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.


Blogger katherine said...

happy october 23, bobo. i miss you.

2:29 PM

Blogger Scott said...

St. Louis sends its love. Check your Calvin alumni account. Love reading about your life (great adventures for us).

8:48 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home