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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.



  1. Robert, the soccer match sounds like a blast!!! How many games do we need to win in order to make the cut for the next World Cup? Keep doing great things out there and enjoy your time! I'm jealous. :)

  2. So glad that you have this blog going again - hope you love your semester there.

    WC Qualifying is a big deal - I'll bet the match was an awesome atmosphere. Attending such big matches outside the US, no matter where you are, is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like the plushy spectator sports we have here :)

  3. Oh, and I've got plenty of books to pass along to you about the ties between soccer and world politics -