Saturday, September 15, 2012

Week 3: Citizen Diplomacy

Viva Barcelona
 Sorry for the wait. Maybe some of you, or one of you, have gotten used to waking up on Saturday mornings to find my blog posts (Nana). My computer bugged out this morning due to my constant changing between Arabic and English characters. Fortunately my brain can handle this sort of transition better than my laptop. I've been pleased with my acquisition of colloquial and modern standard Arabic over the last few weeks. But before I jump into my adventures of this past week I'll open up my subject matter to what many of you have watched, heard, and are currently thinking about. With everything that has been going on in the region Amman is stable. I haven't experienced any acrimony directed towards me. I still receive kind words like ahlan wa sahlan (welcome) on the street. But just to be safe all students in my program were encouraged to call off any trips to locations outside of Amman this weekend and keep a low profile. With regards to the situation I've tried to take the most optimistic stance possible. Hence the name for this blog entry. Eleven years ago I sat out on my front porch in fear as helicopters and jets roared over my house towards NYC. As a nine year old I felt helpless with regards to the situation. Though I still have some fear I don't feel helpless anymore. Each interaction I have with Jordanians I do my best to make a positive impression. It's the same way I would treat anyone back in the States. It's just here I am more aware of the proactive nature of day-to-day interactions. A strategy I would recommend to anyone for easier travel by cab in Amman or any city is bringing up soccer rivalries. I know at first it sounds counterintuitive and possibly dangerous. Most Jordanians are heavily invested in la Liga (Spain's Premier League), and its major rivalry Barcelona v. Real Madrid. But if you inquire as to what the cab driver's preference is within that rivalry and agree with them on the given team you become a brother to them. Certain drivers have actually referred to me as ak-ee (my brother) after finding out where my allegiance lies. Luckily I don't have to lie that much as most of Jordanians are also Barcelona fans. In essence, the strategy is a simple white lie that lowers your chances of a cab driver ripping you off at the end of each trip. In three weeks I have only been ripped off twice by cab drivers. While I'm on the topic of soccer I should add that the Jordanian national team beat the Australians in World Cup group play this week. I actually got stuck in traffic on the way back from signing up for a gym membership and was able to see the celebrations first-hand. There were people hanging out of moon-roofs with Jordanian flags and fireworks going off all over the city. Earlier on during my time here in Jordan I was hoping to attend the match, but because I could pass for an Australian my program barred me from going. Just seeing the celebrations in the street was enough for me. My final soccer related topic is the Manchester United (all red) jersey above. If you're ever in Jordan and hoping to outfit your infant in an official Man U jersey it's going to set you back 52 JD or $70 US. With all the space I've dedicated to soccer in this post I hope I have imparted how important the sport is to Jordanians.

Every student enrolled in the Amideast program gets paired with a Jordanian who is hoping to improve their English and help you improve your Arabic. This week I met my language partner Khaled at a restaurant called Wazzup Dog. I had a hot dog with sweet corn, chips, relish, cheese, mayo, mustard, and ketchup. It was actually pretty good. We also visited City Mall here in Amman. It was as if I was back at Carousel mall or whatever they're passing it off for now (Destiny mall?) in Syracuse. Because of the similarities I didn't really want to be there. This is a common theme of my life here in Amman. I try to distance myself from the semblances of western culture to gain more insight on that of Jordanians. This at times can be difficult as many Jordanians speak english better than I speak arabic and due to the fact that the city is already very modern. I realized the other night on my way home from class that many stores lining the streets of Amman are specialized, small, and family owned. I hypothesized that so far larger chain stores haven't taken a huge chunk out of their business. To support this observation I haven't seen any Walmarts or other super-stores. The closest thing I've seen is the single Carrefour mega-center in City Mall. The following three pictures demonstrate the range of commercial development in Amman.

City Mall

Electronics Section at Carrefour

I still haven't broken down and gone to the Burger King at the end of my street

This week I also took the opportunity to audition for the choir Dozan wa Awtar. Auditions were held at the Etihad Bank here in Amman. Right behind the bank a skyscraper is approaching completion. I made it into the choir along with two others from the Amideast program. One of whom is a fellow Laurentian Singer. Our first rehearsal is monday night. Because we were encouraged to become hermits this weekend with the possibility of protests at the US embassy we invited a few other Amideast students over and had a barbeque. We had trouble lighting all of the coals so my host brother had the brilliant idea to stoke them with a hair dryer. In arabic he called his contribution a fiqra heluwa (good idea). I won't type what I called it in english. The dinner turned out to be delicious with no shocks or burns. Afterwards we played the card game Trix late into the night. Everyone except me smoked  tobacco in a water pipe (argeela). I already get my fill of smoke from all the engine exhaust here in Amman.


  1. I am glad there were no eruptions in Jordan and hope it continues that way for you. I think it is cool that you are going to be able to sing with a local group. You will have to post links if they put any of their concerts online. Betsy

  2. Yes things have been relatively quiet here. Here's the link for the group's youtube channel:
    I'll be sure to keep you posted if there are new videos. I visited a couple scarf shops in Jerash today with all of you in mind. They also had khaffeyahs for Papi. I hope all is well.


  3. Hey Matt! I get your reluctance to do things you define as Western, but consider that these activities like going to the mall or eating at BK (Popeyes, you have a Popeyes at the end of your street in JORDAN! I have to go on to Fort Drum...)are also Jordanian experiences. You should meet them were they are now, not only in their history or traditions but their malls etc. No matter how similar it can't be the same. You've seen it with soccer... Just a thought.

  4. Thanks Dr. Schrems. I'd say you're right. I actually broke down and had a whopper the other night at the Popeye's/Burger King/Papa John's mega-restaurant.