Saturday, August 09, 2008

Dance to the Beat, To the Rhythm of the Nile

We officially finished the academic portions of our program this morning, with a final exam so ridiculously hard that...well, no, come to think of it, I've got nothing to say about it, as I hate talking about any test after the fact. It's over, it's done with, and so what if I didn't quite figure out that the article was about IMF reforms. Bah.

But I don't mind talking about the celebrations after the tests: I came home and right away devoted several hours cleaning my apartment for a girls-only afternoon party with our tutors, during which we sang and danced and ate snacks and gasp! took off our head scarves. Okay, that was them, not us, but still--exciting!

Even more exciting, though, was the evening's activity: an Amr Diab concert in Jerash, at the South Theater. Imagine 3,000 Jordanians packed into a Roman theater, screaming and clapping and chanting and singing and dancing with the biggest pop star in the Arab world right now, and then imagine me, screaming and clapping and chanting and singing and dancing right along with them. I couldn't quite follow the clapping--even the basic "clap-along" rhythms are far more complex than our Western 4/4 systems--but believe you me, I know all the words to all the songs, and could sing the lyrics with the best of them. (Granted, they're not all that hard: habibi, my darling, I love you, my darling, take me, my darling.) And, since we were at the very back, with an empty area right behind us, I could dance my little heart out, along with the Jordanian guys next to us, who were surprised and delighted to join me in some good old hip-shaking, hand-clapping fun. Good times, good times.

But speaking of good times, I'm heading off for some more, for three weeks or so: a few days on the beach in Aqaba, a Red Sea resort, and then to Petra, and then to Syria and Israel and Petra again. Expect radio silence, and don't worry too much--after all, I only have to coordinate an entire trip around the Middle East, including persuading Syrian officials that no, I would never dream of going to Israel (oh, sorry, "occupied Palestine"), and then persuade Israeli officials that no, that Syrian stamp on my passport doesn't mean a thing and I would never dream of studying Arabic! Honestly!

Let the good times roll.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Not Drowning But Wading

I don't blog much about my daily life here in Jordan, mostly because there's not much to write about: the funniest thing that happens to me on class days is watching my classmates realize, mid-sentence, that when talking about women's issues in Arab society they're going to have to conjugate verbs for the feminine plural. And since I don't have any photos of the expression that says, "Oh, crap...can I reasonably pretend that at least one man wears the hijab or gets pregnant or becomes a victim of honor killings?", I suspect it is much funnier to me than to you.

It never ceases to surprise me that I'm living in a foreign country and not just bubbling over with odd incidents from day to day--Indonesia, after all, was a treasure trove, India not much worse, and if I had had a blog in Egypt, I could have written every day about things like competitive greetings, car accidents, dramatic illnesses, and pushy Muslim friends who wanted to take me to their neighborhood's Eid Al-Fitr celebration and teach me to pray. Jordanians, apparently, are not completely insane: in contrast with Egypt, where people lectured me every day about how Arab oil comes from the corpses of dead heroes, transformed by Allah as a reward for their faithfulness, Jordanians refrain from conspiracy theories and instead say perfectly reasonable things like "I hate George W. Bush" and "the U.S. presence in Iraq is causing problems" and "these rising oil prices are very hard on everyone." The craziest thing I've heard from someone yet is that I should say "Praise Allah" when I sneeze, because every time I do, Allah kills a dog in my place. That was from an Iraqi, though, so I'm not sure it counts.

So, basically, I go to class, go out to eat, wander around Amman, do my Arabic homework, buy pirated DVDs (Planet Earth for $5!), hang out shirtless with my roommates (hey, it's hot), visit Jordanian friends, attend prayers at a local mosque, and read lots of linguistics articles. It's quite the life--and I agree with the recent Jordan Times article, citing the king that 'Jordan is doing fine'--but it also means that there's nothing to see here, folks, move along. Or, rather, it means that all my blog entries inevitably focus less on the weekdays, and more on the weekends, when I do things like swim/wade up this river:

through this canyon:
to go skinny dipping under this waterfall:

Yup. Nothing to see here. Nothing at all. Move along.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Flirting for Fruit

For my 24th birthday, I celebrated my youth by embarking, the day before, on a grand test of stamina: getting up at 6 AM, taking a public bus to Irbid, a town about two hours away, going to church, hiking up a two-mile hill to a crusader castle in Ajlun, visiting a Byzantine church and the supposed site of Elijah's ascension, hanging out at a farm in a river valley, navigating my way back to Amman on three separate public buses, eating dinner at the house of the branch president, chasing his young children around for at least an hour, and then having an impromptu midnight birthday party with my roommates and whoever of the 22 students on my program stopped by my apartment. Think that's not enough of an endurance test? Think again: I did most of that in Arabic, from chatting with bus drivers and old women pounding spices and overenthusiastic tour guides to praying in sacrament meeting, bearing my testimony, and translating the Young Women's lesson I attended. And it was 100 degrees out. And it was Fast Friday, and I, for once, remembered, which means I did all of that on an empty stomach and dry throat. Let it not be said that youth is wasted on the young: we enjoy it.

My hunger (or, more precisely, thirst) made me, luckily, not disposed to put up with any crap, which in this case means the attention of one of the bus drivers, who told me I had a "pretty body" and tried to kiss me, despite my effort to be fully covered so as not to look like a tramp. And here I thought long sleeves were a magic protective shield. Somehow, though, my creep-detecting instincts didn't kick in for the castle's tour guide, who, after taking me on an energetic and detailed tour of the castle, including the secret tunnels, announced that we would then continue our tour to Mar Elias, the aforementioned Byzantine church. "Wait," I wondered, "I thought he just belonged to the castle. Did I somehow agree to this without noticing? Well, he seems nice enough, I guess." So I jumped in his car and off we drove, just the two of us.

And that's how I ended up with an afternoon drive through a Jordanian nature reserve, with a 50-something Arab man inventing love songs to me, in grand classical style, with a low vibratro voice. Imagine Leonard Cohen, in Arabic, producing lines like "I would that I were a bird/so I could flutter near you forever, in any country, even America" and "the trees dance in the wind/only for your sake, O light of my eyes, O my blue-eyed darling." Every so often he'd pause in the song, just to make sure I understood the lyrics: "Flutter--you know? Like to fly around closely. So I could always be near you, see. Get it?" Yes. Yes, I got it. And yes, it made me uncomfortable--how, exactly, should one respond to such a serenade?

Not that I'm complaining too loudly: as the result of a little Arabic and a little flirting (or, okay, a little blue eyes/blue passport magic), I got a personalized tour not only of a crusader castle--and we all know how I feel about castles!!--but also of a beautiful old church site, complete with herds of grazing goats wandering through, and of a charming farm, where, get this, there were trees. And grass. Growing! Naturally! Maybe I've been in the desert too long, but that was the best part, that or the fact that my would-be suitor then plucked fresh figs and pomegranates and mint from those trees, thoughtfully arranging them for me in a box so that I could break my fast on them later, or, as the case was, share them with everyone who came to my impromptu birthday party. Wandering off into forests with strange foreign men is probably not a good habit--at least, my mother never sounds too happy about it--but how can I quit when I get such rewards?