On my first free Friday in Amman, I walked to the downtown end of Rainbow Street and turned left to find the merchants of Souk Jara just beginning to set up shop. Souk Jara is Amman’s tidy Friday Market, and walking casually down the wide grassy lane, with abundant kiosks on either side – not to mention sampling watermelon slushes and other fresh fruit smoothies from the food stands down a perpendicular path – is a pleasant way to start the weekend.
While most vendors sell handmade jewelry or hand-painted kitchenware, Ahmad Kamal Azban sells copies of the books from the program he and his friend Tony Michael Anqoud created. When I encountered Azban that Friday, he gave me a winning sales pitch about his products.
Diwan Baladna, or “Our Country’s Meeting Place,” is a set of two informative books on Arab-Jordanian life. The first is on culture, the second on language. The books were published in January 2010 and May 2011, respectively.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a source for learning about Arab culture as light and humorous as the first book. Chapters are divided according to major aspects of life in the Arab world, including greeting behavior, the influence of the evil eye, wedding and funeral traditions, and even the practice of pigeon-keeping! An impending second edition boasts fifteen new topics.
Then there is the language book, which is promoted as “The Unprecedented Spoken Arabic Dictionary…separated by topic and covering every conceivable eventuality” and an assemblage of “the best portions of all the major language programs in Jordan.”
What makes it unique is its focus on colloquial expressions and casual tone. As an Arabic student, my school studies are restricted to fusha, or formal Arabic.
Diwan Baladna, on the other hand, teaches the vernacular as well as popular “metaphors, metonymies, signs, and similes.”
Azban authored these books in the hope that foreigners, Westerners especially, would gain better understanding – and avoid misunderstandings – of Arab-Jordanian life. “As a Jordanian, I want to bridge the gap of understanding between my own culture and that of our Western friends. Diwan Baladna is a resource that can do just that,” writes Azban on the product page.
For those who are in Amman but not able to make it to Souk Jara and meet Azban himself, Diwan Baladna books are sold in [email protected], Wild Jordan, and the Good Bookshop. They are also available in E-book formats.
A valuable guide and easy read for those interested in the Arab world, the Diwan Baladna culture and language set is a wise purchase. Even King Abdullah approves; in Jordan, the King’s Academy uses the materials for its new Arabic culture course.