Amman 11/2/11

Just wanted to post a quick update. Finals week just ended so I am now one day away from vacation! The break will consist of 4 days in Beirut, Lebanon followed by 5 days in Istanbul, Turkey. Very excited for this trip, more so for Istanbul since I have been to Beirut once before.

To give an update on volleyball- I have been practicing with the team regularly now. Practice is 4 to 5 times a week, for a couple of hours. The coach, as it turns out, was once the coach for the Men’s and Women’s Jordanian National Team! He is a really nice guy, funny too. This past weekend the team went on a trip out to a scheduled away game in Madaba. However, when we showed up, the other team informed us that they had to cancel due to conflict in schedule. So we decided to head over to Mkhawer Caste for a brief picnic (check out an earlier post about that, it marked the second time I’ve been there), followed by a trip to the Mayn Hot Springs. Located by the Dead Sea, the spring was actually a waterfall which fell into a small pool area. Alright, I thought to myself, this looks like a pretty solid place. I knew it was a “hot spring” but what I did not expect was that the waterfall itself was hot water. It was a glorious feeling standing underneath, imagine a nice hot shower but then multiply the water pressure by about 10. Right next to it was a cold waterfall, so you could easily trade off temperatures. Also, behind the waterfall was a small cave that essentially became a sauna. Running through the middle was a small trickle of a creek, which I was warned not to step in. I did the toe-test for temperature, which was a mistake because the water was probably not less than 5 degrees from boiling point. Some people were washing from it (the water contains healthy minerals and such, good for the skin) but it was too hot for me to tolerate.

We finished up by traveling to a hilltop over the Dead Sea, where we watched one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. It set over the Dead Sea, and as the sun was gone and the moon came up you could see the city lights of Jerusalem in the distance. The red colors were incredible, and the team insisted that I take pictures (many, many pictures) of everyone with the sunset so I finished the day with over 200 on my camera. We cooked out at the spot, mostly دجاج و لحم (chicken and beef) with pita. It got a lot colder than I expected, and I was underdressed, so the last hour or so wasn’t as enjoyable.

Life here is starting to feel more normal. Its also getting a bit colder than I expected, and I don’t have all the warm clothes that I wish I had, especially around the house at night since they only use space heaters, no baseboard or central heat or anything. I haven’t dreamed it Arabic yet (thats a big turning point) but I have been trying to speak Ammiyya (colloquial Arabic) wherever I can. Its amazing how fast the semester is going. I am hoping to do some traveling in Europe between semesters, since much of the Middle East is not great/safe for traveling right now. The plan is Greece/Greek Islands with my family, followed by Italy or Germany, or maybe both. Expect a big update from the vacation soon!



Amman 10/17/11

Before I begin, apologies for the lack of updates, the time between the Petra trip and this weekend has been a bit slow.

Last weekend began with an introduction to the Walmart of the Middle East, called Carrefour.  Its a French company, and the local Carrefour is a two story monstrosity in the nearby mall. For size comparison, imagine if Home Depot had two floors. Besides the benefits of low prices and a huge range of items (you can find almost anything there, the only item someone has gone looking for and didnt find was Tortilla chips), there is an added element of humor from some poor English translations and signage. Possibly the most curious item was something called a “Snakefruit.” Priced at a whopping 23 JD (around $30) per piece, I decided that my curiosity was not worth that much, so I left without one.

Saturday was an all day trip called “Biblical Jordan.” We left Amman at 8am and headed Southwest. The first stop on the trip was at Mkawer, a fortress near the Dead Sea. Built in around 80 BC, the fortress (named Machaerus, back then) belonged to King Herod. At this fortress, John the Baptist was arrested and jailed. He was held until Herod’s wife demanded his beheading, at which point John was executed. The fortress was razed by the Romans on two occasions, the final time in 90AD, after which it was not rebuilt.

Next stop was in the town of Madaba, which is often called “The City of Mosaics.” St George’s church is found in Madaba, which houses an incredibly large and beautiful mosaic map of the Holy Land. The town was relatively quiet, but we ate an incredible lunch before moving on.

Mt Nebo was a short bus ride away, and was well worth the visit. After fighting my way through an Indonesian tour group with matching yellow hats and fannypacks, the view from the summit was incredible. Mt. Nebo was the place where Moses first saw the Promised Land, moments before his death at the very spot. From Mt. Nebo, you could look East and see the location where Moses struck the rock to make a spring for the people. The site is marked by an incredibly old and huge tree, which is rare given the low-lying shrubbery that usually marks Jordanian landscapes. If you look West, you look out over Israel and the Promised Land. There is a plaque showing the distance and direction of cities, some of which would have been in sight had the late afternoon haziness cleared up a bit. I couldn’t get over the constant feeling of “it all happened right here.” It was truly an amazing place.

The final stop on our day trip (it got to be a very long day) was the Jordan River at Bethany-beyond-Jordan. We arrived late, past the closing time of the site, but our guide worked his magic and we got in, with the added bonus of having the place to ourself. After a short hike, the river appeared. It was humble- much smaller than I expected but very peaceful. The sun was also beginning to set, so the river was illuminated gold. It was a small, winding river among tall reeds and sandy banks. The river is clearly much smaller than it once was, but it remained amazing just the same. We moved from the site of Jesus’ baptism to a place shortly down the river, where both the Jordanians and the Israelis (a mere 10 meters across the river) have set up fonts and stairs for tourists to visit and for local baptisms. I saved some water and enjoyed watching the river quietly for a few moments. Once again, I was in constant amazement at the history of the site, its importance, and its sanctity. The place was perfect, with the sunset, the river, and a nice breeze all working together beautifully. We returned to the bus after a half hour (I would have liked to spend a little more time there) and headed back home.

Pictures are on my facebook from the Biblical Jordan trip, but I found a new way to upload pictures so hopefully I will have some up on this page soon.

Today I took a trip over to the athletics complex on campus to ask about the volleyball team. I was told that the team is in season right now, and was invited to swing by for practice. I couldnt make it today, but I hope to head back on Saturday for a tournament they are holding. Mikey was interested in joining the university’s team handball team, so we asked about that as well, but the season doesnt start until next semester. We will practice and try to be ready for the team come springtime. I am hoping that my old experience as a soccer goalie back in high school (combined with some gym class speedball) will help me, because I plan to test out my luck at the goalkeeper position. I have never played before, but I’ve seen it on TV and its extremely interesting. The flow of play looks a lot like lacrosse, actually, which I have zero experience with… so there’s that. At this point I am hoping for the best and I’ll try to post an update on the sports situation next week.


Amman 10/4/11

This past weekend was a very full one!

Thursday night was my host brother Abed’s birthday. We went downtown and hung out in a cafe with some other CIEE students and a good time was had all around.

Friday morning the whole program left Amman on a three day trip to the South of Jordan. Stop #1, the Dana Nature Reserve, was a two hour drive from Amman. It was a huge preserve in the southeast of Jordan, not far from Aqaba and the Red Sea. It was incredibly beautiful, and the sunset over the camp and the cave trail that we hiked made the landscape all the better. Due to logistical reasons, some of us could not fit in the camp, so we got back on the buses and went to a nearby village where we slept at the “Dana Hotel”, which actually resulted in us sleeping on the roof of a nearby building in tents. The stars were amazing and since there was almost no artificial light (also the moon sets very early here), you could actually see the milky way. The village was next to a big wadi (valley) which was lit up the next morning at sunrise. We left the next morning to head further south to our second stop.

Shobak Castle is an ex-crusader castle in the south of Jordan. I dont know too much information about it, but the coolest aspect of the castle had to have been the neverending staircase that some of us explored, which led down into the depths of the mountain. It was not lit, so we used a combination of cellphones and camera flash bulbs to light our descent. At one point, we couldn’t tell how far down the stairs went, so we tossed a rock down into the darkness. It was unnervingly similar to the scene from Lord of the Rings in which Merry (or Pippin?) accidentally knocks a rock down a well in the Mines of Moria. The rock just kept bouncing and bouncing for a solid 15 to 20 seconds before it either a) came to rest or b) most likely bounced out of earshot. Apparently the stairs come out somewhere down the mountainside after passing an underground spring. We didn’t even get close to the bottom, but we might try next semester if we return with flashlights and better shoes.

Wadi Rum was another large preserve in the very south of Jordan. It was once an ocean thousands of years ago, but since then the waters have receded, leaving behind incredibly large rock formations. We ate lunch upon arrival then headed out into the Wadi, which was mostly desert, in 4x4 trucks. We selected the oldest truck of the fleet, which in all likelihood was used during WWII, upon the decision of Mikey, who argued that it ”had the most character.” Well, character it had, including a transmission that had seen better days and a roof that detached from the truck inadvertently on multiple occasions. After a few stops at various sites, we ended at a pack of camels which had been prepared to take all 130 of us across the desert to our campsite. Camels are not the most graceful of animals, and the ride was less than ideal comfort. I am sporting a few bruises, and nearly everyone complained of soreness. The meal at camp was classically Bedouin, and the lamb was actually cooked in underground ovens. After a staged traditional Bedouin wedding between two of the students, we wound down and eventually slept in the desert.

The next morning we traveled to Petra, an ancient city build by the Nabateans years ago. Petra is most famous for the Treasury, which is one of the new seven wonders of the world. Carved out of solid rock, the treasury is a sight to be seen. Other features of Petra included huge rock formations, intricately carved tombs (again, from solid rock) and possibly the most interesting of the city, the Monastery. Located way up in the mountains, it requires a hike to reach. The Monastery is actually bigger than the Treasury, and while it is a little bit less well preserved, is to me more impressive. For those of you who have seen Transformers 2, the building where they find the allspark is the Monastery, the movie was filmed there. It was huge, and it is amazing to think of how it was made given the technology at the time. Another cool feature of Petra was the ancient Great Temple, which was built after the time of the Nabateans by the Roman Byzantines. It was likely in its day bigger than most cathedrals. The day ended after we trekked back to the buses, and everyone was decidedly wiped. Class next day was a struggle, but it was a great trip overall.

(Pictures are up on Facebook!)


Amman 9/25/11

Before I start commenting on this weekend, I must relate the story about being from Boston. Every time a cab driver, teacher, or friend of my host brother asks me where in the states I am from (its not too hard to pick out Americans here), I reply with “Boston”, and they, without fail, burst out laughing and say back “Boston Fried Chicken????” There is a local fast food joint here called Boston Fried Chicken, but I still don’t get why its so funny. This happens every time though, without fail.

This weekend was very busy but ended up being really fun. On Thursday night after class, I went downtown with Katlin and Chip to the Royal Film Commission. This place was a veritable gold mine of movies, both American and international. They have a few private screening rooms where members ($20/year, I might spring for it) can watch anything from the collection. This past week has been the European Union Film Festival, taking place this year in Jordan. The main screen at the RFC is an open-air terrace with around 15 rows of seats and a large projector screen overlooking the valley and city below. I didnt bring a camera for fear of copyright infraction, but I wish I had a picture of the setup. The screening on Thursday night that we saw was of the movie “Si, Puo Fare,” an Italian movie about a man who runs a socialist cooperative in Italy for the mentally ill. The movie chronicles the developing relationship of the boss with the members, and his push towards their reintegration into society. Oddly reminiscent of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, it was simultaneously hilarious and deeply moving- the audience alternatively went from laughing so hard they were crying, to crying at certain powerful scenes. It was truly one of the best films I have ever seen, and I recommend anyone in the states with Netflix to give it a watch, it wont disappoint.

Friday afternoon, after prayers, my host brother Abed took me, Mikey, Matt, Ray, and Chip to the Royal Automobile Museum. This place was my kind of museum. The place housed around 40 or 50 of the late King Hussein’s cars, which ranged from Aston Martins, Fords, Cadillacs, and Triumphs from the 40s and 50s, to 2009 Candy Apple Ferrari F50s, Porsche GTs, and possibly the highlight of the collection, a Bugatti Veyron, the fastest car in the world, with 1000 horsepower. King Hussein was deeply into rally car racing and actually holds some of the course records in the country.

Saturday Abed and I joined Amy, Janna, Sarah, Yoon, and Katlin on a trip to Umm Qais, an old Roman city in the very north of Jordan. We took a bus from Amman to another bus in Irbid, and after 2 hours and change, we arrived at Umm Qais. From the hilltop, you can see the Sea of Galilee, Israel, and the Golan Heights of Syria. On clear days, you can also see the mountains of Lebanon, although on our trip it was too cloudy. BREAKING NEWS: Yes, there are actually clouds in Jordan. And it briefly rained, which was glorious. The roman ruins were fairly well preserved, but the best part was that unlike any museum or historical site in the states, you can climb all over and explore all of the ruins. The view was absolutely incredible, and there was something to be said about seeing the Sea of Galilee. I was overcome with this constant feeling of “it all happened right there.” We ended the visit at a  small cafe atop the village which had a panoramic view of Syria and Israel.

Back to class now though, but Petra is coming up this weekend. Pictures are now up on my facebook because I couldn’t get them to work with Tumblr, so go check them out over there!



Amman 9/22/11

This week has been the first week where we have met with our peer tutors, Jordanian (or Palestinian) students from the university who have agreed to be conversation partners with the American students to help us improve our Arabic. After a long scavenger hunt over the weekend, I got to know Ahmad, my peer tutor. He is a civil engineering student in his 4th year at the university. The other day he introduced me to a new card game called Trix, which is a cross of Hearts, Bridge, and Solitaire. The game is played with 4 people in partner teams. In one round, the game is trick based and you try to avoid taking any tricks, diamonds, queens, or the king of hearts, all of which are varying amounts of negative points. In the following round, turn based play revolves around playing a solitaire game where players build either up or down off of the jack of each suit until someone runs out of cards, and positive scores are given for each place. The game has an interesting strategy to it, and although I did manage to get 2nd overall, I know I am missing some of the crucial plays. My hearts experience could only carry me so far.

I also have now met a good number of my host brother’s friends. One of them, Mahmood (who went to the Wehdat game with us) drove past me as I was walking home from the university, yelled at me from out the window, and insisted that I let him drive me back home in the delivery truck (that I’m sure he was supposed to be driving in a different direction). He is a distributor of flavoring for argileh, and apparently can “get a free cup of coffee at any cafe in Amman” because he knows all of the owners.

As far as the food goes, I am beginning to learn the names of some of the famous dishes here. The most common meal, and probably the most famous Jordanian one, is called Maghluba. Essentially translating to “upside down,” Maghluba consists of Chicken, rice, potatoes, and eggplant. It is prepared in a large tray, and gets its name from the fact that it is cooked with the chicken on the bottom of the tray, topped with a layer of the vegetables, and the rice in a layer on top, so it is flipped upside down before it is served. Kufta is another dish, which consists of boiled meat, usually lamb or beef, served with tomatoes. Mansaf is a common dish wherein a meat is cooked and served in a yoghurt-based broth. Another food, Maluhiya, is a tasty green vegetable-based soup of sorts, but to be honest I have no idea what is in it. It is usually poured over a dish of chicken and rice. Rice is served at every meal, as is pita. The cafeteria at the University strikingly resembles high school, but the food is actually very good, and you can get more food than you can manage to eat for as little as 1 JD (= $1.50ish). Also, since the pita is free, I always take an extra to throw in my bag for a post-class snack later in the day.

Aside from going out to the police station to have my visa extended, I havent been up to that much besides homework and reading this week. Hopefully this weekend will be busy. There is a film festival this week in Amman, so I am going in to see one of the movies this evening called “Si, Puo Fare” an Italian movie about a guy who finds jobs for people recently released from mental institutions. I will report back on it later. Also, there is a chance we may visit the Royal Automobile museum this weekend, which is basically the king’s car collection.

As a side note, the other day in Arabic class I learned the ugliest word known to any language. The word is يبلغ , which is roughly pronounced “Yub-Lgh.” It is a verb meaning to reach or attain a place or number, but if it came up in a Balderdash game I could probably come up with a number of more interesting definitions more related to how I feel saying it.


Amman 9/18/11

Classes and homework are now fully underway at the University of Jordan, and wow- now it really feels like a school of 30,000. Its a strange experience compared to BC; there are people everywhere, all the time. It doesn’t get “quiet” on campus in between classes, and you certainly don’t see familiar faces as often. The students here love to flaunt, and are always dressed up- the guys have designer jeans and all wear plaid button downs. As for the ladies, even if a girl is wearing a hijab, she will be sure to let you notice the gucci bag she’s wearing.

On Friday night, Abed took me to a Wehdat game. He told me as we were leaving that the tickets cost 70 dinar. Roughly the equivalent of 100 USD, I believed him, because thats what a ticket might actually cost in the US. We met up with his friend Mahmood and we drove to the stadium. We arrived at the ticket booth, at which point I found out that tickets were only 3 dinar ($5). The game was an absolute blast. Although Wehdat tied 1-1 with Jazeera (and I am told they should have won, as Jazeera isnt that great), it was an awesome time. It was all men however, and a woman would probably not feel very safe there. There are 10 foot riot fences and police surrounding the field, which are apparently necessary when they play their in-city rival, Faisal. The crowd was deeply into the game, and were led by two men named Abu Sadr and Abu Ghadeb. These men enjoy celebrity status at the games, and can silence the entire crowd with a wave of their hand. Before the game and during halftime, men will have their children take pictures with them, and any birthdays, promotions, or special occasions are noted as well. Although I havent learned the chants yet, the clapping was easy enough.

On a side note, I noticed that the “press corps” at the game was relatively small, so I have hatched a sort of plan. For one of the future games, I will dress up really nicely in a shirt and tie and bring my nice camera to the field. I will try to talk with the police and get credentials as American press, with hopes of getting on the sidelines of the game. If it works, it will not only be an awesome view of the game but will hopefully result in some pretty cool pictures.

Next update soon! Hopefully with pictures.


Amman 9/15/11

So classes are fully underway now, and the work has begun. For those of you spending $600 on textbooks per semester back in the US, I am truly sorry, because “textbooks” and “course packets” here are pre-prepared photocopies (ripped from a library copy, most likely) and sold for at most a total of $40 for all course materials. I am in two area studies classes, International Relations and Diplomacy in the Middle East, and Paths to Peace (a full year long class). Both have assigned a lot of reading so far, so the workload seems like it will be heavy for the majority of the semester.

Lunch here is also very cheap, you can get a huge meal for around 1 dinar, which is about $1.30 USD. The choices are limited but it usually involves a lot of rice, pita, and chicken. There are also a lot of falafel and shawarma places just outside campus to choose from as well.

I have been walking home from campus most days, which can be interesting because of the complete lack of crosswalks or walk signs. Fortunately, experience living and walking across the city of Boston has prepared me well, and thus I havent died yet. As it turns out, the second leading cause of death in Jordan is by car accident (surpassed only by heart disease), so if you think Boston drivers are crazy, think again.

The call to prayer can be heard five times a day from any of the nearby mosques. I usually wake up to the 430am-ish call, only to roll back over and fall asleep again of course. Not all Muslims here pray five times a day, although Abed, my host brother, prays at most all of them.

Two nights ago, there were two important soccer games on TV. First, the local Jordanian team named al-Wahdat played in a quarterfinal match against an Iraqi team, and won 5-1. This team is by far the most popular in Jordan, and have won the local championships 2 years in a row. They are Palestinian in origin, so they have a huge fan base in Jordan. Afterwards, Barcelona played Milan in the Champions league. They led most of the game 2-1, and possessed the ball over 70% of the time. However, Milan scored with seconds left to tie the game 2-2. Abed says I am bad luck for Barcelona because before I started watching they would win, but since then they keep tying.

This weekend, we have a scavenger hunt-meet our peer tutor activity with local Jordanian students, which takes place downtown. I am also scheduled to play in a volleyball match saturday night, which should be interesting considering my host brother told his friend that I was a professional volleyball player back in the US.

Updates will follow sometime this weekend.



Amman 9/12/11

Jubeiha, Amman, Jordan


I moved into my homestay this past Thursday. I live with the Abu Fara family, in their house in the Jubeiha neighborhood of Amman. Abed, my host brother, is 25 years old and works in Amman as an accountant for Adidas. He lives in the apartment on the second floor of the house, and I am staying with him in the apartment. The family is Muslim, so I have had to adjust to some different rules. The few times that I have come downstairs, the women move to different parts of the house- since some of Abed’s sisters are unmarried, it is haram (forbidden/shameful/etc) for me to interact with them since I am not related. The food has been very good so far, lots of rice, chicken and fish. His mother or sisters cook the meals, and we eat either upstairs, or downstairs with Abed’s father. There are a lot of fresh grapes, figs, and apples picked from trees and vines surrounding the house.

As it turns out, Abed is a huge Barça/Messi fan. He watches all the games religiously. Main activities around the house include watching TV or studying. On Thursday night, Abed took me out to a pool hall with his friends, and although I did not have a camera on me, the hall can best be described as the “man cave” of the Arab world. Lots of billiards, ping pong, and argileh (hookah). Last night, we went out for coffee with Abed and his friend/neighbor Ahmad, they took me to a hilltop that had an incredible view of the cities of Salt, Jerash, and one of the main Palestinian refugee camps, all north of Amman.

September 11th was relatively quiet here. There were no demonstrations that I was aware of, and people here are very respectful and aware of the gravity of the attacks.

Arabic classes started Sunday and my placement test/oral interview were today. I am rusty but the test went well and the interview was decent. With the Arabic part of the program, students study both Standard and Colloquial Arabic. The colloquial is difficult right now because the Ammiyya (Jordanian Arabic) is very different from the FusHa (Modern Standard Arabic, what is taught at BC). Area studies classes (in English) also start this afternoon. The campus of the University of Jordan is huge. It takes up more than 5 city blocks and it takes about 20-25 minutes to talk from end to end. Apparently, there used to be a forest in Amman, and when they decided to build the university, they wanted to put it in the most beautiful part of the city, so they cut down the forest and built the university. Around half of the trees that are left in this city are found on campus.

I will post pictures from the campus of the University of Jordan and my homestay when I get a chance, as the internet at the student center cant handle my pictures for some reason, probably that the files are too big.



Amman, Jordan

Ruins of Roman Citadel

Roman Theater

6 September 2011

First day in Jordan! Things went smoothly. We began the morning touring the city, which began with a visit to the Roman Citadel on the old city, East Amman. It was built overlooking the city on a hilltop, and within were the ruins of an old church and the site of a once-massive Hercules statue. From the citadel you could see a massive Jordanian flag, which for our guide, meant: “give me your camera! gimme your camera!” followed by obligatory “look, it fits in my hand” pictures. Next was a stop at a Roman theater (NOT amphitheater, which apparently are 360 degrees around), which had amazing acoustics and dangerously steep rows- think nosebleeds of a football stadium times two. After a huge lunch of pita, various meats, hummus, fresh fruits, lemon mint juice and “perfume pudding,” we trekked to a small orientation meeting up countless stairs. Its quite a hilly city, as it turns out. We took a bus home past the US embassy (which someone in our group guessed was the king’s palace- your tax dollars at work!), and ate dinner at the hotel, which was accompanied by drummers from a wedding taking place downstairs. And yes, Robert Balint, I did get a sunburn on the first day. Tour of the University to come tomorrow, followed by placement tests (insha’allah) and moving into homestays Thursday!



Relocating to Jordan

Sept 4-Early June I will be abroad in Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries. I will do my best to keep an updated photo-blog. More to come soon!