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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Weeks 8 & 9: Midterms

I have missed blogging for the past two weeks. It has become a great way for me to reflect and comprehend everything I'm experiencing. Writing the title for this post was a little startling as I don't feel I've spent anywhere near 8 or 9 weeks in Jordan. It honestly feels like I've spent maybe 3 weeks here. But I must apologize for my missing post from last week and the lack of pictures this time around. I uploaded a picture of my new oud surrounded by everything I'm packing for Aqaba but for someone reason it didn't save correctly. Therefore I won't be able to upload any new pictures before I leave tomorrow morning for the Red Sea. But yes, I have an oud! I traded the travel guitar I brought for one of the instructor's ouds at the place where I take lessons. It's even acoustic-electric. But enough with the oud description, I could go on and on about it. I want to convey a few meaningful experiences to you all before I depart tomorrow.
These past two weeks have been hard with midterms and a variety of writing assignments due. It's amazing how fast study time slips away when you're commuting by cab. But what I've taken away from all my midterms and my realization that I'm halfway through the semester is I have come a long way in learning Arabic. This sense of accomplishment led me to another important realization this past week, there is no reason I shouldn't be speaking Arabic all the time. My program doesn't mandate that we speak Arabic with other students, therefore I have started my own language pledge. It's been hard at first to stay conscious and strive to speak completely in arabic, but I know every day on the pledge will serve me well in the long run. Although, besides Arabic I also continually try to keep my Spanish skills up to par. Speaking Spanish in public actually got me into a weird situation today at Burger King. I know you're already asking 'why did you buy Burger King in Jordan?' I had very little time between classes and my favorite shwarma restaurant at Abdoun circle was mobbed. Anyways, I was speaking with my Puerto Rican friend and I said the word for 'never' a few times as part of our conversation (in Spanish jamas). I suddenly became aware of people looking at me strangely as we waited in line. From now on when I practice Spanish, at least in Jordan, I will use the other word for never: nunca. I'm going to have to cut this short as it's getting late, I haven't packed yet, and I'm leaving tomorrow morning for the south of Jordan. I can assure you after I return from Aqaba my next blog post will feature many pictures and extensive descriptions. One of the girls in my group even has an underwater camera which should yield some awesome snorkeling shots. I hope all is well where ever you are reading this.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Week 7: Generosity/Desert Excursion

Nabatean Rock Carvings
To me it looks like a representation of a hunt
This past week my entire program spent the night in a Bedouin style village in Wadi Rum and visited the ruins at Petra. But before I dive into our trip, I'd like to touch upon a theme that's been forming for me in my interactions with Jordanians. One day last week I experienced an instance of extreme generosity when I visited an ice cream shop with a few friends after class. While they were all deciding and ordering their ice cream I spoke with one of the employees in Arabic, asking about the names of ice cream and finding out that he was fluent in Italian from his time studying there. After trying a few samples I remarked that this was the best ice cream I'd found so far in Jordan. I'm not sure if it was my compliment or its combination with my effort to speak in Arabic, but the employee ended up refusing my money and gave me the milkshake for free. It turns out he was either the owner or the manager of the ice cream shop. He gave me his business card and said if I ever needed anything just give him a call. I was so surprised by this, you never expect someone to go the extra mile like Mahmoud did. But it happened again this week with a cab driver. On Wednesday night I took a cab to have shepherd's pie with a few friends at the Amideast apartments. I spoke in Arabic with the cab driver and had a genuine interest in our conversation about soccer, Palestine, and his family. When I arrived at the apartments the cab driver wouldn't accept my money. He said to me in Arabic ma salama sadeeqi (with peace my friend) and pulled away down the street. I'm beginning to think that my persistence in learning Arabic is  endearing to Jordanians. Or maybe it's just my genuine interest in their lives. I also received a remark this week from a Jordanian that they were proud of me for addressing them in Arabic. All I can say about all this is I feel so welcome here. Even with the difference in religion every cab driver I've had or security guard I've talked to who has brought up the Abrahamic religions has dwelled up their similarities rather than their differences. This often takes shape in naming off all the common prophets (Musa-Moses, Ibrahim-Abraham, Yusef-Joseph...), the cab driver's or security guard's compliments towards the Bible, or their assurance that Allah loves "people of the book" (Christians and Jews). It is always so refreshing when a Jordanian brings up religion, a topic I don't pursue out of respect, and is nothing but smiles and handshakes.

I was hoping my camera would do the sunset justice. In this particular picture it did.

In Arabic Wadi Rum means valley of the Romans. It is a true desert, nothing but sand, shrubs, and towering boulders as far as the eye can see. The sunset was amazing and the stars were unbelievable there. I've never seen anything like the night sky in the desert last Sunday night. The Milky Way spanned the entire sky and meteorites appeared every 15 minutes or so. My camera isn't good enough to capture what I saw that night. This is just more of an impetus for anyone to seek out stargazing spots with minimal light pollution. I was so captivated by the stars I slept out on the sand and learned how it has a tendency to leech your heat if you sleep without adequate padding beneath you. But waking up a few times shivering was so worth it. I woke up extra early the next morning to catch the sunrise. The photo to the left does neither the desert sunset or the sunrise justice. We often agree within our group how hard it is to convey our experiences here in Jordan to loved ones. I'm doing my best however to do so with this blog.

Seeing shepherds, sheep dogs, and their flocks is a normal occurrence in Jordan.

Now I'll take you through a bit of time lapse photography to help convey my growing excitement as I walked down the ravine towards the ruins at Petra.

Centuries ago the ravine actually had a cobblestone road on which
chariots would enter the ancient city. 

This was my first glimpse of the treasury (Khaznah) from the ravine.

Later on we hiked up one of the towering boulders overlooking Petra. Though you can't see them very well in this picture, it was then that I realized it would take weeks to fully enjoy all the ruins at Petra.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Week 6: Rain?

About a week ago I was walking back from my oud lesson when a drip of water hit my shoulder. At first I thought someone must be cleaning their balcony above me, but when I looked up there was only a power line overhead. My next thought was there must somehow be water dripping off the power line. I honestly did not think that it could be raining. The concept had become so foreign to me it was not until I stood in an open parking lot, letting a few more drops hit me, that I accepted it was actually raining. Because of the weather cars were honking as if a huge wedding was underway. People came out of their homes with their arms spread wide and looked up to the sky. I was laughing at myself the rest of the way home, in disbelief that something so normal in the States had become so foreign and exciting for me here in Jordan. Since last Saturday it's rained a few more times. Like lake effect snow in Central New York, this has effected drivers' reaction times. It was a bit unnerving to see cars fishtailing through the traffic circles of Amman. This week my cultural dialogue group composed of both Americans and Jordanians met up at sheesha place near the Amideast offices. Our topics ranged from discipline within American and Jordanian families to the health risks of smoking tobacco through a water pipe (sheesha). I've heard statistics that %90 of people my age here smoke cigarettes and/or sheesha. Smoking sheesha is a staple of social gatherings here.
To the left is the oud I practice on once or twice a week. Last night I went to a gathering organized by fellow members of the choir Dozan wa Awtar and had the pleasure to hear a fellow Dozaner play oud as everyone else sang along. He played so late into the night and everyone sang so loudly that neighbors began to yell at us from nearby windows. I spoke with him about the scales I've been learning and I learned that every call to prayer I hear is in the same scale: Hijaz. In addition to the choir event I visited the market in downtown Amman yesterday with a group of friends from Amideast. Try to imagine the smell of any citrus fruit and the sicky sweet taste you get when taking a vitamin c tablet. Upon entering the covered market you are overcome with this sensation. It's also loud from time to time as the vendors chime in singing songs about bandura bandura toofa toofa (tomatoes tomatoes apples apples). Huge chunks of meat hang off the hooks of each butcher's stand. Every butcher's chop comes so close to his hand you are left wondering how he still has all his fingers. Also like much of Jordan there are signs everywhere within the market that make references to Koranic verses and the 99 names of Allah. From what I can tell the ones below say something to the effect of blank(save/deliver?) us from the fire, ...from the fire, ...from the fire amen. The smaller orange sign references Allah.

Here's an example of the geometry I've been learning in my Islamic Art class. You see patterns like this all over Amman on mosques, private residences, and storefronts. My girlfriend pointed out that she sees patterns like this in older structures throughout Spain. The reason for this is clear as Arabs lived in Spain for just under eight centuries. There is still much more to come on the remnants of cultural syncretism in the Iberian Peninsula and how they relate to what I've seen here in Jordan. The day after tomorrow I'm travelling to Petra with my entire program. I hope all is well where ever you are reading this. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Week 5: Desert Castles/Russian Circus

This past week I visited Jordan's desert castles, rehearsed with the choir Dozan wa Awtar, volunteered at the Amman National School for the second time, visited the circus, and helped paint my host family's living room. Six days ago was our trip to the desert castles. Exactly fourteen of us from Amideast spent our saturday in the deserts east of Amman. It was mind-boggling how close we were to Jordan's borders. Our bus driver was joking we could make it to either Syria, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia in under an hour. The first castle we visited was Qasr Kharaneh. The wild dog running along the edge of the parking lot was only the third I've seen here in Jordan. The other two were here in Amman. I have no idea how this dog is able to survive out in the desert. When we reached the top of the castle there was nothing but dunes and power lines in every direction. The castle is said to have been a meeting point for the upper class of Damascus during the time of the Umayyad caliphate (before their last remaining prince's flight to Spain/Al Andalus). This makes the castle easily over a thousand years old. Surprisingly archaeologists have found no means of water storage at the castle. This leads them to believe it was just a waypoint or meeting place for caravans.

Qasr Kharaneh
After a 30 minute drive through the desert we arrived at Qasr al Azraq. When I first looked at my pictures from the castle it seemed as if I had used some sort of filter with my camera. I just don't recall the interior courtyard looking this dark. Though it must be said the grey stones used in the castle's construction are unlike anything I've seen elsewhere in Jordan. The sand-colored rock used in the other two castles as construction materials resembles that of all the buildings here in Amman. Lawrence of Arabia is believed to have stayed in Qasr al Azraq for two weeks during the Arab Revolt. The smaller square shaped structure to the right of the picture is actually an old mosque. Inside it looked as if there were at one time gypsum carvings on the structure's interior arches. This was technically the first mosque I've visited here in Jordan. I'm still hoping to visit one that's in use here in Amman.

Qasr al Azraq

 We also visited the al-Azraq oasis. The word Azraq in Arabic fittingly means blue (somewhat like azul in Spanish). Seeing the sprawling greenery, hearing the birds, and watching them hunt for fish made me realize how much I miss nature. I guess nature by my standards is simply greenery. If I look hard enough there are traces of it in Amman. But being here makes me realize how blessed the forests and ecosystems of New York State are with water. Al Azraq is a waypoint for over 300 species of birds migrating between Asia and Europe. One of the species I'd never heard of before was the bee eater. The Jordanians have done a great job maintaining the park and the dam built there by the Romans. It makes sense that Al Azraq isn't choking on wrappers, plastic containers, and cardboard as one in every four glasses of water in Amman comes from this oasis.
Qasr Amra
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Restorations at Qasr Amra
In my opinion, the final castle we visited was by far the most striking. Its walls and ceilings were covered in paintings and frescoes. The Jordanian government is doing there best to preserve this site and has hired a team of Italians to clean and restore the castle's paintings. I took the chance to practice my Spanish with them and the team said they'd been toiling for six months just to clean one section of paintings. The structure is complete with its own Roman bath. According to our guide, who brought our attention to the overly detailed paintings of the castle, it was more a pleasure palace than it was a fortress.

 Besides travelling around Jordan I've also been studying, volunteering, and singing here in Amman. Classes are going great at Amideast. I also volunteer in music classes at the Amman National School helping elementary and middle schoolers with basic music theory and guitar lessons. Once a week I spend a couple hours rehearsing with the choir Dozan wa Awtar. We have a huge Christmas concert right before I leave in December. Most of the songs we're singing are in English or Romantic languages. I was actually hoping to learn at least one song in Arabic and bring it back to sing with Laurentian Singers. For any of you who are interested, Laurentian Singers will be touring down the east coast this coming spring. We are scheduled to make stops in Central New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.

I have seen a few roadside tents with satellite tv.
Ahlan wa Sahlan
Al Cirq Al Rusee
A few nights ago I went to the circus down the street from my house. I've been wondering for weeks about what is going on inside that tent. Maybe that is one of the purposes behind having it in a tent, to maintain an element of curiosity amongst the public. It is definitely why I wasn't allowed to take any pictures during the performances. There was a trapeze act, a troupe of gymnasts, and a couple of circus clowns. Furthermore, though there were a few colorful parakeets, no lions or elephants were part of the show. I'd like to end this post with an observation and realization that has taken a month to dawn on me. Everywhere around Amman most buildings have rebar jutting out of their roofs. Upon first glance I didn't realize how universal an occurrence this was in Jordan. Though overtime I started to realize Jordanians must be leaving their options open to continue building. I asked a few of my fellow students this week about what we have been seeing and they said that it is a Jordanian tradition for a son to build on top of his father's home. Though I haven't asked any Jordanians about this occurrence, after perusing a few sources on the internet the explanation I received seems correct. To me the jutting rebar all over the city is a valuable microcosm for the proximity of Jordanian familial relations.

This isn't the best example of the rebar. Though it's the best I could find from the windows of my host family's apartment.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Week 4: Jerash and Oud Lessons

What used to be Main Street in Jerash
Temple of Jupiter
(if you look closely a few of my friends skipped
out on the tour and scaled the ruins)
 I'm writing to you a day earlier than usual as I'm embarking on a day long trip tomorrow in order to see a few desert castles and an oasis. I'll have specifics on them in my next post. But before I dive into this week's trip to Jerash I want to touch upon a few more observations I've made about culture here in Jordan. A year ago while I was enrolled in a cultural anthropology course at St. Lawrence I realized the value of cross-cultural studies. By taking that sort of course you learn a great deal about the culture of others and in doing so you also learn a lot about your own. A great example of this unfolded for me this past week in Jordan with with regards to underlying symbols of Christianity in the United States. While speaking with a Jordanian Christian about the calls to prayer in Amman I realized that music, or at least notes, are also periodically played by places of worship in the States. I always thought the basic function of church bells was to inform listeners as to the time of day. Yet on the topic of calls to prayer, my Jordanian friend said they would love to live next to a church and hear its bells throughout the day. It never occurred to me that the periodic ringing we hear throughout the US could have such connotation. I also never made the connection between Islam and Christianity that both have a means to provide chronological structure within the daily lives of their believers. Another observation I made came while I was watching an ambulance blow by me in traffic a few days ago. The ambulance had a large crescent moon as part of its paint job. In Jordan the equivalent of the organization the Red Cross is the Red Crescent. Anything medical here from hospitals to ambulances, displays the red crescent of Islam. Back home I never made the connection that the red cross we see everywhere from military corpsmen to our own ambulances also stands as a reference to Christianity. My final observation of culture this week came when a complete stranger walked into the student lounge asking for my classmate Christian. As a side-note, no one except American Amideast students are allowed in our lounge or our entire wing of the 4th floor. The man was speaking entirely in Arabic and I could only make out that he had been at the Amideast offices last week with Christian. Because no advanced Arabic students were there to translate for us we went to get our program director. Like 4th graders we all listened as our director grilled the man out in the hall as to why he came to that part of the building. A few minutes later our director came back into the lounge with the man with a huge smile on her face. She said he had come to thank our classmate Christian for helping him find the program offices last week and that it was proper for him to do so in front of all his colleagues. After the man left our director told us we had just witnessed a Jordanian display of gratitude.

Now for my impressions of the Roman ruins at Jerash. I'm going to change things up and explain our trip using captions, on a picture by picture basis.

One of the first rules you learn as a history major is never think of  those living before you as simple or technologically challenged, they were ingenious in their use of the resources available to them and the technology of their day and age. The un-paraphrased quote comes from John H. Arnold's book History: A Very Short Introduction. The gist of this quote resonated in my head when I first saw the Roman manhole covers throughout the streets of Jerash. Our tour guide said that the Roman water/sewage systems were so advanced that one could actually jump down into them and crawl underneath the cobblestone streets.

There were Greek and Roman inscriptions everywhere, it's possible some of them were ancient graffiti.

Large groups of Italians and Germans toured Jerash at the same time as we did.  When we all converged on one of the two amphitheaters at Jerash one of the Italians went down on the stage and sang opera pieces for everyone. Though Italian isn't exactly Latin it was still cool to think that centuries ago someone of similar ancestry and in a similar language sang there. The acoustics were amazing. My friend Martha, from Laurentian Singers, and I also sang a few pieces.

It's been hard not having pets here in Jordan and seeing homeless cats all over the place. Luckily for me I haven't pet any yet nor do I plan to. The day before this picture was taken a girl on my program was bitten after a rabid cat broke into her host family's house.
Our tour guide set up a lever and fulcrum underneath one of the pillars to demonstrate how much they normally sway. This was actually pretty scary to see.
Archaeologist's have unearthed dozens of mosaics at Jerash.

I'm off to go practice oud at the music shop down the street from my house. Now that I'm a student there they let me borrow an oud and play whenever I want. We haven't been able to locate my host mom's virtuosic cousin so in the meantime I'm taking a few lessons there.  I hope all is well back in the States or wherever you are reading this. Thanks for visiting my blog.