The Blessings of Rain

Rain, storms, flooding. The images coming in from Amman over the past couple of days have been nothing short of apocalyptic. (Naseem Tarawneh at the Black Iris has a nice collection of illustrative videos here.) Amman’s city centre and a huge number of tunnels, roads, and underpasses have been flooded under metre-deep rainwater, causing building collapses and drownings along with unimaginable traffic chaos. Better infrastructure would likely have worked miracles to prevent such catastrophes, and many Jordanians posting comments on the Internet have not been too kind about the authorities’ preparation to deal with the winter season.

Even though such disasters are a regular occurrence in Jordan, local media tend to frame  rainfall (and snowfall) in a very specific way. Precipitation is typically characterised as a “blessing” (ni‘ma, baraka, or ḳayr) from God – which makes sense for what’s been claimed to be the second poorest country in the world in terms of water resources. Rain fills dams and cisterns; it’s an essential part of the cycle which provides water used by Jordanian consumers – citizens, businesses, industry, and agriculture. Radio hosts always accompany forecasts of rain with hopes that it will mean all the best for Jordan, that they will be amṭār ḳayr wa-baraka – “rains of good and blessing” – and only be beneficial to the country as a whole.

So on Thursday, 5 November, when the worst parts of the most recent weather depression began to batter the skies over Amman, the radio host Muhammad al-Wakeel – in a “live” video posted on his Facebook page – filled his talk with references to blessings and God, and asked his 5.5 million Facebook followers to send in contributions from all of Jordan – “so we can be reassured regarding people in all governorates,” and be certain that the rain truly is a blessing and a “mercy” (raḥma) from God:

 

To be fair, there is always a grimmer underside to such pronouncements: the unstated fear that the rain will not just be “good and blessed,” that the water (or snow, or ice) will cause problems and accidents and further damage Jordan’s already overstrained infrastructure. But at the same time, a focus on God as the ultimate agent of rain also allows authorities to resolve responsibility for any catastrophes that do eventually happen. This is also, I think, the gist of a Facebook post written by Naseem Tarawneh as a reaction to the video of an Egyptian man whose children had drowned in a flash flood. Worth quoting from at length:

Rain is an uncontrollable act of God; everything else is on our hands. If you’ve been outside and witnessed the damage, most of it is manmade. It doesn’t take an engineer to arrive at the conclusion that there is something seriously wrong with our infrastructure and our policies. Tunnels and streets that easily flood with only a few hours of consistent rain. Construction sites are a lawless zone, with materials ranging from stone to cement and wood that are typically piled up on adjacent lands or organized in mountains on curbsides – these materials are carried out with the waters. Drivers with absolutely no patience or etiquette help cause as much of the traffic accidents as the rain, if not more.

On and on and on. This is become a tradition. Every year there’s a new weather catastrophe, and every year we see the same images. […]

It’s infuriating, for sure. But the anger and frustration comes from knowing that to policymakers, this is all just passing weather. […]

This man lost his children, not to an act of God, but an act of mismanagement that borders on the criminal. He deserved better. As do we all.

(Source: The Black Iris, “Of all the content being shared…”, Facebook post, 5 November 2015 – link)

So what might at first look like a fairly innocent aspect of using language – mentioning, as if by rote, that God is behind everything, rainfall is a divine blessing and so on – becomes a practice with deep consequences for how we imagine public accountability and responsibility. Every time a Jordanian broadcaster mentions rain as a blessing from God, they aren’t just making a theological claim, but also upholding a way of phrasing that allows the re-framing of what are ultimately infrastructural shortfalls as being something that human beings are powerless to face. Language plays a powerful framing role here; and exposing this role should, at least, inspire debates as to the limits of responsibility claimed by systems of government and administration when their citizens are hurt by climate-linked catastrophes such as this.

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The Blessings of Rain

Jana

A cold front dubbed “Jana” (جنى) hit Jordan on the night of Thursday, 19 February, and brought two days of snowfall and cold temperatures throughout the weekend. On Saturday evening, warning sirens sounded in Amman, vindicating those who had argued last autumn (as they were being installed) that there might be other reasons for using them other than a military attack. (Fears of entanglement in the war against ISIS / Daesh had loomed large in this debate – though of course these are void, now, in a post-Kasasbeh Jordan, where ‘the public’ has been brought to agree that war is indeed the way to go.) The reason, this time, was ice on the roads – which had paralyzed traffic in Jordan’s capital during January’s Huda ‘snowstorm’ already. School holidays were declared for Sunday, as well as a general postponement of working hours until 10 AM to allow people to get to their jobs without endangering themselves.

Bread and Holidays

The obsession with stockpiling bread to live through the storm had, by now, turned into a bit of a meme in itself. (The tagline in the tweet above reads TO THE BAKERIIIIIIES.) Perhaps one weather spectacle had been enough for the winter; in any case, there was a sense that Jana was less of a ‘grand event’ than Huda.

Still, on Sunday morning, radio stations’ Twitter accounts were almost completely silent. Radio Hala announced, in the very early morning, that Muhammad al-Wakeel’s programme would begin at 9 AM, and later posted a photo documenting ice on Jordan’s roads – a problem exacerbated, I would guess, by poor drainage infrastructure:

(Tweet reads: “Most of the Kingdom’s roads witness black ice”)

Most other morning programmes also postponed their broadcasts by two hours. Unlike Huda, though, there were no major changes to the programme format. No street-rolling antics for al-Wakeel this time; the other hosts also read out news headlines and take call-ins as usual. The callers, too, seemed to take this as just another working day in the life of their beloved service programmes, complaining about problems facing private schools or bureaucratic blips in providing job opportunities.

As far as Jana itself was concerned, the greatest controversy was stirred up by the general holiday which the government imposed on both the public and private sectors on Thursday – when, during the daytime, the weather was still relatively fine. As one would expect, the shows varied in their criticism. al-Wakeel classified it as one of the of the (few) negative aspects of Jana – which, as with Huda previously, he only ever called المنخفض الجوي، al-munkhafaD al-jawwii, “cold front,” though he contrasted Jana with the previous storm by calling it “nice” or “relaxed” (dammu khafiif; literally “light-blooded”). Hani al-Badri was a bit sharper, calling the government out for their “mistake” in acting rashly on the weather reports on Thursday. He also couldn’t help himself but add his own cynical jokes on the bread issue, given the 65 million loaves of bread that the 8 million (or so) Jordanians had apparently consumed during the storm’s first two days (almost double the normal amount).

The general atmosphere on the morning shows, though, was positive. Badri’s morning video clip (embedded above; posted originally on Radio Fann’s Facebook Page) says it all. The “whiteness” brought by Jana was, ultimately, a message of optimism, and positive feelings, a sense that “good things” are all that God wants to bring for His people.

Government Impositions

Jordanian media personalities tend to adore the “positives-negatives” frame when talking about the “effects” of weather events such as Jana. This is a rather simplistic frame, and not very accommodating for making more nuanced arguments. Radio al-Balad once more proved one of the few dissenting voices in this respect. Muhammad al-Arsan, host of al-Balad’s afternoon call-in programme “Rainbow”, took the ‘citizen’s viewpoint’ approach that the station promotes wholly in his stride. The economic effects of the Thursday holiday were brought into special focus here – in particular, those Jordanians working in the private sector (services, especially) who lack the set wages and job security of public employees, and for whom every suddenly declared holiday means a loss of clients and working hours (and therefore income).

It’s not just that the weather turned out better than was expected; the issue was whether the government should have the right to impose such orders on its citizenry in the first place. So far this winter, every time heavy snow has been forecast, the Prime Minister decided to declare a blanket public holiday. “So if a snowstorm comes that will last for ten days,” Arsan asked during a debate with one of his callers, “will we shut the entire country for ten days?” As Daoud Kuttab pointed out in his weekly web column (excerpts from which Arsan also read out on air), the issue has less to do whether the government’s decision was sound than with the fact that it still reserves for itself the final say on what is good for its citizens.

And it is this final step that most radio commentators failed to take. For the morning hosts, the issue was still whether the government had made a mistake by declaring Thursday a public holiday. But its ultimate authority to make such a decision was never questioned. After all – as al-Wakeel pointed out – they did well delaying work hours on Sunday, didn’t they? Who would want to drive on ice? It’s the people’s safety that’s at stake here!

Give the ministers the advice they need, and next time they might do better. It is only this particular government, then, that may have been at fault; but not the system itself. However riled up private radio hosts might get over certain issues, there are limits to their criticism – and the controversies over Jana’s enforced holiday only made this the more clear.

Jana

Blizzard Debates

I don’t think I heard the radio host Muhammad al-Wakeel utter the word “Huda” once during his field trip through the snowy streets of Amman. For him it was always al-munkhafaD al-džawwii (المنخفض الجوي، “weather depression”; “area of low air pressure” or “cold front”). Lengthier, certainly, and much drier than a snappy, memorable, carefully chosen (female) name. Still, it did not stop al-Wakeel from dramatizing the event itself in a similar way as did social media commentators and most private media outlets. Already on Saturday night, in expectation of the beginning of a new week – al-Wakeel resumes his regular morning broadcasts every Sunday, after a Friday-Saturday pause – anticipation was being built up for yet another special episode of the Programme:

Caption reads:

Muhammad al-Wakeel returns to air at 10AM tomorrow morning, to examine the positive and negative aspects of the weather depression

And the image text:

TOMORROW.

The al-Wakeel Programme. Beginning from 10AM

The hype is on.

The Star’s Journey

There was more snowfall on Saturday night, and likely due to road conditions the Programme had to be delayed for another hour. (Note that the image in this link is much the same as the one in the tweet above, only without the TOMORROW in the upper-right corner and the starting time changed to 11AM. Quick and responsive.)

When al-Wakeel’s voice finally appeared, it was through a phone line, rather than from inside the studio. As on Thursday, it seemed al-Wakeel was on a field trip – though Radio Hala’s “high definition broadcaster camera” (a LiveStream service) only showed the snowy environs of the studio, rather than a live feed through the windshield of a moving 4×4. Even this, though, drew about 200 registered viewers; a poor showing indeed on Thursday’s 1000+ – though judging from the live chat feed beside the video stream, these were listeners very much concerned with their beloved host’s well-being while he was out on the streets.

Or, at least, eager to show their concern. As in this comment:

[11 JAN 2015] abuhaythamtakecareofyourself

Abu Haytham my brother take care of yourself

(Abu Haytham is Muhammad al-Wakeel’s nickname – a kunya or teknonym, ie. naming after his child; “Father of Haytham” – by which he is known affectionately to many of his commenters and callers.)

Abu Haytham himself, though, seemed quite content to run the first few hours of his broadcast from inside a military vehicle. When he finally did arrive to the Hala studios, it was like a proper media star: recorded on video the moment he stepped out of the vehicle, waving and smiling his way past, all too aware of his popularity and his importance to fans and followers.

Praise to God; the broadcaster Muhammad al-Wakeel and the al-Wakeel Programme team have arrived to the Radio Hala studios in Amman, in vehicles belonging to the intrepid Jordanian Armed Forces

Balanced Views

The very format of the Sunday broadcast – discussing “positives” and “negatives” of the cold front – set up the snowstorm as a concrete, bordered ‘event’; one that took place, through God’s agency or otherwise, and whose ‘effects’ could now be debated and discussed. It’s a curious way to approach something like weather, though with the constant buzz and discussion built up around Huda perhaps also inevitable. And who better suited for this task than Muhammad al-Wakeel – with his authoritative voice, his lengthy broadcasting credentials, and his dense links to officials giving him an unmatched overview of goings-on in the Hashemite Kingdom.

It began, already, in the army jeep, interspersed between updates on weather conditions and traffic warnings. Positives first, then negatives, al-Wakeel said, though he still couldn’t help but slip in a few critical observations of his own. To offer a balanced perspective, we have to speak of negatives too.

The citizens’ cooperation during the storm was definitely a good thing – obeying the authorities, staying at home when they were told to do so, with only a few people ignoring the warnings (and those duly deserving any fines or punishments the police might have applied). Beautiful views, of course; seeing Jordan all covered in white doesn’t exactly happen every day. The ample precipitation meant that “we wouldn’t be complaining about lack of water during the summer”. Finally, there was the professionalism, the readiness, exhibited by the state apparatus, and also the private sector – e.g. bakeries – in serving ordinary Jordanians.

The negatives? Citizens panicking due to obtaining information from dubious sources; citizens disobeying instructions, leading to traffic accidents (especially while ice was covering the roads); and profiteers who exploited the storm to swindle customers on gas prices.

[11 JAN 2015] alwakeelinuniform12-12PM

(Above: snapshot of al-Wakeel in the studio at about 12:12 on Sunday; for once, in full military uniform)

But all of these hiccups paled in comparison with the government’s efforts to deal with the storm. al-Wakeel called up both his police contact and the Mayor of Amman himself to offer praise, and lauded the ministerial cabinet as well, especially its decisions to temporarily close government offices and postpone scheduled school exams in light of the hazardous weather conditions. Professionalism; preparedness; all very positive things, as far as this particular host was concerned. The people could perhaps have done a better job, but what can you do? Advise, and inform, of course, as is any responsible broadcaster’s duty.

What struck me especially was how concerned al-Wakeel was with classifying any particular point as either positive or negative. The kinds of issues that came under each heading were, indeed, telling; but it was also the act of classification itself, the very fact that al-Wakeel took on the role of arbiter in the matter, that tells something about his position with respect to  listeners. There were other voices – both of the officials al-Wakeel called up directly, and those that came into play more subtly through his mention of their decisions – but, in the end, it essentially came down to a monologue.

So the final word stays with al-Wakeel. Ordinary Jordanians might be called upon not to leave their homes; he rides around in an army jeeps, and transmits updates through the airwaves so they don’t have to. He gives advice, and warnings, to those who would listen. And he curates, sifting through voices and pieces of information and news, presenting a confident – and broadly transmitted – reckoning of the aftermath of the storm.

Blizzard Debates

Muhammad al-Shaker, Buried in Bread: Storms and the “Weather Business”

Another trending topic during the days the Huda winter storm hit Jordan was the name Muhammad al-Shaker. Shaker (pronounced SHEH-kur) is a self-professed meteorology enthusiast who started out as a pharmacist; and, in recent years, as founder of the ArabiaWeather / طقس العرب website, and a familiar face for its forecasts and predictions (especially through the web TV channel Ro’ya), he’s become a proper guru as far as weather issues are concerned.

In business-speak, Shaker discovered a niche – accurate, detailed, locale-sensitive weather forecasts presented in Arabic – and managed to fill it splendidly. Though he started with Jordan, now the ArabiaWeather website also offers forecasts for other Arab countries. Public exposure followed, though not always positive. One caustic tweet during Huda – which I’ve sadly lost the link to – had Shaker for a “weather businessman,” “trading” in weather like it was some kind of commercial article, a way of building his image and promoting himself through his regular online performances.

But most of those who pay attention to Shaker’s forecasts seem to be little troubled by the riches he might have gained. His performances – detailed, authoritative, to-the-point, supported with eye-catching interactive graphics – are a much slicker, much more palatable, and to a smartphone-armed public much more accessible version of weather forecasts than official pronouncements. It’s no surprise, then, that when he declared Huda might be a ‘big one’, his words didn’t go unnoticed.

Weather Talk

When the storm hit, Shaker himself provided regular updates to the forecast, broadcast live by Ro’ya and later accessible in online archives. Even winds and snowfall, as battered Amman on Wednesday evening, weren’t enough to stop him. Here’s a clip of him giving a kind of “field” forecast from outside the studio – still worth a watch, I think, even if you don’t understand Arabic:

The tie stays on, of course.

Shaker includes a lot of detail in his forecast here. Time and location of expected snowfall are dissected thoroughly; so are the predicted developments during the night, and in the next few days, as well as warnings for people to stay at home (and explaining why they should do so). The language he uses is quite high-level; on the near side of MSA formality, fluent and confident without being stilted. There are the “explanatory” gestures as well, and the posture. Though Shaker falters a bit in places – e.g. at about 1:38 when the wind picks up – his entire presentation seeks to radiate authority and professionalism. A man, then, who knows his stuff, and whose predictions can be trusted.

Soon enough, every word that came out of Shaker’s mouth came to be watched very closely. His forecasts on Ro’ya continued through Thursday: reports on accumulated snow,  complete with fancy graphics, animations of the cold front moving across Jordan as well as  interactive marking of areas that would be affected.

The Maligned Forecaster

Woe to him, though, that sows undue panic among the people. Throughout Thursday daytime and during the night, Huda gradually eased off, leading some Jordanian internet-nauts to question Shaker’s integrity in “playing it up” as similar to last winter’s Alexa (which at that moment seemed much more severe in comparison). Before the storm hit, Jordanians had been encouraged to stock up on supplies and be prepared not to leave their homes for several days straight. Now, though, despite the warnings that extreme weather would continue (and snow hit the country’s southern regions), it seemed things might be settling down.

Was Shaker to blame? Some seemed to think so. There were voices denouncing him as a meteorological “hobbyist” rather than a proper expert, and even whispers of a smear campaign against him on some authorities’ part. People talked a lot about bread – something citizens might be expected to stock up on, before the storm – and, half-jokingly perhaps, whether Shaker had in fact conspired with bakeries in order to scare people about the storm and push them to spend more than they otherwise might have.

Whenever people see #Muhammad al-Shaker they run to buy bread

Others took the situation with better humor.

Dear Muhammad al-Shaker.

I swear by God that if it doesn’t snow in Tafileh I will not bury you in all the bread that I’ve bought

Still, it seemed that, for this young man who had appeared so confident and professional, the times could turn tough if his predictions proved off the mark.

Redeemed by the Ice Apocalypse

On Friday night, the situation changed again. Shaker had already declared in his Thursday forecasts that by the weekend Jordan would be exposed to the full brunt of the cold front, bringing ice and freezing temperatures, and warned people not to leave their homes.

These warnings, at least, proved timely. The situation on the roads grew quickly worse as temperatures plummeted after sundown. A slew of traffic accidents followed, with at least two casualties. By late evening, when roads in Jordan were announced officially closed due to weather conditions, Shaker’s image seemed to have recovered.

#Muhammad al-Shaker you’ve proven your worth

For somebody like Shaker – disseminating their wisdom from the private sector, without an established apparatus to support them – worth and reputation in the public’s eye might rise and fall on the strength on their predictions. Weather forecasting is a risky business to get involved in; even more so when a storm like Huda hits, when you can expect audiences to hang on your every word, question every claim you make and your qualifications to do so. Though in the end it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the forecaster’s beloved subject – the weather – or their public that’s the more fickle, or predictable.

Muhammad al-Shaker, Buried in Bread: Storms and the “Weather Business”

Snow

European media has been flooded this week with reports and analyses of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. In Jordan, the event did make the headlines; but there was also the snowstorm.

There seems to be a general obsession with precipitation in Jordan’s Arabic-language media – which, given we’re talking about one of the water-poorest countries in the world, is probably not that surprising. Still, winter storms in the Levantine hinterlands can be quite rough; and Huda, as this particular cold front was named (in Jordan; the Lebanese call it Zina), was one such. High winds, low temperatures, and snow arrived suddenly on Wednesday during the day, and continued well into the night. Social media were awash with comments (e.g. the #عاصفة_هدى, “Huda Storm”, tag on Twitter); and, of course, radio broadcasts – never slow to seize on a trending topic – joined in as well.

What follows are some rough reflections gathered from my following radio broadcasts on Thursday morning.

First, though, a quick word on naming. Huda was not the first named “winter storm” affecting Jordan this winter; there had been Bushra in November, which brought ample rain and low temperatures, though no snow. In December 2013, there was Alexa, with intense snowfall, blizzards, and a host of related problems. While these names might smack of naming conventions for tropical storms, for winter cold fronts affecting Jordan, the practice is somewhat more arbitrary. The weather guru Muhammad Shaker explains that “Huda” was chosen in reference to the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (12 Rabi’ al-Awwal for Sunni Muslims in the Islamic lunar calendar, which fell on 3 January 2015). It’s also not a very well established practice; again, according to Shaker, Alexa was the first such weather event to be given a distinct name.

Whether singling out and dramatizing “winter storms” in this way – which, in Jordan, aren’t in fact all that unusual during the winter season – is in fact helpful could be up for debate. It does, though, make for some pretty good media fodder.

Broadcasting the Storm

On Thursday morning, after a day and night of heavy snowfall, some radio stations decided to suspend their usual morning broadcasts altogether. Not so the intrepid Muhammad al-Wakeel, Radio Hala’s superstar host who has been solving Jordanians’ problems on air for many years now. With only a couple of hours’ delay on their usual broadcasting schedule, he and his team were up and about.

من هنا يبدأ مشوار حلقة اليوم من #برنامج_الوكيل

A post shared by Radio Hala | راديو هلا (@radiohalajo) on

“So begins today’s installment of the al-Wakeel Programme”

Radio Hala is the official radio station of Jordan’s armed forces, and it has provided a home for al-Wakeel’s morning show since mid-2014 (following a much-publicized move from Radio Rotana). In its current incarnation, the show is called – quite concisely – برنامج الوكيل (“The al-Wakeel Programme”), and is a staple of morning radio programming in Jordan.

So much so that, on Thursday morning, when the programme’s familiar introductory jingle failed to appear in its regular 7AM (or so) time-slot, Radio Hala’s Facebook page already had people asking whether the Programme would be broadcast today at all. I was getting a bit anxious myself – though maybe not as much as the commenter who claimed she’d been “following the broadcast since 5 and waiting”:

By 9 o’clock, though, all was ready.

Arabic caption reads:

Našaama [= “gentlemen” or “heroes”; this very Jordanian word is probably deserving of a future post in itself] from the Armed Forces transport Radio Hala employees to their studios at King Hussein Business Park in preparation for the live broadcast of the al-Wakeel Programme that will begin at 9 AM”

At about 9:20, al-Wakeel entered the studio – still wearing his jacket and fatigues, along with a grey scarf – and the show began in earnest. The live in-studio video feed showed him chain-smoking, drinking water, and talking to the programme’s producers during periods that his voice wasn’t on the air. (When al-Wakeel isn’t dealing with call-ins music is constantly running in the background; the volume goes up when he’s not speaking.)

The announcement came swiftly that the programme today would take the shape of a “field tour.” True enough, by 10 AM, the studio was empty, and Radio Hala’s live camera feed switched to the view through the front windshield of a car driving behind an armored vehicle through Amman’s snow-lined – and, miraculously, nearly empty – streets.

Caption reads: “We have arrived to Jabal Amman

Throughout the drive, al-Wakeel offered a running commentary via phone line: mostly gushing on the “beauty” of the views, referring to the snow but also the deserted streets, which indicated that Ammanis did indeed obey the government’s instructions to stay indoors. There were also regular updates – some offered by officials patched in through phone, others by al-Wakeel himself – on weather conditions and the state of the streets. People were warned several times not to enter tunnels, since quite a few were impassable due to accumulating snow.

At about 10:45 the mini-convoy stopped at the side of the road, and al-Wakeel got out of the car, positioning himself in the middle of the road for a longer phone conversation with a weather forecaster. Since, at that point, there’d been no snowfall for a while, the forecaster warned that the cold front is not yet over – that the weather might get worse again.

Cautiously put; but al-Wakeel immediately seized the opportunity. He addressed his listeners in a deep, clear voice, warning them – much more solemnly – that the storm might start again at any moment. A dramatic statement, and one that’s even more striking seeing that al-Wakeel was still out in the streets at his point. The storm might continue – there is risk – citizens should be warned! But our host is still there, in the field, standing firm-footed behind an APC with a phone in his hand and a red keffiyeh around his neck. And, of course, not letting up a chance for a photo op with the našaama of the Jordanian Police, when one of their own 4WDs passed by to see what all the fuss was about.


Connecting through the Snow

It doesn’t take a snowstorm to draw al-Wakeel out of the studio. Last September, after a summer of Israeli shelling and assaults that left Gaza devastated, the Programme moved to the Strip for three days, broadcasting live from the Jordanian Field Hospital. Still, the Huda front was a perfect pretext for al-Wakeel to show his engagement, his readiness to help the noble people of Jordan in the face of adverse conditions. Even if the road before him had to be cleared with an APC beforehand.

Others, though, chose to perform their “service to the nation” in more sheltered locales. Over at Radio Fann, Hani al-Badri – whom I confess to having a bit of a soft spot for – also delayed his regular morning show (called وسط البلد, “City Centre”) for several hours, though unlike al-Wakeel’s he broadcast it entirely from his studio. Well wrapped up, for sure, as one should be, when a cold Arctic front hits the Levantine hills.

al-Badri’s topics were much the same as al-Wakeel’s: warnings on weather; the state of the roads; reports on electricity cut-offs, in Amman as well the Governorates. There was a similar effusion of praise for the efforts of the army, police, and the Civil Defence in keeping the roads safe and solving citizens’ ongoing problems.

Unlike al-Wakeel, al-Badri couldn’t in any way claim to be a direct participant in these struggles. But, even from inside the studio, he was able to do his bit: transmitting official reports and pronouncements to his listeners, but also allowing them a voice of their own, a way to enter the airwaves and link up with others cooped up in their homes while they waited out the ravages of Huda. Whether the call-in was from a woman warning of poor conditions on a nearby roadway, or a young boy goaded on by his mother to speak up about how he’s been living through the storm; it all proved that other Jordanians were there – listening, and all in the same boat.

Two different styles, then; for two different people. For Jordanian morning call-in shows, it’s the personality of the host that gives the programme its distinctiveness, as much as (or perhaps even more than) the radio station’s stated image or ideological commitment.

But it’s also important to keep in mind that, even though both al-Wakeel’s and al-Badri’s voices eventually did emerge on Thursday, they were both delayed; both affected, very similarly, by the storm. Not even the seeming constants of scheduled radio programmes are a match for Huda’s wrath. And while the hurdles can be overcome, it ultimately takes a special kind of person – an on-air hero, somebody who dares to brave the cold and wind in fatigues and a shmagh, or at least clamber over to the studio and take and present phone calls – to be able to do so.

Snow