Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesdays - My Day Off

I've selected Wednesdays as my days off because it seems like a natural break in the rhythm of the week. I chuckle as I'm getting ready for Mass. Each day, a deaf Jordanian employee is so busy cleaning the chapel and its narthex. She kisses the head, legs, and feet of Our Lady before he goes to the crucifix with more kisses. Then she sits in silence for a bit. With a burst of energy, she gets up and starts cleaning. Though her world is in mostly silence, she bustles around with the loudest flip-flops. Poor thing can't hear them. Then, she greets me with a "Good morning, Abuna" and continues on with her fast-paced cleaning. When the sounds stops, I realize that she is on the balcony with a cough and a cigarette with its second hand smoke wafting into the chapel windows. I find it comedic.

At Mass this morning, I gave further instructions on lectoring. Two parishioners stayed afterwards to get private instruction. They were so pleased with understanding what we are doing.

We continued to pray for the storm victims and the families who are mourning their deceased loved ones. News stations carry much news about the U.S. and everyone was asking about the storm. We are aware of the incredible destruction and devastation. Our prayers are with everyone who is affected by Sandy. I wish I could be there to cut tree branches away with a chain saw or to help with the clean up of the messy debris. I wish I could help in the restoration of the area.

After celebrating Mass this morning, I was escorted to the Ministry of the Interior's office to establish residency. A whole mass of people were gathered on the first floor, but we were brought up to the second where no lines existed. I filled out a form and then blood was extracted from my arm as a pre-condition for residency. The whole process is moving along smoothly and all the Jordanians have been pleasant and efficient.

I was greeted by a woman who wants her baby baptized this Friday. I inform her of the process and let her know what I need. Then I schedule an appointment with two helpful parishioners and then realize I committed myself to a meeting on my day off. So I head to my office to figure out what I need to do with a couple with a particular set of circumstances who want to get married. My meeting with the two parishioners was very helpful, but all the information and its challenges set my head spinning. There are so many obstacles to navigate. The one thing I know for sure is that I want to build people up and have them feeling welcome to participate in all the parish processes.

By this time it is 1:00 p.m. and lunch is to be served. The dessert was made by the Hallaby bakery, which is the oldest one in Amman. The dessert was quite good though I don't know its contents except for honey. It is like a baklava and very good. One of the desserts contain a lebani, which is like a cream cheese style yogurt. It is covered with a noodle like yellow crust. It is wet and messy, and very tasty. The meal is also very good. We had cosa, which is like a cucumber in size and shape and is very tasty when stuffed with meat and rice. It is very moist, but it has a unique side-taste to it. It is unlike any other vegetable I've ever tasted. The afternoon meals always tire me out. I didn't even have a large portion of food today. I think there is some chemical that makes us very sleepy and lethargic, but then after an hour or so, it immediately lifts.

Fr. Al and I headed out to get our haircuts. We went to an Iraqi ex-pat who was a skilled mechanic in Baghdad, but now survives by giving haircuts. His two sons and one daughter are at university so he is struggling to make ends meet. The place was fascinating though. We started out in Jebel Webdeih and drove some twisting roads towards the bottom of the jebel. Then we parked the car and walked down an alley that looked like it would lead to nowhere. Along the way we saw a one week old kitten. It had no siblings born along with it and this one young man and his family was nursing it to life. Other nearby cats seemed to take interest, but certainly were not the kitten's mother. Anyways, when we entered the barber shop, we stepped out onto the balcony and we were one story up from the downtown major street. We were directly opposite Halaby's, the oldest bakery in Amman and other reputable bakeries were adjacent to it. It was a thriving downtown area. What at first seemed like a dead-end led to a bustling center. It was cool. Oh, and the barber gave a good haircut.

On the way back up the jebel, we stopped by this church that had a sign in Arabic that said "Art Center." We were delighted with what we found. First, the remnants of a 6th century church lay in the courtyard. The mosaic floor was liften and retrofitted into the basement of the adjacent building. The whole place was turned into a sculpture and visual arts center. One Turkish artist gave us a tour of his studios where he was making duplicates of his etchings. A contemporary visual arts movie center had three panels where advant-garde movies were being shown. More interesting than that was the floor and building that contained these studii. Outdoors sculptures were fascinating, but we did not have time to see them all. It is a place where I will return. I also received a tip on finding a water color painting class at the Miriam museum off of Garden Street, which is unpronounceable to me in Arabic.

After a few phone calls to parishioners and getting paperwork ready, I answered a few emails, which were rapidly piling up. It is Halloween and we had a mini-celebration at Mass, but I sent out a very few e-cards to family and friends. I love the holy days of All Saints and All Souls. The Jesuits have their own feast on November 5th - All Saints and Blessed of the Society of Jesus. I love the month of November because it begins with these days, has Thanksgiving contained within it, and the liturgical year closes with the feast of Christ the King. It is a great time to slow down and reflect. It is the time to remember deceased loves ones and the holy people who surround us.

It is approaching 11 p.m. It has been the busiest day off I've recently experienced. I'll soon head for bed, but my bed doesn't feel too inviting. It is a hard mattress and I miss my Sealy Posteurpedic Mattress cover than I had in the U.S. I awake feeling bruised every morning. Oh, the adjustments we must always make, but even now, the bed looks welcoming.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Photos: The Dead Sea and Sheep

We took a trip to the Dead Sea today after looking for some early church ruins near Madaba. We went to the Panoramo viewpoint and museum and then had a tasty lunch at a restaurant named "Courtyard of the Grandparents," but in Arabic.

To see photos of The Dead Sea panorama and photos of sheep, goats, and donkeys, click on the link below:

1. Pics of the dead sea from the East Bank of the Jordan River.
2. Pics of a shepherd with his sheep and goats.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Photo: Al-Rainbow Street on a lazy weekend

I enjoyed a nice breakfast at the Bake House yesterday with Fr. Al. He ordered french toast that was made from freshly baked Bake House bread. I ordered a three-cheese omelette, which was very filling. It made me realized we don't eat cheese in Jordan often. It was very tasty. The Bake House was filled with late-breakfast-goers because they were enjoying the day after the Eid. It is a trendy place with a large room for seating upstairs. It was incredibly enjoyable. Now, I would have been happier with a vaulted ceiling so the cigarette smoke would have risen. Either that or better ventilation could have helped.

Since the morning was 72 degrees, we rolled down the window instead of using air conditioning. I remarked to Fr. Al that the city smells so good. The aromas from all the restaurants were filling the air. It delighted the olfactory senses.

We toured Al-Rainbow Street, which is the section of town that sits above the center of the city. It is known as the place where young people hang out, eat a burger, smoke some hookahs at a cafe, or go to one of the many restaurants and lounges. There is an old-time cinema in the district. Right now it is showing old halloween movies. When it shows James Bond's new film, I'll go.

I spotted three English-speaking bookstores/coffee shops. I'll head over to this area often. Now, I have three districts where I can go for a nice coffee. One of these bookstores is completely non-smoking. Even the patio out back is restricted. Most have wifi and a good selection of books. I'm in the market for water color painting classes, guitar lessons (and a guitar), and some language classes. The arts scene seems vibrant here.

A few museums are in the area. The Wild Jordan museum has some informational facts about the animals that once prowled the area. The Royal Jordanian Film Commission has two buildings were various films are shown. Art and indoor-sculpture galleries line the main street that has restricted automobile traffic.

I passed by an army officer who was guarding the British Council. He was very friendly with limited English. He asked my name so I told him. I asked his and he grimaced. I asked again and he said, "Saddam." I laughed, which caused him to laugh. He gave me a high-five twice and held firmly onto my hands as though we were cemented as friends.

Jebel Amman, the hill upon which the Rainbow district sits, is the location of one of our churches. It has great vistas of the city, especially of the ancient Roman citadel and ruins.

This walk was invigorating for me. I'm glad I did it. I went back the day after I had breakfast at the Bake House. Since it was a lazy Eid extended holiday weekend, I knew traffic would not be so challenging. It was actually a pleasant drive.

To see photos of A-Rainbow Street, click on the link below:

Pics of early morning on Al-Rainbow Street above the city center.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Persimmons, Pomegranates, Plums, and Mangoes

Tonight is the eve of the Eid, a time of festivity and sharing. Every Muslim family of sufficient means is asked to buy a lamb and have it slaughtered in commemoration of Abraham's intended sacrifice of Ishmael. Every family is to provide for the poor families around them; then they can keep a share of the meal for themselves.

For us, it is a time when fewer cars are on the roads. Many wealthier families have sought vacation time down at the beaches. It was eerily quiet at the Center this morning because everyone started to take the day off. Markets and malls are closed tomorrow in celebration of the holy day. Though it is a one day feast, the holiday extends from Thursday through Monday. People will return to work on Tuesday and the pace of life will pick up the following Sunday.

The other day a friend from Jordan was with us as we made our travels to Umm ar Rasas. I laughed when he told us to go straight-forward. The road was straight, but there is no such thing as straight-forward on these roads. Cars dart to the right and left. Even well marked lines on the roads are not intended for drivers. Mostly, they mean no harm. It is simply space to be occupied and they take it. They may always be in a rush to get somewhere, it is more about going where your car takes you than actually driving the car. It is almost like riding a camel. You go in the general direction where the camel takes you.

To me, everything is backwards. On a panel of light switches near the door, you might think that the switch closest to the door operates the outside light. No. That is the third one from the right. The right switch turns on the living room lights. It happens with everything. A door that I expect to push out pulls in. Light switches are mostly outside the room you are in. Standards seems a bit off to me. I finally took my three rings of keys and placed them onto one large chain. It weighs me down, but I can easily grasp my keys.

I ate my first persimmons the other day. It looks like a blood tomato. It doesn't look all that appealing, but when you open it up it is a nice yellow orange color. The taste isn't very strong. It is odorless and almost tasteless, but there is something nice about it. The texture is firm enough like an almost ripe peach.

This is pomegranate harvesting season. Road kiosks sell tons of pomegranates. People stop and pick up a couple to take home. I've eaten several of them before. I don't see the point of them because they are a myriad of seeds with little pulp around them. Apparently, there is a machine that lightly jogs the peeled fruit so the seeds are separated from the pulp. People enjoy eating them with a little help along the way.

The plums are excellent right now. They are very tasty. White plums have the same taste as red ones, but it is interesting to eat the white ones. They captivate you in some neat way.

I had a super huge mango the other day. It's pit was enormous. They come from Israel because they need a lot of water. We have super-size oranges that also come from Israel - because they have water there. Anyways, the mango was so tasty, but I needed a new shirt when I was finished. I tried to be neat and clean, but that darned fruit keeps slipping out of my hands. I recalled eating my first mango - very tasty, but unforgettable because of what was living inside of it.

Today I visited an old papi of the parish. He lost his sister a year ago and is still grieving. Poor thing. The mere mention of her name breaks him up.

We are readying for our First Annual Halloween party. I am probably the most excited. I bought a Scream mask for 1 JD today and a plastic pumpkin that has probably been around since 1966. I made some cutout designs and other decorations today and arranged how I would set up the center table. I have an orange and purple pumpkin and then I did my first watercolor painting in Jordan. It is a watercolor made by a third-grader, but I will get better at it as I practice and learn the skills. It is simply meant to provide some color for the party. Every time I try to enhance it, it becomes worse. Oh well, I at least provided myself some entertainment. I think I will do another one on election night so my nerves remain calm.

Oh, yes, we have newly sworn in ministers. Their first act was to cancel the time change today. Instead of leaving summer Daylight Savings Time, we stay within it. We were scheduled to change the time tonight. It seems like it so too easy. Someone just decided it wouldn't happen, so it doesn't. No one knows why it was decided that way. Nothing is straight forward.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Photos: Umm ar Rasas and the Site of the Beheading of John the Baptist

Made an excursion today to Umm ar Rasas, which is a very early Christian community on the east bank of the Jordan River. The site is well managed and has a museum that will soon open as well as a store and cafeteria. The place contains around twenty churches. It became a fortress for the Roman army and its main visible symbol is the Ottoman Tower.

Afterwards, we went to the site where John the Baptist was beheaded. The location is relatively near Madaba and Mount Nebo and is a high desert. It overlooks the Dead Sea and the West Bank. It was quite a trek up the mountain, but the ruins indicated a smaller palace than I imagined. It's main feature seemed to be a large open room where bathing was done and parties were held. I always imagined grand opulence of Herod's playhouse because of the television movies I saw. It gave me plenty to imagine about dragging John to this location and executing him there. It seems more premeditated than the Gospels led me to believe. After the Romans captured it, they defended themselves against marauding bands.

After we passed through Madaba, we took a drive my the American University of Madaba and then past the newly opened campus for the German Jordanian University. Both are impressive places to see.

To see photos of Umm ar Rasas, an old Christian community, and the palace playground for King Herod where John the Baptist was beheaded, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Cemetery and Arches at the early Christian community at Umm ar Rasas
2. Pics of The Church of the Lions, which are written into Mosaics
3. Pics of St. Stephen's Church, the first martyr, and the beautifully preserved mosaics
4. Pics of donkeys after our lunch break at Umm ar Rasas
5. Pics of one of the earliest churches known in Jordan
6. Pics of King Herod's Playground, which became a Roman fortress. It is where John the Baptist was beheaded

Photo: Iraq al Amir

To see photos of Iraq Al Amir where a wealthy man built a replica of the Jewish temple when he was unable to persuade the Israelites it was time to build the Temple, click on the link below: Also you can see the caves where Tobit lived. Iraq Al Amir means the Caves of the Prince.

Pics of Iraq Al Amir

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eid Al Adha

With the approach of Eid Al Adha, vendors in Ruseifa started selling live sheep for the holiday sacrifice. Eid Al Adha marks the end of the pilgrimage season, when Muslims of sufficient means are required to sacrifice livestock in remembrance of the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail to God. The holiday will start on Thursday and conclude on Monday

Monday, October 22, 2012

Getting Better

I'm getting better by the hour. My illness lingers, but I am vastly improved over yesterday. I think I'll be fine when I wake up - before I read the results of the Presidential Debate. Only two weeks to go.

I spent half an hour drawing some Halloween decorations for the party on Sunday. They are primitive and crude, but this is not a holiday that is traditionally celebrated here. We'll at least have some festivities to take away the sting of all the suffering that goes on here. A friend of mine from the States sent me a Halloween card. How sweet. It will be the centerpiece of a display at our party. She even offered to send decorations along to us. This is so kind of her.

The suffering here is intense. Social services are lacking for the poor. Health insurance pays for only certain procedures and typically not long-term medicine. People here say if you are poor, then you die. The meager services that I know are one-shot interventions and people need help just to have subsistence living. It is very sad and one never knows which decisions to make because each of them are urgent.

The Jordanian government announced that they foiled attempts of retaliations against pro-Western businesses and diplomats. Six years ago, there was destruction at one of the larger hotels. This was to coincide with its anniversary, but the government was able to intervene and mitigate further violence. The government is on top of things. Hooray!

I am always trying to establish boundaries here. People are rather immediate about their concerns. If they want something, they show up at the doorstep and demand satisfaction. There is absolutely no sense of planning. Incredible. They see nothing wrong with their ways and they are very hurt if you say, "come back tomorrow."

We survived the sandstorm. It was mild here in Amman, but Akaba had greater devastation. A flash flood killed a man and his daughter. Traffic was at a standstill because of the visibility. This is quite a different world than the one I know.

Oh, and I saw a boy delightfully eating a string of potato chips on a skewer. What a sight.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rain, Omelettes, and Bells

The weather has been unusual here in Amman. Of course, every day is sunny and hot, but there are variations to parts of the day. This morning was overcast and dreary. The clouds called for a promise of rain, which clears out much of the awful mood cast by the clouds. I'm told that the night air can make a person sick. In Iraq, Jesuits used to wear belly bags at night to protect their stomach areas from cold and chill. I was told about it this morning when I awoke with a very sour stomach and a massive headache. I thought it might have been caused by something I ate yesterday or some ice cubes not made of bottled water. I'm feeling better now, but it is draining. Oh, the rain. We had about 30 seconds of pitter patter. It raised our hopes, but it didn't last.

Even with my queasy stomach, the cook offered to make me an omelette. I said yes. I thought it might settle the rumbling. The eggs were very good, but they were basically fried eggs with zattar spices on it in a bed of olive oil. It was quite tasty. It gave me reason to soak up the olive oil with the tasty bread that was brought to us earlier in the week.

Last night, Fr. Al and I ate at Shanghai Cafe near City Centre. It was quite lovely. Chinese cooks prepared the meal though Jordans were the wait staff. It was a terrifically lovely setting. It was fun to try to figure out the menu - Chinese dishes translated to English by Arabic writers. Asking for explanations were just as tenuous. I was certain of what I was ordering, and I made sure to stay away from stomachs, intestines, and tentacles and other questionable phrases. We were disappointed in the ice cream variegated, which was just vanilla ice milk. They were out of fried apples in honey, ice cream with walnuts, and other tempting desserts. Fr. Al wanted Orange and Lemon juice, but they ran out of it. They wanted to know if he would be happy with either orange juice or lemon juice.

Sitting at the table next to us were pure English speakers. At the end of our meal, I said hello to them. One was from California; the other from Toronto, Canada. They had graduated from college and they were interested in learning some Arabic since they have none. They seem like such pleasant happy men.

One thing I notice is that most Ammani do not smile. They seem dour all the time. They can eke out a smile, but it is not their natural way of being. I like being around happy people.

I frequently think of the words of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, "The sheep know my voice." I have to say that for all the times I hear the muezzin issue the call to prayer, it is simply background noise to me, but when I hear the Catholic bells ringing, I take notice. Isn't it awkward how we are conditioned to hear such things.

Speaking of music, I wanted to play the soundtrack for "The Mission" for the Memorial of the North American Martyrs at daily Mass. I mentioned it the day before and there were a couple of people who especially came to Mass to hear it. I set up the chapel with modest decorations, just as I would do at the retreat house when I presided and preached at Mass. A friend sent a postcard of the Chapel of St. Isaac Jocgues at Lake George, so I put that out in the display. It seemed lovely and people really responded to the extra touch.

This morning I gave a printout of the Italian Mass responses to the Italian-speaking sisters. Of course, they know them by heart, but they liked that I am trying to communicate with them in some way in their native language. As Mass ended on this Saturday morning, I sang the Salve Regina. They loved it. The nice visitors we had liked it as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fresh Bread

I received some nice fresh-baked bread today: whole wheat, semolina Italian, and an olive loaf. It is so nice to eat fresh bread. Very tasty. Now I just need a little more Vegemite.

We had a tasty lunch today. We had okra-like cucumbers that were stuffed with rice and meat. It tasted quite nice. When I asked what it was, the cook gave a certain name for it. When I asked him to speak slower, he pronounced a completely different name. Dios mio.

I traveled to the Mecca Mall today to pick up an alarm clock and a regular clock for my office. I enjoyed the visit. It is a mall on five floors with a movie theatre in it. Several U.S.-owned stores are in the mall, including several fast food markets like Cinabon, Subway, KFC, Popeyes, Burger King and McDonalds, Pizzahut, and several more. There's a donut shop that has the same lettering as Dunkin Donuts, but with different colors. I almost bought a Starbucks coffee, but I just wasn't sure if I would get a decaffeinated coffee. I visited a store to figure out what to do about a phone.

I think I have a solution for road rage in the U.S. The court's judicial system ought to send delinquent drivers to Jordan for a month. Their penance will be to drive on the roads for four hours a day.

I do laugh at what I am doing at daily Mass. I know Jesus has to be in the center of things because I am saying Mass for four Italian-Arabic speakers, three French-Arabic speakers, and maybe 4 or 5 Tagalog-English speakers. Somehow it all works, but I do take time to prepare a homily. Maybe Jesus is the only one who hears it, but I still prepare.

It's all fun.

The Seraphim Singers

Please join The Seraphim Singers for the first performance of our 16th season.

Bach, Mendelssohn, and Beyond: Music from the Germanic Tradition
including works by Schein, Reger, and Distler

Sunday, October 21, 2012
Mission Church
1545 Tremont Street
Mission Hill, Boston

with Heinrich Christensen, organ

Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Saint Cecilia Parish
18 Belvidere Street

with Richard Clark, Margaret Angelini, and John Totter, organ

Tickets: $20/$15 for students & seniors

Though German Baroque choral composition reached its culmination with Bach it nonetheless was rediscovered and transformed by Mendelssohn in the 19th century and revitalized by Reger and Distler in the 20th. The Seraphim Singers explore the depth, diversity, and virtuosity of this rich musical heritage in a concert promising to enrich and delight.

Awake and Still Tired

I awoke this morning early because I wanted to check the results of the 2nd Presidential debate. I came to just as the debate ended - about 5:30 a.m. I knew I would have a difficult time getting another hour's sleep. I got ready to say Mass instead.

The daily Mass is filled with people who speak Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic. I chuckle to myself as I give a homily because there are probably just 2 or 3 people who know what I am saying. I will try to find a way to say something in Italian or French tomorrow so they feel better included. I'll get a brush up on Arabic.

I had a tasty breakfast: humus with a vegetable mixture in the center, lime-ade with spearmint leafs, and spicy falafels.  Mmm. It was a good start.

Last night, Fr. Al and I had dinner with two parishioners. I was a great time. This couple is very committed to their faith. God is very present to them in their ministry and marriage. It was a wonderfully relaxed gathering with a very well prepared meal.

I realized yesterday that my tiredness comes from struggle to understand the English people are speaking to me. I am laboring to understand all that they (1) say and (2) mean. I remember my first few weeks in Australia. I understood all the words but I still felt like I wasn't catching onto the meaning. This is more difficult here.

I have many people who tell me about the problems of others. I ask people to write me a note with the information on it because I won't remember the details otherwise. However, it is not a written culture so it quickly vanishes from my mind. I have a different way of operating, which works for me. I wonder how I am to adapt.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shopping Cures All

I worked hard today and I have absolutely nothing to show for it. I set out to write a memo and did not get beyond the address. Not all was lost though.

First, I realize how dependent I am upon the goodness of many Jordanians. They are very kind and helpful and they revere their priests. In one of their tasks today, they contacted the Post Office to see if a box that I shipped on July 23rd had arrived. I sent it with a companion box on the same day and I received that one two months ago. After a bit of a search, they located my box and my Jordanian friends went to collect the box. After paying a small customs fee, I'll have my mail tomorrow.

Also, I very pleased that my "Living with Christ" subscription for November arrived. I'm so glad it is on time. That reassures me. I even received a postcard from a friend. Once I get my scanner worker, I'll post the image on my blog.

I had a challenging meeting with a man who wanted to speak with the pastor today. Then I did some sacramental preparation and had another afternoon appointment. In between, I tried to bring some organization to the ministry and then I went to see the Teresians who are celebrating their feast day today. I may even have my phone messaging service set up to receive calls.

We had a lovely lamb chop for lunch with lebani and so I made popcorn for dinner. I was goofing at the process. Nowadays, we just pop a bag in the microwave and voila! popcorn is prepared. Not so on Al-Razi Street. I put some vegetable oil in the bottom of a heated pan and then some kernels of corn that immediately popped and overflowed onto the stove. It was fun to do. I haven't made popcorn in this way in 30 years.

I was disappointed when I washed my clothes to discover that I also washed my pedometer. I hope it works. I fear not. It seems to take 1.5 hours to wash my clothes when I put it on the 14 minute setting, but it only takes about 25 minutes to dry them.

Thinking of my faulty pedometer, I thought I would walk up to C-town grocery store in Jebel Al Hussein. C-town is an Islamic grocery store that has a haberdashery upstairs. I was there last week. When I went upstairs this evening, everything in the store was removed and the doors were locked, thought the lower grocery store remained opened. Bummer.

Oh, well. It provided me the opportunity to discover a few barber shops. There's on near my house, but I discovered a shop across the street from him whose barber looks a little more cleaned-up. His place is in a small hotel. But as I walked along, I saw four other shops. I decided I will go to the one where there are men waiting for their haircuts.

I passed by two litters of feral kittens. They tore apart some trash bags to collect their food. I so much wanted to bring them home and give them something to eat where they wouldn't have to worry about distractions during dinner. They are cute and I wish they had a better start at life.

I decided to walk down Jebel Hussein, which is the garment shopping district. I was quite pleased. Many people were shopping or sitting down for a smoke. I had nothing to buy, except that radio alarm clock, but I did a fair amount of window shopping. There are lots of jewelry stores and places that sell scarves. Of course, there are clothing shops for men and women, and every street corner has several corner stores selling phones. 

I felt like James Bond when I would take a turn into a building or alley only to find something unique with only Arabic lettering. Some of the alleyways were darkened, but they would lead to boutiques where people would gather for coffee or conversation. Some of the buildings must have been glorious at one time. Some inner malls have lots of vacant spaces. They are quite grand. Most of the malls are filled to 100% capacity. It was great to see.

Most of the mannequins were of lily white models. Once I got into some of the side-malls, they had more of a olive complexion, but I really liked the silver ones that had jagged edges to the faces. Very artistic. And of course, I chuckled when I saw a line-up of busts that showed off the head scarves. I wish I had my camera for that display alone. 

I felt like I was on an adventure. I came across some respectable coffee houses and pastry shops. I've also identified a few places for a sit down meal. It felt like I was finally identifying with the city around me. There's a lot of excitement and it expands my world. I can just sit and people watch from time to time.

I noticed how clean the streets were. With so many people gathered into one district, the place was remarkably free of litter. Most of the sidewalks were intact as well. Once you get off the beaten path, the sidewalks become iffy. I like the intrigue though of wandering through those areas and discovering unique places.

I came across a music shop. I might find ways to raise money to get a keyboard for the parish or some other musical instruments. Right now guitars and tambourines are used at Masses. I'd like to get a basic guitar, but the prices were written in symbols I can't yet read.

So I feel a bit energized though I am ready for bed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

That Didn't Take Long

Traffic today was the worst I've seen. I was heading over to the 11:30 a.m. Mass, which is about 2.5 kilometers from my house. After sitting in traffic for 45 minutes, I decided to turn around as Fr. Al was saying the Mass. (He did not arrive until noon.) The return trip home took 50 minutes and I thought for sure that I would get clipped by someone because of their freelance style of driving. I planned all week to go to the Mecca Mall after Mass to collect an alarm clock radio, a thermometer, and a few other odds and ends. I gave up my plans because of the harrowing traffic experience.

I was very pleased I could walk to the evening Mass so I wouldn't have to face the traffic again. On my walk, I stood at a crosswalk in between two parked cars - maybe six inches out into the road. People here walk non-chalantly and never seem to fear the drivers. Well, this woman was probably traveling 45 mph in what would be a 25 mph zone, and she popped me one. I'm amazed that her car did not hit the other two cars because she was so close to them. Her mirror slammed into my arm - between the elbow and wrist. Since the mirror had give, I hardly felt a thing, but I think her mirror slammed against her window and broke it. She was going so fast and thank God I recoiled. She slowed down considerably afterwards and she seemed fine.

As I was walking home after Mass, what seemed to be a huge fire was sending flames about 8 feet high. It was in a vacant lot where there were downed pine trees and trash. I imagine a throw-away cigarette butt ignited the flame. Two men from their nearby houses came out with buckets of water to douse the flames. The fire was relatively close to one man's house. Smoke was everywhere. Everyone else who saw the fire didn't seemed bothered by it. They went on with their conversations.

At the Masses this weekend, I coaxed the choirs to face the people. Though some resisted, the sounds coming from the choir were acoustically much better. The choirs received a lot of praise for their efforts. It was a phenomenal event and the congregations were pleased. The ministry of song helps inspire the worship so much.

At the close of day, I decided to have something culturally familiar - club soda. When I pulled the  tab on the can's lid, I was surprised to see the flip top much like we had for soda in the 1970's. My initial memories was getting cut by those things. It made me laugh because I had forgotten those tabs existed.

Oh, yes. I made some pancakes this morning. They came out quite well, but all the maple syrup is in Vermont. It would have gone well on those pancakes.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Quotable Quote

I'm chuckling over a conversation I had the other day. I was talking with a Palestinian Christian who lives in Jordan about his time in the Boston area. He earned a Master's Degree at Boston College in theology and wanted to stay away from liberal theologians who might support feminist theology. When I asked him about it, he said, "In the Middle East, we have no need for feminist theology. We are a male dominated culture....."

I still don't think he realizes what he said.

I enjoyed Mass today in Sweifeih. Today, we turned the choir around to face the congregation and the people really liked it. The music filled the lofty space and the nuances of the music could be heard in all parts of the church. The parishioners loudly applauded the choir. I like that the choir and parishioners can relate well to each other in this setting.

I enjoyed meeting the many parishioners after Mass: Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Indians, Jordanians, Americans, Asians, and Europeans. It is quite something to look out and find so many nationalities. In a funny way, Latin seems to be the unifying language. However, we are the English-speaking parish.

I was wondering if I had any grace left in me when I returned home. I did no cursing, but driving can be a harrowing experience. I keep telling myself that the drivers have no ill-will. They are just trying to occupy an empty space, even the tiniest space. To me, it seems as if they have no regard for other people, but I'll say one thing about this experience: I continue to learn something new each day. Measurements are different. I'm learning to distinguish the distance of meters, but I still think in terms of miles. I just wonder if all the grace has been popped out of me by the time I return home.

Video: Let's Dance

One activity I wished I learned growing up was how to dance in some organized way. I would like to have done ballroom dancing, tango, waltz, and other organized dancing. It make one more comfortable with his or her body and it seems to free one's inhibitions. Besides it just seems like fun. I've enclosed a video that features some of the great dance scenes in films. It can be played by clicking the link below:

"Let's Dance" on Youtube.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Pleasant Day

Today was a very pleasant day. I began the morning with an appointment for the RCIA program. It was a nice introduction. Then I went to Mass at noon at St. Mary's of Nazareth in Jebel Webdeih and then had lunch at the choir house, which is an apartment the choir rents to hold their gatherings during the week. After the Friday and Sunday noon-time Masses, members of the choir will prepare a feast-like meal for the 30 people who show up. After the priest leaves, singing and dance fill the hallways.

 After a leisurely afternoon (and reading about the Vice Presidential debate), Al, a member of my Jesuit community, and I had dinner in Jebel Webdeih. He hadn't really spent time there so I showed him around. He was quite pleased with the area; I was quite pleased to feel like a host. We ate at Oliva's, a pizza and pasta restaurant that opened nine months ago. The place has a classy feel to it and we hope it gets more seating. The owner said more furniture will arrive on Monday inshallah. The pizza was very good and the personal size was enough for Al and I to split comfortably. It turns out it was a good thing that Al's pasta order was never taken. We would have had more than enough food. The language barrier makes it difficult to communicate with any semblance of certainty. Anyways, I will return.

We then walked around the streets to look at the storefronts. There's a chocolate bar, an adjacent chocolate store, nuts and confectioners, aromatic bakeries, ice cream shops, and Jordanian markets, and of course, coffee houses. The place actually feels like a college town. The neighborhood is small and orderly. I suspect I will be able to take art classes somewhere in the neighborhood.

Now, time to write tomorrow's homily.

Photos: Donkeys, Sheep, and early Christian Churches

To see photos of donkeys, goats, sheep, horses, turkeys, dogs, peacocks and early Christian churches, click on the link below:

Pics of the donkeys, goats and sheep

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Getting Comfortable - Eating Cake

Tonight I decided to get acquainted with the kitchen. I baked an orange cake (from a box) so I could become adjusted to the Jordanian/Arabic measurement system and to see what we have in the kitchen. The cake came out alright. It smelled good. The real test was in making the frosting. I bought a package that I thought was confectioner's sugar. Since I couldn't read anything on the box, I recalled that one adds butter, vanilla, and milk to the sugar. I have to say it came out alright. The consistency is a little less frosty than I would have liked, but the taste is there. I added a little maple syrup to complement the vanilla. We'll see how it turns out when people eat it tomorrow. I felt proud just to cook again in my own kitchen.

We also had an adjustment to our television stations. I was able to watch ESPN and a few U.S. channels. The silence barrier seems to be broken.

Work is picking up. I've come across lovely souls here. Christianity is expressed very differently here than in the States. I'll say more on that at a later date.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Market

I am getting acclimated. After spending a leisurely time in Jebel Webdeih where there are great "sweets" shops, I went to the local market. It is Islamic-run and it is the closet to center. Very few items are in English. Thank God for the pictures. I can tell low-fat milk from whole mile. I was so pleased to have my first currency exchange for needed products. As I was in the market looking very confused, a Jordanian or Palestinian man came over to me and said, "Hi, Father." I can't recall ever seeing him before.

On the way back, I ran into a religious sister dressed all in white. I wished her Salam and Buongiorno and she became very animated. She lives with the Italian sisters though she is native Jordanian. She is here to care for her brother who lives in Amman. We had a lovely time trying hard to communicate, but the gestures and facial language conveyed what words could not. It gave me a lift to communicate with someone on the street.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I figure that I have eaten so much rice lately that I could use a diversion. At the completion of all the weekend Masses, I came home to prepare some past al dente. We have such great EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) here that it was just begging to go on pasta. It certainly hit the spot. Maybe I'll tell the Italian Gomboni sisters about it at Mass tomorrow. They speak to me in Italian so I'll have to learn more phrases to communicate with them.

It is really an international community here. We do have a majority of Filipino parishioners, and I'm also sent to pastor the souls for the Australian, British, American, Indian, Sri Lankan, French, German, Slovakian and many other nationalities. It can be fun if I can learn to speak more of their languages. It will be a great challenge.

I am amazed at the way pedestrians navigate their bodies in the automobile traffic. Many pedestrians are bold. They press out into the streets where oncoming cars are driving erratically. They walk as they drive actually and there are very few crosswalks to provide safety. You won't find bicyclists here. It would be too dangerous. However, the traffic patterns are amazing. It is quite a study in imposing your way into spaces. They rarely bump into one another like we Americans do, and yet they get very close to another person or an automobile. They are a polite people. I have to imagine many people get into accidents, but I would suggest few are reported. I can't imagine anyone would ever stop if they hit a pedestrian.

It is a wonder how a foreigner could transverse the streets in a car. I marvel that I get from one place to another. I think I was in City Centre this afternoon. It was hustle-bustle with both cars and pedestrians. Horns are honked incessantly and there seems to be a way people communicate with horns. It is surprising that even before a traffic light turns green, two cars are already honking for you to move forward. They mean no offense. They just want to get to their destination in the shortest amount of time possible. You might think there would be a few expressways in a city of 3 million, but the city is connected through regular two-lane roads for the most part. In some place, the roads don't even have guardrails.

I'm often transported back to the 1950's U.S. Many people in the U.S. smoked; very many Jordanians smoke. It is as if there is something wrong with you if you don't smoke. Safety features were just coming into play in the U.S. in the 50's. It still hasn't quite caught on here. I'm sure newer buildings have safety codes, but older places seem exempt. I'm full of hope that the people can keep their city clean. I've seen a few lots that are cleaned up. For tourism and self-respect, it would be awesome to have a clean city. Roadways would look much better if plastic bags no longer lined the streets. There is a great recycling industry waiting to boom if the concept were to catch on.

All in all, I'm surprised that I can get home each day. Thank God for a GPS. What did people do ten years ago when GPS's were only starting to become more common? Traveling safely is a great mystery.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Just some thoughts

... I am very far away from home. Life is different from what I experienced in the U.S. It does force me to go inwards and to take care of myself in certain ways.

The biggest challenge for me is the concept of time. The week, in this kingdom, is set on such a different schedule than in the U.S. Fridays are like the old-time Sundays in the U.S. It is a day off because it is an Islamic sabbath, if you will. Saturday is part of the weekend and Sunday is the first business day of the week. I have to make adjustments to this calendar change, but this is not my big challenge with time.

It is figuring out what to do with time. I have lots of it as I settle in and I have to constantly remind myself to be patient. While I know work will pick up, having idle time challenges my identity. I experience this in many transitions and this one is dramatic. A comparable time to this one was when I moved to New Zealand. The passage of time seemed interminable. Everything I did in those first weeks were spent in silence as I had no radio and could get two scrambled TV channels. After those initial two weeks, my world began to develop and it became one of the most blessed experiences of my life.

As I enter this world, I find myself off balance again. TV is not the same, but I did find 8 channels of sometimes English-speaking movies. Most of them are very old or obscure, like Jurassic Park 3! However, it is sometimes a welcome diversion to hear my language spoken so freely.

I seldom know if I communicate well here. Three people can say the same word and I hear three different words. It is a little frustrating. While here, I want to learn Arabic, as well as Italian, German, perhaps French, and polish up my Spanish. I have the time. Perhaps I can use it well. A peculiar thing that I do is to begin to speak Spanish when someone speaks to me in Arabic or Italian.  I did that when I was in Germany as well.

I am not using my time very well. I'm still a political news fan so I'm interested in the developments of the U.S. election. Except, I'm checking too often. The news doesn't change that fast. I keep abreast of several newspapers each day. I'm very connected to U.S. culture. Soon, I'll have to begin to make a shift. I too often check email. For the first half of my day, people in the U.S. are still sleeping. I don't have to check until 2:00 p.m. - the end of my lunch period. Then I can't watch sports because it is on when I am sleeping.

I do turn on music. I found two English-speaking radio stations and sometimes a song comes on that I like. I have to keep reminding myself to play some music to make my world familiar. My CD case was mailed out on July 28th and still hasn't come in. The box I shipped with it came in during late-August. Though Pandora and other music stations don't work here in Jordan, Apple Itunes has a decent set of radio stations.

I have plenty to do. I have e-books to read, languages to learn, blogs to update, and watercoloring to do. It is getting myself set up for these activities that I have had a problem getting motivated. Often it is the wrong time of day to do things. I'm looking forward to doing those activities, but it takes a little more energy to get things in action. It will come.

I'll have to be patient with the parish. It is a bit of a blur figuring out everything and seeing how the center holds. The only time I get to speak with parishioners is when they are coming into the church or exiting. To coordinate activities is a difficult thing. I have to be patient.

I am actually very grateful for the care I have received from the Jordanians and the parishioners. I am very dependent upon them and they respond well. I would have quite a difficult time establishing residency if it were not for the knowledge and wisdom of the local Jordanians. They are/have been very good.

Setting boundaries is important here too. Life is lived so differently and I am the one who has to adjust to space and boundary violations because they are not seen as violations here. I'm learning a whole new value system.

This week will certainly pick up. I have several meetings scheduled and a few social activities. I'm breaking my inertia too. I'll even get to the store to pick up a few required items, and I think I'll make a few Halloween decorations. I love pumpkins.

Anyways, all is going well. I'm a little lonely at times, but it doesn't last too long. I'll adjust soon.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rihab, near the Syrian Border

Today, the Jesuits toured Rihab near the Syrian border, which is reputed to be the refuge site for the 70 Christian elders who fled persecution by Jews right after the fall of the Temple around 70 CE. The people of the Way were experiencing great hostility by the Jewish community. This church is thought (by locals) to be the oldest church on record - having been built in the 1st Century. Rihab is 15 miles west of Al-Mafraq, which is 15 miles from the Syria border on the road to Damascus.

The information about the 70 elders is recorded in extra-scriptural references and is said to be fairly accurate. The local Christian community in Rihab said they found a plaque that honored the 70 Elders in the church first shows in these photos. We do not know whether it was the main church upstairs or the cave church below.

We Jesuits are interested in learning more about the 70 and the lore of the local people

The concealed church had to be entered by going through a house into a secluded room. In tight quarters, the room could probably contain 30 people. There are circular seats for the assembly and a place where the altar was located. The kitchen was in the front portion of the house where a hole in the ceiling let out the smoke from cooking.

A larger church was built upon the concealed church between the 3rd and 6th centuries. The area contains around 30 churches. The government is now unearthing much of the property. They buy up the houses when residents leave and then excavate the property. Christians have remained in the area throughout time.

The largest church may have been a basilica that sits atop the hill overlooking the valley. It is now the headquarters of the Rihab Archeological Site. Interestingly, sand is poured over the mosaic artwork to protect it from the sun's strong rays. Wind damage is responsible for loss of property as well.

I can't imagine what travel was like in biblical times. A person or caravan would have needed to carry lots of water. Travel still would have been slow, painful, and subject to harassment and violence. It helps me understand the virtue of hospitality that is practiced in the Middle East and why it is such a strong value. It can mean the difference between life and death.

As we stopped for lunch, we noted the lack of wildlife, but the abundance of images in drawings. Reportedly, whenever you have herds of goats or sheep, they eat all the grass that is precious in the desert. Animals like lions, onyxes, and other mammals left the area in search of greater sources of food. Peacocks were often used in iconography, but none are found in the area anymore.

We took the road back to Amman via Jerash. Jerash, is Gerasa or Gedara in the New Testament where the demoniac thrashed about the cemetary.
To see photos of Rihab, click on the link below:

Pics of Rihab

Monday, October 1, 2012

An exhibition

Elmer Dumlao, a Filipino parishioner of Sacred Heart church in Amman, presented his artwork at the Zaro Gallergy at the Hyatt Hotel near the Third Circle tonight. I was glad to see his artwork that were multi-media pieces set on wood and assorted materials as wall hangings. His theme for these pieces were Humans and Animals. Each piece had a reflection of the human with animal/nature images. About 15 wall hangings were displayed.

My favorite piece was a silver and red piece called "Breed." It was quite elegant. The top portion was an sensuous, but obscure image of a triumphant woman whiles its mirror piece was a bold mare. The red central square was the place of intermingling.

I also like the piece called "play" as it incorporate music, dice, card games with two acrobatic pieces. It was light-hearted. Another piece had great colors. It was a woman who had taken the feathers of a peacock and made them into her own gown and tiara. Still, a third interesting piece was of a man turned away from the crowd with a tortoise shell on his back. It was like Sisyphus who shouldered a great burden.

The art crowd from Amman gathered to view the pieces and meet the artist. I hope there are lots of opportunities like this because the Amman art scene appears small. While there may be great visual arts, I hope to go to theaters and concerts. We'll see. One thing at a time.

The exhibition was in the hotel that had the major bomb blast a few years ago.

The hotel across the street is the Royal Jordan Hotel. It has great lights flashed on it during the evening hours. It was built by an Iraqi and is said to represent Samaria.

Both hotels seem to have very fine restaurants in them. My parishioners work in them.

The weather is peculiar. The temperatures have reached the high-90's/100 degrees the past few days. A mixture of clouds with dust occurs when the winds come from the south. A few days ago we had some sprinkles; tonight we had more rain. The sky was lit up. I assume it was lightning from the weather front.

Tomorrow, the three Jesuits are off to a place in the north that is said to contain ruins of the earliest Christian community in Jordan. We will go to a village that has 30 churches, but one of the caves we will visit supposedly has a chapel discovered below another chapel. It is rumored that the 70 persecuted Christians took refuge there. I'll understand more of the story tomorrow.