About Karen

Karen blogged while studying in Amman, Jordan during the summer of 2012. She was awarded the Critical Language Scholarship by the U.S. State Department. Karen Lickteig received her Bachelor's degree from PSU in International Studies with a focus on the Middle East, with minors in Arabic language and Business Administration. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding Middle Eastern urban development, sustainability, citizen journalism and cross-cultural communication. She also served as the Office Coordinator for PSU’s Middle East Studies Center. Karen grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and before transferring to PSU, she attended Lewis & Clark College and studied as a William Jefferson Clinton scholar at the American University in Dubai. Karen has traveled to the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, and Qatar.

Iftars & Vineyards

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is now half-over, and I have loved being immersed in the strong community that binds everyone together during this time. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking anything (including water!) from sunrise to sunset, in order to cleanse their souls and remind themselves of how fortunate they are to have food to eat, when there are others in the world who are not so fortunate. It is also a time of being with family and giving to charity.

Amman slows down quite a bit during the day, when those who are fasting (mostly everyone) would rather stay inside and relax than go out into the Jordanian heat. Many shops and nearly all restaurants are closed during the day, when their owners are fasting and their customers are probably opting to stay in as well. The city comes alive around 7:45, when the call to prayer sounds from the mosques, meaning that it is time to break the fast. The meal held at this time, called “Iftar” usually begins with a large glug of water and dates. Restaurants are overflowing with people and the waiters move swiftly from table to table passing out dishes to the starving and impatient customers.

Last night I ate Iftar with a friend at Mat3am Hashem, a popular and inexpensive restaurant in the heart of downtown Amman. Some of the best meals I’ve had here in Amman have been the most simple–with freshly cut cucumbers and tomatoes, olives, hummus and foul, and pita bread, it’s hard to go wrong.

Hashem hummus

For many, Iftar is also a time to pull out all the stops when it comes to food. Sometimes people spend all day in the kitchen preparing Iftar. This was certainly the case with another Iftar I attended last weekend, at the home of the aunt of a student on my program. His mother was in town, and she just happens to be May Bsisu, author of The Arab Tale, a recipe narrative. They may also have the most beautiful house I’ve ever been blessed to eat dinner at. The spread was absolutely incredible; I did not have nearly enough room on my plate even to sample the entire offering.

beautiful Iftar setting

amazing Iftar

the Iftar spread

shawarma man

On a completely different note, I also went last weekend to the farm and vineyard of our program director. She is an American woman who married a Jordanian man, and they now own their own land near the city of As-Salt, where they grow their own grapes and bottle wine on a small scale. We were invited to visit the farm, pick grapes, and have a barbecue. I had never really been to a vineyard before (how is that possible? living in Portland? I have no clue), so this was an exciting experience for me.

friends cutting grapes off the vine

cutting grapes

bottling wine

We had a great time picking the grapes, bottling the wine and then partaking in the wine and delicious food for Iftar. The view from their farm was incredible, and I will never forget watching the sunset over the Jordanian hills, with Palestine not too far in the distance.

Jordanian hills

A weekend in the Jordanian Badia

Last weekend I had the amazing and unique opportunity to spend two nights with a Bedouin family in the Jordanian Badia, in the north of Jordan near the city of Mafraq. This trip was arranged by the CLS facilitators in conjunction with the SIT program in Amman. This was a cultural and linguistic immersion in a traditional Jordanian/Arabic home, and an experience different from anything I’ve ever done before and which I will truly never forget.

I arrived at my family’s house on Thursday evening after a day of class. They welcomed me with a bowl of mansaf, the Jordanian national dish which consists of rice, chicken and laban (a yogurty liquid). The mansaf was accompanied by kibbeh, a deep-fried ball of semolina stuffed with chicken and potatoes. The kibbeh was incredible, and I asked my sister, Wujdan, if she would please teach me how to make it. The family I stayed with was relatively small compared to other Bedouin families–a mom, dad, 2 sons and a daughter. The daughter was around my age, and the two sons were a bit older than her. The oldest was married and lived with his wife and two small sons in the house next door, and I think the other son lived at home (though I barely saw him and wasn’t sure if he stayed at night).

I spent most of my time with the daughter, who was 23 and had just graduated from a nearby university with a degree in science. She told me that she wanted to go work in Amman (about 2 hours away from home) in a private hospital laboratory. Although her father did not have a problem with this aspiration, her older brother was against the idea. I got the feeling that without sanction from her older brother, Wujdan would not be able to go work in Amman.

My second and only full day there, I spent most of my time with Wujdan in the kitchen. She was clearly the one who took care of the home instead of the mother (I did not see the mother lift a finger to clean or cook anything). Wujdan cooked every meal, cleaned the floors daily, and waited on her mother, father and brother. We cooked kibbeh, magloubeh (literally “upside-down” in Arabic, because eggplant, potatoes, carrots and chicken are cooked at the bottom of the pot with rice on top, then the pot is turned upside down onto the platter to be served), and an okra dish (okra, I learned, is “bamia” in Arabic). Everything was absolutely delicious, though I especially loved the bamia dish and kibbeh. I tried to help by rolling the balls of kibbeh, but after one my sister took the semolina mixture away and told me that I had “other work” to do.

There were a few difficulties/oddities surrounding living in the Badia for the weekend.
1. The bathroom. The hammam, as it is called in Arabic, was located in a small hut outside the house and was basically a hole in the ground (Google search “Turkish toilet” and you will see what I mean). I won’t go into too much detail about it, but it was certainly tricky and quite uncomfortable.
2. Eating. Everything in the home is done on the floor. There are no couches, instead there are simply cushions around the wall of a room and everyone sits on the floor. Even preparing food in the kitchen might be done on the floor instead of a counter. There is also no table to eat at, instead they spread out a mat and the food is served on a large platter with everyone sitting around. Bread is served with every meal and distributed at the beginning to each person. From the start I had to come to terms with the idea that my bread would be on the floor near everyone’s feet. This was weird at first, but I came to appreciate the simplicity of life and the people’s closeness to the earth they live on.
3. Modesty rules. The family I stayed with, along with most–if not all–families in the Badia, are conservative practicing Muslims. The women wear headscarves and long, loose-fitting robes, and the men also wear traditional Jordanian dress of a white or off-white thobe (a long robe) and the red checkered keffiyeh on their heads. Luckily, I bought a black thobe with a beautiful blue thread design from a shop in downtown Amman before I left. This came in very handy, because I don’t think I would have been comfortable in any of the clothes I already own. I arrived to the house in jeans, and even with pants on the father handed me a blanket to put over my legs for modesty’s sake. Modesty rules also governed what I could and could not take pictures of (I do not have any pictures of Wujdan, sadly), where I could be in the house, and with whom I could be alone with.
4. The language. The Bedoun dialect was extremely difficult to understand. It did not help that the older women also generally had pretty raspy voices, probably from a long life of smoking. Luckily Wujdan was able to translate a bit for me, either in more basic and classical Arabic (fusha) or in the bit of English she knew.

Although I was the only student from my program in that house, my roommate from CLS, Courtney, was actually placed in the house just across the street from mine. This house belonged to my sister’s maternal uncle. Kinship and family are extremely important in this culture, and there are special names for maternal vs. paternal family members. A maternal uncle is “‘khal,” maternal aunt is “khala,” and cousins from them are either “bint khal(a)” or “ibn khal(a)”–literally daughter or son of the maternal aunt/uncle. This can get extremely confusing in speaking. Courtney’s family had nine children, so her house was a bit more exciting than mine and I spend some time with her playing with the kids. We also went together to the Badia’s Ecological Center, which housed several animals native to the desert, including lots of snakes, a hyena, wolf and owls. After that, we trekked up a nearby hill and looked out across the desert and Bedouin villages. The place where we stayed was just a few kilometers away from the Syrian border, so we could see Syria from atop the hill.

Overall the trip was truly illuminating and I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to experience a traditional Bedouin family life. The simplicity of their way of life, the strength of their family bonds, and their closeness to the land around them made me reflective on the way I live my own life and the luxuries that I have every day. In the end, we all eat our food, love our families, use the bathroom (in our own way), and have a crazy aunt.

Desert Castles of Jordan

One of the great things about being based at the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman is the giant network of resources available to us here. ACOR is a longstanding institution that is heavily involved in archaeological research throughout Jordan. ACOR researchers have done some outstanding work related to the ancient sites here, and the institution also has a large library with a wealth of materials related not just to archaeology but politics, history, anthropology, urban development and more topics related to the Middle East. This means that we are constantly surrounded by knowledgeable people who come to stay and research in Jordan. A group of friends and I met a researcher specializing in Roman water systems who was awesome enough to accompany us on a trip to three of the desert castles near Amman.

We visited Qasr Kharana, Qasr Amra, and Qasr Azraq. The castles were built during the 7th and 8th century during the Umayyad period, and are scattered throughout the desert of Jordan. Interestingly, researchers have not been able to definitively determine their purpose. Our archaeologist friend told us that they likely served as meeting places for leaders or a retreat for the wealthy. The three castles we visited were markedly different in size, form and style, as you can see from the photos below.

Qasr Kharana was the most austere; Qasr Amra was the most elaborately decorated; Qasr Azraq was the largest:

My first week in Amman

my view of Amman - near the Jordanian University

I arrived in Amman, Jordan about a week ago, and I have already had too many adventures to tell! The first three days here were spent doing a crash-course on orienting ourselves to Jordanian life, culture, and language. On the first day we were immersed with an orientation and a 2-hour session with Jordanian speaking partners. This session involved learning how to find our way back to our home for the next 2 months–that is, the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman. ACOR is an old institution and has played a significant role in archaeological work in the region, among other things. We learned directions such as; “turn left,” “turn right,” “turn around,” and “go straight.” We also learned the important words for bridge, tunnel, and roundabout, of which there are many. Amman is a city of “circles”–the main roundabouts labeled first through eighth.  Like in many other cities in the Middle East, streets in Amman are not based on a grid system at all and generally the streets do not have names, or at least the names are not used. I’m not even sure if the street I live on now has a name at all. Directions are given in terms of landmarks. After our first speaking session, two other students and I were pushed out of our comfy nest and had to get in a taxi (by ourselves) and direct our taxi driver in Arabic to a restaurant determined by our speaking partner. I guess you learn most quickly when you need to! Luckily, we made it to the restaurant, where we ate a delicious snack of kanafa – a Jordanian pastry dessert made with a lot of cheese, oil, butter and sugar. I have a feeling my figure may change while I’m here.

Kunafah pastry dessert

Amman street

The CLS program planned a few more adventures for us during our initial time here, including a trip a couple days ago to As-Salt, a historic city that used to be the capital of Jordan. There, we visited the Historic Old Salt Museum, located at the Abu Jaber house at the center of town. The museum was large and elaborate, with tons of information about the history of Salt. I was surprised at how extensive the museum was, as well as how nicely done the rooms and posters were put together. After the museum tour, our large group of 40 broke up into smaller groups to go off and explore the city on our own. Two others and I  decided to follow the “Salt Heritage Trail,” which was on a map given to us by the museum staff. This self-guided tour of important Salt buildings was a bit strange. The buildings on the map were not only historic, but they were also mostly occupied by residents! They are not museum buildings that you can tour inside, because they are still homes to Salti people. We quickly discovered this after knocking on a couple doors and meeting confused people wondering why we would possible want to go into their house. We walked all around the city, marveling at the beautiful sights.

a view of Salt, Jordan

After the first three days of orientation, our Arabic classes officially began. The CLS program in Amman works through the Qasid Institute, and every week day (Sunday through Thursday here) we have 2 hours of fusHa (modern standard/written Arabic), 1 hour of ‘amiyya (spoken, colloquial/dialect Arabic), and 1 hour of media Arabic. I was placed in one of the advanced sections, which is extremely difficult. At this level, we spend most of our time in fusHa and media Arabic reading news articles. This week we focused on a highly topical issue, al-intikhabat al-masriyya–the Egyptian elections (my reaction to the elections would be an entirely different post, so I won’t go into it). The teachers speak only in Arabic to us, and new vocabulary words are explained in Arabic. This was a bit shocking at first, and I’m still struggling a bit to understand the exact meaning of some words, but it is definitely an excellent way to really get the language into your head when it’s constantly in your ears. On the first day of class, we signed the infamous “Language Pledge,” which says that we will only speak in Arabic for the next two months.

Our latest adventure outside of class was a trip to wasat al-balad, or the downtown area of Amman. This area has tons of shops, restaurants, and also houses a large mosque and the old Roman theatre. The trip was required as a “language socialization” activity, which is a requirement of CLS that encourages us to go out into the city and speak to locals in Arabic about certain topics. We were given a list of possible places to visit–including the Hamoudeh DVD shop, sweets store, a bookstore, gold souq, vegetable market, and more. We only made it to a couple places, my favorite of which was the DVD/CD shop, where you can find any film on DVD that you could possible want, each for 1 Jordanian dinar (~$1.40). I bought the movie “City of Life,” made in Dubai, along with seven CDs of Arab singers, like Nancy Ajram, Amr Diab, Elissa, Tamer Hosny, etc. I can’t wait to listen to them all. The downtown area is exciting and a great place to be immersed in Arabic, because everyone around is Jordanian. I will definitely be going back, to visit the Roman threater and explore the shops and restaurants more.

Wasat al-balad - downtown Amman

Hamoudeh DVD - any film you want, you can find it here!

halwiyat - Arabic sweets

Do I really leave tonight?

In just a few hours I will be embarking on my latest journey–a trip to Amman, Jordan with the Critical Language Scholarship program. I will be there for 2 months, studying intensive Arabic at the Qasid institute in Amman. I am currently in Washington, D.C., wrapping up a two-day orientation for the program. I’ve met my 39 colleagues for the next two months who will also be doing the program, and am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to improve my Arabic with such wonderful students.

The CLS program is funded by the State Department and implemented by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC). It provides scholarships for students at all academic levels to complete intensive programs abroad in languages deemed “critical” but the U.S. State Department. Of course, this includes Arabic–along with Turkish, Persian, Azerbaijani, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, and Urdu. At yesterday’s orientation session, we were told that 5,280 students applied for the program across all languages, and just 631 were accepted. I applied for the program last year and did not receive an award, and when I was notified of my award for this summer I couldn’t have been happier or felt more lucky.

Having been to Jordan before last year, I know a bit of what to expect. I was only there for 5 days, but saw many of the common tourist sights. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into the city of Amman, becoming acquainted with more locals, and learning more about the city and the country. I will also be completing a PSU capstone course during my time in Jordan, called Museum of the City. While it is not typically an online course, I was able to work with the professor to complete it during my time abroad. The course centers around the ideas of city development and city museums, and through the course students are expected to engage with the community and ultimately develop an online “exhibit” about a city or element of cities. There are endless possibilities in Amman and the surrounding area, so I am anxious to begin the course. Coinciding with the capstone course and my goals to learn more Arabic, I hope to volunteer with a local organization in Amman called Carboun. This initiative promotes sustainability and environmental protection in the Middle East. It was founded recently and I’m hoping to learn more from them about sustainability initiatives in Jordan and around the region.

Next post will be from Amman, Jordan–I can’t believe it! Ma’salaama – goodbye!