Tuesday, October 04, 2005

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 machine...it'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?...it 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 down...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.

Love,
Robin

2 Comments:

Blogger Emily said...

Hi "Laban"
Thanks for the update and all the pictures. My parents are in Jordan :-)Brad and I will be there NEXT christmas, will you still be there. Glad to hear that God is taking such good care of you. You are going to have such good arabic soon. Ma'asalama Em

8:14 AM

 
Blogger Scotter said...

Hey Bobo,

Thanks for posting and especially for the pictures. The story of your encounter of a Sadaam worshipper was really interesting. Your explanation of his views makes alot of sense. Christians often were big Sadaam lovers in general because Sadaam insured a secular government with opportunities for non-Muslims and for women that no longer exist in Iraq.

1:24 PM

 

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