Arrival in Amman, Jordan --
November 27, 2002

"You are the first English speaker I have met who speaks any Arabic!" our taxi driver kept exclaiming last night at 3:00 am as we drove from the Queen Alia airport to the Nefertiti Hotel...
Little did I suspect that for the next month in Jordan and Palestine we would not see a single other American...
Truthfully, my Arabic is still very tiny... But we sang parts of four or five popular Arabic songs in the taxi cab... some featuring Kristina's lovely voice, of course...
The cab driver said, "I sometimes try to learn a little English by watching the American programs on TV, but all they ever show is bang bang bang, guns and violence... I like to watch romantic movies, not all that violent stuff... so I don't watch enough to learn much English!"
He explained how now it's Ramadan... "...we are not drinking liquids, eating, smoking or admiring the beautiful women... we are fasting now..."
"Ramadan karim!" I said, as my friend, Souhail, had instructed.

At 4:00 am at the hotel, 5 or 6 guys plus the taxi driver hung out with us and we all sang some more... tonight we will sing and play more, god willing...
The elder family owner at the hotel exclaimed: "people here love to sing and enjoy... in fact you could go to Iraq right now and be totally welcomed with your music..."
"Let's go to Iraq then," I said...

We lay in bed as the sun was first showing light and listened to the call to prayer broadcast over dozens of loudspeaker outside our hotel window...
"It's just the same as when I last left an Arabic-speaking country," I observed to Kristina... These guys are party animals... ready to sing at any moment... and they all seem to live inside the same telepathic thought bubble..."
It feels very different from the West where we all think independently individual thoughts and have to go to greater pains to get on the same wavelength...

I spent the larger parts of our trans-atlantic crossing with my nose glued in my Arabic Language books & tapes... It seemed to pay off... I was as ready to enter into my Arabic conversation with the taxi driver as possible... And when I didn't understand what he was saying I would just repeat the syllables he was saying to keep the ball rolling and to teach my tongue how to make the sounds of the language...
I went to sleep with a big Arabic-speaking smile on my face...
After feasting with new Iraqi friends last night 'till the wee hours while listening to a local band... singer, oud, kanun, violin and darabukka... we arose early to go to the Iraqi embassy and apply for visas... declined for the moment...
Americans in less than groups of 5 must be invited from inside the country in some official way... our new friends here are helping us work on that... tomorrow holiday (friday)... My tiny bit of Arabic is manifesting less today thanks to the English fluency of new Iraqi & Jordanian friends...
But the singing continues... It is what we can most offer... we sang for the band last night after they finished playing... we sang for dinner guests tonight after breaking the ramadan fast with them after sundown... we are getting to know these people fast and furiously... more than I can write about...
more later... everyone is supportive towards us...
thank you for your responses...
and of course, we still are a long way from covering our expenses... if you have had any inclination, please go to www.cameronpowers.com and make a donation or open a subscription...
thanks.... love... trust... beauty of heart and song and soul...
We have been enjoying the hospitality of an Iraqi musican friend's younger brothers who moved to Jordan from Iraq 5 years ago. Ali, the older, taking us into his apartment and under his wing... every day we fast, along with the entire population here, until about 5 pm, when the sun sets and it is "eftar" and time to eat again... Ali cooks macaroni (his younger brother's favorite) or we go out and eat chicken and rice at local restaurants... no eating or drinking allowed from sunrise until "eftar"... we stay up late at night... men walk thru the neighborhoods at 2 and 4 a.m. playing large drums loudly to remind us all to eat the last foods before the sun rises and the next day's fast begins... we are into the last week of the month of fasting (ramadan) and the recorded calls to prayer are being lengthened and augmented by other live singer "readers" they call them... many times a day the neighborhoods are filled with the songs of these calls to prayer... Islam is very very present... Ali is very Islamic and has been explaining all the rules and the beliefs, most of which he seems to share, about men and women, marriage and divorce...
Meanwhile, Ali constantly pushes forward with a mix of boundless hospitality to us and running his business... "My brother will have to quit being lazy when our mother gets here," says Ali... "she makes us get up early every morning..."
We have benefitted from many hours of conversation every day with these two, especially with Ali, whose English is excellent...
Ali's uncle, an Iraqi musician friend of mine for 25 years now back in the USA has provided us with the contacts necessary to be invited into Iraq by the Musician's Association... Every day Ali calls our contacts in Iraq... it seems that the letter of invitation has been written and is now being signed and stamped by the appropriate officials... it will be sent to the Iraqi Embassy here in Amman and we will be granted admission to the country...
We don't know how long this will take... a few more days, we guess...
Today, since Ali.'s mother will be arriving tomorrow, we moved into a small $9/nite hotel in the old center of the city... I like it here... the sidewalks and streets are filled with shoulder to fender to shoulder folks scurrying from shop to shop or... whatever it is that humans do in the center of town...
Now we will practice more of our songs in the hotel room... We have been singing Iraqi and Egyptian songs for the brothers' uncle, J., who has been showing up with his new young wife... she is a second wife... the first one lives in Bagdad... J. is serious and jolly at the same time... was a military man until he got shot in the war against Iran... now retired, he comes over to discuss stories and philosophies about women with his two nephews... Kristina and I throw in our two cents from time to time... J. is enjoying a renewed youthful vigor from this second marriage... but Ali says it probably won't last because J. is very responsible toward his first wife and the 10 children they have... we ask questions: to get married the man must give money to the woman... to get divorced the man must also give money to the woman... to be married to more than one woman the man must be able to afford this... if he gives something to one wife he should give the same to the others... but the women cannot initiate divorce proceedings the way men can unless the husband is physically abusive... this is "because women are more passionate and might make decisions impulsively..." but to guard against impulsive decision-making by the men it is customary to give the couple 3 chances to get back together if the man has announced that divorce is necessary... but only three... if he announces divorce three times then it is prohibited for them to try to get along any more... ...unless it is arranged for the woman to marry another man for a brief period of time, wait three months and then return for a fourth try... ...well it's all somewhat familiar and yet different... the marriages are arranged... if you like some girl you ask your parents to approach her parents... in J.'s case it is said that his father put a gun to his head and said, "you will marry this one..." when J. was only 17... here he is smiling and giggling away with his new second wife... obviously enjoying himself immensely...
My arabic is just enough to initiate conversations which don't really go anywhere... but the basic ideas can be exchanged... so the world of Amman is our oyster with taxi drivers at our disposal...
No longer residing at Ali's we won't be catching the latest TV news and Egyptian comedy soap operas... just watching the range of facial expressions and body language is fascinating... so very very different... It sounds like the Iraqi economy has been slowly picking up in spite of the embargo... The inspections are not turning up anything yet... The bombing in the north and the south continues, supposedly in response to attempts to shoot down our aircraft...
Everyone we are meeting here in Jordan is friendly... None of the maps here show anything called Israel in what is labelled Palestine... The day before yesterday Kristina and I and a Palestinian were interviewed by a roving BBC reporter: "Who would you side with, Bush or Bin Laden?" she asked... "Well, neither," we all three responded by turn...
"Are you afraid to come here?" she asked...
"No, not at all... these are very sweet people," we replied...
We explained our musical mission and I reiterated that trusting any of our governments to solve these problems is something I have given up on... "The people must reclaim the power from the governments... that's why we are here now..."
The Palestinian insisted that he had no problems getting along with people from anywhere... it's the leaders who create the problems... He asked why the US government was so concerned about Iraq when Israel obviously was the one with the nuclear weapons...
"The only country in the world to ever actually use nuclear weaponry was the USA..." he pointed out... He had received some education in India...
Look for two pieces to come out over BBC airwaves during the next month with our voices chiming in...
We have learned so much from Ali here in Amman...
Ali is now 29... His brother is younger... They are both looking well... They don't look stressed out... They are in the hands of their own faith in the will of God...
Ali was in Bagdad when the bombing occurred in the Gulf war...
"It was kind of fun, actually... We would be asked to escort various girls here and there to help them... It made us feel strong and proud... Somehow, when you are in the middle of all the explosions, fear disappears... One night I was awakened by a flash and explosion so big and so bright... so much bigger than the rest that I thought: ‘that's the nuclear one!’ ...I rolled over and went back to sleep..."
Kristina and I are not here to analyze politics or to take sides... We are here to be with the people... people of any size shape rank or color... I am passing on these impressions...
We do get your replies and we enjoy the feedback and the sense of being in contact...

Yesterday we wandered into a little city center music shop... lots of ouds hanging in the window... we are in the center of the old market places... crowded streets and tiny little shops placed in endless labyrinthine alleyways...
I asked for an oud and sat down... played a little the shop-owner played a little... he gave me some suggestions about my right hand technique... he's right, of course, I've been cultivating some bad habits there for a long time...
Little by little we sang songs from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon... then a song from Greece... tea is ordered and we all settle in to get to know each other...
Another man with a bright beaming energy in his face arrives and sits down to begin a chess game set up on the little table... After the game at our insistance he picks up a violin... Everybody in the shop... there are 5 or 6 of us... is saying: "professional..." about this man... he says he also writes children's songs... then he plays Yam Sahrni... an Um Kolthoum piece... very passionate playing... everyone sings along during the vocal parts...
Kristina and I share that we are hoping to get our visas to enter Iraq so that America can be known to have sent something musical... "yes, yes! very wonderful!" they all cheer... "and the Iraqi people are wonderful people... they will treat you very nice...”
We promised to see them again soon...
Today we passed another music store with ouds hanging in the windows... Inside we find a Turkoman Turk born in northern Iraq and a Palestinian woman born in Haifa... I play an Um Kolthoum piece from Egypt and they both sing along with Kristina... The woman has fairly good English and shows us pictures of her 2 sons and 4 daughters, "who all sing very well..." ..."one of my sons plays oud like his father did..." she shows us a picture of her deceased husband playing the oud...
She explained: ..."we had to leave our house in Haifa in 1947 when the Jews arrived... we left everything, the furniture... all our possessions... we thought we would only be gone for a short time... I was just a child... we lived in Nablus for 3 years but there was not much work so we came here to Amman... eventually we could afford to have a house... but I went back to Haifa once to see my house... the Jewish people living in it let me look inside... they had subdivided it into 4 parts... two apartments each with two stories... we had had high ceilings so they added another floor halfway up... I don't know when we will finally get our house back... It's very beautiful there... close to the sea..."
The Turkish man plays "Never on Sunday" on the oud and I sing along in Greek... Then he plays "Ushkadara gider iken"... I sing some of the Turkish words along with him...
We tell them that we are hoping to go into Iraq so that people can see that there are Americans who love the Middle Eastern music and people... "Wonderful... yes... a good thing to do... they will treat you very well... and maybe you can find an Iraqi oud..." The Palestinian woman seemed to know that very fine ouds are made in Iraq.
Our good friend Ali has come down with the flu. He sounds very miserable now when we talk with him over the phone... he is worried that we are no longer sharing his apartment with him.
But it is also good for us to be back out on the streets everyday exploring these musical moments.
The calls to prayer are sounding in the background now... I think tomorrow is the end of Ramadan feast... 'aid al fitr’... then the daytime fasting will come to an end and a three-day celebration will begin...

Saturday, 12/7/02
While the red, blue and green pigeons circle endlessly overhead, Cameron and Kristina sit on the ancient stone steps of the Roman Theater here in the heart of old town downtown Amman. Once again we play a song of Um Kolthoum, the Egyptian super-goddess of the Arab world...
Children are playing all around the theater, climbing the steep stairs, laughing and yelling while parents and older brothers or sisters watch. We smile at the children as we sing and they gather around. They smile back with their eyes and their faces. A little 6-year-old girl snuggles up behind me and offers me sunflower seeds...
The pigeons overhead have been painted or dyed under their wings by their owners. They fly in circles around the houses where they were raised from chickhood...
My Iraqi friend Ali, has not a great opinion of the bird owners... "I don't think it is fair to train these pigeons to feel like they are only able to fly around one house..."
We sing another song, an Iraqi song this time... The children are gathering in a tighter and tighter group around us. Soon the group is at least one hundred. They clap and sing along. When we finish a song, they cheer. Some of the older folks begin to approach and sing with us too. Suddenly a young boy grabs my oud neck and prevents me from continuing... The call to prayer has begun in the background from a nearby mosque. We wait until the call to prayer is completed, then we begin another Egyptian song. The people all know this one and sing along. I reach the end of the song and begin a mawal (singing improvisation which follows certain traditional patterns) in maqam rast: a non-rhythmic vocal style... The crowd screams with delight...
"Come down into the center so there is more room," suggest some...
"No, this is fine... Stay here!" insist others...
"Where are you from?"
"America..."
"Very good..."
The pigeons are still circling in the afternoon sunlight, glowing in their brilliant painted colors... The pigeon owners take the young pigeons and cut their wing just enough so they can't fly too far... They become accustomed to flying in short distances... just around the house... Then they let the feathers grow back and the pigeons can fly all day... But they have been trained now to only fly around the owner's house. They take them inside at night and paint them in brilliant colors. Whether this good or bad, I do not know. It certainly is different from what we do with our pigeons in Colorado.
After a few more songs we agree to meet again tomorrow... inshallah...
We begin to move toward the exit of the Roman theater. A policeman approaches and says that maybe it could be dangerous to create such a large crowd... "But," he says, "you are welcome to play your oud and sing here if you really want to..."
Groups of children gather for Kristina to photograph them. The camera does and doesn't want to function... Stupid camera... Only half of the time you push the button does it take a picture... But I think we got a few.
My friend Ali says in further disapproval about the pigeon owners, "We don't trust them because when they sit up on their rooftops, they have an unfair chance to watch what all the people are doing down on the streets... or in other houses..." Meanwhile, the brightly colored birds circle and circle overhead...
After a sip of Turkish coffee and a bit of hummous, tomato-cucumber salad, some chicken and a bit of bakhlava, we dropped in at Jihad's music store. We hung out and sung an Um Kolthum piece and a Fairuz piece... traded in my funky travel oud for a nicer one...
And we decided to check out some more nightclub stuff. In spite of the promises, once from a guidebook and once from a taxi driver, that we would find more live music with oud, kanun, nay, violin, dumbek, (the old favorite accoustic instruments), as we had before, we only found piercingly loud "org" (keyboard)... minimal movement go-go/belly dancers gifted at extracting five dollar bills (yes, for this occasion they traded their Jordanian currancy for dollars) from crowds of young arab men... the men try and look uninterested, occasionally giving way to fits of dance or money throwing (when they just can't stand suppressing the impulse any longer)... the girls wander through occasionally placing their hands on our shoulders or touching our arms in friendly ways... Approached by the "dancer" and a male singer with wireless mic and, for extra juice, a mobile drummer, cash is thrown on our table apparently to indicate how much they are hoping we might throw back in the dancer's direction... we come up with considerably less... And after another half hour when it is clear that our table is next in line again, we pay the tab and slip out the door.
We are in a part of town now which has fancy hotels and fancy taxis. Prices, even for cabs from here, are hard to control. After one more attempt: "Oh yes," says this high-priced cabbie, "I know where the music clubs with the old style of Arabic music is played." We trust him, only to find ourselves being guided into another keyboard (if you haven't figured it out by now, synths & keyboards are not our thing) money suction establishment... We decline the invitation to sit down and wander until we find another hummous and falafel restaurant where we can relax and study some more Arabic.
Our Arabic books and our Arabic song lyric sheets are our constant companions and every day we plough through new material. Kristina is fascinated for the moment with learning the writing system while I am finding that my conversations with the taxi drivers can frequently remain at least half in Arabic... ...as long as we stick to simply subjects like: "turn left at the next corner, please..." but, hey, that's a lot better arabic than where I was...
Today is the first normal weekday after the 3-day Eid al Fitr holiday after Ramadan... Later today we'll check again with Ali and see if we're any closer to being issued Iraqi visas...
It's not so easy right now for us Americans to get into Iraq...
If we were a group of five (minimum) Americans, we could be issued visas and shepharded as a "tourist group..." As it is, Kristina and I have been invited by the Iraqi Musicians Association to come into the country and we can be granted visas because of that, the time it takes for official paths to be followed can be considerable... We heard from a young friend, Lisa, whom we met here, that a friend of hers has been waiting 2 months for his Iraqi visa...
So come on, fellow band members! Fly over and, when we have a band of five, we should be allowed more rapid access to the country...
Lisa, whom we met by chance at one of the hotels we have stayed at, just finished living in the West Bank of Palestine as part of an International Solidarity group who go in and try and help shield Palestinians from the Israeli soldiers.
Lisa is from Wales... in her 20's... young 20's... driven by curiosity and a need to find out some better version of the truth, decided to quit her corporate job in London and volunteer to teach English in Palestine... she soon found herself working with a solidarity group in Nablus to try and help Palestinian families survive the seige they are under...
The Israeli army sends in tanks and bulldozers to destroy homes... it is one of the most modern well-equipped armies against a civilian population with very few arms... “ridiculous,” says Lisa... After 3 months in Nablus she is returning to Britain to try and educate people about the situation...
She lived with various Palestinian families... she would walk out with the school children to show solidarity in breaking the curfew which prohibited Palestinian schoolchildren from going to school... the Palestinian parents say that their children must become educated and refuse to abide the curfew... Lisa walks out with them in front of the tanks... she received curses from the Jewish settlers...
We asked her what it was like being a young blond-haired woman alone in Palestine... She said that she was proposed to over and over again... politely, of course... She learned something one day, she said, watching a very beautiful young Palestinian woman who was being admired by the young men. The young woman wiggled a little bit to show that she appreciated the admiration. Suddenly, she said, she realized that acknowledging the attraction was easier than trying to resist it...
Lisa said she never felt threatened... Her impression is that women are much safer alone here than they are in many parts of the Western world...

Monday, 12/9/2002
Tonight Baghdad came to us... our Iraqi friend Ali was able to welcome his mother and youngest brother out of Iraq into Jordan... His mother requested to hear our Arabic singing, so we were able to provide a songfest for them during the evening... Iraqis in Baghdad are, of course, feeling quite nervous these days... We are still waiting for visas. Kristina and I may be "on our way to Baghdad" for some time to come... It's impossible to predict... So it is good when we perform for the local Iraqi community here in Amman...
Around noon today we sat in a downtown Amman park... I began to play the oud... soon a few passersby paused and listened... after another few minutes people gathered and began to smile... another few minutes and some began to sing along and clap and dance... ...we are the mysterious but welcome strangers from America who sing in Arabic...
Sometimes people can't help laughing at our pronunciation but it is still plenty good enough for them to sing along with...
An hour of music passes... We take a few photos... Families and various individuals want to have their pictures taken with their arms draped over the American oud-player's shoulders...
Later we get the film developed... We drop into a smokey coffee shop, drink some tea and pass the photos around to the men playing backgammon... They all smile... The one-eyed man with the horrendous scar reaching more than halfway around his neck and across his face comes and sits down beside me and extends his hand... "Are you Muslim?" he can't resist asking...
It's time to get our Jordanian visas renewed... we wait outside the local police station for the four policemen on duty to get finished singing a favorite popular song of theirs and make our request... "come back tomorrow," we are told by the smiling officers....
Tomorrow our friend Ali will try and contact our friends in Iraq again to see if any progress is being made with our official invitation...
We will see... Perhaps we will go to Egypt for a while...

Tuesday, 12/10/02
Late last night we returned to our favorite late-night spot, "Amasi." Oud/Vocalist, Violin & Dumbek... all top of the line... not too loud... good food... they nod in greeting as we enter and come over to our table during a break to encourage us to return frequently... It is midnight... at the table next to us we see a family: the dad, the mom, the oldest son and his sister/cousin/girlfriend????, the youngest daughter (maybe 7 years old -- she likes to clap in time to the music). The oldest son can't contain himself and rises to dance briefly from time to time... finally he gets up with his sister/cousin/girlfriend???? who dances beautifully and sensually as Middle Easterners do...
My oud is stashed under the table hoping for another chance out of its box... The music comes to an end shortly before 1:00 am... Oh well... "Come back tomorrow night," suggests the violinist...

Impressions: Very low crime rate here... no guards required near the public ATM's nor the numerous Gold Market jewelry stores... The taxi driver listed all the major world Heads of Government for me last night and divided them all into good or bad... News comes in many forms here in Amman and history is told from ten thousand different perspectives....

Remember: whatever you think is TRUE is, at best, only true, and could quite possibly be either false or FALSE...
Always always always we must return to the music... Verbal realities are only doorways into confusion and conflict... We must return to the beauty of the childrens' faces... the mothers' faces... the fathers' faces...

and... this evening we visited a monkey in a cage in a local pet shop... very human looking eyes and a low, non-verbal, grunting voice... "see you later," we told him...
there are many cats living in the streets of Amman... zero dogs...

Question: how do people deal with low hope situations?

Kristina is diving into learning the Arabic writing system to help her with remembering words and phrases... every spare moment now, she has her books open or we are quizzing the waiter on how to say or pronounce something... She's taken to enjoying wandering the city by herself now that we've got a basic handle on the geography.

As for me, I'm remembering about ten percent of the basic Arabic vocabulary I will need to be able to use to actually communicate... every day my mind hungrily scans the dictionaries and the grammar books and gloms onto new words and phrases... faster than I can find ways to try them out... and every day my mind scans its inner recesses: 'what was that word, anyway...!?' Crunch! My mind is trying too hard! Trying to work too fast! Where did that habit come from? Talking/Being with Kristina helps me stay in a smoother pace... Mind actually works a lot better when not frantic... Duh...

Today we spent with Iraqi refugee friends Ali and family. Ali's mother and youngest brother are now out of Iraq into Jordan. This was not so easy to accomplish, especially for the younger brother. The stories you may have heard about the decimation of everything Iraqi after the Gulf War are true. Where people were exposed to the bombing in Baghdad, they break out in painful skin rashes... little scratches that would have been nothing become ulcerated sores... the babies born are frequently horrendously deformed...
Ali's mother, who just cooked our dinner for us today, has had these rashes and sores on her body...
These are the survivors of a once well-to-do family now reduced, through no fault of their own, to poverty, unstable health and uncertain futures as refugees. Iraqi refugees joining the vast crowd of Palestinians now making the best of it in Amman...
This morning as I left the hotel I was invited to share tea by a Palestinian shopkeeper who runs a little repair workshop... I sang him a piece of Abd 'al Halim's 'Sawah' and he grabbed me and planted kisses all over my face...
We are getting to know the musicians who play late at night at 'Amasi': Bassam on oud, Sa'ad on Percussion, Sabah on violin... Bassam let me play his oud after their performance the other night...
Tonight Ali's mother told stories for hours about the lives of her family members... brothers and sisters... scattered all over the globe now...
Kristina burst into tears at some point... But Ali maintains optimism and hope that he, the eldest son and now the sole bread-winner for the family, can earn enough to rebuild a home somewhere someday... they don't yet know where... Ali's mother took Kristina by the hand and persuaded her to 'try on' a beautifully embroidered dress... Then she insisted it was a gift...
"When an Arab family persuades you to just 'try something on,' says Ali, don't think that it's not a gift..."
It has been raining for three or four days now... This is very good for planting crops in the fields, but it has temporarily put a stop to our street concerts... maybe more sunshine tomorrow...
We got on a bus and rode for four hours south travelling beside the Dead Sea...

12/15/2002
Today we wandered through the spice and meat market in Aqaba, beside the Red Sea... Some boys pointed at my oud case and cleaned some metal stairs for us to sit... With racks full of skinned goats hanging in the background we sang 3 or 4 songs for the enthusiastic all-aged, but all male, crowd...
Kristina pointed at my watch to remind me that it was almost time for the afternoon call to prayer... We stopped our songs when we heard it begin... This is what people do... they pause what they are doing while the call to prayer is in the background...
Our songs led to invitations from one of the local butchershop owners for coffee... We did our best in Arabic to discover that yes, his grandfather and his father (he made motions of sleeping to indicate that they had already passed away... I thought maybe he meant that his dad was taking a nap next door... he repeated the sleeping body language, putting his two hands beside his cheek but this time adding a throat slicing motion to indicate that what he meant was that they had passed on to the other side... I guess it would be natural for professional meat-sellers/butchers to use that bodylanguage...) ...his grandfather and father had owned the shops before him...
There were pictures of them on the wall... We climbed up to his office and took some photos of us in various combinations... Kristina declined sitting on his lap...
We entered the spice shop next door for more tea and felt the deliciousness of the smells of the piles of naked powdered and ground spices enter our noses...
We walk down by the edge of the Gulf of Aqaba here on the Red Sea... we sit on a low concrete wall... Kristina sings Fairuz... We sing again songs of Abd 'al Halim, Farid al Atresh, Um Kolthoum by Mohammad Abd 'al Wahab, Sabah Fakri... More tea is brought... More photos are taken... It is dark now...

Later:
I checked out the local big hotel singer & keyboard show... too loud... hard to relate... kind of painful on the ears... but fun to watch the guys get up and dabke (Lebanese line dance) and dance with each other... the singer, young female with long flowing bleached blond hair reigned queen... the boys in the crowd got up when she beckoned them... clapped when she clapped...

12/16/02
Breakfast... Arabic coffee... A bedouin guy approaches, asks about oud... We play him songs... We go down beside the Red Sea and sing him another song... "Ok," he announces, "you are now part of my family... I want to take you to meet my uncle near Wadi Rum, up in the desert... He plays oud... very good... You not tourists... no charge... just you pay for gas for the camel... my name is Jafr..."
We climb into the camel, a vintage Datsun Patrol, held together with the Bedouin version of duct tape and bailing wire...
We stop for tea with a cousin who is watchman for local highway construction project... Kristina, especially, likes his cute puppies...
An hour or two north we enter Al Quwayra, a Bedouin town... "My uncle lives in that house," points Jafr... "And my other uncle lives in that house... and another uncle in that house... another in that house..."
We putt and sputter, the camel grinding its gears because the slave cylinder which operates the clutch is no longer functioning... We stop at another cousin's house, go upstairs... meet cousin, wife, children... have tea... play oud... This cousin, Hussein, plays very good oud... very many styles... His eyes shine brightly into mine as he plays several songs... I play several songs back to him... Jafr is very happy with the situation... We all get in the camel: Jafr, Hussein, wife Zeinab, 6-month old daughter Taif, 4 and 6 year old sons Sa'ad and Aktam, me and Kristina and we take many blankets and we stop and buy chicken.
We drive off in 4-wheel-drive through the sand on 'a Bedouin Road' into high arid desert... We stop at a stone natural bridge and climb up through rocks... Hussein is a spider on the rocks... he zooms away up into the rocks... Zeinab and Kristina and I take Taif and their two sons and my oud and climb up into the eye of the stone arch... We sing Lebanese dabke... Zeinab knows the words and sings also... Jafr takes our picture from down below... The sun is approching the horizon...
We zoom off across the desert in our sputtering 4WD camel, stopping every little while to refill and bleed the clutch master cylinder... When the engine stops, it can only be restarted by connecting the terminals on the starter moter with a wrench under the hood...
We pull into a small side canyon of one of the many high wind-carved sandstone mountains and empty out the camel... We gather dry brush for firewood, make two fires, spread blankets, cook chicken, make tea... At 4:30 and again at 5:00 Hussein removes his shoes, washes his feet, and beautifully sings the call to prayer... it echoes inside the canyon walls... We watch stars appear... temperature drops into low 40's... we add more twigs to the fire and play songs on oud, nay (my Arabic flutes)... we practice Arabic and sing for 3 more hours and curl up under the blankets under the stars to find sleep... or let sleep find us... I hear everyone breathing and snoring around me but I don't fall asleep... I watch the moon move from 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock across the heavens...
"The stars witness your sleeplessness as you dream of your loved ones," Hussein taught me this poem in Arabic and I felt a little piece of Arabic soul glide into my body...
Jafr, a very strong and efficient 25-year-old, obviously wise way beyond his years, expounds on the art of balancing work and life... "...not so much work that you lose yourself and forget who you are... it is the silence of the desert that makes it so precious to me..." Morning comes. Jafr is first up with fire and tea for all of us... Hussein plays more songs on the oud: bedouin, kaliji, omani and yemeni styles... each has its own rythmic pattern of picking...
We go for a two hour hike and Hussein climbs way to the tops of two mountains while we climb on the lower parts...
Back to the campsite... Fifteen minutes of pumping and engine cranking and the camel sputters into life... bleed the clutch, pile in the blankets and off we go...
We stop at an ancient cistern, obviously carved by hand out of the rock... "...water is the 'gold' of the desert." Jafr reminds us.
I point at the right front tire, which has lost half of its air...
"It will be ok," says Jafr...
Stopping two or three more times to bleed the clutch brings us to the point of disaster with the tire... It is flat, shredded and halfway off the rim... Still we drive through the sand...
Finally reaching a small paved road not far from the village, we stop, jack up the front end and prepare to put the spare tire... yes, there is one!... onto the front wheel drum.
One of the lugnuts is stripped and the tire iron is a little too big to lock onto it... a furious half hour spent fighting it... pounding it and the wrench with rocks to try and get a purchase on the offending nut... no good... a passing truck stops... we try with those tools... nothing works...
We drive through the sand beside the pavement a little further and stop in front of a house... They bring another wrench... No good... They bring out the pickup truck and tow the diesel tractor, a relic from 50 years ago, until it springs to life... the tractor, with its big wheels, drags us to the edge of the pavement where somehow, we are hoping, a miracle will take place...
Instead of the miracle we find that the clutch will no longer function and we cannot drive any further on the shredded tire...
Returning once again with the diesel tractor, they tow us into the yard of the house... a low concrete block wall contains the sheep, the goats, the pigeons and several decades worth of discarded fuel cans and tractor parts...
A very elderly bearded grandfather sits on his mat in the sun beside the repair yard, where two more ancient diesel tractors receive patching and love... the elder has his shoes parked neatly behind his mat and has obviously already passed into some kind of after-life here on earth wherein the physical work is done by others... his apparent function now is to pray and to witness...
A very sturdy man appears with welding equipment from the shed... We are going to torch off the offending lugnut... ...behold! ...one more try with yet a different size wrench and: the miracle! The nut comes loose... The tire is changed.
We all sit down for tea... Myriad flies buzz around us...
Discussion turns to the broken clutch... ...more attention there... more fluid... more bleeding of air in the lines...
And we're off... Triumphant, we cruise into the yard beside Hussein's house... Zeinab makes hummus, fuul, olives, tomatoes, bread, potatoes for breakfast... more tea...
More songs, a few more photos... We call another driver we had met in Aqaba using the cellphone...(how did the Bedouin get along without cellphones for all those centuries...?) He appears and we kiss and embrace our Bedouin friends, who never did ask for money... (I insisted on giving Jafr and Hussein each a few dollars....)
"No," they say... "You are our friends..."
"But it is just a gift." I insist...
We depart for Wadi Musa and Petra...

12/19/02
Today we were tourists... We walked for six hours through the ancient town of Petra, carved 2000 years ago out of the solid living red and purple sandstone cliffs in the bottoms of myriad labyrinthine canyons... ...incredible... ...but somehow I still wouldn't trade even one second of looking into Hussein's smiling eyes while he sings me another song for this experience in the ruins... I am lucky... I can have both...

12/20/02

We rode the mini-buses back to Aqaba through the town of Ma'an... Army tanks were stationed here and there in Ma'an because of recent trouble... several deaths from fighting with the army... According to the Jordanian Times, some of the folks in Ma'an were revolting because they are angry about the Jordanian government's unwillingness to take a stand against the USA regarding upcoming violence against Iraq... But the local folks say that it's just a local problem resulting from some "bad people..."

Arriving back in Aqaba we are immediately spotted and greeted by Jafr... After we get settled in our hotel, we go to his house in the Bedouin suburbs (not the fancy part of town) and eat dinner which he has cooked. He has invited several neighbors over to listen to us play oud and sing some of our Arabic reperatoire...
He offers us his house to move into but we prefer the privacy of the hotel for now... He writes us a poem and gives us a small teapot... We turn down his other offered gift of a piece of local feathery while coral... "How could we carry it in our backpacks all the way back home without breaking it?..."
Everyone focuses on our music as we play and our performance quality climbs thanks to the appreciation and focus... Of course one of the guests also plays oud very well... He plays a few songs...
Later that night, driving back to our hotel in the 'camel' which has now got a working clutch... he tells us...
"You know I have to confess something... when we left for the desert and I asked for you to pay for the cost of the gas only, I put more gas in the tank than I really needed to... I put in 20 JD and all we really needed was maybe 15... I was thinking to siphon off the extra five few litres and make 5 JD... I tell you this because I feel badly that, although I told you that you were family and that we would go to the desert without your having to pay anything except expenses, I was still secretly trying to make a little money from you... now I have told you this truth and I feel better..."
Again walking down the marketplace streets of Aqaba people remember us and invite us to sit and play oud and sing in their restaurant... "Tomorrow, I tell them..." We are famous here now on the streets...

Now we are working very hard to exercise our contacts and connections and speed our permission to gain entrance into Iraq... I was able to get a call through into Baghdad tonight to one of the main friends there, only to learn that our visa applications are still being held up...

We get an e-mail about our Free Speech TV interview:
The FSTV interview came out great. Wanted to let you and your audience know that the interview will air on FSTV Dish Network 9415 starting Saturday at 6:40am EST and repeat at 3:40p 6:40P and 3:40 am Sunday morning (all times EST subtract 2 hours for MST). We can also provide you a copy when you get back.

At the bridge over the river Jordan, at the border into the West Bank, we met a Palestinian family waiting for admission to the next bus... We sang a few bars of familiar popular songs... They said, seeing the little bag of Lays potato chips I was holding for my pre-breakfast snack: "Now we are very careful not to buy anything from America... nothing nothing nothing American... See our two-year-old boy... He's only two and he already says he wants to die shooting Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem... look at what is becoming of our children!" Then we sang some more Arabic songs... When in doubt, sing... It works every time... Big smiles break out...

We cross the bridge in one bus... we wait for another passport check... we ride in an expensive taxi over tiny back roads away from Jericho, which is currently closed by the Israeli soldiers, through a couple of checkpoints to the outskirts of Ramallah... The taxis are not allowed to go into Ramallah... we walk through a labyrinth of concrete barriers past Israeli bunkers and past coils of razor wire... The soldiers ask us what we want to do there...
"Just tourists... we are musicians..." we tell them. They look at us coldly, knowing that we are going to visit with Palestinians in Ramallah, home of Yasser Arafat...
We walk into the city... eventually take another taxi to city center... It's 4 or 5 pm and we are ready for breakfast... We enter a place that advertizes "Mexican Food" (the second we have seen in our wanderings)... The "tacos" taste distinctly Middle Eastern... but still tasty... we inquire and find a hotel...
We enter the hotel and bargain with the manager... we sing a few phrases of Abd 'al Halim... big smiles...
Following our noses and various pieces of advice on the street, we enter Mataam Ziryab, a coffee shop, art gallery and restaurant, oud in hand... The Palestinian owner is sitting down with his wife to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary... He is a successful international artist... the walls are covered with his latest work: paintings created with fire on wooden plaques...

Invited to perform, we bring out the oud and sing 4 or 5 songs... A group of 5 or 6 young women encourage us: they sing along and ask for more... the waiters listen in the background... For a couple of hours we get to know the owners...

The wife tells us of the latest curfews and closings... Only a month or so ago the town was cut off from electricity and phone lines... Israeli soldiers surrounded her house a couple of weeks ago because they thought a plastic toy gun her 10-year-old son was playing with might be real... They had been watching him play through binoculars from the settlement above their house... They threatened to destroy the house with bulldozers if it was not found... Finally the boy, shaking and sobbing, was able to lead the soldiers to some alley where he had already thrown it away...
"If you ever buy another one, we will kill you and your family!" he is told...
He is still shaking from this experience and having nightmares...
Our new artist friend, her husband, the owner of Mataam Ziryab, tells us that just the day before he had met with Jane Fonda, who just returned to the West Bank in some expression of solidarity with Palestinian people...
"It was an artist to artist meeting," he explains...
Soon he will have a large exhibit in a gallery in Texas... He gives us three prints of some of his earlier works and talks about the dream states he enters in order to create... I read the poetry he has written about his inspiration to paint a series of watercolors about the exodus of Arabs from Grenada, Spain, back in 1492... I am impressed with the translation of his poetry... He does bring a thick dream mist into being with his work...
"And this restaurant," he explains... "I use all kinds of scraps and recycled materials to decorate the interior."
"And I made the light fixtures from old paper," adds his wife.
"We exhibit the artwork of many different people here and we want people to be able to sit and be comfortable... drink a coffee... and be surrounded by the art... it's different from walking through a museum-like gallery..."
They are raising their three children here in Ramallah in spite of the difficulties of surviving here these days... I wonder how he maintains his artistic focus in the face of the heavy distraction of being under various degrees of seige...
We return to the hotel at midnight to find a group of Palestinian men sitting downstairs in the lobby... They ask me to bring out the oud... Soon we are busy with song again... It's late at night... It is quiet except for our singing... We focus on the music and it gets really good... (Funny how it does that...) We sing and laugh and smile... They help us with better understanding the lyrics we are singing... (always more progress to be made here)...
Sometime after 1:00 a.m. we go upstairs to bed.

Rising early (for us musicians) at 9:00 a.m., we leave the hotel and take a cab to see the remainder of the government buildings in which Yasser Arafat is being held captive... I guess he is free to leave Palestine to negotiate on the Palestinians' behalf in other parts of the world if he wants to...
It's just that the Israelis have threatened to not let him ever return if he leaves. So there he sits, it seems. Only the central building is intact. It is surrounded by the rubble and twisted metal of several city blocks of what were once government offices (we are told) and smashed automobiles which were pulverized under the treads of the tanks...

We take a taxi back to the checkpoint at the entrance to Ramallah; our packs and oud case are opened and searched... The two Palestinians in line in front of us are denied passage for some reason and turned back... We ride in a large "service taxi" back toward Jericho ("Ariha" in Arabic) and are held up behind a truck hauling a huge Israeli tank... Above us on various hilltops we see what look like Israeli settlements... We ask the taxi driver... "Kibutzes," he replies... Confusion and expensive taxi rides follow as we are guided and misguided through various checkpoints and bus stations back to the bridge... We pay a large exit fee at the border and breathe freely to be back on the Jordanian side... And all the visas we needed for the crossing were placed on separate pieces of paper so our passports are not jeapordized for future travel... (Several Arab countries will not allow you to enter if there is evidence in your passport that you have been to Israel.)

But now we have new friends in Ramallah... And we have invitations, of course, to return and spend more time... Play more music...
Back here in Amman it is cold and raining... But we can come and go as we please... this is a nice freedom... I wonder if those large buses filled with Palestinians we passed near the bridge are still waiting?... or what percentage of those were turned back for some reason...? Time and time again we are told, "Yes, I have family on the other side of the border, but now it is very difficult for us to get in or out..."

We are still on our way to Baghdad, but more time for processing of our visas still seems to be needed... We may be able to get in in mid January with a group of solidarity peace activists... We will see... We must also pay attention to what the possibilities for war are looking like...

We will probably be back in Colorado for a while in the meantime since we have airline tickets...

We were photographed and interviewed again yesterday by an Arabic language newspaper, "Okaz"...

Hopefully some of you saw us on FreeSpeechTV last weekend... We haven't, of course, seen the piece yet...

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