This week, my brother and his girlfriend were gone Monday and Tuesday traveling south to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba, and I finished my midterm presentation. For this presentation, I chose to do a bit of research about my religious background, as this topic has been brought to my attention much more prominently during my time here in Jordan.
My grandmother told me that my father was raised Christian, more specifically, as a Christian Scientist. My mother’s side of the family is Shinto-Buddhist. How is it that I have lived my life knowing practically nothing of either of these religions? After doing research, I was surprised to find that Shinto-Buddhism, and more specifically Shinto (Shinto and Buddhism are actually separate religions, but many people in Japan practice both at the same time), has influenced my life and the way I think without my even knowing it. I don’t know if Shinto-Buddhism has a place in the environment here, but it was gratifying at least to understand this question of religion even if the answers will mostly be kept to myself.
On Tuesday, I arranged a dinner with my brother Austin, his girlfriend Molly, and some friends at Bab al Yemen, a restaurant near the University of Jordan. Back when I was taking Arabic at UC Berkeley, one of my classmates thought I was Yemeni for half the semester (the words for “Japanese” and “Yemeni” are very similar in Arabic, and the confusion is understandable because I don’t look at all Japanese). Now when we go out for Yemeni food, I joke and say that I’m connecting with my Yemeni roots.
After dinner, we went to the university’s mosque so that my classmate could pray. It was my first time being in a mosque while others were praying, and it was interesting to see some people taking naps, checking their phones, or playing quietly with their kids. It was not what I was expecting.
On Wednesday, I met Austin and Molly at their hostel after my class and we walked downtown to get Kunafeh. In fact, it was the second kunafeh I had eaten that day; I had eaten some earlier in class, the excuse for doing so being that our listening was about the history of kunafeh in Nablus.
The next day, we went to the Royal Automobile Museum. My brother is an engineer and loves cars, so he was pretty excited by this. Afterward, we went to the King Abdullah Mosque. There is an entrance specifically for visitors, which of course took us first through the souvenir shop where we were greeted by a young man who spoke english.
In Jordan, I have to fight to speak Arabic, as many people speak English and are not shy about using it. I always stubbornly continue to speak in Arabic even when the other person is equally stubbornly speaking English. In any case, this guy was nice and spoke to me in Arabic when he saw that I could understand him.
He asked Molly and I to put on abayas before entering the mosque. On the way out of the mosque, I saw a book in the souvenir shop that was written in Japanese. I picked it up out of curiosity, and the guy working in the shop asked me if I spoke Japanese. When I told him that I did, he started speaking to me in Japanese! He had studied for a year in Nagoya, and his Japanese was very good. It was so unexpected.
After the mosque, we had our last dinner together after which Austin and Molly left to go back to California.
I woke up early Friday morning to go to Petra with two of my classmates. Petra was beautiful, but I wish I had known beforehand more about it’s history and significance. I always struggle to truly appreciate places like Petra, which sometimes feel more like amusement parks where foreigners can indulge in stereotypical projections. Something I hadn’t heard about Petra before visiting is the sad and frustrating prevalence of animal cruelty and unwanted male attention.
My classmates and I hiked up to the monastery, then continued on to a viewpoint. We found a tent cafe sitting on the edge of a cliff. The owner was absent, so we sat down and enjoyed the seclusion and quiet. The landscape there is so brutally simple, stark, and intimidating, but beautiful. Sitting there in silence, feeling the warm breeze traveling over the mountains and through the valleys, was the best part of our trip to Petra.
On Saturday, I slept in, procrastinated on my homework, then met Alia and my friend Abe at Mukhtar Mall where we sat in the food court talking for three hours and eating Mcdonald’s donuts. There are many beautiful places to see in Jordan and in the world, but if I had to choose between the two, I would definitely prefer cheap coffee and friends.