Saturday, May 28, 2011

Aeed Istiklal " عيد الاستقلال"

  Today was Jordan's Independence Day (May 25th) from Britain and it was most definitely fantastic.  We had originally told our friend Ahmed that we wanted to go visit him in Aqaba but then we found out that there were a ton of celebrations in the city including a military parade where the king and queen might appear.  So Ahmed decided he would meet us in Amman and we would have a little party with him and then we would go to see the parade.  We hoped it would be a fun day and knew that spending some time with Ahmed was always fun.
Ahmed and I in the ampitheater
  We met Ahmed downtown and he promptly whisked us off to see the Roman Amphitheater and museums that are downtown.  He told us that we were supposed to be charged a dollar for entrance fee, the locals are only charged 15 cents, but that he told the guards we were working with the ministry and they let us in for free.  He then told us that he could get us into Petra for free also which is pretty sweet considering it's a 70 dollar entrance fee (unless you entered Jordan that day, then it's a 140 dollars.  They do that so that Israelis can't simply cross the border and go to Petra.  Pretty sneaky eh?).  Anyway, the Roman Amphitheater is huge and absolutely gorgeous.  I'm constantly amazed at the public works they created and the workmanship that has allowed such structures to stand for 2000 years or so.  Also, as I have mentioned before, I find it interesting that the largest theater in Jordan is the one that was built 200o years ago but that is still used today for artistic performances.  Being the person that I am, I of course had to explore every nook and crevice of the amphitheater and take lots of pictures because it was really cool.
  As we left the amphitheater, Ahmed told us we needed to stop at a mosque so he could do his afternoon prayers but on the way I saw a 'dagger' workshop and I just had to stop in.  There we met an older gentleman and his brother who hand made traditional bedouin and arab daggers.  He said the business had been in his family for over 5 generations and that they had even made a dagger for the king (he had an official picture right there).  I got to watch him engrave a dagger and talked with him for quite awhile.  I told him I would come back soon, when I have a better idea of what I want engraved on a knife or what type of knife that I want.  He said alright and probably didn't believe me one bit.  However, I love little shops where they make the craft by hand and would rather pay double for a product I saw made or had commissioned than to pay for a crappy product that was supposedly made by hand by a factory worker in China.  Anyway, he was a really nice man and I look forward to going back and speaking with him in the future.
The mosque where I took a nap "groofwa"
  After we left the dagger place we went to find Ahmed and found him chilling under the front veranda of the mosque talking to his new Egyptian friend.  We talked to him for a while and then because we had some time to spare we all took a short little cat nap under the front awning.  It was one of the most peaceful and relaxing naps that I feel I have ever had and how many westerners can say they took a nap on a mosque's porch in the middle of Amman, I bet not too many.  From there we headed up to the Parade route and this is where the true fun begins.
Myself, Ahmed, Austin and the Bedouin Dancers
  When we got to the circle where we were going to watch the parade we were immediately greeted by a few huge pictures of the king and his father.  A lot of heavily armed military men, an F-350 with at least two 60 cal. machine guns and gigantic masses of chanting and dancing shabab (young men and boys) waving Jordanian Flags and chanting, "Aesh jallal Maleek Abdullah" or long live King Abudallah.  To tell you the truth, it was exactly like the scenes we see replayed on CNN all the time except that this one was an extremely joyous and happy occasion for all involved.  On one side of the road there were a series of Imams and other traditionally clothed individuals lined up shoulder to shoulder while on our side there were people dancing, a stage set up, and bedouin dancing troupe dressed in traditional white that Ahmed said he wanted us to dance with.  Well, Ahmed introduced us to the dancers and we got some pictures taken with them and then went behind the barrier to where their stage was set up.  Here was where the real fun began.  As the crowd grew larger more and more shabab congregated around the stage and they began to play some really loud Arabic music.  I listened at first and then as I was introduced to many new people my age by Ahmed, I began to be dragged into the dancing and taught how to do it.  For the next hour and a half I was constantly jumping, clapping, being pulled into a circle, shimmying or holding a random Arab man's hand as he grabbed me to go off to dance.  I'm pretty sure that if you were to search, "stupid american dancing at Jordan's Independence Day", you would find at least 2 dozen movies and hundreds of pictures.  The arabs were all amazingly enthralled that a huge blonde, blue-eyed American was dancing and having tons of fun with them in the middle of the parade.  They were so enthralled that every time I would leave one group I would get sucked into another and the process of holding hands, dancing, clapping and smiling for tons of pictures would begin again.  It was very interesting, although tiring, and I loved it completely.
  On a side note, I realize a lot better now why Arab boys are so touchy feely.  During the party, there were absolutely no women involved.  The only women I saw were on the periphery and they were not having any fun.  That meant that the Shabab had to dance with each other and have fun in that manner rather that doing the unthinkable in their culture and have physical contact with a woman (btw, that's an exaggeration).  Anyway, it just taught me a lot more about the people I am around every day.
One of my many chances to dance with the Shabab
  When I finally got out of the Shabab, my new friend Luai asked me if I wanted to dance with the Sheikhs out in front of the parade.  The Sheikhs were two arab men dressed in traditional clothing with black overcoats dancing in front of the parade waving flags and dancing with a sword.  At first I thought that I would be nervous being in front of so many people, but my desire to have fun, experience something new, and have a cool story quickly overwhelmed that opinion.  So, like a true Herrick at hitched it out in front of the entire parade, put on one of their black see-through robes and proceeded to be paraded up and down the line of people and meet all types of other Sheikhs, Army Officers and other people.  It was pretty funny, and fun because of how many people took pictures and just how amazing it was.  Also, every time Skeikh Yusef would lead me to one end of the people a lady would give me horrible Arabic Coffee to drink.  I didn't have time to explain that I don't drink coffee for religious reasons and I didn't want to offend them so I just drank it, 4 times!  It was, interesting to say the least.  Anyway, tons of people took pictures and I met a number of important people although I don't really know who.  I was also on T.V. and in the newspaper dancing with the Sheikhs!  It was an awesome experience and Sheikh Yusef invited me over to his house to eat dinner sometime soon. Also, I got to see the King and Queen drive by because I was in the front row and they had to wave at all the Sheikhs around me so they rolled down the window.  It was really cool.
With the Sheikhs again, just a sweet picture
Living it up with Sheikh Yusef and Sheikh Hussin
  After the King went by the parade was over and so everyone split very quickly, including us.  We didn't really know where we were going but Ahmed put us on the bus with all the dancers and we rode with them to the next event where we though Ahmed was going to meet us but it turns out that he went back to Aqaba.  Well, the next event we went to was a huge celebration that was much more modern.  It was hosted by Zain, one of the big internet/phone companies here, and was pretty crazy.  There were HUGE bouncers everywhere and 'big black men' (what every Arab tells us they are afraid of) barring our way through.  It took some convincing by the dancers but finally we were allowed to go back stage with them and watched their performance from the shelter of the VIP tent with all sorts of interesting and powerful people (also free drinks!).  It was awesome and when we finally got home we collapsed into bed!
  Seriously, can you believe the experiences I am having here in Jordan?  I think the key is simply to try lots of things and never be afraid to make a fool of yourself.  It happens to me enough anyway so why should I be afraid right?  Anyway, I have definitely found the Arabic people to be amazingly hospitable and nice in every way and although I miss many things in America I am thoroughly enjoying my time here.  Till next time!


  1. My gosh, what an experience. Your ability to make a fool of yourself in front of hundreds of people seemingly knows no bounds. Way to go!