A Thanksgiving Reflection on Hospitality in the Middle East

A very good friend of mine (David Swanson – click here for his blog) works as a pastor of a church in the Chicago area.  A couple of months ago he asked me to write an article to accompany a sermon series he was doing on hospitality.  The original article can be found on the church’s website (here), but I asked David if I could post it on my blog as well.  In light of the Thanksgiving holiday I thought that hospitality is a timely topic.  After all, during the holiday season we tend to invite people into our homes and practice this special form of love.  Here in Jordan hospitality is practiced everyday in ways that are different than we had experienced in the States.  This article reflects a little of what I have learned about hospitality while living here in the Middle  East.

The Fourth (Forgotten?) Love

I have enjoyed the privilege of living as a guest in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for the past few years. If you are not familiar with Jordan it is the small, but influential nation to the east of the Jordan river. It is rich in biblical history and I like to think of it as the “Other Holy Land.” The country is small, almost landlocked, and predominately covered in desert. The people are mostly Arab Muslim and many of them have strong cultural ties to their Bedouin roots. Hospitality is one of the chief defining characteristics of Jordanian culture. Jordan is known as the country of “ahlan wa sahlan.” This is Arabic for “welcome,” or more literally “welcome and welcome again in the future.”

You haven’t truly experienced hospitality until you have been received as a guest in a Jordanian shop or home. It is not unusual to be served hot tea or coffee or a cold soda or juice while you are perusing the wares in a small shop in the old city. As a somewhat cynical westerner I first saw these gestures as some sort of marketing ploy – a way to guilt me into buying something. After all if the shopkeeper ran down the street to buy drinks for my family or took the time to prepare tea how could I not buy something in return. However, over time, I have come to realize that guilt and innocence don’t play as large a role in Jordanian society as American. Rather shame and honor are much more powerful societal motivators. It is very important for Jordanians to honor their guests through hospitality and avoid the shame of giving a poor welcome.

When a guest arrives at a Jordanian home, it is considered poor manners to keep them waiting on the doorstep. You keep a stranger outside, but a guest you immediately welcome into your home. Greetings are exchanged and can be quite lengthy. These include wishes for peace and god’s blessings as well as inquiries about health and the extended family. Greetings often include a kiss, once on the right cheek and then several times on the left if you are particularly close or wish to honor the one so greeted. Kisses are almost exclusively given along gender lines as it would be shameful for a man to kiss a woman in public.

Guests are often received in a room separate from the living area in the home and a sink or bathroom is usually nearby for the guests’ use to refresh themselves. Drinks are always immediately served. This is usually juice or soda or tea or perhaps all three over the course of a visit. Water might be served, but never by itself. Glassware is preferred over plastic and in any event the very best table service the household has will be used. The host does not ask if a guest wants something, or even give a choice of beverage. The host honors his guest by offering the best refreshment he can offer and the guest reciprocates by gratefully drinking whatever is given. The host will continue refilling the guest’s cup without asking until a subtle shaking of the cup side-to-side indicates that the guest is satisfied.

A typical visit can last for hours. If a guest makes signs that they are leaving too soon, this will result in strong protests from the host. The host traditionally signals that the visit is drawing to a close by serving one last cup of Arabic coffee. If the guests is insistent on leaving earlier than this, the host will invariably quickly prepare the coffee all the while wondering what is so important that the guest has to leave early.

Never say you have to visit another person for in doing so you dishonor your host by saying that the next person to be visited is more important than your current host. Simply say you have a pre-existing appointment which universally seems to be honored as a reason for leaving early.

These modern conventions are deeply rooted in the Bedouin history of Jordan. The modern nation was only born a half century ago and before that the majority of the people were engaged in a semi-nomadic agrarian way of life. Society was organized along tribal lines and allegiance to family, clan, and tribe were of paramount importance. Today, modern Jordanians still know their tribal lineage and family remains a more important subset of society than the individual. In honor-shame based societies the
actions of individuals brings honor or dishonor upon the larger group to which they belong. Therefore welcoming guests and strangers with genuine hospitality brought honor for the tribe, whereas a meager welcome would bring shame.

There are two Bedouin traditions from times past that still inform Jordanian hospitality today. The first is that of welcoming strangers for three days. The second is the offering of three cups of coffee to the guest.

Bedouins customarily welcomed strangers for three days without asking questions. This meant giving food, water, and shelter for all people and animals that were present. Only after three days was it polite for a host to inquire directly about the guests origins and business. Then the host would decide if he would extend the welcome or send the strangers politely (but perhaps firmly) on their way. This custom arose out of the great equalizing nature of life in the arid regions of the world. The desert humbles all men. It is impossible to survive long without provisions and provisions are only sustained over time by participation in a group. Travelers were always outside of their usual family and tribal support network and as such were often dependant on the hospitality of strangers for their survival. A generous welcome of someone would often ensure reciprocity if needed at a later date.

Once welcomed into the host’s tent the guest would often be served three cups of coffee. These were more than just liquid refreshment, but powerful symbols of the host’s intentions and the guest’s position. The first was the cup of peace, then the cup of friendship, and lastly the cup of protection. If you received all three cups the host had silently pledged that he would protect you as one of his own family members while you were a guest in his tent. Not a commitment made or taken lightly.

Today these customs can be observed in their original form in some of the desert tents of Jordanian Bedouins who live far from the bright lights of the big city. However, their essence, if not practice, still permeates the society in general. I have never witnessed people who are quicker to welcome strangers and provide for their needs. This is true both on the level of individuals and family, but also on the macro-level of society as a whole. Historically Jordan has freely welcomed waves of refugees into their small borders and provided for their needs (Circassians, Armenians, Palestinians, and Iraqis immediately come to mind).

I have been told that the moment the stranger crosses the threshold of the door and enters the house he or she becomes a guest. The words are not grammatically related in Arabic and carry very different meanings. If you have been received into the home and shared food and drink it is impossible for you to remain a stranger in the Jordanian psyche. Your customs and actions may be strange, but you have become an honored and protected guest. Some people I know view this even more broadly, saying that the moment I stepped on Jordanian soil I became a guest deserving of hospitality.

This welcoming of the stranger is also an important Biblical principle. We see it played out repeatedly in the stories of the Old Testaments, where the patriarchs of the three great monotheistic religions crisscross the desert offering and receiving hospitality in their tents not unlike Jordan’s modern Bedouins. In the New Testament, Jesus likens offering hospitality to strangers to offering hospitality to the Lord himself and goes even further in linking the lack of offering hospitality to being disowned on judgment day (Matthew 25:31-46).

This notion of welcoming strangers and offering hospitality is actually closely linked linguistically. Although time has shrouded the origins of the term in English, the Latin roots of the term “hospitality” are linked to the words for “guest” and “host.” The host in Latin was literally, “The Lord of strangers.” If we dig deeper and look at the Greek word used in such New Testament commands to “share with God’s people in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) and “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1st Peter 4:9), we find that the term is philaxenia. Think of the more familiar term philadelphia which is commonly translated “brotherly love.” Philaxenia on the other hand could be “strangerly love” or “love for the stranger.” We might be well advised to add this term to its three better known cousins (philadelphia, eros, & agape) in order to round out our understanding of the depth and importance of offering hospitality as an important aspect of love.

This is more than simply asking our brother who is always over if he wants a drink. It’s more than showing our Aunt Maddie who stopped in on her way to Florida where the bathroom is. It’s more than telling friends from church to “make themselves at home.” Think about it for a moment. Love for the stranger. Love for the stranger. Love for the stranger. Hospitality is an act of love; an act of love not for those who are like us, but for those who are unlike us.

Nothing could probably be farther from the modern American cultural psyche. From childhood we are taught to distrust strangers. Another Greek term might better sum up our attitude towards them: xenophobia. We usually keep strangers on the doorstep, talking to them from behind a chained door, if at all. If they cross that threshold no transformation takes place, they simply become strangers inside our house – invading our personal domain. Even with the best of friends and family we schedule visits days, or sometimes weeks in advance. We think that how we welcome a guest only reflects on us personally as individuals. Furthermore, in our modern society no one is really in need of provision and protection when they arrive on our doorstep, are they?

But perhaps we forget that we belong to a larger family … a tribe. A tribe whose head is Jesus, and our actions actually bring honor or shame to His name. Even if no one else sees how we welcome a guest in our home (or perhaps to think more broadly – our neighborhood, our city, our nation), He does and He has made it clear that welcoming the stranger is something that is very important to Him. This means getting over our fear of people who are different from us, those who might even on the face of it seem to be our enemies. I wonder if Jesus so highly values love for strangers because he realizes something vital, that perhaps we miss.

We are all strangers here.

Every last one of us, no matter nationality, race, tribe, or religion is a sojourner in this world. We are all just passing through.

And maybe, just like the occupants of the Bedouin tent deep in the desert, we are all in need of both giving and receiving hospitality when least expected and with no questions. After all, it is not only a matter of survival, but also of great honor.

The Rye Playland Head Scarf Incident: A Sad Day for America

If you keep up on news in the Muslim-American community the you probably now about the Rye Playland incident from the end of August during Eid al-Fitr. If not it was basically a situation that got way out of hand between police ans Muslim amusement park goers over the issue of head coverings. It ended up with several arrests and both sides pointing fingers. It was a hot news item for aproximately 5-days and then completely fizzled out. I even started a post on it and never finished it. I don’t really have the time to go back and clean it up for publication … so here is my original draft on the topic from Sept. 3rd. Sorry for any typos or dead links – this is my draft copy.

***Original draft post from September3rd begins here ***

For those of you who regularly follow this blog, you know I have been writing on my outsider’s perspective of the observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan here in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  The month is now over and Muslims here are celebrating Eid al-Fitr one of most important religious holidays on the Islamic calender.  The same was true of around 3,000 Muslims at Rye Playland in suburban Westchester County just outside of New York City on Tuesday.  This outing was organized by the Muslim American Society of New York and unfortunately what started as a family-oriented outing ended with allegations of religious discrimination, willful inciting of riots, police brutality and 15 arrests.

I have one more entry in my Ramadan series, but had to take a moment to address this sad news from America.  Actually, I have struggled all day with what to write.   As an American who has been living as a guest in Muslim nation for the past few years I read the news reports and blog entries on the incident with a heavy heart.  From my perspective the incident was completely avoidable and indicative of the cross-cultural shortsightedness plaguing America today.

If you are not familiar with the details of the incident, the following links might be helpful:

Lower Hudson Valley News Report

ABC Local report with video

My Summary of What Happened

Accounts vary on what actually took place and I am not a reliable reporter as I am a few thousand miles and a few days removed from what occurred.  However, after reading a bunch of articles on the matter this is what I’ve pieced together.  The special event was organized in advance between the Muslims American Society (MAS) of NY and Rye Playland.  News outlets have obtained e-mails exchanged between the two organizations that included information given on Playland’s safety policy re. “head gear” on certain rides.  For safety reasons the park bans all “head gear” on certain rides.  The MAS representative indicated that “there is going to be a lot of commotion about this” but the park administration indicated that they were firm on the policy and that it could not be changed.

It appears that the overwhelming majority of Muslim attendees were informed about the policy and had no trouble.  However, a few seem to have been uninformed.  One 17-year old Muslim woman appears to have been one of those who didn’t know about the policy and took umbrage at the fact that she was being denied access to a particular ride after refusing to remove her hijab, or head scarf.  She argued with the ride attendant and then complained whop management who would not change the policy.  This young lady then reports that she told other Muslim women in attendance who also were surprised by the restriction.  An argument between Muslim attendees then ensued.  Some said that the women should just take off their scarves.  Others declared that this amounted to religious discrimination.

Security personnel apparently stepped in to break up this argument between the Muslim attendees and that’s when things began to escalate.  Eyewitness reports vary but all seem to indicate that police who responded to the scene eventually forcibly grabbed a woman, pushed her to the ground and handcuffed her.  Others who saw this tried to intervene on her behalf and a large scuffle broke out including multiple police and around 30-40 Muslims.  Police were apparently caught on video using batons to subdue belligerents. One young man visibly bruised from the encounter reported to the news media that he was being hit by police even though he was not resisting arrest.  Others stated that in the chaos police were grabbing bystanders observing the scuffle and arresting them in the confusion.

100 officers and 60 units from 9 different departments responded to the scene.  The I-95 exit to the park was closed and the park itself was shut down for 2 hours in the aftermath of the incident.  Police officials state that only necessary force was used to keep the situation from getting more out-of-hand, but Muslim attendees claim that it was this use of force that escalated the situation in the first place.

My  Thoughts and Observations

As an outsider in a predominately Muslim society I experience Islamic culture in a way that most Americans do not.  I count many Muslims among my friends and have had almost 100% positive interactions while here.  It is through this lens that I view Muslims in general and this impacts the way I filter news about Muslims.  Below are some of my reactions to this sad incident.

The number of people involved

I’ve been caught up in two riots in and have observed a handful of mass demonstrations in my day.  These can be scary situations and the psychological dynamics of crowds are dicey at best.  To say that rational decision making goes out the window quickly is an understatement.  With reports of fights breaking out at a public facility in suburban New York with 3,000 Muslims in attendance I am sure that law enforcement personnel reporting to the scene were envisioning worst-case scenarios.  That said, it must be stated that only 30-40 park patrons were eventually involved in the altercation.  That is only around 1% of the Muslims in attendance and only 1/2% of all of those at the park that day.  This number seems important to me.  99% of the Muslims were not involved and apparently peacefully complied with park regulations and the orders of law enforcement personnel.

How it all started

An interview of the 17-year old woman who “started the whole thing” can be found here.  She was apparently told by the ride attendant to remove her “head gear” and she responded, ““This has nothing to do with headgear,this is my religion.”  From my perspective this is where it all could have been avoided.  This interchange is indicative of cultural misunderstanding and short-sightedness on both sides.  The park attendant was simply quoting park policy:

Hats must be secured, and jackets/sweaters must be worn properly and not around the waist while on a ride. Some rides do not allow backpacks, purses or head gear of any kind.

The park doesn’t “ban head scarfs” in particular as some sensational headlines make it seem, but rather bans all head gear on some rides.  The use of the term “head gear” seems to be an intentional catch all phrase to cover any and all items that might be worn on a persons head.  However, to a person of faith who wears a head scarf for religious and cultural purposes I can see how the term could come across as flippant, insensitive, or even disrespectful.  Head gear sound like something you wear at a hockey match or use to straighten your teeth.

*** end of original draft post ***

Now here are my final questions and comments to all parties involved:

1. To event organizers: knowing that this was going to be a hot-button issue with some of your constituents did you really do everything in your power to let people know about Playland’s policy? Really?

2. To the 17-year old girl who got so upset: I respect your wishes to cover your head as part of your religious and cultural practice. However, I seriously question your need to get upset about being denied access to an amusement park ride because of a safety rule in place for your own  protection (as well as the safety of others). The park is duty bound to protect its guests – if they are prohibiting all forms of head coverings on certain rides you cannot claim religious discrimination. Besides, sometimes God calls us to do certain things according to a different moral standard and this causes us to act differently than non-religious people. It seems to me that God calling you to wear a head covering is more important than being free to ride a roller coaster. In other words to be obedient to God’s commands sometimes we have to limit our own freedoms.

3. To Rye Playland Management and Staff: Do you uniformly enforce your no head gear policy? The young girl seems to indicate that you do not. If that is the case then you do open yourself up to charges of religious discrimination. Also knowing that this was going to be a hot-button issue did you do everything in your power to train your staff to handle the issue with sensitivity? Do employees need to call religious coverings “head gear?” Did you do everything you could to inform riders even before they bought tickets of you policies? By all accounts the Muslim group was 1/2 your ticket sales that day. I would say going the extra mile to ensure that size group is educated and satisfied is just common sense and good business. If it were me I would have made sure every person saw the policy at or before the ticket counter.

4. To security and law enforcement: it seems there are ways to de-escalate tense situations without throwing people on the ground, using batons, and handcuffing people. Given the small percentage of overall park goers actually involved in the incident it seems your response may have been disproportionate.  Not to mention it was their holiday.  Do you get that to them this would be like a Jewish cop throwing a Catholic girl on the ground and handcuffing her on Christmas? Perhaps more restraint was called for … but not of that kind.

5.  To all the conservative bloggers and fear mongers out there trying to turn this incident into something menacing:  knock it off.  At the core of this story is a 17-year old girl who (IMO) is a little bit immature and decided to take the wrong stand for her religion.  She has confused something that is a necessary inconvenience (giving up a roller coaster ride for the sake of her religious values) with religious discrimination. In the end, she’s just a teenager responding to things as teenagers do.  Stop trying to find some hidden Muslim agenda against America in every incident relating to Muslims.

I think this completely avoidable incident is indicative of the climate of fear and misunderstanding that still obscures the way most Americans view their Muslim American neighbors. A sad day indeed.

My thoughts on Ted Williams, homelessness and the value of fame in America

By now you must have heard of Ted Williams, the so called “golden-voiced homeless man” who in the span of a week went from living in a makeshift tent to being interviewed on the Today Show and being offered jobs with Kraft Foods and the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Even 6,000 miles away here in Amman, Jordan I heard about Ted’s story thanks to viral video and social networking sites.  The world is truly a small place these days.

Ted Williams interviewed on CBS

This story struck a chord with me, as I spent 4 years working closely, through a community-based non-profit organization, with those struggling with homelessness and poverty.  I recently had the honor of writing a couple of guest posts on my thoughts on the Ted Williams’ story over at my friend David’s blog, Signs of Life.  If you are interested in what I had to say please click the links below.

Ted Williams: YouTube, the grace of God, and a slow news day (pt 1)

Ted Williams: YouTube, the grace of God, and a slow news day (pt 2)

While you are over there, take a look at some of David’s previous posts. I’m sure you will find something worth your while.  He’s definitely worth an add to your favorite RSS feed reader.

Amman turns . . . 100?

Anyone who has paid any attention over the last several months knows that 2009 is the year marking Amman’s centennial.  Banners, flags, and special events have pointed to this fact all year.  2009 also happens to be the 10 year anniversary of HM King Abdullah II’s ascension to the throne, so all-in-all it truly is a banner year.

Amman's Centennial Logo and Parade graphic - whoever their graphic artist is he or she is talented!

Amman's Centennial Logo and Parade graphic - whoever their graphic artist is he or she is talented!

Festivities were in full swing this past Friday as both milestones were celebrated with a parade.  (Centennial website here, Parade website here) Special VIP seating had been being constructed for over a week along a main road near the Amman Municipality building.    Streets were blocked off and there were rumors of marching bands, camels, floats, and maybe even an appearance by the King himself!   Of course we had to check it out, but before I share some pics and thoughts – one question.

Amman turning 100 years old?  Huh!?!?

If Amman were only 100 years old, I kind of imagine her having a conversation like this if she showed up at a conference of capital cities of the world walking around in her cocktail dress (or hijaab, I suppose).  “Oh hi, my name is Amman.  No, no . . .  we’ve never met.  Well I only just turned 100, so it’s not even possible.  Maybe it was my older sister.  No, don’t feel bad – there is a slight family resemblance but we don’t really look anything alike.  No, her name is Rabbath.  That is an interesting name.  I don’t know. . .  maybe it’s sanskrit or something.”

Only 100 years old?

Amman is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet people!  (I’m going to go off on this for a few minutes.  If you prefer some pics and a brief report on the parade – scroll down!)

Amman (way) before she turned 100

Of course, I use the term city loosely, but there is apparently archeological evidence of habitation  way back in 8500 BC.  In more recent history (try 1300 BC – think Moses and the exodus) it was the chief “city” of those wild and crazy Ammonites of Biblical times.  Not to be confused with the extinct sea animals or the explosive substance of the same name, these Ammonites were apparently descendants from Lot and prohibited Moses and his band of Losties from passing through Ammonite territory on the way to the land of milk and honey.  How rude!  Undoubtedly the hilly location of Rabbath Ammon gave the Ammonites a strategic security advantage and they liked to keep it that way.

However, the Ammonites got their comeuppance in spades a few centuries later when King David took note of the city.  (Well, he first took note of a certain young bathing beauty.  But that is a story for another time.)  While King David was dallying in Jerusalem his army was fighting in the Ammonite capital.  They would eventually take the city and the territory.  David’s son Solomon even married to an Ammonite woman who bore his heir Rehoboam.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Rabbath Ammon had the good- or mis-fortune of being located at the crossroads of three continents, which meant for the most of ancient history very young men with very large armies, excess testosterone and no access to high-school sports, WWF, or XBOX took turns decimating each other and taking over this and other cities in the region.  The Assyrians, Persians, Maccabbees, Nabateans, Greeks, and Romans all had their moments of adding (or trying to add) Rabbath Ammon to their list of conquests and outposts.  Good times.

Brooklyn Museum archive photo of the Roman Amphitheater area in Rabbath Ammon towards the end of the Ottoman Period.

Brooklyn Museum archive photo of the Roman Amphitheater area in Rabbath Ammon towards the end of the Ottoman Period.

In Greek/Roman times the city became Philadelphia, a prominent city of the Decapolis.  After the guys in togas and leather kilts came the Islamic caliphates of the Umayyads and Abbasids.  Menswear started coming in longer one-piece options.   And then came the Ottoman Turks.  During this last period the city languished (I’m no scholar, but perhaps this had something to do with the advent of the Turkish bath and the sudden demise of menswear altogether) until it became a whistle-stop on the hijaz railway from Damascus to Medina.  Later, a flood of Circassian Muslims fleeing religious persecution in Russia swelled the ranks of the city in the late 1800s.  Large fur hats seemed to be an attempt at recapturing some dignity and fashion sense.  However, the city did not begin to return to international prominence until the events following World Wars I and II when the British, French, Americans, Russians and others played a huge game of Risk, reshaping the world with cartographic abandon as the nation-state came into vogue prime and tribal leaders such as Abdullah I were given their chance on the world stage.

NHL Sabres Canadiens Hockey 20080403It was during this last time period that the modern municipality of Amman was born.  The year was 1909. Those were simpler days.  Former President Teddy Roosevelt set out on an expedition of Africa, Earnest Shackleton claimed to have reached the South Pole, the Manhattan Bridge was opened, the Montreal Canadiens hockey club was founded, and the first Giro d’Italia bike race was held.

1909 Military FlyerBut there were also more ominous signs of the times back in 1909.  The US military bought their first aircraft from the Wright Brothers while, in supposedly unrelated circumstances, work began on the first anti-aircraft gun.  The US Navy started a base at Pearl Harbor, the Anglo-Persian Oil company (BP) was founded, the leader of the Ottoman Empire was deposed by his brother, and a housewife from Hackensack, NJ became the first female to drive cross-country.

But I digress.

Thoughts on and Pics of the Parade

See what 100 years will do to a place?

See what 100 years will do to a place?

In 1909 who could have imagined all that would happen in the next 100 years.  Around the globe, or here in Amman.  What was once a dusty desert outpost with a few palm trees and a bunch of ancient ruins is now a bustling modern metropolis of 2.5 million people!  What better reason to celebrate?  As I tried to explain to local friends here, we Americans don’t really need much of an excuse to hold a parade.  You could probably travel cross country by going to a parade-a-day during the summer in the States.

However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here.  The first clue is that its kinda hard to pin people down on the exact Arabic word for what we Americans would call a parade.  I asked a number of locals and they all gave me a different word for it.  And they all disagreed with the other people’s word choice.  From my perspective they all seemed to describe varying degrees of public political gathering and expression – from protest march to demonstration to military expo.

This, however was a bona fide American-style parade.  There were marching bands and floats and politicians in car and random corporate walkers and clowns and balloons and . . . Romans!

Roman soldiers start of the parade, because even if they weren't around in 1909 at least their ruins were.

Roman soldiers start of the parade, because even if they weren't around in 1909 at least their ruins were.

I’m glad to say the parade organizers made a nod to the city’s ancient history and led the parade off with a veritable legion of Roman soldier impersonators.  We were very happy to see them progressing towards us in rank and file.  The parade started around 3 PM from the Roman amphitheater (how aproppriate), we were about halfway down the route and it was 3:45 before we saw anyone.  While we waited another sure sign that parades are infrequent in Amman was the lack of staking out territory. If you live in the MidWest you know what I mean.  The night before a parade is the only time Americans will put personal property on the street.  It’s like there is an unwritten rule that you just don’t steal someone else’s parade chairs!  No lawn chairs here in Amman though – just lots of police and metal barriers lining the route.

You couldn’t even cross the street during the hour leading up to and during the parade.  Well, unless you knew a  police officer or the right pass phrase.   We hadn’t been let in on the secret handshake so were stuck on oour ne side of the barrier.  We found a spot where a tall building and a palm tree created some shade and noshed on some snack mix and biibsii while awaiting the Romans.

A crowd began to gather in our section well after the 3 PM start.  Fortunately we had metal barrier space.  Did I mentioned they were expecting 300,000 spectators?  Ok, so it wasn’t really that crowded – don’t think they got anywhere near that amount. But people did start milling about around 3:20 or so – many of them walking up and down the barrier line seemingly unsure of what to do until the parade arrived.  However, having staked out our claim in good American fashion we stood firm.

As they say a picture is worth a 1,000 word and as I have already surpassed that amount I should just let the pictures below speak for themselves.   Only few more thoughts/comment:

  • There was an unusual amount of people on stilts.  Including people who were obviously men dressed as women.
  • Bagpipers also seemed unusually popular in marching bands here.
  • There were in fact 10 floats (1 for each decade) but only one that I remember had people on it.
  • When politicians rode by in cars I said, “Huh?  I wonder who that is?” just like back home.
  • No one was throwing candy to the spectators.
  • Amman is infamous for having no lines on the streets to designate traffic lanes.  However, they painted two brand-spanking new lines along the entire parade route.  The end result is the main drag through the balad now appears to have one wide center lane and two narrow turning lanes on either side.
  • Apparently people saw the king at the parade on TV, but I didn’t see him in person.
  • After the parade finished there was a huge snarl of spectators following in it’s path and police vehicles try to get them to disperse.  I think this has to do with the fact that there is no suitable word for parade as a spectatorial progressing public celebration.  Case-in-point: a trusted source had told us she thought that everyone who wanted would be marching to recognize Amman’s centennial.

And in the end why not join in?  After all everyone loves a good parade, even if it’s called a “march”, “demonstration”, or “expo.”

(as always on my blog, clicking on a thumbnail below will open up a medium size pic. Clicking on that pic will open up a full-size version if you like that better.  Enjoy!)

And as my son said after the parade, “Huh! That was more relaxing than I thought it would be.”

Power Distance in Jordanian Culture

I have two other posts brewing – one on the Pope’s visit and another on the local zoo, but while those are percolating a little here’s a thought on . . .

Power distance in Jordanian Culture

In grad school we learned about “Power Distance” and the role it plays in culture.  Anyone who has had any significant cross-cultural experiences outside of the United States has probably noticed the effect power distance has on relationships and especially expected social responses.  I don’t have a text book definition for you but basically it is a way of classifying how power is distributed, expressed, and accepted (or not) within the society.  Countries are often classified as “High” or “Low” power distance, but most fall somewhere along a continuum.

In high power distance cultures there is a definite stratification of society.   The roles that social classes play in society are well defined, even if not clearly articulated.  Those in lower strata show deference to those in higher strata in various ways.  There is little chance to break out of one’s social strata.  Social strata are not merely determined by economic standing, but often also by “tribal” and family status.  In truly high power distance countries this is accepted as the norm of life, even by the “have-nots.”  In high power distance countries the roles of “patron” and “servant” are important, and people seem to intuitively know who is above and below them in the pecking order of life.  Often it is expected that people help the less fortunate while also serving those in better standing, in part knowing that someday a “patron” may come through for them in a sticky moment.

In a high power distance culture the king was meant to be a king and the pauper a pauper.  They will always remain that way and treat each other accordingly.  For the most part they are ok with that.

In low power distance cultures the stratification of society is less distinct.  The stratification that does exist is often upon economic lines.  There is an inherent belief in the culture that every person is (or can be) of equal standing.  There is an informality in the culture that allows people of different social classes to interact casually.  People on either end of the social-strata tend to obscure their true social standing, prefering to blend into the middle of society.  Titles and family lineage mean less than they do in high power distance countries.  Any sort of “patronage” system is often seen as wrong as one should accomplish thing’s on one’s own merits not based on who they know.  Even the lower strata of society should be treated with respect and equality.

In the low power distance culture the pauper may someday become king and the king a pauper.  The king may treat the pauper with respect even though the pauper thumbs his nose at the king.

All this to share with you one small vignette from our graduation ceremony from last night.  After songs were sung, speeches made and diplomas handed out the couple of hundred folks who were gathered were to share a meal together.   The director of the school made a few comments about the food service and said, “And of course let . . .”

How would you finish the sentence?

Let the graduates and their families go first?  The elderly?  Special guests?  Families with small children?

I think how you finish that sentence says alot about the power distance in the culture.

I can’t say verbatim, but it went something like, “And of course let our special guests, teachers, board members, graduates, and community leaders get in line  first.”

Several of us with small children were sitting near each other and just kind of laughed.  I’m so used to stateside people letting parents with small children go first when it comes to getting food.  One of the community leaders in attendance was an American friend of ours she came over and talked to us.  We asked why she wasn’t in line with the other VIPs and she said it made her feel weird because she wasn’t any different than anyone else.

Although I was slightly annoyed when we finally got through the line and the only thing left for our kids was rice full of nuts, onions, peas and carrots and roasted chicken with arab spices (not kid friendly – at least for our kids), I was also slightly amused by this obvious display of power distance being played out.  One culture seeing that people fall in different categories in society and that people with special status should be served first.  The other culture seeing that all people are equal and those with special needs should be served first.  Neither are inherently wrong or right, just very different.  Thoughts?  Comments?

Scary Rooms

This should have been a halloween post – I know!  But Arabic tests, sick kids, a failed NaNoWriMo attempt, and cross-cultural living have taken precedence over blogging.   It’s a shame, because there has been so much news and life-happenings to blog about.  But rather than tackle any of the huge issues of the day, I think I’ll ease back into blogging with a poll.  Namely a scary room poll.

attic

You remember that room don’t you?  From your childhood.  Maybe it was in your house, or maybe your grandparent’s farmhouse or your Aunt Ruth’s place.  It was THE scary room of your youth.  For whatever reason it just freaked you out.  Maybe it was the way it looked, or smelled, or felt.  Or maybe there was a story associated with it.  Or maybe there was no reason at all.

For me it was the basement.  Which kind of makes sense. We lived in modular home that was brand spanking knew back in 1977 (? maybe – mom?).  Typically scary rooms are found in old Victorian style homes, not pre-fab modern construction.  30 years later the brown and orange shag and the faux wood paneling might be scary design considerations, but what room could possibly be scary in a trailer on steroids?  But basements are another story, right? Basements can be scary no matter what home rests atop them.

Plus we had a story – in the 8mm home movie of the two halves of our home being rolled together – there was a man who clearly got crushed!  He was never heard of again, except on chilly, lonely evenings in the Fall.  Or so we liked to say . . .

So the basement was always a little scary.  I don’t think it was old Ichabod (that was the name of the “dead” contractor – scary, huh?) really, but rather the darkness and coldness.  Access to the basement was from a trapdoor on the back porch. On windy days it would slam shut, “trapping” you downstairs.  Where there were all the ingredients for terror: a musty old woodpile ful of spiders,  drippy pipes, cobwebs full of spiders, a crack in the floor, and the scary old wood stove.  If the light switch at the top of the basement stairs didn’t work I would run down the stairs, eyes closed and sprint across the room to the other switch downstairs.  We had found out that if you left that one halfway the one upstairs didn’t work at all, requiring a scary trip through darkness to turn on the lights.

Of course a flashlight would be an easy solution – but also a cop out.  Sometimes you just have to face your fears because being a wimp is so much more scary.  Of course after I read Lord of The Rings, I just pretended I was Samwise holding up the vial of starlight from Galadriel to chase away Shelob the giant spider. Did I mention that I have an irrational fear of spiders?  Oh – and that I’m pretty much a geek?

Shelob's Retreat

Anyways, It’s funny how light (real or imaginary) always dispelled the fears.

Anyways – that’s me.  What about you?  What was the scariest room for you growing up?  Try taking the poll below.  Hopefully my basement story won’t skew the results.  Options are listed below in alphabetical order (I think).  Please answer once and post any interesting stories in the comments.  In a couple of weeks I’ll post about this again.  (BTW – there is a tie in with Arab culture – there is a typical scary room here in Jordan and I’ve heard some amusing stories related to it.)

Thanks for voting!  Please do add a story or thought in the comments – what made the room scary to you?  How did you fight your fears?