Monday, November 14, 2011

kind of like Christmas?

Apologies for not posting recently! I just got back from a week of eid (holiday) vacation. Last week, Muslims all over the world celebrated Eid al-Adha, which commemorates Abraham's almost-sacrifice of his son. In the Muslim tradition, God commands Abraham to kill Ishmael (not Isaac!). At the last second, an angel tells Abraham to spare his son and sacrifice a sheep instead. It's a rough story for me; I've never been able to figure out how to tackle it in my own religion.

Anyways, Eid al-Adha is celebrated in many ways. Many people make a pilgrimage to Jebel Arafat, in Saudi Arabia, and then to Mecca. But it's a pricey trip, and not everyone who wants to go can make it. (I stayed in Amman.) If you can't make it to Saudi, people may chose to fast the day before Eid al-Adha in solidarity with those ascending Jebel Arafat. I spent the day with Noor and the Al-Shatarat family, some of whom decided to fast. We went to a store that I've dubbed the Jordanian Forever 21.

cheap but trendy. and with more coverage 
Here, the girls bought some new clothes for eid, and I tried to figure out what, exactly, was wrong with the store's music. I'm not normally a fan of store music--muzak is annoying to everyone, and I have a low tolerance for bad pop. But this music was particularly strange: there were no instrumentals, and the same song had been playing the entire time I was in the store.

When I returned to the Al-Shatarat's home (where I was fed delicious food, thanks!), I watched al-Jazeera with the family for a little bit. I saw people ascending Mt. Arafat and walking to the Ka'aba in Mecca. And I heard the music from the store again! Upon listening closer, and asking Samah, I learned that the "music" was actually a prayer praising god. "Allahu Akhbar!" (God is great!) and more verses of the same ilk. Definitely not muzak. That a prayer was broadcast in a "Forever 21" is a testament to the importance of Eid al-Adha and the reach of Islam in Jordan.

The next day, a lot of sheep were sacrificed. This links the holiday back to its origins. Traditionally, some of the meat is eaten by its original owners, and the rest is donated to the poor as a form of zakat (charity, with religious undertones). I stayed inside all day. I respect the idea of feeding the poor, but, as my dad said via Skype, "I wish it could be tofu." I dodged a fresh sheep skin, with bits of flesh attached, when walking through the balad (downtown) the following day.

kak is on the far right
I much prefer kak, a delicious little eid pastry which the al-Shatarat family makes in bulk. It's amazing. Essentially a crumbly flour cookie filled with dates. Reminiscent of a fig newton, but much more delicious.

Lastly, on eid, children and women receive gifts. Men give them. Oh, gender...

In other news...
- I began swimming with the Jordanian national team. (Or, rather, trying to stay afloat while 16-year-olds swim around me. One girl went a 29 in 50 METER butterfly, at the end of practice, from a push.)
- I'm moving! Time to explore other neighborhoods in Amman.
- My family is coming for a visit in December. I'm really excited!
- People are telling me I look Arab. If only I could successfully dress and speak the part, too....

Hope you're all doing well.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Diwali

I never would have guessed that I'd celebrate my first Diwali in Amman, Jordan. But here I am!


My friend's roommate is Indian (from Mumbai) and invited a large group of us over for a Diwali dinner. I had some excellent channa, with a respectable level of spice. My Californian palette was at home.

Diwali is an Indian festival of lights marking the changing of the seasons. Upon entering the Diwali diner, I got a red dot on my forehead (a bindi). It represents a third eye. I think it's supposed to be centering. I'm not sure, though, I'm the Middle East scholar!

It's tough for ex-pats to celebrate holidays in a country with an official state religion and a religiously homogenous populace (in terms of religious identity, at least). I really admire people's efforts to continue the traditions which mean something to them, and the ex-pat community's enthusiasm for rallying around each other to celebrate something new. Oh, and I'll never turn down Indian food.