2012 Annual Blog Review

Happy New Year!  And welcome 2013!

This is my annual end-of-the-year/beginning-of-the-year review post.  I don’t really expect anyone else to find it interesting.  In the past I crunched a lot of numbers manually from the wordpress stats page on my dashboard.  This year, wordpress has made a very nice review page.  Click on the picture above or the link below.  Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 24,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Of course, I still had to crunch the numbers.  It’s amazing to me that with only 19 posts written in 2012 that the blog still received 24,000 views.  I’m hoping to be a bit more regular in my posting in 2013.  Of course that’s what I hoped last year.  If you follow the blog, you know that in April of 2012 I tried the A-to-Z blog challenge.  I fizzled out somewhere around P and didn’t write again until December. So much for the discipline of writing everyday improving my blog.

So, without further ado, here is the list of the top 10-posts viewed in 2012.

1 Scary Rooms  2,694
2 The Bake House – Jabal Amman Restaurant Review  2,046
3 Amman turns . . . 100?  1,622
4 Jordan A to Z: M is for … Mansaf or Msakhan!  1,219
5 Jordan A to Z: K is for … Kings!  1,047
6 Pope Benedict visiting Jordan  958
7 Ramadan Breakfast at Hashem’s in Amman, Jordan  614
8 My thoughts on Ted Williams, homelessness and the value of fame in America  528
9 Eye Exams, Customer Service, and Paris Hilton  475
10 Christmas Lights and Nativity Scene near Amman Jordan (Fuheis)  428

Thanks to all of you who have been reading!

I am constantly surprised by the country stats from the blog.  WordPress recorded visitors from 134 countries last year.  That’s 65% of the nations in the world!  I broke down the top 25 countries by # of visits last year.

Rank Country Views
1 Jordan 7,116
2 United States 5,117
3 United Kingdom 1,220
4 Poland 748
5 Canada 679
6 Switzerland 453
7 United Arab Emirates 377
8 Australia 347
9 Germany 277
10 India 233
11 Netherlands 219
12 Saudi Arabia 213
13 Turkey 195
14 Philippines 190
15 France 158
16 Brazil 125
17 Egypt 119
18 Indonesia 117
19 Spain 113
20 Italy 107
21 Israel 102
22 Malaysia 102
23 Romania 100
24 Sweden 98
25 Pakistan 93

So thanks to everyone from around the globe for stopping by. My goal for 2013 is to generate more discussion on the blog … despite a high number of views, there are still very few comments.  It would be great to see some international dialogue taking place in this kind of forum.   Time will tell.  And speaking of time … here’s to a good 2013!

 

10 Thoughts on Dealing with Death and Grief

I couldn’t sleep last night.  A lot of things were rambling around in my head. Last week was a long one for me.  There was a lot to do at work and in the midst of it a young colleague in our extended network passed away unexpectedly of a brain aneurism.  And then the news of the massacre of innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

So in the middle of the night some of my mental ramblings coalesced into 10 thoughts on dealing with death and grief.  I am by no means an expert on such things, but it was helpful for me to jot these things down.  Hopefully, they are helpful for you as well.

It should be noted that I write from a Christian perspective, and wrote these thoughts down with that particular community in mind.  However, I hope people of any religious (or non-religious) background will feel free to read and comment.

1.       Grief and mourning are natural responses to death.  These are powerful forces that often result in emotional (and sometimes physical) pain as well as great sadness and crying for some people.  This is normal and to be expected.

2.       Everyone grieves in different ways.  Some express their emotions intensely and at the beginning, others hold everything deeply and only let it all out gradually over a long time … and some, not at all.  It is easy to become judgmental of people who don’t grieve in the same way we do.  We may think they are too emotional or perhaps too uncaring.  Why are they crying so much?  Why don’t they cry at all?  How can they laugh at a time like this?  As a community we must remember to pray for each other and not judge.

3.       Everyone grieves in different ways.  Yes, I am stating this again.  It is so important.  Some people cry and mourn in response to death.  Others laugh and celebrate the good things that were.  Neither is the wrong way, nor the best way to grieve.  Culture and upbringing often dictate our response to death.  As believers we should show mutual respect and love to those who deal with death differently than we do.

4.       Grief is a long and winding path, and not a superhighway.  Some would prefer that grief were a set of orderly directions to be followed for a set amount of time and then cleanly exited from by a convenient off-ramp.  Grief is not like that.  It is more like a mountain path that curves back and forth and dips and climbs.  The journey lasts for quite some time and there are often unexpected twists and turns.

5.       When comforting someone it is better to listen than talk.  Most of us don’t really know what to say to comfort someone who is grieving.  Usually there is no need to say much.  It is often best to just be present; put an arm around someone, hold their hand and just be together.  There might be a time for talking later and when that comes it is best to be a good listener.

6.       There is no need to defend God.  God can handle himself.  He doesn’t need anyone to come to his defense or speculate about his will.  God doesn’t like death anymore than we do and is greatly opposed to it.  Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, and Hebrews 2 make this clear.

7.       But isn’t God in control of everything?  Yes.  And when it comes to death it is a tool that he sometimes uses. When an old woman suffering from a variety of diseases dies in her sleep, death seems like a grace from God.  But when children are shot or a young man is robbed of life unexpectedly, there seems to be something devilish at work rather than divine.  Hebrews 2:14 tells us that the devil holds the power of death … and he often uses it.  Don’t blame God for the devil’s work.

8.       It is ok to ask why.  God is not afraid of your questions.  If you are asking “Why?” in your heart, God already knows this.  Don’t try to hide your anger and pain from God.  Ask Him the hard questions.  Let Him sit with you in your grief and pain.

9.       God has not forsaken us in moments of great loss and pain.  It is the filter of our human emotions and reasoning that often make it seem to us that God has abandoned us during times of grief.  The intensity of what we are thinking or feeling can block out both the people around us and the fact that God is right there with us.  We must cling to faith even if we don’t feel it and have faith for others who can’t stand fully on their own at this time.

10.    There is something more powerful than death.  Romans contains the cornerstone of Christian belief on death, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:38-39)

Jordan A to Z: P is for … Petra!

Words cannot adequately describe Petra, the ancient capital of the Nabateans.  If you are unfamiliar with the Nabateans, they were an Arab tribe descended from Ishmael’s eldest son Nebaioth.  They lived in the area that would be considered modern day southern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia.  They were merchants and artisans whose society flourished for hundreds of years using Petra as their capital and trading hub.  Eventually the Romans came on the scene, and also the z, and the Muslims.  All left their imprint on Petra before it was lost to the sands of time following a series of devastating earthquakes.

Petra was rediscovered in modern times in 1812 by Swiss Johaan Burckhardt who, after years of training, masqueraded as an Arab merchant on his way to sacrifice at Aaron’s tomb.  Along the way he discovered the ancient city of Petra.

Today Petra is Jordan’s most popular tourist destination and it is easy to see why.  It is truly breath-taking.

I should stop writing and just let the pictures do the talking.  I visited Petra 6 times this past year (with out-of-town guests) and each time I notice something new.  Here are some pics I like.  Hope you like them too.

(If a picture is worth a 1000 words – here’s to my longest blog post ever)

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Jordan A to Z: O is for … Olives!

Unfortunately, I have fallen way behind in the A to Z blogging challenge!  This being my first time, I don’t know what the official rules are … but I am taking more of a NaNoWriMo approach to it.  As long as I push through and get all 26 entries done by the end of the month then I will be satisfied.  This also means that I am going to have to make my posts a lot shorter.  So here goes.

Olives

One of the delights of Jordan is that delicious olives are readily available.  Most markets (both the open air variety and the western-style super market) have a large selection of fresh olives, not unlike a deli counter back home.  Although prices vary, and I never really bought olives by the kilo back home, my impression is that it is much cheaper to keep yourself in olives here than back in the states.  Jordan is 12th in the world for olive production … which may not sound overly impressive until you realize it is 96th in the world for GDP, 106th for population, 112th for land area and then you realize that tiny Jordan is holding  its own on Olive production!

It seems that almost everyone here who has a little bit of land has an olive tree or two.  When we moved into our new place we actually had a garden with 9 olive trees! Trees can either be pruned for cultivation or allowed to grow a bit wild for shade.  These ones were definitely left for shade and we are thinking about having them pruned back for production as you can pick your own olives and have them milled into fresh oil.  However, friends of ours who have perhaps a dozen trees picked a lot of olives this year and when they brought their pickings to the miller he laughed and out of sympathy milled them for them.  It produced a couple of liters of olive oil only.  Apparently it takes 5-7 kilos (11-15 lbs) of olives to make a liter of olive oil!  The miller usually was dealing with 100s of kilos of olives.

If your olive trees over hang into the street the poor are allowed to glean from them and this year I witnessed this a few times.  Sometimes people will knock on your door and ask if they can harvest your olives if you do not want them. Olive trees are hardy, living for hundreds (some say thousands) of years, providing sustenance and income for a family for generations.

Olives!

 

Jordan A to Z: N is for … Nana (or more accurately نعناع )

Nothing beats the smell of fresh picked Nana.  It is so delightfully refreshing and Jordanians use it in a handful of wonderful ways.  What pray tell is Nana?  First of all it is really نعناع  which when transliterated correctly looks like “na3naa3.”  For those readers not used to seeing words spelled with numbers, 3 is commonly used in the transliteration of Arabic to represent the Arabic letter 3ayn, which we do not have a formal equivalent of in the English language.  the ‘3’ is pronounced almost like the ‘a’ in ‘father’ but the sound comes from deeper in your throat with a fair amount of voicing.  And it’s a consonant rather than a vowel.  The sound is difficult for English speakers … so many default to some version of an ‘a’ sound, especially in words like Nana.

Oh, right nana! What is it?  Nothing less than the wonderfully delicious and ultimately refreshing … mint!

Anyone who has grown mint knows that it is off and running like a weed.  This is a great thing if you have uses for it … and the Jordanians have many.  Besides the ubiquitous garnish on hummus, baba gannouj and other spreads, salads and dips, mint has three uses in Jordan that I am particularly fond of.

Nana Number One – Mint Tea

شاي بنعناع

Probably more popular than water, you are never more than 50 yards away from a mint tea seller in Amman.  Whether it is from a cafe, a restaurant, a falafil cart, or simply a guy walking around with a teapot, a stack of plastic cups and a wad of mint stuffed in his belt … you can always find somewhere to get your fix.  I must confess that in my university study days I may have gotten addicted to having a hit of mint tea before facing class each day.  It’s hard to say what is most enticing . . . the caffeine, the copious amounts of sugar, or the nice fresh minty flavor.

Tea for two, Jordanian style

Nana Number Two – Mint Lemonade

ليمون بنعناع

Limon bi Nana or Mint Lemonade - a must try while in Jordan!

Ok, seriously, it may not be too much to say that you have not truly lived until you have tasted a Jordanian Mint Lemonade, or as it is called here ‘Limon bi Nana.’  It is so unique and refreshing!  Each place that serves it up has a slightly different recipe and spin.  Some add ice to make more of a slushy, others serve it as a juice.  Some places have more mint, others more sugar.  But in the end they are all roughly the same.  A very tart lemonade made with fresh squeezed lemons blended together with tons of mint and varying amounts of sugar.  I would say that most places go light on the sugar (which seems counter-cultural here in Jordan).  The result is the perfect summer drink!

Nana Number Three – Mint Flavored Hookah

A typical hookah or arghile pipe

Hookah is very popular in Jordan as it is all over the Middle East.  The name for it here is ‘arghile’ (pronounced ar-gee-la) or ‘sheesha’ (pronounced like it looks).  I think the term hookah is of Indian or perhaps Persian origin and is only just catching on here.  Usually when they refer to arghile in English, Arabs will call it ‘hubbly-bubbly’ which I had never heard until arriving in Jordan, so I wonder if it is a Britishism.

For those unfamiliar with the hookah – it is a water pipe that has been used for centuries by the Arabs for smoking tobacco.  In the US, the drug culture of the 1960s and 70s has forever tainted the image of a hookah as primarily being used to smoke illicit drugs.  Such is not the case here in the Middle East.  It’s just tobacco!  The term ‘sheesha’ doesn’t help as many American English speakers will automatically associate it with marijuana … but that is certainly not the case!

Arghila tobacco is unique in that it is very moist.  It is blended with molasses and different kinds of flavorings.  Jordanians prefer fruity flavors, so options tend to be: apple, double apple, cherry, melon, fruit cocktail, grape, etc.  Another popular vein is mint flavors.  There is just plain mint, but they also mix it with other flavors particularly lemon or grape.

Mint-flavored arghile tobacco

So it is entirely possible on a Thursday night outing in Amman to sit at a cafe enjoying a nice cool mint lemonade with a hookah filled with mint tobacco and chase it all down with some mint tea.  Perhaps a bit much all in one sitting … but all three are delicious reminders of life here in Jordan.

Jordan A to Z: M is for … Mansaf or Msakhan!

MMMmmmmmm . . . It is only fitting that ‘M’ is for two of the most delicious meals offered in Jordan!  While it is true that there are many delicious Arabic dishes that start with the letter M (check out Jim’s delicious post on Maqluube), these two are often at the top of the list as favorites.

Mansaf, the Jordanian national dish

A platter of mansaf.

Anyone who has traveled to Jordan, or even has read about traveling to Jordan has probably heard of Mansaf.  A guidbeook section on Jordanian cuisine cannot be complete without mentioning this tasty meal.  Even government websites extol the virtues of Mansaf.  So (for the uninformed), what is Mansaf? It is lamb  cooked till falling off the bone perfection, served over a bed of rice, topped with warm jameed (yoghurt sauce), sprinkled with pine nuts and/or almonds, and often accompanied by large pieces of shraak (Bedouin style flat bread).

An individual portion of mansaf.

At a restaurant, or I suppose in someone’s house, you might be served an individual serving on an individual plate.  However, mansaf is traditionally served on a huge round serving dish, and is consumed as a communal meal straight from the platter.  Traditionally, the platter is set on the floor and 10 or so people would sit around it and eat everything with their hands.  This takes some getting used to for the uninitiated or cutlery-dependent, but really is not so bad once you get the hang of it.  (The trick is rolling the rice into a ball around a core piece of chicken.  Also, remember this has to be done only with the right hand as the left is considered unclean.)

Of course some Jordanians will offer you a plate and spoon or fork if you are visiting. But not all.  And if you are able to try your best at eating with your hands without batting an eye … your status definitely goes up in the sight of your host.  Once when I visited a bedouin village, I ate mansaf with my hands without hesitation.    Later when I was walking around meeting people in the village my host told everyone, “he eats like us …. with his hands!”

Eating mansaf Bedouin-style!

You say Musakhan, I say Msakhan

A typical platter of Msakhan.

Another delicious dish starts with ‘m’ but after that there everyone seems to disagree how to spell the word in English.  There are a handful of variants … but they all spell one thing in my  book … delicious!  Now I must say from the outset that msakhan, although very popular in Jordan, is actually of Palestinian origin.  But seeing as how 40-60% of the population are Palestinian or of Palestinian background, msakhan  remains a crowd pleaser here in Jordan.

A smaller plate of Msakhan to be shared with 2-3 people.

And really, what’s not to like?  Msakhan consists of carmelized onions, warm bread, and chicken cooked to perfection.  First a ton of onions are cooked in olive oil with a citrusy but purple spice known as sumac.  Then a layer of flatbread is arranged on a platter.  Some of the onion mixture is ladled over the bread, then the chicken is placed down, and often more onion mix and more bread.  The whole thing is cooked in an oven and the result is … soooo very good!

The chicken and the bread are often both crispy on the outside and moist and delicious on the inside.  The onion mixture bakes onto the bread creating a on-of -a-kind crust that is really hard to stop eating.  As with Mansaf pine nuts or almonds are usually sprinkled over the finished product.  It too is often served on a large communal platter and of the two dishes is by far the easier to eat sans utensils.

An award-winning platter of Msakhan in Palestine in 2010.

In Conclusion

Both meals are quite heavy and not for the faint of heart.  You will probably not be doing your cholesterol any favors, especially with msakhan.  But if you have an opportunity to experience either one … you must! Beyond tasting great,  both of these dishes hold a special place in Jordanian and Palestinian culture. One is a source of national pride and hearkens back to the country’s Bedouin roots.  The other is like Middle Eastern soul food that reminds many of grandma’s kitchen and table.

So the real question is … which do you prefer?  Answer the poll below and let us know!

Jordan A to Z: L is for … Love!

Why Love?  Because this weekend is the 12th wedding anniversary for my wife and I!

But what does love have to do with Jordan?  Well … there is a very important word you will start hearing quite often soon after you arrive in Jordan:

حبيبي

Habiibi (for saying to men)

Habiibti (for saying to women)

The phrase literally means “my loved one”  and I hear it several times a day.  Actually it is directed at me several times a day.  Are Jordanian’s flirtatious you may ask?  Not overly.  In fact it would be shocking to hear a woman (besides my wife) call me Habiibi.  You see, Jordan has a very high gender role separation.  Men and women generally fulfill traditional roles within the society (although this is changing), and this also means that men interact more in the public sphere with other men and women with other women.

So it is very common for men to greet there male friends as Habiibi.  Or stangers who are around your same age or younger.  The same is true for women greeting women.  If anyone here in Jordan is calling me their loved one it’s invariably another guy.  Which can take a little getting used to, but now it is quite normal for me.

However … a guy should never greet a woman who is not his wife (or daughter or perhaps little sister or other younger female relative) as Habiibti!  This would be shameful and embarrassing.  So I must say here in Jordan I have dozens of Habiibis, but only 3 Habiibtis.  (my wife and our 2 daughters!)

Guys don’t be surprised when you visit us here if I greet you on the cheek with a kiss and a hearty “my loved one!”  Please don’t punch me.

That said … there is only one true Habiibti for me … thanks for 12 wonderful years of marriage!

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