Thursday, November 13, 2008


Oh hey, so I got lazy like three months ago and never wrote again. I've been back here in America for the last two months. Anyways, Jordan was cool. Glad to be back and all, but I miss it a lot. Thats it for now until I go to Jordan again.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wast al-balad

We had a three day weekend awhile back, and most people in our group went either to the beach-side town of Aqaba, or the barren desert of Wadi Rum. I stayed at home and did nothing, or at least that is what I had planned on doing. After a week of being dragged around old buildings in Israel/Palestine, I didn't want to go anywhere. It occurred to me that every single weekend I had been in Jordan, I had gone on some kind of trip, so I thought it would be nice to just spend the next three days with my host family. On Saturday, I got a call inviting me to go to Umm Qais, and ancient city in Northern Jordan with my American friends. I really didn't want to go, but I felt compelled to for some reason. I took a taxi to the bus station and met up with everyone. To get to Umm Qais, we had to take a bus to the city of Irbid, then take a taxi to the northern bus station in Irbid, then take a bus from there all the way up to near the Syrian border where Umm Qais was. The bus on the way to Irbid broke down half way due to a flat tire. Everyone got out of the bus and stood around watching as the driver and some other guy put on a new tire with rather primitive looking tools. It took thirty minutes to fix, and some of the other Americans I was with played Haki Sack on the side of the road. I really wanted to take pictures of the whole ordeal because it seemed so funny to me, but I'm sure that wouldn't have been a good idea as pictures can be a touchy subject with some people here. When we finally got to Irbid, we got in a taxi to take us up to the other bus station. We could tell that the driver was purposely taking the long way as we were driving down little narrow streets in what seemed to be circles. When we finally arrived at the bus station, there was a bus to Umm Qais that was almost full and ready to take off. Here in Jordan, buses usually don't have a time table. They sit at the station until the bus fills up...then they leave. There weren't enough seats for all of us on the bus, but the driver insisted that we could fit more people on each seat. As we were pulling out of the station though, we realized that two people were missing. We got the bus to return to the station where we jumped out and found the two missing guys looking for us. Eventually we got on a new bus and drove about 25 miles to Umm Qais. By the time we arrived, it had taken us almost three and a half hours to get there, much more time that we had anticipated. The little town next to the ruins seemed to be completely empty when we showed up. When we arrived at the gate, the guard let us into the ruins for free because we spoke Arabic and told him we were living in Jordan for the summer. The sight was rather disappointing in my opinion though. Maybe I felt that way because we had visited a number of similar sights the week before and I was burned out with antiquity. After an hour, we decided to head back, but we were a little worried about how we were going to get back to Irbid since we were practically in the middle of nowhere. As we started walking in to town, a little old man walked out of his shop and told us, in really good English, that we had just missed a bus to Irbid and that the next one wouldn't be there for another twenty minutes. He invited us to wait in his shop for the bus to drive by. We had learned in Egypt that when someone invites you into his shop, they are going to be really friendly with you and then try to force you to buy something, so we were really skeptical about his invitation, but we went in anyway. We sat down and made pleasantries with the man who spoke flawless English, but he never gave us a sales pitch. His store was even catered to tourists, but he only occasionally hinted that we could buy something from him...if we wanted. Eventually the bus came and we went back to Irbid. At the bus station in Irbid with buses to Amman, we had trouble tracking down the right bus. We were followed by a beggar who asked us for money in really good English. He asked us to give a gift to God, a.k.a give him some money. Jordan is pretty good when it comes to beggars, there are hardly any. Egypt, is swarming with them. I always feel really horrible when people ask me for money because I could give them money, but you never know if that is the right thing to do. On the way back to Amman, the bus broke down...again...only a few miles away from where it broke down earlier that day when we were going the other way. We didn't get home until late that night. It ended up taking us almost 4 hours to travel from Umm Qais to Amman. I promised to myself that the next day I wouldn't do anything except chill with the family.

I was awoken by my cell phone around 10 the next morning. It was Ryan again trying to talk me into going to a place called Wadi Seer. I exercised self control and declined. I stayed in bed until 12 reading. It occurred to me that this was the first day since the program began that I just didn't do anything. Kind of like a normal Saturday. That afternoon, I went with my host brother down to what people here refer to as "Wast al-balad", which is the old part of town. It's crazy going there because it's almost like going to Egypt with it's crowded streets, dirty cockroach infested sidewalks, and counterfeit merchandise. This was maybe my fourth visit since arriving in Jordan to this part of town, but this little trip was the second time in my host brother's life that he had been. The family we live with lives in West Amman, the nicer western part of town, and "Wast al-balad" is in East Amman, the impoverished section. For someone who has grown up in West Amman, East Amman might as well be a different country, so it didn't surprise me that much that this was only his second time traveling only 5 miles to the East from his house. But it did surprise me that he wore shorts to "Wast al-balad", something that is totally taboo in that part of town. Even though he is Jordanian, people still tried to rip him off because they thought he was an American who spoke really good English since he was with two other Americans and wearing shorts.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

even more random thoughts about my experience so far...

1) At the beginning of our trip when we were living in a really depressing two star hotel called "the Ambassador Hotel", the shampoo seemed rather odd. A few people were having some serious skin problems, and their hair was drying up. I ended up just buying some from the store so I didn't have the problem. A girl in our group was watching one day when the guy came to clean the room, and she says that the guy filled the little shampoo bottle up with not shampoo, but Ajax. Ajax is a chemical used to clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces. It's lucky that nobody got that in their eyes while trying to wash their hair.

2) The most popular show on Jordanian T.V. right now is a Turkish soap opera called "Noor". T.V. sets all across Jordan turn on around 10 O'Clock every night to watch Noor and Muhannad live out their troubled and complicated lives as rich fashion designers. The Turkish name of the show is "Gumus", so I'm not surprised that they changed the name of the show and the main character to the much nicer sounding "Noor". I'm honestly surprised though that they haven't already run out of ideas because just about every thinkable thing has happened. During the last week, Noor and her evil business partner Abdeen took a trip to Eastern Turkey for a store opening. Before they left though, Abdeen lights fire to the factory where the clothes for the family business are made, killing several workers and only injuring the members of Noor's family that happened to be there. Muhannad calls Noor but can't bring himself to tell Noor about what has happened. The evil business partner burned down the factory apparently so that he can kidnap Noor in a helicopter and take her to France. But add to that that Noor finds out she is pregnant, but can't bring herself to tell Muhannad. Eventually Abdeen takes Noor to a cave where he ties here up and beats here. Muhannad comes looking for her and finds the cave minutes after Abdeen and Noor have left for the Helicopter. Eventually Muhannad finds them, but Abdeen shoots Muhannad in the leg and drives of with Noor trapped in the back seat screaming. The Helicopter comes a few minutes later and takes Muhannad to the Hospital. After Muhannad tells the Helicopter pilot about what is going on. He helps Muhannad escape from the Hospital. When Abdeen calls the pilot to tell him to meet him at some other place, and he takes Muhannad with him. When the Helicopter lands, Muhannad jumps out of the Helicopter and starts fighting Abdeen. But Noor picks up Abdeen's gun and shoots him six times. It is one intense show. Interestingly enough though, the series has sparked some domestic conflicts between wives and their husbands in the Middle East. We read an article in a newspaper where a women murdered her husband because he wasn't nice to her like Muhannad on the TV show was.

3) Since the summer term started here at the University of Jordan two weeks ago, they have been selling notebooks out in front of the University. They think for some reason that having a notebook with something written in English on the cover is way cooler than in Arabic. But the English never makes any sense. For example: A notebook with a picture of a kitten reads "The key to creativity is always hiding your sources"; A notebook with a unicorn jumping in the air reads "Funny Day"; a notebook with a boy eating an apple reads "It is easy to enjoy red apple when you be small child like me"; another notebook with a picture of a baby on the cover reads "Small Human".

4) One of my Arabic teachers now pronounces my name as "Broysh".

5) Arabs believe that their language is the hardest language in the world, and therefore impossible for a foreigner to learn. Everywhere I go, people say to me "oh, you are trying to learn Arabic? But it is too difficult". While this may be true to some extent, it really isn't as bad as they say it is. It is possible. Arabs might be the only people in the world who think that English is an easy language to pick up. This may not be true, but it seems to me that people think about Arabic this way because of it's holy nature. Muslims believe that God actually spoke the words of the Quran, through the angel Gabriel, to Muhammad. Therefore, it must be a very difficult language if God speaks it.

6) In my colloquial Arabic class, we got a brand new teacher about a month ago. The guy is nice, but really disorganized. At first I despised the class but now I look forward to it every day. Why? Because we, the students, have taken over, and we decide what we talk about in class each day. Before hand, we were talking about obscure cultural things that weren't interesting. Now we talk about things that we find interesting. For example, over the last few days we have talked about Stereotypes, Urban Legends, Drugs, Cancer, ect. There is really not much of a reason for the teacher to even be there.

7) The Western idea of a "line" or "queue" where people line up for their turn to do something is somewhat foreign here in the Middle East. All the time when I walk into a restaurant or a bank, I'll be standing there behind someone waiting for my turn and some other guy will just walk straight up to the front and lay down his money in front of me. When we were in Egypt, there was a relatively large group of us standing in line to buy tickets for the subway, but people would just stare at us like we were blocking their way to get tickets and they would totally walk in front of all of us. An interesting cultural difference.

8) An interesting observation I've had recently at the University of Jordan has been the difference between Women and Men. The vast majority of Women where the Hijab (Islamic head scarf worn by most Muslim women) and a long dress kind of thing. There are some women who wear jeans and a Hijab, and even less who dress like western women. But interestingly enough, all the men here are dressed in Western clothing except for the occasional Saudi wearing a long white gown. I think this is interesting because most of the women are expected to keep the traditional modest clothing, but the men can wear tight jeans and muscle shirts. Very interesting.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Palestine and Israel

So I got back from a week long trip to the West Bank and Israel about a week ago. The experience was life changing, and therefore took me over a week to write about. I had heard so much about the situation over there but actually seeing it first hand was sobering. What is the most sobering about it for me was that I had heard so much about what the Israelis had done to the Palestinians, so I had totally disregarded the Israelis themselves. Interestingly enough, my experience made me angrier about the Palestinian situation, but at the same time, I now really like Israel and Israelis, a lot. This is the paradox.

Day 1- We left around 6:30 heading for the border. The distance between Amman and Jerusalem is not far at all...maybe 30 miles. Before Israel annexed the West Bank in 1967, people would drive to Jerusalem from Amman in about forty five minutes. It now takes several hours. At the check point on the Jordanian side, we had to wait for forty-five minutes just to get our passports checked, and then we drove over a bridge and were in Israel. We went into get our passports stamped for Israel, but they had to search our luggage first. I got through the passport control just fine, but three people in our group were detained because they had stamps in their passports from countries like Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. There is a law in most Arab countries (except Jordan and Egypt) that nobody will be allowed in to their country that has an Israeli stamp in their passport because they have technically all been at war with Israel since 1948. Because of this, most people going to Israel who know that they will be going to other Arab countries in the future ask the Israeli passport officers not to stamp their passports so they won't have any trouble in the future. I decided to just get the Israeli stamp because I can get a new passport if I need to go to any of these countries in the future. In the past Israel has let people in to their country with Arab stamps without any questions, but now they interrogate these people. After waiting for over half an hour, we had to leave them behind at the border so we could do everything that we were scheduled to do before arriving in Jerusalem. They would meet us up later.

First we went to the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. There really wasn't much there to see besides a hilariously awful orientation video at the visitor center. After that we went to the ruins of Masada where a group of Jews had taken refuge from the Romans over two-thousand years ago. The Romans eventually surrounded the mountain-top city and started to build a siege ramp, then everyone in the city committed suicide so that they wouldn't become roman slaves. We were rushed through the site at an intense pace because we running short on time. After that we went to the Palestinian city of Jericho. Jericho is considered by some people to be the oldest human settlement in the world. When we drove up to the city and through the military check-point, there was a very noticeable difference from the nice Israeli roads and infrastructure that we had seen before. It was like we had driven from a first world country into a third world war zone. The first buildings I saw looked as though they had been bombed and were now serving as a Palestinian armory. The next building I saw was an Israeli casino that had been built before the 2nd Palestinian uprising in 2001. Apparently, Israelis are some of the biggest gamblers in the world, but Jewish law prohibits it, therefore it is illegal in Israel. Someone came up with a great idea to build a casino on Palestinian land so that Israelis wouldn't have to go to Europe to gamble anymore. About a year after it opened up, the West Bank turned into a war zone, and the casino has been closed since. As we drove through the town, we noticed that there was hardly anybody out on the streets as it was a Friday. The guide told us that Jericho used to be a weekend vacation spot for Palestinians, and therefore a bustling city on Fridays and Saturdays, but it hasn't been this way for years since travel within the West Bank has become almost impossible for most Palestinians due to Israeli imposed restrictions. We drove to a site with the world’s oldest defensive structure, an old stone wall that is barely visible from the surface because it is buried underneath layers of debris from later periods. There was a fruit market near the parking lot leading up to the wall where people in my group bought stuff. The people in the market were absolutely stunned that a bunch of white twenty-year olds were talking to them in Arabic.

On the drive to Jerusalem, we traveled through mountain wilderness where there was nothing besides the road and Bedouin villages. The villages consisted of large tents and other structures made from tin panels that looked like something out of a shanty town, but I was surprised how many of these huts and tents had satellite dishes perched on top of them. Then out of nowhere, we came to Israeli settlements perched on top of the surrounding mountains. These are the same settlements that have made the peace plan between Israel and the Palestinian Authority difficult in the last few years. We came to a check-point and were quickly rushed through since we were a tourist bus, but there were lines of cars backed up leading to the checkpoint that we were able to go around. It can take hours for a Palestinian to go through one of these. We drove through a tunnel and when we came out, the temple mount and old city were directly in front of us. We drove to our hotel which was located in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian part of town. Once settling in, we walked through the old gated city along dark and narrow streets with soldiers standing every hundred feet to the Wailing Wall, the most sacred site in modern Judaism. The sun was starting to go down, the time when the Sabbath begins for Jews. Thousands of people were there dancing and singing to celebrate the beginning of the Sabbath.

Day 2- The next day we went to a church that is celebrated as the place where Jesus set off for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. From there we walked to a segment of the barrier wall that Israel constructed after the second Palestinian uprising in 2001. Our professors really wanted us to go up to and see the wall first hand, but the guy who let us go through to that area from his church was pretty mad that they let us walk right up to the wall. We then went to the BYU Jerusalem center for church. I had no idea that the Jerusalem center was as prominent as it is since it is visible from all over eastern Jerusalem. The chapel in the Jerusalem center is set overlooking the temple mount and the old city, it's pretty amazing. From here, we went to the garden tomb that the Protestants and Mormons believe to be the barrel place of Jesus. Before we saw the tomb though, we walked through a garden to an outlook set over a Palestinian bus station with a giant cliff set next to it. This is the place where Protestants and Mormons believe that the crucifixion took place as the cliff overlooking the bus station has the form of a skull, and the name given in the Bible of the place, "Golgotha", means skull. Modern day scholars believe that this was the place, and therefore the newer sects of Christianity believe this is the right place, but the traditional site for the crucifixion and burial is the church of the Holy Sepulcher. What I found really interesting was the differences between Protestant sects and Catholic/Orthodox sects really come out at differing holy sites. For example, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the catholic/orthodox controlled site (which will be mentioned later), people light candles and incense, kiss stones, and pray in front of different iconic images. At the protestant controlled site however, there is just a giant garden and the guides talked about it in a "touchy-feely" kind of way, no incense or ritualistic activity. We had a tour guide who kept telling us that "I cannot dogmatically state that this is the exact place where Jesus was buried. But you must admit that it acts as a great wonderful visual aid, and symbol of the story of Christ and the fact that we are all brothers and sisters." This kind of talk would never be found at a traditional Orthodox site.

After dinner that night, I and a few other people walked to West Jerusalem, the Israeli part of town. Now, the distance between where we were staying in East Jerusalem and where East Jerusalem starts is not very far, maybe a few blocks. However, it is rare that a Palestinian will ever walk those few blocks in their life time. The contrast between the two sides was striking. I felt as though I had walked into a city in Europe as the streets where clean, the buildings were new, and there were bars and pubs on every block. The streets were pretty empty though because it was still the Jewish Sabbath until the sun went down. From there we walked all the way across town, back through East Jerusalem to the BYU Jerusalem center. There was some kind of fireside about the last supper or something, but I lost attention a few minutes into it. I could never be a student at the Jerusalem center because it seems to be just like EFY for college students: the same touchy-feely stuff, but in Jerusalem, and sometimes people get married right afterwards. Apparently it is the kind of thing where they take students out to religious sites and tell them: "okay, you have 30 minutes...meditate!”

Day 3- The first thing we did was head to the temple mount. When we showed up near the wailing wall, we started walking in that direction and some guy came up to us and told us to go back behind the walls because there was a suitcase sitting inside that could be a bomb. There turned out to be no suitcase in the first place. We first went to some archaeological museum next to the walls where you could see the layers of ruins from different periods excavated, and some stairs where Jesus walked. Then we headed for the top of the temple mount where the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are located. The Al-Aqsa mosque is considered by most Muslims to be the 2nd or 3rd holiest place in Islam after the Kabbah in Mecca because this is where Muhammad is believed to ascend into heaven. There is a special bridge that Gentiles must enter to get to the temple mount, and as we started walking through security to get there, we passed several signs saying that Jewish law prohibits everybody from entering the temple mount because of its sanctity. This says a lot about the Israeli government because in reality, Zionism is primarily a secular-socialist movement. The head Rabbi of Israel may say that it is forbidden to enter the temple mount, but the Zionist government doesn't care. It is forbidden for anybody to bring any religious material of any kind on to the temple mount so that it won't spark any conflict, so our guide told us not to bring scriptures or hymn books with us. A few people didn't give head to this and had their scriptures taken away by Israeli security, one guy even had a Book of Mormon in Arabic on him. Some other guys in our group who are in the Military and always like to bring attention to their masculinity had combat knives on them! But another guy had a kitchen knife on him so he could make peanut butter sandwiches. These were all confiscated. On the bridge, there were all sorts of riot gear just sitting there in case some clash happened to start. The temple mount is where the 2nd Palestinian uprising started after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the site in 2001. After seeing the place, we went through a tunnel underneath the temple mount. Because it is considered part of the Wailing Wall, the men had to wear cardboard yamakas.

We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, saw it, and got out as fast as possible as it is possibly the most crowded tourists destination in Jerusalem. We were free from then on to do what we wanted. Some other people and I went to a place where you can go up on the roofs of the markets. It was pretty disappointing and we watched a guy ride his donkey back and forth on the roof for about five minutes. I went to a souvenir store with some other people where the guy sells his stuff mostly to Mormons. He had pictures of himself handing statues to various President of the church. He tried to sell us a giant statue of the angel Moroni. From there we walked back to West Jerusalem. Things had really picked up from the day before since it had still been the Sabbath. A guy was playing klezmer music on a mandolin, another guy was playing Dixieland banjo, and it felt like I was in Jewish Europe. We went back to our hotel for a lecture by a Palestinian lady whose daughter had been a student at BYU. She got really passionate as she described just how hard her life had become under Israeli rule. What was interesting about here situation though was that since she comes from a prominent family in Jerusalem, things are different for here. She has more rights than a normal Palestinian in the West Bank, and can travel freely in Israel. When she leaves the country, she has the option to pay extra to go through faster checkpoints, something that most other Palestinians don’t have. That night, I went with some people back into Western Jerusalem to hunt down some Israeli breakfast cereal that we had heard about. We tried in the Eastern part of town near our hotel first, but it was no where to be found. The first store we tried when we reached the West had it though, something I found rather interesting.

Day 4- The first thing we did was to go to a place called Hezekiah’s tunnel. The tunnel is an old water system built by the Canaanites. To be able to do this, they had to make reservations about six months ago because it is so popular. We walked through the tunnel which is pitch black and filled with two foot deep water right underneath Jerusalem. It took about 50 minutes and was probably one of the best things I did in Jerusalem. After that, we went to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is really not that far from Jerusalem, but because of checkpoints and the wall, it took us a lot longer to get there. I heard that on the other bus, when they went through the checkpoint, the tour guide in their bus went and hid in the back of the bus until they got through the check point. We went to the nativity church, kissed the start where Jesus was supposed to be born, and went back. The most interesting thing I saw in Bethlehem was an Israel settlement that has sparked a huge wave of criticism all over the world. When we got back that afternoon, a Palestinian man came and gave us a lecture about living in Jerusalem as a Palestinian. He really opened up and started getting very passionate about the troubles he goes through everyday. He works for an international organization in Geneva, Switzerland, and therefore travels a lot. But every time he has to travel for business, he has to obtain permits from the Israeli government to travel which is a difficult process. His son has decided to leave Jerusalem to go to school in Egypt, because he can never make it to school on time with all the check-points he has to go through just to get to his university. He told us how his father and aunt who are both in their 90's used to be able to visit each other all the time since they live only a quarter of a mile away from each other. Now they can’t because it takes several hours to go through check points and his father and aunt are not in good enough health to handle that. He talked about how things have become so much worse for the Palestinians since the 2nd Palestinian uprising in 2001, and referred to the days of the Oslo Accords and Camp David 2 as “the good old days”.

That night, we went to the Jerusalem Center for another lecture by an Israeli Lawyer who it turns out is really well-known. You wouldn’t expect that he is as important as he is by looking at him though. When he showed up at the Jerusalem Center, he was wearing jeans, a ratty green shirt, and was sporting a rat tail (a rat tail is a style where there is long hair on the back of the head, but the hair is short everywhere else). Every time there is some kind of peace negotiation over the land in Jerusalem, the U.S. government consults him. He was called “a traitor” by the current prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, and likewise sued the prime minister and won. He presented a bunch of maps about the history of the conflict just in Jerusalem. He believes that there is still time to work something out, but that if it doesn’t get worked out in the next few years, there is no hope for a two-state solution. What really puzzled me about this was that this guy is a hard-core Zionist (he emigrated from New York in the 70’s), but is so eager to give Palestinians as much of their land and as many of their rights back as possible. My Professor later told us that that is actually not puzzling at all because if there is no two-state solution, this is bad news for Israel since that means that the Palestinians will have to be integrated into Israeli society, therefore loosing its unique Jewish nationality. The Palestinian birth rate is much higher than the Israeli, so Israelis would eventually become a minority in this situation.

Day 5- This was our free day in Jerusalem. The first thing I did was go to a cave underneath the old city that was created when the ancient Israelites started quarrying stone for the temple. It was huge and even better since we were the only people down there. After that, we walked over to the Mount of Olives to see the Russian Orthodox Church commemorating Jesus’ suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. The church is quite prominent with its golden onion domes, but only open for two hours two days a week. We were rather disappointed with the church though as it looked huge, but ended up being much smaller than we had anticipated. One of the guys in our group tried to ask the nun who seemed to be in charge of the place in Russian (he was a missionary in Siberia) if there was anything else to see there, but she couldn’t understand him since he was throwing in all sorts of Arabic words in with the Russian. The nun apparently spoke German, so a girl we were with asked the nun in German, to which she apparently replied that there was some stuff, and then quickly changed here mind after looking at all of us and told us no. From there we walked around the Eastern wall of the old city to the Wailing Wall, and then through the Jewish Quarter, to the Armenian Quarter, and out of the Western gate of the old city. The old city in Jerusalem is really interesting because there are no cars, just little narrow cobble stoned ally ways that twist in turn like a maze. From the western gate we walked up through the downtown area of West Jerusalem to a Falafel restaurant. The Israelis make the best Falafel in my opinion and I don’t understand why. Jason, the guy who teaches our Arabic Newspaper class ad told everyone about a place in this part of town that is supposed to have the greatest “molten cupcakes” in the world. Someone had told us that Jason was nearby so we could ask him where the molten cupcake place was. As we were walking towards the spot, we passed a guy doing freestyle beat boxing on the street. It really struck me at this point how different East and West Jerusalem were. In the East, the streets were full of disheveled looking people selling cheap clothes, produce, and bootleg DVDs, but in the West, people wearing shorts and sunglasses were eating Ice Cream and listening to a guy beat box. We found Jason and some other guys not far from the falafel place. They were all deeply involved in some kind of Philosophical debate about the role of God in ethics. A girl from our program was with them and sick of listening to them argue about whether or not rowing a boat in the ocean without a lighthouse was symbolically similar to sin or something like that. She had been to the cupcake place earlier and was therefore able to show us the way. When we got to the place and ordered our cupcakes, we ended up paying about 10 shekels ($3.30) a piece for each cupcake. Israel is incredibly expensive, and it was quite a shock to me after spending a lot of time in Jordan where lunch usually costs me about 1JD ($1.40) every day. The cupcake was good, but my expectations had been too high. Apparently the "molten cupcake" is actually a French pastry. They had heated the cupcakes up for us to a temperature so hot that I severely burned my mouth, causing me not to be able to feel anything on the top of my mouth for almost the next week. From there we walked back from lovely West Jerusalem to the old city. We were heading for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher again because we wanted to see the Ethiopian and Coptic sections of the church, but it took forever because the people I was with kept letting themselves get dragged into souvenir shops. At one point I was standing outside of a shop with my friend Ryan Coates waiting for some people inside. Now Ryan’s ancestry is all European, but because of his dark hair, tan skin, and unique facial features, he could easily pass as an Indian, a Native American, a Mexican, a Latino, a Persian, a Turk, an Israeli, or an Arab. A Russian tourist came up to Ryan as we were standing there and started pointing to cross shaped key rings in front of the shop and asking him how much they were since she thought he was the shop owner. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. In Egypt he was frisked at a security check point outside the citadel in Cairo while the rest of us, clearly not Arab, made the same metal detector go off with out the guards searching us or looking through our bags. Once at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we saw the Ethiopian and Coptic sections which were just a few small rooms built on top and to the side of the main structure. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is practically a war zone as all the different sects are trying to figure out how to take certain sections over for themselves. A few years ago during Christmas, the members of one sect went in while all the members of the other sect were holding a special prayer service and changed the locks on all the doors, thus effectively making it their new territory. After the church, we started heading back to our hotel, except that we were again dragged into multiple souvenir shops. At one, I actually decided to buy some shirts. The first shirt had a picture of an olive tree and said “I love you Palestine” in Arabic; the second had the symbol of the Israeli Defense Forces on it; the third had a picture of “Noor” and “Muhannad” from the popular Turkish soap opera “Noor” that just about everybody and their dog watches in the Middle East. In the days after when I wore the Noor shirt, Arabs would stare at me in puzzlement.

That night, the same group of people headed out for West Jerusalem to check out the night life. Again, the differences were stark. Everything in Eastern Jerusalem closes up around 6 p.m., while everything in the West starts picking up around that time. We came to a group of about thirty Israeli youth singing traditional songs to raise money for immigrants from Ethiopia. One of the first things we noticed was that about half of the youth were carrying a gun, but dressed in their normal attire. In Israel, all men and women are required to enter the army at age 20. Men serve for three years, and women for two. It is totally normal here to see a group of twenty year old girls with their purses around one shoulder and their hair neatly done up to be walking around with their friends in Israeli Army uniforms with a gun over the other shoulder. We asked a guy with a Yamaka why they all had guns, and he told us that while you are in the military, you are required to have your gun on you at all times, even when you are off duty. He then told us that Israel is the greatest country in the world because the people there are the happiest, like the youth in front of us singing. We walked down the street and a woman had set up a harp in the middle of the pedestrian street and was playing. It was totally surreal. We walked down some streets to a flea market where people were selling jewelry and the like. The owners were Palestinian and surprised that we spoke Arabic. There were crowds of people sitting outside bars and restaurants watching a Euro 2008 soccer game, thus making it difficult for us to get through at certain places. As we started walking back towards Eastern Jerusalem where our hotel was, it was instantly noticeable that we had left West Jerusalem as the streets in the East were empty and dark.

Day 6- He left early that morning for the cost-side city of Haifa. Both parents in my host family are originally from Haifa before their families were kicked out in 1948, so I was especially interested in visiting. As we drove out of the Judean hills into the coastal plain, the weather became dramatically hotter with a massive increase in humidity. Haifa is beautiful. My host dad told me that when he visited Haifa for the first time in 1995, he cursed his family for not fighting for their right to stay there because it was so beautiful. The only thing we really saw there is the Baha’i gardens where the main Baha’i prophet is buried. From there we drove to Akko where the crusaders had built a giant fortress. We were all dragged around through a lot of ruins that nobody was really interested in seeing, but at the end, we came out to the beach. People in my group went as far as jumping off of some stone ruins into the Sea. After that, we drove to Megiddo where the battle of Armageddon is supposed to happen. Again we watched another awful orientation video at the visitor center set to music from "the Truman Show". In the video, the narrator told us that the Israeli settlers reawakened the land after it had been desolate for thousands of years, completely ignoring the fact that there were major Palestinian cities within that area. The Israelis make the worst films catered to tourists. From Megiddo we went to Nazareth, the town where Jesus lived. Instead of staying in a hotel, we stayed in a convent run by nuns from Italy. There really isn’t much in Nazareth. We met a group of Palestinian/American boys who all have American citizenship, but their parents sent them back home to Nazareth for High School so they could get some feel for their cultural roots. This is an interesting phenomenon in my opinion as these are not the first people I’ve met like this. In Amman, I met an American girl whose Palestinian dad had sent the family back to Jordan to get in touch with their culture. The guys told us that they are so bored in Nazareth and spend their time dreaming about returning to America. On our way back to the convent, we passed some guys sitting in wheel chairs asking for money right outside of the main church in Nazareth. When we had passed these guys earlier, we noticed one of the guys scooting around in the chair with his legs, therefore making us pretty suspicious that he was actually crippled. As we walked by, one of them yelled out pointing to another guy sitting in a wheelchair “you pay, and I will make my friend here walk”.

Day 7- First we went to a place called “Nazareth Town”, a tourist trap where you can see how people lived in 1st century Nazareth. After this, we drove way out into the Golan Heights to some ancient ruins where something happened. Nobody really carred because it was over 100 degrees and it looked like the other sights we had visited before hand. Eventually we ended up at a place called Tel Dan. This place is right on the border of Lebanon and I even received a text message from my cell phone provider wishing me a wonderful time in Lebanon. Tel Dan is a nature preserve, but it also has a lot of archaeological sights in it. It also might be on of the hottest places I’ve ever been. When we got back that night to the Convent in Nazareth, one of the nuns took us down into some 1st century ruins beneath the convent. I felt really bad for her because she kept telling people not to touch stuff and to be quiet in certain places where people had been buried, but most people simply ignored here pleas.

Day 8- That morning we went to the Sea of Galilee. We took a boat ride in what was supposed to be a replica of a fishing vessel in the first century. It was another tourist trap. We visited places such as the place where the Sermon on the Mount would have been, the city where Jesus lived with Peter, and some other stuff. We quickly ended up in the Israeli city of Tiberius where our hotel was located. We went looking for food, but this was difficult since most things were already shut down for the Jewish Sabbath that starts when the sun goes down. We ended up going to McDonald’s. I hope that is the last time I ever have to pay almost $12 for a normal combo meal. That night, everyone swam in the sea and enjoyed the sauna like humidity outside. An Israeli LDS family came to speak to us. It was really interesting to hear their perspective on the conflict in Israel since everyone in their family except for the mom who was from the U.S. has served in the military. From what I understand, it is your experience in the military that really makes a person an Israeli. People who don’t go into the military for what ever reason usually feel a little bit out of place in Israeli society, and are almost never able to hold a position in the government. One story I heard that stood out to me was the story of the oldest son when he went on a mission. He couldn’t go on a mission until after he had served his three years in the military, so after that he got ready and turned his papers in. They couldn’t send his mission call directly to Israel because of the legal status of the LDS Church in Israeli, and had to send it through someone in Greece. When he left from the airport in Tel Aviv, the security people were extremely suspicious of him because he only had a few suits on him, a bunch of religious books, and no return ticket. The authorities thought he must have been a suicide terrorist or something, because this profile of someone traveling with these things fits several cases of suicide bombers. He was likewise detained for awhile until his military record, and the military records of the members of his family were reviewed and he was deemed not a terrorist.

Day 9- That morning we went to Church at the tiny LDS branch in Tiberius. The building looks like a house, but is owned by the LDS Church. Because of the laws concerning the legality of the Church in Israel, there is no indication outside the building that it is even a church. The members there who are Israeli can’t even talk about their membership with other Israelis.

As it was the Sabbath for the Jews, there was still no place to eat but McDonalds. I decided to wait because I knew there was going to be food waiting for me at home in Amman later that afternoon…or so I thought. Now the distance between Tiberius and Amman is like the distance between Provo and Ogden. I thought it would only take us maybe 2 and a half hours at the maximum with the border crossing included to get back. It ended up taking us about 7 hours. Before leaving Israel, we stopped at a place on the Jordan River where Pentecostals had been having mass baptisms for fifty years. At the border, we sailed smoothly over the Israel side. On the Jordanian side, we found out we had to get brand new visas as our old ones had been single entry visas only. Then, people who had requested their Passports not to be stamped had to do special paperwork so that they wouldn’t get a Jordanian stamp because it is just as bad to have a stamp from this border crossing as an Israeli stamp because it means that you came from Israel, a country that doesn’t exist according to several Arab countries. On top of that, the travel agency had forgotten that we were coming back from Israel that day, so they likewise forgot to send buses to pick us up from the Jordanian border. Eventually we got back around 8 o’clock that night. When we got home to our host family, some relatives were visiting. We told them about our trip and how great it was. One of the relatives then said to us, “Oh what I would give if I could just visit Palestine, my own homeland, once in my lifetime”.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

more random thoughts about my experience so far...

1) There is a kid in our program named Matt Baird. This name is rather unfortunate because "maat" in Arabic means "he died", and "baird" means "cold". So his name, Matt Baird, translates as "he died cold" in Arabic. Every time he tells an Arab his name, they either bust out laughing or think they misheard.

2) One of the first days I was here, I accidentally called somebody a really horrible name in Arabic. I was talking with some Shabaab (a gang of guys who sit around and make fun of each other) and was intending on calling the guy a "humar" (donkey) in Arabic, because that is how this group of Shabaab refer to each other. But I mispronounced the word and said something close to the word , but the vowels were off (I think that it was something like "Hamur" or something). The kid got this look in his eyes like he was going to hurt me, then he gave me a lecture about how I should never use that word, taught me the correct pronunciation of "donkey", and then shook my hand and acted like nothing had ever happened. It was a close call.

3) A girl in our group had hiccups, so I offered her some water and told here to drink it with her head upside down. This didn't work. So a few minutes later I jumped in my chair and startled here to which she screamed. The hiccups were gone, but this guy came running out of his office thinking that I was trying to rape her or something. We tried to explain to him what had happened, but he was still really confused, and still thought that I'd done something to her. Then one of the guys we were sitting with (it was actually Matt Baird who was mentioned in item #1)just happened to know the word for hiccups in Arabic so we could explain to the guy what happened, to which he laughed, said "salamtik" (your peace), and walked away. This was another close call.

4) My roommate and I met a guy who told us about a history book about the United States that said that a U.S. president was assassinated for making a speech in which he said that Jews should be kept from immigrating to the United States. We thought this sounded pretty fishy, something that we would read in the "al-haqqiqa" tabloid we read every week for one of our classes, but the guy insisted that he had read it in a history book. So he got my roommate's phone number and called us back yesterday with the book in hand and told us that "President Benjamin Franklin the 3rd" was the one who was assassinated. We insisted that this person was not a president. After doing some research on the internet, I have come to the conclusion that there was never a "Benjamin Franklin the 3rd" in the first place.

5) The Arabic language is wierd because the written language is universally understood by all Arabs, but the every-day spoken language changes drastically from region to region. In the United States they taught us the universaly written form and the egyptian spoken language because it is the most commonly understood form of sproken arabic. So when we showed up in our host family, they thought it was so funny they we spoke like egyptians. The mom especially keeps saying things to us in Egyptain Arabic and laughing. We are slowly exchanging our Egyptian accent for a Jordanian accent, but people still think it's really funny or "cute".

6) This is old, but I was just thinking about recently. When we were in Egypt, one of our guides kept using the expression "too many" to express what native speakers of English mean when they say "a lot". It was funny because he would say stuff like "there are too many pyramids here in Egypt" when he wanted to say "there are a lot of pyramids here in Egypt". In english, the expression "too many" is used in the negative sense, but he never used the expression this way. He also pronounced everything according to Egyptian Arabic pronunciation rules in which only two consununts can be pronounced at the same time, so "words" would be pronounced "wordes", or "mosques" would be pronounced "mosqes".

7) I was talking with my host brother Yazan, and somehow we started talking about the meaning of the word "satanic". He then informed me that people who like disco dancing are satanic. Apparently, a bunch of people in Amman got together and had a "satanic disco party", and were subsequently arrested. I thought he must have been mistranslating, so I did a little disco dance with my left hand on my hip and right finger pointing up and then down to see if he knew what dsico really was, to which he said, "yes, this is disco. It is very satanic."

8) To get to the University of Jordan everyday, my roomate and I take a taxi to a prominent intersection where we meet up with a girl from our program and then take a bus. Every few days the bus drivers keep trying to charge us more because we are foreigners. This is illegal and we usually just sit down and ignore them. So we were here at the University for a week in between semesters here at the University, and therefore hardly anybody here and limited bus service. When we finished class we walked out in front and there was one #3 bus (the one that we take) sitting there, so we started walking towards it. When we got close to it, the number on the bus changed to #16 out of no where. We stood there confused, and decided that we should probably just take a taxi home instead. As we turned and started walking away, this guy ran out of the bus towards us and asked us where we were going. We told him, and he said that the bus would go there. We got on, and he asked for more than the normal fair, so we said thanks and walked away. Then another guy came out of the bus after us, probably his son, and asked us why we weren't going to take it, to which we told him we normally pay less. He said we should pay the normal fair, but the driver was really bitter about it. We were the only people on the bus besides the driver and his son. The driver then turned the number on the bus back to #3. We sat on the bus for about twenty minutes and only one other person got on. A bunch of people started congrogating on the curb in front of the bus, and when a #16 bus showed up, they all got on. Our driver got out and started arguing with someone. He was pretty mad and kept walking in circles shouting at someone on his cellphone. Still, no one else got on the bus. It seemes to us that the driver had known that a lot of people would be going on the #16 route, but changed it to #3 because he thought he would get more for taking some foreigners, but we ended up paying the normal fair. Then only one other perosn got on his bus, so he was mad. After we had been on the bus for almost forty-five minutes, he drove all four of us, but he was incrediblly ticked.

9) For some reason, Arabs have a really hard time pronouncing my name. I have no idea why because the sounds in "bruce" are all found in Arabic. I often hear people say my name like "press" or "buush" or one of my teachers always says "mosh". My favorite one though is "brush".

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sana Hilwa Ya Gamiil (Happy Birthday)

My days in Jordan keep ticking away.

Last Thursday was my host brother Rami's birthday. To celebrate we went to our relatives house where the whole extended family usually congregates. There house is really interesting because it is a huge apartment building where they have an apartment downstairs, but then they have a huge penthouse on the roof with a kitchen, living room, and giant patio with a great view of West Amman. The extended family is also hosting four other students so they were there also. It started out as just a bunch of people sitting around, but then someone turned on the Arab Techno CD and the younger members of the family started dancing. It was an interesting cultural experience to see how an extended Palestinian family works.

On Friday I went to church. After church I was supposed to go hang out with Anwar and the guys, but I wasn't sure how it was going to fit into my schedule. Me and Nikki ended up going to the internet cafe straight after church. The taxi driver tried to rip us off by telling us that the meter was slow so we really owed him twice as much money for the fare. When we showed up, Anwar said "today we have a special trip planned. We're going to Madaba and then the Dead Sea "Panorma". So we drove to Madaba ate at a really expensive restuarnat, and then drove for another 45 minutes through the Jordanian hinter lands to building perched on some cliffs overlooking the dead sea. It was amazing. The weather jumped from the nice 70 degrees in Amman to 90 something. At that point we were closer to Jerusalem than Amman.

When I got back from our little day excursion, I went with my host brothers to pick up our host sister at their aunts house. This what I thought was going to be a 15 minute trip turned into an hour and a half visit to their aunts. We ended up watching a really popular Turkish soap opera called Noor and eating a second dinner. All the weight I lost last winter from mono is going to come back after living with a Jordanian family for a few months. There is always so much food and it is rude not to finish everything on your plate. I'm also really worried about my sugar intake. I don't have very many opportunities to walk or exercise that much here and everything is coated in sugar or high in carbs.

Saturday morning I got a phone call from Ryan telling me that him and Shea were going to go to the ancient Roman city of Jerash in an hour. I needed to take my passport so I started looking all over for it, but it wasn't there. I practically tore my room apart and researched my bags over and over again, but still no passport. Then I decided to look through my shoulder bag one more time and found my passport, debit card, and emergency 50JD bill tucked into a secret pocket behind another secret pocket that I'd forgotten about. We were thus late. So my roommate Seth and I went over to "C-Town", a Wal-Mart type super-store, to wait for them and the five other people who would be going with us. I also went there to register my phone number with the phone company because there is a new law here in Jordan that everyone's phone line must be registered under somebody's name. They say this is to aid the police in cracking down on harassing calls, but it is also probably a measure to help track terrorism. But only two other people were there. I think we ended up waiting at C-town for an hour and a half, by which time we didn't feel like going to Jerash anymore because it was hotter than usual that day. By the time Ryan and Shea finally showed up (they got caught trying to work through poor customer relations at Mecca Mall's phone number registration outlet)they still wanted to go. We ended up going and taking a really sketchy minibus than couldn't go any faster than 50 miles an hour. When we got there, me and the four other people with University of Jordan resident cards got in for 50 fils (75 cents), while the two girls who hadn't gotten their cards yet payed 8JD ($14). The city was pretty cool, but the heat was a major downer. At one place, a bunch of Bedouin guys came out and started playing bagpipes. We were really surprised when they started playing the melody to "Praise to the Man who communed with Jehovah", apparently it is a Scottish folk song. We stood aways and took pictures, and then left really quickly so that they wouldn't ask for "bashiish" (tips). We somehow found a bus back home, but the bus was more expensive because the way back was mostly uphill. When we got back to Amman we went to the infamous Matam Hashem where the waiter spilled olive oil on me. That night we went back to our host Aunt's house and ate more of the left over cake from the birthday party and watched another episode from the Turkish soap opera "noor".

On Monday we went to the police office to register our Visas. Last time I was in Jordan, we didn't do this, and were prohibited from leaving the country until we paid 40JD. At the police station, we went into a room and the guy took our passports, stamped them, asked for our address and phone number, and then wrote something in it. What he wrote is our Visa number. Today, we were informed that we need to give our Visa numbers to our program director, but when I looked inside, I could hardly decifer it. I asked an Arab guy to read it and he said that one of the numbers could be a 4 or a 6. That is just how stuff here works.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Zabalawis

Here is the situation I'm in right now: I live with a really nice family. I love them and I already feel at home with them. For the last few nights I have sat around with them and just talked about random stuff for hours. Their last name is Zabalawi. The dad is a translator by profession, but dosen't work right now. The mom's name is Hana and she is a stay at home mom. The oldest son is named Rami and he works at HSBC bank. The next ldest so is named Yazan and he is studying music education at the Jordanian academy of music. The youngest is a 14 year old girl named Layal. We have an interesting thing going on because our host mom's sisters are also hosting students from our program, so we go over to their houses everyonce in awhile. Everyone in the family speaks some English. One of the sons will only talk to me in English. The daughter is really into Magic tricks, so everynight she does a couple new tricks for me.

I now have a completly different perspective on language. I think it is amazing that we as humans can communicate to eachother what we do in our native languages. I thought I knew so much more Arabic than I actually do. Arabic is especially hard because there are always two differnt ways to say something, but in Jordanian Arabic, there are multiple ways to say something since there is such a borad range of different dialects from the Palestinians, Beduins, Syrians, and Iraqis who all live here.

As I said before, we live pretty far away from the university. So every day we take a 35 cent Taxi ride to an intersection and then take a 50 cent bus ride to the University. It takes over an hour by bus what would probably take 30 minutes by Taxi but would cost 1.40 a person each way. The biggest problem for us in doing this is making sure we have small enough change. The ATM gives us 20JD and 50JD notes, but nobody has change for these unless you buy something around the price of the note. If your taxi ride is 1.2JD and you give the driver a 5JD note, he most likely can't give you change. It is a huge pain.

In other news though, I had my first writting appointment yesterday and my writting teacher turned out to be one of my old teachers from two years ago. I was supprissed that she recognised me on the spot. My classes are going better, but I'm always really tired during class for some reason and have a hard time paying attention. One of the nespapers we read each week is called "Al-Haqiiqa" ("the fact" in english) and it is pretty much a tabloid...but a political tabloid. It is kind of like readin the national enquirer to learn how to read english newspapers, except that Al-Haqiiqa is a step up from the national enquirer...but only a step. Each issue talks about Zionist-Ameican conspiracies to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. This week, there was an article about how some organization called "the messanger of allah unites us" was promoting the ban of Dutch-Danish products (I couldn't think of anything importnat that they would ban besides those Danish cookies that come in the circular tins. I love stuff like this. I look forward to reading Al-Haqiiqa each week. Also, the maps here don't have Israel marked or an Israeli flag. We started playing a game with people here in our program where we would take them to a map in the attrium of the language center and tell them to look for a couple countries flags first, and then ask them to find Israel...which they can't because it dosen't exist according to the map company.