Sunday, July 31, 2011

Musical Trucks - Part 1

There are two trucks that emit loud noises in Amman:

1) the gas truck, which plays music that made me think initially that it was an ice cream truck, and

2) the vegetable truck, in which someone with a loudspeaker blurts out in rapidfire fashion the trucks wares and accompanying prices.

Here's a video of the gas truck.  I am resolved to capturing a similar film of the veggie truck during my last week-plus here.

Jebel al-Weibdeh

Two weekends ago, I took a stroll to Jebel al-Weibdeh, a residential neighborhood on a hill located between al-Abdali and downtown.  It is known as one of the prettier parts of town to walk in.

Shari'a College Mosque

Shari'a College Street - filled with small cafes and boutiques

They like her a lot here

Paris Square (really a circle) - located at the end of Shari'a College Street 
and home of the karaoke bar

View of the city

Al-Baab al-aswad

The mosque in the distance means...

...that I'm almost back to Abdali


When Chris and I first heard that there was a C-Town in Amman, we resolved to visit it.

For those of you from outside the NYC area, C-Town is known as a contender for the title of worst supermarket in New York City, together with Western Beef (I won't dignify Gristedes by including it in this ranking).

It seemed that C-Town not only existed in Amman, but that it had a decent reputation to boot (it actually appeared on MAPS, for goodness sakes, and was the anchor of what was supposedly a small shopping center, the "C-Town CENTER" (emphasis added)).

During Chris' final week in town, we finally made it over there - one was located a few minutes away from Amideast.

It turns out that the inside was...surprisingly decent, but not overwhelmingly surprising.  It looked like a blase grocery store - the supermarket section was somewhat cramped, although we did admire the canned cold cuts and the Arabic version of Spam/luncheon meat (beef, of course).  True to form, the selection was not nearly as good as that in Safeway.  On the second floor, C-Town sold clothing (all from one brand - "CJC"), some housewares, small appliances, and school supplies - Chris picked up a pin with a picture of King Abdullah.

Hot Day

It was a hot day yesterday - probably around 40 degrees C (around 104 degrees F).  

I went to Sports City (a sports complex in the northern part of West Amman) - there wasn't much there, except a giant public pool.

It was too hot for the sheep, too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Grapes and Olives

From my host family's courtyard/yard:

Three Weddings

Okay, so I've owed y'all this post for awhile.

My host family was invited to three weddings on the same evening, which, as it turns out, was the same day that we made our trip to Jerash and Ajloun in Northern Jordan.

What was our plan?  Triage.  Hala and Grandma would head to one of the weddings while Sahel, Chris and I hit the second, then Chris and I would join Hala for the last wedding located in Al-Fuhays, a western suburb of Amman.

So around 4:30 pm, we set out.  Wedding #2 was located in the ritzy residential section of Sweifiyeh, somewhere behind Fifth Circle.  We got there in the middle of the ceremony.

From what I can tell, an Arabic Orthodox Christian wedding consists of a full Mass (sans Eucharist), followed by the actual wedding.  

The Mass seemed to be standard fare, although in Arabic.  There seemed to be more of a binding aspect to it, based on the amount of آمين ("aaamiin"s - amens) that I picked up.  They do do the Lord's Prayer.  Also, there are two cantors, either two priests, or a priest and a deacon, that conduct the service in Arabic Gregorian chant.

At the end of the Mass, the wedding party circled around the altar while the women in the wedding party, and in particular the bride's mother, wailed.  It was chilling and exhilarating.  One could almost feel as if God himself was watching the ceremony.  

No reading of self-written vows, "I dos" or exchanging of rings.  Unlike an American wedding, which often seems to be a celebration of the participants and their foibles (the flowers, the party favors), this ceremony was centered on the rite of marriage itself.  The holy marriage contract was being signed by the bride, groom, their respective families and God.  Happy, yes, but serious business too.

After the wedding, I took a photo of the church (told you it was in a ritzy part of town):

No time to rest - Hala quickly picked Chris and I up for Wedding #3.

Twilight in the western suburbs

Artwork near entrance of the Orthodox church that hosted Wedding #3

Wedding car

We actually arrived just after the ceremony ended.  Oh well, off to the reception at النادي ("al-naadii" - the private club, in this case for Orthodox Christians, that was down the road).

Now, Chris and I weren't officially invited to the reception.  Hala had brought us along hoping that we would be let in.  Well, in short order, we were kicked out.

We decided to take a walk around town to see if there was a cafe or restaurant where we could spend our time.  When we asked the old man outside of the liquor store if he had any ideas, he laughed and said "بالسيارة؟" ("bi-ssayaara?" - by car?).  We took this as a bad sign...

It turned out that we were in a suburb of the main suburb about a mile up the road, and as a result, there were no restaurants or cafes.  Instead, we found a small deli where an old gentlemen microwaved some falafel sandwiches, and a convenience store where we brought water, and also in my case, what looked to be  tomato-flavored Funyuns (which turned out to be acquired taste).

Then, we sat out on the side of the main road and watched the cars go by as fireworks burst over the Nadi and celebratory gunshots rang out in the night.  

We enjoyed watching the people drive by.  Every woman driver would turn her head 90 degrees and gawk at us (still dressed to the nines).  About half of the men drivers did the same.  The other half looked straight ahead and kept driving, as if they refused to acknowledge that anything was out of the ordinary.  I admire their stoicism.

Eventually, Hala called.  There was some extra space at the reception and we could attend after all.  We went back to the Nadi and more fun ensued over food, drinks and dancing.

Why yes, that IS the wedding cake being towed across the pool.

Hala, Chris and I

The reception wrapped up with dinner (the opposite from a US wedding reception, where dinner precedes the dancing), and we headed home after a long day.

The next day would be our trip to Madaba, Mount Nebo, and the Dead Sea...

Amman Taxicab Confessions Volume 3 - Laa nuhibb al-Urdun kathiiran

Hope you enjoyed the Maha reference in the title.  

No real funny stuff this time, but a retelling of a pair of kind of sad but interesting encounters with cabbies who didn't want to be in Jordan anymore.

Both rides took place on last Saturday evening (July 23) on my way to Sweifiyeh and from Swefiyeh to meet with Aziz, my language exchange partner.

1) On the way there, I spoke to a taxi driver that had lived in Sweden for six years, and then Cape Town in South Africa.  He has been living in Jordan for a few years now, but hates it.  I think he thinks Jordan is the sticks...

2) On the way from Sweifiyeh, the cabbie instructed me that he didn't want to speak Arabic to me.  Here is his reasoning why:
  • He learned English by speaking to Indian people that he met while in Doha.
  • When he spoke Arabic to them, he knew they wouldn't know much, so he Hindi-cized certain words so they'd understand.
  • He didn't want to speak Hindi-cized Arabic to me, so he only spoke English throughout the ride.
While scratching my head in confusion, I listened to his story.  He had lived in Qatar for 35 years and was working at a pretty good job in Doha, Qatar, but due to a dispute between the Qatar and Jordan governments, Qatar began to impose a hefty monthly fee for Jordanian nationals who wished to continue working there.  Therefore, he was forced to move back to Amman.  For a year and a half, he refused to work because he didn't think the employers here treated their employees with respect.  He said that he got offered a $350/month job (which he said would cover only 1/3 or 1/2 of the living expenses for a small family), but that he refused it because the employer would ask him to do other people's work as well as his own.

So he's driving a cab...

All joking aside, a common complaint that I've heard here is the lack of decent economic opportunities.  Many people are underemployed, and some of the people that are employed don't seem to be working too hard.  For example, the many construction sites that I've seen with a lone worker just moving stuff around at a leisurely pace, or the lobby of Amideast's building, which remains full of shattered glass from what I presume was a renovation gone awry, or kaput.

! (حرام) Haraam

What I saw yesterday on the way back from McDonald's...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Molokhia with Chicken

Another tasty dinner, so tasty that a wasp flew over and bit off a quarter-inch cube of chicken for itself and carried it away.

Here's more on Molokhia.

Amman Streetside Fruitvendor Report

Firsthand reporting from Al-Balad:

   Season Ending:  مشمش (mishmish) - apricots

   Season Beginning:  هندي (hindi) - prickly pears/cactus fruit (also known as Indian figs, thus the name hindi)

Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba - Continued


Part Three: Riding off into the sunset on the back of a Daihatsu pickup truck

After leaving Petra, we headed to Wadi Rum and arrived late in the afternoon.  The bus dropped us off at a makeshift parking lot - a sand courtyard, and we waited for our ride to the camp.  A pickup truck.  We hopped in the back and off we went to the tourist camping grounds.

The camp was made up of maybe 30 dark camel-hair tents, each housing 3 people, a bathroom hut, a small coffee stand.  In the middle of the camp, there was an open area filled with dining tables surrounded by long open tents with cushioned benches, and a raised circular platform for dancing/entertainment, in the middle of which was what looked somewhat like a May pole.

Scoping out the tent

After dropping off our belongings, we were back in the pickup for a joyride across the desert.

A full tank of gas, no shocks, it's getting late, and we're wearing sunglasses -
what could be better?

We stopped at a maybe 40-50 foot high red sand dune and climbed up for a better view.

The view from above - I wonder who did the donuts?

Wadi Rum

After running down the sand dune, we drove to a rock formation for a good view of the sunset.  Consistent with my obsession for sunset photos, I hereby present the following photo and video dump:

The way up.

Local wildlife

After sunset, we ran back to our Daihatsu and had an impromptu race across the desert back to camp versus the other pickups.  We were in 2nd place around the midway point back, but the truck in front of us suffered an untimely incident (the benches in the back of the truck got loose).  We spent too long basking in their misfortune, as the truck behind us jumped on our driver's momentary lapse in attention and passed both us and the benchless truck.  That's when our driver, in response to our exhortations of "yalla!", gunned it down the homestretch.  After catching air several times while zooming across a few small hills, we passed the our rivals with maybe a half kilometer to go, and rubbed it in their dusty faces with chants of "USA!".  Upon arriving back in camp, we victors rewarded our driver with hearty congratulations (and a small tip).

Next came dinner, and...


Part Four:  Creeping with a Kweffiyeh

The middle of the camp had a small raised platform for dancing.  We were invited onstage by our tour guide, and began dancing it up with the members of the local Bedouin tribe and a few other tourists.

Some members of our crew were wearing kwefiyyehs they had bought to help keep out the sun and sand (and to play the part of tourist to an Arab country).

A 20-something white wifebeater-wearing Bedu started dancing with us onstage.  He asked one of us for their kweffiyehs, which was duly provided.  Then the fun began.

The Bedu held each end of the kwifiyyeh in a separate hand and twirled it around, as if he was planning to flick it at someone as if it was a towel.  Then, as his hips gyrated, he raised the kwefiyyeh "rope" higher and higher, until it was over his head, then draped it around the back of the waist of someone (usually a guy), capturing them and forcing them to swing within the kwefiyyeh circle with him to the beat of the music until he found another dance partner.  

In some cases, the Bedu lothario would tie the kwefiyyeh around someone's waist, thereby completing the ancient marriage rite.

(I'm joking about the marriage part, I think).

Should've signed a prenup...

After a couple of hours of dinner and dancing, we were pooped and hit the tents.


Part Five:  Chinatowns are the same everywhere

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast of fuul (boiled bean stew) and boiled eggs with shells that wouldn't come off, and then hit the road to Aqaba.  

In Aqaba, we stopped at a public beach a few km south of the city and beyond the port for a quick swim at a public beach on the Red Sea.  The water was nice and it was good to wash off some of the sweat and sand that were stuck to our bodies.  As I didn't bring a pair of swim trunks, I was forced to buy a pair of black short shorts from the gift shop (the photos of which will be released if I run for political office).

At the beach, we used the bathrooms there.  The old man outside attempted to charge us a 15 cent fee for maintaining the toilets:

We then spent a few hours in Aqaba, eating lunch at a pizza place and taking an excursion to the local Doubletree Hotel.  We had heard that there were nice bathrooms there...and there were.  No charge either.

After that, the bus dropped us off at the "Chinatown" shopping center just outside of town.  As a lot of Jordanians were with us on the tour, there was some shopping time built in (Aqaba is a special low-tax zone where prices are cheaper than in the rest of the country).

The Chinatown consisted of a somewhat reputable store upstairs that was a combination of a TJ Maxx and a Bed, Bath and Beyond - 
  • Quick price check:  $60 suits, $10 pairs of business shoes, $2 for 3 dish towels.

And a plaza downstairs made up of a few small shops where old Chinese men were selling knockoff goods, for rock-bottom prices.  

I guess Chinatowns are the same everywhere.

A small juice bar/restaurant was also in the plaza.  While stopping to get a quick drink for the road, guess who we ran into?  Kwefiyyeh Guy!

Time to hit the road and head back to Amman.


Part Six:  Party Bus!

About 1/3 of the way back, some of us decided to start dancing in the middle of the bus to the songs that were being played.  Soon, everyone was joining in - dancing, singing, and/or clapping.  About two hours of pure fun ensued:

I think the highlight was either "Stayin' Alive" or the impromptu version of the Backstreet Boys.

Anyway, it was a great weekend.


***Technical note*** - I don't think we were actually in the official Wadi Rum Protected Area, but instead stayed just north of it.  Tribal politics were the cause - there are three tribes in the area - one that controls one half of the protected area, the other that controls the other half, and the tribe that we stayed with, that controlled the area immediately north and west of the protected area.  No complaints, though - we had a great time, paid half the price, and got a better view of the sunset.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Course Load

Just an administrative note for any of my classmates from Ustaadh al-Siadi's NYU course from the spring:  I was placed in Level 102, which started at Al-Kitaab Book 1, Unit 8.  It looks like we will get to the end of Al-Kitaab Book 1, Unit 17 in this course.  Level 201 will go through Al-Kitaab Book 2, Unit 3.

Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba

Last weekend, some classmates and I did a whirlwind tour through Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba.  

Highlights include:
  • Rest stops are the same everywhere;
  • Petra - It's Hot;
  • Riding off into the sunset in the back of a Daihatsu pickup truck;
  • Creeping with a Kwefiyyeh;
  • Chinatowns are the same everywhere; and
  • Party Bus!
So, without further ado, نبدا (let's begin)!


Part One:  The Beginning - Rest stops are the same everywhere

We awoke bright and early on Friday morning (5:15 am!) and إجتمعنا (ijtamaehranaa - we gathered) at the bus pickup site next to the Royal Jordanian office in the Abdali neighborhood.

We boarded a bus full of Jordanian families and a group of teenagers, and after some unintelligible introductions by our tour guide (made unintelligible by virtue of the terrible bus speaker system more than the language), we were on our way south.

About 90 minutes into the trip, we stopped for a health and safety (bathroom) break, at what looked to be a rest stop:

Maybe there's a Sbarro's here

It was indeed, a rest stop, albeit with architecture bought from the liquidation sale of the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.  Inside was a small self-service (in Arabic, "خدمة ذاتية) snack stand, a convenience store, several tables for eating, and bathrooms.  I had at least expected a shwarma stand.

I generally slept throughout the bus ride, when I wasn't awoken by the group of teenage boys sitting in the rows in front of me that clapped to every Arabic song played on the bus.

About an hour after reaching the rest stop, we reached the town of 'Ayn Musa, home of a minor tourist attraction - a small spring that was used by the Nabateans hundreds of years ago.  I noticed many passengers from our bus as well as others filling up bottles and jugs from the spring.

'Ayn Musa led to Wadi Musa, the town just outside of Petra, and finally, Petra itself.


Part 2:  Petra - It's Hot!

We got to Petra around 11 am or so, and had until 2:30 pm to explore.  (Tourist note - the admission fee is a hefty 50 JD ($70) for tourists that are not Jordanian citizens or who do not hold a Jordanian visa for at least one year).

We walked along the Siq, a winding dry streambed that is the only entrance into the hidden city of Petra.  The Siq forms a long (around 1.5-2 miles?) and narrow passage between tall rock formations.

Ruins on the way into the Siq

The Siq

After a long quest...

We hit the motherlode...

The great treasury of Petra

Government employees are the same everywhere

The crew climbing for a better view - 
I stayed on the ground and went into some of the ancient homes.  
What's the lasting artifact of a society without indoor plumbing?  

Unfortunately, we did not have time to fully explore the city.  For example, we did not see the High Place of Sacrifice or the Monastery due to time constraints, although I did find the time to be slobbered on by a camel.  You need a full day, or maybe two, to more fully see the main sights in Petra.

Although the beauty of Petra soothed and energized the spirit, it did not do so for the body.  So we had to suffer the hour-long uphill trek in 100-degree heat back to the bus.


Wadi Rum in the next installment!