Allegra, from Washington University in Saint Lois, maintained a very nice blog cataloging her program in Egypt and Jordan. The excerpts below highlight some sights and experiences in Jordan.
The Land of Sand and Stone
The past Wednesday and Thursday, AMIDEAST took us on an excursion to Wadi Rum (wadi = valley in Arabic) and Petra. It was truly amazing. At first I was kind of “eh” because it just looked like a lot of sand and rocks and brown. But the more time I spent there, the more fun I had. I enjoyed sleeping in the bedouin tent, and sand being everywhere didn’t bother me at all.
The best part was night in Wadi Rum. Liz and I walked for a good 45 minutes away from camp to a dune where sounds couldn’t reach. We laid down in the cold sand and looked up at the stars and the moon that was so bright, we could see everything. (And we could make shadow puppets.) It was dead silent. I have never been in so much silence before in my life. My ears were ringing from the lack of sound like they do when I put ear plugs in. It was absolutely unbelievable. That completely made the entire trip for me. I would be so happy if I could have that experience every week.
Stuff Jordanians Like
A la the blog Stuff White People Like…
(Kudos to Erin, Annie, and Becky who helped add to the list)
1. ’90s Music, specifically Enrique Iglesias and Celine Dion
A trip to any restaurant, bar, cafe, or grocery store in Amman would not be complete without the sweet sounds of Arabic pop and… ’90s American music. Backstreet Boys, ’90s one hit wonders, and Britney Spears have taken over Jordan. I find that Enrique Iglesias’s song “Hero” seems to be the newest, hippest thing here, and Celine Dion’s music from Titanic is the most-played song in Safeway.
2. Practicing English, and English phrases like “Same, same”
Trying to practice Arabic in a country where the majority of the people I come into contact with speak English is extremely frustrating. I try to talk to taxi drivers to improve my Arabic, yet 90% of the time, they end up asking me to help them with their English. At this point I should be a fully licensed ESL teacher. And if I were, I would eliminate the phrase, “same same,” which even the people with the least amount of English know and use frequently.
3. Food, specifically mansaf and corn
When I first arrived in Amman, Hala told us that Jordanian’s favorite pastime is food. This is 100% correct. Mansaf is the national Jordanian dish (that I have not had yet… I should get on that) that Jordanians are obsessed with, even if they don’t like it. As far as street food goes, there’s only one: corn. As opposed to Egypt where there were sweet potatoes, street hummus, and many more, the only carts you’ll see in Amman selling food on the street are selling this odd large-kerneled corn. I have only had it once, and it tasted like… salty corn. Not sure what the appeal is, but to each his own I guess.
4. University of Jordan
The University of Jordan is the pride and joy of academics around here, even though there are a number of really good universities in Amman and in Jordan as a whole. It definitely is huge and gorgeous, so I’ll give it that. It’s prestige extends beyond Jordan as well, as there are many students from other Arab countries in attendance.
5. The King
At this point in the semester, I am no longer phased at seeing King Abdullah‘s face literally everywhere, but it is still amusing. I’m pretty sure that every business has a picture of him somewhere. My personal favorite is the giant mural in KFC of the King, Queen, and their three children. Everyone in Jordan loves the King (or at least won’t say otherwise), and Jordanians get a lot of pride from the Hashemite dynasty.
King Abdullah in Star Trek… unfortunately, this picture is not plastered everywhere.
6. Tribal Origins
Before Jordan was etched onto the map of the Middle East by a slip of Winston Churchill’s hand, it was an almost unpopulated land occupied only by nomads, or bedouin. It hasn’t been so long since Jordan became a state, and tribes and tribal politics still dominate the country.
7. Palestinian Issue
With two million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, to say nothing of the proximity geographically to Israel/Palestine, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict hits close to home. We were told to tread carefully if the topic is ever broached with Jordanians or Palestinians, but I have never encountered any problems. Every Arab I have talked to can distinguish between Americans and the American government, and the majority have made clear that there is a difference between Israelis and Jews. I heard about this conflict so much in my Arabic and Middle Eastern studies, but living it every day has been unreal.
8. Turkish Muselselat
Muselselat (series in Arabic) are the Arab world’s version of soap operas. And they are obsessed. Yet, no Arab countries (other than Syria and Egypt) produce any. So, what to do? Dub Turkish muselselat into Arabic! This semester, Ashq Memnua3 (Forbidden Love) has been the Turkish muselselat of choice. There are billboards and commercials galore, and I’ve heard of teenagers getting haircuts and dressing like the main characters!
9. Being late
This is not a Jordanian thing. It is an Arab thing. At least in Cairo you could legitimately blame being late all the time on the traffic, but not so here. Five Arab minutes = twenty actual minutes. It is an art.
10. Nice Cars
This is pretty specific to West Amman, the richest area in Jordan, where AMIDEAST is located. I have never seen so many Mercedes and BMWs in my life, except maybe in Miami. How they keep them unscathed and clean is beyond me.
When Jordanians aren’t rocking out to the Titanic soundtrack, their Arab singer of choice is Fayrouz. She’s all right. The obsession seems a bit arbitrary to me, but she’s not a bad singer. You must always say you like her if asked if you want to remain friends with that person!
12. Barcelona vs. Madrid
Strangely, the biggest sports rivalry in Jordan is FCBarcelona vs. Real Madrid. Which was great for me, because one of the few soccer (I’m sorry, football) teams I care about is Barcelona. I was super confused until someone explained to me: when Jordan first got international sports satellite channels, the first station to be broadcast was the Spanish League. Hence, the intense loyalties and rivalries. (I had a cabbie rip me off today, maybe because he saw my water bottle and asked who I supported. Of course I said Barcelona, and then he went off about how he hates them and how Madrid is better…) Fun fact: Jordanians say “Barsha” and “Barshelona” because, according to them, the name is actually Arabic, and it should be a “sh” instead of a “s” sound.
This is another Arab thing, and not just Jordanian. It’s everywhere, and in every building. I’m over it, but I don’t know if my super-green sister could ever take living in the Middle East! (I love you Gina, but Barcelona was nothing compared to Jordan in terms of smoking, and don’t even get me started on Egypt!)
14. Socializing/making friends
Jordanians love making friends. The only people I have met who are friendlier are Egyptians and Palestinians. You know when people say, “Oh, call me if you ever need anything!” in the States and don’t actually mean it? They mean it here. I have at least five taxi drivers’ numbers who have told me if I am ever in trouble or can’t find a taxi at night, I need to call them. Friendships are way more intense than they are in the States. (To all my Arab friends: I’m sorry if it ever seems like I don’t care about you because I haven’t contacted you in awhile! It’s hard to get out of my American culture bubble and contact people more often…)
15. Celebrating for the sake of celebrating.
As I am writing this, there are fireworks going on outside… why? Unclear. Probably just because they feel like it. Jordanians in general are very joyful and love having parties. You can tell whenever Barsha and Madrid play each other (which has been at least three times this month) or the Jordanian and Palestinian teams play each other, because the victors are out in the street, honking and causing a ruckus. Good times.