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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rebels with a Cause

Last weekend, I met two Libyan rebels on the street. These two, along with 500 other Libyans, are in Jordan receiving medical treatment for the various injuries they incurred during the revolution. They gave me the name of the hotel they were staying in and invited me to stop by. There's no way I could pass up an opportunity to get the inside scoop from two revolutionaries who'd been on the ground when all the action happened. So, a few days later, I went to their fancy hotel and walked in to find what looked like a rehabilitation center. There were tens of injured Libyan men sitting or hobbling around the lobby. Some had bandages around their heads, burn gloves on their hands, or missing limbs. It was a moving sight to see. These guys had really risked their lives to protect their families, and, as they see it, to fight a despotic regime that had crippled their country. I asked one of the injured men in the lobby if he knew Hakeem, the guy I'd met three days earlier. Before I could finish my question, though, he asked where I was from. When I told him that I am an American, his already friendly demeanor changed to enthusiasm as he began to praise America's support in the resistance effort. He gladly took me to Hakeem's room. There, I heard his story.

Hakeem is a 29 year old tug boat captain from Misrata. When the revolution broke out, he began transporting weapons on his boat between Misrata and the capital, Tripoli, in support of the revolution. When Tripoli fell, he joined his fellow revolutionaries in Sirt to make the last push against Qadaffi's forces. While in battle, he was shot by a Sniper in the foot as he was climbing into a military truck. If I understood him correctly, the door of this vehicle blocked two other bullets that could have been fatal. Hakeem's friends who came in the room to visit shared similar stories. Abd Al-Qadr had 14 pieces of shrapnel enter his body when an enemy rocket struck a vehicle just meters away from where he was standing. He proudly displayed one piece the size of a quarter that had already been removed and had us feel a piece still lodged in his hand. Ali, another friend of Hakeem’s, had burns covering the entirety of his right arm and much of his legs.

But, they were all smiles. It was interesting to see how hopeful they are in Libya's future. Despite a crippled oil industry, possible tribal conflict, and an economy that will need to be built from the ground up, they believe their country will become a working democracy. Like the experts, they realize it will take years for them to create the prosperous, liberated state they imagine. In their conversations with us, however, they sought to quell concerns held by many international by-standers. They pointed to the fact that each of them was from a different tribe, that they fought together, and that the idea of tribal conflict after the war was unfounded. Although they are all religious Muslims, they, surprisingly, claimed that political Islam in general would not make it far in Libya, or any radicalized form of religious government. If the tribal and political powers now deciding the fate of post-revolutionary Libya were as cooperative and idealistic as these foot soldiers, then a stable Libya would be much more imminent.

What actually comes of the Libyan conflict is still unknowable, but hopefully its transformation will go as smoothly as it has in Tunisia thus far. The fall of the old Libyan, Tunisian, and Egyptian regimes along with the continuing resistance in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain are altering the Arab world. The authoritarian leaders still remaining in the region realize that the old system of corruption and repression will no longer be tolerated by their people. Whether this leads to increased democracy and peace in the region remains to be seen. I am hopeful that it will. What is sure is that many people in these countries are giving their lives and allegiance to the ideals of liberty and representative government. As the United States deals sensitively with these events, it will gain more allies and favor in a region that largely mistrusts it. I see this positive result in my Libyan friends.

So, being out here is a ton of fun. It’s exciting to feel more and more that I am able to communicate with these people. One reason that Arabic is so rewarding is because, despite its many dialects, I’m able to speak with and understand people from many different countries, like Libya. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to write about all the other great experiences I’m having in Jordan because of my studies. I’ve learned much from my Jordanian friends, my BYU friends, my academic program, and my opportunities in the Church. I miss the States, and I’ll be back soon enough. Until then, thanks for reading.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Live from Amman

Greetings from Jordan!

Arriving in Amman two weeks ago was a bit surreal. I’ve been here before, but the sights, sounds, smells and what they all mean were once again a weighty yet welcome surprise. After my twenty-four hours in flight, I was ready to flop on my bed in the relatively posh new apartment at which I was dropped off and go to sleep. So I did that. Sometime around 4:00 AM though, I was awakened by the fajr call to prayer from a nearby mosque (fajr is the first of the five Islamic prayers in a day). I don’t want to get too artsy-feely on you, my loyal readers, but hearing that ritual performed by a skilled muethin is ethereal (a muethin is the guy who essentially sings the invitation to pray from a loud speaker). While laying in bed listening to this call, several thoughts crossed my mind. First, that the call to prayer is eerily beautiful; second, that I should remember God, and to pray to Him; and third, that I am a stranger in this land, not chiefly because of my religion, but because of my culture, nationality, etc. Anyways . . .

Perhaps you’re wondering what I do here exactly? My day is filled with intense Arabic learning. I have two classes every morning taught in a small group by an Arab Arabic professor named Doctor Muhammad. One is a political/cultural issues class, one is a speaking performance and response class. Both are held completely in Arabic. I have a three-hour break during which I prepare for other classes and explore the Jordanian University campus making friends and completing my required two hours of speaking with natives each day. Yes, I do make a fool of myself sometimes speaking with people, but I have fun with it! And they love it! In the afternoon I have a one on one speaking or writing appointment and another group class on grammar and culture - it’s the only thing in English. At night, I come home and complete my two-hour minimum newspaper translation assignments, and prepare for the issues class. Thankfully, I have some great roommates to take a load off with. The curriculum is challenging, but I feel myself improving by the day.

Studying in the Middle East is a rare and unique privilege. You are probably aware of the current problems facing the Middle East: the aftermath of the Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan revolutions; the continued violence in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq; the diplomatic meltdown between the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United States; and the precarious situation in Iran. Jordan is surrounded by political turmoil on all sides, yet it has thus far (knock on wood) remained stable. Why? There are many possible explanations, but they’re all too complicated and political for me to describe adequately. All I know is what I see here, and that, my friends, is loyalty to the monarchy. We all know that loyalties to any political entity can shift easily, but unlike in Syria where most people loathe Bashar al-Asad, people love King Abdullah II in Jordan. Unlike in Libya where we see people stomping on pictures of the deposed Colonel Qadaffi, I see people in their living rooms proudly displaying pictures of themselves shaking hands with the king. People believe that King Abdullah gives to his people, and that he has his people’s best interest in mind. He has made some valid movements toward reform and he navigates the tribal politics that still prevail in Jordan with remarkable savvy.

Attending the World Cup qualifying match between Jordan and China last week offered me a deeper look into Jordan’s loyalty to the monarchy and several other aspects of Jordanian culture. Getting into the game was an experience. Although some friends and I bought tickets to the game early in the day, somehow our seats had been filled by the time we got there. Gradually, a group of about two or three thousand angry soccer fans amassed outside the gates where they should have been admitted but had not because of overselling. Because the caravan of Hashemite royalty was about to show up, a human police blockade formed in the midst of this mass and literally pushed everyone out of the way. In the chaos, a friend I had made in line revealed to me that he worked for the police and offered to help me and my American friends get in. He spoke to one of the uniformed officers in the blockade, the police briefly separated, and we made it to a gate. Just at that moment, a black SUV rolled up with members of the awaited monarchy. For a moment, everything was peaceful, and the angry crowds clapped while the VIP’s, waving, made their ways into the stadium. After making it past a couple other obstacles, my friend, Sa’r, was able to get us into the game in one piece. In Jordan, if you make a friend, he will do almost anything for you. Also in Jordan, if you’re from the West, you’re given special treatment.

The match was fantastic. Jordan ended up winning 2-1 against a team ranked much higher than them. During the game, all 40,000 people would shout certain slogans of team support and national solidarity. One slogan I found interesting was “Aish Jalalit al-Malik al-Muathm! Aish! Aish! Aish!” (May the Majesty of the great king live! Live! Live! Live!). Soccernomics eh? How about Soccerolitics? Ha! . . . so, anyway. One would be hard pressed to find the popular support the monarchy enjoys in Jordan in any other Middle Eastern country currently.

Before I wrap this long-winded post up, I would like to address something more sensitive. Ten years ago today, an evil tragedy occurred in my country. The horror it produced is unspeakable. Its supposed motives were unjustifiable. It changed the world. It changed my life. Had it not occurred, my academic program would not exist, and I would not be here in Jordan. I invite you to consider what you can do to make your community and country a better place in response to that tragedy. I invite you to remember the greater dependence America felt, collectively, on God in that tragedy’s wake. I invite you to take stock of any resentment you may feel toward any group because of that tragedy, and reason whether it is justified or not. May we be conscious of these things, and remember the families of those lost in our prayers. If you’d like to email me personally about any of these thoughts, please feel free.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Back in Action

Salaam and greetings friends and family! After a yearlong hiatus, and a barrage of fiercely adamant requests (only two to be perfectly honest), I’ve decided to start posting some new material up on my blog. In the past I’ve used this blog to chronicle my experiences in the Middle East and that’s what I’ll continue to do during the next four months.

I leave this morning from my “fabulous” hometown of Las Vegas to return to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. There I’ll be until Christmastime taking sixteen credits of Arabic language classes with BYU’s Arabic department. There are about 60 of us students and faculty engaging in this, hopefully, phenomenal experience. Completion of this program is the final step in finishing my Arabic degree.

Why am I studying Middle East Studies/Arabic? I find the Middle East fascinating. It is an immensely important region with many conflicts to be understood and resolved. Arabic is a world language spoken by around 500 million people making it the fourth most spoken language in the world. I hope to play some small role in helping bridge the gap between the West and the Arab world through whatever opportunities are given me. My plan is to apply to medical school in the coming summer and become a doctor, but I intend on always being informed of and connected with the people and issues of the Middle East. I thoroughly enjoyed the Jordanian people and their country last summer, and I am sure this fall will prove equally enjoyable.

Well, that’s all for now. I had a great two weeks at home with family and friends before taking off (Here's a picture of my brother Erik and I during our last jam session together for a while - photo taken by my sister, Sarah). I’ll see you all soon, but until then, check back here if you’re interested in how my experience is playing out.