Internet Timelines

Today I want to share with you a great resource when studying the Arab Revolutions.  This website is an interactive timeline, showing each event relating to the Arab Revolutions for each country in the Middle East and North Africa starting from December 2010.  My professor found and showed us this website The Path of Protest at the beginning of the semester, and I have found it invaluable in my studies.  You can go through time for each country, look at an event (categorized in four ways: protest, political move, regime change, and internal/external response), and click on the event to read an article that explains it in-depth.

In this manner, you personally can trace the causes and effects of what created the Arab Spring.  Note that the first event is the protests last December in response to Mohammed Bouazizi’s firey suicide.  Why do you think it took until late January for things to actually come of these protests?

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I called it!

In regards to the post last night The Most Popular Song in Jordan, I just want to tell you that I CALLED IT.  Today, in music club, the professor YOUTUBES THIS SONG FOR US (yes, Youtube is now a verb), prints out the lyrics, and helps us translate it!  The song is in the local dialect, so I honestly don’t understand all of it.  It is called “Zeftna” which refers to the practice of carrying a bride and groom upon people’s shoulders and parading them down the street.  This song is a wedding song, and praises the bride and groom throughout.  The bride’s eyes are said to be “like coffee cups” (which in Jordan are the little Arabic coffee cups, so they’re not as big as you think!), this may be like saying a woman’s eyes are like golf balls?  But in Jordan this is a compliment!  The brides eyes are also said to “kill everyone”.  The groom has strength “like 2,100 men” and he is like “the branch of a pomegranate tree” (I believe that means he’s slender?).  The song references henna (the practice you may know as Indian but is used in this culture also), which is when the bride’s hands are covered in brown impermanent tattoos.  Anyway, this song is played in celebration, especially for a wedding, but also for other celebratory reasons also, which is why I hear it so often!

Ramadan Eve

Last night I decided to go for a run.  It’s safest to run in the evening on campus (although you still have to make sure you’re wearing modest clothes), and many of us run after dark.  Last night was one of the noisiest nights here; everyone was celebrating the beginning of Ramadan.  I had heard more fireworks than you typically hear in my quiet American neighborhood on the 4th of July through my window, and saw quite a few more during my run.  I ran past the campus mosque and heard a canter “singing” the Qur’an (I believe it’s called “tajweed”) from loudspeakers blasting the service outside the mosque.  When I looped past it again I heard the sermon (in fosha, mind you, so I’m not quite sure how many uneducated Muslims can actually understand the sermons).  As I ran near the north-eastern corner of campus, I could hear another service from another mosque near campus–everyone was having a service last night!  Combine loud Qur’an readings and fireworks and you’ve got a great big “hefla” (party)!!

This morning was a stark contrast to last night; I went out to find some breakfast during my usual 10:30AM class break and discovered that all the restaurants are closed!  I wasn’t too surprised about the falafel stand not being open, but I thought the bakery might be (alas, it was not).  Have no fear, though, the grocery stores are open!  I snagged some “Honey Cheerios” (made by Nestle?!) from the shelf and got some fruit from the green grocer a few doors down.  I could potentially fast this month if I wanted to (and some students are seeing if they can do it), but I feel that (1) there is NO WAY I could go without water and (2) I’m in the midst of preparing for my final examinations, so I should probably make sure I have sustenance.

Also: this year everyone is saying “Ramadan Kareem” to wish everyone “Happy Ramadan” instead of the traditional “Ramadan Mubarak”… I’m sure you understand why.

Most Popular Song in Jordan

I happen to hear this song ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE on the streets.  Last night, I heard it blasting through my window from the streets below.

This particular song is by the famous Bedouin Jordanian artist Omar Al-Abdillat (عمر العبدلات), who (according to Wikipedia) is credited with popularizing traditional Jordanian music.  He is probably most famous for his songs “Hashmi Hashmi” (a song praising King Abdullah II, the king of the HASHEMITE Kingdom of Jordan) and “Jaishana” (“Our Army”).  You may also remember him from the previously posted song about Jordan; check out this post for reference.

Now the song that’s currently “all the rage” in Jordan is this one:

Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about it other than it seems to reference Petra a lot (listen for the words “El-Betra”), and that it may or may not be called “Zfetna” ( زفتبا) which may or may not translate to “Our Tar” or “Our Pitch”… google translate isn’t exactly the most reliable source.  I do enjoy the song a lot though!

The Tawjihi

In Jordan, your entire post-secondary educational career depends on one exam: the tawjihi.  This exam is given at the end of high school, and whether you pass it or fail it determines whether or not you can go to college (and thus get a white-collar job instead of a blue-collar one).  Many students that do not pass the tawjihi end up in Jordan’s military.  The scores are announced after the students have graduated high school, so there is absolutely nothing that they can do to fix this issue (see a recent opinion column in the Jordan Times).

Upon hearing that they passed the exam, students and families celebrate profusely.  This involves large parties, loud noises, and students leaning out of car windows while driving.  Sometimes, family members shoot loaded guns into the air.  The bullets have to come down sometime, so often innocent people will get shot and killed.  Please see this article in the Jordan times for more information.

University tuition is less expensive for students that have a very good grade on the tawjihi exam (for example, a 95% or above), and for students with only an 80% score tuition may be twice as much.

We saw some reckless driving (aka kids sitting on the car’s window-sills) as early as 10AM yesterday morning when the results were announced, and saw fireworks and heard shots and loud music until very late in the night.  It’s quite the party!  I’m just very upset about innocent people getting injured and hurt.  This happens sometimes at weddings; a celebratory shot in the air has killed a groom or two.

A Day in the Life

Hello everyone!

I apologize for not getting on here sooner, but the closer I get to the finish line, the busier I become!  I wanted to take a little time out to blog about a typical day in Irbid, Jordan, and today seemed to be a good day to talk about.

Today I woke up a little bit before 8AM and walked the block to the learning center before class started at 8:30.  Our first class this morning was Speaking, led by the lovely and very funny Alla, who happens to be a wonderful 29 year old Irbid native who speaks only a little bit of English here and there, which makes class oh so much fun!  Actually, the class is completely taught in Arabic, so there’s not really a huge problem, but when we don’t understand the Arabic word or want to express something with vocabulary we don’t know, it can get to be a little tricky.  Nevertheless, we plowed through our speaking topic this morning: Parenting Tips.  Not that any of us know anything about parenting (and Alla isn’t even married!), but we each prepared a short 1-2 minute speech in Arabic.  Previous topics have included a story from religion, marriage, and current events.  Class ended 50 minutes later, with only half of the class having time to speak (we’ve gotten much better than we used to be; it used to take only one class to get through a topic and now it takes two!), and took our ten minute break.

Next we had Reading with Ahmed, whose English is much better than Alla’s.  He knows how to recite the Qur’an (like the way that it is supposed to be sung–in Arabic it is called “tajweed”), and he’s done it for us a couple times.  It’s beautiful!  And he’ll read to us from our textbook, and even without a real tune, his voice has a great melody and rhythm.  This morning we were finishing reading a text from our book about when Middle Eastern countries gained their independence (last night we had to read it and answer the questions in the book about it for homework).  Ahmed usually goes through the text almost line-by-line and word-by-word so that the students will understand the meaning very well.  He also usually doesn’t end class on time, but today he did because…

Today we had a special speaker!  At 10:20AM we normally have our hour-long lunch break, but instead we were ushered upstairs (into the AC!) to hear our third and final special guest speak.  Thankfully, these lectures are in English (hooray!), but are always given by educated Jordanians (whose native language is Arabic).  Today our guest speaker was Rana Husseini, a reporter for the Jordanian Times newspaper and author of the book Murder in the Name of Honor.  So what do you think the topic was today, boys and girls?  Honor killings!  Not the most fun subject to talk about, but necessary.  I gleaned a couple facts from her lecture:

(1) There are 20 reported cases of women murdered per year in the name of honor in Jordan (the population of Jordan is 6 million).

(2) The United Nations Population Fund estimated in 2000 that there are 5,000 honor killings worldwide per year, although experts would argue that the numbers are higher.

(3) 1 in 3 women in the world will be subjected to some form of violence in her lifetime, and the numbers are growing.

(4) Abortion is illegal in Jordan, except in the case of medical reasons.  This is because of Islam (although there is a school of thought in Islam that abortion is okay, Jordan does not follow this particular school of thought).

(5) Activists in Jordan (and around the world) are aiming to end the term “honor killings” and call them “so-called honor killings” or “femicide” or any other term that discredits the murder as having anything to do with honor.

Normally, we have only 1 hour for a lunch break, but when we have a guest speaker, we get an hour and a half.  Half an hour for the lecture, half an hour for questions, and half an hour to munch on some free food!  So instead of starting the next class at 11:30, today we started at noon.

Hala is probably my class’ least favorite teacher.  She teaches our Writing class, which we only have twice a week (most classes we have at least four times a week, and reading we have 6 times a week!).  Our homework for her is, of course, writing (as in: let me just go write 150-200 words in Arabic on a coherent subject real quick… yeah… it’s rather difficult).  Class usually consists of us writing sentences on the board and correcting our classmates’ mistakes.  It’s not all that fun, but probably a necessary class.

After our ten minute break, we started the last class of the day: Listening!  Alla teaches us listening as well.  This class consists of watching BBC News in Arabic and trying to figure out what they’re saying!  It’s more difficult than any listening I’ve had previously, as these are native speakers speaking quickly whereas the listening on the textbook DVDs are very slow (comparatively).  We get a vocabulary list for each news story, and have to answer questions about the listening and fill in the blanks for what they are saying (which is even more difficult, as sometimes you can’t separate one word from the next so distinguishing what sounds go in the blank let alone the actual word is very difficult!!).

After class let out today at 1:50PM (usually it lets out at 1:20), my friend and I went to the sweets shop outside Yarmouk University’s West Gate to get some kanafeh.  Click the link for the wikipedia page on kanafeh for reference.  After browsing a couple of shops on the way there and back looking for some scarves to bring home as gifts, we wandered our way back into campus.  I dropped off my books in my apartment and headed to our favorite grocery store (more like mini mart): Meka, which is right across the street from the South gate (and thus right across the street from our apartments).  I grabbed a pack of water bottles (6 bottles, each containing 1.5 liters) and a “7 UP Free”, chatted with the cashier (who by now knows that the Americans coming to buy water from him every day are from our program and enjoys exchanging pleasantries with us when we check out), and headed back home to take off some clothes and sit underneath the ceiling fan and try to concentrate on homework.

Tonight my friend and I are planning to go to Mango, a wonderfully cute little purple restaurant with a mix of Middle Eastern and European food (especially European sweets!) whose clientele is of the female majority.  Dinner there should be 5JD or less, depending on what we order and if we want desert or not.  If you’re a real cheap-stake here, you could get dinner for 2JD or less (but then again, it might not be the healthiest food you can put in your stomach).  At 9PM tonight, some of us will make our way down to the university pool and swim for an hour.  The pool is open on Sunday and Tuesdays for men and Monday and Wednesdays for women, and they keep it open for an extra hour so that the Americans can swim by themselves (without all of the women and children that will be in the pool from 8-9PM tonight).  Then I’ll come home to shower and Skype back to the US before I go to bed, and get up in the morning and have class all over again!

Only tomorrow I’ll have grammar instead of writing, which will be fun!  Medhat is a native Jordanian, but he has been teaching at NYU for many years now, so he speaks fluent English and can teach grammar to us in English.  I’m convinced that if anyone tried to teach me Arabic grammar in Arabic I would be completely lost and never learn anything!  Medhat is a very amusing guy with a little bit of an abrasive teaching style, but as long as you don’t take it personally, it’s hilarious.  I’ll leave you with a couple of his quotes: “You don’t understand what I’m saying?  I’m speaking Arabic!  This is Arabic, not Chinese!!”  and on the subject of numbers (which are very difficult to grasp in Arabic: the numbers all have different rules from 1-2 then 3-10 then 11-99 then 100-9,000… it’s so confusing) “They make it easy for you!  There are rules, it’s not like it’s hard!”

Saudi Tourists, Inebriated Muslims, and Muslims That Act Inebriated But Aren’t

Now, I have yet to actually encounter a Saudi tourist, but I am told that they’re all here for the summer, and I believe it!  The traffic in Irbid increases, and in Amman the car traffic doubles (!), over the summer due to the influx of Arabs who can afford to escape the Gulf summer heat by coming North.  Their cars are easily identifiable by Saudi plates and by the sheer fact that they are actually nice cars.  The Saudi car is more likely to be clean, larger, and an SUV than the dirty Jordanian sedans.

I am also told that there is a problem with Saudis hopping the border into Jordan, getting drunk (Saudi Arabia is a dry country), and then returning home to Saudi.  You think America has drunk driving problems?  Imagine drunk driving accidents where there are no laws for drunk driving because alcohol just doesn’t exist in your country.

Now I have met some inebriated Muslims.  My friend and I were sitting at the swim-up bar in the Holiday Inn Resort on the Dead Sea (we decided we could spring for a nice visit to the salty lake), and were approached by two Jordanian men.  They were both in their late twenties, eager to talk to young American girls, and very obviously drunk.  However, their alcohol-impaired English was excellent, and we talked for a little while before my friend and I ran away.  They claimed they were “modern Muslims” and therefore “lived their own lives” instead of following the dictations of the Qur’an and the Hadith.  Apparently there are lukewarm followers in every religion.

So what do true Muslims do in order to have fun instead of going to the bars to drink?  The answer is: hang out of their car windows and sunroofs and honk down the street.  Yes, you read that right.  Every night, I will hear at least two (that’s a huge underestimate) of these processions going down the street near our apartment.  The men will literally roll down their car window, sit on the ledge, and hang out of the car cheering.  There will be several cars with shabaab precariously riding like this, surrounded by even more cars honking in celebration (or maybe in annoyance?  I would surely be honking in annoyance if I were them).  Now why on earth would people do this?  In order to celebrate.  Yes, that’s right.  No alcohol required for dangerous acts here in Jordan!  A student in graduation robes will poke his shoulders through his sunroof and speed down the highway holding onto his graduation certificate for dear life in celebration of his graduation.  This practice is also done for weddings; you may encounter a bride and groom (still in their wedding finest) poking their torsos out of a sunroof and cheering happily.  Sometimes, however, there may be no clothing that indicates a particular type of celebration–and these are the shabaab that I think just got really bored and decided they had nothing better to do than to blow off some steam and spend some extra gas money (which is about 0.750JD/liter here).