Ramadan in the Middle East

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July 21st 2012
Published: July 23rd 2012
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This blog will mostly be about the people of Amman and my experiences in the last week. Any inaccuracies in information about Ramadan or any misrepresentations of peoples or places are not intentional. These are merely my observations 😊

This blog also marks two years that I've been traveling and two years that I've been blogging on travelblog.org!! :D This time last year I was getting on a plane for my first big trip, to China. with no idea what to expect. Now that I've done a bit more traveling, I've become a lot more comfortable with it.

Ramadan Begins!

I'm honestly loving the Middle East so far. The people, the places, the food. All of it. Even though finding food for a while may be tough: this weekend brought the start of Ramadan, a 29-30 day fasting period for Muslims. As Jordan is 90%!m(MISSING)uslim, it is illegal for anyone to eat, drink, or smoke in public. Almost all restaurants are closed the whole day while Muslims fast from dawn until sundown. But as soon as the sun sets, families go out and celebrate together, feasting and drinking. The meaning behind the fasting - as I understand it - is to connect with the poor. So that everyone can understand how it feels to be poor and have that constant hunger nagging from an empty stomach.

I'm already having trouble remembering not to eat or drink in public, because I've never been exposed to such customs before. Plus I hang out with mostly Christians so I'm not constantly reminded of Ramadan. When I was training 6x a week copious amounts of food become a necessity and eating constantly becomes an hourly habit. I heard that the iftar (the dinners after sunset to break fast) are a really fun cultural experience if you know a muslim family. The celebrations in the streets and in homes last most of the night and are accompanied by lots of food and time with family and friends.

The People of Amman

A little about the people here: I've noticed that Jordan has great diversity. There are people from all over living here - P'lestinians, Iraqis, Egyptians, South East Asians, and more recently - Syrian refugees. And those are just the main immigrant statistics I've noted so far. I'm sure there are even more groups that I haven't yet come in contact with, but I'll describe a few of the people I've run into so far.

Since I've been meeting more and more of the locals, I've been trying to communicate with them in Arabic as often as possible. Today was my first day back in the gym in over 4 months due to a pretty serious spinal injury, and I met a kind Jordanian who offered to give me a ride home after I helped him by recommending a few exercises and helping him learn to do them. He's studying in Egypt to become a dentist and comes back to Jordan only during the summers. Another american stereotype of arabs proved wrong today is one of skin tone. In the USA arabs are almost always assumed to be of dark complexion with dark skin, but in reality, there's a good number of very white skinned, blue eyed arabs. This young man I met in the gym could have easily passed for american or or european to me before he opened his mouth.

Then there's also an Egyptian I met while waiting for a cab outside my school who is a engineer trying to get a job here in Jordan. I tried speaking with him but the Egyptian dialect is just too difficult for me to understand well at this point. We'll have to try speaking classical Arabic since his English is limited and my Arabic is more than limited.

A cab driver I met today is a professor of physics and mathematics who's side-project shop in central Amman just recently got robbed. 7araam :/ I felt bad for him. He was incredibly kind though and even gave me his number in case I need another ride or anything at all. He told me of his plans to leave to America and try to find a job there. I've loved Jordan so far but one thing everyone in the country can agree on is the lack of jobs, high unemployment, and suffering economy here.

Today's cab driver and all the other locals and immigrants I've met so far have been more than eager to help me improve my Arabic too! Everytime I've met a new person on the street they've proceeded to invite me to coffee at a nearby cafe to talk or just hang out. The hospitality of the Near East lives up to its reputation.

This week I also went to one of the malls here for the first time. I thought I'd add it to my blog just to let people see that Jordan is not a desert wasteland! The malls are very similar to those in the states. The only real difference I noticed was the people. In the mall is where I've seen the most conservative people so far. I couldn't count the number of women wearing full niqabs covering everything but the eyes, but shopping for clothes to wear at home in the company of their family.

I'm really starting to get used to life here in Amman. I know the 3 different ways most often taken from my school to the house. Winging roads up steep hills. Through tight streets between 3-4 story buildings, and past the open countryside and wave-like hills. Just as importantly I know by now how much that trip costs, so I haven't yet had any extra money taken by drivers, which is something foreigners need to be careful of. But despite meeting a lot of kind cab drivers, I've also seen some pretty bad ones.

Trouble in Paradise

Yesterday while waiting with Laila and her sister to get a cab outside the mall, we saw a man try to get into a cab. The thing is, here in Jordan (and probably most other places) you tell the driver where you want to go through the window first, to see if the driver is even willing to go there. But this guy (after witnessing the following event, I'm sure he had a mental disability of some kind) just opened the door and started to get in. When the cab driver realized, he gunned the accelerator and the guy flew out of the car. The cab driver threw the parking break on and bolted out of the car screaming. The two stood face-to-face centimeters apart glaring and shouting at each other. One security officer (unarmed) arrived on the scene and proceeded to do NOTHING.

When the cab driver got distracted explaining the situation to the security guard, the customer snuck back into the cab and just sat there in the passenger seat! This proceeded to enrage the driver who opened the door and screamed for him to get out. By now 2 more security guards had showed up, probably because the taxi was blocking traffic, and they continued to do nothing productive. The angry driver started pushing the security guards out of the way as he tried to grab the man out of his car. Finally, the guards convinced the driver to get back in to just move the car and he drove away.

When we finally found a cab and drove out of the mall, guess who we saw parked on the side? The same cab from the fight earlier, only now it was surrounded by an angry mob! Hopefully they eventually worked it out!

Speaking of law enforcement, last week I also went to the police station to extend my stay. American citizens can pay 20JD in the airport on arrival for a one entry visa, but if you're planning on staying in Jordan for more than a month you must register at the local police station and get an extension.

I've only been here 3 weeks now but it feels like so much longer! My stomach has gotten used to the new food and now I can enjoy the amazing flavors without getting a stomach ache afterwards. I think I've tried almost all of Laila's mom's dishes now and I can honestly say I loved them all. We have some kind of meat with every meal, which yesterday was chicken on top of rice, one of my favorites so far. I think overall my favorite was one we had last week which was a rice dish with bits of cooked lamb and chicken thrown in, nuts, crunchy bread pieces, and arab yogurt. So good!!

Another thing I've seen here that brought back memories of China were the poster photos. Posters with the King's portrait are plastered all over the city. From government buildings to small shops on the streets - much like my memories of China and how photos of Mao were posted everywhere. The strong sense of nationalism in the country has been clear since I arrived.


Oh and there's good news on my upcoming trips as well. Originally I didn't know who I would be going to Petra and Wadi Rum with, I assumed a group of friends from school because Laila wouldn't be able to go. But we're going tomorrow! We're going with the same group of Laila's good friends and we'll be there most of the day. For locals or arab nationals the admission is 1 JD - but I'll be paying the 50 JD fee for foreigners! :P But Laila reminded me how hard it was for her to get a visa for the US so I guess that's fair :P

Then we've worked out a choice of two different hotels to go to the Dead Sea this weekend with the same group! To get to the Dead Sea you have to either stay at one of the luxury resort hotels or pay for a day pass to get to the beach. We'll be staying the night at one! The hotels look amazing and most have spas, gyms, and huge outdoor pools. We have a really exciting week planned, inshallah :D

These are the top places left on my list to visit while I'm here:

• Petra
• Wadi Rum
• Dead Sea
• Madaba - Mount Nebo - Jordan River
• The Holy Land - Jerusalem and Bethlehem
• Jerash and Kerak (if there's time)
• I'd also like to get to the National Archeological Museum to see some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


23rd July 2012

It looks like you made it to Jerash...
based upon your profile picture. Of course I could be wrong given the large number of sites with Greek columns; but I can't think of many others in Jordan. I'm looking forward to reading your blogs about the rest of your time in the Middle East.
24th July 2012

Thanks Bob and Linda!
Actually my profile photo was taken in downtown Amman at the Roman Amphitheater! but i'm hoping to make it to Jerash before I leave! Thanks again for the comment
25th July 2012

Awesome blog, I enjoyed you reliving the cab driver and passenger interaction.wow. I hope to come to the middle east someday but worry about it.
26th July 2012

haha im glad it was entertaining! if you do come to the middle east, Jordan is a great first place to visit. Its very very safe compared to its neighbors :)
26th July 2012

Great observations on my favourite part of the world!
The Middle East is the world's most misunderstood region, and it is refreshing to read the tales of your daily life there. The people are the most hospitable, the food delicious and the sightseeing incredible. I hope your blogs convince more people to see the Middle East for themselves.
26th July 2012

thanks shane
I agree. definitely misunderstood and misconstrued by the media. thanks for the kind words. One of my goals with these middle east blogs was to do just that :)

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