Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas in the Middle East

One of my dear friends here is Arab-American. Here we are at her house decorating her Christmas tree as we listen to carols. The carols are a bit different in Arabic, but I shared a few of my favorites with her last year and she brought our CD back out this year! Even though she celebrates Christmas, she had never heard 'O Holy Night' or 'Silent Night' or 'The First Noel'.

I plan to decorate another tree tonight with my co-workers!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday of the Sacrifice

... A gentle reminder to those sacrificing a lamb this holiday...

Each morning that throaty tune from the neighborhood mosque warns me that I have a few more hours of sleep and lulls me back into my dreams. Yet the sounds echoing from the mosque this week are the kind that might accompany war scenes in Braveheart or Gladiator. The first day of the three day holiday was shephered in at 3:30am with a sort of Arab drum and chanting, which continued for several hours. I stood shivering in the twilight looking for the chanters, but they were hidden by the neighboring buildings.

Eid Al-Adha, or Holiday of the Sacrifice, commemorates Abraham’s journey up the mountain to sacrifice his son and Allah’s provision of the ram in his son’s place. Muslim families sacrifice an animal (sheep, goat, cow, or camel) to remember this provision, and meat is then given to poor families.

The highways are spattered with sheep pens so families on-the-go can grab an ample lamb on their way home. Propriety is not forgotten in this sacrifice, and there is an exact method to the killing. The animal’s throat is quickly slit and left on the earth to bleed out. Often, all the neighbors or family members will conduct a ‘mass killing’ and an entire street will waft in the aroma of blood. A few hours later, it is overtaken by the smell of barbeque.

Children run through the streets sporting new dresses and jackets, buying candy with wads of cash. It is a tradition for all males to give money to children and unmarried women in their family. Usually the recipient walks away with 500 dinar, or about 700 USD in one day. It is spent immediately on candy, toys, and clothes.

Arab hospitality was extended to my roommates and me, and meals of lamb ensued. We arrived at one friend’s home, 10 kilos outside of the city. Upon arrival, we were ushered into the house, which was encircled by an olive orchard. Oksana, the Russian woman that had married into the family, was standing on a tree branch, dropping olives onto the blanket spread beneath her, so we waved and continued. Once inside, we were given seats of honor, those farthest from the door, and all of the family members came downstairs to visit. The next several hours we chatted and laughed with our generous hosts in broken Arabic. (There may also have been belly dancing when the men left the room!)

Finally, we were served lunch and told that the lamb was fresh- killed just the day before. It was so fresh in fact, that there were still little bits of animal hair stuck between the flesh and bone. We washed it down with hot yogurt poured on top.

It was a BEAUTIFUL start to the Eid, sure to be followed by more house visits, food, dancing, gifts, and extended chants and calls to prayer from the mosque.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Around Town

Pigs are 'haram' or 'forbidden' in Islam. There is also no 'p' letter in the alphabet. As you can see, adjustments have been made.

Church's Chicken becomes Texas Chicken in the Middle East

This is the sign on the inside of our apartment building. Thankfully, there have been no 'clefty events' yet.

My roommate posing in our favorite coffee shop. We wear Western clothes in this cafe and drink tea by the pitcher! Doesn't feel that different from the States...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The East Gate

After spending most of the day speaking Arabic with my instructor, I headed to the university to meet a few friends. Feeling confident in my language skills and ready to relax, I flagged a taxi, jumped in, and let my mind relax...

I casually told the driver, "Sharuq Al Ausit," wanting to be delivered to the "East Gate" of the university. In the rearview mirror I saw the driver's eyebrows raise, so I repeated myself just to clarify. This time he turned around to face me, "Aslan!" meaning "already." Ahah! This was another taxi driver trying to trick the lonely American girl, but I was not going to allow it.

"Sharuq Al Ausit!" I exclaimed a third time loudly and directly. He repeated himself once more in exasperation, and all in one moment I understood what was happening. "Sharuq Al Ausit" does not mean "East Gate." It means "The Middle East."

My confused taxi driver was correct, we were already in the Middle East.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Visitor

This week I had a dear friend visit from South Asia. We met in grad-school five years ago and spent the last few days catching up, laughing, and praying while riding donkeys in the desert, sleeping next to a Bedouin campfire, and climbing sand dunes. We also managed to watch a few movies, eat pizza with some Arab friends, and each study our individual languages. We even found that our languages share a few of the same words!

I didn't capture the scream that came right after the photo!

This was our Bedouin tour guide. Can you tell that he really liked Cathy?

Sunset in the desert

We slept outside so we could see the stars.

Cathy enjoying our jeep tour.

Sweet Bedouin children at Petra. I wanted to take them home with me!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Allah Kareem!

After cups of coffee, cups of tea & sugar, Arab dessert, and chocolate pudding, sleep is difficult- even at 2:30am. The sleeplessness is worth it since tonight I celebrated Iftar (meal of breaking the fast) with six beautiful Arab sisters and two German girls. We cooked, talked, laughed, and... ate!

Food is the heart of this society, and women's lives are centered around these meals. Friendships are built in kitchens and dining rooms.

Making the traditional Ramadan desert. Basically a fried pancake folded over and filled with nuts and coconut and chocolate.

I am making my very own!

Bashara and her mother! She knows she is adorable!

Mother and sisters. Plus blond German. Plus strawberry-blond American.

Its now 3am, and I am yet not alone in my insomnia. The neighbors are playing hide-and-seek in the street, and I can hear the sound of food frying from their kitchen. I think I even hear a vacuum cleaner. Perhaps it will lull me to sleep!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Few Pictures for You

From my bedroom window...

Where I buy vegetables and fruit...

View from our balcony...

“There was a warmth and joy in everyone and everything I saw, and I was entranced by the delightful harmony of past and present, of sheep grazing in fields and empty lots adjacent to sophisticated office buildings and state-of-the-art hospitals.” ~ Queen Noor, wife of the late King Hussein

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year... Ramadan

The prophet gave particular instructions on how to break the fast with... a date and glass of water. The 'Purpose Driven Mosque" (the largest and most modern mosque in the city, as we refer to it) hands out bags of water and dates in the street so that at exactly sundown, you can break the fast in your car!

"Ramadan lights" dangle on porches and balconies in the shapes of stars and crescent moons. Almost every restaurant and coffee shop is closed during the day, but opens at about 8:30pm in the evening. (It is illegal to eat or drink in public until after the evening prayer.) As you can see in this picture, it's in the middle of the day, and Starbucks is closed and empty.

For those of you who are less familiar with this holiday, Ramadan is 30 days of fasting during the daylight hours. This is a spiritual discipline that is required in Islam, as one of the five pillars. For those that participate in Ramadan, their prayers reach highest to God, and their chances of receiving God's mercy at Judgment Day are significantly greater.

Festive Decorations...