A Reflection on Time and Bedouin Culture

An Excerpt From Schuyler Pals’ Blog: Travel With Pals


Time is not infinite. It stretches neither to an eternal beginning, nor an eternal end. Time is a commodity. It is measured and weighed—sectioned off and filled till it brims over with work, play, and self-improvement. Humanity constantly loses time, wastes time, or kills time. What if time were a living entity? Time like an ouroboros reflects in upon itself and infinitely reproduces more of itself. Our ordered arrangement of time breaks down, for an infinite commodity cannot be arranged in coldly defined spaces.

In this state, time seamlessly morphs into the propensity for relationship. Fruitlessly we, time’s murderer, attempt to force the organic force into a strictly held framework. Events must run like clockwork, because that ensures the best use of our time. Isn’t using time wisely the highest status of self-reliance and maturity? Still, our individualistic self-reliance misses the point. Just because we can line in a modicum amount of self-sufficiency does not mean we exist outside of a nexus of relationships.

A couple of weeks ago my Middle East Studies Program went to visit Petra. It was the first experience I had with Bedouin culture. Bedouins are the nomadic Arabic Tribes that criss-crossed the Arabic Penninsula for centuries, and their culture was so untied to our concept of the modern nation state that a Bedouin reportedly said, “I did not know the nation of Jordan existed until I joined the army”. This mentality has changed, in part, over the half a century, but the deep cultural distinctions to the Bedouins at Petra still exists. They have houses in a village nearby—to keep Petra mostly for the tourists—but the Bedouins still live primarily in caves and party in the desert.

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The current culture holds modernity and traditional values in tandem. Western rap, hip-hop, and R & B stream from their smart phones as they take tourists up and down the mountains surrounding Petra on their donkeys. Their stands littered throughout the ancient city of Petra marking the cayenne colored scenery with distinct moles in an otherwise blemishless landscape. They offer tea, sometimes at a price, and a place to sit to chat for a while, even if they just want to sell you something.

I spent two days touring Petra and interacting, albeit briefly, with Bedouins. The best sense I can give for the culture is the longing in Chris McCandless, the college graduate that Into the Wild is based on. Perhaps even the Nihilistic radical departure from materialism and consumerism found in Fight Club. Although, their chic smartphones sat in front of me. I admit this is how I relate my experience to their culture and life; it is probably not how they might describe themselves. Yet, it seemed as if their cosmological view flowed from a river carrying a live and let live ethos tucked away in a sleepy desert.

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But this live and let live mantra extends beyond a quaint philosophy and quiet deserts to the cacophony of bustling Middle Eastern cities rooted in polychronic time. The fluidity of polychronic time slows life’s pace to the relevance of the person sitting in front of you creating a symbiotic relationship between Bedouin mantra and polychronic time, which sustain one another blooming into the importance of people and relationship.

Contrary to Kantian ideals of the free and independent individual, we live in a nexus of relationship. One, which only ever expands letting in more people and more relationships to life—in all its forms—the further you get away from the center. No one lives in complete isolation. No matter how reclusive a person becomes they are a part of the main. God has been peeling back my layers and making me uncomfortable. Showing me nuance after nuance to relationships’ importance.

God, Himself, does not live in isolation but in the Trinity’s perfect relationships. Each personhood in the Trinity is distinct and separate from the other, yet in their perfectly intimate relationship they are one. They know and love one another infinitely and thus can be one with one another while yet entirely distinct from one another. Their identities are their own, yet are shaped and influenced by the others.

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In a more finite way, each of us is distinct with each other, and in a finite way we can begin to understand one another. This is the beauty of relationship; it has the ability to unite people to move and shape their identities. Relationships expand individuals’ perspectives and help them empathize with each other. When problems arise in the messiness of life, it is impossible to conceivably do justice to the full humanity and the potential of the person you are in conflict with, but relationships allow us to begin this process. They help to peel back the layers to the heart of the individual enough to do justice to them in regards to our relationship with them.

Relationships are at the heart of Christianity and the Trinity. When God declared a relationship with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Israelites, He made a covenant with them, not a contract. A contract remains rooted in the original agreement. It is inflexible to the development of the parties involved, but a covenant relationship bends and morphs to meet the needs of the parties involved. It is scandalous because it demands the relationship take precedence before all else.

If you look at the Old Testament, you see a common chain of events occurring: Israelites become oppressed, they cry out to God, God hears and rescues the Israelites. This is so radical because this thread always starts out with the Israelites abandoning their covenant with God and God bringing turmoil upon them, yet God redeems Israel every time and it is counted to God as justice.

I have found that learning to love and appreciate people from any spectrum reveals far more about my own sinfulness and desperate need for a graceful and merciful God than any other spiritual vocation. Perhaps then, it is not so strange that in the midst of seeming contradictions of modern technology contrasted with the Bedouin’s ageless culture and lifestyle, I found God deeply in tune and in love with relationship.

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Service Project: Teaching English in Zarqa

An excerpt from Caleb Sorenson’s blog: The World and Caleb


A part of the schedule of the program I am in is to participate in service projects on Tuesdays. My service project is volunteering at a school in a city called Zarqa. It is about an hour, by public transit, from where I am staying in Amman. It has been fun figuring out how to use taxis and buses to get to the school. The combination of limited Arabic and still trying to figure out the layout of Amman guarantees for travel to always be an adventure.

I have now done two days at the school, and it has been a blast. The school is popular because it has many English speaking teachers and administrators. That means that many parents will send their Arabic speaking children to this school so they can learn English. It also means that English speaking parents will send their children to this school so they can understand what they are learning. Therefore, there is combination of Arabic and English classes. I love it since I am trying to learn Arabic, so the quick translations are helpful for me. However, I see it being quite difficult for teachers who can not speak Arabic, and therefore have little hope of being able to control a class.

My role has been interesting so far. My first day consisted of shadowing classes to just get a feel of what the school was like.  I had a bit more purpose on the second day. I spent the whole day in the library with students who needed more individual face time with their English. It was fun, because that usually just entailed helping students read story books. One period I was assigned with a student, who spoke almost no English, that needed help in Science. It was incredibly challenging. The concept of cells is difficult enough, and not being able to communicate in same language is quite the obstacle to add on.

It was an eye opening experience. I can definitely empathize with people struggling to learn a new language. Arabic has been tough so far, and I can see English being a struggle with many students. It is nice being on both sides—the student and the teacher—because it helps me know how to learn and teach more effectively.

New Beginnings and Amman Adventures

An excerpt from Caleb Giesbrecht’s blog: Caleb Andrew

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As-salamu alaykum from across the world!

For those of you that know me well, you’re probably thinking, “Why in the world is Caleb on a blog,” and it’s true. If anyone knows me you’ll know that I cannot process inward very well and this blog will most likely be slathered with poor word choices, poor grammatical sentences, and most likely the world record for the longest run on sentences. I was considering creating a vlog (video-blog), but this will have to do for now.

Introductions have concluded. I am in Jordan! I have been living in Amman for the past 10 days, and have loved every second of it. From getting lost in a city with the Arabic language as our map, attempting to flag down a taxi in the crazy busy roads, sitting in awe as said taxi driver attempts to create their own lane in the road, or attempting to eat the bounty of food placed in front of you constantly, Jordan has been an exciting escapade, with a new adventure around every corner.

The first week was orientation week, where 16 other students (10 Americans, 6 Canadians and 1 Brit) and myself have been learning the ins and outs of the city, the country, and the vast culture we have arrived in. Luckily for us, our program director and his wife have lived and raised kids in the Middle East for the past 30+ years, so we are in good hands! We have been to many different places within the city, including an ancient roman amphitheatre and citadel that sits on one of Amman’s 7 mountains.

This week we have started some of our classes, including the most anticipated (and most daunting), Arabic. Arabic is a beautiful language spoken or written, and I came to the conclusion that I would pick it up easy. Yea no. That conclusion ended 2 minutes into our Arabic class, when I realized how challenging this language we began to learn. One thing I have learned through our program director and many other speakers and Jordanians (or other Arabs) is that Arabic is more than just a language, it’s a culture. One cannot fully understand one without the other. Our classes are very differently structured then other language courses one would take in North America. It involves 6 students, one nurturer (or “teacher”), no English (she will only speak Arabic), 3.5 hours, 4 times a week. So as you can probably guess it is the most intensely saturated language learning session one could ever encounter, but it is SO effective. The goal of the first few stages of this program is to listen. Listen to your nurturer talk, say nouns, verbs etc. and have it repeated so that it goes to memory. Eventually you begin to respond if she asks you a question, or asks you to participate in some part of the class. However, even after 3 classes I am starting to retain many nouns, verbs, and greetings (don’t ask me to talk yet though. It’s a long way from my brain to my mouth).

Even though I have been here for less than 2 weeks, it feels like home. Jordanians are extremely hospitable and almost everyone I encounter in a mall, cafe, or on the side of the road greets me with a smile. Even though a toddler would know more Arabic than me, it is exciting to interact with the locals here, and of course with my amazingly hilarious classmates as we journey this semester together!

I hope to continually update everyone about my adventures here in Jordan every now and again! As of now I cannot think of much else that I have done here, but I know as soon as I hit “send” I’ll forget 80,000 things I wanted to mention in this blog, so I think I’ll finish it off here.

Inshallah
Caleb G