Jordan (Some)Times

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THE (Occasional) JORDAN (Some)TIMES

Sunday 03 March 2002
Volume 1, Issue 5

– Weather Information for Amman:
Yesterday - High 65F/18C - Low 45F/7C - sunny
Today - High 66F/18C - Low 42F/5C - sunny
Tomorrow - High 67F/19C - Low 42F/5C - partly cloudy
Snow just appeared in the forecast ... for 14 January 2003.
It rained sheep and goats a week ago, adding another tithe to the average annual rainfall amount and forcing Jordanians indoors out of danger of being struck by the falling menagerie.

– Jordonaian Perspectives:

"It's just around this curving corner, maybe two buildings." – two twenty-something young men one evening in the Shmaysani section of Amman, kindly giving us directions to The Union Bank building where one of our fellow fellows at ACOR was participating in a musical recital with her 78-string Qanun.

"It's not far from here, but you have to cross over that impossibly busy freeway. Best to hike back two blocks to the overpass. You should not risk crossing the freeway itself." – investment adviser in his office about three blocks from where we met the two young men, in our continuing search for the Union Bank building for a recital now having already begun.

"I can't tell you where the Union Bank building is, but maybe my friends here can." – police officer guarding entrance to police headquarters across the freeway from the investment adviser's office and down another couple of blocks.

"It seems there is no one here who can give you directions in English, as much as they would like to." – same police officer, having just talked with his colleagues standing around.

"Of course, but let me consult with my friends here." – owner of a flower shop, sitting around a table with friends, contemplating how they could help us find the Union Bank building so we could make it to the last part of our friend's recital.

"No broblem. Go maybe half a kilometer in this direction, turn right, turn right again, then turn right once more. Should take you right to the Union Bank building." – same shop owner, following an animated discussion with friends sitting around the table.

[We hiked back several blocks to where we had parked Jeepers and drove to the Union Bank building, arriving over a half-hour late, and discovered that our fellow fellow would not be playing her Qanun until the end of the program, probably another hour or so.]

– Letters to the Editor:
According to editorial policy, all published letters to the editor or to anyone on the editorial board or staff are carefully selected, edited for content, monitored for attitude, then approved for publication by the entire editorial board and Censorship Committee, however many ballots it might take:

  • "Dear Doug and Crew – the crew part comes from that long list of personnel at the end of your report – Very impressive!!! Thanks so much for the report and all the human interest components – it's fun reading. Take care and have a great dig (some) time." – a discriminating fan.
  • "Hey there Doug! You are really building up a fan club in Texas! We enjoy your Epistles greatly!" – two fans in Texas ... well, at least there are two there.
  • "I find your comment box much to small to carry all the complimentary words I wish to convey." – Abu Fans (the father of all fans).
  • "I for one am DELIGHTED to receive the Jordan (Some)Times. I am also pleased from the bottom of my red-pen-clutching editorial heart that the ‘Occasional' part has been dropped .... Never having been in Jordan, I can't really make a remark like ‘It's almost like being there,' but I do imagine that that's the case. Thanks for being out there – for all us armchair enthusiasts, if nothing else!" – a like-minded editorial fan, perhaps in search of future employment.
  • "Thanks for the latest installment. Your descriptions make it possible for me to close my eyes (though difficult to keep reading!) and picture the countryside, including the wonderful smell of blossoming almond trees. I look forward to reading each ‘paper' to my secretary and laughing at your antics. Please keep a printed copy of the (Some)Times for light reading in the years to come!!! (this makes me think that a trip to Jordan could be a good idea!)" – Umm Fans (the mother of all fans).
  • "I have enjoyed The Jordan (Some)Times and share it with non-MPP friends and relatives. What a great way for them to get a true feeling for the Jordan Experience!" – a fan without guile.
  • "I should point out that there was a typo in your latest edition. Your editorial board made a small oversight. Coming from Jordan, the sentence ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave' should read: ‘Bebsi brings your ancestors back from the grave' since there is no ‘p' sound in Arabic." – Bicky, bicky.
  • "Of course it was a delight, as usual, to read the Times. I even forwarded it to a colleague who lived in the West Bank for more than a year. She was suitably entertained." – fan the flame!
  • "Dear editor-in-chief, etc.,
    I was pleased to read about the inclusion of a day spa at ACOR. I was wondering what your growing facility needs. Can I ship you my ‘Buns of Steel' video along with expired copies of ‘Muscle and Fitness'?"
    – buns of steel?!
  • "Dearest Douglas Clark,
    You are my hero! I wish I was just like you! There is something else I think you should know: you are doing a great job over there. Keep up the hard work and don't forget to bring me back a Boumalie or two. Remember I did not inhale; never forget that!
    Your Greatest Fan, Bill Clinton"
    – cool!
  • "Dearest Douglas Clark,
    You are my hero! I wish I was just like you! There is something else I think you should know: John the Baptist? Now, really .... I read these things regularly just to get the feel for the project. Sounds like fun.
    Your Greatest Fan, Marcy"
    – hmmm.

– Al-Wadeh, The Situation
Most everyone knows by now that a bomb blew up in Amman a couple of days ago, killing two workers, one Syrian and the other Egyptian. It happened around 7:30 in the morning on a side street a block or so from the main east-west avenue (Zahran Street) which runs from first to eighth circles along Jebel Amman. The blast took place between second and third circles, not far from the office of our travel agent in Jordan (The Guiding Star Agency).

The first response I got from virtually everyone I asked about it later that morning, including at the agency office and at ACOR, was that it was in some way related to a huge money-laundering bank scandal which is set to create real shockwaves in the banking community. Others thought there may have been a family feud of some kind which got out of hand. The media here have been cautious, but by all indications, it appears to have been connected with Jordan's commitment to keep the peace in spite of (or maybe even in the face of) the continuing trauma across the river. It was directed at a high ranking security official, although neither he nor his family was hurt.

It might be that Jordanians, champions of peace that they are, tried to imagine anything but a connection with tensions in Palestine. The stories so consistently sought explanations other than what now seem to be the obvious. Security has been stepped up and there are people in custody. Otherwise, business everywhere in Amman has returned to normal, in fact was hardly interrupted.

I have to admit, that while I still feel entirely safe in Jordan, it stretches my credulity and my patience to watch what happens with greater and greater intensity on a daily basis in Palestine. Maybe the problem, as I noted to someone last week, has more to do with politicians than anyone else (could be the 60s in me). Whether it is the gun-slinging US President, Bulldozer Sharon or the enigmatic Arafat, perhaps they should go to their rooms and let the people who matter work out the peace they want. Might not be possible now without outside help, but we are currently in a leadership vacuum which we can all hope gets filled some time soon. The Europeans and the Saudis are beginning to pick up the slack.

I have attempted to restrain myself in the arena of the politics of the region. But it is difficult to avoid the sheer weight of this ongoing tragedy. Nearly 250 Israelis have died over the past few months, many civilians (about one in every 20,000 Israeli citizens). Almost 1,000 Palestinians have also died, a high percentage of them children (that's one in every 1,500 Palestinians). These figures compare with 3,000 in the World Trade Towers (one in every 100,000 Americans). As an American, I know what it felt like on September 11, having been stranded in Memphis for four days, watching the horror replayed over and over on the TV, the emblazoned memory as fresh today as it was six months ago. I hope the world can find a way to help end the tragedy across the river, which Israelis but particularly Palestinians cannot leave as easily as I left Memphis.

– Madaba Plains Project Excavations, The Situation
An update on the Madaba Plains Project excavations in terms of this summer's schedule. Since MPP-Hisban was in the field nearly a year ago, they will not mount an excavation this summer – these are normally every-other-year adventures. Since MPP-Jalul had difficulties obtaining the necessary liability clearance, they will not be excavating this year. Because of uncertainties surrounding a fully satisfying summer experience for the 25 teachers MPP-`Umayri was planning to host this summer, the coordinators of the NEH Summer Teachers Institute have requested of NEH and been granted a postponement until the 2004 season to hold the institute.

Because the MPP-`Umayri directors are graying together by the minute and have miles to go before they sleep and piles to move before they croak and because they feel Jordan is entirely safe enough, they have turned their attention again to this summer's dig. The 1 March deadline for Security Forms has passed and we are making decisions. It appears that, instead of 75-85 people we intended would join us (including the teachers), we will likely have something nearer 35-45. Since so many excavations in Israel and Jordan decided some time ago to cancel, these figures are quite remarkable. We have crunched the numbers, assessed our goals and objectives, analyzed the situation and are planning to have a grand time excavating primarily in Fields B, H and L (the Late Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Hellenistic period). How much additional work we can complete on restoration and preparation of the site for presentation to the public will depend in large part on income from donations (thank you very much – send money!) and a grant proposal made through the US Embassy in Jordan (a fund specifically tagged to the purpose of giving a positive public face to the US rather than the one normally seen in the military and political arenas, which here as in much of the world is, according to a recently published international survey, surprisingly[?] negative).

– The News from ACOR Amman
Well, it's been a quiet week (or so) in ACOR Amman, my home town.

Quiet enough to seem dull and dreary, deathly still almost, in spite of repeated attempts to revive ourselves in P & Ps Fitness Centre, Spa and Saloon on the Garden Level of ACOR. So, to cheer ourselves up a week ago, Carmen and I decided to force-feed the gerbils in Jeepers' squirrel-cage engine and head down into the Jordan Valley again to visit some of the hundreds of dolmens which appear in clusters along the sides of the Valley. They occur on up into Syria, along the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic coastline.

Like other megalithic (large stone) structures – stone henges (circles of huge standing stones) and stone menhirs (single standing monoliths) – dolmens originally date to the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BC) and have been thought to be memorials of some kind. Made of two huge stone slabs for the sides (a foot to a foot and a half in thickness and perhaps eight feet long and four feet tall, a slab on one end, a stone doorway on the other, and a capstone over the stone box, these massive-stone structures were often surrounded by an additional ring of large stones. Because they were built on ground level, everything in virtually all the extant dolmens of the world has long since eroded away. One of the few dolmens to survive with contents in tact was discovered at `Umayri and revealed portions of 20 skeletons and 20 objects. Finally, incontrovertible evidence that dolmens were indeed burials, indeed memorials, places where people were gathered unto their ancestors and remembered.

There are several of these still standing (at least partially still standing -- watch for a photo on the website) after 5,000 years at the base of the highway leading down into the Jordan Valley (of course, access by means of the highway 5,000 years ago would have been difficult). They are monumental reminders of hoary antiquity, of people from the silent past, of death and dying, of mortality, of a sense of an ending, but with continuity nonetheless. Of course everybody dies and so this shouldn't surprise us too much.

But it does remind me of the recent trip several of us took to the arid region of Wadi Rajil in the northeastern desert of Jordan just southeast of the Azraq Oasis. I have in the past made the mistake of traveling into the desert with pre-historians, but hadn't evidently learned my lesson well enough as Pierre Bikai, Nancy Coinman, Todd Clausen and I visited some long-ago eroded shallow (a foot or two thick) lava flows, whose deterioration into well rounded basalt stone blocks left raised plateaus of black-carpeted landscape and lots and lots of burial cairns. The cairns were constructed of the black basalt stones and built up into rectangular burial monuments surrounded often by scores of petraglyphs and inscriptions, some dating back to the second century AD.

The stone-carved pictures were amazing, all thousands and thousands of them. Camels appeared everywhere, inscribed in different ways by different artists. There were hunting scenes, ostriches, oryxes (long straight horns), gazelles (long curved horns), horses (no unicorns), large cats, men (normally not drawn or carved well) and women (normally well drawn and carved), known by the obvious body proportions as well as the massive coiffeurs of long, frizzled hair, like one would expect if someone stuck two fingers into a 220-volt electrical outlet after licking them while standing barefoot in brackish water up to the knees. To see some of these wonders, check out the latest photos mounted on the MPP website.

All this talk about burials and memorials might sound overly gloomy and morbid. But I would suggest there are some things that should die. Mosquitos, for example. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago when, under the cover of darkness, a lone, hotrod mosquito weaseled its way past our screened security windows and attacked me in the peace and quiet of my bed, not only perforating my insect-swatting arm (Mosquito 1 – Doug 0), but escaping my tireless efforts to relocate the buzzing monster and rid the world of the thing, which evidently dug deeply enough into its microscopic little brain-like appendage right behind the eyes to find sufficient intelligence to exit the way it entered, intelligence growing however not out of the fact that mosquitos were created by God in the beginning (nor were they saved from the flood on the ark), but rather resulting from an anorexic teenage house fly running away from home and playing spin-the-bottle with a DaddyLongLegs spider, a tadpole, an F-16 fighter jet, an oil-drilling platform, Needles R Us, Inc., and a clipped version of the Bumble Bee, thereby producing a miserably noisy and pesky flying hypodermic needle with storage capacity to match the needs of all the new little pesky flying hypodermic needles it tries to hatch in order to renew assaults on the inhabitants of ACOR.

While traipsing around the dolmens, we picked up the pungent order of something else dead, something that had not died 5,000 years ago, but probably five days ago. Following the smell led us to the carcass of a sheep on the edge of a precipice. All this reminded me of the four days of the `eid or festival just upon us at the time. Lots of slaughtered sheep and goats and an occasional camel for the feast. We knew this because of the make-shift animal pens that popped up all around town to hold the poor beasts, none of which knew whether or not it would be lucky enough to escape being chosen by the hordes of citizens who stormed the pens and swarmed the animals to select a choice sacrificial victim. Although extremely dim-witted, the sheep are selected more often than the other animals. The goats are ugly as sin and camels ... well, camels cost more.

A recent article in The (Real) Jordan Times, adapted somewhat, gives a good explanation:

"Eid Al Adha — A Feast of Sacrifice and Sharing" by Dalya Dajani

AMMAN — In the tradition of Abraham's great act of faith many centuries ago, millions of Muslims are preparing to demonstrate their own submission to God by sacrificing sheep for Eid Al Adha today. The religious ritual commemorates Abraham's near sacrifice [according to the Qur`an] of his only son Ismael to prove his obedience to God. But the child was spared and Abraham was blessed, when God sent a lamb to be sacrificed in Ismael's place [at first Mohammad, ACOR's cook, thought it might have been two lambs that God provided, something we figured a cook would think about when faced with a tent full of guests].

Eid Al Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, has become a tradition for Muslims around the world who partly mark the four-day holiday by slaughtering either a sheep, camel or goat for the feast. Eid is a time for thanking God for His blessings and for giving to the less fortunate. It is marked by the lunar calendar at the end of the Hajj season.

In Jordan, preparations begin an entire week before the Eid, with scores of sheep breeders trickling into the cities from different corners of the Kingdom. The journey takes many of them across green pastures and through busy streets, momentarily halting traffic [and littering the streets with evenly spaced little brown, pebble-sized deposits, somewhat like a giant fertilizer spreader might leave if set on about 6 or 7]. Breeders arriving in Amman set up small tents on fertile patches of land and fence in their livestock to market them for the feast.

Pedestrians and drivers stop to inspect the herds, some walking through the maze of plump and woolly animals, trying to decide which one will land on a bed of rice. Baladi sheep — the popular local species, are sold for around JD2 per kilogramme. Less costly ewes or sheep from Romania and Australia sell for JD1.650 per kilogramme. Customers usually look for sheep weighing between 50-60 kilogrammes [which price is the reason a driver pays JD100 to the owner if she hits and accidentally kills a sheep on the road – I say "she" because men don't hit sheep very often while driving; at least I don't know of any men who have done this].

Among his customers this week was Abu Hazem, a distinguished senior in a grey suit, who was accompanied by his friend, shepherd Abu Ahmad, who helps select the best sheep. Abu Ahmad, dressed in his traditional brown bedouin robe and kuffieh, inspected several sheep until he and Abu Hazem settled on two. The sheep were spray-painted with a number indicating their weight and were to be picked up the following day by Abu Ahmed. He will slaughter the animals and distribute a portion to the needy.

In line with the Sharia, or Islamic law, the Muslim family or individual who sacrifices an animal –– camel, cattle or sheep –– consumes one-third of the meat, gives another third to relatives and friends, and distributes the remainder to the less fortunate.

Every Hajj season, the Saudi government builds a large meat-packing plant for the millions of faithful performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. Those on the pilgrimage are encouraged to donate the cost of a sheep. The government will purchase the animals, slaughter them for the pilgrims and then distribute the meat to needy Muslim families around the world.

Here in Jordan, animals are traditionally slaughtered and skinned at the makeshift pens, slaughterhouses or at home. Abu Ahmad, for example, pointed to a small area with his cane some 50 metres away from the pen, to indicate where the slaughter would take place.

"We will dig a hole and place the sheep there to slaughter it away from the sight of other sheep," he said. According to Islam, the animal should be healthy, disease-free and be slaughtered out of sight of the rest of the herd.

Since all of this was settling in on us down in the Jordan Valley at the dolmen fields, we decided to look for something more in keeping with the bright side of life, in fact with the promise of life's cycles beginning again, a spring break of sorts. So, we crossed the road and in a steep wadi nearby started to notice something other than death's ancient doorways. If we bent over far enough, peered carefully enough, and lingered long enough, we could see hundreds, in fact, thousands of small wild flowers pushing their way up from dead rocks along craggy cliffs and precipitous overhangs. I have yet to learn the names of all the flowers we saw, but they were stunning. Even more so when we slapped on my new 100-mm macro lense which allows us to shoot flowers from two to three inches away and fill the frame with a blossom a quarter of an inch across. The ubiquitous poppies (we did not inhale) occupied more than the frame could contain.

We proceeded from there to drive up to Amman along the old highway through Salt (once a capital of the region) through a stunningly breathtaking wadi with perennial stream filled on this day of the Eid with families frolicking around in the copiously flowing waters of the stream. The fields fertile with brilliant green five-inch-high wheat and barley, the rich brown soil of recently plowed orchards of olive and fruit trees, the clever, tenacious use of every available square meter of flat or terraced landscape for planting, all made for a sharply undulating patchwork quilt of bright color and rich texture.

Which all reminds me that life is not only possible, but really good, considering the alternatives. At least that is what my grandmother seems to think. Last week in Anacortes, WA, she turned 102 years old, and with 102 descendants, has created something less like a family tree and more like a family forest. She was born in 1900 in St. Cloud, MN, which, according to Garrison Keilor, is a little southeast of Lake Wobegon, where all the women (including my grandmother) are strong, the men are good looking and the children (I would include grandchildren here) are above average.

Well, that's the news from ACOR Amman, where the directors are strong, the office staff is good looking and all the ACOR fellows are above average.

Editor: Doug Clark
Assoc. Editor: Doug Clark
Managing Editor: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Chair: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Other Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Desktop Publishing: Doug Clark
Quality Control: Doug Clark
Proofreading: Doug Clark
Data Entry: Doug Clark
Marketing: Doug Clark
Circulation: Doug Clark
Censorship: Doug Clark

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