Jun 10, 2007

My Son in Jordan

by Liz Adair

My son Clay is in Amman, Jordan right now, doing intense Arabic study all summer. In the fall he will fly to Cairo where he has an NSEP scholarship to study Arabic at the American University of Cairo. We won’t see him for a year, and I am sooooo grateful for email and telephones.

I know he won’t mind if I share parts of a letter with you. He writes:

Thursday night (our Friday night) Zach and I got on a bus to Irbid, the city where the University where Roger is studying is. On the bus I sat next to an Egyptian fellow and we talked the whole way. It was interesting, because when he said he was from Egypt I thought, "Oh great, I can speak Egyptian with him!" But, when I tried, I discovered that I had to struggle to remember the Egyptian phrases. The Levantine dialect was coming out in the mix. It was slightly frustrating, but comforting at the same time. I guess it shows that some things are sinking in.

I found out that he was getting ready to get engaged the next day to an Egyptian gal. I gave him my congratulations and asked him when he was going to be getting married. "In two years, maybe one." I know that may not be so uncommon in the states any more, but I knew for sure that he and his fiancĂ© wouldn't be doing most of the things those American couples are doing during their engagement. It's an interesting aspect of this culture. Before a man can start looking for a wife, he should have himself in a position to provide for the wife. He needs a job, an apartment, furniture for the apartment, enough money for the dowry and all the wedding stuff. If he really wants be a prospect, he should have a car. A lot of guys save for years before they are ready to get out on the market. My roommate Hani is lucky; his parents started early, and he already has an apartment above his parents’ that is ready to go for when he gets back, so he can start looking right away.

Zach and I hooked up with Roger, and before we began the activities for the night we got some dinner. Roger took us to this Yemeni restaurant that was amazing and so, so cheap. We sat on the carpet-covered floor and ate saucy lamb with bread and our hands. It was all so good and so filling. I think the meal cost us each $1.50. We were the only gringos there; most other were Yemeni.

One of the reasons Zach and I were excited to go see Roger this weekend was that he had been invited to a wedding party up north of Irbid, out in the sticks. He checked to see if we could come with him and got the thumbs up. The fellow we went with was a coworker of the "Arees" or groom. When we arrived, there were lights strung up, loud music, and people dancing. The Arees came out and greeted us with lots of welcoming phrases. Chairs ringed a rather large oval-shaped area between two houses. Women sat on the porch of one house watching, and the rest of the area was covered in men, young and old. Right away, a young guy of about 22 came and greeted me. We had to yell our get-to-know-you’s in each other's ear because the music was so loud. His name is Gazi (sounds like jazzy), and he speaks English very well.

After Gazi left me, he joined the dance line, which is simply all the men holding hands and stepping to the right in a set rhythm. The dance is called the dibca, and I think it's mostly a Levantine dance, maybe even just Jordanian. The dance has two parts. The first is a kind of one-two, one-two three-four that repeats. On the three-four the left foot does a double step in front of the right. This is continued until the lead man gets ready and changes to the next phase which is a little livelier. It is a one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two where the one-two-threes involve a kind of dip-step with the right leg and the one-two is a kick out with the left leg.

When Gazi came around the first time, he called to me and motioned for me to join. I was hoping for an invite and jumped right in. With all my dancing experience I thought it would be no sweat, and it wasn't, for the first part. I had the steps down, and it was all good until the dance switched to the second part. It took me a good 15 minutes of the dance switching back and forth to figure out that the rhythm had to change. We all had a good laugh afterwards because we felt so lost and knew that we looked like a bunch of ridiculous Americans out there butchering their dance.

We were hoping to get speaking time in at the wedding, but the music they had was so loud there was no chance for it. The had a pre-recorded track that they played and added a guy on a kind of double flute thing that sounded like a hopped-up kazoo and another guy singing. It was crazy-fun and crazy-loud. Whenever the dibca circle passed by one of the four full-volume speakers, I thought I could feel the fluid in my ears vibrating. There was one point in the program that they turned the music off, and when they did, Roger, Zach, and I all felt like we were yelling at each other. We couldn't hear a thing.

The break was nice though, because I had a chance to sit down with my new friend Gazi and his friends. We got to talk for about 15 minutes and had a great time. We joked about things and got to know each other a little. One of the guys was wearing a cool black bracelet that said Jordan on it with a Jordanian flag on either side. I pointed to it and asked him where he got it. He said, "Do you like it?" I told him I did, at which point he took it off and shoved it into my hands saying, "It's yours; take it." I of course refused and told him I couldn't, but if he told me where he got it, I would go get one. He would have nothing to do with it, and everyone else in our circle told me I had to take it. We fought back and forth, and he said, "You wear it for two hours here and then give it back." I agreed, and just as I did, Zach came over and said, "Clay, I think we're leaving." I tried to give it back, but he wouldn’t take it. So now I have a really cool bracelet and a good lesson to be careful of what I compliment people on. The guys I talked to were way cool. They invited me to come back and visit so they could show me around their area, which has great ruins in it. I'm going to see what I can do to take them up on it.

I had seen pictures of and heard about the presence of firearms at weddings, but had forgotten about it, I guess. Not long after we got there, as we were sitting or doing the dance, out of nowhere would come: Crack, Crack, Crack, Crack! Someone was celebrating with the 9mm. The funny/scary thing was that the gun must have been dirty and jamming, because they never got through a full clip. When it jammed, they would have the gun down, looking at it and pointing it in whichever direction was the most convenient for observing the problem. Whenever this happened we would raise our eyebrows and then remember that we were at a regular party and everyone was used to it. We asked if there were ever accidents, and they said that sometimes people die at weddings. There are stories of the bullets coming back down, and I was happy to see that the gun was always pointed at a non-perfectly-vertical angle.

Today was a great day. Eight of us took a trip to the Dead Sea and to a place called Wadi Mujib. Wadi Mujib is a creek/river that runs through a deep canyon much like Antelope canyon in Arizona, but much wider and deeper. The rock is beautiful--layered colors in very independent, crazy swirls, some of them looking like the eye on Jupiter. We hiked through rapid-type areas, and at one point there was a large cascading fall that ended in a very deep part of water. We started sliding down a rock that was so smooth we found we could slide on our bare stomachs without any problems. I was amazed at how smooth the rock was--especially when our skin was on it--but how well our sandals and shoes stuck to it. We got braver after a little bit and eventually were jumping and diving off of the top.

The hike was beautiful; absolutely gorgeous. It may be the coolest thing that we will see. At one point in the hike there is a boulder that is about the size of a house that is lodged about 50 feet above us in the canyon. Very impressive.

After Wadi Mujib, we all went and floated in the Dead Sea, which was quite the experience. You really do float like crazy. If you can manage to stay vertical you stick out of the water from your lower chest. Trying to swim feels goofy because your legs stick out of the water. I did get a little of the water in my mouth as we were swimming, and I have to say that it may have been the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted.

That's the update. Wish I had time to tell all the stories and fill in all the details. I appreciate the prayers. I do need them. Pray for my motivation to knuckle down and learn the vocab. I struggle with it so much, or tell myself that I do, that I sometimes find it hard to justify putting in the time.

Liz again:

You can see how, though I worry about him being so far away, I wouldn't wish him anywhere else. I'm saving all his emails and putting them in a binder so that, in addition to his own journal, they will be a record of his time in Jordan and Egypt.


  1. Wow! What an interesting letter. He must be your son, for he writes with enough detail to make me almost see the wedding, the floating, and his new bracelet, though I've never been in the Near East. I'm also impressed with his language studies. With a grandmother who lived in Afghanistan, I'm not really surprised.
    Thanks for sharing his letters with us.

  2. Thanks for sharing this wonderful letter, Liz! you must be so pleased with your son. What an adventure!


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