Saturday, October 22, 2005

Graduate school and more Ramadan

Well, I’m an idiot. I’ve decided to apply for graduate school for next year. Essentially, I’m cramming a 4-month process into a month. If I were in the States, perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad, but here, not so easy. The simple fact is that I could spend more time on the application process, but I refuse. I’m not here in Jordan to prepare for my future. I’m here to engage Jordan and the Middle East. My goal, therefore, is to bust my butt for a few weeks, while maintaining to some extent my commitment to Arabic study and cultural activity. Don’t expect any posts or too many e-mail responses for a while! Sorry. I officially decided to register for the GREs Thursday, and I take them Wednesday. Yikes! Given my inability to adequately prepare in 5 days, not to mention the reports from highly intelligent friends who have taken GREs, I’m fairly certain I’m not going to impress anyone with my scores. Oh well. At this point, I hope other aspects of my application will win over some school to take a risk on me. So, that’s that!

This decision has been a huge distraction of late, and although it’s only recently come up, I’ve really struggled with it. I especially struggle with whether or not this is a valuable use of my time. Despite the Fulbright director’s assurances that this is, by definition, valuable, every time I spend a few hours working on a writing sample or researching schools, I can’t help but feel guilty. And considering I’m literally unable to decide ANYTHING without consultation of loved ones, it’s pretty much driven me nuts. But now, I feel okay about it. No matter what happens, I’m doing what I want to do, NOW. No need to stress out! Okay, I have to keep telling myself that. It doesn’t help when I go to an internet café to work on applications, and the computers are too slow to download the applications! Ahhhh! I’m already eager to be done, so I can recommit to the here and now.

In the meantime, Ramadan continues. Life in Irbid is great, and I’m really loving it! These IfTaar (fast-breaking) meals are quite the exercise of one’s body, albeit muscles I’m not accustomed to working. I really don’t think I’ve ever been so full that it hurt, so full that I literally felt like I’m going to throw up if I eat anymore. This is the best way for you to imagine it is to think about the stages of eating. First, you eat out of a combination of hunger and pleasure. You fill up, but continue to eat, because it tastes so good. This is the second stage, and it varies. Perhaps you continue to eat, out of the sheer pleasure, although your stomach continues to expand with each bite. This is when you ALWAYS stop. The third stage, or as I call it, ‘the Ramadan stage,’ is when you continue to eat, forgoing every normal signal from your body. The excellent taste of the food is no longer a factor…at this point, you can’t taste anything. The only feeling is hurt, and despite any hope you may have that the endless plates of food will cease to appear, you haven’t even reached the desserts yet! Passing on the hospitality is not an option. It’s definitely an experience, and although you know the end-of-the-meal pain is inevitable, the incredible tastes prior to the pain make up for it all. It’s like the crack addict who is willing to disregard the terrible consequences of his actions, all for the sake of that initial high. And with Ramadan eating, oh is there the initial high…well, at least, there’s some joyful eating!

The other night, we shared the IfTaar meal with a fascinating family here in Irbid. A friend of ours had struck up a conversation on the bus with a woman named, who subsequently invited her to have IfTaar at her home in Irbid. Fortunately for us, when she found out we were living in Irbid, we were invited as well. Gosh, we walked in to heaping piles of food- dates, salads, yoghurts, soup, and the main course, Roz Hijazi, a fantastic basmati rice and chicken dish. After reaching somewhere between the second and third stage, we were handed a plate of desserts, ranging from Kunafa to the Ramadan-only QaTayif, a delicious pastry of fried cheese soaked in sugar water. Amidst the main course and desserts were Tamar al-hind, another item only served during Ramadan, tea and coffee. The hospitality was phenomenal. Our hosts insisted on us eating more and more food, and they wouldn’t allow us to serve ourselves, jumping to fill our plates. With each of our praise of the food (and there were many!) came “SaaHtain,” or “Two healths.” They relished explaining to us the various Arabic cuisines and especially the style of Jordanian cooking.

Aside from the joys of eating, the family was extremely interesting. Of Palestinian descent, they belong to a prominent family from Jerusalem, tracing their roots back to the great Islamic general Khalid bin Walid, the general who conquered/liberated (depending on your perspective) Jordan from the Byzantines in the 7th century. While we were there, the family brought out an enormous family tree, which showed this heritage, going back close to 50 generations to the father of Khalid bin Walid (presumably the fist convert to Islam in the family), until the present day. The fact that they are descended from such a great historical figure is amazing enough; but to be able to actually trace this history is incredible! They told us about an ancient library the family still owns in Jerusalem, dating to the Abbasid period. It was actually a secret library, housing many of the manuscripts from the famous 'Library of Wisdom' in Baghdad. When the Monguls conquered the Abassids, they destroyed many of the texts, but many other were sent here. Just today, as I was browsing Georgetown's website for grad school info, there was a picture of this library, mentioning the Khalidi family. Crazy. Anyways, after the establishment of Israel and the subsequent wars, the family was dispersed. Now there are Khalidis in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, London, Canada, and the United States. The story of this woman’s father was fascinating, who during the ’48 War, fled Jerusalem, swimming across the Jordan River to Jordan.

Today, we heard another interesting story from our landlord (no scotch involved!), this time from his 1989 hajj. Malek led a delegation of around 200 Jordanians in the media on the hajj, bringing his television crew to broadcast various aspects of this great pillar of the Islamic faith. The delegation was allowed to perform their hajj in the morning, so as to avoid the inevitable crowding. However, on their return through some sort of tunnel connecting the Great Mosque to the city, they heard screaming. Apparently (and my details aren’t precise), in front of them in the tunnel, the electricity had cut out. As Muslims from all over the world attempted to cross this tunnel to reach the mosque, they were suddenly panic-stricken, unable to see and with oxygen limited. In an already crowded situation where people must jostle for position, as panic set in, so did tragedy. Numerous people were trampled to death. Malek and members of his crew filmed the tragedy, hiding the tape from the Saudi authorities.

Later that day, the Saudi king announced to the various press delegations that around 150 people had died in this mayhem. This figure is relatively small. When you attempt to fit 3 million pilgrims in such a limited area, every year deaths are inevitable. However, it was grossly deflated, and Malek knew this first-hand. Despite their best attempts to censure the press reports of the situation, the Saudi’s couldn’t prevent Malek’s 8:00 news report in Jordan, where he reported around 1,000 deaths. Calls poured in from around the Muslim world, from various states, wondering the nationalities of those who had died. Obviously, the Saudis were extremely upset, and they ended up declaring Malek persona non grata, making it illegal for him to enter Saudi Arabia.

Roughly ten years later, he attempted to perform the hajj a second time. Upon requesting a visa at the Saudi embassy, of course, he was rejected. Malek was indignant, as he said, “I am a Muslim. The hajj is for all Muslims, and it’s something for Muslims. It’s not just for the Saudis.” In essence, he was saying that the hajj comes from God, not the Saudi government. He met with the Saudi ambassador to Jordan and was eventually granted that visa. This hajj, however, was much less eventful than the last. The Saudis lavished him with first-class treatment, from a 5-star hotel, to a car and driver, to gifts…the one setback was the Saudi policeman who never left his side. As he said, “I couldn’t even go the bathroom alone!”

This story reinforces my negative image of the Saudi government. That place seems so corrupt, and I struggle to understand how the Muslim world can look upon it with any favor. I guess they don’t. This is, in fact, one of the reasons radical Muslims are upset with the United States, our unwavering support of this ‘pro-US’ regime (although how pro-US they really are is debatable), or at least this regime that is willing to sell us oil at reasonable prices. Perhaps an analogy with the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages is apt. I would imagine that the widespread corruption occurring within the Vatican, from sexual exploits to financial kickbacks for forgiveness, was well-known amongst Catholics. In retrospect, the complicity of Christians at the time is shocking. Perhaps nothing could have been done. The same goes for Muslims and the Saudi government. Of course, in no way does the Saudi royal family share the same ‘infallibility’ that the popes of the Middle Ages enjoyed; yet, they are certainly given a special place within the faith, as “guardians of the holy sites.” In a faith that places so much emphasis on personal piety, Islam as a religion seems completely antithetical to the behavior of the Saudi family and their corrupt practices. Given the implementation of a strict sharia in Saudi Arabia, the contrasts are even more offensive. Where is the outrage? Certainly Muslims don’t elevate Saudi Arabia as the model of the Islamic community, but I also don’t sense a strong revulsion. Perhaps I need to ask those folks who are deeply religious, not just in a vague cultural sense, like Malek.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ramadan in Irbid

“Koll ‘am wa intoom bi-kheer.” That’s the traditional Ramadan greeting here in Jordan, and it literally translates “Every year, you all are good.”

Well, another week down, and slowly but surely, I’m building a life here. Recent positive developments in this regard include: finding a research advisor, someone who genuinely seems excited to work with me next semester, calling my research proposal “sexy”; opening a bank account (I know, it seems small, but after you read my last story, you’ll understand that these types of things are no small task); and finding an Arabic tutor. Ramadan is now a week in, and it’s been fascinating to see a society literally shift overnight. Certainly not everyone is privately observant (as you will see), but publicly, there are no restaurants open during the day, b/w 5 and 7 the streets are literally empty (IfTaar), and after 7, people are flooding the places to spend the rest of the evening celebrating. I find certain aspects of the month so cool, like that the fact that there are special ‘Ramadan drinks and sweets,’ that are only drunk and eaten during this month. In fact, the whole cuisine seems to change. While Will and I are behind in our IfTaar invite goals, Ramadan is still young! We’ve certainly kept busy. Some IfTaar highlights thus far: 1. The first night of Ramadan, breaking the fast twice, first by ourselves due to some confusion, and then 20 minutes later (to avoid rudeness!), with two Malaysians and a French Tunisian. 2. This same French Tunisian preparing us a delicious Tunisian vegetable dish. 3. Cooking fish and Ramadan sweets with Abu Hammad (our Egyptian haaris) and his brother. 4. Breaking the fast with some good ole’ Scotch (more on that later!). Generally, Will and I have done a good job of keeping the fast (water aside), out of our desire to fully appreciate the IfTaar meal, but also out of respect for the Islamic faith. But man, by 4:00 we are not happy! We have some interesting IfTaar nights ahead, the one I’m most excited about being camping in a valley of pomegranates with some farmers we recently met.

As some of you may know from my personal e-mails (thanks for the encouragement Griff and Dean!), perhaps the most surprising development for me lately has been missing home. This is truly weird for me. Of course, I always miss people from home, my family and friends- but not like this. There was a two-day period where I found myself craving specific places from home, like hanging out on Dean’s porch with everybody in GR, going out with the guys at Mickey’s on a Wednesday night, waking up on a Saturday morning for a deep talk with my parents (and Speedo) at 710, sitting down for dinner with the Venhuizen’s in MT, or laughing with my whole family at 242 or Anderson. Perhaps it’s the length of my time away that gives me this craving; perhaps it’s the many uncertainties when I return; perhaps I’m not as invincible as I thought. I don’t know. What I do know is this: I really love my friends and family. You all are more to me than a mere passing thought from time to time. Those scenarios I described and so many others are connected to my soul; you are connected to my soul. I miss you, and I am now realizing the sacrifices I have made to be here. I am happy to make them, but know that I miss you, and I am eager to see you all again.

Okay, enough of the sappiness. On to the good stuff! I split up the posts a bit, so the next post has a few short stories from the last couple of days. I hope you enjoy them. I never know what you want to hear about. In all honesty, I could fill this thing every other day with the unusual story (although they become the norm); in fact, I have at least two stories of crazy adventures undertaken that I’m saving for a draught in the posting. Are these the things you want to hear? What? More about everyday life? Less about everyday life? More about my observations of Islam? The political system? More of how I’m feeling? WHAT?!! This blog serves as my own diary, but it is also for you, in order that you can follow what I’m doing here. Let me know. And read the next post!

The Jordan Valley

I'm going to hell...but so is bureaucracy!

My apartment in Irbid...I'm always taking visitors!

Each day is full of something unexpected, as plans are virtually meaningless (ask Anne about that!). Yesterday, Will and I had this grand plan of studying and reading after class, maybe even relaxing (for once)…this was not to be. I attempted a nap, but was quickly woken up by Will, because our landlord wanted to hang out. This is one of the more random aspects of our time in Jordan, as he has taken quite an interest in getting to know us. He is actually a famous TV journalist here in Jordan. He does the type of program that uncovers government scandals, companies ripping people off, and things such as this. For example, he discovered that a village wasn’t being adequately supplied with water…he went there, it was on his program, and soon after, the village got that good water! He’s very famous in Jordan and maybe in other places of the Middle East. Whenever we tell someone who our landlord is, people are always shocked, and we get such responses as, “Oh Malek, he is beloved,” or “He’s a wonderful man, a real man of the people.” When we registered with the police, and the policeman saw our landlord’s name, he flipped out. Not only is Malek a TV producer, but he’s running for parliament this year and hopes to become the Minister of the Interior. I’m sure he can do it. He’s also a poet, having written numerous poetry books, as well as a genealogy-type thing for the late King Hussein.

I can’t exactly get a read on him, because on the one hand, he’s extremely committed to the people of Jordan. That’s why he does what he does, and he has turned down numerous offers for more cash. He lives a simple life here in Irbid, near his family, as opposed to going to Amman or a Gulf country. Despite his fame, he is genuinely a good, honest man, a man of the people. On the other hand, he is extremely proud of his connections, his ‘wasTa,’ or the way in which his connections/status in society help him to succeed. WasTa is everything here, and perhaps his desire to boast his own wasTa reflects the larger cultural normalcy. It’s odd though, because the reason Malek is a ‘man of the people’ is because he’s not the typically corrupt wealthy man. WasTa can certainly border on corruption, and Malek doesn’t take advantage of it to the fullest extent. But he remains proud of it. For example, he recently had a surgery at the hospital, and he loves talking about how he got first-class treatment the whole time, without having to pay for it. Of course, the hospital was afraid of being on his program! The way he married his wife is a great story, although it’s that same wasTa. He initially met her at some doctor’s conference and was immediately attracted to her. He needed a pretense for getting to know her, so he said he wanted to interview her for some program of his. Being the good headstrong Muslim woman that she was, she refused. He persisted, but despite all his efforts, her prudence continued. Finally, he discovered that she had a brother in Jenin who couldn’t obtain a visa to come to Jordan. After using his wasTa/connections at the Ministry to make that happen, her father asked him what he wanted…just lunch at their house. He laughingly told us how the meal lasted 6 hours, as he sipped his juice and nibbled on his food with painstaking care. At the end of the meal, the father told Malek that he wished he could join them again. Having met Malek’s wife, I can picture her rolling her eyes or kicking her father under the table. But Malek hopped all over that, she fell hard, and I guess the rest is history! Good story, but again, wasTa is not how we operate in the US. I am extremely thankful for this. It’s a problem in all developing countries, because it creates ‘the haves and the have nots,’ those who’ve got it and those who don’t. Malek is a rare man who doesn’t take full advantage of his wealth, and this is why he is loved. But it’s still an integral part of who he is.

Anyways, back to the story. Malek’s office is connected to our porch/viranda, and sometimes we’ll see him in there. Aside from working, he goes there to escape his wife’s religiosity (interesting how something can be attractive before marriage, but after a burden!), specifically to drink and snack during the fasting hours of Ramadan. One day, he made Will, me, and 3 of our friends coffee, looking around corners before sneaking it into our flat. Well, yesterday we spent the afternoon in there with Malek and a friend of his, talking about Malek’s past, the sexual promiscuity of Saudis (this other guy works there- wow is all I can say about that), and drinking more than a fair share of Scotch. Yes, Scotch. I don’t even like Scotch. But getting my buzz on with a local legend and future minister in the Jordanian government, talking about the sick relationship between Saudi women and their Indian servants, in the middle of Ramadan…now that constitutes a valid exception! It was pretty surreal.

Later that night Malek took us to a Jordanian wake, or something somewhat similar. I found the tradition, which I assume is present in most Arab-Islamic cultures, quite pleasant. First of all, it’s only men, as the women have their own observance at their homes. The close members of the family stand in a line outside the building, and every visitor greets them and says (or something similar), “If God wills, grant your loved one paradise.” Then, you go inside and sit together. The whole building is lined with seats/couches, where you sit side by side, and everyone shares the same cups for coffee, water, and dates. About a half hour in, the local sheikh chants a few verses from the Qur’an. In general, very little happens, but it is a symbolic showing of solidarity with the bereaved. It was cool, and it’s one of those important cultural traditions that I’m eager to experience. Hopefully, with Malek, we can do more of this type of thing, as well as share more Scotch, and maybe even meet some important people!

Today has been just the opposite, the pinnacle of frustration. Same plan for Will and I…after class, read, study, and relax. We decided, however, we would quickly get a university ID card. Of course, the process of getting official Yarmouk University affiliation has not been easy, to say the least, and we knew that unless we took matters into our own hands, we may never receive an ID. But this was absurd! We literally walked around for 3 hours like a couple of lab rats, from office to office, jumping through hoop after hoop, ultimately (in my case) completely fruitless. They know our situation, and they’re eager to have us. Why is this so hard?! So, we don’t have an official ID number- make one up, take my damn picture, and be done with it! This frustrating process, combined with the fasting, was about to make me bust out the ugly American card. “Your system is inferior to mine. Let me tell you how you should run your university.” The problem is that everyone is so nice. “Welcome. Welcome to Jordan.” “I don’t want your ‘welcomes.’ If by ‘welcome’ you mean, here’s a freaking ID card, then yes, I am welcomed. Otherwise, no!” One of our many stops was particularly awful (and I guess humorous in retrospect). We were handed a sheet to fill out, which was “necessary” in order for us to receive our IDs. The questions on this sheet were absolutely ludicrous. There were about 6 of them; some were relevant…like Name. That’s literally where it stops. Okay, maybe I’ll give them Nationality. Uhh, Father’s and Grandfather’s Name: that’s a stretch, but fine. But Father’s Occupation, Number of Family Members, and Monthly Family Income, WHAT?!! Okay, my father’s a narcotics dealer in New York City, do I not get my ID card now? Dad, according to official Yarmouk University records you live quite the strange life as an engineer in the military, with 12 kids. I bet they really wonder how you support us all on a meager $1,000 a month. Maybe I’m just an ignorant individualist, but I don’t see how this family information relates to obtaining an ID card. Ultimately, we were told it would take a month for the cards to arrive due to a plastic shortage. (What?!) However, we went against all that is right and good, using our American wasTa, and tomorrow, we should have the cards. Gosh, the bureaucracy here is unbelievable, and unlike many places (like France, I’ve heard- Sam?) where there are these unnecessary hoops to jump through, at the end of the jumping, you get what you were looking for- here, no!

That’s all for now. I hope you are all having a wonderful day and beginning of Fall. I always love hearing from you.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Pictures at my home

The best part of our apartment, the viranda...Me and my nutty baweb/haaris/doorman, Abu Hammad. He's quite the trip!

Irbid pictures

This first picture is of the countryside surrounding Irbid. NW Jordan is actually quite lush, full of fields of grapes, pomograntes, and olives. The picture is facing the Jordan Valley. The second picture was shot at a random downtown street in Irbid. Like most Middle Eastern cities, the streets of Irbid are full of all sorts of shops, people, and other interesting things. It's teaming with life most hours of the day and night.

More pictures of Amman

King Abdullah Mosque...and me in Amman. It's massive. That flag in the background of the second picture is 'legendary.' People will tell you "It's the biggest flag in the world." Okay, it is big (although you can't tell from the picture), but there is no way that is the biggest flag in the world! I wonder where rumors such as this begin.

Amman pictures

This first picture is taken near downtown Amman. The second is of the Abu Darweesh Mosque, a very odd yet beautiful mosque in Jabal Al- Ashrafiyya, Amman.

Life in general and a story about Saddam Hussein

I know it's been forever since I've written anything. Sorry about that. Lately, it hasn’t been a lack of desire or effort even, but ludicrous amounts of internet problems. I can’t (and won’t!) even begin to describe these, only to say, be thankful that for easy internet access. Gosh, I thought technology was supposed to make life easier!

Enough complaining. Generally, I'm doing very well. Will and I are fully moved into our apartment, and although it took us quite a while, we now have consistent water, a working fridge, and a washing's beginning to feel like home! The area I live, in northwest Jordan, is very beautiful, and I am quite close to many amazing places. Will and I make it a point to explore the countryside villages surrounding Irbid. I do wish we were getting to know our neighbors better, but it's like any city, in that you rarely see them. Slowly by slowly. But we certainly aren't short on friends. Seemingly each second of every day is filled with one of three things: 1. going on some outrageous adventure, whether outside Irbid or within, often trying to accomplish a presumably ‘simple’ goal, 2. fulfilling some bureaucratic chore that inevitably takes far longer than it should (Note that 1 and 2 can, from an outside perspective, appear to be quite similar. Frustrating task in an inconceivable system, or extraordinary exploit in a foreign land? depends on one’s attitude!), or 3. hanging out with people we've met. Probably our best Arab friend here is a guy named Basel, a really unique fellow. He's a little older than me, finishing up his graduate work, before heading to Penn St. for a PhD. He’s extremely nuanced in his views of the world, combining his Arab culture with a fairly Western perspective. I love talking politics with him! He definitely thinks he knows everything about the US, so I particularly enjoy pushing his buttons. But we hang out with him nearly everyday and sometimes with his friends, an odd crew- a practicing Muslim, a practicing Christian, and a Baathist.

I am ready for some more concrete things to develop, especially in terms of Arabic and research opportunities. Yesterday we started classes, which are quite interesting. There’s Will and I, 2 Thai guys (really cool), 3 students from Brunei, and 11 Malaysians…could be wild learning Arabic with these folks who've presumably learned their Arabic primarily by the Quran, and that by the stick! I'm concerned about class size, but the professor is fantastic, and the other students are very nice. Will and I are certainly eager to hang with some of our classmates…most are in the Sharia’ (Islamic law) school. But the Arabic is beyond frustrating. I need to avoid being so hard on myself, but it really gets my expectations are too high.

Currently, our big project is to shore up as many Ramadan 'ifTaar' invites as possible! Ramadan began today, and I'm very eager to experience it, especially since I was never in Egypt during the month. We intend on keeping the fast, so these fast-breaking 'ifTaar' meals will actually be meaningful. It's sort of an 'on the DL' project though, one that requires some subtle hints. Take our most recent invite. We were riding home in a service bus/ hitch-hiking, and I hit it up with the driver. He was very eager to get to know us, so he mentioned us coming to eat with him sometime. So, I just 'subtlety' said, "Maybe during Ramadan?" There's an invite! This dude is even guaranteeing the traditional Jordanian dish of a full lamb, head included. But Ramadan is the event of the year in this part of the world, one that we must be aggressive about experiencing as much as possible. I'll let you know how it all goes.

Weekends are usually filled with some sort of travel. Last weekend I was in Palestine and Israel for Anne's birthday. Of course, we had a great time! If only it were easier. Getting there and back home was awful, in terms of everything...time, inconvenience, and expense. But seeing her was wonderful, and we had a fantastic time in Haifa! That's a beautiful place, right on the Mediterranean, and it's one of the few cities where Arabs and Jews truly coexist.

Last Friday, Will and I went to a town just south of here by about 20 miles, Ajloun. (The pictures are of Ajloun). It's an extremely old place, nestled in mountainous fields of olives and pomegranates, with a massive hilltop castle dating from the 1100s. Aside from all that, we met quite the odd family. We were walking through the town, when an older man stopped us, and asked us to share some tea with him. We did and talked mostly about Christian-Muslim relations. (These are the times when speaking Arabic opens so many doors.) As we're sitting there chatting, a teenage boy walks up and begins speaking to us in virtually perfect English. He invites us to his house, which was very humble. Background on the family: the mother is half Pilipino, half German-American (her father is missing from the Vietnam War), but she spoke poor English. She met the father, a Jordanian Christian, in Manila where he was studying. None of the kids speak much English, accept the one, who is near fluent...I guess he studies all day. Half of them looked Arab, half Pilipino. As always, this story won't compare to how it really went down, but I'll try. Now, before I tell the story, I must preface by saying that I realize that there are numerous terrible political implications, in addition to the sadness of people’s difficult life situations here- but I am choosing to focus on the humor of it all. Sorry. Okay, so we sit down and go through the typical questions. When I tell them I study political science, the father lights up. He wants to know my opinion of Bush, the Iraq War, etc...very typical. Before I can tell him that I very much opposed the war, he wants to share his opinion. I'm expecting the usual..."America is destroying Iraq," "the ‘WMD’ say 'Made in the USA,'" and of course, "I hate Saddam, but it's worse now." I hear the first two, but not the last. As he speaks, I’m beginning to feel a pro-Saddam vibe, to which I keep my ears tuned. By the end of the two hours, my ears were exploding with that vibe! At one point, his wife says, "I'm sorry my husband is so excited. He loves Saddam!" What?! Later on, he tells me, "I named 3 of my 4 sons after Saddam's children." Huh?! Sure enough, there was Uday sitting across the table from me! I ask him how he felt when Saddam's children were killed by the Americans. The response: "We didn't eat for weeks." Good lord, this guy worshipped Saddam! Despite our best attempts to mention some of Saddam's not so wonderful traits, his love never wavered. Here we are, sharing tea, fresh grapes and pomegranates (the best I've ever had, by the way), and pleasant conversation with a radical Baathist and Saddam supporter. What a world! There were so many times Will and I just sort of looked, both of us saying ‘what the hell?!’ with our facial expressions. When he said that they fasted for weeks after Saddam's sons were killed, I honestly had to hold in laughter!

His reasons for loving Saddam, while they certainly seem short-sighted to me, make sense. During Saddam's reign, Arabs from all over the Middle East could come to Iraq for free university education...many in Jordan did so (Basel's father, for example). This man did, and he saw no other way to afford education for his children. From a purely self-interested perspective, without that guarantee, without Saddam, his children were destined to a worse life. That, in addition to the obvious problems surrounding the US invasion, was deeply upsetting for him. Also, as a Christian, in some ways he (and other Christians) faired very well in Iraq, a radically secular state. So, there you go. I swear, everytime you think you have a good handle on a situation, you get thrown a curveball like that one!

Well, I tried to post some pictures before this. If you can, blow them up, because they look kind of awful as small as they appear on the blog. I hope you enjoy them. Okay guys, I hope you all have a fantastic day, and you will hear from me soon, during Ramadan.