Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Credits - Family and Friends

This is a quick post thanking the people who made my trip to Jordan possible, and so worthwhile:

My Jordanian Host Family and Roommates:

From L-R: Me, Sittii (Host Grandma, aka "Mama"), Sahel (Host Brother), 
Matt (Roommate #2), and Hala (Host Mom)

Here's one with Hala, me, Sittii, and Chris (Roommate #1)

Here's Me, Anna (Our Family's Housekeeper), and Matt

My host family and roommates were great.  In the case of my host family, they were welcoming and went over and beyond what I had expected, and helped mightily in introducing me to Arab culture and food, and the Arabic language.
  • Hala - is my host mom.  She is gracious, outgoing, and worldly, with a bit of sass (the good kind).  She isn't afraid to say what she thinks, and always went the extra mile to accommodate Chris, Matt and I.  She is currently working part time as an office manager, and enjoys travelling and meeting people.  She has traveled to much of Europe, Australia, and all over the US.
  • Sittii, or as the family calls her, Mama - is Hala's and Sahel's mom, and is our host grandma.  She is extremely nice, a fantastic cook, expert Sheddeh (card game, similar to gin rummy) player, and is the matriarch of the part of the family that lives in Amman (the family's roots are in Karak, in southern Jordan).  
  • Sahel - is our host brother.  He enjoys talking about life and cars, and joking around with Chris, Matt, and I.  He is a fan of Bollywood and action movies (not mutually exclusive categories), and discovered a love of karaoke during the summer.  His background is in hotel management, but he currently works in marketing/inventory management at a high-end housewares company down the road.
  • Anna - is our housekeeper.  She is from Indonesia and has been living with the family for about two years.  She is trying to learn English and Arabic.
  • Abeer - is Hala's and Sahel's sister.  She is married to Khalil and is the mom of Sandra and Sara.  Abeer is also very nice, and took an interest in my studies and attempts to progress in my Arabic proficiency.  She also is the mom of 12 year-old Sandra and 7 year-old Sara, which led to one interesting conversation in particular about whether kids appreciate what their parents do for them (a conversation that I've certainly heard before in the US).  I think the answer is, yes, but they won't admit it to you (or themselves) until they are a lot older.  Khalil is a cool guy, and he taught me about feeling "zain" (although I still prefer Orange...).  Sandra is a champion swimmer, and an avid reader of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Sara is a pretty typical cute 7-year old. 
From time to time, other friends and family would drop by to catch up and/or play some Sheddeh.  It was great meeting all of them.
  • Chris and Matt - were my roommates for the first and second months of the summer.  They were both cool and great to be around.  Known for his trademark "yaanii...heh heh" catchphrase, Chris lives in Brooklyn and worked at the Arab-American Association in NYC.  Therefore, he was probably the closest to fluent among the students in the program.  He is beginning doctoral studies on Arab reformist thinkers from the beginning of the 20th Century.  Matt is a rising sophomore at Northeastern University (go CAA), majoring in Chemistry with sub-specialties in Physics AND Arabic (ouch).  Matt threw himself into learning about the culture and language in Jordan and is a good kid (despite letting the cabbies get away with a few scams).

Aziz and His Family:

Me, Aziz, and the hubbly bubbly

  • Aziz - is my language exchange partner.  He is around the same age as I and is studying English at AMIDEAST, where he is at the top of his class.  He is an accountant, but is interested in studying abroad, either in the US or Australia, with the eventual goal of teaching.  Aziz is very gracious and family-oriented, and was nice enough to treat me as part of his family despite the fact we only met a few times.  He has a delightful young daughter, Huda.  He lives southeast of Abdali (I believe), near the Saqr Mosque.

AMIDEAST Instructors:

The instructors at AMIDEAST, on loan from the Qasid Institute, were top-notch.

Me, Brian, and Ustaadh Amer - 
matching outfits and matching thoughts of smoking chicken in Honolulu

Ustaadha Bayan and her class (minus Maddie) -
What's with the lighting?  I look like I'm part of a cult (the cult of Bad Shabaab)

  • Ustaadh Amer - was responsible for the grammar lectures in our MSA classes.  He knows his stuff and is very responsive to student requests.  He also liked to laugh a lot and found humor in many things, such as smoked chickens and the stampede scene in The Lion King, and he has a dream of visiting Honolulu someday.  I used to like to try to think of outrageous things to say to see if it would set him off.
  • Ustaadha Bayan - was primarily responsible for the language lab exercises in our MSA classes.  This summer was her first summer teaching American students and it took some time for she and us to find a rapport, but things worked out in the end.  I think the other students tended to identify with her the most as she was close to their ages.  We tried to make it a point to nurture the internal Gangsta' (or Bad Shabaab) she had locked inside of her conservative exterior.
  • Duktuur Ali - taught the Colloquial Arabic course during our second month.  His classroom style is to be very animated, and he was a walking Arabic iTunes library, given how often he'd break out a song lyric in class.


We had a terrific staff in Amman that made things flow quite smoothly for us.  Hala was our mother hen, always there for advice.  Subhi was the suavest jack-of-all-trades that you could find. Mohammed was the go-to fix-it guy, and did heroic duty trying to save my camera, which died on my second day in Jordan.  Nagwan was always there to lend a hand as well.  Thanks all for all you did.

AMIDEAST Students:

It was fun, y'all (even if none of you understood the true scope of my work).  Good luck in the future.  Don't be bad shabaab.


In no particular order, thanks as well to all of the people I met during the summer, including Ranim Elborai (I need to try that ice cream sometime); the cops at the Public Security Directorate down the road on Mukhabarat Street, for the time spent BS'ing; the crew at Titanic Tours, in particular our tour bus driver and tour guide on our Petra/Wadi Rum/Aqaba weekend; Ammun and the rest of the conflict resolution students; Samuel and my other friends from the Hash; John at the Cafe Paris karaoke nights, even if you never found a version of "Friday" that we could sing; the guys at Ward & Kebab and Lebnani Snack; Creepy Kwifiyyeh Guy; the people on the party buses; the guys at Tropical Desert Tours for a great time in Wadi Hasa; Saneh the barber for a great haircut; the security guards and rest of the staff at AMIDEAST; the lady at the school supply store off of Wakalat Street who kept breaking my 50 JD bills; the relatives and friends of my host family who were nice enough to try to converse with me despite my beginner-level Arabic; the vendors I met in Jabal Hussein; the rest of Aziz' family and the fruit vendor we visited; the cabbies; and last but not least, Iman Maiki and Marwa Elborai, who first pointed me in the direction of Jordan for my study abroad.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ramadan Drummer

Here's audio of al-misharaty, the drummer that wakes the neighborhood up before dawn so that they can eat the pre-fast meal of SuHuur during Ramadan.  It is a tradition that dates back to the Ottoman Empire.  The Syrian tradition is to blast a large cannon, but cities have grown too large for that.  Some would say that the cities also have outgrown the drummer, but I'm glad some of the old traditions still survive.

I believe he is saying the traditional chant of "Es ha ya nayem…Wahed el dayem...", or "awake, oh sleeper, and praise Allah".


This post concludes my regular blogging from Amman, up next, The Credits, a little thank you to those who made my two months in Jordan so enriching.


Here are some shots of graffiti that I took during my trip.  Most graffiti in Amman are advertisements, but some had more artistic content or social commentary.

The Hash

Here are some pictures from the Hashemite Hash House Harriers run from last Monday, which took place south of Amman around the YMCA.

Among the notable moments were a traffic accident at the beginning of our run (not pictured), and running through some beduin camps.

Last Night in Amman

Thursday was Matt's and my last day in Amman, and the evening was spent with family and friends.

We ate a special dinner that Sittii prepared for us, مقلوبة (maqluuba), or "upside-down" dish, a special casserole of chicken, eggplant, cauliflower, rice, and spices, that is cooked with the chicken at the bottom, so that it is served upside-down (with the chicken on top):

Then we took some pictures with the family, before scrambling off to Jabal Hussein.  I needed to buy an extra suitcase, and Matt was on a mission to find a bottle of mango juice.  We managed to find both, as well as some additional fireworks (small roman candles) and one last bottle of tamar hindi.

The fireworks were pretty cool.  Some of them made the car alarms go off in the neighborhood.  The last one, called "Super Blitz", or "Magic Blitz", was shaped like a large ground bloom flower.  It started by acting like one, until it suddenly zoomed 20 feet into the air and exploded into an aerial display.  Quite the finale.

Matt in action

Then it was time for packing.  At around 12:30, my language exchange partner Aziz and his brother Maen dropped by to present me with a kuffiyeh and say farewell.

Aziz and I

Maen and I

After they left, there wasn't too much time left for packing before Matt's airport taxi showed up at 3 am, the Ramadan drummer began waking people for SuHur at 3:30 am, and my taxi arrived around 6:30 am.


Some dessert pics:

Umm Ali - kind of like a bread pudding, made with condensed milk and nuts
Sahel and I enjoyed this at Mecca Mall

Fresh كنافة (knaafeh) at Habibeh's downtown
Knaafeh is basically a dessert made up of cheese or creme, 
topped with bits of puff pastry, pistachios and sugar syrup.  
Yes, it's as good as it sounds.

Here's the knaafeh

Around the House

Here are a few photos I took of my home in Amman.

View from out front

Swingset in the courtyard

Around the house, there is an orchard of fruit trees and herbs - here's a sage bush

View of the backstretch

Plum tree


The front yard

Sometimes, you have to stop to smell the rosemary


Amman would not be Bob Barker's favorite city.

There are a lot of stray cats that live in the streets.  The residents often put food out for them.

Here's the black cat that kept running into the house, much to our housekeeper's dismay

One thing that I did note is that there are not a lot of dogs in Amman.  I think that dogs are considered to be "dirty" animals, as opposed to cats.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jabal Hussein

Last Friday night, I went to Jabal Hussein, the neighborhood/hill located to the north of Abdali, in order to look for a backpack for my trip to Wadi Hassa (previously blogged).

Jabal Hussein is known as a shopping district for regular Jordanians, especially for clothes.

I left around 8:30 pm, so the streets were still pretty empty as everyone was celebrating Iftar.  After joking around with the local cops, I walked towards Jabal Hussein.

The roads are still empty


Mannequins - trying out for a Robert Palmer video

The main traffic circle in Jabal Hussein - things picked up as it got later

Street vendors preparing for the night

After buying the backpack (no John Cena, sadly), I walked around the area 
and met this group of street vendors selling small carpets.  They bought me a coke!

Isn't this Haram?

Some of the street vendors sold toys, others sold clothes, or towels, or carpets, or even perfume

Turns out that this shop is a perfumerie - 
I was invited in and shown a few samples.  No sale.

Scored some cheap fireworks from a street vendor.

Madaba, Mount Nebo, Baptism Site, and the Dead Sea

Big catchup post here.

The Saturday after the night of the three weddings was the date of our planned excursion to Madaba, Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea.

First up, Madaba, a Biblical and early Christian and Byzantine city that was rediscovered and resettled in the 1800s.  Madaba is known for its early Christian churches, which contain beautiful mosaics.

Church of the Map

The map in the Church of the Map - a mosaic depicting a map of the ancient world

Frankfurter Supermarkt!

From the road to Mount Nebo - Jordanian countryside

Mount Nebo is where the Bible says that God let Moses see the Holy Land before he died.  

View of the Dead Sea

On the way to Jesus' Baptism Site

Knocked out

Jesus' baptism site was the next stop.  It is located in the Bethany region, on the River Jordan near the border with Israel.

Map of the Baptism Site

The River Jordan - or what's left of it.
The river is mostly dried up due to water being diverted for irrigation.

Here's the original baptism site. 
There's a "new" baptism site about 1/2 km away where the river still flows.

Various Christian denominations have built churches near the site

I'm going down to the River Jordan...
at the new baptism site (and international border with Israel)

These next two pics sum up well the relative economic conditions of the two countries.  

First, Israel...

and here's Jordan...

The last stop was the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.  The air was scorching (probably around 105 degrees).

Amman Beach is the public beach.  Along the Dead Sea are a lot of resorts, with more currently under construction.  Bananas are also grown here on farms, together with the ubiquitous olive trees.  Amman Beach has a great buffet.

The sign seems to say that the water is 95 degrees?!

In the Dead Sea - I tried tasting the water - 
it tastes BAD, like how you'd imagine battery acid to taste - 
not my brightest idea


Some of the students layered on the Dead Sea mud, which is supposedly therapeutic.  It definitely helps with the heat and keeps the salt from inflaming every little nick on your body.

We ended the afternoon spending a couple of hours by the pool, where the water temperature was a more refreshing 85 degrees or so.

Another busy and fun day.