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.