الشعب يريد سيدنا أب حسين

Well, another week has come and gone, believe it or not.  This week had a lot of the same ol’-same ol’ type stuff – school, homework, speaking, etc. – but there were a couple of note-worthy things as well.  It was brought to my attention by Dil this week in class that we only have two more weeks of class here in Amman.  Two weeks of class, a week of tests and then it’s off to Israel for the last two weeks or so of the semester.  Didn’t we just get here?  How has most of the semester already passed us by?

Monday night we participated in a service project at the chapel.  The senior missionary couple who live at the chapel spend most of their time doing humanitarian work in the refugee camps around here and were putting together hygiene kits for Syrian refugee kids at one of the camps.  What we did was mostly just rolling up and packaging blankets for the kits, but it was a lot of fun getting together and doing that.  While it still feels too early for this kind of thing to me, Christmas music was playing while we were packing the blankets and I think that did have something of a cheering affect of the activity.

The biggest event from this week though was Wednesday night.  As I’m sure you are all at least vaguely aware, the World Cup will be taking place next year in Brazil.  Which means qualifier games are going on right now.  The Jordanian national team has never qualified for the World Cup before.  Right after we got here, Jordan played and beat Uzbekistan (I think), which put them closer to making it into the World Cup than they’ve ever been before (this is a big, big deal.  Jordanians, like most of the world outside the States, take their soccer very, very seriously).  However, before actually qualifying for the World Cup Jordan had to face one last opponent and the luck of the draw had it that said opponent should be Uruguay.  This was a fairly big disappointment for Jordanians because the Uruguay national team is really good.  Like somewhere among the top ten in the world.  But getting to play them to qualify for the World Cup is still a bigger deal than anything Jordanians have ever experienced.  Ever.  So the first of the two matches between the teams was this Wednesday here in Jordan.  And wouldn’t you know it, but the Amman International Stadium just so happens to be a 10 or so minute walk from my apartment (it’s located inside this huge sports complex known as Sports City, which is also where I happen to go to the gym most mornings).  Did I mention that the price of tickets to this game started at 3JD (that’s maybe $5)?  How many opportunities do you get to attend a World Cup qualifier match, much less in a foreign country, much less for dirt cheap prices?  Oh, you know I was all over that.

It turned out to be a bit more involved than initial considerations would indicate.  First of all, within hours of going on sale every ticket was sold out.  I guess that’s to be expected for the biggest game that has ever taken place in Jordan.  So, ever since we got back from Petra I’ve had a new speaking partner at Qasid, a guy named Abdullah.  So at the beginning of the week I was talking to him and he asked if I was planning on going to the game.  I told him of course I wanted to go, but wasn’t sure how to get a ticket.  “No problem,” he told me.  “This is what you have to do.  Go over to Sports City.  Go in the first gate.  You know the parking lot there?  There will be an old, blue pickup truck.  There’s a guy sitting in the truck.  Go up to him and say hello.  He’ll say hello back.  Ask him about tickets.  He’ll say, ‘Tickets? What tickets? What are you talking about?’  Tell him a friend told you he has tickets.  Then he’ll ask you how many you want.  Tell him how many you want.  He’ll probably try to charge you extra because you’re American, but you should be able to get a ticket for ten to twenty JD.”  I promise I’m not making any of this up.  It made me laugh so hard, because that is SO Jordanian.  But ya know what?  That is exactly how my roommates and I got tickets.

So the other complication was there were a few girls in the program who also wanted to go to the match.  That in itself is of course not a complication.  But, as you may know, Arab culture sometimes takes a somewhat different view of women, particularly Western women, than Westerners tend to.  Dil told us that he wouldn’t prohibit the girls from going, though he did strongly discourage it.  Apparently last year on this program a couple girls went to an international soccer match and encountered some… problems.  Like, they were assaulted by shabab (young Arab men).  So Dil told us that if girls were going to go to the match there had to be at least two guys escorting each one of them.  As I already mentioned, this was going to be the biggest game played in Jordan and no one, even our Jordanian teachers, really knew what to expect about how crazy things might get at the stadium.  When my teacher, Fadi, found out some of the girls were going with us his reaction went something along the lines of, “Uhhhhhh….I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

But go we did.  I think all in all there were between 15 and 20 students from my program who got tickets to the match, including three girls.  The match started at 6:00pm but we got there around 3:00pm.  It was pretty crazy.  Everything around Sports City was crammed full of people.  And there were police EVERYWHERE.  All along the road to the stadium there were guys selling Jordanian flags, shemaghs, bandannas, face paint, etc.  Before heading over we organized ourselves into teams with certain guys assigned to look out for certain girls and we basically just made human shields around each of them to push our way through the crowds.  Right at the entrance to the stadium this one guy was just handing out these paper top-hat type things with the Jordanian flag colors on it.  Once we were inside the stadium I seriously felt like we were celebrities at a huge party.  There was music blasting and everyone was cheering and dancing and chanting slogans (remember, this was three hours before the start of the match) and when they saw this group of American kids walking by wearing Jordan colors everyone would go crazy, cheering even louder, screaming and waving their arms at us.  It was so crazy, but also kind of hilarious.

So yeah, we sat down with all the Jordanians and joined in chanting slogans and clapping our hands for the three hours until the game started.  The most popular chant is the title of this post, which translates to “The people want our lord/master Abu Hussein” (aka King Abdullah).  It was actually kind of cool, one half of the stadium would yell out the first part (“The people want!”) and then the other half of the stadium would respond with the second half (“our lord Abu Hussein!”).  They had several slogans and songs like that, which they kept up, nearly uninterrupted, until the start of the game.  One of the Jordanian guys sitting near me actually gave me a shemagh, which was pretty dang cool since I’d been planning on buying one before I leave anyway.  Just another evidence of the generosity of Jordanians.

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Maybe this is gonna sound weird, but the time before the start of the match was kind of more fun than the game itself.  Once things got under way it quickly became apparent that the Jordanian team was pretty seriously outmatched by the Uruguayans.  The score at half-time was 2-0 with Jordan behind, but the Uruguayan team didn’t seem like they’d even been trying all that hard.  Half-time was still fun though.  We pulled out some of the food we’d brought with us and so did the Jordanians around us and we enjoyed chatting with them and sharing food with one another.  Seriously, such good times.   We decided it would be safer to leave before the end of the game in smaller groups (again with the guys making human shields around the girls).  I was in one of the last groups to leave, getting close to 80 minutes into the match, and as we were walking out the Uruguayans scored their fourth goal.  The final score ended up being 5-0.  Kind of painful to watch, but still an unforgettable experience.

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It had been while leaving the stadium last year that bad stuff happened so we were extra on our guard, and extra protective of the girls, and we all got everyone home without any problems.  Life is good.

I’m still doing my martial arts classes with the kids at that one center.  I went last Saturday and again yesterday.  Kids are crazy and hilarious and a lot of fun.  I’m glad I get the chance to be here and to do the things I’m doing.

A couple weeks ago I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting today in the Arabic branch.  Thankfully, today I made no mistakes with mixing up generosity and urine.  There were a number of American visitors in the branch today, a couple here from the church’s humanitarian services department (I think.  Something like that anyway) and a handful of doctors and nurses here doing clinics to teach Jordanian doctors how to do neonatal resuscitation.  Why were they at the Arabic branch instead of the English one?  I sure couldn’t tell ya.  But because they were there right after I started speaking the branch president tugged on my elbow and asked me to do my own interpreting.  That was a first.  I did interpreting for other people plenty of times in Spanish on my mission, but I’ve never had to give a talk in one language and then repeat exactly what I’d just said in another language.  I kept forgetting that I needed to stop and repeat myself in English.  It was quite an experience.  It was also gratifying in the sense that it helped me realize that I actually have made a good amount of progress with my language.  It’s so hard to mark progress in yourself with language learning (or really anything I suppose) while it’s happening, but on reflecting on my talk today I realize that I couldn’t have spoken about the things I did, with the fluency with which I spoke, a couple months ago when I first got here.  So that’s something I’m really grateful for.

Well folks, that’s about it for this week.  Hope this next one is great for all of you!

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What happened this week?

That’s the question I keep asking myself as I’m thinking about writing this post.  It was a pretty average week.  Lots of class.  Lots of homework.  What else…?

Here we go.  So last Saturday we didn’t have any unique trips to take.  I was scheduled to volunteer at the center with my martial arts class in the afternoon, so in the morning I went with a couple of my roommates to the Jordan Museum downtown.  I know I’ve said it before, but here it comes again.  There’s so much history around here!  The museum is still fairly new and they’re still working on setting a lot of it up but the exhibits that were open had some really cool artifacts and information about the history not just of Jordan but of the human race in general.  The exhibit that I was most interested in seeing was one that contains some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Really, really cool.  So there was that.

It was actually a shorter week than normal.  Turns out this Thursday (yesterday) was the New Year of the Hijri (Islamic) Calendar so it was a national holiday.  No school!  You would think I would have done something mega epic and awesome with a full extra day off, right?  Wrong!  There was a lot of discussion about what we could do with our day off and there were a number of options, but no one could agree or come to a consensus about what we should all do so… nothing was decided.   So what did I do with my day off?  I went to the gym in the morning and had a nice, long workout without feeling rushed to get to class like usual.  I even sat in the sauna in the changing room for a little while, which felt soooo nice.  Then I came home and read my C.S. Lewis book and played the guitar I’m borrowing from another student here.  In the evening my roommates and I went out and had dinner at this restaurant that does Gulf food and it was delicious.  So though I didn’t do anything particularly special, it was in fact an exceptionally restful and nice day off.

And that’s really all I have to say about this week.  Hope y’all’s week was nice!  Have a good one!

Playing Catch-up

I didn’t get around to posting last week.  Whoops.  The week after Petra was a fairly regular week of getting back into the groove of studies and speaking, etc.  It was a little bit difficult after playing tourist the way we did the week of Eid, but we managed to get back into it.  The general feeling among the students I think since our return from the trip is there’s now no big event to look forward to between now and the end of the semester when we head to Israel, so there’s something of a post-holidays blues feeling.  To be honest, I think around this point of every school semester, whether you’re in Jordan or otherwise, it’s typical to hit something of a slump.  The initial excitement of a new semester is long gone, your days are filled with classes and assignments and the adrenaline of coming up on the end hasn’t yet kicked in.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to falling prey to this slump myself, at least a little bit.  In all honesty, for my part what I’ve been feeling kind of burned out on is mostly the reading assignments we’re given each day.  We’re given a sizeable load of news articles we have to read and translate or write about each day that typically takes around two hours to get done and I’ve been doing this kind of stuff since back in my DLI days.  So while I still greatly enjoy my classes and working on my speaking, the thought each day as I get out of class that I have a couple hours of reading/translation work to do makes me inwardly groan.  There are just so many more interesting things I’d rather be doing with my language!  That being said, I don’t want to let the opportunity of this study abroad slip me by.  Judging by the speed with which this past week went by I feel like I’ll be packing my bags to head back to the States before I know it.  I’m not ready for that yet!

So last week Dil found there was a little extra money in the budget so on Saturday we were able to get a bus to head up to the Ajloun area (about an hour to the north and west of Amman) where we spent most of the day.  The first place we went to was Ajloun Castle, which was built by the nephew of Salah Al-Din (or Saladin as he’s more commonly known to the West).  Now, as you know, we’d been to a couple of Crusader castles already, but I actually liked this one more than the other two I think.  It was in better condition and was more fun to explore.  There were all sorts of fun nooks and crannies to find.  Castles.  Few things excite my inner six year-old boy like ancient castles.

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After the castle we visited a tiny little village that is believed by many to be the birthplace of the prophet Elijah.  Archaeologists recently discovered the foundations of a Byzantine church built there in reverence to Elijah and there is now something of a shrine there.  A tree that is growing there is covered with tiny little prayer flags that people have tied to it.  That was a neat little place to visit. 

Ajloun is home to the Ajloun Nature Preserve, which is a good-sized forest covering the hills up there.  It was super pretty, and not really expected.  When I thought about coming to Jordan I never really pictured rolling hills covered in trees.  We stopped there for lunch and picnicked among the trees.  It was really nice.

After lunch we took a nature walk that lasted about an hour and took us through a couple small villages and a number of olive groves.  It’s currently olive season so lots of people were out harvesting olives.  It was a really nice, beautiful and peaceful walk.  Jordan really is a beautiful place.

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We finished off our adventures for the day by stopping on our way home at one of the many olive presses in the area.  It was cool to see how families from all over come with huge bags full of olives and dump them into these machines and have olive oil come out the other side.  Fun fact about olives: if you pick an olive off of a tree and stick it in your mouth it won’t be a very pleasant experience.  They’re extremely bitter.  The olives that people eat have soaked in a brine for days (if not weeks) before they’re edible.  But when you press those freshly-picked olives the oil that comes out of them is sweet and wonderful and ready to be used.  I think there are some cool Gospel applications that can be pulled from that.  But I’ll leave the details of those applications to your capable selves 🙂

One of the biggest events from this past week was Skyping home to my family on Sunday.  Aside from emails and the like I haven’t talked to any of them since I got here, but as this was basically the last chance I’d have to see my little sister before heading off on her mission to Brazil I stayed up late to catch them all just after they got home from church.  It was really great seeing everyone, and especially talking to Amanda about all the exciting experiences that are in front of her.  

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to start volunteering at a local…I’m never sure what to call it.  A center.  It’s a place in a poor neighborhood here in Amman that helps the kids and women in the neighborhood.  Anyway, last week was the first time I went to volunteer there and I went for the second time yesterday (I’ll be going back tomorrow).  A number of students in my program are volunteering there in different capacities.  Some are doing english or math tutoring with the kids, others are teaching music, art and yoga classes.  I am doing a martial arts class with another guy in my program who got his black belt in Tae Kwon Do a number of years ago.  It’s been fun to jump back into teaching elementary school-aged kids like when I used to teach after-school karate classes at an elementary school when I was in high school.  Things at the center here are sometimes not super well organized so I’m not able to impose the kind of discipline I was accustomed to back then so there are moments where I feel like we’re herding cats, but I’ve been having a blast with those kids.  And it’s good for my Arabic too, because if you say something a little bit off kids have no problem telling you that you sound weird, where adults might be too polite to mention it.  I should be doing these martial arts classes every Thursday and Saturday for the rest of this month, which I am pretty happy about.

Last thing for this week, we had a Halloween party at my apartment last night (October 31 on a Thursday was perfectly timed for us as that’s our last day before the weekend).  The idea for the party was not mine or any of my roommates’, but we have the biggest apartment so we got to play host.  Nearly everyone in the program (including Dil and his wife) were able to at least stop by for a while.  It was a lot of fun.  And I was impressed at some of the costumes people were able to put together in a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween.  As for myself I dressed up as my roommate Anthony and he dressed up as me.  In all honesty that was a lot more fun than it probably sounds.  In addition to wearing each other’s clothes we tried copying certain mannerisms of the other as well (for example, Anthony is always drumming on stuff, so I did that all night, or there’s a certain chair in our apartment I usually sit in that Anthony made sure to sit in).  Anthony and I are around the same height and have roughly similar builds so people legitimately kept thinking each of us was actually the other throughout the night.  I lost track of how many times people gave me a double take and said, “Oh my gosh, I totally thought you were Anthony again!”  Maybe you’d have to know both of us to really understand how funny it was, but there was a costume contest and the two of us won the “Funniest Costume” category.  

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Just to explain a little bit, I go to the gym near our school and shower there every morning before class, so I show up to class wearing that beanie because it helps keep my freshly wet hair under control.  Also, Anthony never smiles in pictures.  

Anyways, I hope you all had a great week and a happy Halloween.  Here’s to another great week!