Saturday, September 1, 2012

Week 1: Orientation

With one week behind me I have made a few surface level observations of Jordanian culture and linguistic tendencies. But before we dive into them I want to recount my flights across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. From Syracuse to Toronto I flew in a 16 seater twin propellor plane. I had never flown in a plane before with an open cockpit. Seeing the pilot fight crosswinds while landing was a little nerve-racking.

But all went well and I had a fantastic view of Toronto as we flew into the airport. I was supposed to meet up with a friend and fellow Laurentian Singer at Pearson. She has travelled the world a bit more than me and I thought that travelling as a team might improve our chances of making flights and not getting hung up in customs. Her flight was delayed in Rochester and she ended up missing our connection. With hindsight I'm glad I was forced to go it alone navigating through the labyrinth that was Heathrow Airport. I had under an hour to make my connection to Amman. I'm sure those of you who know me well can picture me frantically double-timing through terminals sweating, and making a big deal out of my situation.

But no matter I eventually overcame jetlag in under 36 hours. Jumping back in time, while flying into Amman I had a fantastic view of a Greece, Turkey, and Tel Aviv. I don't think the pictures I took will ever do the scenery justice. I saw shepherds leading their flocks through the desert and the Dead Sea. The best I can display is to the left. I think it might be a southernmost point of Turkey or possibly Cyprus. If you look closely the white stone of the villages stands in contrast with the surrounding greenery. My host-brother just turned off his Rap music so we could hear the noontime call to prayer. I can't convey its beauty with words. Another decent shot I took was the confluence of the Mediterranean into the sky. The white line across the picture is clouds far off in the atmosphere. The sky and the Mediterranean are almost a mirror image of each other.

After landing in Jordan getting a Visa was as easy as my program said it should be. My first impression of Jordan driving out of the airport was a vague sense of growth and urban sprawl. All along the highway were small roadside stands selling bottled water and cotton candy. There were also shopping centers popping up featuring Ikea, KFC, and McDonald's. It is very Jordanian to eat cotton candy. Yesterday I heard a weird whistling down on the street in my host family's neighborhood. The closest thing I've ever heard to this whistle was the one Willy Wonka uses to summon Oompa Loompas. It turns out it was a guy walking down the street selling cotton candy. This is normal. Another strange noise in the streets here is the sound of happy birthday and ice cream truck tunes. One would think they'd have ice cream trucks here with the heat. But lo and behold it was a propane vendor. I've heard these propane trucks every day this week. Another interesting noise I've heard involving traffic is sporadic frantic honking. Honking is a constant sound while driving around Amman. Its three million inhabitants use it to signal each other when changing lanes or when the light turns green. Yet this doesn't explain the sporadic honking fits I've heard. I asked my program director the other day and she said I've heard wedding parties.

There are at least half a dozen skyscrapers being built in Amman. They are not extremely tall, but their foundations are quite deep. I've heard that bedrock is much farther down than other parts of the world. This constrains the height of buildings. Amman also has a feat of engineering in their suspension bridge. It happens to be right next to our program offices. It reminds me of the suspension bridge in Boston.

Earlier on in the week we visited the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad ruins overlooking the city. Strewn to the side of the tour path was a stone tablet or grave stone. My American friend of Greek descent said that it is Greek writing. He has had many compliments on his English. Strangers say you have wonderful English for a Jordanian.

The view from up there was excellent. Though we weren't able to visit the Roman amphitheater it  sat less than half a mile beneath us. The columns that still stand there are remnants of the Temple of Hercules. There are also remnants of 4th century Christian churches there. Mosaics still sprawl all along the church floors. An Umayyad mosque still stands there as well. Within the last decade a team from Spain repaired its bronze dome. This interested me, as much of my research centers on Arabic influence in Spain. Because our tour guide spoke Spanish in addition to Arabic and English he added some more words to the list I've been developing that counts the relations between Spanish, English, and Arabic I have observed. I will display this list of linguistic similarities in later posts. On a final note, during our visit to the ruins one of the calls to prayer occurred. Because we were up so high and it was a windy day all of the muezzin's calls blended together into a wonderful harmony. Because only certain holy scales are used each call mathematically and musically gels with one another. It was the closest thing I've ever heard to a celestial chorus. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard.

I thought I'd include this picture for those of you who paint. I'm not sure what the species is, but I took it in the gardens surrounding an art gallery we visited as part of a scavenger hunt.


  1. The painter thanks you for thinking of her. I also loved the detailed descriptions you give of the sounds of your new environment. I can almost feel like I am in the heat smelling the sweetness of sugar in the air. B

  2. It's interesting you say that because a detail I forgot to include is that every now and then as you are walking down the street you are overcome with the sweetest smell of flowers. Nicer houses line their yards with them. It's a nice escape from the exhaust and cigarette fumes.