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Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

The Salon of the Diwan (Credit:http://www.pbase.com/khaled_im/diwan_bisharat)

I’m writing about this not because its particularly earth shattering, but because it’s the last experience I had in Amman and it was cool enough to write about.

It was  yesterday when I hopped out of the Asia hotel with “Rock” in Downtown Amman. My flight for Waco would be leaving at 2 am and I planned on spending 12 or so hours waiting in the airport (only because I had to check out of the Asia before noon.).

I arrived in Amman after those few days in Israel and still had no idea where I would stay. The only plan I had was to get to Queen Alia Airport somehow. But, I found the Asia hotel by chance and stayed there for night. This makeshift mode of travel had made the experience much more rich and interesting. I always tended to meet interesting people and hear more of their stories. This is partially because I depended on the locals around me for information and help.

The manager of the hotel was there as usual talking to an older guy I had talked to earlier that morning. Both had worked as contractors in Iraq for a few years. When I had passed through earlier, the manager introduced me to the other guy saying “I worked with this Fucker in Iraq” in a light Jordanian accent. Both discussed the politics of Iraq and Afghanistan with me as well as the world as a whole, with a few conspiracy theories thrown in.

The older guy had been in charge a logistical team of 300 in Iraq. His men accompanied American soldiers, who did not know Arabic or the local culture, and helped them choose the correct targets, interact with the local population, give better insight into where and how to set ambushes, and generally get around more easily. When he had this job, he spent enough time at the pentagon and American embassies to have been in the states a great deal. His English was very good, and I guessed that he got his ability to swear in English from our soldiers and marines.

As I began to check out, I started talking to the older guy again about how best to get to the airport (I planned on taking a taxi to the bus terminal and then taking the 3JD shuttle bus from there). “Fuck no” he said, and offered to walk me to a nearby bus stop where I could get to the bus terminal for a quarter of a JD, so I tagged along. As he helped me pick up my bag he began talking about his family. “I come from one of the oldest and most well known families in Amman” he said “the Bisharat family. We have established a Diwan near where I am taking you. It is open to everyone, travelers, family, anyone.”

I had no idea what a Diwan was so I asked him about it. He replied “a diwan is a gathering place, both of family and of guests. Here you can have coffee, tea, and enjoy company”.

I certainly wasn’t looking forward to spending 12 hours in Queen Alia airport, and this would be a nice way to delay that experience so I followed further and talked to him some more about the old city of Amman, and the travelers within it. We agreed a lot about a few things. Traveling on the cheap is in many ways the best way to get to know a city, because it requires you to be in contact with the guy on the street. You need to find the best places to get a cheap bite to eat just like most of the Jordanians in this area need to do. As the old guy said “In this way you meet everyone, the good people, and the shitheads too, you get to know them equally”.

I’d met plenty of shitheads in Jordan.  But most of these were just cabbies looking to rip me off or shopkeepers who could tell I didn’t have half a piaster to my name. Generally, the man on the street in Jordan either doesn’t particularly care about what you’re up to either way, or is genuinely kind and helpful.

I’ve only ever met one guy who said that he hated America, but he still walked me to a shop I was looking for, and engaged in conversation with me. The old guy had a similar way about him. He saw Americans as gullible, and introverted. They, he says, tend to live their lives within the same town they were born in and can never see beyond what they do on American television.

“Of course, there are plenty of Jordanians who do the same thing”  I said. I’ve met and talked to plenty of Jordanians over the summer and while some were well traveled, most spent most of their lives in the town they were born in.

“But, we do not want to control the world” he said, and I left the topic there.

The old guy did appreciate one group of Americans in particular, the Marines.

“I worked with the Marines. For every other American it is ‘I, I, I’ there is no sense of…” he waved his hands a bit inviting a phrase to come to him. I offered “being part of a whole?” He nodded quickly and continued “The Marines had duty, and didn’t give a shit about themselves, they were the only Americans I know who didn’t give a fuck about this” he gestured to the air immediately around him, his personal space “and just did what they had to do with courage”.

We got to the stairs of the Diwan. The entrance was a block or so from the King Abdullah mosque, and just down the street from the Palace Hostel, which I stayed at with some of the excavation crew for our first weekend off.

The structure was built in the 1920s and stood out from the buildings around it, though I had never particularly noticed it before. It was two stories tall, and had a façade of white hewn stones. One balcony with a wrought iron partition overlooked the busy street and the many shops below.  After walking up a flight of stairs, we entered a hallway flanked by four rooms. This led to a main salon, which was surrounded by other rooms and chambers. These included a large office, where I put my bags, a kitchen, eating area, and the opening that led to the outside balcony.

His family, he said, had plenty of ties with the royal families of the region. His grandfather was a Turkish Pasha, he introduced me to another older man who happened to be the father of the guy I was with. The older man’s father was Mamdough Bisharat, but more on him later. He was speaking to a middle aged woman at the time but he inquired about whether or not I take sugar with my coffee and promptly began making me a cup of Turkish coffee. This family history, like any family history in the Arab world could be, was confusing. Photos of every Jordanian monarch as well as a few who ruled Iraq were put up all over the place with some member of the Old man’s family in it. Stories of cousins and uncles who had their chance at the throne taken from them were told as I looked through the old photos in the main salon.

Before we moved to the next room, he finally asked me my name, I told him and asked for his, “Rock” he said (a nickname given to him by the Americans he worked with).  Rock waved towards the salon at the middle-aged woman “she was married to this man” and pointed to a photo of another son of King Hussein.

“I” Rock said ”was married to the heiress of the B.F. Goodrich company. You know of it?” My jaw dropped slightly, but I nodded. Rock was married to her for a few years and had a child with her before their divorce. His son from that marriage was now 40 years old.“It was difficult being married to her” he said “everywhere we went, every party, she was known but I was not.” He lit a cigarette and offered me one, I accepted “I couldn’t put up with that shit anymore so I left her”.

I asked a few more questions about the history of the area and why this Diwan was set up. The Diwan was purchased some years ago by the duke Mamdough Bisharat, who was Rock’s grandfather. Mamdough Bisharat was granted the title of “duke of Mukheibeh” by King Hussein years ago on account of his philanthropic work. The Diwan represents an effort of his to preserve a piece of old Amman. Every other building in the area was built after the 1940s, and many of those have been totally gutted and renovated. The duke meant for this to remain as a counterbalance to the push of modernity.

By this time, the son of the Duke of Mukheibeh brought coffee in crystal ware on a serving dish. I thanked him in Arabic. He then sat across from us in the Salon and gazed out past the balcony.

The Diwan was furnished with items from childhood homes of Bisharat members all over the country. Radios, desks, ottomans, cabinets and telephones from the 1920s dotted the salon and surrounding rooms. Rock pointed to a few in particular which he grew up using. One in particular was an ornate shoe shining stand, which looked like it had some Victorian illustrations on the side of it. “Here, niggers love these” he commented.

I asked Rock about whether or not he brought guests here often. He did for a few reasons. You might be able to tell that Rock was the kind of guy who longed for the good old days. “Back then, love was stronger, anger was harder. Women today are like plastic, back then they were juicy.” The Diwan represents the Amman he grew up in, while it is completely within urban sprawl, its architecture and the warmth of the interior makes it a small oasis.It makes for a great place to visit to take a break from the rat race just outside the door.

The Reading Room and Amman Outside

As cosmopolitan as the items in the Diwan were for their time and place, the Basharat family had seen some very interesting times. Another major structure owned by the Basharat family is a small, well, fortress outside of Amman between the city and Queen Alia airport. The family operated a farm out of this complex, which could house over a hundred or so fighting men and farmers aside from extended members of the family. At that time the complex was surrounded by Bedouin tribes and bandits who would attack frequently. These attacks happened as recently as 50 years ago. As he was describing all this I was picturing a mix of a spaghetti western and the Seven Samurai. Rock affirmed my mental image by saying: “a fucking western. Like cowboys and Indians. Life was hard”.

For someone who barely knows anything about the history of Amman, this was a nice way to get a better perspective on the city. I sat with Rock across from his Dad for a while longer before thanking them very much for their hospitality, going into the old office for my bags and heading out into a street full of jackhammers pedestrians and taxis.

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Shopping in Mu’tah

I’ve been enlisted to the duty of buying supplies for the crew in the nearest town to our base of operations. Right now, we are all living on the banks of a resevoir in Wadi Al Hasa, near a small bedouin village. The nearest town, Mu’tah, is around 45 minutes away on a long winding sharp incline. There was one small problem with this setup, both of the crew’s vehicles are vans which have manual transmissions. I did not know how to drive stick. So, I had my first stick driving lesson climbing up hundreds and hundreds of meters in a van which had seen better days, sometime long ago. Thankfully there was no fiery crash, and stalling in the middle of an intersection doesn’t really cause much of a fuss in Mu’tah.

Mu'tah from the Van (Credit: Danielle Raad)

The Cop Box in Mu'tah's center (Credit: Danielle Raad)

Aside from that, this duty is a really good way to get to know the culture here. Nearly all the owners of shops I frequent now recognize and shoot the breeze with me. During my last trip to get some clean water for our our base, I sat down with the owner’s son and some of his friends, talked. Jordanians tend to operate on the assumption that everyone smokes, so after declining the offer to smoke cigarettes once, I caved and joined in with them once I was offered a second time. That was my first smoke. I’ve been considering bringing a pack with me wherever I go, since offering them to people I meet might make up for the fact that I only know a few Arabic words.

I get a kilo of Labneh (strained yogurt which is pretty sour) and about 50 eggs at the dairy place every time I visit Mu’tah. And every time, the dairy guy offers me and whoever goes with me a cup, and another cup of a sour, salty yogurt drink which I think is called shenina.

The guys I buy Vegetables and fruits from give me some updates on how the US is doing in the world cup and give me some tips on pronouncing arabic words. The guy who always takes orders has a BA in psychology, and speaks pretty decent english.

My Veggie Stop (Credit: Danielle Raad)

During our my last trip, Me and a couple of the crew gave a ride to an old guy named jebbel who walked up to the window of the van and started talking to us. Its at times like this when you get to know the culture of the place really well. He declined to sit in the spacious back seat because one of the girls was seated there and he didn’t want anyone in the town to think that he was, as he put it, “ehhhhh, you know” with her. So, he crammed into the front with two of us.

Me, Jan, and Jebbel

On that note, a lot of the girls who have gone to Mu’tah have been proposed to on several occassions. In other instances, taxi drivers and strangers have offered camels and other goods to the guys they are with for the girl’s hand in marriage. Most of these are sort of tongue in cheek. I forget who this happened to, but one was offered a thousand camels by a cheeky taxi driver.

So far, i’ve only made this run twice. So, I’m expecting that I’ll be getting a lot more familiar with all the shops in Mu’tah by the time August rolls around.

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The first week of excavation just finished. And it has been a hell of an experience. I’m with almost all of the crew at a hostel in Aqaba for a small break. The world cup is playing in the background. But, my camera is broken.

I don’t feel entirely comfortable writing in too much detail about the excavation on account of the Nat Geo media embargo I signed. But, there have already been plenty of walls uncovered, and I am in the process of drawing my first actual soil profile.

Thankfully, waking up at 4 am every morning, hiking along the wadi to the site, and working in tons of wind and fine sediment, hasn’t scared me away from archaeology. It is exhausting and difficult, but it doesn’t detract from the excitement of what we’re doing. There are plenty of awesome individuals here who deal with the workload with humor and overall crazy behavior, which makes the whole thing a pleasure to go through.

I’m keeping a daily journal of my experiences on and off site in order to get academic credit.

I will write later on some of the difficulties that digs like these face, especially the political side of those difficulties some time later on, because I’ve learned a lot about what is needed to actually set up a project like this.

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In Amman

Thanks to the kindnesses and generosity of quite a few people, I’m in Amman right now preparing for the upcoming dig.

I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t been hit with a sense of culture shock. Which isn’t to say that I’m not a fish out of water. One of the most useful skills I’m learning is how to use Taxi Cabs in the city.

The layout and streets of the city are a bit confusing. This isn’t helped by the fact that building numbers and street names were not put on signs untill very recently. In order to navigate the city, you need to know landmarks and traffic circles more so than street names.

Aside from that, taxis are extremely inexpensive here. The only problem I’ve had with the cost has been counting out change!

Anyway, excavation begins by next week. In the meantime I’m exploring bits of the city at a time and planning what to do after the excavation ends and before my flight back home. I’ll either go to Jerusalem, stay at a hostel in Amman, or visit Aqaba (or a combination of those).

I’m off to eat some labneh and bread. Pictures will be here soon!

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Spring break is halfway done for us Baylor students. I’ve been spending it in about as frugal a way as you can imagine. I’m staying at my apartment and working in order to save up some money. The Texas Collection library employs me as an archival assistant; I’ve been spending much of the week there keeping an eye on the researchers who stop by. Besides working, I spend my time not buying things and finding amazing ways to stretch out my food supply. If you could picture some montage from a movie of a kid smashing his piggy bank, looking under the couch for change, and selling lemonade all for the sake of buying a new shiny red dreambike, that would be how I’m living my life right now.

Baylor class ring savings fund? Raided.

Stock I bought when I was 14? Sold.

21st birthday gift-checks? Not spent on booze.

I’m doing all this for just one reason: I will be going to Jordan this summer to take part in the 2010 el-Hemmeh excavation at Wadi el-Hasa (funded by National Geographic) along with some Stanford undergrads.

I just really need a plane ticket.

The fact that a significant portion of that statement was both italicized and bold-faced should show how excited I am about this. I’ve got my passport, my Jordanian Antiquities Department security forms are fine, and I’m purchasing my first Marshalltown trowel as I write this very sentence. Did I mention my excitement?

I just don’t have a plane ticket.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find out what the market value of a kidney is.

P.S. Baylor Vs. UT at Kansas City tonight. Sic ’em Bears!

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