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.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


This post is not a post. There will be no post today. Possibly tomorrow too, but hopefully there will be one.

The reason for the lack of post is not that this blog is being forgotten consigned to oblivion. It's just that because of the rhythm of the program and things like that I am a lil too sad to blog it up. So, posts will come, but not right yet.

Coming post: Food.
There will be illustrations. Well, there will be pictures. Not art.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Short Post Involving Christchurch and the Arab World

While wishing the JICRC was a busy enough organization for me to be doing actual work and getting more experience I read a lot of things on Google news. Last night there was a big and deadly earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. This is where lots of ‘Hamites including Ed are. I was very worried until I got on Facebook. On my news feed were Caitlin (Ed’s girlfriend)’s status telling me that Ed was okay, Tristan’s status telling me the rest of the Earlhamites present were also alright, and significant amounts of relief for Bill.

Honestly though, I’d have thought that if there was going to be one program whose city would fall apart it would be the program right in the middle of the revolution-covered Arab world.

Speaking of revolutions, I just found out today that there’s apparently also revolutions happening in Gabon and Cote D’Ivoire. I didn’t know about them, but they are kind of fascinating. Yesterday Ghada informed us that there were also sizeable demonstrations in Morocco and Syria, meaning that apart from Saudi Arabia and possibly Oman the whole Arab world is up in revolt. Alright, I guess Jordan isn’t in revolt. But there is a struggle between the reformers and those in power about just where the line of Royal Executive power is going to lie.
I have to hope revolution spreads to Saudi Arabia though. It’s a bad situation over there, even if we do like their oil.

I think these next two weeks may be the hump-weeks of the program. Once we get over them it’s spring break, and then we’re past halfway and headin’ home.

I can’t wait.

Monday, February 21, 2011

You Know the President. No. You Don't Understand. You Must Know Him.

This morning Simon, Eric, and I all piled into the first cab that came by through the drizzle that had empty room, and headed off to Diwar Baris (Paris Circle) where we would walk down to Mustashfa Luzmilla (Luzmilla Hospital) next to the JICRC.

We were going to meet our class there for our Contemporary Art and Culture course. It so happened that our instructor Samia had gotten stuck and/or frustrated in the traffic out by Sixth Circle and headed home, calling Bruce and canceling class 15 minutes before it was scheduled to start. After hearing the news we walked to the restaurant Jaffra and ate food and drinks there. Then we went to Bruce’s apartment for a marathon-length Diwan.

But before any of that we had to get to Diwar Baris.

If you would oblige me and engage your mind’s eye, I would like you to meet out driver. He looks to be about forty five or so, in the middle forties for sure, with grey hair and a broad full face. He is balding and has a fairly closely-cropped beard on him. He is originally from Ramallah. And he is outgoing. He is so outgoing, in fact, that we have trouble sticking to one topic for any significant amount of time. Consequentially we have no Idea what his name is because he moves on too quickly for us to spit out “Shu Esmak?” in our broken, stuttering Arabic..

So I will call him Abu Bewilderment. This means “the father of bewilderment,” and it is appropriate for reasons that will emerge.

We talk about the usual thing you talk about with cabbies. We are students. We are living in Amman. We like Amman. Amman is beautiful. Amman is much more beautiful than New Jersey, that is “mesh helwee”. But eventually we get around to talking about his son.

His son just finished the tests here, which are much more intense than the SAT’s. He wants to study, and Abu Bewilderment thinks that it would be best for him to study in America. And like a fool I’d already told him about our college.

“You know president. You give me number? You help my son get in.”

No, we tried to explain to him. We didn’t know anybody. That’s not how you get into American colleges, everyone applies through admissions. None of us got in because we knew the president. The president was leaving, we didn’t know the new president. The new president wasn’t even chosen yet. We couldn’t give him contact information.

But this was clearly untrue. Such a state of being was not possible, and he corrected us.

“No. You give me name. You give me number?” he said.

But, no. What can you do? How do you communicate this through broken Arabic and broken English to tell him we don’t have those connections? We couldn’t, so we didn’t.

No. That’s not how things were.

No really sir, we can’t help. We’d like to but we can’t. In the end, I wrote down some information about Earlham on a piece of paper and gave it to him. There just ain’t that much any one of us could have done to help, but who knows, his kid might get in.

But from his point of view it made sense to be so demanding of a name, of our knowing the president, and of him demanding our and other people’s phone numbers. Jordan is a bureaucracy, but it is not the sort of impersonal bureaucracy we’re all used to.

It’s awful. You don’t have the problem where (if you don’t know someone who can take care of you) things get done slowly and inefficiently. You have the problem that if you don’t know someone to take care of you, things don’t get done at all. Period. It ‘s one reasons Jordanians are so keen to keep up all their social contacts, you never know when you might need them.

Bruce has been doing his best to introduce us to people, get us to meet with some bigwigs and with some very well situated people. He’s done a good job, but alas when you meet as one of a dozen mute students, it is hard to make a personal connection. As for America, connections certainly do matter, but when you compare it to Amman, they’re irrelevant.

It does show just how powerful connections can be though. Something to keep in mind.

Incidentally, I am either two or three degrees of connection away from the King, depending on how you count.

BAM BlogPost.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Anna Pointed Out That I Could Put Pictures In Here

Yesserday, Jerash.

Today, dust storm gave the city a fade distance like in the computer game, Morrowind. Meaning that hundred feet out everything was covered over by a tan fog, and a few hundred feet out the world was just that shade of tan. It looked like

Jerash was pretty cool. We got out and wandered over an entire city like mountain goats, wandering up trails and over walls, and chattering and eating all of Rhea’s bag of Bugles. Sun was good.


So I was wrong about some of the things I had picked up about the protests and pseudo-revolutionary status of Jordan. The overall sentiments and disposition of the nation is about the same. People want the monarchy, just a monarchy under a constitution.

People are demanding real and meaningful democratizing reform. And if the Monarchy doesn’t accept it, they will lose.

But the violence in the protests was not between the police and the protestors. It was between the protestors and counter-protestors with vested interests and family in the current government and hierarchy. The counter protestors were mostly young, and though there were a few police present during the attack they stood by and stayed out of it. Before the incident police presence at protests was shrinking, ostensibly because the protests were all so orderly and civilized. Eight people were injured in the fighting, some on either side.

So there’s an official government investigation into the incident, however much that means is something for you to speculate on and not me. Apparently the government is also pushing a reform to allow protesters to assemble without needing government permission. But police have increased the number of policemen at protests, with orders to intervene between any clashing groups.

Or that’s what I’ve heard anyway.

More to come. Keep a’readin’.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Saw A Little Riot Gear

Today, Jerash.

Yesterday, soccer.

But wait, Bill, you do not know how to play soccer!

Why yes, tiny audience, that is true. I do not know how to play soccer. I have no goddamn clue how to play soccer, and I have not since I was 12 yea—no wait, I did not understand the rules at age 12 either. Never in my life have I really understood soccer beyond the little bit of knowledge it takes to be able to spectate the Asia cup games that consumed life here at the beginning of the program.

We played with these Russian guys, as well as some Americans and an Aussie. Well, some people played, I struggled valiantly to be of some use to my team, but every time I tried to do something like pass or shoot I missed my goal by at least five feet. My teams valiantly made up for the counter-productivity I brought to the field, and a player or two on the other team was unfortunate enough hand me the ball now and again. Sometimes a game is about avoiding making a difference. ‘Cause if you try to make one, it will be a negative one. Nevertheless, I had fun.

Soccer still means running around in the sun and kicking things, which is good for making you feel like a kid, and is good. Afterwards all the programs guys came home with me and Simon and Eric and we hung out. Me, Eric, Simon, Tyler, and Ikram ate delicious food and drank the house drink: mango tang.

Then, about halfway through the meal Abeer walks over to the refrigerator with a glint in her eye. She reaches in and pulls out a hot pepper.

“Eric, eat this,” she says.

“Um,” says Eric, hesitating, “I guess. Can I have a knife?”

“No” says Abeer “don’t cut it up, just eat it.”

Eric takes a tentative look at it, commits, and takes a whomping bite. He chews for a second, and passes it to Tyler. He takes a bite too, and passes it to Ikram. Ikram noms it and passes it to Simon, who laughs at the idiocy of the idea and passes it straight on past to me. I would not normally try such a thing, but the others show no signs of it being hot and there is only a tiny bit left. So I eat the end of it.

It isn’t hot, I let it slide across my tongue, chew and try to get the flavor. There is none, so I swallow it. Then Eric announces

“Hey guys, this is, uh, this is really hot.”

“Yes it is,” agrees Tyler

Ikram shrugs “not really.”

I do not weigh in because my mouth is exploding. And not in a delicious way.

“Maee!” says Tyler, demanding water.

“Maee!” agrees Eric, filling up a glass of maee from the water cooler and handing it to Tyler. Then he fills another. Then another. Then another. Then many more. In lieu of milk to drink, I vigorously chewed Xubaz and tried to lessen the kick, but it took a while. Abeer laughed joyfully and ruthlessly and somewhat evilly, Simon wondered about the pratts he was living with, and Ikram just shook his head at our incapacity for eating spicy food.

After a while we made a full recovery and finished the meal.

So I’ve been asked to comment on the state of revolution, or lack thereof, in Jordan.

As of now there is no revolution and there doesn’t really look like there will be a monarchy-toppling one. Shortly after we got here there were protests, fairly big ones of about four thousand people. They protested the dramatic rise in food and other prices that have followed a cut in subsidies. The cut in subsidies followed the government cutting back in a very Hooverian approach to the recession. In response the King fired the Cabinet and replaced them. With the guy who used to be Prime Minister.

But reform was promised, and the protesters mostly agreed that the new guy should be given a chance to enact his agenda.

It is too bad, then, that things are getting worse, and things are more expensive. Prices are going up, up, up, and I’m wondering if I’ll have the cash for my month in Europe after the program is over. I hope I will, because not being able to pay to feed myself would be lame, and busqueing on my banjoud is as likely to get me lynched as lunched.

Revolutions have been happening since the beginning, and though most people I meet do not seem to want revolution, many of them are unwilling to accept current trends. The protests are on the rise, I saw my first one today as I was walking home. There were maybe two hundred or a few more people in the middle of el-Gardens blocking all the lanes and forcing a detour. Things were peaceful, but nearby there were more than a half dozen police vans full of police in camo riot gear. It was intimidating.

I haven’t heard of protests this far out of el-ballad before. People are scared of revolution, but it does not seem impossible that demonstrations could force the King to embrace true reform. Apparently yesterday three people from either side were hurt in clashes in the demonstrations. If that trend continues, Jordan may be forced into a constitutional monarchy. But if things escalate then we will put our plan for the program to flee the country hastily into action. People want reform, not revolt, and reform will have to happen, but reform frequently does not preclude revolution. It can make it more likely, if it is not sweeping or fast enough. And Jordan could go either way, though the Hashemites are probably staying. It’s more likely there’ll be no revolution while I’m here though.

You know, just because I am so intimidating and all.

Jerash to come. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jordan Breaks Down and Collapses [or maybe it is just us]

I successfully took off the difficult (getting to my internship) part of Tuesday for a not-going-crazy day. Then Wednesday happened. We met with Asma before my Political Economy Course to talk about homestays and the general Jordan situation. There is significant tension in one of the houses. That’s because the arrival of a baby on the same day as the student made that whole “getting in with the family” thing a lil bit difficult, if not impossible.

OhMyGod, TurkishCoffee!
I mean while writing this one of the kosher dudes who works here gave me some. Anyway.

Additionally a disconnect between social norms and cues at people’s homes and the norms and things here led to more stress and pressure, and talking about all this led to more stress and pressure and crying and then pseudo-breakdowns. So. Bruce—being awesome-tastic about it once he identifies a problem—declared the day a not-going-crazy day. He cancelled classes, procured goodies, and we all settled in to watch the movie The King’s Speech.

It was an excellent movie, Bruce bought his pirated copy of the DVD for one JD in the Souq, possibly before the film was even out of theaters in the U.S.
Jordan is an amusing place. But the movie was great, and I was a little spellbound.

After that we broke for lunch, and regrouped to plan for Spring break. My plans now: two nights in Petra, two nights on camels, one of which will be in Wadee Rum, two nights in Aqaba because apparently the only thing to do for cheap there is the ocean, and the rest of the break relaxing at home (assuming Ghada is kosher with that).

After confusion and coffeeshops a group of people organized the watching of another movie. Unfortunately the ringleaders of the plot never thought to ask Bruce if it was arright to do it in his apartment. Fortunately when we showed up, Bruce just said “fine, make sure someone stays at my house though ‘cause im’a leave it unlocked” and went to the Gym. We watched Nororious, the Hitchcock movie, and it was entertaining.

So Bruce’s prediction of February being the month of breakdowns and things seems to be coming very true. Jordan seems to be stressful for all of us, though I reckon there might be exceptions.

Arabic mores and customs are hard for us to deal with. On one level they do what they’re supposed to do if you think what they’re supposed to do is build a vibrant, flourishing society. On the other hand if what it’s supposed to do is take in individuals and make things easy for them then it is not good at that. Nowhere will break large bills, for instance, and they will refuse to take money if the denomination is too big.
It makes getting cab money and things very hard. It’s the sort of thing I’ve never had to deal with before. When I get back home I am going to go to Bojangles’ and buying a Sweet Tea with a Fifty. And then I will drink it while skype-ing with everyone I possibly can because I will have a consistent internet connection. Gorram.

It really is a culture of connections, because it’s nigh impossible to do anything without them. This country seems capable of taking in networks of people who are arready close because everyone will have the network’s worth of connections and then the few connections that each individual makes adds up to a sizeable whole. But that’s less than Ideal when you’re a student whose connections in the country could be counted on one hand, and whose group doesn’t really work as a network or with the “connections” system.

But what I need is a connection to tell me how to break large bills.

Oh lawd.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Circassians are Muslims from the Caucasus Mountains who fled the ethnic cleansing of the expanding Russian Empire in the late 1800's

I hain’t been up to much recently, alas. On Sunday I went into my internship and didn’t do anything. Arabic class was a gorram lot like Arabic class, and our learning seemed to have stalled out. That changed with today’s lesson, but it hardly felt excellent then. Stalling out seems like a theme of this month for me. I have been stalling in Arabic, classes, exploring Amman, and the widening of social horizons.

The night before had been the program Valentine’s day party. For secret-cupid (like secret-santa) I had Leila, who I gave a large amount of chocolate and was secret cupid’d by Arielle, who gave me flowers and an explanation about studies showing that most men actually really like getting flowers. And that she hoped I was one of them. And she was right. One of the best parts of it for me was that Tyler gave Ikram flowers.


Yesterday we went and looked at art. I enjoyed several of the pieces and will put it up online in my overwhelming tidal flood of media about Jordan. There was some especially good pieces all around. We ended up breaking early because Bruce failed to plan things all the way through, though I did not mind it. Art is good, but with my state of mind I find it can be best to try to keep things different and new, and we’d been doing art for a while by then. We ended up talking about our plans for spring break.

I’m planning to go to Petra on day one and hike around the surrounding environs. Then I stay the night, see Petra proper, and a day after that go to Wadi Rum, which is a gorgeous nature/bedu area. I will stay there with the tourist-oriented bedu for maybe a night or two, and then take a two-day camel trek to Aqaba, which is a port resort. There we will all stay in three hotel rooms and kick it for a few days. After 9 or 10 days I come back to Amman. It’s hardly more than a three hour ride in a bus, which seems crazy to me.

This country is tiny.

That evening we had tea with the former Head of the Air Force who is currently a Senator. He's also a Circassian. I forget his name, alas. He is married to an Earlham grad, and they served us tea, Juice, Circassian dough-pocket snacks, and Tea. When we talked to him he spoke with an air I have seen a lot recently.

It’s generally borne by people in power in the currents system. It’s the feeling of realization that they convey. They realize that the Middle East is full of revolution, and that Arabs have realized in the last month that they have to power to control their governments. The flow of power is both ways, and the Jordanias will not stand for the status quo. They are going to get some greater or lesser degree of self governance.

Everyone is worried about whether they can hold on to power until the arrival of the next period of equilibrium. Everyone agrees that if they do not seriously reform the Hashemites will be overthrown, and that is must come. No one knows what the new situation will be, and everyone is concerned.

Jordan: it’s a changin’.