday with a family I met while playing soccer on the beach. After kicking a ball around with one of their sons who is similar in age with me, I was introduced to the entire extended family. I spent the next three days eating meals, speaking Arabic, and spending most of my waking hours down on the beach with my new friends. Words cannot describe how accepted I felt by my second host family. It's one thing to be placed with a host family as a part of an academic program, but to meet one randomly and feel completely accepted is wonderful. This Thursday I'm going to meet my new friends at their school in Amman where I am to be introduced to their teachers and administrators. Afterwards their parents our picking us up and bringing us back to have a feast at their house. I hope all is well where ever you are reading this.