Day 2 of Interviews in Amman, Jordan

By Sofia Ladak

Today is our second full day in Jordan, which means that we are finally slipping into the rhythm of the city of Amman. We have all felt incredibly well received in this country, and are very much enjoying our time here.
Leo and I started off our day with the most incredible interview! We met with an NGO called Questscope which was founded out of the UK, and has a branch in Amman with an almost fully Jordanian team.

Leo started off the conversation focusing less on Questscope and more on trying to get a sense of the Palestinian identity in Jordan, as it just so happened to be that both women we spoke to were of Palestinian decent. It was extremely interesting, even for me whose research focus is quite different, to hear them speak about how much they feel they and their families have been able to integrate into Jordanian society, starkly contrasting some of the conversations Leo had had the day before.

Afterwards, we shifted over to speak about Questscope and their mission, which is to provide education, namely non-formal education, to more vulnerable populations around Jordan, including drop out and refugee children. One of the large takeaways I’ve been having from every interview is that there is very much a need to focus on the question of “what happens next?”. Jordan unfortunately has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, and many organizations seem to feel that closing that gap has to be done through the private sector. Additionally, I’ve been finding it very interesting that most organizations work very closely with the Ministry of Education.

One aspect of the interview that really resonated with me was when I complemented them on the work that they’ve been doing. I was met with the response “but we are not happy” because they find it to be a sometimes frustrating and slow process. While they realize they are making a difference, it just takes more time than they would hope, which can often be the case with such NGO’s.

Moving forward in my day, I then went to my second interview at the Queen Rania Teacher Foundation. In all honesty, this was a less positive experience as they were not as welcoming or informative. It was interesting to see the contrast of different types of NGO’s, even considering their location as this took place about 30 minutes away from the city center in a large “Business Park” of many offices. Nonetheless, I was able to understanding how much they also work with the Ministry of Education; none of these organizations seem to operate independently. While I am aware that unless you align with the Ministry’s goals, there might be little you can do, I did not grasp from my research how much of a symbiosis relationship they really have.

As a result, my next goal is to be able to speak to the Ministry of Education, as they are much harder to reach than other organizations, especially for an in-person appointment. Inshallah it happens!

Contradictions: Competition and Care in Jordanian Pigeon Keeping

By: Carolina Hidalgo-McCabe

When I tell people what I’m researching here in Jordan there’s always some element of shock. In the US, people wondered how pigeons could be so important to fly halfway across the world to research. In Jordan, people often react with shock that an American is here to learn more about كش الحمام (pigeon keeping and breeding). Amongst the men I met today from the Gaza Jerash refugee camp and Zarqa, two cities about an hour from Amman, pigeon keeping is full of beauty and tension.

This morning, I met Omar, a driver who took Sofia and I around today, visiting family and friends who shared with us their love of pigeon keeping. كش الحمام is an ancient tradition that is practiced in many parts of the Middle East, including Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Today, many men across Jordan, old and young, partake in the practice, contending with tradition and modernity. For some, especially those who don’t partake in it, كش الحمام is haram or forbidden in Islam. For others, it’s a hobby that brings community together, across rooftops.

We began by visiting Ali and Mohammed, young men who learned to take care of pigeons from their fathers. A friend of Omar, who joined us, shared that he considers it easier to give love to your pigeons than your children and that often, himself included, men love their pigeons more than their children. This is central to the storytelling I’m doing, where I’m focusing on the intersection of competition and care in masculinity. Pigeons are fragile and beautiful birds. They require significant care, and many men are willing to put the time and energy into this care, which happens on the leftover space of the domestic sphere: rooftops.

We watched Ali’s pigeons fly in circles above us as Omar’s friend shows me a pigeon auction happening on Facebook. Modernity and tradition. Pigeon keeping is changing because of social media, especially Facebook. This is allowing pigeon breeders and keepers to share their pigeons with the world. He says pigeons are like an addiction. It’s in his blood.

After descending the rooftop, we wind through the mountains of Zarqa to the Sooq Al Hammam, pigeon market, and converse with shop owners who share with us the peace that they feel when they watch their pigeons fly around them. It helps them relax after a long day. They look forward to going home, sitting on their rooftops with their friends, smoking argileh, and sipping on tea as their pigeons circle them.

Between pigeon visits we took a mansaf break (the national dish of Jordan) which we ate with our hands and spoons. Omar, his son, and friend continuously poured jameed over our parts of the communal dish and served us more and more lamb until it was impossible to keep eating. The hospitality is indescribable.

Stomachs full, we made our way to the Gaza camp in Jerash, where historically refugees from Gaza built new homes. It’s starkly different from Amman, with buildings made from materials that should have been temporary but have become permanent. Sheikh Mousa brings us up to his rooftop where he doesn’t fly his pigeons, and strictly breeds them. There are hundreds of pigeons of all types. To him, flying pigeons in a competitive way through كشالحمام is haram. As we sip sage tea and Arabic coffee, he shares with us the details of his job, selling and breeding pigeons. His dream is to have people from all over the world come buy his pigeons.

Over the course of the day, it was clear that there’s no one story when it comes to pigeon keeping in Jordan. It’s full of contradictions, not only in the way masculinity is performed on the rooftops, but also in how those who partake in the pastime perceive their own tradition. What’s clear, is that pigeon breeding and keeping is shaping the relations between and social perceptions of many men in Jordan today, and I’m so grateful for the many Jordanians who shared their homes, rooftops, and stories with me today.