Friday, November 27, 2009

Water Troubles

Water. We drink it. We bathe with it. We use it constantly in every part of our lives. And now I live in the desert, where water is a precious, precious commodity.

Unlike in America, where water appears magically in our houses via pipes, the water in Jordan is delivered to each apartment every week. The complexes all have water tanks on the roofs that are filled up once a week. That is all the water you get for the entire week unless you pay more money.

Once in Daheit al Rasheed, we ran out of water. We don’t know how, but we speculated that it involved a leak because we had never before nor after used up our entire tank. We spent the remaining two days of our week with no water. It was unpleasant.

Since moving in to our new place, we’ve had even more water trouble. We moved in on Monday and found out Tuesday morning that our water heater wasn’t working. No hot water. On Wednesday night, a repair man came over and fixed it. We were fine until Saturday morning when we ran out of water completely. Apparently, no one had opened up our tank so that we got our share of the delivered water, so we had been using up whatever was left from the people before us.

As we had a dinner the next day, we ran around all afternoon trying to remedy the situation. A guy came over and ran a line from another empty apartment’s tank into ours so we could steal their water. Our tank was refilled for real on Wednesday, so we are back on the water circuit.

This time, we made it five days without a problem. Yesterday, Heather was doing a load of clothes and found out that the entire socket that the washing machine and the water heater is plugged into isn’t working. So once again, we have no hot water. Even better, it’s Eid right now, so we probably won’t be able to get it fixed until after the holidays because, again, the entire country basically stops for Eid.

Normally, we could run over and take showers at Lena’s house, which is only a seven-minute walk. That indeed was our plan until last night, when Lena told us that her apartment was out of water as well. They had gone through their entire tank in a day and a half. Somebody has a leak.

The three of us might be a tiny bit smelly by the end of Eid. Methinks it might be time to hit the Turkish baths.

A Jordanian Thanksgiving 2

As if one day of absolute digestive nightmares wasn’t enough, I actually had two days of edible bliss. Yesterday, I was invited to two separate Thanksgiving dinners, one right after another. I got up yesterday morning fully intending to go to bed that night with an extremely upset stomach. And I was not disappointed.

It started out with a dinner at my dear cousin’s father-in-law’s house in Abdoun. At 1:30 p.m., I headed over to Samir’s absolutely magnificent house. Once there, I played with the kids while Melissa made Aunt Sue’s famous crab dip in the kitchen. I alternated between hanging out with the kids and speaking to three American girls I just met while the food was being prepared. We stood in a group drinking white wine, which I found out was a dangerous pastime as servers kept walking around filling up our wine glasses every time we took a drink.

Finally at about 3 p.m., supper was served. It was magnificent. There were two turkeys, one overflowing with stuffing. There were several vegetables and three different kinds of sweet potato. We ate our fill, then chatted amicably until dessert. Lissa and the kids had made cookies and two cobblers. There was also pecan pie and a pumpkin cheesecake. I was quite stuffed by the end of it.

At 4:30 p.m., rather full, I hopped in a taxi and headed to my second dinner at Lena’s house. I got to walk up Rainbow Street to work off some of those calories and was almost ready not to explode when I started eating there as well.

We passed an extremely pleasant seven hours continuously eating, drinking, telling jokes and singing. It was a great Thanksgiving.

I did go to bed with a very sore stomach. I think I’ll walk to Israel tomorrow to work off a fraction of what I’ve eaten this week.

A Jordanian Thanksgiving

In honor of the glorious American tradition of eating until you make yourself sick, Heather and I decided to host a Thanksgiving Dinner in our apartment six days after moving in.

In the days before the big event, we spent cleaning up the apartment and buying various necessities, such as serving dishes, lamps, a turkey, etc. I was to make the turkey, the stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, an apple pie and a pumpkin pie. Heather was going to make green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole.

The night before the big event, I set about making the two pies with ingredients that my terrific mother sent me from the states. Tom the turkey hung out with me in the sink. We bonded.

The next morning, I got up at 10:30 a.m. to make the stuffing and stuff Tom. I expertly crammed bread, onion and celery into Tom and put the raw turkey in a serving dish. I then walked down the streets of Jordan in my pajamas and carrying a raw turkey all the way to Lena’s house, where he would be cooked because he wouldn’t fit in our confectionary oven and Lena has an actual oven, even if it is a scary gas one. Tom was heavy.

While at Lena’s house, she told me Heather had called her this morning. Heather was sick with the flu and would not be participating in the festivities. Which meant I got to cook the entire meal myself. Lena volunteered to take over the sweet potato casserole.

I left Lena’s house and took a shower. Then Lena called me. Apparently in my absence, Tom had become anxious and was almost done cooking after only an hour. No good, especially when the dinner wasn’t until six. Lena graciously volunteered to babysit Tom all day. We turned the heat as low as we could and resolved to baste the crap out of him until dinner. Nothing in Jordan is ever simple.

I ran back to my house and started cooking. I cooked and cooked and, and just for fun, cooked some more, straight up until 5:30 p.m. Then I went to pick up Tom. If I thought Tom was heavy on the way down, his juicy, stuffed body was unbearable on the way up. I had to stop twice to rest and got many lovely stares along the way. I also nearly slopped boiling hot turkey juices down myself. Fun times. Fun times.

When, arms shaking from exhaustion and back caked with sweat, I arrived at my apartment, I finished all the rest of the cooking before the guests arrived, with the exception of the biscuits, which I asked my male Arabic friend to help me with. He promptly misread the mixing instructions, used the entire box of Bisquick, and then got the biscuits stuck to the aluminum foil he was cooking them on. We did not eat biscuits for dinner that night.

But we had enough wine and other good food to make up for it. And carrying Tom Turkey up and now was totally worth it. He was delicious. A good time was had by all. It would have been better had Heather been able to join.

Coming out of the Wardrobe? Only for C.S. Lewis.

In moving to our new place, I’ve noticed two things I found interesting about Jordanian houses.

The first thing is that though all bathrooms have toilet paper rungs, they are never used except in restaurants and businesses. Both of our houses contained perfectly good toilet paper rung spots, but you can’t find a metal bar to go through the roll to save your life. Instead, at least at our house, toilet paper is set on the bidet found in every bathroom. Or on the top of the toilet. But NOT in the toilet paper rung.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that Jordan does not believe in closets. Personal closets, storage closets, any kind of closet. In our old place, we kept our vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies in the third bathroom that didn’t work. We kept the washing machine in Nadia’s room. Here, our cleaning supplies and washing machine take up the majority of the half bathroom. We have an ironing board randomly hanging out in the living room. And the vacuum and other stuff we didn’t want is entrenched in one of Heather’s wardrobes.

In each place, we’ve had wardrobes supplied by the house in which we can put all our clothes, stuff and shoes. This custom works well.

However, I have to think that a culture unfamiliar with closets would be missing out on an intrinsic and humorous part of our American culture. How many jokes do we have about closets? A closet intellectual. Coming out of the closet. Well, actually that’s all I can think of, but still. A wardrobe intellectual? Coming out of the wardrobe? Just doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?

Our New Abode

The day we signed the contract, we let the ink dry and then raced to the new place to check it out. Ah. Just as fabulous as we’d remembered from our two previous visits. Newish, comfortable furniture. Nice open rooms. A great view off one side of the house. And best of all, a seven-minute walk to school.

While one guy fixed various things around the apartment, I performed the most important of all our moving-in tasks: I made up my new bed.

It is a glorious thing. A double-bed, it is NOT two twins pushed together with a lumpy blanket shoved in between, so it can only be an improvement over my last sleeping spot. It has a rather impressive-looking dark wood frame, and, the best part, it comes with box springs so high that even I, massively tall, jolly green giant of the Arab world, must hop a little bit to get into it. Glorious. Please excuse the horribly grainy photos taken with my laptop computer. My good ones are not functioning properly at the moment, which leads me to think they might not be my good ones.

The rest of my room is not quite as nice, though I would have been able to put up with a sinkhole to have that bed. The furniture matches the frame, but it is showing a bit of wear in places. My desk drawer won’t open or close without quite an impressive fight, and my wardrobe, while straighter than my last one, doesn’t hold quite as much. I also do not yet have a mirror. I am working on remedying that situation. But I have two windows, one that has a pretty decent view of the city. My room also came with a cork board, to which I have already affixed pictures of many of my favorite people, and I’m working on getting the rest of you favorite people up there.

We have one and a half bathrooms, but I’m iffy about the half. That toilet tends to run, so we keep it turned off. But it’s nice to have in emergencies, such as when one of us is occupying our favorite bathroom. The bathroom with a shower is nice and spacious. It also has a whole tiny shelf more storage space than our old one. The shower has almost as much water pressure than the old place, and the toilet seat is firmly attached to the toilet, unlike in our old place.

The other bathroom is functional, but it is stuffed with cleaning supplies and a washing machine, so sitting down and taking your time in there is a mite uncomfortable.

We have two living-roomish places: a TV room with one couch and a sitting room, with one couch and some lounge chairs. The TV and cable work. I’m still trying to get our DVD player to function. I’m hoping a good cleaning will allow it to read discs again, apparently an important part of DVD functionality. The sitting room + dining room + bookshelves room allows me to display my random selection of books to our guests and gives them somewhere to sit. Plus, it looks classy.

The kitchen is also big and houses probably the least impressive of the furniture. Instead of a real stove + oven combo, we have a confectionery oven and a two-burner stove top. This makes cooking just a smidge more challenging, but I live off of falafel now anyway.

The second most annoying thing in our apartment was the lighting. All fluores- cent. Ouch. So we chipped in and bought some nice lamps to place strategically around the house to create a warm glow instead of the seizure-inducing strobe effect of the fluorescents. Nice.

The trip down the staircase of this new place is much cleaner and less smoky (remember the fire?) than our last one. We live right above the caretaker of the complex, an elderly Muslim woman, so we’ll have to keep the parties to a minimum. And at the foot of the staircase is a brief wander through a hallway adorned with plant life. Ah, greenery! And then we find our super secure front door, which comes equipped with two locks than you can’t get open even if you live here, so I know it’s keeping the bad guys out.

Did I mention it’s a seven-minute walk to work? Hello, Heaven. I have found you on Earth.

How did I accumulate this much crap in three months?

Apologizes for being off the air for a while. We still don’t have Internet in our new apartment, so these backlogged blogs were uploaded via conveniently located Internet cafĂ©. We hope to supply our new place with much-needed Internet access sometime after Eid because Jordan apparently comes to a standstill during holidays.

Moving on.

We are finally holed up nicely in our new apartment. Last Monday, November 16th, we marched (or taxied because I was carrying a ton of grading) down to the rental office and signed our contract. Right now it is unfortunately a month-to-month contract, but we are hoping to have a chat with the owner when she is back in the country so we can aim for an eight-month contract. That should get me right to the middle of July, perfect timing to escape back to the U.S.

After spending a bit of time at the apartment checking things out and cleaning, we grabbed a taxi and said, for one of the last times, Daheit al Rasheed. Once back at that place we called home, we began packing. We wanted to bring over a few bags that first day and practice sleeping and getting up later.

Three and a half months ago, I came to Jordan with two huge duffel bags full of stuff, one carry-on-sized suitcase and a bulging backpack. By the time I finished packing, every bag I brought with me was stuffed to the gills, all of my clothes were still on the hangers, ready to be transferred to my new wardrobe, and I had about twenty little plastic bags fully of stuff as well. Where did all this stuff come from? And how in the WORLD am I going to get it back home to America next summer?

I ran down to our old familiar stores to buy toilet paper and tissues. We didn’t know where to get such items in our new location yet. And that purchase just couldn’t wait any longer.

Our friend came to the apartment and we packed up a good half of our stuff that night. We lasted for two days on that, then on Wednesday we decided to go back for the rest of it. We still had a significant amount of junk to haul over. And our friend with his oh-so-convenient car was not there to help us. What to do?

We went out to the main road near our old apartment. We pulled over two taxi drivers, one of whom spoke English, and told them we would give them extra money if they helped us move our stuff. They cheerfully (or in the case of the one non-English speaking driver, confusedly) agreed. They dragged our considerable amount of stuff down and threw it in the taxis. They drove us to first circle and threw the stuff in our new apartment.

Two hours later, I was officially and completely moved in.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Get ready, Jabal Amman, because here we come!

For the last three months, Heather and I have been happily entrenched in our spacious apartment in Daheit al Rasheed, which is in the far north of the city.

The rent is cheap, the stores near our house are cheap, and the company is good. However, the beds are uncomfortable (two twins pushed together anyone?), the taxi rides to and from school are ridiculous, and the neighborhood is a bit more conservative than we'd like.

About two weeks ago, our roommate Nadia told us that she was moving out at the beginning of December. We thought about it for a bit and decided that we should also try to move down to the middle of the city where our school is and where it is so much closer to everything else we usually go to.

The very next day, a rainstorm hit the city. We stood in the rain for 20 minutes waiting for a taxi, then spent 45 minutes in the taxi on our way to school. 5alas. That was it. It was time to move.

A few days ago, Heather and I checked out an apartment that is about a five-minute walk to our school. It is right in Jabal Amman, the place to be in Amman. AND, the selling point for me at least, it comes furnished with AMERICAN-style double beds! A mattress! AND boxsprings! Ah. Luxury.

The problem was the asking price. Too much. Way too much. We counteroffered and waited two days to see if it was accepted. Yesterday, we heard the answer. YES!

We move later this week. Jabal Amman, here we come! And more importantly, comfortable beds, here we come!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ana mabsoota lamma ana be7ki arabi... sort of...

The moment you've all been waiting for is here. No, not the season finale of Mad Men. I'm finally going to devote the time to writing a post that has been in the works since my second week here: the joys of learning Arabic.

My continuing observation is that Arabic is a doozy of a language to learn. It's not just the backwards curlicue letters I had to memorize, though I'm not going to lie, those took a while. Because 1) you have to completely flip your brain around to start on the right side, which is a bit like an American trying to drive on the left side of the road, 2) all those silly little squiggles look alike and 3) those quirky worms change COMPLETELY depending on where they are in the word. All the fancy calligraphies they use here do not help in distinguishing that circle/line/wiggle with this circle/line/squiggle.

What makes reading Arabic even harder is that they LEAVE ALL THE FREAKING VOWELS OUT OF WORDS! Instead of true vowels, in Arabic they have "voices," called harakots. These voices tell you whether you should use an "a" sound, an "oo" sound or an "e" sound in between the consonants. And no one ever bothers to actually put them in words because they already know how the word is pronounced. I do not. It would be a bit like trying to pronounce English properly f w snck ll th vwls t f th lngge drng th nght (if we snuck all the vowels out of the language during the night).

Plus, if you want to type Arabic easily on cell phones or Facebook messages, you have to transliterate it into Latin letters. So it's basically like learning two different languages: one in a readable alphabet and one made of curled up bits of ribbon.

Actually, it's even more like learning two different languages because of all the different Arabics out there. There's fus-ha, which is the classical Arabic taught in schools and nearly completely useless if you want to be understood in the taxi. It's a bit like if someone jumped off the plane in rural West Texas and said, "Charming morning, good sir. Wouldst thou assist me in obtaining my belongings?" What I'm learning is amia, the spoken Arabic language of Jordan, which will be useless in any other Arabic-speaking country.

And don't get me started on the wacky conjugations this language employs. First of all, the infinitive is in the past tense. PAST TENSE! So no cheating like my mom did in France by using all infinitives. "I to have to go to eat now." And though I am getting better at figuring them out, to me the conjugations only bear the slightest resemblance to the original word. For example, long before we started conjugating verbs, our teacher taught us the word "btodros" means "you (masculine) study. While looking at another sentence, we came across the word "darast" and didn't know what it meant. "Well what word does it look like?" she asked. Apparently the answer was "btodros," though I'm definitely not seeing it. But yes indeedy, "darast" does in fact mean "you (masculine) studied." Weird.

Another fun fact about Arabic is that they don't just stick a fun "s" on the end of a word to make it plural. No, no, that would be much too simple. They actually have TWO different plurals for every noun. One plural means two of something, which you make by adding "een" or "teen" to the end of the word, and one plural that means three or more, which is usually a different word entirely. For example, "osboa3" is week, "osboa3een" is two weeks and "asabee3" is three or more weeks.

In the end, though, it will all be worth it. When Arabs speak Arabic, it is a beautiful language. All the sounds are subtle and flow gently like water over a stream. For some reason, when they speak, all the harsh sounds are swept into the other sounds so that it is still soft and musical.

When I speak, it sounds like I am coughing up a hairball. They have one "H" sound, similar to the French "R," that literally sounds like you are gagging. When Heather and I have to spell words, we call that sound "phlegm." As in spelling Ahmad: A... phlegm...

Ahmad the Dead Terrorist aside, we also have to pronounce a "Qa" sound from the back of the throat, possibly from somewhere near the rib cage. To do this, unhinge your jaw and drop it somewhere around your belly button while jutting out your chin, bugging your eyes out and doing a credible impression of saying "aaah" at the dentist's, only with a "Q." There's a breathless "H" sound that is more like a wheeze from an emphysema patient or perhaps Darth Vadar, and of course the guttural stop that sounds like someone just clapped a sweaty palm over your mouth mid-word with an audible pop.

But my two favorites are an "R" sound that sounds like the "GRA" sound a baby makes when it has just dumped dinner down its shirt and an "A" sound that is basically a nasalized, controlled yell. This war cry is tragically in what seems like half the words in the Arabic language.

So while Arabs get to sound smooth and cultured, we foreigners get to sound like we are slowly going criminally insane. EstAna DaEEaA. Ya tEEk AAAl AAAfia! I say hysterically to the taxi driver, imagining the men in white coats sneaking up behind me with a restraining jacket. "Quick grab her now! While she's in mid-wail!"

Should have stuck with being fluent in Texan.

Peculiar Prefixes

I was grading some prefix/suffix homework today in which the girls had to find ten words with a prefix or suffix in their books and then write the root word of the original word. In the course of grading, I had two answers that totally made my day.

First of all, one girl found the word "button." The root word? "Butt."

But my favorite was the word "discuss." The root word, according to my other student, is "cuss." I laughed really hard on that one.

In a way, it makes sense I guess. "Dis" means to remove or separate, so if you removed the "cussing" from a conversation, maybe you could have a pretty decent discussion...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Winter Wonderland?

Well, for all of you who have been sending me nasty emails about the hot weather in Jordan, feel free to snicker behind your hands and/or guffaw openly. Our crazy summer, which stretched to the end of October, is finally over. And now we can enjoy fall.

Or not. On Halloween day, it abruptly skipped fall and dove right into winter. Unfortunately most of my cold weather gear is waiting for me to pick in up in Texas, so it might be a chilly month and a half for me. But I did buy some comfy new pajama pants I will be wearing about 16 hours a day, so I'm prepared.

The worst part is not the cold. Cold I can handle. The rain, however, is getting old. Now normally I love rain. But not in this country. Do you know what happens when you mix rain with a city built on dirt? My shoes ankle-deep in mud. That's what happens.

THREE Month Anniversary

Today is the three month anniversary of my arrival in Jordan.

It occurs to me that I should probably start picking a longer length of time to get excited about at this point. I'll hold out on the next announcement until I hit the big six.

Time's fun when you're having flies.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I scream, you scream, we all scream for...

The best line I've heard in my English class in a while came when I was teaching the girls how to write a paragraph. We were researching pumpkins (it WAS Halloween), but the example was about ice cream. The clincher, or conclusion, of the sample paragraph was, after talking about how good ice cream is, "No wonder we say, "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream."

One of the brightest girls in my class had figured out that we were going to use the same format to write about pumpkins. She raised her hand.

"So we are going to write a clincher for the pumpkin paragraph as well, right?" she asked.

"Yes, of course."

"And could we say, "I scream, you scream, we all scream for pumpkins?"

It took me a while to get the class to settle down after the general hilarity of seeing their teacher crack up for a whole minute.