Friday, February 18, 2011

Later today

I may have spoken too soon this morning...

Two of my friends were downtown early this afternoon and saw a large crowd of people near the Hussein Mosque.  This is not uncommon, but suddenly people started running in all directions away from the square in front of the mosque.  My friends, being the only women they saw, and certainly the only westerners, ran into a shop to hide.  Apparently what was going on was this.

Well I am not concerned at all for my personal safety (I was reassured by many of the unusual nature of even pro-government demonstrations, let alone what happened today), it is definitely an exciting time to be sitting here in the kitchen in Amman as popular movements seem to be erupting all over the region. 

Even today at the mosque, my host-father's sermon touched upon different meanings of 'corruption,' calling for an end to such corruption, rejoicing the victory in Egypt, and thinking of those fighting against corruption in Iraq and Palestine. 

Politics in Jordan

This morning I was woken by the sounds of car honking and sporadic gunfire.

No, Amman was not breaking out in rioting and protest like Bahrain, Yemen, Iran and other countries this week.  No, today was the day that the results of the exam at the end of high school are announced.  Many families celebrate by driving around Amman, making noise and shooting into the air. 

From what I have gathered since I have been here, this is classic Jordan, raucously celebrating personal education advancement with the tide of popular revolt sweeps across the region.  Many Jordanians are very proud with their reputation as the most stable, safest country in the Middle East, this title only more obvious in the recent months. As to why this is, I havent quite figured it out yet.  It's not as if the Jordanian public is particularly happy with their government (though when asked, everyone loves the king). Indeed, many of the people I have talked to think that the king needs to reform further than he has, and most are unhappy with the recently appointed prime minister .

However, this unrest seems to find little outlet.  My host family, despite being incredibly engrossed in the Egyptian Revolution--my host brother Mohammed rushed to the Egyptian embassy to join the celebration the night Mubarak stepped down--did not vote in the most recent elections here, because many of the opposition parties boycotted them.  This is perhaps the same with the majority of the population of Jordan, families of Palestinian origin who feel that they are only guests in Jordan, and thus participation in politics here is only temporary, and pointless. My host father came over from Palestine as an infant after 1948; my family describes itself as Palestinian.

So perhaps Jordan is so stable and consistent in its politics because much of the population is apathetic, the opposition parties see victory as unattainable in fixed elections, and the youth care more about education and jobs than votes and freedoms.  It's very complicated.

I'm glad I have a lot more time to figure this out.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Some training

Just finished my first real training week in Amman--one where I didnt try and run out an 11 hour plane flight in 30some minutes on a treadmill that went no faster than 6:10 pace and then hold the standard of mediocrity throughout the week. 

It feels really good to have put in 6 solid days this week, 8 out of the last 9. I read somewhere that when you're in a different and maybe more difficult time in your life, the best thing to do is live by the same routines.  For me, that's running everyday at just after 4, earlier on weekends.  55 miles isn't a lot of training by any means, but it wasnt hard, and it proves that I can in fact build up to some decent mileage here, contrary to what I had been told.

I run essentially the same run every day--the 2.high miles up Istiqlal street to the Sport City park, then around the 1.25 mile (by my 7min pace calculation) dirt trail. Hopefully I wont get too bored of it, at least for a while.  I hopped a fence to mostly derelict track beneath the dirt trail, above the soccer fields.  It was 6 lanes, 400m, and really pretty in the early afternoon on Saturday, looking out over Amman as I stepped around ancient water bottles and broken hurdles doing strides.

The other benefit of doing training when I'm living essentially on my own (as in not spending most of every afternoon with the team) is I constantly feel I'm in recovery mode.  I get to order twice the falafel sandwiches my classmates do, and still complain about being hungry. 

A standard dinner: two kinds of pita, cheese, yogurt, lamb stew, hummus, olive oil and thyme

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


When the news on the TV suddenly shut off a split second before the rest of the power in our neighborhood, I could hear the enduring melody of ‘happy birthday’ coming up from the large family party in the apartment beneath us.  My hand collided with the Sheik’s hand as we dropped our nut shells in the bowl, unconcerned of the dark.  His wife, restrained, collected, gathered candles and lit them as the children of this aging couple called from all over the building to check in. I certainly, had nowhere to go—it was only mid-morning on the west coast, my phone credit was low on dinars, and I reached for another Oregon hazelnut, my gift to them. Whether I wanted it or not I seemed to have reached a placating, inevitable patience here, Jordan.  I couldn’t rush through a meal, my homework, my run: Claremont was a world away.  When the lights returned, Abu Musa and I leaned back into the couch again, and let the candles burn a little. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

First days in Amman

This morning was the best weather I've seen in Amman.  It has been raining on and off since we arrived Monday night and the temperature has been unusually cold (mid 40s-50s).  Thus this merited the first daylight run I've done here, also my longest run.

 view from the hotel on the first morning
I headed out from the apartment building my family lives in.  Almost everyone in the building is part of my family.  My host-father is intimately called Abu Musa as his eldest son is Musa, but his full name is Sa'ad al Din Zeidan.  Abu Musa is apparently one of the most popular Imams in Amman and this Friday I watched him deliver a long and impassioned sermon (of which I only caught a few words) in his mosque--packed for Friday noon prayers.  His website is here (if you use Google Chrome it can translate the page for you). It was interesting to think during the service that just a few hours south in Cairo, thousands of men were doing what I was doing, but upon leaving the mosques they headed to protest, while I headed home for lunch. 
our building.  the balcony off my kitchen is top the right

I live upstairs from Abu Musa and his wife with two of their sons, Mohammed and Omar.  I have my own room and bathroom, which is very nice.  Mohammed is getting his Masters in translation, so in addition to speaking English with him, he can tell me what the problems are with the Arabic I use.  Often I ask him questions in Arabic and he responds in English.  Abu Musa speaks good English, but his wife speaks hardly any.  I have met a few of their ten children and all speak at least a little English. 
Mohammed watching Abu Musa back out the Benz to go to mosque

On that day I actually ate downstairs with another kid on my program, Fernando, and his host-family in their apartment.  Fernando is a Muslim convert from Brooklyn whose family here is very close to mine.  He has taken no Arabic, unfortunate as his family speaks almost no English except for their 9 year old son, Nayef.  Jordanian culture is very big on eating, and a way of showing hospitality is by offering food.  Thus long after we had eaten our fill, Fernando's host mom kept telling us kul! (eat!). After all this eating and the hookah I smoked with Mohammed last night, chatting about Arab politics and culture (in English), it felt good to get out for a run.

I ran north on Istiqlal Street, one of the major thoroughfares in the city, for about 2 miles. I turned off and wound my way through side streets carefully examined on Google Maps until I reached my destination.  I had seen Sport City on maps, but a websearch of 'running in amman' confirmed my hunch about a good place to run.  Called in Arabic Medina al Hussein Shebab, the complex boasts multiple soccer fields and tennis courts, basketball and squash buildings, national sports administration, and a dirt running trail.  It was nice to get away from the streets full of cars with no care for pedestrian right-of-way.  Running in Amman isn't that difficult: bad air, lots of highway, a lot of curious looks and few honks from cars.  In short, not too different from running in suburban LA county. 

Back home I made Arabic coffee and did reading for class tomorrow.  At 8am Fernando and I will take a cab (cabs make up a 1/4 of all cars in Amman, by one figure I heard) to our program building.  A three story house in Abdoun, an upscale westernized neighborhood to south of us, holds the offices and classrooms for all of School for International Training (SIT) Amman.  A total of 25 students take classes together about modernization and social change in Jordan and the Middle East and about how to conduct research, in addition to three hours of Arabic a day (both colloquial and standard, split into four levels according to experience). 

Abdoun suspension bridge to the Abdoun neighborhood

There's still time for a short (or long, actually) nap before the large dinner of mansaf planned with all my family and Fernando's family to welcome us into their homes.  Dinner here is really late, like 1030 or so.  More later. 
from King Hussein Park looking east over Amman

the Children's Museum in Hussein Park
driving in Amman
half of my bedroom