Ammansaf

A friday morning visit to the toilet revealed a continuation of this weeks’ theme: still no running water in the flat. So wanting to escape and get some fresh air I phoned Ali, put a bag together and then jumped on a bus heading down into the Jordan Valley. Passing, along the way, a sign declaring our brave descent below sea level, onwards towards one of the lowest place on earth. I was to spend a few nights with Ali and his family at their farm on the banks of the river Jordan.

IMG_2700Ali’s house is nestled in the midst of a vast expanse of farm land, vegetables, goats and the odd cow.  As soon as I arrived I was whisked off to a funeral. This involved sitting in a traffic jam of cars escorting the dead body and family to the burial site. On arrival we briefly poked our heads over the wall to see two burly men digging a hole, said our condolences and then returned home.

After the long introductions, greeting the family and extended family members, and instantly forgetting names, it was time for mansaf. The Jordanian national dish, which should be feared by every foreign guest. The word itself comes from the arabic verb ‘to engorge yourself,’ and that is the end of it really.

20150320_141855Seven men knelt around a platter heaped with rice, nuts and chunks of lamb all above a base layer of bread. Ali’s dad poured the mansaf sauce (jameed) over the rice then all eyes turned to the guest, me, to take the first fistful.

In went the right hand, hopelessly squeezing together a clump of the stuff before clumsily stuffing it into my mouth. You eat until you faint or until it’s all gone, whichever comes first. Usually it’s the fainting.

It took me a few handfuls to get the technique sorted out, then I realised that everyone was subtly pushing most of the rice and strips of meat into my area. So that before long, the mountain of food had distributed itself before me. Lest the guest go hungry.

20150320_141724There was no danger of that and it would eventually take about ten times of my insisting ‘shba’an alhumdulilah’, indicating that I was about to blow up, before Ali’s father conceded and stopped imploring me to ‘kol, kol’ (eat, eat).

I had eaten mansaf before, but in a tamer environment and with tamer equipment (a spoon). Keen mansaf punters will notice the absence of a lamb’s head, I consider myself lucky in this regard, as it is said the guest is usually given the honour of eating the tongue. Therefore I will humbly place my mansaf experience in level 2 of the three levels of mansaf.

After an obligatory lie down in aid of digestion, we gathered the shebabs (lads) together and went off to the inauguration party for a local football club. There we listened to speeches by various important local sheikhs, including the local MP and even Muath al-Kasasbeh’s brother, who gave a very heartfelt and rousing tribute to his brother (who had lived in the area for a time) before we stood to the Jordanian national anthem.

The speeches were sealed with a demonstration of martial arts by some guys from the football club. This took the form of a group of teenagers playfighting and shouting in mock aggression before waiting for sporadic applause from the crowd. What ever raises the spirits I suppose, infinitely more entertaining than cheerleading though.

Then followed a football match to the tune of a pitch-side commentator armed with a loudspeaker, unshamedly slagging off the away team and biasedly praising the home team. He soon shut up after the home team conceded a few early goals. We stayed for the first half before the shebabs decided there were other places they had to be seen in that night.

Thus began an evening of popping in to numerous houses for tea and self-marvelling at my inability to understand what any one was saying in the local dialect. Apart from a newly acquired word for ‘thing-a-me-jig” – makhooth , which helped me out no end.

Still I was able to fall back on the good old Standard Arabic. That trusted friend of every arabic student that enables you to stand out as much as possible in any situation. I was the white guy in the corner speaking like Shakespeare. Full immersion was coming on nicely.

Saturday morning we were out in the fields by 6.30 tending to a lusciously green crop of beens. The task was a morning of weeding. I had initially motioned to lift a finger but this caused much huffing from Ali’s father, and out of nowhere appeared a chair along with a steaming cup of sweat, sage-flavoured tea.

20150321_063328 So there I was, again fitting in seamlessly, supervising a man more than twice my age gruntingly digging up the weeds. I sipped my tea sheepishly and looked on.

At one point I spied a free shovel and joined in the work, an argument almost broke out when I refused to go back and sit down. More tea was brought out to calm me down. I had managed to get away with weeding two rows of the field, so a small inner victory.

get in
get in

Ali’s father gave me a tour of the estate, and reminisced of his time in the army at the famous Battle of Karameh in which the Jordanian army prevailed against Israel in 1968. It was march 21st, the battle’s anniversary so there was much proud eye-glaring at the not-so-distant hills that signal the border with Israel/Palestine.

After washing the mud off we once again joined the shebabs and headed to the local school for some football. I very much enjoyed hearing whispers of ‘meen al sheger?’ (who’s the white guy?), so I made sure I showed them who I was by tripping over my feet and missing the ball whenever I got the chance.

go on son
go on son

We even managed to squeeze in a cheeky round of badminton outside the local mosque before getting back home for lunch. I faired a bit better in this. The white guy was back on form.

A quick turn around then we all squeezed into Ali’s brothers car, laden with bbq, coal, chicken, bread and kebab meat, and set out northward up the mountains, passed the roman ruins of Pella until we reached a derelict villa perched at the side of a wadi (valley), overlooking the entire Jordan Valley.

IMG_2794It was windy, cold and rainy but that didn’t stop the shebabs from indulging in the Jordanians favourite past time: taking selfies. We ate the barbecued meat more as an afterthought or as sustenance between posing for endless photos.

oh the many levels of selfies
oh the many levels of selfies

It was definitely wadaa’ zenon (a totes awesome time). As the evening drew to a close back at the farm, Ali, in preparation for an English exam the following day diligently took out is books, placed them by his feet before instantly checking Facebook on his phone. In case there was another selfie to like I suppose. In response I taught him every students buzzword: momattley (procrastination).

We studied together for a bit, but I quickly fell asleep, waking up the following morning just after the dawn prayer at 5am for breakfast.

I said my sincere thank yous before climbing on the bus back to Amman. Travelling sleepily up over the mountains on the winding road, racing the rising sun. And as if it had all been a dream, when walking into the flat my ears pricked up at the sound of a flushing toilet….that meant only one thing… Water.

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What’s become of Amman?

I thought i’d let my last blog posts settle for a while before I pollute the ether with more tosh from the levant. I will refer you to my previous excuse. It snowed again.

So here goes with intermittment and as yet unrelated photos.

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starting with this timeless shot

The second term has come to and end and I am sitting exactly where I was at the start of it, with several more words committed to memory and clumps of (what I hope is, but fear is not) my own hair around my road-beaten trainers.

I am still living in the same place. But a recent examination of my accounts reveals a net gain of 5 flat mates (to the original 3) and a bonus gain of one room mate over this period. Making for a grand total of: too many people to fix the broken lightbulb in my room. Still, at least with that much manpower the washing-up gets down. Oh.

This cosy number and the already present water shortages means we must cherish each others toilet habits that little bit longer before flushing them away. I had a shower once too, it was nice and warm. I smelt vaguely of roses for a time.

got a bit cold didn't I
got a bit cold didn’t I

The winter months have further revealed evidence of a global conspiracy. You can spend years in England waiting for heavy snowfall, but go to Jordan and get two massive dumps in the space of a month.

These snow days meant we would all be treated to bone-chilling nights, regret for not bringing a duffel coat and one-day weekends to catch up on lost class time.

January ended on a tragic note with the video-release of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh being burned to death by ISIS. And the subsequent Putin-inspired hard man photos of King Abdullah II dictating the nations ferocious response.

I was in a shwarama restaurant with a Jordanian friend when the news broke. Silence, disbelief, then anger and tears was his reaction. Quite something to behold, and this was mirrored by the immensely melancholic atmosphere around the institute the following day.

But then, as it tends to, february carried on climbing the slopes of valentines day and across the bridge of a number of significant birthdays in its relentless journey towards march.

I can certainly vouch for the unrivalled time-keeping benefits of having a devout muslim as a room mate. No more need for alarm clocks. Indeed I have come to enjoy my morning lie in from dawn prayer until 7 am.

there he is in the arms of the other one
and there he is in the arms of the other one

In media arabic classes we kept each other entertained with our daily news bulletins on topics as varied as “ISIS: a daily update”, “Nutella: a life in the media”, and “Women: those rights they keep on banging on about”.

Not to mention edge-of-the-seat weekly presentations on a plethora of topics from, “The effect of Palestinian cows on Israeli domestic policy” to “Micky Mouse: a life defeating extremism” and the ever topical “Zionism: the life and times”.

Whilst at all times maintaining strict neutrality and not letting personal feelings or influences from passionate Palestinian teachers lead to biases. Doing our best to ignore mass injustice and war crimes along the way.

As for the month of march there is no denying that it began strongly, has eased through its first ten days and is currently careering into the late teens with all the arrogance of a rainy august.

As always it was a mad rush to the finish. Characterised by an exciting array of final projects to choose from, all jostling for position but getting little attention. And so subsequently turning on each other in anger and rejection before, in the few final days, forming an unlikely alliance and bearing down on us with the full force of the accusative case.

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an important reminder from Duncan on the benefits of dental hygene

There was the video project. Which, for want of a better imagination, special effects budget and make-up department, Duncan and I hastily cobbled together a 15 minute interpretive take on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Albeit with more focus on tenuously linked vocab-centered scenes to the tune of Enya. At the expense of any cheap laughs of course.

For my final media project, I wrote a essay on arab comic books largely because it enabled me to make a colourful powerpoint presentation. A good technique to divert attention from the stumbling and stuttering, half-thought out nonsense which would accompany it. We all love a pretty picture.

As for the final, final project in Modern Standard Arabic, I delved into the world of Kurdish nationalism as an elaborate metaphor for a chronic inability to find anything else to talk about.

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Relief hits us all in different ways – in our case it was with Enya

So there we are. The drawn out darkness that has all of sudden emerged bleary-eyed into spring and the prospect of a two week holiday to prepare for a repeat experience in the the final term.