Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Angry Aggies: Retraction

This is my formal apology to any who participated in the silent protest in a recent Utah State game.

In my previous post I employed no restraint as I criticized Aggie basketball fans.  I went so far as to call them "classless" and their actions "ridiculous."  My words were premature and founded on a single article, cited in the scathing post.  Any who took offense at my article were victims of my failure to further investigate the incident.  I am sorry.

The Salt Lake Tribune article specifically stated that the three minutes of silence came because the students were "angered by a formal letter of apology from USU President Stan Albrecht."  It has been brought to my attention that the silence came about for a different reason.

I was misled by the Tribune.

The Herald Journal was cited on as saying that "Utah State students remained silent during the first three minutes of the game in protest of an usher [who] had told them before the game that cursing and pointing at opposing players was not allowed (emphasis added)."

That changes everything.

What would sports be without trash-talk, yelling, or taunting?  Sports can be an outlet for what can't be done elsewhere.  While tackling someone to the ground accompanied by a triumphant chest-slap is perfectly acceptable in a football game, doing so in a Dick's Market bread aisle would merit some jail time.  Imagine boxing someone out for a position at the drinking fountain.  Without this outlet for both players and fans, the world would be a much crueler and violent place.

As it turns out, it was an usher who prompted the silent protest.  And, admittedly, I probably would have participated.  Although I still think that Aggies went too far with Brandon Davies, I agree that sports would not be the same without passionate fans who do whatever they can to help their teams win.  That's why home-court advantage is so vital.  All courts are the same: 94 x 50 ft, 10 ft high rims, and 15 ft free throw lines.  The key difference is the atmosphere created by the fans.

Aggies, I beg your forgiveness.  Please understand that I was misled by the Salt Lake Tribune.  I should have researched first through ESPN, the source of everything sports.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Angry Aggies


Such a belittling word.  The most famous usage of the adjective in recent Utah history was made in 2009 by BYU Quarterback Max Hall.  After squeezing out a 26-23 victory in the once hostile rivalry, Hall rattled, "I don't like Utah.  In fact, I hate them.  I hate everything about them...I think the whole university, their fans and their organization, is classless (emphasis added)."

Although Hall issued an apology note, those lines will never be forgotten by Cougs and Utes.  What a pity it is that Hall decided to end his (somewhat) successful college career on such a negative note.  As a Ute alumnus myself, I initially was angered by Hall's words.  Over time I have chosen to believe that Max was "in the heat of the moment" and extremely exaggerated his emotions.  He knew nothing about the University outside the realm of football.  That's what I choose to believe.

However, classless is the one word that came to mind when I heard this story on the news last night:

"Angered by a formal letter of apology from USU President Stan Albrecht to BYU for the students' treatment of Brandon Davies during a season-opening win over the Cougars, the Aggie students sat and watched in retaliation.  They started cheering as usual at the 17-minute mark of the first half, but even then the atmosphere was quiet, lackluster and not anywhere close to its usual noise level."
(You can read the rest of the article here.)

That is a classless act.

I understand freedom of speech and the right to express your opinion.  I understand (and am even guilty of) taunting opposing players.  However, there is definitely a point past which the taunts are too personal, too degrading, and downright too much.

My dad once told me about a college basketball game in which the students were holding up posters that read, "Are you making daddy proud?" and the like.  The posters were directed at an opposing player whose father had passed away the previous week.  That is going too far.

Yes, Brandon Davies broke the honor code.  True, he was suspended from BYU.  We don't know all the details, nor do we need to know the details.  What we do know is that Davies faced this ugly situation like a man and is back on the court.

Utah State Aggies apparently don't care.

Students made posters with humiliating phrases (that I dare not repeat to keep this blog family-friendly), chanted, and yelled things at Davies all night.  The Aggies came away with a win over the in-state rival, even if it was in poor fashion.

I'm not referring to the posters nor the chants.  Those are to be expected, even though I like to think that I wouldn't participate in something so petty.  I'm sure Davies goes into every Away game expecting the shallow signs and chants, but remember that it was Davies who overcame humiliation and fought to become eligible again.

What really bothered me was this retaliation effort in the game immediately following the university-issued apology to BYU.  The usually loud and riotous crowd sat silently for a whopping three minutes to prove...what exactly?  To prove how childish college students can be?  To prove that they really meant every demeaning word they directed toward Davies, as if he had personally offended them?  I struggle to find the purpose in this little protest they pursued.

Like with Max Hall, I'll choose to believe that the ridicule towards Davies was carried out "in the heat of the moment."  Utah State students are passionate about basketball, the only athletic program that puts several W's on their schedule each year.  But the in-game protest was too much for me to accept as "ok."

To put it kindly, I am disappointed with the Utah State students who organized and participated in the three minutes of silence.

If I were to be mean about it, I would tell the student body (at least those at the game) to get over themselves.  Your president did the right thing by issuing an apology.  Your temper tantrum was a little ridiculous.

Again, that's what I would say if I were a mean person.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: The Holy Temple

Two months ago I began a new job.  On the morning of my first day, I remember thinking, "I should take a book with me - you know, to read during lunch or something."  Quickly scanning the bookshelf, I grabbed an older looking book called The Holy Temple by Boyd K. Packer.  The lessons taught from that old book would soon surprise me.

The book has been republished several times.  My book was from the first printing in 1980, a hard-cover book with a grey cover and an image of a handle that can be found on the doors of the Salt Lake Temple. Inside the front cover is an inscription to my parents.  "Dear Brent and Ginger," it reads.  "On this important event, we wish you all the choicest blessings of the Lord as you begin another eternal family."  After a few more words, it was signed by my parents then-bishopric.

Reading that inscription made the book much more important to me.  I imagined my 31-years-younger and unmarried parents.  They had no idea what lay ahead.  How can a young couple prepare for seven children and all that accompanies them?  Very carefully indeed.  I'm not certain, but I feel confident in saying that my parents read this book together as they began their vicious and vivacious voyage known as 'marriage.'

A better part of the book addresses the doctrine behind temples: why we have them, what is done in them, what their role is in the eternities.  I can't tell you how many times "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" appeared on the pages.  Elder Packer outlines the origin of temple ordinances, the role of Elijah, and the restoration in the Latter days.  He also explains the importance of making and keeping the covenants made within the holy walls of the temple.  The chapters are truly a textual feast, requiring a vigilant eye for complete comprehension.

Admittedly, this portion of the book was somewhat difficult for me to enjoy.  Not that I found its teaching unimportant, because I do, but because I was not giving the information its due attention.  In retrospect I wish I would have a notepad and pen with my scriptures nearby.  So much information is fascinating during the moments of reading, but I find it hard to reproduce.  "I read the most amazing chapter today, but I can't tell you what it was about."  Internalizing the information was difficult for me.

The last section of the book fortified the link between temples and family history.  They are one and the same, actually.  Elder Packer expounded on the extreme importance for each member of the church to discover their family story.  It is not enough to go to the temple to perform ordinances for names that have been found.  Good, yes.  Best?  No.  As I finished the final page of the book I felt a new vigor for family history.  It is the most important work we can do on Earth and in heaven.

Why is it so important?  Read the book.  You'll understand why.  I always considered family history to be something we can do on the side if we have time when we're older.  Only now do I realize that this is to be a priority in my life.

But how to begin....

Monday, November 14, 2011

Calories from Technology: 4G

I saw a commercial tonight.  It was an advertisement for a bank - I can't remember which.  It showed a man, well-groomed, sitting in a chair.  He stands, puts on a jacket, a hat, a scarf.  Then he just stands there, ready to go.  He then takes the smart phone from his pocket, taps it several times, removes his scarf, his hat, his jacket, and sits back down.  The ad effectively showed the foolishness of actually going to your bank to do banking.  Why drive to the bank to make a deposit when you can do so from your home, car, or seat during a football game?  Get it done now, from anywhere, because you deserve it.

As the commercial ended, I couldn't help but feel angry.  "What a lazy dope," I thought.  Instead of marveling at the ease of online banking, my catalog of memories brought forth images of fat people in suits of red and blue sailing around in hoverchairs.
Yes.  I thought of WALL-E.

I remember watching this Disney delight for the first time and thinking, "Wow.  We read your message loud and clear, Disney."  The film's charming robots disguise to children what can be a fear for adults: we're losing ourselves.

Is technology making us more lazy?  Or is it freeing up more time so we can do other things?

Although I think technology is great, I have my reservations about it.  Yes, it's wonderful that we can text.  It's very appropriate in some cases.  Not so in others.  It definitely takes away human element and can be very misleading.  I remember when someone would actually care enough about me to make a personal invitation over the phone - with their voice - to a party rather than a thoughtless mass text.

There are two kinds of Bluetooth users: those who understand the purpose of Bluetooth, and those who don't.  I giggle inside when I see someone holding their phone in front of their face while wearing a Bluetooth receiver.  The whole point of Bluetooth is to be "hands free."  Is it really easier to have the phone a few inches away from your face?  Why not go a few inches more, remove the Bluetooth, and use it like a normal phone?  Apparently some people don't understand that you can leave your phone in your pocket and talk.

Another technology I find amusing: electric staplers.  Electric pencil sharpeners is something I can get behind.  They're fast and can get your pencil as pointed as a needle.  (I hated those sharpeners fastened to the wall.  You change the angle of your pencil by a few degrees and you had to start all over again.)  But staplers are hard to use incorrectly.  You hit the top part hard enough to put the staple through the paper.  I witnessed a man who would was using an electric stapler to attach two sheets of paper to each other and remember thinking how pathetic it was.

The point is that technology goes too far in some cases.  Here I am criticizing technology when I saw a commercial over the internet on my laptop, which I am now using to type this outrageously long blog post about nothing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why me?

All active Facebookers will remember a time not too long ago that I like to call the "doppelgänger era."  Officially, a doppelgänger is "an apparition or double of a living person."  So someone in the facebook realm decided to popularize that word by encouraging people to search out their celebrity double.

It was my favorite facebook period ever.  I usually don't spend too much time perusing through profile pics, but some were just too precious to pass up.  Very average to below-average looking friends of mine would choose the most gorgeous/handsome celebrity to be their look-alike.  All the sudden girls realized (more like hoped) that they looked like Carrie Underwood.  Dudes would put up shirtless pictures of Matthew McConaughey or some other hunky male.  And the best thing was that we, the Facebook public, were supposed to buy it.  It pleased me to know that some people think so highly of themselves.

As for me, I never posted a doppelgänger.  Why?  Because up to that point I was just Brady Barrett, an individual without a look-alike.  I wasn't about to post a Bradley Cooper or Brad Pitt mostly because I look nothing like them.  But within the last year, I have been getting "You look like..." comments.  I'm not flattered by them, either.

Seth Green.  I've gotten this one several times.  For some reason being compared to Dr. Evil's outcast son doesn't tickle my fancy.

Seth Rogen.  Can't say I'm hot on this one either.  And why "Seth?"  Two Seth's?  

I'm extremely upSeth about this.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


It's amazing how we all have different perspectives.

I roll my eyes when I see hipsters with their weird clothes and music because I feel like it's all an act.

I question heavy metal "musicians" with their screaming and guitar shredding because I find them to be completely nuts.

I finally look up Pinterest to see what the big deal was and found it to be boring and rather worldly.

Don't even get me started with women and their obsession with "Twilight."  I have even more to say about BYU fans with their fight song, Davis High with their mascot, and why people think gift cards are better than cash.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My curse

A curse is "a solemn utterance to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something."  Sounds about right.

I am 100% serious in saying that a curse besets me.  I believe in supernatural powers.  How else would you explain this?

You would not believe how many times in a week I see this time.  11:34.  Before lunch.  Before bed.  It doesn't matter.  It's the most mind-numbing thing I've ever witnessed.  Often I see this time twice in a single day.  Absurd.

Normally I wouldn't care much about something so trivial as this.  In fact, I would almost welcome it in most cases.  But not this.  Everything was groovy in life until I realized what I was seeing.  You see 11:34.  I see this:

hEll.  I see hEll, and I see it a lot.  It's been disturbing me since I laughed at some kid's solo tryout in choir.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The songs in my head.

My little brother was watching Spongebob Squarepants when I walked into the living room on Sunday morning.  After pouring myself a bowl of granola, I sat next to him, took hold of the remote (we call it "channel changer") and said, "Really, Ben?  Spongebob?"  Noticing my determination to change the channel, Ben simply said, "Just watch this one episode, Brady.  You'll like it."

I watched it.  And I liked it.

In this particular episode, Spongebob finds himself smitten with song: one song.  "Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doodle.  Listen again to my musical doodle..."  Over and over he sings, whistles, and hums this tune.  In the beginning he loves the song, but he slowly realizes that it's plaguing every aspect of his life.  He can't sleep.  He can't work.  That darn musical melody encumbers his entire existence.  In the end, Spongebob finally rids himself of the tune and can return to normal life.  It was actually pretty hilarious, and I thank my brother for introducing me to the humor under the sea.

I find I have a similar problem.

I'm not an iPod junkie.  Yes, I own a 2nd generation 4G nano that holds a small assortment of Michael Jackson, Boston, Journey, and just a pinch of Empire of the Sun that I occasionally use on runs.  But I find no satisfaction in seeking out the no-name bands to make myself "unique" and "cultured" so that I can say, "Well, I liked [enter band here] before they were popular."  I know some people (self-proclaimed 'hipsters') think that saying this is impressive or cool, when it is, in fact, plain annoying.  So you found music that everyone likes before everyone liked it.  Great job.

Back to Spongebob: I've gone through my share of song-stuck-in-my-head phases.  Throughout high school when I felt the desire to sing, the only tune in my head was "Goin' Courtin'" from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  For some reason that was my go-to song going through puberty.  After that it was "And I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston.  It wasn't my fault.  When I get a song in my head, it stays there for a long time.

I have occasional relapses, but for the most part I sing a song to a gruesome death and move on, never looking back.  You're wondering what my current song is, aren't you?  "Play that Funky Music" recorded by Wild Cherry.  At least this tune is somewhat hip rather than a song from a musical or a song about love.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My hobby.

Google defines "hobby" in this way:

  1. An activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure.
  2. A migratory Old World falcon (genus Falco) with long narrow wings, catching dragonflies and birds on the wing.
While the second definition is certainly intriguing, as I had never heard of a hobby in this sense, I wish to discuss how the first definition applies to me.  I have thought much about hobbies during my lifetime.  I see others who read, bake, craft, build, hunt, game, work, watch, and date for their hobby.  Often I find myself upset that I don't seem to have that one thing that defines who I am.

 I suppose I run.  Running is definitely an activity done regularly in my leisure time for pleasure.  I guess you can call it "pleasure," anyway.  It's something that's been a part of my life since my early teens.  I have my older sister to thank for that.  When she was in high school/early college she would invite me to join her on her jogs.  I found myself enjoying it so much that I became the first Barrett to join the cross country team.  Three years of running with the Viking produced some of my best memories and friends from high school.  And the legacy continues today.

My older brother joined the team the same year I did.  One of my sisters ran all three years of high school, and another sister is just finishing her second year.  I've been more than proud of them and have been privileged to run with them in other events.  We've run several 5k races together and even a half marathon or two.  My brother and I even competed in a triathlon which turned into quite the running event when the swim was replaced with another 5k.  Run, bike, run.  We did well and had a blast doing it.

I've decided recently that running without an iPod can be quite soothing.  Maybe I feel that way because it's easier to keep a steady pace when you listen to yourself breathing rather than the beat of the radio.  I find myself speeding up and slowing down according to the rhythm of songs.  Lately I have been running with a buddy and we sparsely chat throughout our miles.  Yesterday, due to my friend's sprained ankle, I ran by myself.  Without music.  And it was one of the fastest runs I've ever done for that distance.  My testimony of music-less running was strengthened when I exercised confidence in silence.

So, running is my hobby.  It's what I do regularly for pleasure.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Politcally incorrect

I recently graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Business Information Systems and Political Science.  Thankfully I was able to find employment that will use, and expand, my technical knowledge and skills.  What a blessing and relief it was to find a good job amid such economic lulls.  In the first few weeks of my job I have faced satisfaction and frustration, with glimpses of greatness and even bigger glimpses of failure.  But that's how a new job is, I suppose.

Why the combo of information systems and political science?  Because I found myself in the business school disliking accounting, which led me to do an internship in DC where I became interested in politics.  I enjoyed being in the political world, especially the nation's capital.  Since then I have followed political activity, though somewhat casually.

Maybe I didn't take the right courses.  Maybe I didn't pay attention in class.  And maybe I just don't care that much about politics, but I think it gets so silly.

I like the political process.  I think it is good that laws cannot be passed all willy-nilly.

What I do not appreciate, however, is the childish bickering that we see every day.  I don't like the personal attacks on personality, religion, family, or anything else of that matter.  America is like a business, in my opinion, so the person in power should be qualified.  Besides that, especially in this time of crisis, little else matters.

Why does it matter if the president is man or woman?  Black or white?  Muslim, Christian, or Jew?  I spent my summer in Jordan and have seen incredible Muslim people.  I've seen horrible Muslim people (who steal backpacks that contain everything necessary to live in the Middle East).  I know excellent Latter-day Saints and pathetic Latter-day Saints.  You'll find what you are looking for in any religion, or atheism for that matter, so I don't understand how that matters in any way.

I get confused about the stark divide between Republicans and Democrats.  Once, while discussing politics with some friends, I was told that "people who say they're Independent are ignorant and don't understand politics at all.  They're stupid."

What's more stupid than refusing to budge on some issue because of political parties?  From what I know, Independents consider themselves to be in the middle, willing to work with either side.  And the problem with that is....?

Some bosses are jerks.  I dare say that most bosses are jerks.  But why are they the bosses?  Because they do things.  They finish things.  They delegate things.  No one cares about their personal life.

I realize there is much to consider when talking about politics.  America isn't a business.  America is not a religion.  But seeing what happens every day in the political world is sickening to me.  Never would I ever consider running for political office.  I wouldn't want to give anyone the opportunity to write about how incapable I am of running a town because I eat at a certain restaurant or read the wrong newspaper.

For fear of sounding anti-American, I end my rant here.  I love America.  I cherish America.

(Cue Neil Diamond's "They're Coming to America.")

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's all about the execution.

I like to watch sports.  Basketball, soccer, football, tennis, and most other sports.  I even remember watching Olympic Power-Walking and enjoying it very much.  It was very weird, though, especially during the slow-motion replays.  Seriously, does Power-Walking need slow-motion?

The commentary during sporting events is 100% necessary.  Watching a game with no volume is bothersome because there is so much to learn.  Rules that need explaining.  Inspiring stories that need to be told.  And those magical moments just wouldn't be the same without a good scream of excitement.  Imagine watching the Jazz vs. Houston without someone yelling, "John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals!"  How was it?  Thought so.

Commentating is great.  But what really is beginning to irk me more and more are the post-game/post-match interviews.  While I enjoy listening to others giving their educated opinion about the game, I find no reason to question the coaches, whether they won or lost.  They all give the same darn reason for the outcome of the game: execution.

"Coach Mendenhall, why did you lose so badly to the Utes?"

"Because we didn't execute our plays."

(I think he is the coach that is most guilty of using the word "execute."  I like Bronco as a man and coach, but my goodness, choose another word.)

If a team won a game, it's because they "executed" their plays.  If a team lost a game, it's because they "didn't execute" their plays.

Are we stupid?  Is there really nothing else to be said about a game?  "We didn't execute our plays, so we lost."  "They executed and ended up winning the game."

I feel like executing the next person who talks about the game's execution.

And what does "execute" even mean?

Think of a complicated basketball play: Stockton at the top of the key.  Malone and Ostertag underneath.  Hornacek and Anderson on the elbows.  Malone steps up, sets the screen on Kevin Johnson, then rolls toward the basket.  Stockton lobs the ball to Malone, who attempts a lay-up.  He misses.  Bulls rebound and gain possession of the ball.

Was the play "executed?"  Is a play only "executed" when it puts points on the board?  Maybe.  But people (Bronco), please find a different word!  Or a different excuse.  Or just something better to say.  Using "execute" over and over to explain both wins and losses is getting super old.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Recent doings.

It's been a few weeks since my last post. Losing many important things wears on you a bit, and I haven't dedicated any amount of time to blogging. I'm sorry to you, person who follows me, for having deprived you of such blogging bliss.

"And then there were few."

The summer has been very dynamic with many departures and arrivals. The Zaytoon group staggered their interns throughout the summer. Some have been here since April. Others were here for only 2 weeks. At one time there were about 16 of them here. Now that things are winding down there are but a few. So few, in fact, that they have consolidated all into one apartment. I am fortunate enough to be living in that apartment, though I have nothing (legally or internship-ly) to do with Zaytoon.

One of the interns who went home was kind enough to lend me her camera for the remaining three weeks. I'm glad she did, because if not, I wouldn't have been able to capture this:

Mansef. The traditional plate of Jordan. Me (with my buzzed head) and Skye (with his old-man goatee) traveled to Aghwar, an area to the south of Amman. We were their on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development to help with a training presentation. Afterwards, they provided lunch, hence the mansef. It's a rice-lamb combo with some sort of yogurt sauce all piled onto some tortilla-like flatbread. Delicious. Here's the best part: although they brought out some plates and spoons, only few were needed. Why? Because that's not how you eat mansef.

After this picture was taken, the men "dug in," as we say. They use nothing but their hands to scoop the rice into little piles and squish it into meatball sized balls. They do a few tosses in their hands and pop it into their mouths. It's pretty bizarre, actually, and seems primitive at first. But then you realize that these people grew up this way and it has worked their entire lives, so why change now? They are proud of their heritage, and eating mansef utensil-less is another small way of preserving that heritage. As for me, I used a spoon. Lame, I know, but that's how I roll.

I didn't shave for 2 or 3 weeks and had the acceptable beginnings of a beard. I wanted to try a stache because if Tom Selleck can do it, so can I. It lasted about 20 minutes before I shaved it off in shame. There really is something eerie about upper-lip hair.

Here's Tyler, Joel, Matt, and I waiting on Rainbow Street for this place to bring us our something-I-can't-remember-the-name-ofs.

Look at the size of this thing! It's a mosque near Jabal Hussein that is beautiful from the outside. We haven't been able to go inside yet, but this is one of the prettier mosques around Jordan. Most have green neon lights on the outside because that was the Prophet Mohammed's favorite color.

Yesterday I spent a typical tourist day in Amman. We went downtown, visited Book@cafe, ate at Hashem's, and saw some sites. This is a food market that I think is fun. If you look closely you can see someone making a face at me. Apparently he didn't like me taking the picture.

Then we went to see the Roman Coliseum in the middle of the city. I've seen it before but was never able to actually go in. It's overwhelming to see this huge structure carved into the rock, and I like to imagine it full of people ready for a show or presentation. Those stairs get steep.

I have just under three weeks left. Most of my remaining nights will be in a room with this painted all over the wall:

an evil image of Winnie the Pooh. I'll be tired when I get home...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Waterfalls, canyons, and theives

In the immediate weeks after graduating high school, I was able to join a group of friends on an extremely fun trip to southern Utah. We were able to stay in some condos in St. George and party around town. The main purpose of the trip, however, was to hike through the Narrows. Located in Zion's National Park, the Narrows is described as "one of the best, if not the best, hike in the National Park System." I found its reputation to be true as my friends and I journeyed through the canyon with hanging gardens and perpendicular walls. I have never forgotten that trip, and I plan to make other visits throughout my life.

Last weekend I discovered that the Zion Narrows are not alone in the world. Jordan is home to Wadi Mujib - a Narrows-esque canyon located on the banks of the Dead Sea. As the only Americans on the trip, Amanda, Natalie, and I enjoyed the company. We have become friends with a girl named Abeer who invited us to join her and her family/friends on the hike.

I don't mean to sound blasphemous, but I enjoyed this hike more than the Narrows. We walked upstream, the water sometimes reaching my thighs, and encountered several waterfalls that we had to scale. I don't remember Zion's having quite the adventurous taste to it. Looking up from the bottom of the Wadi Mujib canyon, I beheld beautiful rock formations and colors. The twisting of the canyon maintained the mystery of the hike, as only section was revealed at a time. After climbing up and over one obstacle, it was only a matter of minutes before reaching the next obstacle. Birds and bats flew over our heads while little sucker-fishes nibbled on my legs and toes.

About two hours into the hike, we reached the destination: an amazing waterfall. It was odd to see so much water in the middle of a desert - especially in water-poor Jordan. The canyon above seemed to spit the water into the pool beneath where hikers rested before returning to the entrance. I have since learned that Moses may have walked through this canyon, which made the place even more wondrous. It was great to spend time with so many Jordanians, and I'll never be able to repay Abeer and her family for providing me with this excellent experience.

"Brady, why don't you post any pictures of Wadi Mujib? It sounds incredible!" Yes, friends. It was incredible. Luckily I'll always have the mental images I took because my backpack was stolen. In it: my camera, wallet, passport, cell phone, and everything else essential to my identity and financial well-being.

We returned to the apartments after Wadi Mujib. It was still a perfect day: sitting in the shade, chatting in the courtyard, and simply enjoying ourselves. After an hour or so of good conversation, my afflicted bladder caused me to go inside to use the restroom. Yes, I left all my belongings in the courtyard in the care of my fellow Americans. Leaving the restroom, I found an intern inside and we began to chat. It was several minutes later when I realized that everyone had come inside. I quickly stepped outside to retrieve my items, but was too late. They had been snatched. Gone.

How could one be so stupid to leave all those things in a bag? You shouldn't "put your eggs in one basket," as it were. It's true - I usually had at least my cell phone and wallet on my person, and I never carried my passport around. My camera usually remained in the bag. Again, why was everything in there? As you recall, Wadi Mujib requires treading through a river. I had been soaked earlier, and my shorts were not yet dry. So I put everything in my bag. Well, it was someone's lucky day because instead of stealing a bag full of boring food items and clothes, they got my money, identity, and memories. While it's true most of my belongings can be replaced (though frustrating and time-consuming it may be), some cannot. I'll mostly miss the pictures I took, my little orange Portuguese dictionary that was with me everyday on my mission, and my favorite hat that I won in a lunch basketball tournament. Those can never be replaced.

I have been surprisingly calm about the whole thing. While I lost some material things, I haven't lost the most important things to me. Whoever took that bag probably has had a much sadder life than I have. Maybe they thought they would be happier having so many things without paying for them. This person has made my life much more complicated (being in the Middle East without ID or a passport? Seriously...), but everything will be fine.

Don't get me wrong. If I ever find out who stole my bag, I will gladly slug him right in the face. More than once.

Look up Wadi Mujib.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Olive trees, women, and me.

This last weekend reaffirmed to me that I know very little about the culture here. You get glimpses of true Jordanian/Muslim culture in Amman - the head scarves, the robes, the call to prayer, etc. But being around Americans all the time prevents one from truly experiencing Arab culture. My most recent mini-vacation was a great experience and one that I will never forget.

I received an invitation to go visit a member of the Peace Corps who is staying in a small village near Ajloun. Recognize that name? Yep, Ajloun is the place I visited about a month ago with the majestic castle atop a hill. We were to stay with the Peace Corps member (named Natalie) in a village called Ourjan. I went with Jini, Kinsi, and Amanda, and since we were visiting Natalie...yes...I was the only man spending the weekend with four women. Winning!

After the most frustrating taxi ride I've ever experienced and paying over triple what we should have paid for a short trip, we finally made it to the bus station. We boarded the "bus" (really a van) to Ajloun. From Ajloun we took a cab on tiny roads to Ourjan. It was like that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch, Sundance, and their woman arrive in Bolivia. Stepping off the bus, we stared at the nothingness before us as the sputter of the taxi faded into the distance. There was no way, I thought, that we would be connected with our American Peace Corps friend. I was proven wrong when Natalie came down the street with her red hair aglow and big smile.

The five of us (remember, I was the lone man in the group) chatted for an hour or so in Natalie's home. It was actually quite nice - so nice, in fact, that Natalie considers herself to be part of the Posh Corps rather than the Peace Corps. She made a 24 month commitment to work at a school for disabled children in Ourjan, and she'll be alone the entire time. What a commitment, and congrats to her for doing a big thing to change the world in a small way!

We had a dinner appointment with a family across the village, so we took off. Since the village was a lot more conservative than Amman, the women had a few rules to follow:
1. Speak quietly
2. Don't speak to men.
3. Keep heads down.
4. Wear clothing covering arms to wrists and legs to ankles.

Me, the man? I could do basically anything I wanted. Natalie suggested that I walk in the front of the pack and say hello to the villagers. It was interesting, and though I felt invincible, I didn't like it.

We had an excellent dinner with this great family. Since the people in the village do not use furniture, we sat/laid on these foam pads. They made mansef for us, though it was served with chicken rather than the traditional lamb. It is served on a big plate on the floor and we were welcome to go at it. I ate so much food quickly that my stomach did not let me forget it all night.

After dinner we went on top of their roof where they had a little hut made out of bamboo. The temperature was perfect, and we had a great view of the rest of the village and beyond. More family members showed up, including Abu Yousef - the top dawg in the family. He came in his traditional garb - robe, red-checkered scarf, etc.

The family was great, and it was so good to see a family in the comfort of their own home. Sometimes I get the wrong idea about the people here because I only see them in public. They are very hospitable...and funny! I never realized that Arab women could be so funny. Maybe because I'm not really supposed to talk to them in most situations.

The next day we walked to the downtown of the village, picked up some falafel, and made our way to a olive tree orchard. Olive trees are absolutely incredible. They have so much character - you can almost see the hardship they go through. And they feel so old. These are the girls I spent the weekend with walking up a hill lined with olive trees:

And another tree:

I was surprised that there was a Christian church in such a small village. Only about 6% of Jordanians are Christian.

As I contemplate my time here, I feel growth. Life has a way of taking us along without asking for our permission. I mean, Jordan? How did I end up here? I don't know if this was part of my calling or destiny, but here I am. I don't know the precise reason that life took me to Jordan, but this I know: I have done things, been places, and met people that have changed my life. This summer will be one that I never forget.

(The above paragraph was meant to be dramatic. I needed something to go along with this photo.)