Sunday, February 14, 2010

“Please do not be surprised if you hear shooting,” and other funny occurrences

Random things that have happened in my life over the past couple weeks:

1. Tawjihi results:

I received the following U.S. Embassy announcement via e-mail a week and a half ago:
Subject: Tawjihi Celebrations – February 6, 2010
On Saturday, February 6th, the Jordanian Ministry of Education intends to release the interim results of the high-school exam (the Tawjihi). Families throughout Amman often celebrate when the results are announced, and for some the celebration is exuberant. Groups of young adults may drive around in cars blowing horns, and some individuals may shoot into the air. The direct threat is minimal, but traffic can be congested. Please do not be surprised if you hear shooting.
Remember that I don’t have Internet in my apartment over the weekend, so of course I didn’t see this until too late. Thus, when I actually did hear shooting and fireworks – quite close to my house, in fact – I was a bit surprised. But my host grandparents quickly explained what was going on, so all was well. My host grandmother said that the government forbids that type of dangerous celebration, but that our neighbors were “from the village,” thus explaining their disdain for the law and the general mayhem in the streets.

The Tawjihi’s pretty freaking intense. The results – and those numbers alone – determine where you go to college, what majors you can choose from, basically what you can do in life. Hence the freaking out with guns and parties when high-school students find out how they did. One more note: This year the government’s computers screwed up a significant number of the results. More chaos ensued.

2. City Mall:

There are a couple huge, Western shopping malls in Amman. The two big ones are Mecca Mall and City Mall, the latter of which I went to with a Jordanian friend a couple weeks ago. It was strange how similar it was to malls in the U.S. Granted, there were many more hijabs and other types of more conservative dress, but otherwise the teenagers looked and acted the same. A lot of the same stores, too.
Note below that there was an Adidas sale at the 3rd floor during my visit.

City Mall, where the youths go on the weekend

3. Christianity:

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve attended a wedding at an Orthodox church, a Free Evangelical Christian church service and a program at a church where my extended family’s singing group (or “praise team”) performed for a ton of people. It’s fascinating not only to see what my family’s stream of Christianity is like, but even more so, how a religious minority expresses itself in this overwhelmingly Muslim country. From what I’ve experienced, Christians are very comfortable practicing their religion in private, and they speak well of relations between them and Muslims. And churches, Christian bookstores and other symbols are definitely visible around town. Still, there is a clearer division between private and public life for non-Muslims in Jordan.

4. You think D.C. has been hit hard by winter weather? Think again:

The day after our "snow day."

5. The license plate game:

Countries I’ve seen: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia (a lot!), Oman, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (various emirates) and Kuwait. Among the KFC’s and Burger Kings visible around Amman, it’s unbelievably easy to forget you’re surrounded by countries with State Department travel warnings. Jordan is kind of like an oasis.

6. The search for the dried alligator:

My friend Adam and I spent a good part of the day last Saturday exploring downtown Amman, or Al-Balad. We wandered into an old building restored by a Jordanian philanthropist called “the Duke,” who of course happened to be there; they wouldn’t let us leave without giving us tea. Next came the obligatory visit to the main mosque, which actually wasn’t too exciting or eye-catching; a stroll through a really sweet fruit and vegetable market; wandering down an alley filled, surprisingly, with lingerie shops; and a fruitless, hour-long search for a traditional Arabic medicine stall that Adam’s Lonely Planet guidebook said had a dried alligator hanging from the ceiling.

Hashem's Restaurant has some of the best falafel and ful in town. You sit in an alley and get a handful of falafel balls, a big bowl of fresh hummus, chopped onions and tomatoes and really, really sweet tea. Maybe you share a table with another random diner?
Total cost: $2.10

We finally ended up atop
Jebel al-Qal’a (Citadel Hill), the highest point in downtown Amman and a site with ruins thousands of years old, not to mention a bunch of little kids playing hide-and-seek among them. Way cooler than the playground back in the day at JDS. We, of course, befriended the kids and impressed them with our command of the local tongue (see below). In addition to the photos here, there's a bunch more up on Facebook.

Humans first settled Jebel al-Qal’a more than 18,000 years ago. The ancient city Rabbath Ammon, which was located on top of the hill and now lends its name to modern Amman, is even mentioned in the Bible (trust me, I read the story last week before I went). The views -- on all sides -- are sweet.

The Roman Temple of Hercules towers above the city.

A partially restored mosque among the ruins of an Umayyad palace at Jebel al-Qal'a.

Best way to practice Arabic ever.

Aaaaand this weekend, I went to Petra – blog post/pictures coming soon! First, gotta study for two vocab quizzes…

1 comment:

  1. Comments on your last two posts;

    Benjamin, is there even a such thing as a Jewish meathead? Im sure the Rockville JCC is full of a bunch of fawfies.

    Also, the falafel at Hashems is amazing, perhaps the best i've had in the middle east. HOWEVER, the ful is nothing compared to Egypt's.