Helpful Posts for Jordan Study Abroad Students

Today I was a "guest speaker" in the Jordan Fall 2011 Study Abroad prep class. I am pretty sure I terrified everyone there with my story about language exhaustion and discouragement. Hopefully some of them will look at a few of my blog entries and know that not everything was bad!

Anyway, even if none of them look at this, here are a few helpful entries about culture, things to do in Jordan, language learning, and other things.

Cultural Experiences
Public Transportation
Phone Calls
Arab Greetings
"No Smoking"
Hints for Sick Travelers

Language Frustrations

In and Around Amman
The University of Jordan
A Visit to an Arab Home
Museums of Folklore and Popular Culture

From the Branch in Jordan
The Branch in Al-Husn

Just So You Remember to Laugh
Arab Effectiveness
The Odd, The Creepy, and...Time
Strange Translations
On Being a Different Nationality
Watermelon Babies and Taxi Drivers


Museums of Folklore and Popular Culture

There are two small museums on either side of the amphitheater in downtown Amman.

They are the Folklore Museum and the Museum of Popular Culture, and they are pretty cool. They are both quite small, so even if you aren't a museum person you can enjoy these and then go on to do something else.

These are pictures from inside the small museum--I think all of these came from the Museum of Popular Culture/Tradition.

This is the first thing you see when you walk in--traditional Jordanian army wear.

Check out those ankle bracelets! Let's hope you don't kick yourself...

Self-defense bracelets, maybe?

The largest plate for Mansaf that I have ever seen...


The University of Jordan

The University of Jordan was a crazy place. Crazy because it was different in every way from BYU or other American universities. First of all, everything closed down at 5pm and all the building were shut and locked. When do these people do their homework? Even the library closed pretty early. Thing is, most of the students live at home or at a home with family members (if their parents live too far away) and most of them don't have jobs (and their parents pay for their schooling).

This combination of factors led to a lot of this:

College students sitting around on benches or curbs at the university throughout the day. Sitting, talking to friends, watching other people walk by, especially members of the opposite sex (since you can't talk to them or sit with them, if you are following societal rules), and making foreigners like me feel uncomfortable with all the staring.

Plenty of benches are provided to sit and stare.

This is a picture of the front gate of the university. The university had 4 gates that I know of and you couldn't enter the university without going through the gates. They have guards that stand at the gates and check your id card when you walk through and don't let people without their student id into the university. That is, unless you are a foreigner--then you just have to say "Markaz al-Lugat" (which means "The Language Center") or mumble something in English (or Arabic) or be a woman and just avoid their gaze and they will let you in, no problem. I usually went with the final option.

The library. Kind of foreboding; I went in a couple of times and could never find anything, including a place to study. Apparently in their opinion the library is a place for books, not a place for students. There are a few tables scattered throughout but only certain people could study in certain sections in the library--or maybe they just didn't want us foreigners in there taking up space...

The clock tower at the center of the university. This was a common meeting place for people, and at any time of day (until 5, when the university closed) you could find at least a hundred people within a hundred yard radius of this thing. Just sitting and chatting. If you can imagine, I got many of my speaking hours talking to people sitting by this very clock.

I thought this looked weird for a long time. I asked a couple of people why they paint their trees white--one answer (the more logical one) was that the paint keeps bugs from climbing up and eating the trees. The other answer I got was that they did it so it would look pretty.

But I just thought it looked weird...


"A Middle Eastern Jewel"

Remember my entry "The Holy Land" that talks about one of the worst DU articles about the Jerusalem Center I had ever seen?

They redeemed themselves today. I think a big push has been started to get students back to the Center--Kent Brown said, "Come. It is safe. It will change your life for the better.” Wow. Talk about a plea to the students. Because for who knows what reasons, be they economic (it is almost $10,000 for a semester there now) or safety (it's just not as safe as, say, Heber City Utah) or any other numerous reasons, since the Center opened in 2007 (except for the first semester, in which there were only 44 of us), there have only been around 88 students at the Center.

It was designed for more than 160.

The best part of the article? No students were interviewed or quoted. Maybe that article in '08 really drove students away ("Safety was also reinforced by the Israeli soldiers scattered throughout the city..."I never saw them enforcing anything," Roeller said." ??? "I knew they were there to protect us. We'd take pictures with them."--how does taking pictures with soldiers who are not enforcing anything make you feel more safe?).

Anway, I feel that the article perhaps undid the damage the one in '08 did. Too bad they didn't publish this the second to last week of this past winter semester...


Egypt: City of the Dead

Another little treasure (just as cool but slightly more dangerous than Garbage City) in Cairo is the City of the Dead. (Disclaimer: I don't actually know much about City of the Dead. If you want to know more, look it up online.)

Those of you still reading after that disclaimer will know that I, the adventurous spirit that I am, of course had to go to the City of the Dead. But it's not the safest of spots in the city (I don't recommend it to tourists unless you speak Arabic or have a guide) so BYU (meaning Jason and Spencer) insisted that if we wanted to go to City of the Dead, there had to be at least 3 of us but no more than 5 and we had to have a guy with us.

No problem, right? Nothing could stop Ginny (my friend) and I. So we recruited a male and went.

The reasons City of the Dead is so dangerous are many. It is a huge, ancient cemetery filled with both small tombstones and large stone houses for the dead. (The dead were usually buried beneath the ground and the large stone house built on top, I think.) Which makes it a perfect site for homeless people to come and live--either with their ancestors or with others'. Sometimes they just build on top of the tombs with cardboard boxes (and yes, there is electricity in those cardboard box houses!).

It also makes it a perfect site for drugs, harlotry, and other illegal activity. Even living there is illegal, but the Egyptian government does little about the several thousand who do live there--where would they go?

But don't worry, we went in the day. And I am pretty sure the locals were impressed by our awesome Arabic skills. The only thing that we feared was those who were begging for money.

This woman

was pretty good. She tried to give us some old dry pitas and then ask for money. But we didn't take her pita and pretended like we couldn't understand her, even though she followed us for about 10 minutes.

In case you are wondering why we were so thoughtless, if we had given her money at least 50 people would have come out asking us for money too.

That's kind of how it is in the Middle East.

But after walking through the cemetery/community and feeling sufficiently creeped out, we walked past a large tomb/house with children peeking out at us. Not wanting to pass up any opportunity (especially after they called us over!) we walked over and they invited us into their "home/store" to see their chickens. We were slightly nervous, terrified actually, that they just wanted to scam us or ask for money or do any number of illegal things. But they were all women and children, so we walked through the house to the back room, which was open (kind of like a 6 ft by 4 ft cement backyard...) They actually did have chickens, and the eggs had just barely hatched. And they had about 20 little chicks in their back courtyard!

After that excitement, we realized that we should probably buy something from these people--as a gesture of friendship (and safety). I don't know how many people lived in that tomb/house, but it had the front room (maybe 8x4), the bedroom (maybe 8x5), and the back courtyard. The front room was actually a store where they had drinks (water and soda) and a small selection of candy and cookies. They invited us to sit down and talk to them as we drank our sodas (it was Mirinda, in case you were wondering) and they offered us the only bed in the house as a couch.

Despite the warnings of danger, City of the Dead actually turned out to be a pretty sweet experience. I am not quite sure how they live that way, but most of them have no other choice. And living in a tomb is better than no house at all, right?


Weddings in Jordan

I went to three weddings in Jordan. It was really an awesome, awesome cultural experience, but of course came with lots and lots of awkward stories.

The first wedding I went to was fine. I don't remember much about it, though, so it must not have been anything special.

The second and third weddings, though, I and my friend Lorien were guests of honor. (Even though we didn't know the bride or the groom...minor detail.) You see, I had many, many friends at the University of Jordan. This happened because I would walk up to groups of girls daily and basically ask them to talk to me. In Arabic. For two hours.

Instant friendship.

I spent a little bit more time than usual with one of these groups of girls (they were so nice! Really, really nice) and one day one of them invited me and my friend Lorien to her cousin's wedding.

We were ecstatic.

The day appointed for said wedding was Friday and was out in the middle of nowhere. We didn't really know where it was, but the girl gave us the name of the "village" and told us that it was the only wedding that Friday in that village, so we should be able to find it just fine.


So, after church (church is on Friday in Jordan--but Lorien and I decided that attending this wedding would be a good cultural outreach and we considered it a Sabbath-worthy activity) we got in a taxi and told the taxi driver where to go. We were hoping he knew where it was because we sure didn't.

Well, after driving for more than 30 minutes and getting farther and farther out into the middle of nowhere (and racking up the dinar on the taxi meter!) we finally drove up to this hill in the middle of nowhere. The taxi driver told us that this was probably it, since there were tarps set up and people sitting around, and then tried to charge us for more than the meter price, "because I won't have any customers on the way back in, we are so far in the middle of nowhere!"

Well, you should have thought of that before, buddy! After arguing with him for a minute, I gave him 10 cents more than the meter said. It's really not my problem that he didn't agree to a price beforehand.

When we stepped out of the taxi, we suddenly became the object of everyone's attention. We didn't know we were the guests of honor before (we didn't even know the bride or the groom!) but when two American females (who speak Arabic) attend a wedding in the middle of nowhere, it equals "instant celebrity." Mothers were bringing their children over to touch us and our hair and take pictures with us. And after the meal of mansaf, we found out that we had 2.5 hours of waiting time until the actual wedding.

Let me explain a little. Up to this point we had seen neither the bride nor the groom--we had just eaten mansaf (a traditional meal at more traditional (ie country-ish) weddings). There were about 200 women in attendance, and it was an outdoor setting, with tarps set up like canopies. We all sat on plastic chairs scattered around. And sat. Overall, we were in this hot dry desert hill for about 4 hours.

Which might explain why we all got so bored. The Arab women started singing, and soon they turned and looked at us--two American females at a Jordanian wedding--and figured that we must be able to sing. They finally convinced us to sing--but what? Lorien and I could only think of hymns, which didn't quite seem appropriate in this situation...

Finally I decided on "Eidleweiss" and "When You Say Nothing At All" (the only songs I could remember all the words to)--and sang them over and over again as the women recorded us singing on their cell phones.

What can I say, we were the guests of honor!

After the singing was the photo shoot, where everyone wanted to take pictures with us.

By this point, it was getting a little awkward. Lorien and I were relieved when the attention turned from us to the micro-busses pulling up in front of the tarps. When we asked what they were, we were told that these busses (all 4 of them) would take the women (all 200 of us) to the place of the wedding. Did I mention these busses nomally only fit 20 people?

Again, minor detail.

We shoved everyone onto the busses for the 15 minute ride. And what do Jordanian females do at a wedding when they are bored? Sing and dance, of course!

When we finally arrived, it was a mad house to try and shove everyone (all the females--the only male there was the groom) into this small house which was either the place of the ceremony or just a greeting area--with all the mass confusion, I wasn't quite sure what was going on. All I know is that we were pushed to the front of the crowd, my camera was taken by someone even closer to the front than me (so she could get "better pictures"), it was incredibly hot and stuffy in that little room, and the bride did not look happy. Not one bit.

Which is why I was so shocked and panicked when the girls we knew (the groom's cousin) shoved us to the front of the crowd after the ceremonial things (all I could see was that the groom put a lot of gold jewelry on the bride) to take pictures with the bride. I want you to notice my arm gripping Lorien's in a death grip and the look of extreme awkwardness on my face.

In case you are wondering about the bad Paint job I did, the bride is a muhajjibiya, which means that she only wears clothing that completely covers her body and a veil (hijab) that covers her neck and hair when males are present. At weddings, the only male present is her husband, so she (the bride) and the female members of the groom's family do their hair down or in updos. But I wanted to put this incredibly awkward picture on my blog, so I covered her hair and skin. I am not trying to mock or anything else at all--I just wanted you to get a glimpse of how awkward the moment was for us while still keeping the bride modest.

Well, after that ordeal, we told our most gracious hosts that we did need to return to Amman and asked if there were busses, or taxis, or anything that would come out to this area in the next half hour or so. Did I mention we were in the middle of nowhere and about 30 minutes outside of Amman?

Well, the girls were rather resourceful and told us that someone was going to town and would give us a ride in.

That "someone" happened to be the chauffer for the newly married couple, and the getaway car was already decorated!!

Once again, we were mortified, but they were already opening the doors for us. No, it wasn't a sign of chivalry, the car was falling apart.

Which we found out 15 minutes later as we were still travelling to Amman and had to pull over to replace the flat tire!!!

Could this trip get any more strange?

We finally made it back to a bus station on the outskirts of Amman, where they let us off and went back to the wedding.

As incredibly odd as the experience was, I was really so impressed at their hospitality and going way out of their way for their guests (us)--even when we had no relation whatsoever to the couple.

The other wedding, which happened two weeks later (another girl in the same group's relative--but luckily it was her sister this time and not a distant cousin), was much less awkward. It was in a wedding center just outside of Amman, and we went with two of the Jordanian girls in the taxi this time (so no fear of getting lost).

The bride looked much happier (perhaps due to the fact that the building was airconditioned!!) and instead of eating mansaf, we ate cake.

They took us up again to take a picture with the bride, but since she is also a muhajjibiya and I did such a bad Paint job with the last one, I will just leave you with these two pictures taken of us at the wedding (this is the group of friends that always hung out together).


Cairo's Garbage City

Cairo has many, many delightful little locations that might not be seen by a "normal" tourist. But everyone knows BYU Arabic students are anything but "normal tourists." :)

This being said, one of the places in Cairo near the top of all of our lists was "Garbage City," also called Manshiyat naser. I might not get the history all right, but it is a small city started by the Coptic Christians. They collect and sort much of Cairo's garbage, and they do it in their homes and in their streets, thus giving themselves the name of "garbage city."

So of course two of my friends and I had to go. We took a taxi in and were almost attacked by children when we drove in. (Note to self: next time just walk in to the city...) They all wanted to touch the hands of these strange foreigners and get their picture taken.

We then had the good pleasure to run across a very nice "guide," who when he saw us step out of the taxi immediately ran over and offered to give us a tour of the city. Fearing a scam and figuring he would ask us for money at the end of the tour, we refused many times. But he, offended that we thought he was trying to hit us up for money (everyone else in Egypt was!) told us, "I'm a Christian! You are Christian! Christians do not take money from Christians!"

And then he gave us a tour of the "cave churches" in the city, which were built long ago into the caves. They were pretty awesome, and even though we didn't understand half of what the guide said, it was great practice for our Arabic.

This is a picture of our "guide."

And here is a carving on the rock just outside one of their churches.

Well, when he was done with the "tour" a little girl in the city attached herself to my side and became our tour guide for the rest of the time. She showed us where the bathroom was (which was quite clean; I was impressed) and kept all the other little kids from mauling us.

All in all, it was an awesome visit to garbage city. I was, however, quite shocked when I saw their daily life going on inside and around all this garbage!

Our guide told us, though, that the Coptics live here and get the garbage from the city, sort it, and then take it back to be recycled. If I understood his Arabic right, he said that most of the people in the city had received sort of a "calling" to come to Manshiyat naser. He himself had come maybe 6 years ago from another part of Egypt, and they all came to help Cairo's trash situation. This explanation made me feel a little bit better about the way these people live...that they choose to live this way and are not forced into this lifestyle by utter poverty (which is what I thought the case was).

Here are just a few pictures walking through town:

This is a truck taking out the sorted cardboard.

Maybe the ducks help sort the garbage, too. (I read online that the city used to have pigs who ate the non-recycleable stuff, but I didn't see any while I was there.)

This is a street, with sorted garbage lining both sides.


I'm Back!!

Dear loyal fans and readers (all 1 of you)--I'm back from my mission to Taiwan. And I still have a few vague memories about Jordan, and a lot of pictures. And I'm pretty sure I said I would talk about Arab weddings, garbage city, Arabic style part 2, and a few other things.

So, although I might be the only one who would even read this blog anymore, time permitting, I will continue this record.



Last Post Before My Mission

Dear friends and loyal fans, this is the last post before my mission. I had big plans to finish updating my blog with posts on the University of Jordan, Arabic Style Part 2, Food in Jordan, Weddings, and City of the Dead and Garbage City in Egypt, but those things just took lower precedence on my "things to do before I leave on a mission" list. So they (and you) will just have to wait until I get back.

Therefore, this blog will become inactive until approximately April 2010.

Until then, I will be in Taiwan, speaking Mandarin, and having a "real" mission this time.
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