مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Things I learned during my fascinating week in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan:

* If there's anything Jordanians love more than their current king (Abdullah II), it's their late king (Hussein); royal photos are blown up on just about every wall in Amman.
* Khafiyas (traditional headdresses) are infinitely comfortable.
* I know enough Arabic to make halting conversation with Jordanian taxi drivers and/or salespeople. Marhaba! Esmi Jessica, ana amerkiyye, men Utah. W enti mneen? Qadesh il buzza? Wahaad dinar? Shukran w salam aleikum!
* Don't tell Jordanian taxi drivers you're studying in al-Quds (Jerusalem) unless you want an awkward anti-Israel rant.
* The late King Hussein had a lot of expensive cars, and for three dinars, you can see them in a museum downtown. It's worth it.
* American food tastes six million times better when you manage to find it in a refreshingly Western mall in Amman.
* Swiss ice cream is the best in the world.
* Parisian pastries are divine.
* Both of the above can be found in Amman, a city both diverse and surprisingly modern.
* Two of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed in a sketchy little museum near the Temple of Hercules at the Amman Citadel, along with replicas of a Nabatean god that bears an uncanny resemblance to Spongebob Squarepants.
* There is approximately eight hundred percent humidity in the Jordan River Valley.
* The beautiful Roman ruins at Jerash are incredibly underrated (at least, I had no idea about them until my visit).
* Petra is absolutely unbelievable.
* Petra contains much, much more than just the famous Treasury you see in all the textbook pictures.
* The little Bedouin children who sell jewelry at Petra are seriously convincing. I spent far too much.
* In some mosques, there are rooms full of long, black robes for unsuspecting infidel tourists like me to wear inside, which make for impromptu "Emperor Palpatine" impersonations.
* Arrested Development makes any bus ride fly by.

Bottom line: Jordan is beautiful and I had a great time. Here are some pictures...

I'm overlooking a Crusader castle...

Being actively stunned by the Monastery at Petra (quite a hike, but worth it!)...

Letting Bedouin children stick flowers in my hair...

Taking in the immensity of Petra's famous Treasury...

Being held for ransom in front of said Treasury...

And being intensively modest in a Jordanian mosque.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Sand and limestone are the same color as hummus and skin. Here, the world blends together across a spectrum of beige: living, nonliving, and no longer living. Crushed chickpeas match my stratum corneum and the worn bricks under my feet. This world is made of limestone. I am made of limestone, veined and cobbled, only I never knew it until I was dipped into this place. Eyes closed and chin lifted, I bask in the rivulets of molten stone, opening my mouth to bathe my pink tongue in liquid beige. Strike this stone, and overtones resound in perfect integer multiples of the fundamental frequency that has echoed through my veins for as long as I can remember.

We resonate, this place and I.

Mobius strip.

Walking down the stairs not five minutes ago, I felt the old, familiar void begin to gnaw at my mediastinum. Fortunately, this feeling that seems so pervasive at home is rarely a problem here. It’s times like these when I need to grab hold of something, to run away and curl up so far inside myself that no one could find me if they tried—and yet, cruelly, loneliness prolongs the episode. It’s times like these I just need somewhere soft.


I am very critical when it comes to the use of imagery in prose. For me, it conjures up the vision of an author examining himself in a mirror—if not primping, then tugging at snatches of fabric to ensure that every inch hangs just right. What he doesn’t realize is that as soon as he turns from his carefully polished reflection, the clothing slides from its immaculate arrangement and settles back into the unflattering grooves of an imperfect body.
(Of course, I would use imagery myself to describe the way I feel about this phenomenon.)

I bring this up because I can’t tell whether I’m becoming more skilled at discerning a text’s quality or simply becoming more critical, like an old woman who examines a grandchild with narrowed eyes, ignoring his youthful radiance to wipe a few untoward crumbs from his lips. There is perfection in imperfection. Its artful presentation is another story.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I don't write much anymore.

Know what's weird?
I know why.

Writing constructs a thin metal skeleton around the edges of my void, helping me to hold out against the vacuum just a little longer.
Jerusalem answers the echoes of the hole that's been empty for as long as I can remember.

For once
I am whole.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Word problems.

Wow. This non-blogging phase is so unlike me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am chronically ill. Diagnosis: monolingualism. It’s a difficult disease to cope with, characterized by long periods of latency spotted with acute, incapacitating flare-ups. After spending yesterday evening with two quadrilingual kindergartners (Hebrew, Arabic, Swedish, and English!), I’ve come to the conclusion that for the first time in my life I’m going to become serious about fighting for a cure. Basically, I can no longer stand the fact that I am fluent only in English. As in, I do not think I can be satisfied with my present lingual status ever again. My children are going to be bilingual at least—the cognitive flexibility multilingualism provides simply cannot be ignored—but before that can happen, I myself must become a serious language learner. I wonder if I can do it. Quite honestly, I’ve never tried. Oh, sure, I aced a few years of high school Spanish, like every other American teenager, but all I had to do then was memorize some vocab and know how to spit out a little basic syntax. As of right now, though, I am serious. I want fluency, and for the first time in my life I believe I am willing to work for it. I know I'll be busy next semester, though, as a parasitology TA, program director, and research assistant. The more I think about it, the more I think next semester is going to be just as backbreaking as my first two have been. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I won’t get out of class until seven PM; Thursdays, five-fifteen; and Fridays (my early days), four o’ clock. Hmm.

On another note, I just received a perfect score on my Ancient Near Eastern History midterm. I immensely enjoy that class; my professor is literate in every ancient language from cuneiform to Coptic (you think I’m exaggerating), and even worked on the team that translated the Dead Sea Scrolls. Judaism class, though, still tops the charts for me; my Israeli professor’s vocabulary canvasses the Oxford English Dictionary and then some, and every day I sit in awe of his immaculate oratory. It would be no exaggeration to say that I hang on that man’s every perfectly formulated word. Thanks to my exposure to him and to a few new friends that speak as well as they can think, my words are getting better, too. We play very competitive Boggle and do Times crosswords, which I’ve been delighted to realize are actually possible (I’ve never tried one before, and I completed my first yesterday, only running into trouble with two words!).

As I’ve said before, I currently live in the best of all possible worlds. I have eighty built-in friends, six brilliant professors, three delicious buffet style meals a day, living space that wins worldwide architectural awards, professional classical music concerts every Sunday, trips all over the country every Monday, trips outside the country every few weeks, an endless calendar of activities, one of the world’s most coveted views outside my bedroom window, a (seemingly) endless supply of shopping funds, freedom to do whatever I like whenever and wherever I like (excluding the West Bank and Gaza Strip), and access to the best gelateria in West Jerusalem. This is the pinnacle of happiness and satisfaction.

P.S. Happy National Hebrew Book Week! “Goodnight Moon” in Hebrew is possibly my sweetest purchase so far. Erev tov!

Friday, June 5, 2009


Red Crescent, not Cross, suits Palestine best,
And candy-pink paint is peeling from walls.
Impermanence rules, and will, too, with you.
You, while I cradle and nuzzle your hair.
You, tiny baby—ideologically,
you are a crossroads and eventually—soon—
there will come a choice. Palestinian
Israeli is not a contradiction,
though your document reads Jerusalem
alone. No nation is yours, no land is
your home. This city was cut from the face
of the world, and its serrated edges
now frame your soft face. I can see your blood
like that, you know, right through your paper skin.
I could see your soul like that, you know, right
through your new-formed eyes. Now, perfect child,
tell me who you will become. Show me the
papers; let me see protest signs or a
diploma, pipe bombs or smiling children.
Where is your passport, your definition?
If later you walk through a camera
lens, right behind an American man
who talks through my news, will something in me
recognize you? I held that child, I
fed milk to that boy and cradled his head
while he burped, nudging my hand with his tongue.
Tell me who you are.
I can’t read in Arabic.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


My Israeli professor (a self-proclaimed 'practicing liberal Orthodox' Jew), on teaching Judaism to Mormon college students: "I think you're wacky, but no more so than I am. In religion, there's a line past which nothing is rational."

On another note, it made me smile to notice that university life seems to be identical all over the world. I made a side trip to Hebrew University (arguably the most prestigious university in Israel) this afternoon to access Facebook for the first time in over a month, and I was happy to see people in weird outfits handing out flyers, loud groups singing and marching around campus, a packed library, an unhealthy level of food consumption, and friendly student camaraderie. I guess college students will be college students, regardless of nationality, religion, or location.