Rap, Jazz, the Pope, etc.

Oh man, I have a lot of catching up to do.  It’s been a busy several days.  As I predicted in my last post, we didn’t actually start working at the Ministry until this past Thursday (AKA the day right before the start of the weekend).  I got in some good times at the gym and reading my book (I’m nearly finished with Anna Karenina) at the beginning of the week. The day we started work at the ministry was also about the same time that we got an internet router put into our apartment.  So that’s been kinda nice to have.  But let’s talk about Thursday til now.

I spoke with the director I report to first thing Thursday morning, and he gave me a thick packet and told me this would be my first project: translating this beast of a report.  It’s about 20 pages of the most dense, technical social sciences language you could imagine.  I’m really good at translating from Arabic to English. English to Arabic is substantially harder.  But ما عليش, that’s what I’m here for.  So that’s what I’ve been working on each day I go into the ministry (I’ve now spent three full days working on it and I’ve finished almost five pages).  I have a desk in an office that I share with a guy named Mahmoud.  He’s a pretty funny, nice guy.  It’s nice being able to stop and chat and joke with someone every 20 or 30 minutes throughout the day.  And it’s helpful for improving my dialect language skills.  So overall I’m pretty pleased with how things have been going there so far.

At the end of the day on Thursday someone came into my office and told me the intern supervisor wanted to see me in her office.  When I went she gave me some flyers for a concert that was happening that night and said I should go with the other BYU interns if we didn’t have plans.  Then she also gave me a stack of tickets to see the Pope on Saturday.  I guess I should back up a little bit. For the last week or so we’ve been hearing about how the Pope was gonna be here in Jordan and how all the Christians were really excited for it.  There are posters and billboards all over the city with pictures of the Pope and the King on them.  It’s kinda a big deal.  Anyway, some of the interns really, really wanted to go but none of us knew how to get tickets.  And the intern supervisor at the Ministry just knew that I was a Christian and assumed I would want tickets so she got a whole bunch of them for me.  Pretty cool, huh? So everyone got pretty excited when I came home that afternoon with a stack of tickets to see the pope.

But before we get to that, Thursday night.  A group of us did end up going to the music concert that night.  I wasn’t really sure what kind of music it would be, or really what to expect at all.  It turned out to be a rap concert featuring a lot of local artists and it was supposed to be promoting positive environmental action in Jordan.  Call me crazy, but I actually really liked it. It was in a cool outdoor amphitheater and the music wasn’t completely awful.  Some of it I might even say was good.  And it was just a lot of fun to see all the Arab youth there enjoying themselves.  Somehow, and this is the part I don’t really get, some semi-famous rapper from Germany was there and also performed, which I guess was kind of a big deal.  I don’t really know, the best part about that was the jokes and impersonations that have resulted from some of the stuff he said (“Let’s make pahty so haahd!” Just say it in the most exaggerated Arnold Schwarzenegger voice you can imagine and you’ve got it).  It was a really fun night.


“Everybahdy jamping! Jaaa!”

Friday we went to church, which was really great.  I love going to church in Arabic.  I was asked to help bless the sacrament and there’s just something about hearing the sacrament prayers in Arabic that really is meaningful for me.  At the end of church one of the members of the branch presidency came up to me and asked me to speak in sacrament meeting this upcoming Friday.  They really didn’t waste any time this go-around.  So if you maybe want to send up a prayer or two (or three or four or more) that I don’t entirely embarrass myself this Friday I wouldn’t discourage you.  In all sincerity though, as with any time I speak in sacrament meeting, I just hope I can say something that will help people feel the Spirit.  Language barriers! They can be so imposing at times.

In the evening after church Kaiti had gotten tickets for all of us to go to a jazz concert.  It was a pretty swanky deal, held at the Grand Hyatt hotel.  It was really enjoyable and relaxing.  After the concert we walked a few blocks down the street to Souq Jarra, a market that’s held each Friday evening just off of Rainbow Street.  I had never been before and it was really cool to see all the different stalls and things that people were trying to sell. I’m not much for trinkets and jewelry and such, so, while I enjoyed walking through and seeing everything, not much really caught my attention.  Something that did, however, was a small ceramic that had the first few lines of a poem painted on it.  This past winter semester I took a Modern Arabic Literature class where we read and analyzed several short stories and poems in Arabic (by the way, from a linguistic standpoint, diving into the world of Arabic literature is a whole new ballgame after all the newspaper articles I’ve read and conversational Arabic I’ve worked on).  There were two poems the teacher required us to memorize and recite and this little ceramic had the first few lines of one of those poems.  It’s by a rather famous (now deceased) Palestinian poet name Mahmoud Darwish and is titled “أحن إلى خبز أمي”(“I Yearn for My Mother’s Bread”).  If you are ever looking for something to do, go check it out (I’m pretty sure you can easily find an English translation online).  The whole thing is the poet talking about all the things about his mother and his childhood he misses and yearns for, and it’s all basically a metaphor for the displaced Palestinian people yearning for their lost homeland.  Anyway, I think it’s a beautiful poem and seeing that little ceramic and remembering the poem contributed to an already peaceful and beautiful Amman evening.


Saturday morning I got up early and tried running to the gym. I got to the gates of Sport City only to find them closed, as I should have expected since the Pope’s mass was going to be held in the stadium there.  So I turned around and headed back home to wait til the afternoon.  The Pope was supposed to make his arrival at 4pm but they were going to close the gates at 2pm so we went and waited in the sun for a good bit of time. As I mentioned, this was all in the stadium at Sport City, which is in fact the exact same stadium where I attended the Jordan-Uruguay World Cup Qualifier match last fall.  Though it was quite a different context this time around, there was a similarly strong display of nationalism.  Jordanian flags and shemaghs everywhere!


One of the girls in my group mentioned in passing, and I think it bears repeating, “It’s kinda cool to think that all these people believe in Jesus Christ.”  Looking around, I realized that it in fact really is cool.  And though the place was swimming in Jordanian and Vatican flags, we were clearly not the only ones there not from Jordan.  Just to our left was a group of Argentines (the current pope is from Argentina) and just beside them was a good-sized group of Lebanese Christians.


Argentines in blue, Lebanese in red

I saw several pockets of people waving Iraqi flags (including the guy directly behind me).


You can always tell an Iraqi flag from that “الله أكبر” (God is greater/est) written in the middle

I even saw a handful of Sri Lankan flags.  It was really cool.  At any rate, the Pope did eventually arrive, to great fanfare (and a ridiculously cheesy song they played more times than I cared for that had obviously been written just for the occasion. Sometimes you can’t help but love Arabs for their ridiculousness).


There he is. His Pope-mobile entered the stadium just in front of where we were sitting and then did a lap around the stadium before ending at the huge tent from which he conducted the mass.

You know, you might think that someone like me who has spent as much time around Catholics as I have would have attended a mass before (at least I would think someone like me should have been to at least one).  But in fact this was my first.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Outdoors, in the sun, with the Pope, surrounded by Arabs, and conducted in a bizarre mix of Arabic, Latin, English and Italian.  Seems like a great first Catholic mass to me.  And truly, I enjoyed it.  Relying heavily on my Spanish and straining to remember the one semester of Italian I took almost four years ago, I was able to understand a good bit of the Pope’s sermon (and most of what I missed I picked up after he sat down and some guy stood up and repeated the entire thing in Arabic).  And I liked it.


Not a great shot, but it was pretty far away and I didn’t have my real camera with me.  At any rate, that’s the Pope speaking at the pulpit.

What did we do after the Pope? I don’t remember.  But it probably involved shawarma (my favorite Arab street food item).  Anyway, the following day, Sunday, was Jordan’s ‘Eid Al-Istiqlal, or Independence Day.  Kaiti, who was here last year, said there would be a big parade near our apartments so we went to that spot in the early afternoon and found…nothing but ordinary traffic.  I went up to a police officer standing nearby and asked him if there was going to be a parade.  With a confused look on his face, he said no and asked me why I wanted to know.  Feeling kinda dumb, I informed everyone what he had said (oh yeah, I don’t know if I mentioned, but only four or five of the nine of us speak Arabic), and we decided to head down to the city center and see if anything was going on around there, and we spent most of the rest of the evening there.  There was some sort of celebration going on just outside the Roman Amphitheater, so we hung out there for a while.  Just as the sun was beginning to sink down, we found some prime seating on top of the small amphitheater beside the main, large one and enjoyed watching the people below us walk around and dance and enjoy the music that was playing.


Sometimes life is really, really cool.

Yesterday was back to work, where I spent the whole day working on that blasted document.  In the evening we had a small FHE-sort of deal.  We went to a local shopping complex with a bowling alley and had a good time bowling.  Afterwards we went back to the girls’ apartment and made s’mores by roasting marshmallows over their stove and putting them in between chocolate digestive biscuits.


Another gutter-ball.  Typical.

And that brings us to today.  I again spent the whole workday translating that report about diversion to home-based treatment programs for delinquent youth in the juvenile justice system (See? Didn’t you get bored just reading that in English? Blegh.  But ما عليش) This upcoming weekend we have a trip planned to go to the baptismal site and the Dead Sea, so be looking forward to that! Also, a report on how my talk went.  Have a great week everyone!



Burglaries and Bicycles


I’m back! It’s been just over a week now since I got here and it’s been great. I don’t have internet in my apartment right now (which may or may not be changing at some point) so I’ll try to update this as close to weekly as possible. But there are no guarantees.

So yeah, I got here last Saturday afternoon after a mostly uneventful flight and got settled into my new apartment. I’m living with four other students from BYU and there are three female students from BYU living just across the street from us. I’m in a different neighborhood of Amman than when I was here this past fall but it’s not too far from there.

Just after we all arrived we found out that the Ministry of Social Development, where we’ll all be working this summer, was doing special training all this past week so we wouldn’t be able to start work until this week. So we’ve kinda just been hanging out in the meanwhile. It’s been a mostly low-key week as a result. I’ve visited some of my favorite spots around Amman, done some reading (for anyone interested in following my summer reading list, I finished American Sniper – the Autobiography of Chris Kyle and am currently about 300 pages into Anna Karenina), and been to the gym a few times. Thursday evening one of our professors from BYU, Kirk, arrived, though he is only going to be here for another week or so.

Friday was the Sabbath and we went to the brand new church building here in Amman, not realizing that it was going to be a district conference. So we were about an hour early. Oh well, it was good. There were three general authorities here for the meeting: Elder Catcher, Elder Porter and Elder Carlson, all of the Seventy, as well as the district president, Kareem Aswad, and the district Relief Society president, who were both here from Lebanon. I only attended the morning Arabic session and it was fantastic. Great from both a linguistic and spiritual aspect. It was great seeing and catching up with many of the Arab members. I was particularly interested in what the senior missionary couple from the north branch in Al-Husn had to say about how things are going up there. Get this: they came down with 39 people for the conference and 20 of them were non-members. Yes. Twenty. That’s amazing! The sister was telling me that in their weekly institute class the non-members regularly outnumber the members who show up. She said the frustrating thing is that they, as Americans, can’t proselyte and teach them, and the Arab members who could don’t have their own vehicles to visit these interested non-members. Sounds like a missionary’s dream come true. They seemed very anxious to have me come to their branch again, which I am also anxious to do, so that’s something to look forward to.

Friday night was also quite eventful. Most evenings we hang out at the girls’ apartment and so I was over there when Kirk showed up and asked me to accompany him in visiting an Arab member of the Amman branch. If you recall from last fall, I often went with my friend Jessica to visit a mostly inactive returned missionary girl here in Amman to have her teach us the Preach My Gospel lessons in Arabic. Kirk had known her before her mission (and actually saw her while she was on her mission when he spoke at a conference in her mission) and had just learned of her inactivity and was anxious to go see her. Since he knew she and I are friends he asked me to go with him, which I was happy to do. We had a really nice visit with her and her mother.

On the taxi ride back I got a phone call from Kaiti, the internship facilitator who lives with the girls, telling me to hurry back because my apartment had been broken into. My immediate thought was, “Oh no, I left my laptop on the table in the front room right by the door. That’s surely gone!” So, let me just explain what happened. The professor and I had left my apartment just before 9:00pm for our visit. Seth, one of my roommates, left the girls’ apartment and came back to our apartment around 10:00pm and found the lock on the door broken and all of our stuff thrown around and thoroughly searched through. Once I got back and we all went through our stuff we found that the only thing the thief/thieves took was cash. My laptop was still right where I left it, and my brand new camera that I bought just before I came here, though it had been taken out of its bag and tossed on the floor, was still here as well. We all thought it was really strange that none of our valuables were taken, only cash. I’m really grateful, but it’s strange nonetheless. I carry very little with me while I’m here in Jordan. I leave my wallet in my suitcase and only take my super cheap local cell phone with me as well as enough cash to cover any expenses I might incur that day. My wallet had been thoroughly looked through, most of my things had been taken out and scattered on the floor, but miraculously, my ATM card was not taken. Unfortunately for me, I had just gone to an ATM the day before and pulled out a good chunk of change, most of which I was keeping in my suitcase, and all of that was gone. But, and I hope you all understand the sincerity with which I feel this, things are just that: things. Everything that would have truly made my life inconvenient had they been stolen was not taken, and even if they had I wouldn’t have been too heartbroken about it. I still could have figured out ways to be just fine. As far as getting robbed goes, I feel pretty good about things.

I’m gonna interject here that getting robbed like this shouldn’t be grounds for anyone being overly concerned about me. Jordan is a very safe place to live. Violent crime is virtually non-existent. If any one of us had been home I’m certain the thieves never would have attempted entering our apartment. Kirk, who has been living in and visiting the Middle East for decades, said this is the first time he’s experienced anything like it here. So yeah, no worries.


One of my roommates, Noe, taking pictures during a break from riding.

Anyway, as a result of that I was up til about 3am Friday night, since we had police detectives and forensic experts coming in and questioning us and dusting for fingerprints and everything. But Saturday morning, we all got up early since Kaiti had booked a bike trip for us with one of Jordan’s two cycling companies. What they do is they bus you out to a start point, put you on bikes and one of their guides leads the way on whatever route you book to a place where they make a lunch for you and bus you back. We started just west of Madaba (which is just west of Amman) and biked out to a place called Mukawir (or Machaerus), which is supposed to have been a military base of Herod the Great, and is where, according to Flavius Josephus, John the Baptist was beheaded.


You can just see the two pillars at the top of the hill that remain of Herod’s base, with the Dead Sea in the background.

One thing everyone should know about me, I love the Jordanian countryside. And after yesterday I’m convinced that one of the best ways to experience it is on bike. I think from start to finish, the whole ride was about 30km long, and there were some challenging hills to get up, but I LOVED it! I could do that kind of thing every week and never get tired of it. It was also a chance to try out my new camera. I took a lot of pictures but none of them really do it justice. Being out away from the big cities, biking through amazing scenery, every now and then passing through these small villages where little kids would run out and smile and wave and cheer as you rode past, it was just… so great.


Today was our first day going to the Ministry. We were supposed to meet with the minister and get assigned to our directorates and hopefully start working, but… well, it’s the Middle East. And things often move at a different pace than we might be used to. We had a nice meeting with some of the people we’ll be working with, they told us how excited they are to have us here and then said we should be really getting underway probably tomorrow, or maybe Tuesday. So we’ll see if I actually do any real work at some point this week. I don’t think we were even in the Ministry for a full hour. So here I am now posting on my blog and I should get in some good reading today. I’m not complaining (too loudly). It’s probably good for me to have a bit of a break from school and work. And what better place than Jordan to do that?