What’s hot with Jordan bloggers: smilies, mansaf, numbers, and tagging

I’ve often wondered if Jordanians are more emotionally oriented than Americans. They certainly seem to value socializing more, as witnessed by their ability to drink tea under any circumstances, and by their legendary hospitality, typified by but not limited to their national dish, mansaf.


Mansaf consists of a bed of rice spread with sauteed pine nuts and meat. A sauce called jameed made from goat cheese is poured over a small section of rice. The rice is then scooped into a ball in the palm of the hand (eating with the right hand only) and popped into the mouth. Americans either love mansaf or hate mansaf; there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. I love mansaf. Americans who love mansaf sometimes find themselves eating in restaurants back in the states while their friends keep reminding them not to eat with their hands. Ah, mansaf.

I ran into this photo of mansaf posted on the Majoob blog by a Jordanian blogger. (See the icon at the lower right side of the page.) He blogs at typicalarab.blogspot.com, and identifies himself on the Mahjoob blog as a “certified woman hater”, but with a mensaf photo like that he must have something going for him. You can find even more Jordanian bloggers at Planet Jordan.

Jordanian bloggers seem to be able to converse endlessly without much to say. Much of their conversation is punctuated by emoticons.

These are a few of the most popular ones:


This one is a bit creepy:die.gif

They also like to line up several emoticons of the same type to make a comment:


Or: laughing-on-ground-do7ok.giflaughing-on-ground-do7ok.giflaughing-on-ground-do7ok.gif

Or: hah.gifhah.gifhah.gif

One of the mysteries of Jordanian blogging is the use of numbers to represent sounds of the Arab alphabet. I only know a few of them. The number 3 is ein or ع. So the word I would write as “yani”, meaning “perhaps”, which functions almost as a vocalized pause would be written as “ya3ni”.

The word “al7amdulillah” gives us a clue for the sound for the number 7. The Arabic language has two letters for “H” and the seven clearly represents one of them. The word is “al-Hamdullilah” or “thanks be to Allah”.

So far we have a national food which evokes emotion in everyone who comes in contact with it, some smilies to express emotions, and some symbols for expressing Arabic sounds on the western keyboard. In order to blog we now need something to talk about. This is where the tagging comes in. Jordanian tagging is not like American tagging, which is meant for help with google searches and organizing information. This is more like a “Tag, you’re it” kind of game. To play, someone answers a set of questions and sends it to the blogger. The blogger can then post it on his blog. “Typical Arab” has several of these tags posted on his blog from other bloggers, but he makes a point of never returning them. I wonder how long that‘s going to last. Here is one”tag” he posted from another blogger.

1. My name.
2. Where did we meet?
Mahjoob, but did not talk then, then MSN.
3. How well do you know me (a lot, not so much, not at all)?
Not so much.
4. When you first knew me what was your first impression?
on mahjoob, you were annoying, on MSN it was a very good impression.
5. Am I shy or outgoing?
Extremely Shy
6. Am I a rebel or do I follow the rules?
in between
7. Do you consider me a friend?
I think I do.
8. If there was one good nickname for me, what would it be?
Pesse does not suite you right, I don’t know, Um al.habal maybe.
9. What song(if any)reminds you of me?
No song in my mind.
10. Do I remind you of any characters on TV?
11. A feature that you like about me.
Honest, Shy, Extremely nice and sometimes caring.
12. A feature that you dislike about me.
You trsut people too much.
13. If you could give me anything, what would it be?
I seriously don’t know, maybe a great job, high paid, 3 hours a day !
14. If we spent a day together…..where would we go and what would we do?
Lunch & Movies … 3ala 7sabik :smilie 6afran:
15. If you could describe me in one word, what would it be?
16. What word do I say all the time?
Not a word, but that wierd laughing smilie
17. which of the posts I posted on my blog do you like the most?
My tag :D
18. which of the posts I posted on my blog do you like the least?
Nothing, you have a nice blog.

Some of the answers can be a bit surprising, something like the standardized test I once give my Jordanian students: “The parking lot was a)interesting b) interested c)boring d)bored.” The Jordanians without exception said the parking lot was “interesting”. For something like that, you just have to decide they know how to use participles and throw away the answer key.

Posted in Arab culture, Arabic, Arabs, Jordan, Middle East, الأردن. Comments Off on What’s hot with Jordan bloggers: smilies, mansaf, numbers, and tagging

Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice plagued by magic spells thrown in the Red Sea

From tomorrow’s edition of the Saudi publication Arab News comes the tantalizing bit of information that magic spells thrown into the Red Sea are the concern of a Saudi agency called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

The commission is one of Saudi’s largest law enforcement bodies, with 486 centers and 10,000 members through out the kingdom. Their job is to “randomly enter malls, restaurants and local and private establishments to enforce proper moral conduct”, which includes enforcing shop closures during prayer times, prayer attendance, gender segregation and confiscation of pornography.

And now their members are hitting the beach:

Q: What is the commission doing to catch sorcerers in Saudi cities. And what is their fate after they are caught? Could you tell us how many of them were caught this year and their locations? And what about the magic spells that are thrown into the Red Sea? How are these spells broken?A: The commission plays a large role in capturing people who practice sorcery or delusions since these are vices which affect the faith of Muslims and cause harm to both nationals and expatriates. The commission has assigned centers in every city and town to be on the lookout for these men. As for their fate, they are arrested and then transferred to concerned authorities. The commission also has a role in breaking magic spells, which are found in the sea. We cooperate with divers in this aspect. After the spells are found, they are then broken using recitations of the Holy Qur’an. We do not use magic to break magic spells, as this is against the teachings of Islam as mentioned by the Supreme Ulema. But we use the Qur’an as did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

This raises more questions than it answers. First of all, what are these spells found in the sea? What are they for, what do they look like, and who throws them in the sea? Why are the spells in the sea and not on the beach or somewhere else? How do you use Koran to break the spell? Do you have to recite a particular aya?

One possible hint comes from The Catalan Atlas from 1375 that shows the “world and the people who inhabit it”.

Navigational information is also recorded: “From the mouth of the river of Baghdad, the Indian and Persian Oceans open out. Here they fish for pearls, which are supplied to the town of Baghdad.” We learn that “before they dive to the bottom of the sea, pearl fishers recite magic spells with which they frighten away the fish” a piece of information that comes straight from Marco Polo, who mentions that the pearl fishers on the Malabar coast are protected by the magic and spells of the Brahmins. Various trading stations are indicated on the shore of the Indian Ocean from Hormus, “where India begins,” to Quilon in Kerala. There, pearl fishers are mentioned again with reference to magic spells.

If anyone is thinking that we in the west don’t do anything like that, think again about our practice of throwing coins in a fountain for luck, for health, or just to to make a wish. The practice goes back a long way–Roman coins have been excavated from very old fountains. But we don’t try to suppress the practice with anti-vice police. In fact, the person throwing the coins may be doing so in the knowledge that the coins will be fished out and donated to a particular charity.

I only know two magical uses of the Koran–one for sleep and one that uses a visitor’s empty tea glass to get them to return–and both use the “Corsi Aya.” And oh, yeah, getting rid of a Djinn in the desert by saying the word “Bismallah” (In the name of Allah). There must be more.

Our Iraqi Allies in Danger

A few years ago I spent a month in Minneapolis and first became aware of the Hmong–“Our Vietnamese allies” my aunt called them. Large numbers of Vietnamese ended up in Minneapolis, but the Hmong was a population with difficulties adjusting and a high suicide rate. First, they were preliterate, having their own spoken language but no written language. Then, the tribe was known to have helped the Americans, which did not endear them to the post-American government in Vietnam. Many had family left in Vietnam who they believed were still being tortured.

iraqi-interpreter72.jpgNow there is a new group with problems because of their ties to Americans–Iraqi translators. George Packer, in the latest issue of the New Yorker, tells the story of Iraqi translators who embraced the Americans as a new chance for Iraq, only to find they are now being murdered one by one. He details the extarordinary precautions they take to avoid being identified and the safety and security concerns that were repeatedly brought to the American authorities and routinely ignored, as well as the more ordinary cultural misunderstandings that typically plaque Arab-American relations.

Posted in Arabs, Iraq, Middle East, peace. Comments Off on Our Iraqi Allies in Danger

Guerrilla Book Exchange Survives Fire and Ice in Urban Forest Preserve

When I first moved to this neighborhood, I started walking for exercise. Step by step I discovered a forest preserve, a hidden pond where an occasional migrating swan can be seen, a stream where salmon swim uphill in season, and an abandoned WWII-era Nike missile site, which has now reverted back to public use. All of this is connected by miles of bike and foot paths, which is alternately maintained by a variety of state, county, and forest preserve entities.

Last summer I was exploring a new section of trail, when I happened on a bookshelf in the middle of the forest. That’s right. A huge three-shelf metal cabinet with books on the shelves, neatly wrapped in plastic bags. I made a mental note to bring some books out.

Then last fall someone spray-painted the bookshelf a metallic cobalt blue. Newly stenciled letters at the top of the cabinet announced that this was the “EAST SIDE BOOK EXCHANGE”. The book exchange was ready for winter.

Then one evening I was walking on the path with some books to donate and saw some sort of reflection in the distance. Another walker joined me on the path. He spoke no English but was a student at the same school where I teach. We walked quickly in the twilight, eager to be off the path and back in an area with streetlights before nightfall. As we reached the area of the book exchange, we could see there wasn’t a reflection, but a fire. Someone had piled up all the books and set fire to them in the middle of the path. We had probably surprised them. We worked quickly to contain the fire, spreading the books out on the  path and moving them to the side so bicycle and foot traffic could pass on one side. I left the books I had carried with me on the now-empty shelves in a symbolic gesture.Who would burn books, I thought, and a few days later brought out a copy of Fahrenheit 451.

In the following weeks the book exchange did indeed rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Someone cleaned up the scorched books. Park crews mowed a large area in front of the shelf. Throughout the winter people continued leaving books, even thought the temperature was sub-freezing and the path was difficult to negotiate.

Now the snow is mostly melted and the East Side Book Exchange has more books than ever. People are no longer wrapping the books in plastic though, and last weeks’ snowstorm left many of them warped from moisture and some of them on the ground. Gently I started picking books off the ground and laying them on the shelf to dry. Then a book caught my eye and I started skimming it right in the middle of the forest as if I was really in a library. I had to take it home to finish looking at it. So now I am now a borrower too, and the guerrilla forest book exchange has come full circle.

Posted in Books, Curiosities. Comments Off on Guerrilla Book Exchange Survives Fire and Ice in Urban Forest Preserve

Hot New Saddam Ringtone from Baghdad: All I Need is Chili Fries

Life in Baghdad is a real drag these days. No one goes anywhere because of the private death squad militias, restaurants are closed, and there is nothing to do but text message your friends on your mobile.

USA Today reports the latest hot ringtone from Baghdad is a voice like Saddam’s rapping in English: “I’m Saddam, I don’t have a bomb/Bush wants to kick me/I don’t know why/smoking weed and getting high/I know the devil’s by my side.” The song concludes with: “My days are over and I’m gonna die/all I need is chili fries” as a crowd yells “Goodbye forever, may God curse you.”

How ghoulish. I thought they would be tired of that sort of thing by now.

Posted in Arabs, Iraq, Middle East, Saddam. Comments Off on Hot New Saddam Ringtone from Baghdad: All I Need is Chili Fries

Iraqi Moment of Silence for Halabja

My Kurdish students at Haleel Achmar told me they had seen chemical weapons used by Saddam in Iraq, but they wouldn’t talk about it. Now the Iraqi govenrnment has made an official recognition of the genocide in Halabja. The following appeared as filler at the end of a story in the Friday-Saturday (March 16-17) edition of the Jordan Times :

The government, meanwhile, announced that it had decided to hold a minute of silence in all Iraqi cities on Friday morning to commemorate the anniversary of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in northern Iraq, according to state TV. Saddam had ordered the attack as part of a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north, seen as aiding the Iranian enemy.

Sometimes the little snippets at the end are the most interesting part.

Posted in Arabs, Iraq, Middle East. Comments Off on Iraqi Moment of Silence for Halabja

Banned In Baghdad: Singer Hossam Al Rassam

“You infidel and devil-follower, … you deserve to die for pushing Muslims to corruption and adultery.”

So said a letter to Ammar (first names only, please) who once ran a music store in eastern Baghdad. In September followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr (that guy again!) came to his shop and told him to shut it down. Then three guys in black came and sprayed the shop with gunfire, destroying it and wounding Ammar.

Now Ammar works at the Aldar Albaidaa chain of music stores in Kurdish Suleimaniyeh. Aldar Albaidaa opened a branch in Suleimaniyah because it was no longer safe to sell music in central and southern Iraq. Shiite and Sunni Muslim religious extremists have forced stores selling CDs and DVDs to shut down, sometimes killing employees. Friends in Baghdad are afraid to listen to music in public for fear of the Islamists.

hussam-alrassem75.jpgAmong the best-selling CD’s–Iraqi singer and oud player Hossam Al Rassam, who now lives in Syria, who sings in one album, “What a pity, it [Baghdad] was the jewel of the Arabs, but it was sold away in an auction.” The best-selling song titles–songs about Iraqis who had fled from violence, like “So we don’t forget Iraq” and “The pains of our people.”

Fortunately, especially if you happen to live in Baghdad, you can download (link not active) his songs in MP3 format. And here is a link (link not active) to the lyrics (in Arabic) of his Iraq Story (Mawal) on YouTube.

I’m not sure if this is the “maqam” traditonal style he is known for, the “tarabi” style deplored by some Arabic speaking bloggers or the “6a6awww music” they seem to like. I have to say the vocals are much too morose and over the top in the emoting department for my taste, although the background music is interesting in an Eastern mystical way (although I do like overdone Arab love songs in general like, say, Ehab). Perhaps his popular “My mother I have been bitten by a scorpion” love song would be more my cup of tea.

UPDATE: The above links are no longer active.  Hossam Al Rassam’s own website is down too.  A pity.  I would like to hear a sample of the types of his music.  He has a soccer tune out too that was very popular. The best I can recommend now is to google his name and look for something on YouTube.

Another update:

Here is the scorpion song “Agaraba” العگربة on YouTube.

Here is the football song “Jeeb al cas” – جيب الكاس – bring the (trophy) cup

Passive Voice Gains Support

The most heated East-West argument I ever participated in was over grammar concept called the Passive Voice. The scene was a hotel in Amman, Jordan; the event an educational convention for teachers of English as a second language. The combatants: American native English speakers teaching English in Jordan who insisted the passive voice in the English language was undesirable and to be eliminated versus Jordanian Arabic-speaking administrators who insisted cultivation of the passive voice was a sign of deep educational achievement. As a fairly educated American specimen,  I had done enough exercises in advanced English composition courses changing  passive voice to active voice to know that active voice is one way to make writing clearer, more accurate and  less ambigious.  Among Americans at least, overdoing the passive voice is a sure sign of the novice.

Now in the hotel, an eighty-year-old American English teacher explained the scourge of Passive Voice more eloquantly.  Suppose you take the sentence: “Taxes were raised.”  The sentence has no subject, but it is still a complete sentence. That’s because it’s in passive voice. But to Americans it’s a very unsatisfactory sentence, becauase they want to know WHO raised taxes. In fact, that’s the only interesting part of the whole sentence, and why is it left out anyway????? The Passive Voice smacks of evasion.

Now that I have had time to look up passive voice and its correct usuage, I can say the two occasions where passive voice is appropriate is (1) the subject of the sentence is not known and (2) the subject of the sentence is not important. The classic example for both of these is a newpaper review of a play. It may not be known who is producing a particular play and it is certainly not important to the public.  The author of the play, the main actors, the theater, and the quality of the performance are all much more important bits of information.

This week I have run across more public uses of the passive voice. In the Friday-Saturday edition of the Jordan Times: “The war was triggered after Hizbollah fighters crossed Israel’s northern border, killed three soldiers and returned to Lebanon with two captured Israeli soldiers.” The war was triggered. Finally I can understand the Arab love-affair with passive voice. How else could an Arab publication frankly discuss the events of the war. On the American side, this week U.S.Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in reference to the firing of  8 US attorneys, said “Mistakes were made,” echoing the late President Reagan when he commented on the Iran contra affair when the U.S. secretly sold weapons to Iran to raise money for the clandestine anti-Sandanista rebellion in Nicaragua.  Passive voice to the rescue.

Posted in Arabs, English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, ESL, Government. Comments Off on Passive Voice Gains Support

Ahmadinejad Bedeviled by Security Council’s Ancestors from Hell

Do nations that espouse “godless communism” have ancesters from hell? Apparently so. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted in the Friday-Saturday edition of The Jordan Times :

“Today, the Iranian nation fully possesses the nuclear fuel cycle. If all of you gather and also invite your ancestors from hell, you will not be able to stop the Iranian nation,” he said.

The reference was to the five permanent member of the UN Security Council–the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France–plus Germany whose ambassadors reached an agreement to increase trade sanctions and add more individuals and organizations to the list freezing assets.   The text adds to the agreement reached by the Security Council in December and will be presented to the full 15-member Security Council for further discussion.

Iran must be terribly dull these days now that the Holocaust Denial Convention is no longer in town.

(The following is the complete text of the article–JT links are active for one week): UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Six world powers reached agreement Thursday on a package of new sanctions against Iran including an embargo on arms exports and financial restrictions on more individuals and companies associated with Tehran’s nuclear and missile programmes, many linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Their draft resolution, obtained by the Associated Press, expresses concern at “the proliferation risks presented by the Iranian nuclear programme.” It reiterates the demand by the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used to produce nuclear energy or nuclear weapons.

The governments of the five permanent Security Council nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and Germany gave a green light Thursday morning to the draft resolution hammered out by their ambassadors.

“We have an agreement and I will introduce a text on behalf of the six,” Britain’s UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said after a meeting of ambassadors from the six countries. “It’s a text which is our suggestions. It’s not take it or leave it.” The full 15-member Security Council then met so the draft resolution could be presented to the 10 non-permanent council nations, who are elected for two-year terms and have been left out of negotiations.

They will need time to consider the text and the current council president, South Africa’s UN Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said Wednesday. “We anticipate that the voting would happen maybe well into next week.” But the agreement by the five veto-wielding permanent members will be a strong signal of the unity of the key nations on the UN’s most powerful body — and a sign that they want to send a united message to Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

In December, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions against Iran for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment. It ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programmes and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programmes.

The council said it would consider further nonmilitary sanctions if Iran refused to suspend enrichment. Iran’s response was to accelerate its enrichment programme.

The modest package of new measures in the new draft would freeze the assets of 10 additional individuals and eight additional entities, according to a council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the annex to the draft resolution with the names was not released.

Seven of the individuals are members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and three of the organisations are affiliated with the elite military corps, which oversees vital Iranian interests, including oil and natural gas installations and the nation’s missile arsenal, the diplomat said.

Acting US Ambassador Alejandro Wolff had called the issue of the Revolutionary Guards one of “the trickiest” in drafting the resolution.

Under the draft, Iran would be banned from supplying, selling or transferring “any arms or related material” and all countries would be prohibited from buying Iranian weapons.

The proposed resolution does not ban arms imports to Iran, but calls on all nations “to exercise vigilance and restraint” in supplying tanks, combat aircraft and other heavy weapons.

In the financial area, it calls on all governments and financial institutions not to make any new commitments “of grants, financial assistance, or concessional loans” to the Iranian government.

There is no travel ban, but all countries would be asked to exercise “vigilance and restraint” on the entry or transit through their territory of the individuals whose assets have been frozen. The draft would also require all countries to report the transit or entry of any of these people to the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Iran.

Iran insists its enrichment programme is peaceful and aimed solely at producing nuclear energy, but the US, European nations and the UN nuclear watchdog are concerned that Iran’s goal is to produce nuclear weapons.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday called the UN Security Council an “illegitimate” body and said that any new sanctions imposed on his country would only stimulate it to be self sufficient and further develop nuclear technology.

“Using the Security Council as an instrument, the enemies of Iran want to prevent the progress of the Iranian nation,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the state Islamic Republic News Agency. “But the Security Council today has no legitimacy among world nations. What are you seeking to prevent [Iran] from,” Ahmadinejad said at a rally in Ardakan, central Iran, speaking of the West.

“Today, the Iranian nation fully possesses the nuclear fuel cycle. If all of you gather and also invite your ancestors from hell, you will not be able to stop the Iranian nation,” he said.

“We have an agreement and I will introduce a text on behalf of the six,” Britain’s UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said after a meeting of ambassadors from the six countries on Thursday. The package will now be considered by the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Ahmadinejad suggested at the rally Thursday that new sanctions would help enhance — not undermine — Iran’s development of nuclear technologies.

“Haven’t you imposed sanctions in the past 27 years? Which machinery or parts did you give us,” he said in reference to US sanctions against Iran and refusal by European countries to sell Iran technologies that could also have nuclear use in the past three decades.

Friday-Saturday, March 16-17, 2007

Halliburton moves, Cheney changes citizenship to Dubai

Just kidding about the V.P., but Halliburton has indeed moved to Dubai.

Speculation about the reasons includes “some of the world’s most liberal tax, investment and residency laws,” to no extradition agreement with Dubai, to the ability to trade legally with countries like Iran. U.S. law forbids U.S. companies from doing business with countires that support terrorism, including Iran and Syria, but a loophole in the law allows subsidiaries in other countries to do so. One such subsidiary is Halliburton Products and Services, based in the Cayman Islands.halliburton-sign-freewaybloggerdotcom.jpg

How big a change is this going to be for Halliburton?

When CBS Television’s 60 Minutes program visited the address where Halliburton Products and Services is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, they discovered a “brass plate” operation with no employees whose agent – the Calidonian Bank — forwards all of the company’s mail to Halliburton’s offices in Houston (instead of the company’s operations in Dubai), “indicating that decision-making authority may be in Houston, not the Cayman Islands or Dubai,” according to the Senators. In addition, it was reported that Halliburton’s operations in Dubai share the same address, telephone and fax numbers as Halliburton Products and Services – an indication that the companies do not function separately.

And doesn’t Dubai also have very, very private bank accounts?

Here are some links for following events surrounding oil in the Middle East, particularly proposed Iraqi legislation: