Tag Archives: Jordan

Arabic Conjugation Reveals Professor’s Secret Identity

Some of the more prominent Crushers. (Or Breadbreakers).

Frustrated perhaps by a lack of grammatical precision in his ‘supposedly’ advanced Arabic students, my professor in this semester’s Language of the Qur’an course has taken us back a step this week into our primary verb conjugation chart, making us (re)memorize all the verb forms and spending each day of our classwork chanting those forms together to reinforce them in our weak and forgetful minds.

While this might seem like the ultimate in dry and unproductive exercises, it does yield some added ability to communicate in a register above common ‘street’ Arabic.

Additionally, as we ran through the Measure III conjugation of the verb h-SH-M, he provided us with an interesting tidbit of historical AND personal revelation.  (I’m using lowercase ‘h’ here to separate between the two Arabic H’s, fyi, this one being the softer).

Opening my trusty Hans Wehr dictionary, the root h-SH-M means, in Measure I,  ‘to destroy’ ‘to smash’ ‘to crush’ or ‘to shatter.’  Hans Wehr doesn’t offer a verb for Measure III, but the Musdar, or verbal noun, that comes from it yields our modern day Hashemite (as in the tribe, which now rules in both Jordan and Morocco and traces its ancestry back to the Prophet Muhammad).  Lest we imagine that Hashemite refers to some ability to smash or destroy in a physical or martial way we must point out that Measure III, from which this Musdar comes, is participatory, changing the base meaning the verb to render something more like: ‘to smash with someone’ or, in this specific case, ‘to break bread with someone.’  Thus, historically, the Hashemites get their name from being the hosts of the sacred area in Mecca, those with whom pilgrims would break bread.

Taking this one step further, my professor’s first name is Hisham.  This also comes from Measure III of h-SH-M, but from a variant of the Musdar that differentiates between ‘completed’ and ‘in-process’ or ‘trying-to-complete’ action.  So, while (to my knowledge) Professor Hisham isn’t a member of either the Moroccan or Jordanian royal families, fittingly enough for us students, we could at least consider him our definite and complete ‘breaker’ ‘smasher’ ‘shatterer’ or ‘crusher’.  He isn’t just trying to break bread here.  He’s wholly successful.

I will remember that next time we get a grammar test.



How to Make Ruins Fun

After touring a large number of sites in the Middle East, many not much more than a ‘significant’ pile of rock their father identified along some barren stretch of highway, my two children, boys ages 9 and 11, had this to say:  “Just because it’s old, dad, doesn’t mean it’s interesting.”

So, how, as a parent (and an enthusiast of archeology and other ‘old’ stuff) could I keep them interested?

For this, I stumbled on a wonderful recipe and will share it now with all other like-minded parents who face the challenge of touring citadels and other crumbly things while keeping children in tow.

First, take one pile of old stones, like, for instance:

Amphitheater at Tlos, Turkey.

Next, add one small (but hopefully very quick and wily) lizard.

The Lizard.

Then, applying the wisdom of age and keen observation, father (or other parent), will notice lizard, take excellent close-up photo for later use in blog entry, then steathily indicate its presence to bored progeny.

The speedy little bugger hid behind the crumbled ruins of some nice Roman stairs.

Bake for 35 minutes, during which time father might enjoy, at his leisure and without harassment, the majesty of associated ruins and the gorgeous backdrop of nearby Turkish mountains.  Children scamper after lizard.

Scamper, scamper.

End result?  A rather NQR sort of entertainment, but happy kids and happy dad.

Younger son, 'permitted' to hold the Lizard by his brother. NOTE: this photo was actually taken at the Jerash ruins in Jordan. The Tlos lizard conducted a successful evasion. Nevertheless, the principle remains unerringly valid.

Indiana Jones Feedback Loop – Petra, Jordan

Shop outside Petra, Jordan

Culturally-speaking, this one seems like the equivalent of two mirrors facing each other.  Mindnumbingly unending repetition, an image that keeps looping back on itself:  Steven Spielberg selling movies via the romance of Petra’s rose-red tombs while Petra then sells fifteen-cent Nescafe for two dollars in a styrofoam cup.

Or maybe its the old ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ joke, with a highly air-brushed Harrison Ford.  Either way, it proves that capitalism does have a sense of humor.

The shop was closed, very early this particular morning.  I checked.  I actually would have bought the coffee.  I woke before dawn and waited  for the Petra visitor center gates to open as the sun came up, trying to beat the expected 110F heat and the crowds.

My son Wesley pointed out this sign as he and I crossed the last wastes of parking lot.  I don’t think Petra was ‘cool’ in his 10-year old mind until he linked it to Indiana Jones.  Then it became something more than just another museum or another run-down castle he was forced to visit.  It became a video game, a backdrop, a place he understood.  He began to ask the first of a couple hundred 10-year old questions about Crusaders and the Holy Grail and whether or not college professors really do use bull whips.

It made me wonder whether relics of this sort, as beautiful and empty as Petra, have a value of their own or whether value only exists to the degree that a site, or an object, or an idea, resonates with a person.  Do all our histories require Steven Spielberg’s intervention so that they too might survive in the psyche of our children?

After a few more minutes Wesley and I passed beyond the visitor center gates, went down the vacant gravel footpath to the Siq, that narrow canyon through the keyhole of which, at the far end, are the remarkable ruins themselves.  We were mostly alone.  The moment was a full one for me, an almost holy feeling.  Yet it had been touched, at the outset, with a healthy dose of Not Quite Right.