The Arabic language has over 12 million words, not to mention the many different dialects of each region in الشرق الأوسط (The Middle East). The thing that I find so interesting about Arabic is how extensive everything is compared to English. There are 28 letters in the alphabet, each consonant with four different forms depending on their placement in a word. That’s basically like learning 112 letters in the alphabet, which I think is really cool! Arabic is also a phonetic language, meaning words sound exactly how they are spelled. In Arabic, there are so many words for one concept.
There is فصحى، (MSA) and many other dialects, like العامية (Jordanian Dialect), in which you can express countless more emotions than in English due to the sheer amount of vocabulary available. Many words and phrases simply cannot be directly translated into English because Arabic is such a poetic and figurative language. For comparison, English has about 170,000 words, barely making a dent in contrast to Arabic.
Walking downtown with CET students on a graffiti tour led by Alaeddin Rahmeh (right image). On the left is an example of graffiti found in downtown Amman. Not only does Arabic have 23 words to express love, Arabic and Jordanian culture are also known for having small quotes or stories that convey specific messages, much like this one here.
Love, a universal language, can be expressed in 23 different words in Arabic, depending on the context. There are distinct words to express each kind of love, whether it be romantic, familial, lustful, passionate, or friendly.
حب: love, like, seed
محبة: love, charity
أحبك: I love you
Some of us in Jerash with our jiran (Jordanian Neighbors), enjoying a traditional lunch together.
Having been here for a month now, a big theme I’ve noticed with the people around me is love and its connection to art. Love is expressed in so many ways within Arabic and within Jordanian culture. I’ve seen it in the streets of Amman when random people we don’t know want to talk to us and ask us questions. I see it in the art that is all over the city, and in the food that is made with such intention and care, as well as the meals that are made together and shared. I see it and feel it when I’m with the جيران, our Jordanian neighbors, and with my friends from the program. I feel it when someone helps me find something in a store, or when I ask “شو يعني؟” and someone translates a word I don’t know into English. I feel so at home in Amman even though I’ve only been here for a month.
No matter where I go or who I talk to there is always someone willing to help me out. These are all different kinds of love, but I think it can be shown in all sorts of ways. There’s also so much love for the country of Jordan itself, and it can be seen through the strength of the culture and the art that you can find on almost every street.
Learning about this tree in Jerash that produces gum. Two of our jiran and their family graciously invited us to their vineyard where we enjoyed a delicious meal, picked grapes, and met some sheep!
On يوم الخميس (Thursday) of last week, a few of the students from the program and I went on a graffiti tour with a local hip-hop artist around وسط البلد (downtown) Amman. Alaeddin Rahmeh is the founder of Underground Amman. This street art tour is an arts and culture initiative that “nurtures the transformative nature of hip-hop art, culture, and values.” Their mission is to “develop and support Jordan’s street art and hip hop community as an artistic catalyst for social change.”
Social change always seems to be intertwined with forms of love, just as much as nationalism and pride in one’s country. We have a love for our communities, and we want to see them flourish and grow while at the same time challenging the things within them that have become ineffective or harmful. Many of the art we saw on this tour express different kinds of love. Love of self. Love of country. Love of others. And passion for positive social change.
During our tour, Alaeddin told us the history of each piece as we walked by them. This piece by the artist known as Sardine, depicts a woman with a dead fish on her black t-shirt. She has long hair and an origami sailboat on top of her head. This piece brings to attention the serious issue of water scarcity in Jordan, as well as global climate issues. Jordan has one of the worst problems with water in the world. Tap water is completely undrinkable, and having access to clean water is extremely important.
Everywhere in Jordan, you will see countless plastic water bottles and water jugs. These are used instead of the tap. Water here is also not free in restaurants like it is in the States because of the lack of access to water. The water isn’t even clean enough for the fish (as the art depicts). Another issue this piece brings attention to is the Dead Sea. Due to global warming, the Dead Sea continues to recede more and more each year. According to Alaeddin, it has about 30 years left until it is completely gone. This is an issue that environmentalists here have been debating for a long time.
What I took away from this specific mural is that social change is not linear. When people are passionate about an issue in their community, sometimes they write about it. Or sing about it. Or debate about it. Or change laws about it. Or protest. Sometimes, they create art as a way of expressing how they feel. All of these are so unique to each person and the community they reside in, and to me, they stem from a deep love of one’s passions and in taking care of the people and things we love. There’s a quote we saw on the tour that says,
تجري الرياح كما تجري سفينتنا .. نحن الرياح و نحن البحر و السفن ُ
إن الذي يرتجي شيئاً بهمّتهِ .. يلقاهُ لو حاربَتْهُ الإنسنُ
والجنُ ُّفاقصد الى قمم الاشياءِ تدركها .. تجري الرياح كما رادت لها السفن
“The winds move as our ship runs. We are
the winds, we are the sea and the ships
He who hopes for something with his determination
will meet it even if humans and jinn fight him
So aim at the peaks of things and realize them
The wind blows as the ships intended”
Alaeddin explained this as Jordanians coming together as one to solve problems in their lives, and that when working together with determination, communities can make the changes they would like to see. In my eyes, this is a good example of love and art being combined because this is an art piece that represents the essence of humankind and the importance of taking care of those around us.
Obviously in the States we have hip-hop and street art. However, here in Jordan, these things have different history and meanings, and speak on problems and issues similar to ours, but in other contexts due to differences in language, cultures , religion, geography, etc. A lot of the art we saw brought up themes of water scarcity, religion, and women and gender roles surrounding the hijab. Over time, hip-hop culture in Jordan has grown into a conglomeration of history, song, dance, art, and social change. Alaeddin Rahmeh showed us videos of some of his underground showcases, where dance played a huge role. These showcases are often held all around Amman for artists of all kind. In Jordan, street art isn’t just considered to be the paintings themselves, but everything else I’ve mentioned too.
On the tour, we also learned that graffiti used to be illegal in Jordan. People still found ways to express themselves and their emotions through their art, but they were doing so at a high risk. One could be jailed if caught vandalizing property in such a way. However, a street artist named Frog was arrested and suggested exchanging his freedom for his art, and the police agreed; so he painted a huge mural in their police station. This story absolutely blew up and eventually other police stations wanted the same thing. Now, street art is legal and you can find beautiful murals all over Jordan.
Oxford Dictionary defines art as a “diverse range of human activity, and resulting product, that involves creative or imaginative talent expressive of technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas”. The Arabic word for art is فن, with its roots meaning to diversify. I think that the concept of art is extremely hard to define because art means something different to everyone. Music can be art, painting and drawing are art. Dancing, singing, writing—all art. Art is also used as a tool for social change. However, within all of these categories, is a strong desire and passion, love, for the act of (writing, singing dancing, painting, etc.) which then becomes something that is shared within the community. Art is therefore to me, an act of love. An act of sharing a particular passion with the people around you. Hip-hop culture in Amman has become a way for people to come together over their shared passions for the arts and their communities.
“ روح المدينة” the umbrellas are known as the soul of the city in downtown Amman.