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  • October 2008
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Jordan Weekend Headlines #6

I’ve been on a bit of hiatus from headlines over the last couple of weeks due to studies and an out-of-town trip to Wadi Rum (will post more on that later this week).  But, here is a quick look at this weekend’s headlines as published in the Jordan Times (the only English paper I know of here).

Top Headline: Jordan signs 11 deals with Brazil”the king seems to be traveling a lot since I got here.  I don’t know if this is normal or just because I’m here.  Anyways, HM King Abdullah and some of his advisors spent some time firming up Jordan’s relationship with Brazil and a broader alliance of South American countries.  Three things I found interesting:

  • Brazil will be helping Jordan with processing oil shale as a means of alternative energy.  Jordan has no natural petroleum reserves, except in the form of oil shale, which apparently it has good quantities of.
  • HM King Abdullah highlighted Brazil’s support of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.
  • There are 12 million Arabs in Brazil, which accounts for about 6% of the population

I wonder what a king-for-life thinks when he’s flying around the world talking to elected leaders who are only going to be on the political scene for a relatively short amount of time.

Another Headline: “Gov’t to guarantee bank deposits till 2009 end” This is with no JD limit.  All deposits in all amounts will be guaranteed till next year.  An official is quoted as saying that no Jordanian depositer has ever lost any money.  Of course I am not sure what time period we are talking about.  And I am pretty sure that most people have very small deposits in the bank.  This is one of many articles recently stressing Jordan’s overall financial health.  The subtext is that there is no lending/banking/morgage crisis as in the states.  Perhaps coorporate greed has not infected this corner of the globe yet.

Most Interesting Sidebar: “Jordan to play Palestine in Ram” This probably means nothing to most people, but has huge significance hear.  Ram is a town outside of Jerusalem and home to the Palestinian national soccer stadium (Faisal Hussein Stadium). No international football match has been played on Palestinian soil since Palestine joined FIFA way back in 1998.  Until this past weekend!  The Palestinian national team has had many hurdles to overcome including the difficulty of everyday life under military occupation, civil war, and travel restrictions imposed by Israel.  For example, 18 officials and players who live in Gaza were denied travel by Israel to the World Cup qualifiers in Singapore earlier this year.  The Israeli overnment also delayed the Jordanian national teams border crossing into Palestine this past weekend.

Here is a YouTube Video highlighting a bit about the Palestinian Team:

Despite travel difficulties the match did go on this weekend, with FIFA president Jospeh Blatter on hand for the historic event.   Our Palestinian taxi driver was excited to tell us about the game this morning.  I asked him who he had wanted to win.  He paused – a difficult question.  Ethnically he is Palestinian – but he was born and lived his entire life in Jordan.  He admitted that he didn’t really care which team won – and it didn’t matter in the end as it was a tied game: 1-to-1.  For Palestinians this match was an importan symbol of peace and normalcy.

Below is a clip of the Palestinian goal – take a moment to listen to the cheers and watch the excitement of the players and fans.  You would think this was a winning goal in a World Cup.  But, no, it was simply a goal by the 180th ranked team in the world (out of 207?).  Their first goal ever on native soil.  It seems to me that they are celebrating not just a goal in a soccer match, but in some small way celebrating this taste of freedom and self-determination (as fleeting as it may be).


Guest Movie Review – Allah Made Me Funny

I’m out of town this weekend. The fam and I are taking a quick trip with some friends down to Wadi Rum.  If you don’t know what that is, it has less to do with Captain Morgan and more to do with Lawrence of Arabia.  Click here for some info.

In the meantime, my good friend David recently went to see Allah Made Me Funny and has written a review of this short and very funny film.  (If you don’t know David you should check out his blog, Signs of Life.  You can also pretty much blame David for getting me into blogging.)  Anyways, the film follows three Muslim Americans as they tour the country performing stand-up comedy.  I’m a bit jealous as I really wanted to see the film myself. Its release has been much anticipated in some circles.  I’ve only seen YouTube clips like the one below. Click on the arrow to view the clip right here – funny and well worrth the 2 minutes.  Scroll down to read David’s review.


Guest Movie Review of Allah Made Me Funny

by David Swanson

To be Muslim in America today must be a complicated thing. How does a person retain an Islamic identity while distinguishing him or herself from the cultural caricatures so prevalent in popular culture? American Muslims must tire from constantly explaining the differences between religious belief and ethnic identities or the significant differences between the Islamic sects. I wonder just how patriotic an American Muslim would have to be in order to be accepted as a full-fledged member of the United States. Case in point: this year’s election has shown that it’s not enough for Barak Obama to show that he’s not a terrorist, he also must prove repeatedly that he’s not a Muslim. In today’s American it seems the two are synonymous.

What is an American Muslim to do?

Azhar Uthman - Chicago area Muslim American comedian - search for his clips on YouTube.  He is so funny, I've known about him for awhile now and he always makes me laugh out loud

Azhar Usman - Chicago area comedian - search for his clips on YouTube. He is so funny, I laugh out loud whenever I watch him.

If you are Azhar Usman, Mo Amer or Preacher Moss, you make people laugh. Teaming up for the Allah Made Me Funny comedy tour, these three men belong to the relatively small group of comedians who are both American and Muslim. In the documentary by the same name, we are introduced to the three comedians and their unique stories. While most of the film is spent on their stand-up routines, we also meet the comedians’ families and mentors. Making a living as a Muslim telling jokes in post-9/11 America is fraught with peril. The filmmakers choose to let most of this tension surface during the routines, allowing the behind the scenes moments to fill in the back-story that led to the Allah Made Me Funny tour.

Two things stand out during the comedians’ routines. First, while each man is defined by his Islamic faith, it is the cultural backgrounds that are most clearly evident: Palestinian, Indian, and African American respectively. Having each comedian come from a different cultural and ethnic place allows the less-informed viewer to observe the important differences within the Muslim world. Second, the themes shared by the comedians are mainly about being an outsider in American culture. The crowds’ laughter at jokes about airport security the FBI’s surveillance is a window into the stresses of life in America for many Muslims.

It must be said that this short film (just 83 minutes) is quite funny. As one who is removed from Islamic faith and culture, I found plenty of moments to laugh out loud. Apparently comedy crosses cultures. I imagine this is just one of the important ideas behind this funny and insightful film.


Thanks for the review David!  What do you folks think?  Anybody else see the film or the comedy tour?  Any thoughts or comments being Muslim and American?  Or being Muslim and a comedian in America?

The Bake House – Jabal Amman Restaurant Review

Making pancakes from scratch is an important cooking skill that every Dad must have.  Especially when you move your family half-way around the world and they want some comforts from home.  Of course the best way to make them is with chocolate chips (rare and expensive here in Amman), and they should be called hotcakes or flapjacks and they should be served with 100% pure maple syrup.  But have no fear, if you are living in Amman and your flapjack skills are just not what they should be there is a tasty fulfillment for your family’s cravings:  The Bake House in Jabal Amman!

Two Golden Brown (and delicious) Pancakes and Two Eggs (yes my family likes them well-cooked) at the Bake House

Two Golden Brown (and delicious) Pancakes and Two Eggs (yes my family likes them well-cooked) at the Bake House

The Bake House is like a little island of American breakfast culture in the heart of Jabal Amman.  Hot filtered coffee, big pancakes, omelettes, home fries, french toast, scrambles – a welcome break, IMHO, from the usual breakfast fare here in Amman (hummus, foul and day old pita, anyone?)  I have eaten at the Bake House a number of times with friends and family and have never been disappointed.  It always used to be a little cram. . . er cozy, but over Ramadan they opened and upstairs expansion that doubled their seating capacity!

The Bake House in Jabal Amman, note the green awnings on the 2nd floor - all new expansion!

The Bake House in Jabal Amman, note the green awnings on the 2nd floor - all new seating area - including a "No Smoking" section!

Restaurant: The Bake House

Location: Jabal Amman, Amman, Jordan

Serving: American style breakfast, including pancakes, eggs, filtered coffee, and also some lunch items.

Rating: Excellent – a must-try, and on my list of regular go-to places.

Street Address: Good question – Near First Circle and Rainbow Street, also just off Mango Street after the Bishop’s school if you’re coming from 2nd circle area. If you’ve lived in Amman you know what I mean by this address (sort of).  Here’s a link to a review by “And Far Away” as well as a map.

Phone #: Let me know if you have it

Hours: Sat-Thurs 7:30-19:00, Friday 7:30-18:00 (with 1 hour off for prayers – around midday?)

Price Range: Breakfast 2-7 JD, Lunch 2-3 JD, Kids Meals 2.8 JD

Smoking: C’mon – it’s Amman!  (But there is a new “No Smoking” section in 1/2 of the upstairs)

What they say about themselves: The place to relax and enjoy an American style breakfast, a good cup of brewed coffee, delicious sandwiches and your favorite American sweets.

My favorites are the pancakes (2JD for 1 Large, 4 JD for 2 Large, and 1 JD extra for “fruit and cream”) and the Bake House Scramble (4.2 JD – eggs scrambled with mushrooms, onions, peppers and cheese).  The “fruit” actually appears to be blueberry pie filling but is quite tasty and, although it comes in a small bowl – it seems to do the job.  The Scramble is really delicious – everybody that I know who’s had it swears by it.  What I apprciate about it is not only the taste, but the portion size.  Just big enough.  Which if you are used to American style breakfast places you know that you pay through the nose and end up having way more food than you would want to eat for breakfast.  I guess 4.2 JD (includes coffee or tea) might be expensive for breakfast for Amman, but not to Americans.

I also recently had the Breakfast “Slam” which comes with 2 eggs, Home Fries, Toast, Sausage, and Coffee.  I wasexpectingAmericanstyle breakfast sausage, so was a bit disappointed with the Arab-spiced summer sausage-type slices I got.  Everything else was good though.

My son was disappointed on a recent trip as they had run out of toast for French Toast (4 JD).  He substituted pancakes and was happy enough, but I didn’t get toast with my breakfast either.  Instead they thought on their feet and gave us hamburger rolls that had been toasted in the waffle maker.  They were fun to look at and I give them credit for creativity.

The coffee is excellent, and if you are looking for a nice simple cup of coffee made in by dripping hot water through well roasted coffee and a filter, then this is the place for you.  There are free refills, which is even better.  Please note that the menu says there is a 2.5 JD minimum charge so you can’t just come in and by a cup o’ joe and nurse it all day for 1 JD.  But I’m sure you can find something tasty to go with your coffee in the pastry case (usually some sort of pie, cake, and/or muffins).

Service is always friendly and professional.  One of the waiters remembers my name now, which is kind of nice.  The speed of service, is, well – on Middle Eastern speed and time.  No better orworsethan any other experiences I’ve had in Amman, but perhaps a bit slow and disjointed for someone just off the plane fromthe States.  My advice – ask for your coffee to be served as soon as possible, and enjoy the company of your family or friends.

Speaking English is not a problem, but why not try out your Arabic?  The patrons run the gamut, from families, to groups of Ammman-hip urban singles, to women in traditional head coverings. Everyone will feel comfortable here.

In summary, if you are a fan of American-style breakfast the Bake House is a gem that cannot be missed in Jabal Amman.  When I don’t have the time and inclination to whip up a batch of flapjacks, or if my family needs a little taste of home, you can be sure we will be at the Bake House!

Please leave a comment if you’ve eaten at the Bake House and let us know what you think – even if you disagree with me.  Also any other links or info on the Bake House would be great!

Intercultural Note #1

Just a quick post to share a couple of the many intercultural lessons we have been learning. I will continue to do so over the next several months.  Some will be gleaned from real-life experience, others from what people tell us/teach us.  It seems as though there is no end of opinion about the differences between Jordanian culture and American-type cultures.  We have received a lot of anecdotal advice from anyone who has been in country over 2 months, but also some really good teaching from people in the country for decades.

Hear are a couple of things gleaned recently from a lecture given by one of the latter. He was reflecting on the influences of bedouin culture on people who may not be living as bedouins today, but still retain certain cultural practices even though they may not know why.

  • Place of Honor – The most important guest should be seated in the chair (or preferably couch) farthest from the door.  A few people have told us this.  This seems to indicate prominence.  But it also seems to have something to do with you as host giving that person some comfort and security.  In bedouin times this seat would be farthest from the flap of the tent and the elements and intruders perhaps.
  • Standing to Greet Guests – It is customary for all people seated in the room to stand and greet a new guest who has arrived whether you know them or not.  This is apparently true when visiting in people’s homes, but I have also witnessed the phenomenon in the mobile shop and the carpet store.  I always thought this was just another marker of the politeness connected to social gatherings in this culture; however, there is deeper significance.  This custom also makes it easier for the seating of guests to be reshuffled in case a more important guest arrives and should be in the place of honor.  The relative importance of seats (and people) flows away from the place of honor.  Doesn’t this cultural fact give so much richness to the following saying of Jesus:

When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.”      – Jesus in Luke 14:8-10

  • Giving Stuff to Those Who Admire It: I have often heard it said not to admire anything of your host’s because they will give it to you.  Or, if someone admires something of yours that you should give it to them. This is a funny one, because I have heard this many, many times but have never seen it in action.  It is a very common piece of cross-cultural training for anyone going to the Middle East.  But, truly, I’ve never witnessed it take place.  But the origin of this is interesting – the lecturer said that for a Bedouin the only thing they truly possess is their honor.  They typically have very little stuff, and what they do have is fleeting.   But honor is lasting and is passed down from generation to generation.  Someone from a bedouin background can deal with something happening to their stuff – but never their honor.

Does honor play a role in American culture back in the States?  Certainly not to this extent.  Or maybe it’s just different.  Maybe we honor our guests by letting them sit wherever they want and drink whatever they want (Serving food and beverage is a whole other post).  Being free to choose is so important to Americans, but seems less so here.  Honor and status play such a very important part here in our new culture.  The tricky part is learning what brings honor and what doesn’t as such different cultural values are in play!

As always I would love your thoughts, questions, and feedback, esp. as it relates to the place honor/shame play in your own culture.  And please, if any Jordanians are reading – give your feedback on the cultural points above. Are they accurate?