Friday, September 29, 2006

Iftar with Friends

Iftar is the daily meal that breaks the fast during the month of Ramadan. This past week, one of our co-workers had the opportunity to share an Iftar meal with friends.

I definitely have mixed feelings about Ramadan. In some ways I hate it and in others it is enjoyable and provides opportunities for relationship building and maybe even witness opportunities. I have been invited to eat iftar with the same family the first day of Ramadan during my four years here in this city.

The family have me to arrive a few minutes before iftar begins. I help them set the table and set the food on the table. Then we must wait for the exact moment of sunset. We listen to the call to prayer from the mosque. We may be sitting at the table, and the moment they hear the call to prayer, then we start eating. Usually people break their fast by eating a date and then a bowl of soup. After that comes the main meal, usually rice and chicken and salad.

Later, after clearing the table, we go to the sitting room, where we are served tea and something sweet. During Ramadan there is a special sweet called atayef (a-TAY-ef), which is like a small pancake wrapped around cream cheese, coconut, or nuts and fried. Only during Ramadan do we get this special treat.

After we finished eating, my friend's daughter, Heba, who is a university student, helped me with my next Bible story. I had prepared the story of the baptism of Jesus. She listened and corrected my Arabic, and then we recorded the next story on tape, the temptation of Jesus, for me to practice. I left with her the story of Jesus healing a paralytic. I was thrilled that as she looked it over, she remarked on what a nice story, and she looks forward to translating it from English into Arabic. I love doing stories because it may involve the whole family. They all like to get in on translating and then listening and correcting me. I think it's a marvelous opportunity that as I let them teach me Arabic, they are being taught God's Word.

Posted by PF

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Circus Comes to Town

The circus came to our city in Jordan for the first time! Not exactly what we Americans think of as a circus, but at least it was something for our city, which has the atmosphere of a huge, overgrown village. It was a Russian circus. When people asked me about the animals, I told them there was one animal featured, a dog that was dressed as an elephant! Never have my friends and I laughed so much together as when I told them about the dog that performed as an elephant!

It happened this way: in my English class, we had a lesson which featured pictures of people doing stunts in a circus ring, so since I had heard that a circus had come to town, I suggested that we go together. Only three guys showed up to go with me. They had found out that the circus began at 6:00, but when we arrived at the big tent, no other cars were there. We were told that the first night the time had been changed to 7:00, so the three guys and I went to the doughnut shop for coffee.

It was their first time to be at a circus, except for one, who had completed his medical degree in Russia. He was not that impressed since he has seen much greater performances in Russia. We bought the first class tickets, so got to sit right down next the ring. Of course, the circus didn't begin at 7:00. After all, this is Jordan. So we sat talking and watching a woman sell noisy toys to children. My students said now they understood why it was half price for children. They would end up paying as much because of the toys they bought.

The smells and sounds were overpowering, and we began discussing what it reminded us of. I told them with all the sounds it reminded me of a barnyard! They laughed at the idea of our sitting in a barnyard. That got us into a discussion of the meaning of barnyard and barn! I had just done a story of Jesus birth in the chronological Bible storying that I do with other friends, so I had learned a new word for stable. When I told them this word for stable, they all laughed, because it was a very colloquial word. From that, I had the chance to relate the whole story of Jesus' birth!

The performance included a 65-year-old woman who was able to spin many hoola hoops around various parts of her body. She awed the audience with her slender, agile body because of her age and youthful-looking appearance. There were people on the flying trapeze, a man who stacked chairs at various angles and did acrobatic tricks on them, a man who threw knives all around a brave woman, as she stood against a block of wood, a man who swallowed swords and ate fire, as well as the dog dressed as an elephant.

The guys told me that children today have so much more than they had as they were growing up. They had never seen a performance like this when they were children.

Afterwards we wanted to have our pictures with the performers, but the head of security stopped us and would not allow it. As we were about to leave, I had an idea. I thought it would be delightful if we could meet the performers and maybe take them out to eat, since my student could communicate with them in Russian.

We tried to re-enter, and called out to the head of security who had talked with us. He said, "Sorry, but we could not do so." But he suggested that we come another day and he would allow us to meet them. So, that's a possibility for the future. The circus will remain here throughout Ramadan and then for a time afterwards.

Posted by PF

Monday, September 25, 2006

Our Special Friendship

Our friendship with Dr. G. , a dean at a nearby university, continues to grow even though we aren't actually together as much as we once were. Yet, he still relies on us and contacts us just to stay "close" and constantly is encouraging us to come to his office for a visit, etc. At times when we are there, he will seek our advice and/or ideas about all sorts of things and, on one occasion, had me write a letter for him. Recently, his university held a big conference for educators from all over the Arabic world. There were 85 countries represented. Dr. G. called us and insisted that we participate and we did go with him to a celebration night at a really nice restaurant. We were happy to meet so many interesting people from so many countries. This was a really fun evening for us and Dr. G. seemed so pleased that we joined him and the others for this relaxing evening. About a week later, he called, as usual, just checking on us and he added a comment (unsolicited) that has "rested in our hearts" and to us, very unlike him - he said, "You know, you are like family to me." This is an endearing comment, wouldn't you say? HIS love can do ALL things!!!! We give HIM only praise for HIS love passing through us to Dr G.

Posted by J.&G.A.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Jordanian Hospital Visit

I was so sick yesterday that I was dehydrated so I had to go to the hospital for an IV. It was interesting to see the Jordanian medical system at work. The Doctor and the Nurse were very good and had a great bedside manner. Everyone there spoke English, which I was grateful for, as I did not really feel like speaking any Arabic. Not only was the service good and quick, I was in and out in about 2 hours, and it was very cheap. It cost a total of about 30 JD or about $42 for the emergency room visit, the medication in the IV and the IV and the two prescriptions. Medical expenses are very cheap here but most people who live here have no medical insurance and have to pay it out of pocket.

The Nurse talked to me about Ramadan, which begins either Saturday or Sunday depending on the moon. This month is holy to Muslims. The subject came up because they were putting up decorations for Ramadan. During Ramadan Muslims fast during daylight hours and eat during the evening. I was told by a cab driver that the first few days are the hardest, as they must refrain from drinking any liquid, smoking, and eating during the day. He said it is especially difficult not to smoke as most of the men here smoke. I am often offered a cigarette in a taxi. Having been a former smoker I know what it is like to have to try and not smoke for a few hours and I also remember how irritable I would become. I thank God that he helped me break the chains of that addiction.

I am told that many Muslims begin a spiritual journey toward the good news during this time than in any other. Dreams and visions are a part of a lot of Muslim’s story of coming to the good news, mostly during Ramadan. I will pray that God crosses my path with some of them.

Posted by LR -- who is feeling some better today.

Don't Jump! Don't Jump!

The remodeling in our office building has been taxing (to say the least) not only to teachers but to the students. This week (the sixth week of this three-week remodeling project) I had commented to the last class for that day that IF one more thing happened, I thought that I would just jump out of the window. Well, you guessed it, that "one more thing" happened and true to my word, I smiled, threw the book into the air, jumped up from the chair and threw back the curtain and the window screen. This large class of men was roaring with laughter as this "nutty old" teacher pretended to get into the "diving" position. Suddenly, one of the men jumped up; ran to me; grabbed me by the arm and shouted, "Don't jump! Don't jump! PLEASE don't jump! We don't want the American Ambassador coming over here thinking we pushed you!" Well, the laughter could be heard a mile away! A co-worker came to the class stating that her class wanted to know what was going on. Interestingly, all of the class understood the significance - no one cared IF I jumped; they just didn't want any American thinking they had pushed me out of the window!!

Posted by GA -- who didn't jump after all!!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday Night Visitation

Recently, we ran some errands by taxi . We had the taxi take us to our office. My husband and the driver waited while I retrieved what I needed. When I returned to the car, the driver had given two tapes to my husband. The driver popped one into his cassette player to show us what he had gifted us with and it was the Koran being chanted, one verse at a time followed by the translation spoken in very clear English and we listened until we reached our place. We asked the driver to wait a moment. I ran in and got a full Arabic Bible from the apartment (the driver knew little to no English). We thanked him for his gift to us and we TRIED to tell him that we are followers of Jesus and that this is our Book. He did accept our gift.

We do not know if there is any connection between this event and the one we are about to share, but it is a possibility. As we drove from the office to our place, we passed a large mosque near our home. The driver mentioned to us about the Imam, (mosque leader) and we think he was saying that he and the Imam were friends. We told him that we knew him and his family and that we visited with them regularly.

The above event happened on a Friday night. On the following Monday evening, my husband left the office early because we had eight people for dinner that night. I rushed home as soon as I could to find J standing at the door smiling. I had just missed some very special visitors - a group of men -- the “Monday night visitation” committee of the nearby mosque. These men told him that they visited homes every Monday night.
We are thinking that possibly the Friday night event and our Monday night visitation are connected since we have lived in the same place for two years and the visitation committee just found us.

We are hopeful that they will return - maybe EVERY Monday evening - especially when we are both here. We want to give them refreshments AND the BEST REFRESHMENT - even if just a crumb or drop at the time.

Though this may sound a bit strange to some, we are excited about the potential of this group of men coming to our place. Won't you join with us in asking that this group of men will come again - and again and again and again? We don't believe they just happened our way - we believe HE has "directed their steps" and has a plan - we just KNOW they are seekers!

Posted by J&G who live in Jordan.

Reflections on My First Days #2

I took a cab to meet my Arabic tutor for the first time. Unfortunately I was at the wrong place but my new friend came over by taxi to meet me. The good part about this was that my cell phone was still not working; God does work in strange ways, so I had to borrow a phone. I went over to a stand that sells snacks and drinks that is by the bus station. There a man let me use his phone to call my tutor. Another man who works there, whose name is Maher (meaning skillful or professional), speaks a little English. It is very important to know that first names here have a meaning and it is very important to the individual. While I was waiting for the tutor, I spoke to him and he mentioned if I had know of Toastmasters, again it is amazing how God works, and of course I told him I did. He said that he was had attended a few times and gave me the number so I could contact them. In addition, he gave me his cell number and told me to give him a call, which I plan to do. He is an answer to prayer as I was asking God to send someone to me that could show me around. I will pray that this relationship grows. I am also hoping to make some friends at toastmasters.

Several days later, L had these observations.
I went to my first Arabic church service tonight night. It was a wonderful experience even though I did not understand a word of it. I did understand the numbers to a degree for example when they said page numbers, verse numbers, or song numbers. They sang many songs last night and even had a young person there with a little guitar. I look forward to attending again next Wednesday and I met some very nice people. I could not remember their names but will have to work on that. I also look forward to becoming familiar with Arabic so that I could understand the service.
I have been exploring more the town and shopping in the stores. I found a good place to get Shawarma (a gyro type sandwich) down in town. A funny story, I saw some signs posted on poles around town. The signs are in Arabic so I could not read them. They look like yard sale signs so I ask some people here if they were yard sale signs. They said no they do not have yard sales here because most people sell in the bazaar, that they were signs for children to sign up for school. I was much relived to think that I might have finally escaped yard sales. A few days latter, I was speaking to some other people and they were telling me that they are now seeing signs for yard sales in the area. I guess they have followed me over the ocean. Next thing you know some one is going to ask me to help them with a yard sale. I guess I will have to buy a truck now.

Posted by LR

Saturday, September 16, 2006


The old saying, “When it rains, it pours” is applicable no matter where my husband and I seem to live. Sometimes we visit with our neighbors or they visit us rather spasmodically; then sometimes we are showered with visits of one nature or the other. Yesterday was one of those “pouring” days and I don’t mean rain…but let me back up a day or two.

Late one evening while sitting at my computer desk on the second floor of our flat, I heard a voice outside my window which seemed rather close. In turning around to look, I saw a young man wobbly balancing on our window ledge trying to tie some streamers to our window grill. You can only imagine my surprise as I spoke with him regarding his intentions. In assessing the situation, I realized we were going to have a wedding a few doors down the street and our home was one of the designated ‘decorated’ ones.

Back to yesterday…it all began when a dear neighbor brought over a plate full of wara aynab (grape leaves stuffed with cooked seasoned rice and ground beef). They were still warm and absolutely delicious. After my husband and I indulged, I went outside to see what all the loud banging was about. That is when I witnessed the erection of a huge tent-like structure totally blocking our street and thus closing off traffic from both ends. Various lighting was hung in strategic places and chairs were placed around the parameter of the tent. This enormous structure was decorated with large beautiful red Persian like carpets which became the walls of the tent. This street tent was the designated area for the men’s wedding party that evening.

While outside, one of the neighbor girls invited me into their home for a visit. As we were visiting, the man of the house came in and invited my husband and me for lunch that afternoon around 3:30 p.m. Realizing that lunch here in our neighborhood is not at noon, but in the middle of the afternoon and supper/dinner is not served until around 10 p.m. Anyway, we made a cake and went for ‘lunch.’ As usual the food was absolutely delicious and way too much. We enjoyed roasted chicken, a special rice dish with nuts, and a cucumber/tomato salad with yogurt. Afterwards, tea was served along with my cake, followed by Arabic coffee and cookies. So much for dieting…. During our visit, the man of the house informed us we were to leave the decorations up until after Ramadan was over which we agreed to do. (Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting but it is also a celebration.)

But an interesting thing happened…while I was being invited to lunch by one neighbor, my husband was visiting with another neighbor and later we were both invited to lunch at his home on the same day. Of course, we had to regretfully decline and hope there will be a ‘rain-check.’

I would be amiss if I did not mention that my husband attended the wedding party for the men…a very festive and LOUD party with plenty of fireworks and dancing. You see, in this culture, the men have their party the evening before the bride has her party. So tonight, the groom will go and get his bride and take her to her party. The bride’s party is where she will wear her beautiful wedding gown, a multi-tired wedding cake will be cut with a very huge sword, and her groom will give her a large amount of gold jewelry. By the way, the groom is the only man allowed to come to the women’s party.

As you can see we had a rather full day, but I must admit, I loved every minute of it. These precious people really know how to enjoy food and celebrate a wedding!

Posted by a n a

Reflections on My First Days

We have a new team member who will be studying Arabic in Amman. Here are some of his experiences from his first days in the country.

I arrived last night in Amman at 3 am local time or about 8 pm Eastern Time. It is a little strange but exciting at the same time being here in a different city and in a different culture. I went to Church tonight (Saturday) instead of Sunday because here Sunday is a regular workday for many believers so services are on Saturday night. The service I attended had almost every tongue, tribe, and nation represented. It was really a great experience to worship with so many different people from all over the world it reminded me of chapter five verse nine in the Book of Revelation.

It is strange to me to hear the call to prayer as there is a Mosque right down the road. They tell me that I will get used to it over time

A day or two later, he writes…
I have been quietly observing the people where I live, a very conservative town on the eastern side of Amman. It is a great place to live and learn the Arab language but also to learn the culture. The town is made up of predominantly Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, many who have been here for years. The people here celebrate weddings with a lot of shouting and fireworks. Some people back home would consider it very noisy here. They celebrate weddings with fireworks and walk the streets having conversations, meeting, and greeting each other. Because very few places have air-conditioning here, including my home, all the windows are open so you can hear all the conversations. Even though I do not understand them, I can tell that they are enjoying life during these celebrations.

Tomorrow I plan to go to the store myself, which should be interesting, but most all of the products have English and Arabic labels so shopping is not that hard. I feel less intimidated on going out by myself, I guess there was an advantage on being raised in New York and going to the City often. Living here reminds me a lot of New York. I remember visiting my family in the city and it was very much like here. Having grownup in an Italian culture, I see many similarities with Arab cultures.

Posted by RL

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Greetings from the Beautiful Shores of Gaza

A few days ago, I received the following from an Egyptian-German friend living and working in Gaza. I hope his words touch you as they did me. P.L.

greetings from the beautiful shores of Gaza.

my times of isolation are not so much defined by a social isolation from others who know me, but rather by distance from people i can truly worship with. Some of the categories that are real in my mind mean little to others here. I seek to not only worship and pray as Jesus did but live a life that reflects his. I want to worship God, seek truth, serve the unserved and oppose the powers of deception, the powers of force. Jesus did all these things with a consuming humility to bring to light, to embody the kingdom of God. This is both the God i worship and the Jesus I seek to be.

at times it helps to understand this inner cry for companionship when I recognize the content of my differences with the community I live in. I realized this past week, as i was driving home in a rackety taxi from a volleyball game in Jabalya refugee camp and an afternoon visit with my atheist/agnostic professor friend, that very few people get to see what I see through the eyes of an outsider as I do. As warning messages are reported about the danger of foreigners in Gaza, I remain in part because I do not fear and I may just fit in enough. Along with this rare opportunity comes an isolation that shakes me. Trying to understand, to peer into a society that is unseen by so many, I also have become isolated from the outside world but unlike others around me, who belong here and are known by their own, I am isolated in the sense that I am so rarely understood by people whose exposure to the world has been so minimal. All this sounds elitist.

Gaza is a constant downward spiral, I will spare you the details this time. Suffice it to say I struggle at times knowing there is a kingdom of God made up of disciples that seek to walk the walk of Christ and yet a world such as this one still exists in this cage. i consider myself part of the cause of the hell of this place. i am not surrounded by lambs here, that only seek peace and love each other. I live in a community of broken and often selfish people, like any other place. Some who seek good and others who don't. I live among fishermen, resistance fighters, doctors, thieves and politicians. It is made up of exactly the kind of people that lived in the world that Jesus walked. What concerns me is how forgotten this place is. It is a sense you can get both in the church I attend here, forgotten by its fellow Christians, but much more so in the people all around, forgotten by their fellow humans. They are a marked people, their character has already been decided upon, accordingly, their fate has been determined.

Jesus never lived by pre-conceived notions, but acts rather naive at times towards the people he encounters. It is a trust he lived that knew no boundaries, even when he knew what human hearts were made of. Here I have been shocked by the hospitality and kindness from a people who have exceedingly little. And this has come predominantly from outside of the church. At times strangers, families in refugee camps, friends who live from aid agencies' distributions still invite me in for tea, juice or a meal. This is what Jesus came with, a drink, a meal. In the course of the love story we learn that the drink and meal was himself. and I learn that so much of my existence is about giving drinks and meals, work of my own hands, whether spiritual or physical there is little need to distinguish between these two synthetic spheres. It's the matter of giving that is at stake.

I choose to give rather than take, i find it hard.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Home Again

Thank you, faithful readers, for checking our blog. We have been away for several weeks and have not posted. We are back at home and will be posting again in a day or two.