Monday, May 2, 2011

An Interesting Morning

This morning I woke up too early, the light a little too bright and blinding in my eyes. Not quite recovered from waking up at 5:45 the morning we left Jordan.

I stumbled into the next room of Tory's empty apartment. I am the only one here right now because he had to go to Tel Aviv for a night. I check Facebook. Ten new notifications. Happiness at that.

Then I stumble back into the next room and turned on the TV. Aljazeera English fluttered onto the screen, "...dent Obama had this to say in his announcement two hours ago."

"Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children."


Not sure exactly how to feel, what repercussions there might be. But want to do something.

So to celebrate I went and bought breakfast at KFC. This KFC.

It is different from your KFC. Very different. I bought a chicken dinner with two pieces of Dajaaj, fries, and Xubaz for fourteen shekels.

Then I walked back to the corner store and bought a two-liter of coke.


The Beginning of Bill's Odyssey

I woke up in Jerusalem this morning. I walked out to the old
city's wall and paid a kid a buck to show me how to break past the
fence and get on the wall's ramparts. I then walked those for a while.

Until I realized that the Dome of the Rock (Site of the first and second Israelite temples, Theoretical Eden, the sacrifice of Isaac, Mohammad's ascention, etc) was right fracking there. It was then that I realized I had to run back to the Austrian hospice in order to check out in time.

After taking Pictures, of course.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wiki It

Oh man. A week and a half left. It's the Home stretch in Amman, and I gotta get to running. Three Arabic tests. Two Political Economy Tests. An Art & Culture Portfolio. Last days at JICRC. Planning for the post-Jordan...

Stress, and emotional turmoil. Point is I been neglecting this Blog for a little too long, and while I got a decent post in the works it ain't gonna get here today.

Instead, you might want to go to Wikipedia and look up "JICRC" or "Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center." It's where I have my internship, and I just spent a lil while making the article.

Assalamu 3aleeekum, y'all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


These are pretty trying times in Amman, difficult things become more difficult. And now that coming back to America is becoming imminent, it no longer has the tremendous attraction it used to have. I been wanting in the updating of this blog, and I'm about to add to that some more.

At four o'clock this afternoon we Earlhamites are meeting at Seventh Circle and trundling into some cars and driving on up to Ajluun. It's apparently a lush high place with a very Mediterranean climate. There's green everwhere, it snows in the winter months, and they say the mountains are stunning. We're going to be staying up there. We'll be staying in cabins and bumming around the campfire. We got hikes and lecturers lined up. We're gonna see the castle, and the panoramic view of Galilee and the Golan Heights. It will, I think, be great.

But there'll be no internet. So, y'know, no more posts 'til Saturday night.

See y'all.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How Arabs Talk

How you talk matters a lot.

It's not just what things you're trying to say, but the actual way you say it. It's how fast you talk. It is how long you wait once the other person stops talking until you start talking. It's how loud you like to make your voice and it is how emphatic it is appropriate to let your voice become. It is about whether you should use a calm voice or whether bouncing and rising and falling tones are better

It's how much deference you're supposed to show to whoever is speaking. It is whether it is an insult to talk along with and over somebody else as they speak, or whether talking along and peppering in questions is just a way you show that you're listening.

It is whether it's rude to ask a question directly or weak to use euphemism. It is whether you are just allowed to ask about anything you want to know. It's whether it's comfortable start a conversation talking about each other, or whether it is more comfortable to start with your the weather, your surroundings, other people.

We each have our own norms. There's mine. There's the Jersey. There's the Minnesota. And there's the Arab.

Everything is relative. Take the Minnesota standard stereotype. From my perspective someone talking with it sounds slow, it sounds derpy and timid. Meanwhile someone talking in the Jersey style is loud and obnoxious and generally asinine. But from a Jersey view a Carolina stereotypical style might sound derpy and slow and weak. There's been peer reviewed psychological research (but I am too lazy to link to it here. look it up yourself if you care that much) to show that the exact same thing said in each conversational style has an entirely different impact. The difference is just in the relative traits of the conversational styles. There's always some style is slower and sounds stupider. And there's always some style who is louder and faster and sounds like an asshole

Well. That Arab conversational style. Arabs are the loudest and the most passionate and aggressive and emphatic speakers I have met yet. When the talk to each other they almost always sound like they are at each others throats. It is upsetting, it is off-putting, it can be repulsive. From my conversational style's point of view.

A while back I was catching a ride home with this awesome Arab guy. He told me he was going to meet his mother at the Jabri where he was dropping me off. A minute before we got there he called his mother, and after a moment of pleasantries he started shouting, screaming, mouthing-off venom into the phone. I was embarrassed and looked away. When we pulled up he got out of the car and he was still shouting as he hung up the phone. He hugged his mother while apparently screaming, and few seconds later their fight broke into a round of laughter.

I've seen many repetitions of the same basic interaction since then. And it isn't fighting. It sounds like it, but it is not fighting. That is just how Arabs talk.

They adapt for Americans though. Most adult Arabs I have met tone it down when they talk to us. They keep it calm and simple and they don't shout. Kids don't always realize they should do this, but to a certain degree that is just how kids are.

Most Arab people don't get boundaries and American-appropriate conversation though. They'll ask how much you weigh, why you don't get a haircut, why aren't you a Muslim, why you don't have children. That's just small talk, nothing to hide in shame. They are just self conscious about other things then Americans are. They are reserved about their own issues.

Still--even realizing what incites ya' against them--seeing Arabs talk the way they do makes it hard for me not to harbor a sneaking suspicious feeling that they might all be jerks. So maybe it's just the social norm of how ya' talk. But ya' still sound like a jerk.

What might be the worst is trying to work within those cultural norms. The Jordanians have been living with these standards for their whole lives. They know how to work with them and move within them. As an American I can't seem to get their conversational style down, I get nervous and I get rushed and end up saying things that are just plain stupid. All the while reminding myself that no it does not make them a jerk to ask this, it don't make them a jerk to talk like that. Trying to use somebody else's style is a recipe for awkwardness.

In the end I am sure there's a bunch of Arabs who have thought that I'm an idiot. There's a few Arabs I have decided ain't good people.

Which makes it convenient that what we think of each other doesn't really matter. Even a lil bit.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Arabic Is Not a Language, it Is 22 of Them

Okay. So you’re going to live in Jordan for a semester right? you want to spend your time trying to engage with the city, right? You want to learn the language before you get there. You want to be ready.

So you go and you study Arabic. You figure out the grammar, you learn yourself some vocabulary, you’re on your way to getting the hang of talking it. You decide to test yourself out. You go online and watch some Al-Jazeera. You understand it. Oh man this is great, you’ve totally learned Arabic before you get to Amman.


Not really.

You studied the wrong language.

You learned Modern Standard Arabic. That’s what they talk on the news. What you wanted to know was Levantine Colloquial Arabic. Those ain’t the same languages.

You won’t be totally screwed coming to Amman if you only know M.S.A., or fusha as the Arabs call it. Most people speak it some, or at least understand it. It is not their first language though. People speak it on the news and people learn it in school. There are some similarities but mostly there are differences.

The Arabs may say they all speak the same language, but they are wrong. Arabic is in reality a bunch of languages. There are like twenty-two different Arabic languages that are widely spoken.

They are a lot like the Romance languages. All of the Arabics are descended—a millennia and a half ago—from a common daddy-language. Like all of the Romance languages all used to be vulgar Latin. In Italy, Gaul, the Pyranese, Occitania, Spain, Portugal, North and South Italy, Sicily, and Rumania they all used to just talk Latin. Then they all developed their own weird accents and idiosyncrasies.

After a few hundred years the accents and idiosyncrasies got so bad that the elites decided they needed to consciously improve their Latin. They purposefully went back to the old ways. When they did that the difference between the people and the elite grew, and people realized they weren’t speaking bad Latin, they were speaking a new language. Latin, as a language, died.

Time went on. The new languages evolved. The number of mutually unintelligible or semi-intelligible dialects rose and fell. Isolation let you get your own incomprehensible funny accent, and then some empire came in and told you to start speaking “proper” Spanish or French. And then you spoke that way.

C’est la vie.

Some of the dialects changed very quickly. It started with a few yokels talking like hicks and lazy-bastards, and ended up with French. Because it changed so much, the French are completely unintelligible to anybody else. Some dialects changed slowly and were conservative, they stayed rigid and hard. Even after two thousand years, theses are semi-mutually-intelligible. Spanish and Standard Italian have many similarities, and even if a Spanish speaker wouldn’t be able to automatically understand Italian, there are still many similarities. And if you learn a few linguistic shifts, you can learn the other language pretty damn easily if you know the other. And if you look at Catalan and Portuguese they are extremely similar to Spanish. You can learn them with less effort than Italian.

So time took one language and made it into many.

Well. That is what happened to Arabic.

The Caliphate spread across the Middle East quickly after Mohammad died, and Quranic Arabic spread that distance. It slowly took over from the languages that had been there before. But the Middle East is friggin huge. In the Levant and in the Bedouin areas around the Red Sea and In Egypt they all developed their own accents that turned into their own languages.

Egyptian, Levantine, and the Bedouin areas are like Portugal, Catalonia, and Spain. They are conservative languages. And they’re fairly understandable to each other--as long as you’ve been having a little bit of exposure to the other variants here and there throughout your life. Mesopotamian Arabic over in Iraq is to Levantine Arabic like Italian is to Spanish. Not mutually intelligible, but it is easily learnable. Apparently Gulfi Arabic is about the same, or something

The French of the Arabic world—the stuff that nobody can understand—is North African Arabic. Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, all the way down the list it is just completely incomprehensible. They can all sort of get each other, but they are all still just crazy-talkers. It is ridiculous.

When you talk to the Arabs though, they say they all speak the same language. The only way this could possibly be a sane statement is if they mean fusha, if they mean M.S.A.

Fusha is like the European elites trying to go back to “proper” Latin. Some people will correct you if you try and speak colloquial, telling you to go for the fusha instead. Even though they and everybody they know speaks a different language. They took Quranic Arabic and simplified it a tiny bit, and called it “Modern Standard.” It is mostly the same aged and anachronistic language.

Arabs don’t just figure fusha out on their own, they learn it in school like people used to learn Latin. Then pan-Arab TV (most of the news) is broadcasted in fusha. Written Arabic is mostly fusha. In newspapers and books, it is the Arabic literary language. People just happen not to speak it.

But don’t tell too many Arabs that their colloquials are all different languages. A lot of people think of their own “right” language, and every Arab’s “right” language, as fusha. They see it like this. That they are all Arabs, that they all have a common national identity, and that they all speak the same language.

So, you come to Amman speaking fusha, and you’ll be okay. They mostly talk fusha. But they mostly talk English too. Neither of them are their first languages. You won’t be talking in the Jordanian’s native tongues.

Luckily, colloquial Levantine is a lot easier. It lacks the endings, you can just throw the right words out there and folks will be smart enough to figure it out. It is still a new language to learn, but it is not as frustrating a-one.

So, that’s some things.

Next time, stories about Amman?

Bashuufkum ba3ade’een.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Writin' Me Up Some Arabic

So Amman’s got quite a few things about it that are just really different from America. Being clumsy and ditzy does not help this situation a lot.

But you usually get one or two things that you can do well. Even if it just one tiny easy thing in a whole city’s worth of flustering things.

For me, that one thing I do well is writing. Well, not writing like saying terrific things. I ain’t no better at that in Arabic then I am in English.

Naw, I mean my literal writing, my penmanship, is pretty. So I’ma tell you a lil about the Arabic writing system. And I’ma show you how it works And because I am lazy and don’t like scanning things I will mostly write on gimp instead of showcasing my real-world writing.

Arabic writing is a cursive system. It just means that the letters of each word are connected. And that lends a fair amount to its pretty-ness

Well, it’s not entirely fair to say all the letters of each word connect. There’s a few letters that plain don’t. For instance, take the Arabic word for Jordan, “el-urdun.” None of el-urdun’s letters connect except for the “l” and the “u” on either side of the “-” and those letters don’t really even look like their original letters. Seriously, what is this bull?

I spent last summer painting things and digging things and cleaning and the like. While I did that I listened to lectures on tape about linguistics and history because I am a nerd. According to one of the linguistics lectures, Arabic writing is one of the hardest writing systems to read in volume and to read with speed. Apparently cursive writing is harder to read than not-cursive writing. And the lack of many vowels is harder still. What’s more every letter can take one of four different shapes. Plus, several letters are exactly the same, plus or minus a few dots in different places.

So really, cursiveness just adds another aggravating level of confusion to the script. I’ve grown to dislike the cursiveness.

Arabic writing is descended from a kind of Aramaic script that wasn’t cursive. The Nabateans stole the Aramaic script. It was their scribes who got lazy. That’s how cursive scripts happen. They literally just stopped picking up the quill as often. Nabatean writing turned into a long string of squiggles and reading the language got a little harder.

Well there were a few letters that were already pretty similar in Nabatean. When you write them in cursive, they became almost indistinguishable. So that was awkward for the scribes.

They thought about how to deal with it. They decided to just man the hell up. So for several hundred years they dealt with an even more confusing writing system then today’s. Mohammad came and went and the empire rose. The script spread across the Middle East.

After a while a new convention appeared. The most similar letters were differentiated by the presence and position of a number of dots. Add to that a few little dashes that sometimes show up or don’t and you’ve got today’s system.

Here we go then. There are certain similarities between the four different configurations each letter can have depending on its location within a word. They don’t always carry through and they’re not always very prominent and the dots can float around a little. But these right here are the basic forms.

You got twenty-seven different distinct letters then. Some of them are familiar, you have a kaaf, which is just a “k”, you have a baa, which is just a “b.” Or you have a khaa, which is like the German “ch” and the Russian “x” and the Hebrew/Yiddish “ch.” Or you have a ghain, which is the same thing, but “voiced.” Or a Daad, which is like a daal, but somehow more forceful or hard or emphasized or something. And you got an aign which just sounds like you’re trying to say “aa” while being choked.

Yeah. Arabic has got some weird sounds.

Well then you got to add in these.

They’re… they are not letters. They ain’t not letters either though. What I mean is this: they each have their own sound and all. And they are all letters but don’t tell the Arabs. They weren’t letters in the time of Mohammad, and therefore they ain’t letters. Then the sounds showed up in the language, and the letters showed up but the prophet did not have them so naw--let’s just say they ain’t letters.

Whatever, Arabs.

Okay, so now you got to string them together, even if I do not think you should. Hopefully you will be able to see the shapes of some of the individual letters in here.

And as I talk about these here things keep in mind that you read Arabic from right to left. Arright. Here we go.

That there’s a familiar name. Reading from right to left, that’s a kaaf, a waaw, a haa, and a nuun. Pronounced it is “k uu h n.” I miss y’all, and hope all’s well back in America. Also, there’s that non-connecting waaw, messing up the cursive-ness of the writing.

Here’s another one. There’s a raa, a waaw, a baa, and a nuun there. Only the baa and the nuun having the common decency to connect. After the baa, there’s a dash under the line. That dash is called a kasra. It makes a “i” sound. A kasra is a short vowel, which is usually left out in writing, but which can sometimes be put in to help you pronounce things. So pronounced, it is “r uu b i n.” Don’t get arrested.

On the right is a sheen, a raa, a daa, and another raa. Look under the daa, and there’s another kasra.

After the first raa, there’s one more dash. Because this’un is above the line it’s a hamza, which makes an “a” sound. So pronounced, this one is “sh r a d i r.” That’s as close as I could come to getting Shrader in Arabic, but I hope all y’all’s good.

Here’s one more. It ain’t a name. It is the most important thing in this city. There will be a sheen with a hamza, a waaw with a hamza, a raa, a meem, and a taa-marbuta.

That spells shawarma. Barely-greasy shaved lamb, onions, peppers, tomato, and special sauce all wrapped up in a hot pita. It is the delicious-est. If ever you are in Amman, go to Reem and buy yourself a shawaarma or three. It will be worth it.

Personally, I think that the few non-connecting letters mess you up way too much. The spaces in between words aren’t always that big, and the spaces between letters can grow. Here is a reasonable example of a sentence to show you how spacing works. This here says “anaa amreekee.” That means “I am American.” Sweet.

I wanted to show you some long Arabic text I have written so you what this looks like en masse. Too bad, I ain’t written that much Arabic, and don’t want to take to time to write it all out. Instead, here is a picture of a page with the first eleven or so lines of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s Faust, transliterated into Arabic script. With only a few places where I spaced and plain wrote the wrong letter. Also I must have crammed two of the lines together, because I am only seeing ten. Whatejj.

So maybe I transliterate German into Arabic when I am bored in class. Maybe it is weird. It beats paying attention to el-edaafa again.

Learning this stuff takes a while. I started trying to learn it last summer, and spent all last semester in an Arabic course. We practiced and practiced and I still definitely have to sound most words out.

But eventually when you see a word enough you just know what it is without having to scrutinize every letter. It takes a while but it works. Because all the Arabs have done this, they can leave out the short vowels. They recognize the letters by the consonants and long vowels. It’s hard to get used to and frustrating if you don’t already know a word, but it seems to work arright. So most Arabic text is unvowelled. Un short-vowelled, more accurately.

Okay, that is most of the Arabic writing system right there. Next time a little about the linguistics of colloquial and fusha, and what’s it is like learnin’ ‘em both.

Have a good’un y’all!

Monday, March 28, 2011


Today I have an essay on graffiti across the city due. Wednesday, I have an essay on Mohammad Ali due. Not the Boxer, the leader of the Egyptian revolt against the Ottomans in the early 1800's, and subsequent Monarch. I am therefore declaring myself too busy for a real blog post today. But I will update you about the situation I described in the last post.

Since last I posted, it has been generally disproved among the public's perception that the second death at the protests happened. The first one for sure did. But the government's been making the case that it was a heart attack and not violence.

The family of the dead man did not accept the government's word. Apparently he was attacked, and his body shows bruises. So they paid an independent agency to perform an independent autopsy. The results came out that he indeed died of a heart attack. So that is being widely accepted

The use of fire hoses was a move by the regular police, who were present initially at the demonstration and counter-demonstration. They at first used to hoses against everyone, in a way to force separation between the two antagonistic crowds.

But violence broke out anyhow. Young pro-government men attacked the protesters, and the riot police came in. They apparently attacked the place where the violence was happening, and then continued pressing against the anti-government protesters. One of the people on the program has heard stories that the riot police and the counter-protesters sang a song together after the protests were dispersed.

Since then there have been signs of support for the king everywhere. On many of the cars there are Jordanian flags with the pro-government phrase "Jordan First" superimposed on them. People have put up more pictures of the King. There is a big chunk, I don't know whether it is a majority or not, who vehemently and genuinely support the King.


There's that.

See Y'all

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Word on the Demonstrations in Amman

I swear I really was going to write that post about the writing system. Well, there was a bit of a problem there.

That’s not fair to say. The problem has nothing to do with the writing system, or my readiness to write about that. Arabic is, after all, incredibly frustratingly fascinating as a writing system. Talking about the hardest languages in the world to learn, Arabic is frequently cited. In large part that is because of the writing system, which is apparently just harder for the brain to process then almost all other writing systems.

The problem was in Amman, with the whole “Semester of Revolutions” thing. Yesterday there were protests against the government, for reform.

The crowds were apparently pretty big, bigger then they have been for a while. Back at the beginning of the semester things were heating up. There were consistent and growing protests on Friday, in el-Ballad. But they were different, they were accepted, they were legitimate, the police did their best job to show the cameras they were looking after the protesters. They handed out free Pepsi and water at some places and times.

The King understood he had to do something. Especially with the tide of revolution in the region, he had to do something or he would go the way of Bin Ali and Mubarak, or worse. So he replaced the Prime Minister, made some minor reforms, and promised more reforms.

What said Jordan?

Jordan said, “Arright, sounds kosher. We’ll put a hold on the protests, and give your guy some time to reform.”

I love Jordan for that. Well the new PM din’t reform. At least, not in any way anybody noticed.

So now it’s starting again. The protests are back. And they are growing. They are not just in el-Ballad any more and the political factions look like they are all going back into the fray. Last Thursday I passed this protest in Dewar Raneea.

That night the protest there continued. The protesters apparently stayed in the area. They tried to set up tents but were told by police to remove them, before the police forcibly removed them. The protesters took down the tents. Later that night they were assaulted by a gang of “Pro-Government counter-protesters,” young men who threw rocks. The police were present but din’t intervene. I have to wonder what the right sort of intervention should have been. From their point of view arresting either side would be shooting themselves in the foot.

Yesterday there were the real big protests, starting close to the downtown and moving outwards. One of them ended up in King Hussein Park on the outskirts of town.

Well apparently those were attacked by the police. Not shot-at or clubbed-attacked, but set on with fire hoses. Gotta wonder if they know or care about the parallels with the Civil-Rights struggle doing that sort of thing might create in the minds of the American voting public.

But that isn’t the part that is most worrisome. The pro-government men reappeared and started to throw rock at the protesters again. They beat then with sticks and attacked them. The police did not intervene this time either. In the attack, two protesters were killed and a hundred were injured.



There is the question of who the pro-government protesters were. The history of other “pro-government demonstrators” who attack anti-government demonstrators in the Arab world suggests that they might be government-hired. Certainly every single Jordanian I have heard from about it seems to think it could have been directed by the secret police.

At the same time, there were more demonstrations today, and walking el-Gardens I saw two father-son teams attach a Jordanian flag to their cars and drive off towards the protests. In the back windows of both were prominently displayed pictures of the King. Given the Kingdom’s political climate, they could have been protesting either for or against the government, though I got to think the former is more likely.

I do not know who the assailants really were. I have no idea what the truth is and I will not speculate right now.

If the situation deteriorates we have plans in place to evacuate to… Cyprus looks like the most likely option now. It would not ruin my semester experience, but I hope for the sake of those who could be hurt and maybe even killed that the situation here doesn’t return to violence. I want to do something to alleviate the hurt that will be felt in these conflicts, but I can think of nothing. I am an American boy in a foreign country, hell if I know how this all works. So I guess it’s pray and hope for everybody’s safety. I hope you’ll hope for the same.

Thursday, March 24, 2011



I'm sure y'all've picked up on how things can be in this country. Amman, Jordan, the Jordanians, the wars, people, the whole universe, even just yourself. It is not an uplifting situation. And it's one of them days when I need to not write.

But I do have a quick story. It will lead up to a link you should follow.

It's Tuesday at one o'clock. I ain't got a gorram thing to do for the JICRC, and I'm trying to keep my brain in a happy, distracted place. On the computer. Kind of reading a book.
Then a blonde head pops through the door. And then the rest of a person. She turns on the lights and starts talking... in English.

It is about the happiest I have been in this building all week. English. Blessed mother-toungue. It sounds like music to me these days, after so much struggle through 3rabee. Damn you Fus-ha. Damn you Ami-eh.

Point is, in comes Julia. It looks like she'll be working for JICRC, and seems like a rad person. After chattin' for a while she tells me about her blog, which is good. It's about life in Jordan. You should go read it, because you ain't gettng any more writing out of me today.

But my half-finished next post is about arabic writing and the history of the writing system. After that I'll tell you a little about the Arabic languages and their history.

Assalamu Aaleeekuum, Y'all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Price of Amman

Falafel Sandwich: 45 cents.

Shawaarma Kaeebeer from Reem: 1 JD.

Assassin's Creed 2, Civ V, Napoleon Total War, Galactic Civ, The Sims 3, EU Rome, Empire Earth 3, Warcraft, Warcraft 2, Warcraft 3, Warcraft 3 Expansion, Starcraft, Diablo, Diablo 2, Two More Computer Games, The Boondocks Season 2, Rome Season 1, Rome Season 2, The Tudors Season 1, and The Tudors Season 2 from the Souq: 20 JD.

Realizing Your Weekend Starts Tomorrow, on Thursday Night: Priceless.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Post Wherein I Hate On Wi-Tribe

Oh dear God.
I have been neglecting this blog something terrible. I think it might be dead. I think it might require a lil resurrection.
Well. Arise, you blog! Arise and breathe once again!

Then why has this blog been comatose these recent days? Well for the latter half it is entirely down to me. Since Sunday night I should have been posting. But alas, personal circumstances have just made that too difficult for it to have been worth it. You know how it can be. Things happen and you lack motivation to write. It’s life. Maybe it’s like your life, for sure it’s like a decent number of peoples’.

But before Sunday, why did I not post?

Wi-Tribe. Damn Wi-Tribe. What has to be the most useless Internet Service Provider since the invention of ISPs.

It is atrocious. Here’s how it’s set up.

In every home that Wi-Tribe services, there is a wireless router. It is pretty standard, you hook your computer up to it like you hook your computer up to any wireless network. That router, however, is hooked up to another wireless transmitter. That is supposed to connect to either a) satellites, or b) similar equipment, but somewhere on the ground in Amman. It is supposed to connect.

Well apparently there are rush hours in internet use, or something. Starting at about six PM every day, increasing as more people come home, and reaching maximum at about nine, there is a traffic jam. Maybe that is not what it actually is, but it acts like a traffic jam.

It starts by slowing down, is becomes slow until it can only creep along at about the same loading speed you got in the days of dial up. Then frequently, it just stops. The internet in this city just gives up. It stays like that, maybe for an hour, maybe for longer. Usually by midnight, it is starting to work again. And on a few randomly scattered days it works and it works decently from about 9:45 onwards.

Ha. It’s rare.

Sometimes the router will reset itself, so your computer has to go through the several-minutes long process of setting itself back up. And then you have to go through the Wi-Tribe login pages all over again.

And sometimes the internet pulls what it pulled last Thursday night. Most of the group went out, myself included to the Australian Embassy party. They thought it was for St. Patrick’s Day. But really it was for Leila’s Birthday. It was interesting. In the aftermath there was chicken everywhere.

And when we came back there was no internet. There was no internet until Saturday.

After several resets and a solid day of frustration, the internet resumed existence. It was slow. It was the slowest. It creeped and it crawled and it died and came back for seven second spurts.

Slowly it regained speed. Until the router reset itself. But wait. Wait. Eventually

It came back. And it’s stayed usable almost consistently since then.

Sometimes I hate this city and everything in it. And especially the internet.

Stay tuned. More to follow. I’ll teach you how to write soon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nabateans and Things

So at the beginning of Spring break week I left with Tyler and Arielle at five in the morning. We were headed off a adventure to Petra, Wadee Ram, and Aqaba.

By 6:30 AM that Friday we were on the JETT Bus, cruising south along the King’s highway towards our first stop. As any decent human being would expect, we were all deliriously tired. But I shared a row with an older Canadian guy, and we spent a good hunk of the ride talking about each other and the whole prospect of tourism in the Middle East from an American (sort of) way of lookin’ at it.

We rode for like four hours. The landscape changed from city, to village-ed hills to scrublands to flat desert, and then abruptly to Mountains. We descended into them and were in Wadee Musa, the modern tourist-town at Petra.

We thought the cost to go in was going to be fifty dollars a day, so instead of going into Petra we hiked the town. We poked our way into an olive orchard and walked the outskirts, the area where everybody thought we must be lost and offered to point us in the direction of town. And when we thanked them but refused, invited us in for tea. It was a cool day, though I spent a good chunk of it missing my Earlhamites, and my Milsonites especially.

This sorta thing went on 'til next morning.

We approached Petra at six in the A.M. and paid our fifty JD’s to get in, and started walking down the path. In retrospect some of the coolest buildings were along that path. The stout sandstone cliffs narrowed in and began to constrict the valley down. Erosion had turned the stone walls into something that looked like it had to be from some planet in science-fiction or fantasy. Into that landscape were carved incredibly nifty buildings.

The valley narrowed down to the Siq. The Siq is a narrow and towering canyon from which all the water was diverted. They put the road to Petra down it. It twists and turns and was gorgeous, and then suddenly BAM there is The Treasury, in an open courtyard of stone. Falling back from its right side were more and more tombs and mausoleums, leading into the cliff-carved city. Lots of it was done in an Assyrian style and looked like this.

So who were the folks that made this City

In ancient, Biblical Israel there were the Edomites, right? They lived sort of to the south, sort of to the east of Judah. They were the tribes that inhabited the land on the edge of the great howling waste that was the Arabian desert. They were Judea's neighbors, buffer state, and kind of sworn-enemy-so-let's-waste-em-all!

Well, the Israelites did not waste 'em all. Instead the top brass of Judah all got taken away into the Babylonian captivity. Their departure left a power vacuum in Judea and the Edomites started to press into that vacuum, being strong and considerably less in-captivity. Besides, all they had to do was wander over with their herds and take the Istaelite grazing lands, then kill anyone who disagreed too loudly.

Well it ain't like there's really a strong and consolidated Edomite kingdom at this time either. There's something of a power struggle there, in fact. Well one group of Aramaic-speaking-Arabs, the Nabateans begins to become predominant among the Edomites. They a bunch of desert-dwellers who are accustomed to a hard life. And they make their living mostly as traders from the lucrative trade in the Sinai region as it heads into Egypt. They build a kingdom and their capital at Petra.

So that's who they are, Edomites turned to their own distinctive Arab culture, building a trade kingdom across the bottom of Israel and the east bank of the Jordan river, and out towards the rough border in the desert. I can't nerd out about this proper right now, but they’re just the next wave of that biblical history.

So they're there for a few hundred years, consolidating the region and making their place in it. They're traders and they build their HUGE capital. They build it half into the sandstone cliffs of Petra and half as regular city buildings in front of the cliffs. All in this badass Assyrian architectural style. They start off as allies with the Hasmonean Kingdom of Judea. But they have a falling out as the Kingdom gets more power and more bull-headed. They have wars, and tend to win.

Too bad for them when the Roman Empire subtly begins to take over Judea, and suddenly they are on the wrong side. Rome tries to destroy them but can’t quite manage it. Eventually they come to peace with Rome by becoming a client-kingdom, a dependency with Roman recognition and military alliance. Well after that sort of thing happens it's only a matter of time before Romanization and annexation. That is exactly what happens.

We walked around the city and the roman city, before hiking up to the Monastery, where we sat around and I started to miss people on this crag overlooking the mountains and the great rift valley and Israel. At that time, around late morning, I start to miss people, and end up making signs like this one, but from all around Petra.

Not much to say after that.

We hiked, we went back home, we ran into the Canadian guy I met on the bus and ate with him, and then we went back to the hotel to miss people and go to sleep in time to wake up for the six AM bus to Wadee Ram.

More about break to come, and then I will flat out steal Anna’s blog idea and show y’all a little about how to write and read Arabic.


Friday, March 11, 2011


Got back from spring break yesterday, and have quite a few stories. But alas, a pall has settled across Amman, and I'm once again too sad to write. So another short hiatus. But there will be more posts by Sunday. Be lovely, lovely readers. And God bless all y'all.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Stop It, Hollywood. Stop It Now.

Yesserday I was walking from my internship to Arabic. I was standing on the median of a street and waiting for a break in the cars to jaywalk my way across. I had a chocolate-caramel biscuit-style cookie in my mouth, and was nomming away at it joyfully.

I happened to look up and to my left and I made awkward eye contact with the guy standing next to me. He was pretty short, kinda round in the features, and ever so slightly be-stubbled. We exchanged the manly "I see you" head nod, and as the traffic lightened went back to our own businesses.

Or that's what I thought. A half a block later I looked up and he was right by my side saying
"Hello, ahlan uu sahlan, welcome to Jordan."
"Err, ahh. Ahlan!" I said back.
He said "shuu esmak? What is your name?"
I said "Esm... esmee Bill, shuu, um--"
"Amerikee? Min Amerika?" he innerjected.
"Aeewa, men ghareeb medeenat Washington" I said. Most Ammanites have never heard of North Carolina, so I usually just say "near Washington."
I finally remembered my possessive noun endings and asked "shuu esmak?"

His name was Mohammed. A minute later he told me "America! Aeewa! America very good! America in Afhganistan! Christmas! America Christmas!"

Figure that one out.
No really, what the frack does that mean?

I said "Uhhhh."
"Here!" he says. He pulls out his smartphone and furiously fiddles with it, keeping awkward pace with me.
"Here," he says, handing me the phone. "Aanaa!"

On the phone is a picture of him in the Hashemite-styled camouflage of the Kingdom's army. He's with his arm around the shoulder of a big American boy- both beaming in a goofy smile. He enthusiastically takes me through the pictures on the phone. He throws in "America: very good" while I tell him "el-urduun, mumtaz!" We try and talk in each others' respective languages until I get the basic idea of him having deployed.

We approach the traffic circle. And he says "Student Politic History in Amman, American student. Amerikee, means [incomprehensible arabic] right?"
"Uhhh, baHkee schwaee 3arabee..." I say. "I only speak a little Arabic..."

He looks puzzled for a moment, then says
"Amerikee! in Jordan, Arab women love you, lots of sex, right?"
He proceeds to make rude gestures with his hand and chikka-chikka-chikka noises.

"Uhhh," I say.
"Aeewa? Aeewa?" he says, elbowing me playfully.
I say "No, look I'm an American, not a whore. We're not all like that, only some of them."
"No? But Amerikee!" he exclaims, looking severely disappointed.
"No," I say. "Look, I'm not going to talk about that. I'm just going to keep walking to my Arabic class."
He casts a look of sheer and utter disappointment at me. And eventually just rolls his eyes.
"Okay I have to go on this street anyway," he says as he veers off at the circle. "Yalla-bye!"
"Bye," I tell him.

I scuttle away and across the big streets as fast as I can.

I brought up the incident later, and my Arabic teacher, without missing a beat says "Yes, this is what all Arabs think. They see Hollywood movies and assume."
Goddamn it Hollywood. Not every Muslim or Arab has to be a villain, and not every American has to be a whore. So Hollywood... stop it. Stop it right now.

Oyyy Vey.

Tomorrow's the last day before Petra, Wadee Rum, and Aqaba. I'll see if I can't get a few posts up from the road.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I was eating a LION bar. It is made by an American company for an Arab audience. It was delicious. I didn’t do much there at the ol’ internship but at least I did something. I arranged for Fr N to attend a C-1 conference in Kiev next month, but that’s all. I walked to Arabic and ate some chips and other delicious food. And drank about ten cups of tea. Not much new there.

That night we ate Spinach and meat cooked together and served over rice in a way that made it awesome and delicious in a way spinach never is. Eric and I went and lay down on our respective beds in our room when our host ma Ghada came in and said.
“We going now. My husband he does not sleep here tonight. So. You bring over your girl-friends. You bring over everyone and have big party. Right? Just make sure the house does not burn down.”
We all burst out laughing. Girlfriend-less and party-supply-less I shoot a look of “we have the funniest host mom ever” over at Eric, but when I look back Ghada is giving us her “No, seriously” expression. It’s the same look she gave us when she told us she was going to take us to buy whiskey during the first week, but then actually took us and bought whiskey. We’ve seen it a few times since then, so when she left we just sat there kind of flummoxed.

A few minutes later I was eating a slice of chocolate cake that Ghada had left with us and Eric was texting people to see who wanted to come try and have a shindig. The cake was pretty good. Not too dry and not to moist, but that sort of monotonous monotextural cake that you always have just-too-much of a piece of We were discussing what to do, we had a few drinks around and no access to much of anything. We wanted to try and watch a movie, but that wasn’t very practical because we’d no DVD player.
It turns out that the only one who could make it was Tyler. Eric, Simon and I are all okay with just the four of us, so he heads over and the el-ballad boys assembled. What did we end up doing? Wait, Eric—you got a season on The Boondocks on your computer, right? Yeah. So? Ohhhh…
We walked out to el-gardens street where one of my compatriots got some gin, another got some absinthe, and I got soda.
Oh come on. What?
So we returned and stayed up until three in the morning, sitting around and sipping and watching The Boondocks and talking about life and playing my banjoud. It was severely excellent.
Tyler crashes at our place and the next morning we all wake up at nine thirty or so. At ten we are about so start making food when Abeer arrives with a whole slew of hot xubaz, falafel, fuul, and hummus.

We feasted like kings that happened to be eating xubaz, falafel, fuul, and hummus. Xubaz is merely area pita bread. Falafel is fried mashed chickpeas. Fuul is spicy mashed beans with oil and seasoning. Hummus is hummus, but better than American hummus and with some spices and oil in. And then we trudged to Sports city in the morning light. At eleven-thirty we met with the Russians, the Americans, Japanese, and the Aussie and played messin’-round soccer for two hours.
It was fun. Well I can’t say it was fun for everyone. It may have been frustrating if you do not know how to play soccer.
I thought it was fun.
After that we started heading back home for lunch when Ivann and Toshi invite us all up for pancakes. Their apartment was down several back streets near our Arabic class, on the top floor of a building on a hill. From their balcony you had the most gorgeous panoramic view of Amman. We accepted and sit around with them, Valenteen and Rob, eating pancakes, talking about where we’re all from, and everything, and reenacting World War II.
So many pancakes. Delicious, delicious pancakes.

That night we’re sitting in the Cantaloupe Gastro-pub and Eric and I were splitting a plate of fried cheese-stick-things. They were delicious and just a touch greasy and fried to crunchy breaded perfection. Everybody had drinks and there’s happy chatter. We’d met up with a few more Earlham people and were going to meet with the folks from pancakes and soccer, but only Rob came. Chatter went on into the night, but I got lost in my corner thinking about what it must have been like to be there when the Germanic branch of Indo-European split off from the rest of the languages and the “P’s” started shifting to “F’s.” Some other things also happened in that linguistic split, but none of them are so ready as “pater-pisces-porcus” becoming “father-fishes-fearch.”

The next day I was nomming a hot lamb-pepper-onion-sauce-full shawaarma or two after class and when I met up with Eric. Then, for the first time in months we went and messed around on a newly-discovered basketball hoop. We went back two days later and when he grabbed rim he tore the hoop half off. But it is still playable.

It was a swell while.

Next week I will be updating very sporadically, as it will be spring break and I will be on camels.

Bashuukkum, yall.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

el-akel el-urduuneeea

The other day we was hangin' out and talkin' about what the best thing about our staying in Amman was. Leila turned to me and asked me about what i though it was. After some thinking I said it was the food. There's a certain degree that that says something about the language barrier stifling social interactions and stuff. But. It is really more of a statement on the food.

The food
was amazing. We'll start with breakfast.

Well it seems I have no pictures of actual breakfasts. But there has been a few times when the whole group's gone to Bruce's. We sit around and we talk, and we make and eat PANCAKES. That's a lot like breakfast.

Every sit down meal is served with tea. And even some non-sit down meals. And with non-meals. And if you look hungry. And if you sneeze. Or if someone else sneezes.
They like tea a lot.

We go to coffee station a lot. They serve lazy cake, which is one of the pillars of Jordanian cusine, meine meinung nach. But they have also got some of the most gorgeous hot chocolate in the middle east.

One day in Madaba we were sitting around talking about how good pizza sounded. We stumbled about until we found "Mystic Pizza" and Kranz suddenly appeared with this in his hands.

And when you're really craving American food?

That's when you go to the Chili House. In Madaba we met with the Father whose family owns the chain. Chili House. Om. Nom.

In Madaba we met with some folk who Leila had been a counselor for. They led us to a restaurant one of their friend's dad owned. Shish-kebap and free desert.

Also the restaurant had a tent for a roof.

And then there's the Ghada food. It is delicious, but a lot of idiosyncrasies. For instance, Lasagna looks like this.

There are ridiculously complex dishes that are full of delicious. Like Cabbage stuffed with lemony rice and meat

Okay, this may have been the best meal ever. Beefy Arabic macaroni. Peppers and Eggplants stuffed with rice, tomato sauce, beef, and spices. Spiced lamb cutlet. Spiced xubaz.

Lentil soup served over rice. Sounds pathetically plain. Spice it like Mama Ghada, and OH MY GOD

This is an old favorite: carrots, beef, peas, and tomato sauce over rice.

Erm, I have no idea what this was. Besides delicious.

Kranz devours the last bit of a chicken and onion sandwich, the most delicious Palestinian dish yet. Muqlabbeh is its name, I think.

Closeup of the stuffed pepper thing.

I am moderately sure that was lamb?

Arabs like popcorn, and so does Bruce.

It was Simon's birthday last week, and a brownie-and-jelly cake was delicious

A few days before we had the super-secret-cupid gift exchange. Bruce got Recees under a foot and half of scotch tape, courtesy of Kranz

We went to Laith Shuubilat's house early on.

He served us a syrian dessert of some sort. coated with sugar, pistachios, sugar, cheese, sugar, and a simple sugar-syrup. De-licious.

Anna squeezed banana paste into Tyler's mouth because we couldn't get the DVD player to work.

Eric keeps it real, and Anna keeps it real-er.
With brownies.

Simon's other birthday party, left to right are Abeer, my host ma Ghada, Simon and Kranz.

This is the most important part of the City. This is Reem. They make shawaarma there. Fatty lamb meat, peppers, onions, and special sauce. All wrapped in pita like a burrito. The best part of Amman.

It is the sort of food that you walk a mile through the rain for. De-licious.

That's it for this post. Nexy time, a crazy story of awesome happenings, WWII, and pancakes.

Now here is a picture of my roomie Simon and a rooster, because I like it.