Laurel and Associates, Ltd. – Madison, WI

Deb in Amman

Deb in Amman

On March 30, 2012, Posted by , In Travelogue, By , With Comments Off on Deb in Amman

Hello. This was an amazing and very very long day. I spent 12 hours with Arwa, her husband Jafir, their 8 year old daughter Zain and their 4-year-old son Raed.

This included a special Jordanian breakfast at their flat, lots of playing with the children, showing Jafir how to project from his diaphragm (he also teaches), getting huge flat bread baked in front of us in a wood oven, looking at lots of family photos (including marriage and baby pictures), driving to Salt (their original home), going to an outdoor lamb barbeque at Jafir’s father’s farm, meeting his father’s two wives, walking, taking photos of the children climbing trees or on a horse, taking photos of the amazing landscape and lots of different spring flowers, getting a tour of Salt, and reading in English with Zain.

Once Arwa had picked me up at the hotel and taken me to their flat (in a new building), she proceeded to spend the next several hours cooking and baking while we chatted. Her English had been spotty during the training class but she was able to carry on a continuous stream of conversation once in her own home. She roasted green peppers and tomatoes. She made some yogurt sauce with different vegetables and what looked like black-eyed beans (if there is such a thing).

She put out green olives from Jafir’s father’s farm, some other brownish something, some green leafy vegetable, the bread, and tea with mint. Although she told me the peppers were mild, one small bite had me stuffing bread in my mouth. Yikes! Other than the brownish item and the olives, everything else was delicious

Then she made a wonderful fruit salad with the juice of blood oranges, which was also great.

Next, she got out an enormous round pan (much larger than any large pizza pan) and toasted lots of pieces of bread in the oven. She made some concoction with milk, sesame seed, walnuts, pistachios, coconut and spices, then mixed it onto the bread. Then she swirled strawberry and caramel syrup on top as decoration. This “sweet” was to be taken to the barbeque.

Zain is very beautiful and precocious- and loved speaking English to me, whispering into her mother’s ear to get a word here and there. She proudly showed me her certificates from school, her English workbook and notebook, a guitar (one of two that both children made) created of a large box decorated with beads and things, with large rubber bands as the strings, the photos of her as a baby, her room, etc. etc.

All the while Raed played games on the computer. He barely stopped for breakfast, eating two olives. He is very strong willed and totally ignored anything his parents told him to do. When they finally dragged him off the computer after two hours, he gave an award-winning tantrum, becoming a dead weight, kicking his feet and screaming.

They fondly call him their “naughty boy.” Among his other notorious exploits, Raed snuck into Zain’s birthday party. While the girls were dancing, he poked them in the butt with a sharp two-pronged barbecue fork. He kept throwing a very small very hard ball at me with all his might. His parents essentially ignored this behavior

I played with him, and he had a great giggle. He also sucked his thumb and stroked not only his ear, but his father’s- and later, mine.

The wedding photos showed a much younger and slimmer (and quite beautiful) Arwa in a lovely wedding gown, tiara and veil. I don’t think they have a wedding ceremony like we do, I think these photos were at the celebration afterwards. There were photos of their honeymoon in Turkey, lots of family, and both children.

I asked Arwa how she met her husband. Apparently he had loved her from afar for a year, while she wasn’t even aware of him. He finally told her that he loved her, his parents spoke to her parents, and they were married.

This is definitely not a traditional Jordanian home. Arwa and Jahir are clearly equal partners. He took care of his son, cuddled his daughter, went to do the grocery shopping and was very mild mannered and quiet. They both work very hard and neither of them makes a lot of money, but they have a budget. They don’t go out or take vacations because they are sending their children to a private school and are saving so the children can go to college. They both also take classes and volunteer to teach ecology-related classes in the elementary and high schools, as well as the university.

After breakfast and some conversation while Arwa washed dishes, Jafir went to the mosque to pray. I think he must have been gone about an hour or so. We left for Salt after he got back. Jafir drove, Zain sat next to him, and Arwa and I sat in back, with Raed between us. Between mischief and tantrums, he sucked his thumb and stroked my ear, then climbed into my lap for a little while before getting into mischief again (mostly poking or trying to poke his sister).

The drive to Salt was fascinating, because you go into the mountains and see huge homes surrounded by forests, olive orchards, and then many many tall boxy apartment buildings.

I was welcomed at the barbecue by some of Jafir’s brothers (he has seven of his mother and two of his father’s other wife), their wives and children, Jafir’s father and I think his first wife’s mother. It was very chilly, but we ate lamb chops, onions, and lamb meat on skewers roasted over the large fire and then kept warm under Jordanian bread (which is the consistency of parchment and even larger than the other loaves we purchased for breakfast. The food was delicious.

Later, Arwa’s “sweet” was a huge hit. Most of us (including me!) had two servings (eating with spoons). An interesting observation. I was served first (as the guest). Then the oldest man, Jafir’s father, then Jafir, then the women.

They use the bread to pick up the meat and dip it in sauces (yogurt and another very spicy tomato sauce). The lamb chop bones went into a plastic bag to go home with the second wife for her cats. Unfortunately, she later discovered that the farm cats had devoured everything.

Oh, I haven’t told you the other fascinating thing about Jafir’s father. Besides having two wives, he continually smoked what we call a hookah. His first wife lives at the farm and was completely covered and wore a flowing white scarf pinned under her chin, except for her face and hands. She is clearly much older than the second wife, who wore baggy clothing and a simple headscarf- and spoke quite a bit of English.

This second wife was a real character. She was gnawing on a lamb chop and immediately handed me one and urged me to eat (this was before anyone else had any food). Then she grabbed skewers of meat for both of us (we’re talking about 12” of meat) and told me it was best while it was hot.

Jafir’s father was quite old, very skinny, wearing a red-checkered headscarf folded in a very fancy way around his face, a long beige robe and a suit jacket. The first wife’s mother was also covered from head to foot in a tent-like overdress with tiny blue flowers all over it. She also wore a flowing white headscarf pinned at the chin.

Everyone was very friendly and had lots of questions about where I live, was this the first time I was in Jordan, where had I visited in Jordan, how many children I had, etc.
The second wife has a relative in Kansas and one in Arizona. Someone else had a sister married to one of Jafir’s brothers and lived in Chicago.

Jafir’s father used to have a thriving chicken farm, but the economy took a dive and he had to rent out the farm buildings to someone else- and go to Saudi Arabia (two hours by plane) to work at a chicken farm there. He comes back every other month and stays a month.

Jafir and Arwa showed me one of the vacant chicken “coops”- it looked more like a long and wide concrete hangar. They used to let the chickens roam free on the floor.

It was lovely to sit, look at the countryside, see spring flowering trees, and hear lots and lots of birds. I haven’t heard any birds at any point previous in my trip, so this was delightful.

I’m getting very used to sitting while a conversation goes on that I can’t understand. It doesn’t appear to concern me at all.

Zain invited me to go for a walk with three other children. She showed me all of the different wild flowers. She also plucked petals from a low growing yellow flower and told me it was delicious- so I ate what she gave me. Not delicious, but not poisonous (thank goodness!)

I alternately walked and ran (mostly after Raed!). At one point, a man came riding on a horse. Zain (who is Ms. Social Butterfly) hailed him and low and behold, he stopped and proceeded to give each child a ride!

Later, when I asked Arwa if they knew him, she said that he was related in some fashion to Jafir’s family.

On the drive back, they took me to scenic spots in Salt (which is the oldest city in Jordan and has caves filled with bones from hundreds of years ago). The terraced hills with long steps going up steep inclines, the yellowed stones and ornate window grills, the view of houses over houses over houses as they marched up the hill- it was all just wonderful. And Jafir stopped here and there for me to hop out of the car and take photos. He told me that the houses in the oldest parts of the town are 200-300 years old!

After my long week of training and this long day of playing and people, I was ready to be dropped off at my hotel. But instead we went to a store, where Jafir purchased bread that we took to Arwa’s mother. She stood on her second floor balcony and welcomed me, inviting me in for dinner. She was really quite persuasive, but I held my ground.

While Jafir was taking the bread in and we were speaking to Arwa’s mother, a woman drove up, dumped three children (including one who was screaming and kicking), along with bags, and drove off. She is divorcing one of Arwa’s brothers and wants nothing to do with her own children. It was an incredibly sad story. So now the children and their father live with his mother, who Arwa told me is ill.

We then drove back to their flat and piled out of the car to go upstairs. Once there, Arwa took a sleepy Raed to take a bath, then it was Zain’s turn. In the meantime, I noticed Jafir go into a living room and pray. (Oh, some of the older folks had had prayer beads in their hands at the barbecue. When I asked Arwa about it, she told me that she herself had had her prayer beads in the class.) Then Jafir went out for about 45 minutes.

I walked around (after sitting in the car), waiting for bath time to be over. When it was, I asked Arwa when it might be convenient to drop me back at the hotel, she said that she wanted to make me dinner. I told her I was really tired and still full- and she said that she had hoped we could talk after the children were in bed.

Goodness only knows when that would have been, because when we left at 9:30, the children were both busy with crafts and chocolate.

When Jafir got back, Arwa made fruit smoothies with bananas and strawberries and we chatted while Zain did something in her room and Raed was glued to Tom and Jerry cartoons on the TV.

Although she said she didn’t mean to pressure me, she really wanted Jafir to be in this second round of training. Maha had told her the limit was 30 and I explained why that was: we only had 30 more binders printed and we could only have a maximum of 30 people for videotaping (10 in three different rooms). She persisted, saying that we had ended with only 27 in the class, so it was likely that some people might drop out of the second round as well.

Oh, she also told me that she gave Jafir a hand clapper (one of the prizes from my class) to take to a 3-hour lecture he gave at a university. He had trouble getting the students’ attention, but when he used the clapper, they quieted down immediately. He said it worked like a charm the entire time.

I finally promised to check with Maha (which I’ve done this evening via email) to see if we really had a full 30 people registered for the training. If not, I’m going to advocate including Jafir. Before that, I had suggested to Arwa that Jafir just show up on Sunday and if we have an extra seat because a registrant is a no show, he could take it.

I would really like to thank them for their hospitality. I had taken the flowers from my hotel room as a gift, but that was hardly sufficient.

Random facts:

The Jordanians say, “Yannee” like we say, “you know?” Apparently, that’s essentially what it means. It peppers all of their conversations.

Arwa and Jafir showed me a tree that has what looks like an acorn, but instead of a smooth flat lid on the top, this has a rounded prickly shell-like top. They collected some for me to bring home with me.

Arwa did not wear her scarf in the house. She has lovely shoulder-length hair. She was also wearing a very low cut flowered clingy blouse that showed considerable décolletage.

When I was taking photos in their flat (with her permission, of course) she quietly told me not to take a picture of her, since she wasn’t wearing her headscarf.

That’s all for me tonight. I’m going to bed and not even asking for a wake up call. I think I deserve a long rest. I also expect that either Mona or Maha will call about plans for the morning, and barring that, Lina will contact me about when I’ll be picked up to go set up the hotel room for the next round of training.


Deb/ Mom






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