Views toward the USAt

Views toward the USA are obviously a very difficult thing to write about, and a very hot topic in the Middle East – for obvious reasons. After speaking with ARabs for many years I do not sense a very substantial degree of difference between men and women and their views toward the USA but there certainly are differences between generations. Here is an example. Under Saddam Hussein’s government Jordanians received free gas. After the USA invaded and toppled the government Jordanians stopped receiving free gas, and in fact the American war in Iraq set off a domino effect of negative economic consequences for Jordan as a whole. Obviously, the young generation (below 30) today doesn’t really feel the effects of this as much as the older generation. The older generation also has a longer memory of US actions in the region. The Younger generation tends to be more favorable toward the USA because of the cultural influence – music, movies, etc. However, nearly every ARab I have spoken with for the past ten years makes the distinction between the US government and the US people/culture/land itself. There is a great dissastisfcation and even anger toward the US government for obvious reasons but also a great draw toward US culture and values. This is the classic case of “soft power.”

Trump’s presidency throws all of this into the air. What most Arabs say about Trump’s presidency is that certain actions of his are not just bad for the USA but bad for the entire world, and certainly the region here. Many Arabs are also deeply suspicious of Trump’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia. They cannot believe that Trump sold Saudi Arabia, for example, so many weapons recently without any qualifications and these weapons are being used to slaughter so many innocent people in Yemen. This being said, one interesting thing as well is a deep dissatisfaction with Obama’s presidency. Many Arabs view Obama as correct in a philosophical/theoretical sense – meaning, the USA shouldn’t be mired in wars in the Middle East – but are frustrated with him in a practical sense. There is a great degree of dissastisfaction with Obama for not having done more, for example, to stop the escalation of the war in Syria long ago.

Slang words

Community Interaction Task #1

One interesting thing about ARabic is how distinct the dialects are. Generally, the region of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan is referred to as the Sham. There is a general Shami dialect but even within this each country has distinct dialects. Here in Jordan, especially amongst the more rural populations, girls are taught from a young age to drop the ق (q) sound because it has a rough, masculine sound/connotation. Girls are taught to drop this letter entirely and pronounce the word without it. So the word for coffee – qahwa – simply becomes ahwa. Boys are taught to pronounce it with a hard g sound – so qahwa becomes gahwa.

Another interesting thing about the colloquial language here is how Muslims and Christians pronounce the same words or phrases, especially religiously-infused words or phrases. For example, it is very common here to hear the word “Al-Hamdoulileh” which literally means Thanks to God. It can be used for just about everything: How are you? “Al-Hamdoulileh [I am fine].” Someone might remark that the weather is nice, and someone else might respond by saying “Al Hamdoulileh” (Thanks to God it is nice.) And so on and so forth. Another common expression is “Masha’a Allah” which is a general way of expressing appreciation and thanks to God – for just about anything. A new car? Masha’a Allah. A beautiful baby? Masha’a Allah. Delicious food? Masha’a Allah. The interesting thing here in how these words are used colloquially is that – very generally speaking – Muslims tend to pronounce them very distinctly and classically – without dropping vowels and so forth, while Christians tend to make them more slang-ish. So while Muslims might say al-Hamdoulileh very properly, Christians might drop some of the vowels and just say “Hamdoullah.”

A few young people I spoke with said that this was because Muslims view these words as Divinely inspired and so forth, and so there is a degree of respect for the words themselves and the ARabic as the language of God. Christians have just as much respect for religion and for God but don’t necessarily view ARabic as the language of GOd.


One week left for my language classes here in Amman, and the SLA grant has been extremely beneficial for launching me into learning new sorts of language styles and texts that I will need for my dissertation research. I have a newfound appreciation for the richness (and difficulty!!!!) of Classical Arabic poetry. I need to use a dictionary for just about every word, and was feeling very down on myself about this, until a group of teachers at my school told me that they also need a dictionary for every word, since these words just aren’t used anymore. This reflects the rich history within the ARabic language itself. I went to Madaba yesterday to have lunch with one of my teachers. Madaba is a small town about 25 minutes from Amman. Madaba is where John the Baptist lived and ministered, and very close to Mount Nebo – where Moses saw the promised land – and the River Jordan, where John baptized Jesus. Jordan is an incredible country and one of the take aways from my stay here will be expressing this respect and awe of Jordan to Americans, and encouraging more Americans to appreciate all that Jordan does for the USA in the region.


Last weekend I took a group of students at my school for a language-immersion weekend to Petra and Wadi Rum. Petra is absolutely breathtaking but the real gem was camping in the desert with the Bedouins in Wadi Rum – where they filmed The Martian. The Arabic language is a very historically rich and culturally-infused language and I explained to the students how it is about much more than just vocabulary words on a piece of paper. So we all saw this in action while camping with the Bedouin. Learning the simple vocabulary word “sahha” or “sahtein,” for example, which the Bedouin said when seeing one of the students take a drink of water, requires understanding the history behind the word – which is that of the harsh life of the desert, and the linguistic reflection of expressing appreciation for something as simple as water. So something I always encourage younger students in their language journey – sometimes it is necessary to forget the pen and paper and go out and lose yourself in the actual lived language!

Minorities in Jordan

Identify two people who are members of a social/ethnic/racial/economic minority in your country of study. Ask them about their minority status and how they feel that they are treated by the majority members of the community. Note cultural attitudes that influence the treatment of minority communities in your country of study and how these attitudes differ from the US.


A very significant group of minorities in Jordan is the Christians. Christians have inhabited the Middle East for as long as Christianity has existed, and when Jordan was created as a state, the state included Muslims and Christians. Christians and Muslims live together here in Amman and you frequently see mosques and churches next to each other throughout the city. I spoke with two Christians – one a retired businessman and another a student who works at my school – and they both expressed the feeling that they are treated very well in the country and incorporated 100% into its economy and political life. They both expressed gratitude toward the King because the King has always done everything possible to ensure peace and equanimity between Muslims and Christians and to protect their minority rights. In fact many Muslims in Jordan are very proud of how Jordan society incorporates minority groups – not just Christians, but also Palestinians. These feelings are somewhat different from attitudes in the USA. One of the reasons the attitudes between Muslims and Christians in Jordan are different is that it is very difficult for Jordanian Muslims to say that Jordanian Christians should “go home” or anything like that – since they have lived there forever. In the US of course you frequently hear calls for Muslims or other minority groups to “go home” and this is because of a different history. Muslims have been present in the USA of course since the very beginning of the country but most Americans do not realize this.

Democracy in Amman

This is a brief blog post on the recent protests and political changes that took place here in Amman. Amman, and Jordan as a whole, is struggling economically right now – although the city remains vibrant. One of the economic issues is how to create jobs for the increasing number of college graduates. Other economic issues include the price of daily living expenses, which have been skyrocketing in the past few years. One of the things Americans, in my opinion, don’t take enough time to think deeply about is how our own actions as a country affect others, and not just immediately, but also for years to come. For example, under Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq, every Jordanian received free gas from Iraq. This was Iraq’s way of assisting its neighbor and maintaining solidarity, especially as a way of thanking Jordan for all the work it does for Palestinians. Anyways, after the American war in Iraq Jordanians obviously stopped getting free gas and the economy has suffered in many ways since then. Recently the IMF offered some loans to Jordan and Jordan instituted a new income tax law. The new law set off a wave of protests in Amman. The protests were a remarkable thing to see. At one point, the soldiers present at the protests literally found the leader of the protest and they talked about how tired they were. The protestors, in an act of solidarity with their compatriots in the military, agreed to “take a break” and everyone sat down on the ground. Then the soldiers sat down on the ground and everyone took a break. After a while, everyone got back up, protestors kept protesting and the soldiers stood guard. The King ultimately fired the prime minister and hired a new one and formed a new government and they repealed the income tax law. It is often said that democracy does not exist in the Middle East but this was democracy at work. As Americans, we should be very thankful to the Jordanians for all the work they do in this region – including resettling massive numbers of refugees.


This is a response to Task 5 of the community interaction prompts. I absolutely love cooking and am passionate about food and its relation to culture and history so I will try not to ramble in this post! The “national dish” of Jordan is mansaf, one of my favorite foods ever. The word mansaf in Arabic literally means (in some contexts) a large serving tray. Mansaf is made from placing bread on the bottom of a tray, topping it with rice, and then topping that with lamb cooked in a yogurt sauce called jameed.

You can find this dish in restaurants although it is best eaten at home, especially for a big celebration. So I did not go to a restaurant to talk about the food but instead have talked about it countless times with families who are preparing it – in the Arab world, the best food is always in homes. Mansaf has been a traditional food of the Arab bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula for a very long time. Although it is considered the national dish of Jordan, some bedouins still eat it in Saudi Arabia as well. You can see the bedouin history in the dish especially in the yogurt, called jameed. Jameed is a goats milk yogurt that is dried and preserved in hard balls. This way the yogurt keeps and does not require refrigeration. The jameed is then soaked and cooked and it turns into a delicious, almost tangy and very rich yogurt. Typically, the bedouin would have served mansaf for a huge celebration like a wedding, in which they would have slaughtered a lamb or a goat as a way of showing gratitude and appreciation and so forth. The lamb is cooked in a rich broth with spices like cinnamon and bay leaf until it is tender. Then, some of this broth is used to flavor the jameed and the lamb is then put with the jameed to incorporate a bit. Some cooks make their rice with turmeric which adds to the presentation because of the beautiful yellow it turns the rice, but not everyone does this. Often, before eating, the host/cook will give you a small glass of the jameed to drink.

The “authentic” way to eat mansaf is with your hands. This practice is common in the Arab region, and has its roots in the sparse water supply, especially for the bedouin. If there is not a lot of water, you certainly don;’t want to have to worry about washing forks and spoons, when you can just wash your hand instead.

Mansaf was quickly adopted as a “national dish” after the formation of Jordan as a state in the mid-twentieth century, and although it is loved by everyone, there is a friendly, spirited debate among Jordanians about what dish is better: mansaf or msakkhan. Msakkhan is a Palestinian dish of chicken and onions cooked until soft and caramelized with tons and tons of sumac, a lemony, bright spice, and served over bread. Because there are so many Palestinians in Jordan, it is often debated in a friendly way which “team” you’re on as to which dish is better – mansaf or msakkhan.

In the end, both dishes reveal a lot about Jordanian culture and history. Mansaf reflects the dynamic bedouin tradition still alive and well in Jordan, and msakkahn reflects modern political realities of the Middle East since the second world war, when huge amounts of Palestinians were forced to come to Jordan to live.

Mansaf in Jordan, served with sides of fresh vegetables and onions covered in sumac.

Greetings from Amman

Greetings from Amman, Jordan. This weekend was Eid al-Fitr which is the Muslim holiday to end the month of Ramadan. In the days before Eid, the streets swell with parents out shopping for clothes and gifts to give their children to celebrate the end of Ramadan. I spent the weekend camping in the canyons of “Dana Biosphere Reserve” (see pictures) and doing some great hiking. We camped with local bedouins and had a wonderful celebration. The bedouins give new meaning to the word hospitality – serving us mint tea and “zarb,” a famous dish of lamb or goat cooked with rice, carrots, onions, and potatoes in a specially-constructed hole in the ground that is filled with olive wood for cooking.

I have completed two weeks of classes now and I am very grateful for this SLA grant because these classes are exactly what I need for my journey with the Arabic language. I am doing one-on-one reading tutorials with a professor here at the same school I studied at last summer with the CLS program. I work through the text at home and then we read together and work through the parts that I don’t understand. Aside from the obvious differences in script, grammar and so forth, understanding and interpreting well-written Arabic is very different from English. Sentences in Arabic can be very very long, and there are very often symbolic or poetic parts of the text, so it is essentially learning how to interpret the style of written Arabic. The most difficult part so far has been interpreting the poetry. Arabs have a rich poetic tradition and the poetry, especially from long ago in history, can be tremendously difficult to understand. So once again I have to express my gratitude for the SLA grant to provide me the opportunity to have these one-on-one lessons, which are serving as a springboard for me to launch into my dissertation research.