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  • September 2008
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Eid Mubarak!

I like to think of conversation starters each day to get the ball rolling with strangers I meet so I can practice speaking Arabic.  By strangers I mostly mean taxi drivers, duukkan (little shop) owners, the barber, and Eli the Wise-tire-guy at the corner.  (77-years wise and still  changing tires – but that’s a story for another time). Yesterday’s question was “Will tomorrow be Eid-al-Fitr?”  This may seem like an odd question, as most holidays back home have a definite date.  The dates for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas are set months – even years – in advance.  Not so with the timing of Islamic holidays which depend on moon sightings to officially begin.

The common response to my question about Eid starting was something along the lines of “Bukra, Insha’allah, bas mumkin ba3di bukra.”  “Tomorrow, God wiling, but maybe the day after tomorrow.”  That said everyone was making preparations for Eid to start today (Tuesday, September 30th).  Schools and Government offices were scheduled to be closed. Most stores were going on modified Holiday schedules – many closing for the first couple of days of Eid.  People were out and about running errands before things shut down for the week.  This included stocking up on fruits and vegetables as fresh ones are apparently hard to come by during the week of Eid.

So Iwas wondering how we would find out in the morning if Ramadan had in fact concluded.  Well, there was no doubt as rolled over in bed at 6:30 AM that Ramadan had in fact concluded.  Listen to this sound file recorded from the roof of our building:


If you’re like me, based on that recording, you might imagine that the streets were thronged with people celebrating Eid – however, like me, you would be wrong.  The voices are actually 100s of muzzeins (the callers at the mosques), either live or recorde, from around the city.  For the most part the city streets were empty, pretty much like Christmas morning in the States.

The calls of “God is Great, Praise to God, Praise to the Greatest!” continued for over an hour as the city woke up.  I wonder if Christmas morning used to be that way in the States?  Well, with church bells sounding to welcome to holiday – not necesarily the calls of the muzzeins.

I am curious what life will be like over the next few days.  We have a break from school and we can now eat and drink in public during the day so exploring the city is back on!  Eid is typically a time for visiting extended family, going out, taking small vacations, etc.  so we expect a lot of hubbub. I’ll be sure to let you know.  In the meantime, here are some pics I snapped from the roof  this morning as the sun was rising over the city and callers were heralding Eid.  It was a particularly good morning for pictures as there were dark rain clouds in the west and sun dawning over the hillside in the east.  Click on the pics in gallery to get bigger photos with descriptions and a places for comments.  Enjoy!

Jordan Weekend Headlines #5

Ramadan Update: Friday was the 19th day of Ramadan (the actual name of the Islamic month BTW).  Iftar was 6:42 PM and Saturday’s imsak was at 4:46 AM.

Top Headline ‘Establishment of Palestinian state is in Jordan’s strategic interest’: This statement was from a Jordanian Minister of State for Media and Communications.  (Interesting government cabinet post, eh?)  It was countering some reports in the local press that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had said that Jordan should become a permanent home for Palestinian refugees in exchange for financial compensation.  I’m not sure if Abbas said that (seems unlikely), but I can tell you that it is a very unpopular idea here.  Although Jordan is probably the country most friendly and sympathetic to Palestinians – it is very clear in the mindset here that Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine.  This article also comes on the heels of Palestinian security forces crossing into Jordan to have US-funded training.  These were apparently Fateh security forces.  Interesting how the US pushed for free democratic elections and then when the results went in an unexpected way (Hamas being elected) the powers that be end up throwing a ton of money at damage control.  Wonder if we’ll start seeing state-funded militias in the US if the November elections don’t go according to plan.  I mean, really, it’s so odd how what we would consider absolutely wrong political behavior stateside is acceptable foreign policy.  I’m not saying I think Hamas is the best option in Palestine – but what did we expect when elections were pushed way before Palestine was ready for them.  Perhaps investing a little US money in Palestinian security training years ago would have been a smarter move.  IMHO.  Only once the hand has been forced to choose sides in one more regional civil war is there any interest in spending the necessary money.  But, I digress from the headlines . . .

Top Sidebar Road Accidents kill 36 this month: this is apparently good news as the number is down 20% from the first two weeks of Ramadan last year.  Hamdulillah!

Other Headline King returns home: HM King Abdullah returned from a 3-day trip to Kuwait and China.  Those two countries seem to be pretty far apart for a 3 day trip.  Anyways in Kuwait he was discussing regional trade and economics.  In China they were discussing technology, alternative energy and China’s role in brokering peace in the region, particularly an end to Israeli occupation and establishment of a Palestinian state.  Interesting.  Can’t say China jumps to the top of my list when I think of brokering peace deals.  We shall see.

News headlines taken from The Jordan Times – Jordan’s leading English-language news daily.  Once I learn some more Arabic I’ll branch out into Arabic language papers.  Perhaps sometime next decade.  LOL =)

Beginfast or Commensfast Anyone?

It’s 4:30 AM or so on a Friday morning during Ramadan.  Here’s what is sounds like outside our apartment. (I just sat outside in our garden with my hand held digital recorder  to make this recording.


That’s what it’s like here everyday at 4:30, but during Ramadan this call to prayer is particularly important as it is around this time that fasting must commence.  I’m not sure if it starts at this call-to-prayer or after. Basically devout Muslims who are fasting will rise very early to eat their last meal and drink their last water before the day’s fast begins.  I mistakenly called this meal “Breakfast” the other day, but a friend corrected me as the meal does not “break” the fast, but begins it.  In Arabic they call the meal “suhuur”  but I think I’ll call it “beginfast” or “commensfast.”  Which do you prefer?

I was wide awake this morning so took a walk up to the top of the hill.  Except for the prayer horns, everything in the street was so still.  But you could see lights turning on in houses and hear morning stirrings through open windows.  Here are a few pics of early Friday morning here in Amman during Ramadan.

Ooops, I forgot Weekend Headlines from Jordan #4

(as reported in the Jordan Times.  Paragraphs below are my summary and additional commentary on articles on the front page of the JT Friday edition)

Top Headline: ‘When we are fasting, we are all one‘  It’s hard to explain to someone living in the West how culturally significant iftar, or the meal to break the fast is here in Jordan.  Life is totally re-oriented during the month of Ramadan so that you are able to make it home to break fast with you family or friends.  We had the ironic experience of eating at TGIFriday’s last week right at iftar.  I am sure we were one of 2 non-Jordanian/Arab couples in the packed out restaurant.  Will write more on that experience later.  That being said many do not have the means to prepare special meals and so this article discussed the numerous iftar tents set up around the city to help the underprivileged.  These tents are sponsored by wealthy individuals, corporations, and also the royal family.

A variety of people take advantage of free iftar tents during Ramadan.  (Jordan Times)

A variety of people take advantage of free iftar tents during Ramadan. (Jordan Times)

In particular, HM Queen Rania has a tent which hosts a different group in need each night. (to check out the Queen’s fascinating website click here and follow the 3rd link.)  There is much concern for the poor here during Ramadan, which is the traditional time to give your zakat, or alms, each year.  But I wonder a bit about the poor the rest of the year.  If they don’t have the means to prepare an evening meal in Ramadan, what about next month?  Who helps out then?   I also wonder if Christians ever sponsor iftar tents or if that is taboo?

Three AIDS cases registered: which brings the number of cases this year to 7.  Not sure how that compares with the States – but a quyick search gave me a stat of over 30,000 cases in the US last year.  I don’t think Jordan is on that track.  The article made a point to note that the three new cases were infected abroad and also pointed out that one was a woman.  I wonder what it is like to have AIDS in this country where honor and shame are so much at stake.  Will this woman’s family have compassion on her or scorn?  Will she receive good medical treatment?  I also wonder if AIDS cases are under-reported here,  The government is definitely concerned about it – any foreigner staying in the kingdom more than 6 months has to get tested!

West Bank settlers take over more land – group: Interesting to see that an Israeli human rights group that I often quote (B’Tselem) is referenced as front page news here in Jordan.  The article reports on 1,100+ acres annexed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.  Half of this land was private Palestinian property.  It was taken for “security” purposes by fencing it off under the watchful eyes of armed settlers and soldiers.  This same method of illegal settlement expansion was going on 10 years ago when I was in Gaza.  Soldiers and settlers would take Palestinian farmland at night by extending the fence by 10-20 feet, citing attacks from that property that never occured. It should be noted that these new security measures are being taken inside Israel’s already existing “security” barrier.

In Urban areas the barrier is a full-fledged concrete wall completely surrounding cities

In Urban areas the barrier is a full-fledged concrete wall completely surrounding cities

In rural areas the barrier is a complex series of fences and trenches

In rural areas the barrier is a complex series of fences and trenches

I’m all for protecting people from suicide bombers, but when an entire town is surrounded by a wall like this it seems like collective punishment to me.  As I’ve said before, it would be as if the rest of California decided to wall in L.A. because of all the gang violence there.  Migth help keep things safer in the short-term, but makes no sense whatsoever in the long-term.  Do the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall or the Berlin Wall mean anything to anyone?

Arabic Language Correction

In my last post I gave the Arabic compliment and response you use when somebody gets a hair cut, but I was only half right. I copied the wrong response from my notes.  So here’s the correction.

When someone get’s a haircut you say to them:

نّيماً or “na3iiman” which literally means “Grace”

the response is always, اللّه ينعِم عّليك “allah yn3im 3layk” which literally means “God’s grace on you”

What a friendly way to say “nice haircut!”

Sorry for the confusion =)  And please, any speakers of Arabic feel free to correct me in the comments!

Successful Ramadan Trip to the Saloon

A little while ago I posted about my desperate need for a Saloon this Ramadan.  Not for a pint, as you might suspect, but for a haircut.  Huh? A haircut at a saloon?  Yes, well, in fact this is the common (and amusing) misspelling and mispronunciation of “salon” in Arabic. You can find many saloons all over Amman, usually with an accompanying sign with amusing pictures (to the American eye anyway).  Previously I posted 6 pictures of nearby Saloons, asking for your input on which one I should go to.  There was a lively discussion in the comments about which 80s superstar some of the Saloon sign models looked like with nods to the Baldwin brothers and Rick Astley.

Your input was helpful, but in the end I went my own way (anyone surprised?) and chose option #6 – Fawzi’s Saloon.

Go to Fawzi's for a fine haircutif you are ever in Ashrafiyeh!  (Men only please)

Go to Fawzi's for a fine haircut, if you are ever in Ashrafiyeh. Men only, of course!

It may have been the allure of the Burt Reynolds ‘stache and ‘burns, but in the end it simply came down to geographic proximity and time.  Fawzi’s was closest – literally a block down the street.  Time was of the essence as I didn’t get out earlier in the day, so I had to wait until around 9 PM or so for barber shops like this one to reopen after iftar (the meal to break the Ramadan fast – many shopkeepers go home for an hour or two).

It was worth the wait. Sorry no pics – I’ll try to get some when I take Noah.  Fawzi’s is a small one chair shop.  And what a chair – it’s orange and black and chrome – like something from California in the 70s.  Lots of mirrors, some Qur’anic verses on the wall, a seating area for 3-4 people, some Arab language newpapers and a anti-smoking pamphlet next to the two ashtrays filled with cigarett butts.

A couple guys were sitting on the couch watching what I call theArab version of a soap opera on the small TV mounted on the wall between two mirrors.  Fawzi had a young guy in the chair – toucing up his sideburns with a dab of foam from a brush and the flick of an old-fashioned straight razor.  Nice!  We all exchanged pleasantries on the way in, but after that we were pretty much quiet until Fawzi finished up the two guys ahead of me.  Everybody was watching the TV.  Me too, but I was only catching every 10th word or so.  OK . . . maybe every 20th word.

The haircut was great. Fawzi was a good sport about my limited Arabic.  Actually I think it helped that I thought he said he had 11 sons, when he told me his oldest son “had 11 years.”  LOL.  We both got a big laugh out of that once we straightened it out.  We actually had a fair exchange re. our families and where I was from in Arabic. The haircut was good – but the shave was even better.  He did a really good job. That was actually the first time I ever had a shave like that – somebody holding a straight razor to my neck.  And  in the States I’m not much for the teeny-boppers at Sports Clips messing with my beard with clippers.  But I had an inkling that Fawzi was somewhat more experienced.

So here’s the results.

Shave and a haircut . . .

Before . . .

...and after!

...and after!

Haven’t gotten the final word from the wife as she was asleep when I wondered in an hour and a half after I had left for a “quick” haircut.  The beard might actually be a little too short – but it’ll grow back =)

The best part – the haircut and shave (with tip) – drum roll please . .  . 3 JD or right around $4.25!  Not the proverbial 2-bits, but pretty close.  Nice!

So let me know what you think.  The proper response in Arabic when you see someone who has had a haricut is “نَعيماً” or “na3iiman” – whether you think it looks good or not =).  This word means “grace” in Arabic.  I’m not sure if this means you look more graceful now or if God has been gracious in allowing you to have a haircut (which sounds about right in my case).  And then the person with the haircut would respond: ” الله ينعم عليك ” or ” Allah yan3am 3layk.”  Which I think literally means “God be gracious to you.”  So much more civilized than “nice haircut!”  and “thanks, man!”


Grounded for Life, Part 1

Did you ever get grounded as a teenager?  Or have some “privilege”  taken away?  Perhaps phone, or TV, or Nintendo privileges?  Or the ultimate discipline trump card – taking away the car privileges!  If you were like me you would stew, bristle, and complain (sometimes vocally), but usually – deep down inside – we all knew we had it coming to us.  There is often a very clear and stated reason for grounding or revocation of spec.ial privileges.  My parents used to make it clear that things like these (having access to the phone or car) were privileges and not rights

I lost my bike privileges once after my Mom picked me up on an unlit country road way after dark.  I had stayed hours too long at my girlfriend’s and was biking the 9 miles back in the dark without a headlight.  I remember that night clearly – my Mom pulled up, popped the trunk for my bike, and said absolutely nothing the entire car ride home.  I knew I was in for it.  I tried to make a case for it being a moonlit night, but the evidence was not in my favor.  I lost the bike privileges (and I think car and visiting the gf) for quite some time.  I had it coming to me and I knew.  Eventually I got those privileges back and I learned some important life lessons, but does the phrase “I was soooo grounded” mean anything to anyone.

I’ve been privvy to a different more troubling teen angst story recently.  One where a step-parent regularly grounds a teen for no stated reason.   It’s just “Go to your room and stay there until I say you can come out!”  Night after night, week after week.  It’s like Harry Potter at the Dursley’s all year round.  Oh there’s protests and shouts of “What did I do?”  But these are only met with stony silence, or “Because, I’m the parent and I said so.”  No reason is ever given for the grounding, nor any clear conditions for being ungrounded.  Crazy, right?  This sounds like where discipline crosses over into punishment and possibly even abuse.

It has come to the point where the teen is effectively “grounded for life.”  The nearest thing to an explanation for this has been “when you respect me I will give you some freedom” to which the response is “I will respect you when I have some freedom.”  I think legally the teen could leave home now, but the step-parent has made the situation such that the teen is 100% dependent on them financially, etc.   I don’t know if the term entrapment is correct, but besides school, the teen cannot leave.  There doesn’t seem to be any relative who can intervene or wants to.  From my understanding legal action has been attempted with no success.

What do you think?  Is there any hope for this teen and step-parent?  Is the relationship permanently wounded?  Is there anything that can be done to make things better?