Saturday, September 8, 2012

Week 2: Excursions/Host Family

This week I made a couple day trips to destinations outside Amman and I moved in with my host family. A week ago today however, I visited the Souk Jara (Jara Market). It was purely by chance that I stumbled upon the market. I was near the city center on my way to pick up a dictionary in colloquial Jordanian Arabic when I saw a street mobbed with people and lined with vendors. For those of you who are interested, the dictionary is called Diwan Baladna (the dictionary of our country). I've had multiple Jordanians take a look at the book and they all thought it was great. While walking through the market their was a stand selling these dictionaries. The vendors themselves looked like bouncers you might see outside a club. It turns out though that they were the dictionary's co-authors. Most of my friends bought copies there and we all had our books signed by the authors. Sunday of this past week, the beginning of the work week here, my Islamic Art class made a field trip to Salt. There is an arts college there where I will travel to twice a week during the second half of the semester to learn woodcarving. On the road to Salt I saw scenery unlike anything I've ever seen before. The rolling hills melted into dunes and the dunes merged into the mountains separating the West Bank and Jordan. The two shots to the left are from our trip to Salt. We were up so high and on such a steep cliff that the picture to the immediate left almost appears to be an aerial shot. The landscape was dotted with olive groves and flocks of sheep. From that distance I couldn't tell if the shepherds were amongst their flocks. When we got to the art institute the masters there put on a demonstration of pottery making and wood carving. My professor for that class is wonderful. Her approach to visual art is unlike any other I've ever seen or heard. For her it is a form of meditation and letting the sacred geometry run its course. If you look closely the two pictures below are before and after shots of the wood carving master and a component he made for an elaborate window blind. As I'm writing I can hear a cat fight outside. This is pretty common here. Jordanians don't keep pets, but the streets are full of stray cats.

My host family here is wonderful. My host mom is the president of a charity, my host brother is an undergrad in a computer related field, and we also have a live-in housekeeper. Due to the fact that I'm hoping to take oud lessons while I'm here in Jordan, I was elated to learn this week that my host mom is the cousin of a virtuosic Jordanian oud player. Because our housekeeper speaks very little English and is here throughout much of the day I often come home right after class to have her drill and teach me vocabulary. So far I have learned more Arabic from her than my study abroad program and my host mom and host brother. I often avoid spending too much time at the program offices with all the other American students because every day our lounge feels more American than Jordanian. Everyone there speaks English regardless of their skill set in Arabic. My philosophy here is to continually make the extra effort to immerse myself in Jordanian culture and the Arabic language. Is that not why I'm here? Moving back to my host family, our apartment is in a convenient part of Amman. By cab, we are only 15 minutes from the Amideast program offices. We are close to a gym as well. Today I'm hoping to go get a membership. Right down our street is a Russian circus. I haven't visited yet. I hear they have an assad (lion) there. I'm fearful of going because I don't want to see the condition of the animals. Unfortunately my camera doesn't do too well in low light conditions. But I thought that the mixture of blurring colors and lights might convey how disorienting traffic is here in Amman.

The small tea table I have included is representative of what the woodcarving masters I'll be learning under make on a day to day basis. I asked my host mother and the piece is close to a hundred years old and is of Syrian origin. If you look closely the miniature table is one big wooden mosaic. Someone tediously pieced thousands of geometrically cut pieces of wood together to form this single table. This week I made a new friend in my Amideast language partner Khaled. Earlier this week he took a few of my friends and I out to a café where we learned the card game Trix. For all of you from my immediate family you know I'm not usually one for cards. But I really had a lot of fun learning it and have since played Trix with my host brother.

Yesterday we visited Saladin's castle at Ajloun. The fortress was fantastic. To think that someone a thousand years ago trekked hundreds of miles from Jerusalem and Damascus and had the vision to build such a structure is truly amazing. We were up so high we could see into both the West Bank and Syria. We pretty much had the fortress to ourselves as we went early in the day and it was the day of prayer. Later on we went to a nature preserve that was full of pine and olive trees. With the elevation and the amount of flora I got the feeling of being in the Adirondacks. But when I looked out from the top of the mountain there beyond the tree line was nothing but dunes as far as I could see.


  1. It's good to hear from you Matt. Jordan sounds and looks amazing. I look forward to your next installment.

  2. Thanks Dr. Schrems,

    I hope the War of 1812 seminar is going well. I still think about Agent 13 and how awesome last year was from time to time. Thanks again for everything.