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.


  1. Wow. I wonder if you will think differently of the chapel bells on campus and the bells in the village, too.

  2. It actually was the bells in the village of Canton that I thought of for this parallel. I would use them to tell time during my fellowship this past summer while I was out reading by the golf course. But it hadn't even dawned on me that the song I've sung 200 times for Laurentian Singers and the chapel bells themselves tie into this observation.