2006-06-09T10:35:47.220-07:00Long draught in posts. Reason...I've been trying to finish up things in Jordan, bureaucratic/detail junk, as well as the more important closure with friends. This includes many great meals. In general, I'm very excited to go home and see friends and family, but I am sad to leave Jordan and the Middle East. Irbid, Jordan has really become like a second home, and I will always remember how good the people have been to me.
2006-05-09T12:36:41.026-07:00Like all Americans, I grew up hearing endless stories of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s cruelty, his gassing of the Kurds, his invasion of Kuwait, and of course, his elaborate torturing methods. I imagined that the only authentic supporters of the regime were those who benefited directly from it. However, while living and studying during this current academic year in Jordan, I have been stunned at the extent of the implicit, even explicit, support of this brutal dictator. Undoubtedly, the American public, as well, is surprised to learn of the relatively wide backing of the larger Arab public towards Saddam. While some of this support is rightly attributed not to Saddam himself or his former regime, but instead to the widespread anger over the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there are, in fact, concrete explanations for Saddam’s standing in Jordan and the larger Arab world. I will attempt to explain this phenomenon from the Jordanian perspective, as well as assess its implications.I have witnessed Jordanian approval, if not admiration, of Saddam Hussein in numerous conversations within a variety of communities, ranging from Ba’athist Christians, pious and secular Sunni Jordanians, Palestinian refugees in Jordan, and even a Kurdish woman. This is quite the spectrum! Even in the words of those who maintain that they hate Saddam, there are hints of respect. The reasoning, I believe is threefold. First of all, because of the intense communal tensions between the various religious and ethnic groups in Iraq, many people are convinced that only a strong leader can hold that country together. Their view, of course, is validated by the U.S.’s inability to maintain any sort of security. Yes Saddam was repressive, even cruel at times (Jordanians often claim that much of this has been propagated and exaggerated by the Western media). However, this strong-hand was necessary in order to preserve his regime and more importantly, the stability of Iraq. Whatever crimes may have been committed were unfortunate, but a necessary price for security, safety, and unity.Secondly, support of Saddam is justified given the close political relationship between Saddam Hussein and the beloved former King Hussein of Jordan (unrelated). Many Americans may recall King Hussein’s refusal to join the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam in 1990. Throughout the Saddam regime, Jordanians enjoyed large subsidies on Iraqi oil, and like all Arabs, they studied in Iraq for free. The pocketbook often guides political attitudes, and since the toppling of Saddam’s regime, Jordanians no longer receive free education or oil subsidies, causing a huge strain on the economy. Finally and perhaps most importantly, although Saddam was a harsh dictator, he is the only modern Arab leader to stand up to the United States and Israel. The Arab people are desperate for a hero, for a leader to rescue them from the traps of loss after loss, humiliation after humiliation, suffering after suffering. Although this is most acutely expressed with respect to Palestine, Arabs generally feel that they are subject to the whimsical decisions of the West, Israel, and their ‘puppet governments’ in the Arab world. Saddam had what Arabs tend to respect more than Westerners, power and force. He was strong, and he resisted the West. The Middle East is a region without hope, and Saddam offered hope. Although he undoubtedly failed as a politician, undertaking reckless wars (Iran-Iraq War, invasion of Kuwait) that ultimately destroyed himself and his country, many Arabs view him symbolically. He bombed Tel Aviv. He said no to the United States. Yeah, he gassed his own people. Yes, he is sitting in an American prison. But much like Gemal Abdul Nasser in Egypt forty years before, Saddam offered hope that the Arab world could be united against its enemies, that it could liberate Palestine. This is especially true for the Palestinians living in Jordan, which make up over one half of the population. For that ‘hero’ to now be in the hands of the U.S., while[...]
2006-04-24T07:44:01.480-07:00Oman was amazing! Instead of describing the place and its people in another lengthy post, I decided to post some pictures with brief explanations. In general, although I was only able to spend about 5 days in Oman, I was able to get a pretty good feel of the place. And I loved it! Okay, I had some major technical problems (AHH!) placing the pictures in any sort a coherent way. Sorry. So, they are numbered with corresponding comments below.First, a link to a map of Oman. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/oman.gif As I describe places, feel free to check out the locations on the map. Notice Oman’s natural importance as a port, which has historically led to a population that is very accustomed to interacting with different people from all over the world. That certainly continues today. 1-4.The cornice in Muscat, the capital of Oman. Coming from Jordan, the organization of the place was truly stunning to me. There are clean roads, traffic rules, and legitimate art (with water!) in the center of the roundabouts. What?! Unlike many of the other gulf states, which have become crazy (and often awkwardly) modern places, Oman has done a uniquely superb job of combining the benefits of oil wealth with the preservation of its traditional culture. Way to go Sultan Qaboos! 5-6.One of the most interesting aspects of Oman, especially Muscat, was the number of foreign workers. Coming from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and especially Pakistan and India, foreign workers actually make up about 20% of Oman’s total population. In Muscat, it felt much higher. We spent some time talking with these folks, hearing about their lives and, of course, eating their food! In fact, just about every meal we ate was at an Indian or Pakistani restaurant, often full of Omanis customers. The degree of mixing and intercommunal tolerance was quite impressive, at least on the surface, as Omanis eat at Indian restaurants, buy Bangladeshi-made clothes, and sleep in Pakistani-run hotels. The large and absolutely beautiful Muscat market is a small picture of this mixing, lined with shop after shop of Indian saris, next to shops of the traditional black Omani dresses. Nothing makes me happier than experiencing these diverse cultural expressions living in harmony with one another! We were able to share tea with Pakistanis from Kashmir, sit in a park with Christian Sri Lankans, and eat dinner in the home of native Omanis.7-8.Wadi Asshab, the “Grand Canyon of Oman.”9-11.The Sultan Qaboos Mosque, the national mosque of Oman. In general, the mosques in Oman are extremely beautiful, often reflecting the architecture of Shi’a mosques in nearby Iran. The majority of Omanis are neither Sunni nor Shi’a, but a minority sect in Islam called Ibadism.12-13.The wildlife in Oman is incredible! Aside from seeing beautiful birds, a constant supply of the always fascinating camels, ghazelles, and numerous lizards, I witnessed one of the most impressive natural phenomenon of my life. There is a beach near the city of Sur named Ra’as Al-Jinz that is a prominent landing spot for giant sea turtles, and during the summer, literally hundreds of turtles come to this beach to lay their eggs. Although we weren’t there to witness this, I can’t complain too much, as we were able to observe all sides of the turtle egg-laying process. We watched turtles wash onto the shore, crawl up the beach, and use their flippers to dig holes to lay their eggs. At another spot on the beach, we saw over 50 baby tu[...]
2006-04-10T12:21:10.573-07:00As promised...homosexuality in Jordan. I hope I made sense. Feel free to comment, as I would love to have some sort of a discussion. Next post...either Oman (I leave the day after tomorrow!) or local opinion of Saddan Hussein. Keep checking! By the way, I'm doing much better, especially after a refreshing trip to Madaba. The Bedouin hospitality always does a sould well! Anyways, the post...The issue of homosexuality in the Middle East is certainly not discussed openly, leaving one to assume that it remains irrelevant. However, during my 7 months here in Irbid, Jordan, I‘ve had a small glimpse into this odd world of same sex relationships. In fact, it is probably inappropriate to label it as a ‘world of same sex relationships’ per se, as in fact, I’m talking about something entirely different. Instead, I am referring to seemingly straight men engaging in homosexual acts with other seemingly straight men. Strange? Perhaps, but there are real explanations. First of all, I should say that I am only writing about men. When I had an American friend of mine who is living here read this post, he accused me of being a chauvinist and denying women’s sexuality! Ouch. I’m not trying to do that, but I just have no idea about women and this issue! Furthermore, I would still maintain that IN GENERAL, men are more sexually motivated than women. That may be culturally encouraged, of course, but it seems to be true. Okay, on to the real issue. In terms of sexual expression, this culture is quite repressive (keep in mind that I am speaking of Irbid, which much more conservative than Amman), and I think two crucial factors provide the basis for this sexual repression. First, the norm for men is to marry as late as 35, when they are sufficiently stable financially to provide for a family. According to the Jordanian Department of Statistics, the average age for a Jordanian man’s marriage is 29.3 (both Will and I think this is too low), more than two years older than the average American man. Therefore, this late age of marriage means that unless they are engaging in pre-marital sex, men are waiting an extremely long time to have sex. Because celibacy is so important for women, usually, men aren’t engaging in ANY sexual activity, even kissing. Regardless of what any religion says, this is a period of fighting your own biology!Second, unlike those in the United States who choose to remain celibate until marriage, celibacy here is not really a choice, but is culturally mandated. This cultural pressure is not merely limited to parental disapproval or something like this, but it permeates the entire culture. Of course, men can engage in physical activity with women, but it certainly requires searching and high amounts of risk, thus dissuading the majority of horny men from partaking. The combination of these two factors are brutal for men’s sexuality (and for women, too), as you have a large number of men unable to satisfy their desires, not necessarily by choice. Of course, there are also many men, perhaps the majority, who are committed religiously to this still celibacy. Regardless, the fact remains that many men are 'forced' into sexual purity. While the obvious parallel is with Christians in the United States who wait until marriage to have sex, I must reinforce the many differences. First, oftentimes these American men may not be having sex, but at least they are enjoying some sort of sexuality, even kissing. Here, for the majority of men, nothing. Second, for the many Middle Easterners who are only marginally pious, their waiting until marriage to engage in any sexual activity is not a matter of major religious significance. It is culturally forced upon them. They cannot share the ‘us against mainstream culture’ pride that many Christians in the US have. Finally, there is a fairly obvious trend amongst Christians in the US to marry early, which I think is directly related to the desire to have sex (no one take that personally!). Once aga[...]
2006-04-05T10:22:05.980-07:00I have only two months left in Jordan. Although it seems like I’ve been here forever, I can hardly believe that it’s almost over! Well, during these next two months, I’m going to try something new for my blog. Every couple of weeks (inshallah), I will write about a specific subject to Jordan and the Middle East, such as marriage or local ideas about Saddam Hussein, for example. The next bi-week topic will be homosexuality, and I’ll post it early next week. I know that Dsome Rof Ayou Pare Enterested Rin that topic. For now, my life...the highlights.
2006-03-25T04:46:25.440-08:00This is going to be real quick, but I'm trying real hard to keep on top of this blog! Everything is fine here in Jordan. I'm continuing to enjoy life, and although there remains constant battles, I feel as if my Arabic has improved, I've learned much about this part of the world, and true cultural and religious bridges have been built. That's all I can ask for! The graduate school picture for next year has become more clear, but I am still waiting to hear from some schools, both about acceptance and the all-important financial aid. Let's see. Other than the normal schedule of Arabic lectures and private tutoring, research and classes on ME politics, and the social engagements, I am still doing quite a bit of exploring Jordan and the region. Two weekends ago, I had an absolutely wonderful weekend with Anne in Nazareth. Last weekend, some friends and I spent a day exploring the desert castles of Eastern Jordan (see pictures). In the future....next weekend, I will spend the night with a friend in Libb (rural village near Madaba). This will certainly require a post, as staying with him is always fascinating. Although he works a modern job in Amman, he and his family are traditional Bedouins in their outlook on life. Last time I stayed with him, I came home and wrote about 15 pages of observations. Perhaps I will combine some of those notes with some new stuff. I am excited though, as rarely are you given that kind of an opportunity to really connect with someone so different from yourself, especially in their own home. The big event is coming in mid April, when Will, another Fulbrighter, and I are going to Oman for a week. Oman is such a wierd place with unique geography and history. I'll let you know more about it as the time approaches. Pictures are below. Also take a look at my last post, because I added pictures there as well. Finally, for all you MESPers, there was an article written in the New York Times on Essam Eryan. Remember him? The Muslim Brotherhood guy who spoke to our group in Cairo. The link is http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/25/international/middleeast/25essam.html.Okay, that's all for now. I hope you are all doing well. Have a great day. Qasr Hraneh. Although it looks like a castle or fort, in reality, it was probably a trading post or meeting center for the Umayyad Dynasty (based in Damascus- mid 7th-mid 8th Century) to shore up support from the local Bedouin tribes.Qusayr 'Amra. Built by the Umayyads around 715, it is believed to have been a sort of 'retreat' for the Umayyad rulers, where they could escape the big city life, hunt, and even get in touch with their Bedouin routes. Some scholars have speculated that they also came to the desert in order to learn the Modern Standard Arabic, which at that time, was still spoken by the Bedouin tribes (but not in Damascus). The inside is decorated with all sorts of fascinating frescoes, such as naked women, animals dancing and playing instruments, and angels. Qasr Azraq. Originally built by the Romans, it's made of Basalt. Although it was used by the Umayyads and Ottomans as well, the castle is most famous because it is where Lawrence of Arabia stayed duting the winter of 1917 during the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918 against the Ottoman Empire.[...]
2006-03-25T04:47:31.886-08:00For some reason, I always seem to find my way into unique encounters, wonderfully odd and exceptional situations that I imagine even others living abroad rarely experience (well, other than Jimmy and his crazy drum-playing band!). The other day was a perfect example. About 15 miles NW of Irbid is both the ancient and the modern village of Umm Qais, an unbelievable place that has become one of my favorite locations in all of Jordan. Near the modern village of Umm Qais is a large hill where the ancient Roman city of Gadara is located, a city within the Decapolis where Jesus cast out demons. The ruins itself are very cool, containing Ottoman homes as well as a large Roman amphitheatre made of black basalt. Most impressive, however, is the view. From this vantage point, your eyes are literally provided with a map of the Middle East. To the east, less than 5 miles away, is Syria. To the far north, but still visible, is southern Lebanon. To the northwest, West Banks villages are within 20 miles. To the west, closer than even Syria, is the Sea of Galilee and Israel, with Mt. Nabor and Nazareth in the far background. Directly in front of you is Jordan’s Yarmouk River gorge. Towering behind the gorge is the Golan Heights. Aside from the breathtaking physical beauty of the rolling hills of Roman olive trees, the huge and imposing plateau of the Golan, and the shining blue Sea of Galilee, the sheer magnitude of the view is astonishing. For someone studying history or political science, it’s a dream! It’s like the 4 corners in the SW US, but instead with all these extremely significant areas of contention. Some of the panoramic views are enhanced further by the Roman and Ottoman ruins surrounding them. When I stand at Umm Qais, I'm always struck with how cool it is that I'm actually in the Middle East!Will and I were up in this area, taking it all in, attempting to decide if we should hike to Syria (don’t worry mom, we didn’t do it!), and exploring the archaeological sites. Like I said, at Umm Qais, there are Ottoman ruins above or next to many of the Roman ruins, and until about 20 years ago people were still living in these Ottoman homes. However, due to a decision by the Jordanian government to develop the area for tourism, they were actually forced to leave (compensation was provided). Anyways, as we walked around one of these courtyards, a Jordanian man came up to us and introduced himself. He told us that his family had lived in the area we were walking since the 17th century. With tears in his eyes, he pointed to the homes and showed us where he was born and where his grandparents had lived. He told us that he still has a picture of his grandmother beating a rug in front of the place we were standing. Like all of the families living there, his family was evacuated when he was just a kid. It was fascinating to hear his story, but especially the emotion with which he told it. He said that he comes to the site three or four times each year, and it was clear that the visits remain difficult for him. It was almost as if he sought us out, desperate to share that part of himself with someone. Walking away, he was holding his wife’s hand, needing the support. Without talking to this guy, the sight would have been just another ruin, but it became a story. It reminded me of two things: one, the deep, soulful bond people here have to their land. It’s true with Palestinians wanting to return, and it was true with him. Second, the history in this region runs so deep. On any given piece of land, the number of civilizations, let alone generations, is countless. Certainly at the site of Umm Qais, people lived long before the Romans. In more concrete terms, we stood on ruins of Romans and Ottomans, on former homes where people were born a mere 30 years ago, while in the background stood places of current magnitude like the Golan Heights. Wow!After this encounter, I w[...]
2006-03-01T08:27:43.256-08:00Yeah, I know this is my first post since…uhh...around New Year’s. Although my long absence from the world of blogging is pathetic, personally, I’ve had an excellent last few months. In the beginning of February, my parents came for a visit. We had a wonderful time, although we were far too ambitious in our attempt to see all of Jordan and half the Middle East, as well as all of my local friends, in a period of a meager two weeks. I swear (and they can attest to this!), every minute of every day was filled with either travels or meeting folks. We visited southern Jordan (like Petra), Anne/Palestine/Jerusalem, and Syria. Despite both the propaganda of Fox News/Bush Administration and the reality of Syrian political problems, that country is so beautiful and culturally rich! Back home in Jordan, during our ‘breaks’ from traveling, because of the strong cultural emphasis on hospitality, my friends were ceaseless in their insisting on having my parents to their homes for meals. All in all, it was a great few weeks, but really exhausting! Making the visit especially enjoyable for me was my parents’ fascination with this part of the world. Everything was exciting for them- the food, the scenery, and especially conversations. My mom told me that they will look upon the last month (them here, then me at home) as one of the best months of their lives. Gosh, that made me happy! The Pootster and I at Petra!The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, where lies the heads of John the Baptist and Ali, as well as the body of Saladin. It's actually an incredible place, once the seat of the Islamic Empire. After my parents left, I spent a week here in Jordan, attempting to cram in as much studying as possible. Then, on to the US! Some of you knew that I was coming home, but for those of you who feel slighted by my not calling, I apologize. The purpose of the visit, however, was to spend time with my grandparents. For the vast majority of my time, I was with them. Some of the highlights of the trip…taking Bill out to breakfast almost every morning, family pictures (oh gosh, that poor, poor photographer), my mom, grandma, and I all sharing a bed, surprising my Grandma June (she chucked what she was holding across the room!), numerous trips to coffee shops with my parents, and a wonderful day with some friends in Northern Indiana. Actually, it was a memorable time for me, and I'm very satisfied with how I spent it. My biggest worry was my grandpa’s health. Although certainly worse, he was not as bad as I had perhaps expected. I know that it meant a lot to him and my grandmas for me to come home to see them. For me, I had a week I will always remember. It’s funny…Here I am traveling all over the world, filling my deepest desires for adventure, cultural experience, and meaning, truly living out a dream; yet nothing in the entire world makes me happier than sitting around doing absolutely nothing with my family.Finally, this past week, one of my best friends from college was here. Other than his destruction of Roman ruins, I really loved having him! He was actually my first (non-Egyptian) friend other than Anne to see this part of the world, so that was special for me. Although we did some traveling, in general, we hung out in coffee shops, spending endless hours drinking coffee, smoking argeelah, playing backgammon, and talking.Well, briefly…this next semester will be quite different. First of all, I hope to begin my research, which I've been anticipating for a while. Arabic classes remain somewhat up in the air. After endless pointless meetings which bore little to no fruit, it seems that we may have finally found a way to take courses for free here at Yarmouk. That’s a huge relief! In general, my Arabic has seen a great deal of improvement, but perhaps not what I had hoped. In fact, I have decided to stop obsessing over it. I tend to be far [...]
2006-03-01T07:52:35.770-08:00I know you guys are all probably sick and tired of hearing about them, but I feel like I should say something about all this madness surrounding the cartoons. This short post is certainly insufficient to address the issue, but here is my quick take. Everything has gotten out of hand, for sure. Here in Jordan, it's pretty calm. I mean, ALL of my friends, regardless of how liberal or not liberal they are, are angry. However, they are upset with the reactions as well. On the floor of our university tunnel, there are stickers of the Danish flag so that people can step on them. How funny…and immature! In general, the Muslim world feels attacked by Christianity and the West, and while they can deal with invasions and killings, when you slander the holiest thing to them, the line is crossed. Of course, it is forbidden in Islam to depict any of the prophets, especially in such a demeaning manner. Certain people are already boiling with anger, and this merely pushed them over the top. Muslims see that a journalist gets three years in prison in Austria for denying the Holocaust; yet highly offensive and provocative cartoons on their Prophet can be published with ease (in my opinion, perhaps both should be banned). They understand the hypocrisy and the provocation. They lack awareness, however, of the sanctity of freedom of expression in our Western culture, and they fail to grasp the inability of governments to intervene in press issues. I don't blame the common folks as much as I do the imams (not all are doing this, for sure) that are encouraging the reaction. In addition, keep in mind that in many of the places where the strong rioting occurred, it was probably being facilitated by the governments. Syria, no doubt. It can become a beating stick against political Islam...the governments encourage the riots (or at least permit them), then say, "See, we can't reform. The Islamic element is too dangerous and radical." Yes, the reaction is extremely hypocritical and childish. It's really disappointing, yet predictable. Complicated, for sure. In my mind, it's a situation where both sides have to look in the mirror, and I don't see that happening.Okay, now some random pictures. One day, before all this madness of visits, Will and I rented a car and took a 'road trip' East. We, of course, stopped before the Iraqi border! I swear, every 5-10 miles there was a streetside mosque, despite the fact that there was often nothing else around. Perhaps they existed in order that passing drivers could pray at appropriate times. Anyways, this was one of my favorites. You can't necessarily tell all that great from the picture, but it's a fairly wierd structure, especially the minaret.My mom and I are in there somewhere. This is the long 'suq' leading to the Monastery at Petra. Petra is one of those places where you absolutely must go if in the country, but you expect to be disappointed. Well, it doesn't disappoint. Absolutely breathtaking all the way through!This is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex. Al-Aqsa is the second oldest and third holiest mosque in Islam. Here's poor Will attempting to stuff the even poorer sheep into the trunk of our friend's car. About one hour later, that little guy was sacrificed for 'Aid il Adha,' the biggest Islamic festival of the year. It commemorates Abraham's near sacrifice of Ishmael (not Isaac), and 1/3 of the meat goes to your neighbors, 1/3 to the poor, and 1/3 was used for a barbeque![...]
2005-12-28T08:12:18.900-08:00Here's my own picture of the Dome of the Rock, shot Christmas Day.I hope you all had fantastic Christmases!As I told you, this past weekend I went to Bethlehem. In addition to the enjoyment of spending Christmas with Anne, the awful and constant rain, and the coolness of celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem, it was pretty insane, especially the first day. Here’s what happened: Well, at 10 a.m., I hopped on a bus to (supposedly) take me from Irbid, Jordan to Nazareth, Israel. Arriving at the Jordan-Israel border at about 11, I felt great. I remember specifically thinking that at that rate, I would be in Jerusalem by 2, and I could spend the rest of the day with Anne in Jerusalem. Wonderful! I couldn’t have been more wrong.Basically, Israel detained me at the border for over 8 hours. Despite my Department of State insurance card, they thought I was a Western activist going to help the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (which might be true in the future, but on this occasion, I was your typical tourist!). I sat, I sat, and I sat, watching tourist after tourist, Jordanian after Jordanian pass through the security. There was a stretch of 3 hours without a single question directed towards me. They claimed they were doing background checks, but I still don’t know what the jack was going on. At least one of the soldiers felt bad for me, and she gave me her meal for the day, so I did eat courtesy of the Israeli Defense Forces. Eventually (and I mean after upwards of 7 hours of waiting), they brought in some special guy for me, which may account for some of the wait. I kept telling him how honored I was that he should come just for me, but he didn’t seem to find the humor. After they escorted me to a separate building, he gave me an extensive search. This was definitely the most intense part of the interrogation, owing only to my own stupidity. I had forgotten to leave behind in Jordan a small Palestinian flag that was in my bag. While waiting, I put it in my sock, out of fear that they’d search my stuff. Gosh, this guy must have had his hands right on that flag, but he never found it. If he would have, I’m certain my Christmas would’ve been in Irbid! I was interviewed by another man about everything from Calvin College, to ‘Marie Vanderwall’ (that was Anne), to my graduate school plans. He even tested my Arabic to determine whether I was lying about that. This other guy just watched me, reading my body-language to see if I was lying. But I passed! It was all ludicrous, although I think I was able to see the humor in it all, rather than being pissed. It helped that the Israelis working there were genuinely nice to me. In the end, I got a 3-month visa- ha, ha, ha Anne!The fun didn’t end at the border. Nope. By the time they released me, there was no public transportation to the nearest Israeli city, Bet Sheen, and I had to pay a ridiculous taxi fare. At that point, I was in a weird mood, perhaps delirious, and I figured I might as well add to the absurdity of the day. So after failed attempts to hitchhike, as opposed to paying for an ass-expensive hotel, I decided to sleep on a park bench in a Bet Sheen park. For some reason, nothing seemed better to me, and when I initially laid down, I was actually quite thrilled with my lot in life. The idea was brilliant, but not all brilliant ideas turn out so brilliant. Yeah, b/w 10 pm and 3 am, I probably slept a total of an hour or two. I’d constantly wake up shivering, roll over, shift positions to make the coldest part of my body warmer (thus exposing some other part), and pull out my cell phone to check the time. ‘Oh, it’s only been 30 minutes.’ I spent the whole evening wearing socks on my hands and boxers around my face, just to cover every inch. It was MISERABLE! Finally I gave up and just started walking, dete[...]
2005-12-21T10:35:36.910-08:00I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas before I leave for a few days. I hope that you each have a special Christmas, and that you can all enjoy your families, churches, and presents!
2005-12-14T07:50:39.496-08:00As I may have told you already, my landlord, Malek, is running for Jordanian parliament next year. Admittedly a political science geek, I am always eager to engage him about the Jordanian political system. The differences between ours are fascinating, and it makes you realize the length of time it took for our own system to develop and the numerous adjustments that have been made to improve it. Of course, there are many aspects that could and probably should change (in my opinion, ending the electoral college and granting proportional representation, to name a couple), but we’ve got it down pretty good; then again, it’s 200 years in the making. For Jordan, elections are far less significant, as the King retains ultimate authority. In fact, they can seem to be mere exercises for the elected to place members of their own tribe in government jobs. In some ways, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood (more on them later) is the only real ‘challenge’ to the government, as they offer the only alternative to the pro-government folks.The Lower House of Jordan’s parliament (the Upper House is appointed by the king) consists of 110 members. In previous elections, all of these parliamentarians were elected according to their district. Jordan is made up of 12 districts and a specified number of representatives were elected from each district, depending on its size. Thus, Amman was allotted the most seats, followed by Irbid and Zarqa. In essence, these elections consisted of large families/tribes putting out a candidate from their tribe, causing the parliament to be comprised of members of various families/tribes. Jordan, by the way, seems to be one of the most tribal societies not in the third world. In a sense, therefore, this system was representative, as each community placed representatives from their most powerful tribes in the government. However, the candidate’s qualities, what he/she had to offer the local community and Jordan as a whole, had very little to no bearing on the overall election process. It basically meant that the most prominent and largest tribes placed their members in the Jordanian government, furthering their own interests. It also served to keep the parliament, a group which deals almost exclusively with domestic affairs (although their decisions carry some clout in foreign policy), extremely loyal to the government. With no national candidates to campaign on a broader platform, the representatives were essentially, as Malek calls them, “sons of the Kingdom.” In fact, with the notable exception of the Muslim Brotherhood, political parties are banned in Jordan.The only group to provide any challenge to this tribalistic structure of representation is the Muslim Brotherhood, although they currently hold a mere 23 of the 110 seats. The Brotherhood, which is fairly moderate in Jordan, nevertheless, tends to oppose support of the US and Israel. As in most pro-US countries in the Middle East, they are extremely popular, especially in the poorer areas of society, but also in many of the professional associations. Of course, they are able to advertise themselves in mosques around Jordan, which is probably the ultimate way to campaign (perhaps in a manner similar to the Evangelical Right in the US). Unlike in other pro-US states, however, the government of Jordan holds a large degree of popular support, certainly amongst these Jordanian tribes, the “sons of the Kingdom.” If there were completely free elections, the Brotherhood wouldn’t win in a landslide, like in Egypt. They probably would not win at all. But in the past, despite this election system, the Brotherhood has achieved some election success, even holding the positions of 3 ministers in a few governments.Well, the election laws have chang[...]
2005-12-14T07:43:45.990-08:00Hi everyone. How are you all? I hope you are all preparing for a wonderful Christmas. I’m trying to make it Bethlehem, the source of the real event of Christmas and the location of Anne! Well, I’m living alone for the month (the wife’s in Japan), which I’ve enjoyed thus far, although I’m certainly not used to being alone, ever. But I keep busy enough that loneliness isn’t a problem. And I finished all of my grad school applications, which is an enormous load off! Anyways, this post will be short, just to let you know I’m doing well, attach a few pictures, and give you an explanation for the following post, which is much longer.
2005-11-28T10:31:52.190-08:00(image) About a month ago, some of my friends and I drove southwest through the lush Jordan Valley, hoping to reach the actual Jordan River (or at least a nearby pond) to camp out. After being initially turned back by the Jordanian military, we further meandered through the villages, trying to avert the blocked paths. Eventually, we reached a dead-end; well, more the end of a small complex of homes. As we gazed at the wonderful view of Israel and the southern end of the Golan Heights, a man came out of the house. This kind of a situation would be extremely awkward in the States, showing up at some random person’s house in the middle of nowhere. “Uhh, do you know how to reach there? Yeah, I know there is forbidden by the military; and yeah, I also know that there doesn’t really have anything specific to do; and yeah, it’s strange and stupid we want to camp…but, is it possible?” However, I’ve lived enough in the Middle East to know that very few Middle Easterners (especially rural folks) will turn down the opportunity to be hospitable. We spent the next 24 hours with this family, chatting it up, meeting endless amounts of relatives, eating babaganoush from eggplants we just picked, and drinking cup of tea after cup of tea, and playing American songs on the guitar. For the camping, we crammed four of us in the tent, while Will slept outside. Aside from the cramped space, sleep was difficult due the cacophony of sounds radiating outside our tent. First, there were the men hanging out near our tent who would not shut up! Then, there was this crazy animal cackling throughout the night, which our hosts later told us was an animal similar to a wolf…a hyena? Finally, there was the hourly volley of gunshots. The Israelis? No. The Jordanian military? Nope. The local guard killing wild (nocturnal) boars throughout the night? Yep. I’m still not sure whether he was shooting the boars to protect the crops or us, but there were times the shots definitely sounded like they were in my ear, which is a bit disconcerting! A nice little adventure.
2005-11-12T01:14:01.770-08:00As expected, the last few days have been fairly draining. The night of the bombings (which we heard about at around 10 p.m.), I labored until after 6 a.m. on an article for the Indianapolis Star (to no avail, of course). Will and I have spent most of our time continuing to write, thinking, and getting a sense of the mood here (well, there was also a night of Tunisian food and Jordanian wine). Although I wish I could see Amman, in general, I’ve really tried to take advantage of being in Jordan during their 9/11. I would say that I’ve done that, joining in peace marches, talking with friends and strangers, and watching local TV. I should describe the general mood, as I’ve experienced it. But please, the last thing I want is for you to make generalizations based only on my impressions. Be careful! Keep in mind, this is Irbid, which prides itself on being “not Amman.” It's sort of like being in Boston on 9/11, as opposed to NYC. That having been said, in some ways, I’m reminded of post-9/11 United States. Jordanian flags are EVERYWHERE, and patriotic songs and programming are quite prevalent. This is really good for people to express pride in their country. But like after 9/11 in the US, it gets a bit problematic when it’s combined with nationalism. As I’ve explained to you all before, the relationship in Jordan between Jordanian-Jordanians and Palestinian-Jordanians is not all butterflies and flowers. I think that many Jordanian-Jordanians consider the Palestinians ungrateful for the citizenship they’ve received. Palestinian-Jordanians, while I’m sure 99% of them love Jordan, are also attached to Palestine. More problematically, there are millions of Iraqis here. They, of course, aren’t integrated into Jordanian society; they’re Iraqis, not Jordanians. While the Palestinian-Jordanians face tensions about loyalty, there is no such tension for Iraqis. They’re refugee Iraqis, who have very little commitment to Jordan, and this is rather obvious in a number of ways. When things calm down in Iraq (if ever), they’ll go home, no doubt. I think that some Jordanian-Jordanians perceive Wednesday’s bombings as having nothing to do with the 'real' Jordan, but with foreigners and immigrants. This isn't entirely unreasonable, as nearly all of this country's immediate political problems relate to the situation in Israel and the Iraq war. It doesn’t help, of course, that the four bombers were Iraqis and the mastermind, Abu Musab Al-Zarqaqi, a Jordanian in Iraq, is of Palestinian descent. The perception amongst many Jordanian-Jordanians is that most of the problems in Jordanian society result from these groups’ political ambitions, or even cultural flaws. While this certainly has some truth, it’s such human nature! In every society, we hold the other group responsible for our societal problems. Think about our own country; white folks blame black people for all the crime, while the black people blame whites for their poverty. It’s a sad condition, it really is. In Jordan (like in all cases, I guess), I can understand the frustrations from all parties. I just hope that this tragedy doesn’t turn into nationalistic anger. But, it’s hard for me to sense how much of the peace marches and patriotism is directed against (that word is probably too strong) those who aren’t whole-hearted supporters of the Hashemite monarchy (often the Palestinian-Jordanians) and how much of it is pure love of country and hatred of violence. I guess the national slogan of “Jordan First” can be interpreted different ways. It will be interesting to see if there are any genuine attempts to[...]
2005-11-10T06:43:57.613-08:00Hi. Well, everything’s still a shock here in Jordan. Even though I’m not in Amman (which apparently is filled with police and the military), this event is HUGE for Jordan. It’s weird, but the reactions seem very paradoxical. On the one hand, no one is surprised that this happened here. In fact, numerous people have openly said that it was only a matter of time, given Jordan’s relationship with the United States. Yet, Jordan is a place that prides itself on being a stable, peaceful state. That identity, which is truly a part of being Jordanian, has been shattered. Today Will and I (despite the Fulbright’s requests otherwise- some ‘risks’ are worth taking) joined a peace march in Irbid. Tomorrow there will be the biggest marches, especially in Amman. Still, even this march was really moving; in fact, it made me cry. People were chanting, “No to terrorism,” “Jordan is our country,” and my favorite (loosely translated) “We march with blood ending your pain King Hussein (former king of Jordan).” While this march was very pro-monarchy, which I think most people are, mostly, it was most importantly, pro-Jordan. People waved Jordanian flags, held banners, sang, and danced, as we marched through the streets of Irbid. It was a celebration of Jordan and all that Jordan represents. It was a pro-Islamic, but it was prp-moderation, decrying the extremism that Jordan has generally avoided until now. It was very genuine. Attached are a few pictures. I feel like I should clarify last night’s e-mail a bit. I was emotional when I wrote and maybe now I can clarify. First, I am absolutely appalled by yesterday’s events. Watching this massacre in the country I have called home for the last two months is sickening. I have developed a love for the Jordanian people, famed for their hospitality and generosity, and it grieves me to see them subjected to such horrific violence. As I watched the carnage, I felt the same tension as I described above. A part of me says, “Not Jordan? No way!” Yet, at the same time, I remember specifically thinking, “Well, it was bound to happen soon.” For some of us, because of the Middle East’s infinite complexities, the temptation is to react to these bombings in Amman with blind rage, or perhaps to throw our hands in the air in disregard. However, it is incumbent upon us to seek deeper answers. Is the reason for the targeting of Westerners and Jordan merely irrational religious fervor? Is the increased worldwide rage at the United States entirely the result of propaganda? Personally, I remain angry. I am furious that there are people who believe that blowing themselves up at a wedding party, killing scores, is a commendable means to make a political statement. These same radicals are doing so in Iraq, killing innocents. I am livid that certain radicals can tarnish an entire religion. These actions are sub-human, true crimes against humanity, and I am enraged with the leaders of these violent movements. However, as an American citizen, I realize that my own responsibility does not lie with these terrorists. I have a patriotic duty to ensure that my own government’s policies are just, that they benefit both our country and the larger world. This may be the source of my fiercest anger, as today’s horrific events continue to demonstrate that our own elected government’s policies are creating a world that is more dangerous, more radical, and more hateful. Walking the streets of Irbid after the attacks, I was keenly and shamefully conscious of the enormous affects of these government actions on Jordanians’ lives[...]
2005-10-22T07:28:39.676-07:00Well, I’m an idiot. I’ve decided to apply for graduate school for next year. Essentially, I’m cramming a 4-month process into a month. If I were in the States, perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad, but here, not so easy. The simple fact is that I could spend more time on the application process, but I refuse. I’m not here in Jordan to prepare for my future. I’m here to engage Jordan and the Middle East. My goal, therefore, is to bust my butt for a few weeks, while maintaining to some extent my commitment to Arabic study and cultural activity. Don’t expect any posts or too many e-mail responses for a while! Sorry. I officially decided to register for the GREs Thursday, and I take them Wednesday. Yikes! Given my inability to adequately prepare in 5 days, not to mention the reports from highly intelligent friends who have taken GREs, I’m fairly certain I’m not going to impress anyone with my scores. Oh well. At this point, I hope other aspects of my application will win over some school to take a risk on me. So, that’s that!This decision has been a huge distraction of late, and although it’s only recently come up, I’ve really struggled with it. I especially struggle with whether or not this is a valuable use of my time. Despite the Fulbright director’s assurances that this is, by definition, valuable, every time I spend a few hours working on a writing sample or researching schools, I can’t help but feel guilty. And considering I’m literally unable to decide ANYTHING without consultation of loved ones, it’s pretty much driven me nuts. But now, I feel okay about it. No matter what happens, I’m doing what I want to do, NOW. No need to stress out! Okay, I have to keep telling myself that. It doesn’t help when I go to an internet café to work on applications, and the computers are too slow to download the applications! Ahhhh! I’m already eager to be done, so I can recommit to the here and now.In the meantime, Ramadan continues. Life in Irbid is great, and I’m really loving it! These IfTaar (fast-breaking) meals are quite the exercise of one’s body, albeit muscles I’m not accustomed to working. I really don’t think I’ve ever been so full that it hurt, so full that I literally felt like I’m going to throw up if I eat anymore. This is the best way for you to imagine it is to think about the stages of eating. First, you eat out of a combination of hunger and pleasure. You fill up, but continue to eat, because it tastes so good. This is the second stage, and it varies. Perhaps you continue to eat, out of the sheer pleasure, although your stomach continues to expand with each bite. This is when you ALWAYS stop. The third stage, or as I call it, ‘the Ramadan stage,’ is when you continue to eat, forgoing every normal signal from your body. The excellent taste of the food is no longer a factor…at this point, you can’t taste anything. The only feeling is hurt, and despite any hope you may have that the endless plates of food will cease to appear, you haven’t even reached the desserts yet! Passing on the hospitality is not an option. It’s definitely an experience, and although you know the end-of-the-meal pain is inevitable, the incredible tastes prior to the pain make up for it all. It’s like the crack addict who is willing to disregard the terrible consequences of his actions, all for the sake of that initial high. And with Ramadan eating, oh is there the initial high…well, at least, there’s some joyful eating!The other night, we shared the IfTaar meal with a fascinating family here in Irbid[...]
2005-10-13T04:56:38.573-07:00“Koll ‘am wa intoom bi-kheer.” That’s the traditional Ramadan greeting here in Jordan, and it literally translates “Every year, you all are good.”Well, another week down, and slowly but surely, I’m building a life here. Recent positive developments in this regard include: finding a research advisor, someone who genuinely seems excited to work with me next semester, calling my research proposal “sexy”; opening a bank account (I know, it seems small, but after you read my last story, you’ll understand that these types of things are no small task); and finding an Arabic tutor. Ramadan is now a week in, and it’s been fascinating to see a society literally shift overnight. Certainly not everyone is privately observant (as you will see), but publicly, there are no restaurants open during the day, b/w 5 and 7 the streets are literally empty (IfTaar), and after 7, people are flooding the places to spend the rest of the evening celebrating. I find certain aspects of the month so cool, like that the fact that there are special ‘Ramadan drinks and sweets,’ that are only drunk and eaten during this month. In fact, the whole cuisine seems to change. While Will and I are behind in our IfTaar invite goals, Ramadan is still young! We’ve certainly kept busy. Some IfTaar highlights thus far: 1. The first night of Ramadan, breaking the fast twice, first by ourselves due to some confusion, and then 20 minutes later (to avoid rudeness!), with two Malaysians and a French Tunisian. 2. This same French Tunisian preparing us a delicious Tunisian vegetable dish. 3. Cooking fish and Ramadan sweets with Abu Hammad (our Egyptian haaris) and his brother. 4. Breaking the fast with some good ole’ Scotch (more on that later!). Generally, Will and I have done a good job of keeping the fast (water aside), out of our desire to fully appreciate the IfTaar meal, but also out of respect for the Islamic faith. But man, by 4:00 we are not happy! We have some interesting IfTaar nights ahead, the one I’m most excited about being camping in a valley of pomegranates with some farmers we recently met.As some of you may know from my personal e-mails (thanks for the encouragement Griff and Dean!), perhaps the most surprising development for me lately has been missing home. This is truly weird for me. Of course, I always miss people from home, my family and friends- but not like this. There was a two-day period where I found myself craving specific places from home, like hanging out on Dean’s porch with everybody in GR, going out with the guys at Mickey’s on a Wednesday night, waking up on a Saturday morning for a deep talk with my parents (and Speedo) at 710, sitting down for dinner with the Venhuizen’s in MT, or laughing with my whole family at 242 or Anderson. Perhaps it’s the length of my time away that gives me this craving; perhaps it’s the many uncertainties when I return; perhaps I’m not as invincible as I thought. I don’t know. What I do know is this: I really love my friends and family. You all are more to me than a mere passing thought from time to time. Those scenarios I described and so many others are connected to my soul; you are connected to my soul. I miss you, and I am now realizing the sacrifices I have made to be here. I am happy to make them, but know that I miss you, and I am eager to see you all again.Okay, enough of the sappiness. On to the good stuff! I split up the posts a bit, so the next post has a few short stories from the last couple of days. I hope you enjoy them. I never know what y[...]
2005-10-13T05:00:05.493-07:00My apartment in Irbid...I'm always taking visitors!Each day is full of something unexpected, as plans are virtually meaningless (ask Anne about that!). Yesterday, Will and I had this grand plan of studying and reading after class, maybe even relaxing (for once)…this was not to be. I attempted a nap, but was quickly woken up by Will, because our landlord wanted to hang out. This is one of the more random aspects of our time in Jordan, as he has taken quite an interest in getting to know us. He is actually a famous TV journalist here in Jordan. He does the type of program that uncovers government scandals, companies ripping people off, and things such as this. For example, he discovered that a village wasn’t being adequately supplied with water…he went there, it was on his program, and soon after, the village got that good water! He’s very famous in Jordan and maybe in other places of the Middle East. Whenever we tell someone who our landlord is, people are always shocked, and we get such responses as, “Oh Malek, he is beloved,” or “He’s a wonderful man, a real man of the people.” When we registered with the police, and the policeman saw our landlord’s name, he flipped out. Not only is Malek a TV producer, but he’s running for parliament this year and hopes to become the Minister of the Interior. I’m sure he can do it. He’s also a poet, having written numerous poetry books, as well as a genealogy-type thing for the late King Hussein.I can’t exactly get a read on him, because on the one hand, he’s extremely committed to the people of Jordan. That’s why he does what he does, and he has turned down numerous offers for more cash. He lives a simple life here in Irbid, near his family, as opposed to going to Amman or a Gulf country. Despite his fame, he is genuinely a good, honest man, a man of the people. On the other hand, he is extremely proud of his connections, his ‘wasTa,’ or the way in which his connections/status in society help him to succeed. WasTa is everything here, and perhaps his desire to boast his own wasTa reflects the larger cultural normalcy. It’s odd though, because the reason Malek is a ‘man of the people’ is because he’s not the typically corrupt wealthy man. WasTa can certainly border on corruption, and Malek doesn’t take advantage of it to the fullest extent. But he remains proud of it. For example, he recently had a surgery at the hospital, and he loves talking about how he got first-class treatment the whole time, without having to pay for it. Of course, the hospital was afraid of being on his program! The way he married his wife is a great story, although it’s that same wasTa. He initially met her at some doctor’s conference and was immediately attracted to her. He needed a pretense for getting to know her, so he said he wanted to interview her for some program of his. Being the good headstrong Muslim woman that she was, she refused. He persisted, but despite all his efforts, her prudence continued. Finally, he discovered that she had a brother in Jenin who couldn’t obtain a visa to come to Jordan. After using his wasTa/connections at the Ministry to make that happen, her father asked him what he wanted…just lunch at their house. He laughingly told us how the meal lasted 6 hours, as he sipped his juice and nibbled on his food with painstaking care. At the end of the meal, the father told Malek that he wished he could join them again. Having met Malek’s wife, I can picture her rolling her eyes or kicking her fat[...]