A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘Amman’ Category

I graduated too soon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 20, 2009

The Columbia University Middle East Research Center opens Sunday in Amman.

Doesn’t it look beautiful?



Posted in academia, Amman, Arab world | 2 Comments »

Seek, and ye shall find

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 9, 2009

Its a cold winter Friday in Manhattan. I’m sad about the ongoing attacks on Gazans, as well as the fact that it took two weeks for the UN Security Council to call for an “immediate ceasefire” – a call which BBC earlier this morning described Israel as “snub”-ing.(Not that Hamas seems to have been jumping up and down to endorse it, either.)

And I’m peeved that my new thermometer tells me that the temperature in my office is 64 degrees F (that’s 18 C for you metric fans). Brrr.

So to warm myself up, and to take my mind off more substantive issues, I have taken a look at the search terms that have brought new readers to my blog this week.

I always get a number of searches for Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese culture, hijab, Islam, etc.

And I always get a few stumpers, like mayonnaise. I think my blog must appear on this search because I have written about toum – but who knows.

My blog brings in people looking for particular Arabic words – this week, “arnabeet” and “tatari” were popular (go figure).

And sometimes I think I can see the same searcher refining his/her search, as with “ghida fakhri”, which was followed by “is ghida fakhri Christian”. Cue eye roll, please.

Some searches make me laugh out loud, like “escort service in amman jordan”. Boy, is this a perennial search term favorite – and I am sure that most searchers are terribly disappointed to learn that my post on “The Dangers of Women” does not provide contact information.

And some just make me wonder about the searcher’s education, like “beaches in damascus”. May I suggest trying another search first: “Syria map”.

Enjoy your Fridays – and let’s hope for better news soon.

Posted in Amman, blogging, Damascus, humor, research | Leave a Comment »

signs of the times: frequent flying to Iraq

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 1, 2008

My return to New York yesterday was  hit with the usual winter travel snafus: weather delays, mechanical problems, and travelers with too much luggage. But I had work to do and a flexible schedule, so the extended airport time didn’t bother me too much.

And sitting in the airport certainly bothered me less than flying on a broken plane would have – so I was quite grateful when my original airline wrote my ticket over to an American flight.

American is an airline that I don’t often fly, so I put our “penalty box” delay to good use by reading its in-flight magazine. I was intrigued to learn that Royal Jordanian Airlines, which I used to fly quite frequently, is now an American partner:


I spent a few petulant moments imagining all the frequent flier miles I might have accumulated had this partnership been operative back in the early 2000s, when I noticed that the Royal Jordanian line had footnotes next to its X’es (its the bottom line in the photo above – sorry its so blurry).

Aha, I thought, feeling suddenly vindicated, I bet those miles don’t really translate into American Airlines frequent flier miles.

But that wasn’t want the footnote was for – or at least, it didn’t apply to all Royal Jordanian flights:


I imagine that miles flown on Royal Jordanian’s flights to and from Iraq are not eligible to be counted as frequent flier miles because technically no American is supposed to be traveling to Iraq, but I’m curious whether anyone knows the full answer.

And if you’ve ever flown one of these flights and tried to get mileage credit for it, I would love to hear your story. Given my own experiences trying to get credit for my usual US airline with flights taken on its Middle East partners, I suspect that asking for flight credit for an Iraq-bound flight would cause utter melt-down on the customer service side.

Posted in Americans, Amman, Arab world, Iraq, Jordan, travel | 1 Comment »

more presidential election coverage: Obama and Israel

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 12, 2008

In my previous post on the Arabic channels’ coverage of the US presidential election, I promised to look next at Al Jazeera.

And I will – but first, a quick post to include the image of “White House Race” that Arabiya, which in general has very strong digital graphics, super-imposed on a digitized image of the White House:


To fill the long stretches of (very late-night, in the Arab world) time in which no state returns were being reported, Arabiya broadcast a re-cap of Obama’s July visit to Jordan and Israel, which came at the close of his larger trip to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The channel showed Obama addressing the international media in Amman and commented on what his positions vis-a-vis the Middle East and Israel were likely to be:


I wish I could tell you exactly what the channel said, but I was so busy fussing with my camera in order to get footage of the broadcast feature that I was only half-listening. But since it was Arabiya, I assume it was fairly agnostic about the whole thing.

(The “breaking news” caption records Obama’s wins in Weeskounsin, Meesheeghan, and Mineesouta, and the numbers indicate that Obama had 103 electoral votes to McCain’s 34.)

Posted in Americans, Amman, Arab world, Arabic, Jordan, politics, television, words | Leave a Comment »

cedars, Litani canal, and bunnies: still more old Lebanese stamps

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 6, 2008

After my first round of posts on old Lebanese stamps, Faylasoof kindly offered to share photos of some of the stamps that his father had collected as a high school and college student. They are beautiful – and there are tons of them! (And according to Faylasoof, this is just the tip of the stamp iceberg: apparently his father amassed a tremendous number of regional stamps in his collection.)

Here is a sampling of the first set of stamps that Faylasoof so kindly scanned in and sent to me. I’ve split the jpg into quarters, and am including two in this post.

Here’s the first quarter. Look at the first four stamps on the top left: they show three different treatments of the cedar tree. The middle two show the most naturalistic cedar, while the purple one at the far left is the most stylized. My favorite is the blue: the stylization helps me read the tree more clearly, while the natural setting anchors it in Lebanese soil.

If you look down further, to the next row, you’ll see another purple stamp showing an arched bridge – or acqueduct. The text is a bit small, but it reads: “Litani irrigation canal” (in French). The building of the Litani canal was a major undertaking in Lebanon, and not an entirely happy one. Intended to help modernize the south, it involved extensive US aid (and oversight), and became a highly politicized, highly Big Dig-style enterprise, with slow progress and kickbacks for all. But the stamp looks nice:

As for the stamps on the bottom row above, let me address the center one first. With its hard lines and grey and blue palate, it looks to me like it should be promoting nuclear energy, space exploration or heavy industrialization. But no: it celebrates 1967 as the “International Year of Tourism” (in French).

And the two animal stamps that flank it just make me laugh. They are so, so different from all the other Lebanese stamps I have seen. When I look at them, all I can imagine is that perhaps someone in charge of stamp designs had small children who loved animals; or perhaps someone’s cousin was a budding artist; or perhaps they simply had run out of other ideas. They aren’t bad stamps, but they are very different in theme and design from all the others.

Below is the next quarter view of the sheet of stamps that Faylasoof sent. The top left two stamps really appeal to me: I like the linearity of the imagery and the active positions of the house builders. And I get a kick out of the two supervisors, in their overcoats-that-look-like-lab-coats, ushering in the modern era of building with engineering plans rather than intuitive know-how. But I don’t understand the Arabic text, which reads: “ighatha wa taameer”. I know these words as “relief” and “longevity”. Are they supposed to indicate that building via architectural and engineering plans results in longer-lasting houses that provide greater relief to their inhabitants? Or is there some better translation that I am missing?

The stamp on the top right, of course, shows Beirut’s famous Pigeon Rocks.It also uses a particularly beautiful calligraphic treatment of “Lebanon” (the two squiggles at the stamp’s top right, for those of you who do not read Arabic). This same treatment is still used today by the country’s Ministry of Tourism.

The bottom row shows the third stamp in the “barnyard animals” series, as well as another iteration of the Litani canal.

Thank you, Faylasoof – I’ve greatly enjoyed looking at each of these stamps!

Posted in advertising, Amman, Arabic, art, Beirut, economics, Lebanon, media, politics, research, stamps, time, words | Leave a Comment »

Putting safety last: Jordan’s new tax law

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 14, 2007

This article breaks my heart. The Jordanian monarchy expends great time, effort, and money to convince the world that it is forward thinking and Western looking.

But what kind of government institutes a car tax that discourages consumers from buying cars with safety features?

A tax on luxury cars? fine.

But a tax that targets safety devices? What kind of government does this to its citizens?

(MENAFN – Jordan Times) AMMAN — A government decision to apply sales tax and other tariffs on vehicle safety devices has already raised car prices and will surely hamper efforts to improve the Kingdom’s road safety record, car dealers and citizens said Thursday.

The decision, which went into effect Wednesday, has caused a rise, ranging from JD200 to JD6,000, in the prices of new cars and will also affects the prices of used cars, several car dealers told The Jordan Times.

Citizens with limited incomes looking for cars worth around JD12,000 will have now to pay around JD1,000 extra. “If they want to save this amount, they would opt to buy a car with less specifications, particularly those pertaining to safety, such as ABS (anti-lock brake system) and airbags,” said Abu Khaled, who works at an auto agency on western Amman’s Wadi Saqra Street, criticising the decision which he said caused confusion in the market.

Head of the customs office at the Zarqa Duty Free area, Mahmoud Dweiri, said the rise in car prices ranges from JD200 and JD2,000.

Dweiri told the Jordan News Agency, Petra, that luxury cars usually have more safety measures and thus will have a considerable rise in their prices.

Director of Al Abrar Wal Rafidain Clearance Agency at the free zone, Mohammad Abul Tayyeb, agreed, but said that the rise in prices exceeds JD2,000 for some brands, particularly large four-wheel drive cars.

Mohammad Hassanein, an Egyptian worker at a car agency, said several cars on sale at his company went up by around JD6,000.

The government on Tuesday decided that safety devices installed on vehicles should be subject to sales tax and unified tariffs starting from Wednesday. This decision suspended a previous one dated September 24, 2006, which exempted these devices from sales tax. The new decision was based on a recommendation by the Jordan Customs Department (JCD), which indicated that these devices have become essential for all vehicles and are no longer optional.

Among the devices that are included in the decision are the ABS, airbags, anti-pollution systems, anti-skip systems and many others.

The Car Agents Association on Thursday called on the government to reconsider its decision and to discuss it with all concerned parties.

Leading car brand agents in the capital disagreed with the JCD. “The agents can ask the manufacturer to exclude some of the safety devices,” sales manager in the Ole Group, a leading car brands agent in the Kingdom, Majdi Nashashibi, told the Jordan Times, without specifying any of these devices.

“Over the past two days, the number of visitors to our showrooms declined sharply,” Nashashibi told The Jordan Times Thursday evening. He claimed that “the decision will reflect on the public more than us,” adding that citizens will have to pay more for their vehicles.

He also said the decision will prompt agents to import more vehicles with fewer safety devices to maintain their sales level, which would reflect on safety levels on the road.

Mohammad Salameh said he was looking for a car with all safety devices, but after the new decision, he is now focusing more on the price of the car.

“I am looking for a car worth around JD12,000 and dealers were telling me that I should’ve come earlier this week because I would have saved some JD1,000,” Salameh, an employee at a private company, lamented, while walking between shiny cars lined up in front of a car dealership.

As for the safety devices, 42-year-old Salameh said: “God is my sole protector.”

“The government doesn’t care for people’s safety, it only cares about getting money out of their pockets,” he complained.

Road accidents continue to be one of the leading causes of death in the country. According to police statistics, around 18,000 people have been killed in road accidents over the past 20 years.

According to Traffic Department figures, 865 people were killed last year.

Around 18,000 people were injured during the same year in over 80,000 accidents that cost the country around JD250 million in losses annually, Jamil Mujahed, head the Road Safety Youth Fund, told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

Last month, the Jordan Insurance Federation, dealing with compulsory insurance for motor vehicles, reported a JD12 million loss during 2006 due to the increase in the number of accidents.

Posted in Amman, Arab world, citizenship, economics, family, Jordan | 2 Comments »

The dangers of women

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 9, 2007

This article left me torn between the desire to snicker and the urge to shake my head in horror.

Prostitution is so much more visible – and accepted – in this part of the world than in the United States. I find it appalling, but also an effective rejoinder to those who criticize our high divorce rate. After all, who values the institution of marriage more: those who end it when marital differences become ‘irreconcilable’, or those who make a farce of a lifetime commitment to honor one’s spouse with one’s fidelity?

I must also note that Jordan’s fear of single women travelers might explain a rather curious experience I had while staying at the Grand Hyatt in Amman several summers ago.

The hotel’s emails to me always began, “Dear Sir,” which I thought understandable. After all American names are not always identifiably male or female, and regional norms would predict that a single traveler would be male.

What was strange, however, was that once I arrived, the hotel staff continued to address me as “Sir” and “Mr”. I should point out here that I am not at all masculine looking; certainly I have never been mistaken for a man in any other context.

When my parents called the hotel one evening to speak with me, the concierge refused to put them through until they agreed that yes, I was their son, and they were calling in order to be connected to the room of Mr. Diamond.

At the time, it was baffling. Not offensive – just strange.

Thanks to this article, however, I feel that I have solved the mystery. By refusing to acknowledge my Miss-ness, the hotel staff was kindly glossing over any morality problems that my presence might pose.

Either that, or I really do look like a man.


An outcry from Jordanian tour operators has compelled Amman to backtrack on a controversial new regulation that was intended to limit the entry of single eastern European and North African women into the country.


Tour operators throughout the country were notified earlier this week of a new visa regulation issued by Jordan’s Ministry of Interior. The directive stipulated that women traveling alone to Jordan from several eastern European and North African countries would be required to obtain special entry visas.


The ministry notice gave no reason for the new regulation. But tour operators said the conservative government was trying to clamp down on the growing trend of prostitution in Jordan imported by women from these countries.


The decision was retracted on Wednesday morning after tourist operators working with these countries protested to the government. Industry people were concerned this would damage their incomes and discourage tourists from these destinations to come to Jordan.


Interior Ministry officials explained the retraction, saying they wanted to avoid any misunderstandings with nationals of the countries targeted by the decision, the Jordanian daily A-Rai reported.


The original regulation singled out women between the ages of 17-40 from Ukraine, Estonia, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Armenia. It excluded women from these countries who were accompanying their husbands, traveling in official delegations or daughters of high-ranking officials.


Jordan’s tourism industry relies heavily on visitors from these destinations, especially from Russia, Bulgaria and Romania.


Sameer Baitamouni, the operations manager for the Amman-based tourist office of Abercrombie & Kent, says prostitution is indeed a problem in Jordan, although the practice remains largely behind closed doors and is less apparent on the streets.


“At the end of the day this is a conservative, Arab Islamic country,” Baitamouni says. “People don’t like seeing Russian girls wearing short skirts walking on the streets.”


He admits that the original regulation, which intended to scrutinize the entry of potential prostitutes, was justified from a social standpoint, given the conservative nature of the country, but bad for business.


Jordan has become a thriving business hub for Westerners since the war in the neighboring Iraq began in 2003. Businesspeople, journalists, diplomats, contractors and soldiers work in Iraq but use Jordan, which is relatively safe, as their base.


The boom in foreigners has also seen an upsurge in escort services in the country.


Tamer Khweis, a Jordanian human rights lawyer, does not believe in a direct correlation between the increased number of Westerners in the country and the rise in prostitution. It is more likely linked with the lenient approach the Jordanian government has taken over the past five years toward opening night clubs in order to attract tourists, he says.


The nightlife boon has driven eastern European women to Jordan to seek employment as waitresses or bartenders. They frequently resort to prostitution for the additional income, Khweis believes.


“I truly don’t think it’s organized,” he says, downplaying speculation of human trafficking.


Prostitution in Jordan largely remains discreet, but is known to be common. It is not a matter debated in the media.


“It’s an underworld business,” Khweis says.


Al-Qa’ida took credit for the bombing of an Amman hotel frequented by Westerners in November 2005, explaining they were targeting “filthy entertainment centers.”

Posted in Amman, Jordan, neighbors, news, tourism, traffic, travel, women, words | 2 Comments »

“With a lot of work”: answering questions about Arabic

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 8, 2007

Last summer I attended a conference in Amman. I love Amman during the summer – the air there is so much fresher than that in Damascus (too hot) or Beirut (too sultry).

While there I had the chance to catch up with a few friends from university, as well as the delightful responsibility of looking after a beloved (but Farsi-speaking) professor. I took them to Abdel Wahab, a beautiful Achrafiyeh restaurant with an outpost at the Meridien in Amman.

The food was delicious as always, and the wait staff charmingly attentive. They adapted to our foursome’s quirkiness with remarkable ease, raising no eyebrows at either my taking charge (despite the presence of said distinguished professor) or my Arabic, which included some rather bossy instructions to please turn down the air conditioning before we turn into ice cubes.

As we rose to leave, satiated and surfeited together, the maitre d’ came quietly up to me. Please, he said, tell me: how did you learn Arabic?

Kif t3alemti al-3arabi – I have heard this question many times over the years, and it is one I always struggle to answer.

What I want to say in response is: with a lot of hard work. But I don’t think this is quite what my questioners are after.

English-speakers most frequently ask me: where did you learn Arabic?

For non-Arabic speakers, the presumption (I believe) is that learning such a difficult language can only take place in situ.

For my fellow 3SL’ers (Arabic as a Second Language), the question is more about placement. The world of 3SL Arabic speakers, particularly in the United States, is very small. There is a ‘circuit’ of overseas language institutes that most of us have traversed. Asking ‘where did you study’ is a way to open a conversation of shared memories and – often – of common friends.

When I answer questions that begin with how rather than where, I try to blend the two responses, saying: I studied here and here and here, and I have studied for a very long time.

My questioners often respond by saying: well, Arabic is a difficult language. I laugh and say: Yes. I think that even when I am a 90 year old woman I will still be studying this language. And I will.

Posted in Americans, Amman, Arabic, food, friends, humor, Jordan, research, travel, words | 1 Comment »

difficult palindromes: man, a plan, … Amman?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 10, 2007

I am in Jordan for the weekend – the Lebanese weekend (Saturday- Sunday), which overlaps only partially with the Jordanian (Friday-Saturday).

Naturally, I forgot to pack my camera, but even since my last visit (in July 2006 – I returned home to Beirut just in time to unpack and settle in before the war began) I can see changes in Amman – and not just the number of Iraqi license plates. The neighborhoods past seventh circle are now almost as thickly settled as the heart of the city – and the westward growth continues.

In lieu of current photos, I am posting a few from a delightful trip down to Wadi Rum that I took with my friend M, her friend S, and his brother S in June 2005. Yes, Wadi Rum in June. It was beyond hot, but still beautiful.


The famous “bridge” of Wadi Rum, photographed by me and twenty million other tourists.


Sociable camel passing by to say saba7h alkheir and “you are welcome in Jordan”.


a classically ‘touristic’ scene


even at 8 am, the temperature was high enough to produce this heat haze …


… which strangely enough did nothing to deter S & S (a doctor and civil engineer, respectively) from racing one another up this hill and then sliding down it, despite the burning sands.

Men really are from Mars – even when they are from Canada.

Posted in Americans, Amman, Canada, Canadians, film, friends, Jordan, photography, teaching, tourism, travel, words | 5 Comments »

finding one’s way (ii): a map of Amman

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 30, 2007

My blog seems to have become a way station for lost souls around the region. Today’s search results referrals (Amman + city + map) are less specific than the ones last week for Damascus.

The city of Amman itself has a clickable map online, although it has fewer landmarks than the Damascus map: http://www.amman.com/map.htm. As with most cities here, cabdrivers tend to know areas, not street names. Try to find the circle nearest your destination, and orient yourself from there.

I downloaded this map last summer, before a conference. Unfortunately, I cannot remember my source, so am posting it with apologies to the author:


Amman is an under-rated city, full of hidden charms. If you are looking to ‘find your way’ in a more metaphorical sense, please let me know. I’m happy to suggest restaurants, hammams, etc. to while away the time there.

Posted in Amman, Jordan, maps, research, tourism, traffic, travel | 5 Comments »