Thursday, November 4, 2010

The End of an Era... For Now

As I look back on my year in Jordan, I realize that I have learned so very much about myself and about what I can do when I put my mind to it.

I have learned that it is the people around me who make my life special, not where I am or what I am doing.

I have learned that I truly love teaching English and can actually stand children. Who knew.

I have learned that I am strong enough to travel alone and have fun doing it.

I have learned that life isn't always fair, that bad things will happen even when it's not your fault and you didn't do anything wrong.

I have learned that holding bitterness in your heart is a sure way to be miserable but that you should stand up for yourself when you need to because no one else is going to do it for you.

I have learned that I love living a healthier lifestyle in which I walk everywhere and don't eat Texas-sized portions just because they are there.

I have learned to slow down, to relax and to maybe even have a little smoke break (argeeleh of course) from time to time.

I have learned that though there's definitely a time for relaxing, there's a time to work hard too, which means I really should get over that huge lazy streak I have.

I have learned that I am beautiful as long as I feel beautiful inside. I don't need to be or do anything else except love myself for who I am.

I have learned that I can make and keep some of the best friends I will ever have just by being the person I am.

I have learned that I can master a foreign city, that I can be comfortable in a place where I don't understand the language or the culture because it's still my home.

I have learned that you meet people when you are supposed to meet them and that love doesn't always come at opportune times.

To that end, I would like to thank all those special people who have traveled with me through Jordan. You will always be in my thoughts and memories.

As will Jordan herself. My desert home has a permanent place in my heart.

Traveling Tips and Woes

I left on a 2:30 in the morning flight, which is, I'm convinced, the very best way to travel from the Middle East.

First of all, you're exhausted. You've been up all day, getting in all the hours with your friends that you can, and the weight of all the pre-leaving stress is upon your shoulders. You've just made it through all the tough, tearful goodbyes because, quite frankly, all you want to do is leave these people and get it over with so you can finally go to bed. If you can make it through the maddening stupidity that is in every airport across the globe at this point without strangling someone or falling asleep standing up, you are golden.

(I nearly slugged a security guard on the way to my gate for trying to take away my water. Why have airlines suddenly declared war on water, btw? I was in Turkey, flying to Albania, and the guy took away my water bottle that I had gotten in the airport with a receipt to prove it. He totally ignored the three large bottles of hair products in my suitcase. None of them looked suspicious. But that unopened water bottle you have a receipt for! Trash that at once, you terrorist! It was the same in the Amman airport. I looked carefully at my gate and observed that there was nowhere to buy water before you get on the plane once you are through the gate security. So I bought a bottle of water AFTER I got through the main security and made sure I kept my receipt on me. I get through the gate security even, but one on the other side, the individuals manually searching the bags tried to throw it away. It took a good deal of yelling and a sobbing fit to get my water bottle on the plane. I was dehydrated from all the crying, damnit! And they tell you to "drink lots of water!" and "stay hydrated!" when you are on the plane. Well how the bloody hell are we supposed to do that anymore? It isn't enough that we can't take our own bottles of water and have to buy them at exorbitant prices in the airport. Now they are taking away bottles we buy in the airport. Wow, good thing water isn't a precious natural resource or anything. Whew. Ahem. Apologies for the war-on-water rant.)

Once on the plane, pop your Ambian over dinner and you will CRASH for six hours. Mercifully, you will also make it to America and be relatively cheery for the remainder of your travels, which helps a lot when dealing with the turmoil of international travel.

The other thing I would recommend not doing (besides possibly not fist fighting over a water bottle) is traveling with three rolling suitcases as checked luggage and one small rolling suitcase as your carry-on. And a backpack and purse as carry-ons two and three.

Shockingly, it is actually impossible to pull four rolling suitcases at the same time. It was news to me, but I only had two hands with which to pull the luggage. I get out of the taxi at the Amman airport. The driver conscientiously hauls the bags out of the truck for me and sets them on the curb. And then takes off, possibly laughing hysterically at my attempts to pick up four bags at once, three of which weigh just less than 50 pounds each. I finally had to enlist the help of two flight attendants, who graciously pulled two of my bags over to the cart stand while I hauled the other two.

Don't even get me started on small overhead luggage bins.

My un-lasts, or how I screamed my way into a club

So as you all have perhaps surmised, I am not in Jordan anymore. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the weeks leading up to my departure, I concentrated on not thinking whatsoever about my impending goodbyes. I did not count down days. I did not have "lasts" (My last shwarama. My last trip to Carrefour. My last sugaring... eurgh. Back to the world of shaving.). However, I did try to do everything I always meant to do but never really did, such as taking all those touristy pictures and going on road trips just because I could. And, just for the sake of those lasts I wasn't having, I headed to our usual clubbing haunt, Cube, for one un-last night on the town.

You see, Wednesdays at Cube are 80s night. And by 80s, they mean anything from before the year 2010. But not always because I have heard music from this year there. Occasionally, they actually play an 80s song. Regardless, it's tons of fun, if you don't mind sharing that ton of fun with a ton of people and a ton of cigarette smoke.

But the problem is that Cube and I go way back. You see, Cube thinks it's cooler than it is. It thinks it's located in the classiest heart of New York City and only caters to the super cool instead of being off of a dark, rather unpopular street in the center of Jabal Amman. It all started the first semester I was in Jordan. I thought I was doing everything right. I knew that to get into Cube, you had to have a reservation. So like a good girl, I got the number of the club and made the call. Not only do you have to leave your name, you also have to say how many people are coming, what time you are coming and whether your boy ratio surpasses your girl ratio (It better not!). Check, check and check. Everything is hunky dory, right?

And no. We get to the club and, wouldn't you know it, my reservation is nowhere to be found! Wow! How could something like this happen in a country as efficient and well organized as Jordan? Whatever, I talked to the guy, yelled a little bit, and we were in.

The next time, I called the day before we wanted to go. Then I called the day of just to confirm. We're in like Flint, the guy promises. Not a problem. Checkarooni. We get there? Oh... Sorry. Not on the list. I yell a bit more. What is it about this country that loves to hear me scream?

A few more times go by with much the same occurring. A few more "missing reservations." A few people less or more than the reservation says. Always a problem. Every single time I end up yelling. It is not good for my blood pressure. Good thing there's always some stress relief in the form of beverages and dancing on the other side.

So for my un-last time at Cube, all I wanted was a drama-free night. I didn't want a fight. I didn't want a missing reservation. All I wanted was to dance and drink with my friends. So I called up Cube the day before. Then I called Cube the day of, only hours before. Then I sent a follow-up text message to the guy with all the information. No worries, he claims. You're in. You're golden.

We showed up a mere 15 minutes late, and all of our party was there. We had one more girl than guy. "I'm sorry, your name isn't on the list." Are you freaking kidding me? I showed the guy the text message; I talked to the manager. I was finally forced to yell.

At least that was the last time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Getting fat during Ramadan

I have now survived two Ramadans in Jordan. And I have gained weight during both of them. Why is it that we Americans manage to put on five pounds while the rest of Jordan isn't even eating? The culprit - snacking.

Think about it. Every restaurant is closed. You can't even pick up a juicy shwarama from down the street. It's 1000 degrees in the shade. And in the kitchen, so cooking? Out of the question. We are stuck at home all day with no work to distract us. What do we do? Head to the supermarket and get some chocolate. And some chips. And maybe some bread and cheese. And some more chips. Oo, and some dip. And then we commence our afternoons of sitting on the couch and snacking.

Then all our friends get home from work. And it's time for iftar. So we all go out to dinner. Are we hungry after all that snacking? Not one bit. Do we eat because it's there and it's tasty? You betcha.

Apologies, jeans. You won't be fitting for a while.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Traveling Solo

Before coming to Jordan, I'd never really traveled by myself. Oh sure, I'd gone to see friends and grandparents around the U.S. and physically got there by myself. I even went on a trip to Australia "by myself..." at least up until I met and made friends with the rest of my group in Los Angeles... So technically I had friends before even getting to the Land Down Under.

No, what I mean is, I had never gotten on a plane by myself, flown to the destination by myself, stayed in a hotel by myself, eaten by myself and completed all activities by myself. Now I have done all of those things.

My first attempt at sightseeing solo was coming back from my delightful trip to Albania. I had a six-hour layover in Istanbul, and who wants to spend six hours in an airport when the famous Blue Mosque is right outside?

So off I went. And thank GOD I've already lived in the Middle East because if not those Turkish men would have eaten me alive. As it was, I was able to ask them for directions, get what I needed out of them and then take off WITHOUT being guilted into buying any of their cheap souvenirs OR getting hit on by them. Score. Saw the Blue Mosque. Check. Saw the Hagia Sophia. Check. Saw the Underground Basilica. Check. Saw the Topkapi Palace. Check. Back on the plane. Done.

Then, buoyed by my successful navigation of Istanbul, I immediately turned around and went to Dahab, Egypt, by myself. Snorkeled by myself. Saw the absolutely fantastic Blue Hole by myself. Ate by myself (does the flock of hungry cats constantly surrounding me count as company?). Got saddle sores from a camel by myself. Had a very relaxing, wonderful time.

And THEN, while I was in Palestine with Lena, I skipped out early and went to Bethlehem by myself.

And then I realized. Traveling by yourself opens up some wonderful options. You don’t have to wait or synchronize schedules with anyone. You only have to do exactly what you want to do. The world is open to whatever YOUR budget can handle; you don’t have to limit yourself to what your friends can afford. The world is your oyster, as they say.

But it is not half as much fun as going with friends.

The new love of my life...

For the last three months, since my laptop crashed at the end of June, I've been scrounging, borrowing, begging for, and outright stealing all of my friend's computers for my online needs. Thank you everyone who loaned me a computer! You are the best.

But now, thanks to my daddy's unlimited amount of love and overindulgence, I once again am the proud owner of a laptop that belongs to me and only me! Ah! It was love at first sight.

She is small and shapely. She is super fast and has all the latest gadgets. She is pure white and has a tattoo of an apple that lights up on her back. Best of all, she has enormous... amounts of data storage. My kind of woman.

So now, with the help of my lovely new Macbook, I shall attempt to fill you in on the events of the last couple of months.

To be honest, I was thinking of doing a goodbye blog post, cutting and running, but I realized I just couldn't do that to my fans. And by fans, I mean my friend Sabine, the only person left in the world still reading my blog. Thank you, Sabine! I dedicate this blog and all my future blogs to you. You have stuck with me long after even my parents got bored of my ponderings.

And so we continue...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Joys of Laptop ownership

Apologizes for being off the air for more than a month. I haven't wanted to spend too much time on anyone's computer when they need it, which has resulted in my never having time to do blog posts. Oh, the joys of laptop ownership.

But I shall try to catch up in the next couple of weeks with some posts when my glorious friends allow me access to their computers.

Until then, I wish to send my darling Meme birthday greetings (her birthday in July and I am a total flake and forgot to call her) and my awesome PopPop birthday greetings for tomorrow, August 3.

Also, if you need updates about my life, please check out these three posts by my roommate Heather, which should give you a tiny bit of insight into what's been up in my life lately: her post on sweets, her post on all of our Ahmads, and her post on our latest trip.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I've been off the air for a little while due to traveling and now computer problems. That's right, my trusty Macbook Pro, with its little screen problem where only half the screen shows up, has decided to go whole hog and shorted its screen entirely. Hugely helpful, espeically as it happened right before my new job started. I now am borrowing my fantastic roommate's computer for all my lesson-planning and communication needs.

School is going well, though it started out rocky with a bit of Jordanian drama the very first day. After contacting me the night before and confirming I would be at school the next day, I arrived, fully armed with lesson plans, to find that they had made a mistake and I did NOT have a class after all. Whoops.

This change of plans would have meant no money for Gretchen until September and no way of getting a Syrian visa ahead of time for our trip at the end of August. Fortunatly fate and a large quantity of new students intervened and forced the school to split one existing class into two classes just for me.

My students range from 11 to 15 years old, and I even have one of my girls from the Ahliyyah School. The overall level of the students isn't quite as high as what I'm used to, but they are eager to learn and a lot of fun to teach. Plus, only having nine students after attempting to manage 28 in one class is just SO refreshing. Classroom management, managed.

I'm just thrilled to have a real, actual weekend again even if it is from Friday to Saturday! Weekend trips, here we come!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Albanian Realizations

Several days ago, I returned from a whirlwind weekend of traveling in one place I had never even considered: Albania. In fact, the only thing I knew about the country was that Voldemort's essence fled to a dark, lonely forest in Albania when it was ripped from his body by his spell that had rebounded off of Harry Potter. And somehow I didn't think that pertinent piece of information was going to be super useful in Tirana, the capital.

So why did I follow Voldemort to such a small country I'd barely even heard of? To see some of my wonderful Mizzou friends as my good Albanian friend got married. And so I could show off my new dress of course.

As I readied myself for the voyage, I learned several slightly more useful facts about Albania. Apparently about 80 percent of the population is Muslim; however, unlike Jordan, the country has separated church and state and is located in Europe. Okay, so staying in the Islamic way of life but boy howdy was I getting the heck out of the Middle East for a weekend. Or so I thought.

My first preparation was deciding on finances. Three hundred dinar should do it, I thought. I consciously packed up 300 dinar and boarded the plan, set to stop in Istanbul. Although Albania probably wants nothing to do with my strange, colored Monopoly money, Istanbul, another Islamic, Middle-Easternish country should of course be able to change my dinars into something usable, right?

It turns out that no, Istanbul will NOT change Jordanian dinars at the airport. So all the sudden I went from having tons of money to having a handful of colored paper good for nothing except possibly rolling tobacco, except that sounds superbly unhealthy. Funny how monetary values and personal wealth can change in the blink of an eye.

Fortunately, after arriving in Albania, I was able to find an Internet cafe and Skype my mom for more money in my bank account, so the crisis was averted. But more about money troubles later.

As my plane touched down onto the wet concrete in Tirana, the first thing I noticed, seeing as how I live in a desert, was how GREEN everything was. The rural countryside on the outskirts of the capital was a brilliant verdigris, speckled with beige and red farmhouses and multiple forests creeping up into civilization. It reminded me of both the Italian and German countryside but with even more trees and forests. No wonder Voldemort ran for the forests here.

I got off the plane and through customs, with the guard there pretty much waving me through and, much to my disappointment, forgetting to stamp my passport. I found my German friend Sarah after about half an hour of waiting (the airport is about as big as a shopping mall, so locating her after her flight wasn't exactly hard), and together with two other German wedding guests, we headed for our hotel.

It was about a 45 minute drive, and afterward, everyone was talking about how crazy the drivers were and all the honking they did. But wait, I thought. That's what I think about Jordan. The driving and honking in Albania was positively mundane compared to what I am used to. However, they had a point. It was way worse than in Germany or the other European countries I've been to. This was my first inkling that perhaps this wasn't quite as far away from a Middle Eastern experience as I had thought.

Our first task was to find some freaking food because we were starving. We headed out toward the center of Tirana, a very small town that you could walk through given about an hour, and found a delightful little creperie. Unfortunately, we couldn't read the menus. This was when I realized, surprise surprise, I didn't speak any Albanian. No. Actually, I was aware that I didn't speak Albanian from the start. However, what was unusual was that I had come to Albania without learning any of the language, something I have NEVER done in all my travels. I always learn some token phrases first to get in good with the locals and ease my way into the culture. Way to be unprepared, Gretchen.

After a bit, we discovered some words that looked similar to our languages and figured out one that could be Four Cheese. I ordered it and thus learned the Albanian word for cheese. I then realized what was keeping me from learning a lot more Arabic. It's not the fact that Arabic is freakishly hard, even though it is. It's that I can't learn words by seeing them constantly on menus or on signs or in brochures like I can in other countries. Silly Arabic alphabet.

The other thing I noticed on the menu was, and it took me a minute to realize its significance, ham. Prosciutto. Jambon. Bacon. Pig. Pig, in an 80 percent Muslim country. It had been so long since I saw ham on a menu, I wasn't even sure what to make of it.

We ate our delicious crepes, said hi to our beautiful bride and called it a day. The next morning, we set off to explore the city. Halfway through the town, my friend was remarking on all the birds in cages in front of every shop. Once again, I was confused. I thought that was a Jordanian thing? No, it appeared that the custom of keeping birds in cages as pets or for good luck had followed me to Albania as well. We'll have our pigs and keep our birds, too.

The streets of Tirana were a cross between Europe and the Middle East. They were tighter and taller, like European villages, but the shops and open bazaars looked distinctly Middle Eastern. However, unlike in Jordan, there were plenty of stray dogs or people out with their beloved canine pets, just like in Europe.

The wedding that night was absolutely amazing. The ceremony was a mixture of Albanian and German traditions (nothing in English, sadly), and the bride and groom couldn't have looked happier. The reception consisted of much dancing and many MANY courses of food. I finally learned a version of the Arabic dance, the Dabka, and I rocked out to both Armenian and German tunes. We sampled some of the universal Ozo (in Greece) Arak (in Jordan), that strong licorice drink that makes people act silly. And we all stayed up WAY past our bedtimes.

The next morning, a group of us went to a nearby town to visit an Albanian castle and a bazaar. The castle was much smaller than we thought, but we had fun eating together and enjoying the beautiful Albanian countryside. Once again, I was just thrilled about the amount of greenery in the area.

However, it was on this day that I realized just how conservative about clothing I've become. My German friend, noting the heat and humidy threatening to confine us to our rooms, put on a tank top and shorts to wear on our day trip. I jumped into my jeans and a spaghetti-strap, white t-shirt combo. As we grabbed the last of our possessions in preparation for boarding the bus, my German friend made sure I didn't want to put on shorts before I left. "Sarah," I said, laughing. "I don't even own any shorts at this point."

And even if I did, after a year of hiding my legs and making sure my necklines are way past conservative, I honestly can't see myself jumping back into short shorts or skirts even once I'm back in the U.S. Jordan has taught me that I don't need to let it all hang out just to be in style; you can dress conservatively and still look great: long dresses, such as what I wore to the wedding; long skirts; tube tops to bring my necklines up. After a year of being looked up and down, even when completely covered, has totally nixed my desire to be stared at by guys. Who knew.

As my new friends and I hunted through the bazaar for anything worth buying, my friends suddenly ran to me and said, "Gretchen, Gretchen, is that the call to prayer?" I listened for a second, and sure enough that slow, haunting call was echoing up through the valley. I hadn't even heard it until the mentioned it. I am so used to hearing the call to prayer so many times a day that I don't even register it as a noise I need to listen for anymore. "Yep, that would be the call to prayer," I replied to my delighted new friends, who were sure they'd just experienced something extremely rare and culture. I'm surprised I didn't notice the LACK of a call to prayer while in Tirana. It's four in the morning! What's that noise? Silence? How quaint and odd!

That night, I had my second bout of money problems. I wanted to get enough Albanian Lek out of the ATMs to change into Euro to change into Turkish Lira for my four hours of sightseeing time during my layover in Istanbul the next day. This involved much muttering frantically to myself and about ten minutes with a calculator. I also had to switch my brain wildly back and forth between three different currencies: the Lek is about 130 Lek to the Euro / 100 Lek to the dollar; the Turkish Lira is about 2 Lira to the dinar. Talk about crunching numbers... or in this case, the other way around.

Thus ended my one-and-only trip to Albania, one I shan't soon forget. More than anything else, it allowed me a breath of fresh air, a chance to get away from the Middle East, just for a couple of days, and reevaluate everything I've learned here, both the good and the bad.

Silly Arabic alphabet...

The days of luxury flying are back - just not in America.

The United States of America is, at least according to most Americans, at the forfront of all that is classy, innovative and popular. We set the trends, we have the most media influence on the world, we are a haven for all things luxurious.

Except on the airplane. Back in the early days of flying, air travel was a sophisticated, comfortable way to get around. You got meals on every flight; clean, fluffy pillows when you wanted them and personal service from the attendants that went beyond the occasionally distribution of peanuts. The seats, while not spacious, were comfortable enough, and your knees were not getting up close and personal with the seat in front of you.

Nowadays, any American-based airline you take offers none of these basic amenities. The flights, even the three-hour ones, contain no food service beside a flight attendent throwing a miniscule bag of pretzels at you, and comfort is not even an option even when reclining. You can get pillows and blankets if you're lucky, but cleanliness appears to be optional. Oh, sure, the international flights are usually bearable, but luxury domestic traveling in economy seats? A thing of the past, I thought.

And then I started using airlines from other countries. Qantas Air out of Australia remains my favorite, with individual, personalized televisions and tons of leg room. And I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Air Lingus, the Irish airline. But now I'm realizing that these airlines that treat their customers as people, not cargo, are the norm, and it's America whose standards are declining.

Royal Jordanian, for example, offers at least a sandwich for passengers on flights just over an hour long. Also, they don't cancel flights just because they don't have enough people on them, so the chances of getting empty seats next to you while flying is pretty darn good. Turkish Air, the airline I used this past weekend, gave me a small meal on every single flight, even the hour-long one from Istanbul to Albania. They walked around with newspapers and drinks anytime, and were always available with individually wrapped blankets and pillows. Now that's what I call service.

It's possible that Americans are just so used to flying that they've forgotten that getting there is supposed to be a pleasant part of the journey as well. In this case, I think we should cater to the beliefs of countries who still believe that flying is a treat and a luxury to be enjoyed, not delt with as fast as possible and forgotten.

Learn, American-based airlines. Learn.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Alternative Definitions 2

And here are some more alternative definitions from the remainder of the girls.

Waddle: wiggle. A girl asked me to waddle her cat.
Intimate: is when two people are dressing the same colour.
Denote: a sign for something. My friend couldn't read the denote.
Indecent: not able to make decisions. I was indecent to what colour my new pjama would be.
Mince: the plural of mouse
Jut: a long pole. Look at this jut!
From one girl - Trudge: You trudge me. Strut: You strut me.
Surpass: we pass. Please let me surpass.
Rabble: My friend rabbled all over the place.
Heap: My teacher is going to teach me what heap means.
Prick: hand held. I used the prick to dig a hole.
Fatigued: fell down. I fatigued on the ground.
Trudge: an insect like a grass hopper eats an other insect. I found a trudge in my farm altho it looks like a grass hopper.
Mouldy: the hair on his chin. My dad is mouldy.
Trudge: I didn't study these words Ms. Gretchen.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reevaluating Student/Teacher Relationships... via Facebook

Gretchen's status: Gretchen Marie is still trying to decide how to approach being a teacher on Facebook.

Social medias such as Facebook have completely revolutionized the way we deal with relationships across the board. You are now not "official" until your relationship is there for all the world to see on Facebook. You are not "friends" until that relationship is concrete and the person is added to your friend list. And of course no day would be complete without the obligatory mundane status updates.

Although I fought this invasion into my personal life for quite a few years, I finally succumbed to the madness about three years ago. And even though I'm on the old side of college life, I still consider Facebook for my generation. I'm still almost a student, right?

Except then I noticed that all MY students are on Facebook. And they all want to be my Friend.

Now don't get me wrong. My Facebook account isn't juicy by any stretch of the imagination. But there's still some line I'd like to draw between what my kids know about my personal life and what they'd see if they were my friends on Facebook. Some questionably written wall posts. Some pictures of me at parties. Even some pictures of me with, gasp, BOYS.

My unwritten rule when I was still a student was that I would not friend my teachers until I was out of their classroom AND if I had had a bit of a personal relationship with them. As I was a grad student, I had fairly good relationships with most of my teachers. And then there were my TAs in some classes, who happened to be some of my good friends in real life... Grad school gets complicated when it comes to teachers and friends.

So when 50 or so of my girls started sending me friend requests on Facebook, I had a decision to make. Should we be "Friends"? Should I take our student/teacher relationship to a whole new level and give my kids a new outlet for pestering me about grades?

I decided that no, I did not want to be a Friend to my girls while I was still their teacher. But... I won't be their teacher anymore in a grand total of four days.

So I've already created a group that will SEVERELY limit their access to anything personal on my site. They will be able to see my information and send me messages. And that's pretty much it. No pictures. No wall posts. Nothing remotely juicy.

And no student/teacher relationship to influence. Besides, it will be a good way for me to stay in touch with my girls.

Bring on the Friend requests.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Alternative Definitions

Heather just posted a similar post on her blog, but as these are my students, I wanted credit for their cuteness as well.

Recently, they took a vocabulary test in which they had to write the meaning and a sentence containing ten of 35 vocabulary words they chose and memorized. Even though the original definitions were from a dictionary, my girls still got a bit confused about what was what. Some of my girls had brilliant meanings and sentences. And then there were these.

Grumpy: something is nice.
Clumsy: something is not tidy. I hate someone is clumsy.
Vibrant: a thing that move. My mobile vibrat when I was at school.
Trudge: a deep hole. I love to go inside a deep hole.
Shiver: to move the water behind the boat.
Waddle: were we put the boat. I like to waddle the boat.
Toss: plural of toes.
Grumpy: is to made or because something wet. My brother made my room grumpy.
Portrayal: a tall plant that is grown in wet places.
Intimate: in bissness.
Caught: something you were in the winter. he is warring a nice red and blue caught.
Crept: like a potato that is grown in large quantities.
Vacant: a vacant is a person who workes for help. I saw a vacant in the park.
Sting: something so sticky. There is something stingy over there.
Odd: person that is helping people. This odd is not working anymore because it was fired.

Or Door Number Three?

I had my life frantically set in to some semblance of an order. Until Door 3 opened up.

Instead of running back to America with my tail between my legs in mid-July, I am going to be teaching English at a summer English program/camp with Bell Amman. I will teach about the same amount of hours I do now but for WAY more money. Plus, because it's a camp, I'll be doing way more fun activities instead of teaching straight from a curriculum like I was doing this year.

The other great thing about it is that each session is three weeks long, then some days off. So I'll also have plenty of time to get in all the traveling I still need to do before I get the heck out of here.

So far, my schedule looks like this:

June 4 - 7: Go to Albania for a friend's wedding.

June 12: Last day of school at Ahliyyah.

June 13 - 16: Go to Dahab, Egypt, by myself, if I can work up the nerve. Apparently it has some spectacular snorkeling. I just have to talk myself into being braver about being a single woman in the Middle East. And, frankly, Dahab is NOT scary. Zip up your man suit and go snorkeling, Gretchen.

June 20: Start work at Bell Amman

June 25 - 26: Wadi Rum with Lena and her family

July 7 - 17: First vacation! Israel and Palestine with Lena.

July 18: Start second session at Bell Amman

August 4 - 8: Second vacation! Go to Tel Aviv.

August 19: Last day of working for Bell Amman

August 20: My birthday!

August 21 - 31: Syria and Lebanon with Heather

September 1 - 9thish: hang out in Amman with Lena

September 9thish - End of Eid: Travel with Lena

End of Eid: Go back to America for a month

Mid-October: Move to Toronto with my Jimmy and my children!

Note to self: Find job in Toronto before moving.

I'm tired just thinking about it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Door Number One or Door Number Two

As it turns out, I'm going with Door Number Two.

Yes, that's right. For all of you anxiously awaiting news of my pending future, I am in fact leaving Jordan and coming back to the U.S. (or Canada) next year.

I will finish out the semester at my school, travel frantically with whoever lets me tag along on trips and then sail back to the U.S., loaded down with all my Middle Eastern booty, hopefully in mid-July.

I will then travel a bit around the U.S., seeing old friends and staying in the house just long enough to enjoy being with my parents but not long enough for me and my father to start bickering. Then my hope is to move to Toronto with Jimmy in mid-August.

Before I leave, however, I will attempt to cross out quite a few more must-see places on my Middle Eastern itinerary. I'll go to Syria, Lebanon and Dahab in June and I'm aiming for Israel and Palestine in July. Anyone in the Middle East want to join?

The one flaw in my oh-so-perfect plan is, of course, that I don't actually have a job in Toronto... And it turns out that, despite all of the If-Bush/Obama-gets-elected-I'll-move-to-Canada threats, Canada does not seem to appreciate Americans waltzing in and demanding work. It appears I have to find a job before I get a work permit. Who knew.

SOOOOoooo, if anyone has any contacts in the writing/editing/communications/publishing/public relations/teaching/event planning/administration/anything else willing to give me money fields over there, I would LOVE to hear from them.

Until then, I have two months left to enjoy my Middle Eastern home and all that it has to offer (i.e. cheap spa treatments, argeeleh, hills that keep my butt in shape, cheap dvds, shwarma, and of course my very wonderful best friends who I will miss very much.).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gretchen sacrifices a few fingers for a kitten

If you'll recall, a while ago I blogged about the relentless mating cats all over Jordan were doing and the inevitable offspring that would start appearing after these unions. Up until today, I hadn't seen many of the fruits of said couplings.

Until today.

Lena and I were taking our customary Sunday walk (for the first time in about a month) up some stairs. We spotted an offshoot to the right of said stairs, and right in the middle of the path was an adorable little kitten. We stealthily followed cute kitten down the path and met not only him but his sibling and mother. Just at that moment, an obnoxious little boy came out of the apartment next to us and proceeded to chase cute kitten down the stairs and almost out onto the busy road.

I overtook obnoxious boy with the intention of beaning him on the head if I got close enough, but he ran away. I was then stuck with the task of reuniting cute kitten with mommy and sibling.

I attempted to gently chase cute kitten back up to mommy and sibling, but the stairs were twice his height, and he was exhausted. Feisty, too. He was hissing at me like nobody's business.

I couldn't just leave him so close to the road, however, so, telling him that it was for his own good and that I was very sorry, I scooped up cute kitten.

He did not appreciate this high-handed rescue attempt and proceeded to reduce my fingers to shreds with his teeny kitten claws. Fortunately, I've had a lifetime's experience withstanding cat attacks, so I calmly kept my grip on him and deposited him back down the alley where we first saw mommy and sibling. His high-pitched screaming should have been enough to call mommy back over to where she could find him easily.

Good cat deed of the day, accomplished. Now to put anti-bacterial on my bleeding hands...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Me talks English reel good

I have spent a considerable amount of both time and money throughout the years perfecting my knowledge and usage of the English language.

I've read like a maniac since the day I could first hack out sentences in my Easy-Reader. I actually loved English class for teaching me grammar and how to diagram sentences, a sentiment the majority of my classmates did NOT share. I had a college-level vocabulary in the eighth grade and pretentiously use big words in everyday conversations. I've done two degrees in English-related fields, and the last one contained a grammar-INTENSIVE course that pretty much knocked out any English mistakes that creep into my writing with a mallet the size of the Washington monument.

Before I got to Jordan, I could write 3,000-word articles for magazines with not a single mistake in grammar, spelling or typing. I could edit articles all day for the same. I was an almost foolproof proofreader who took the time to look up grammar rules at work if I was the least bit unsure. They called me the comma queen at my last job because I knew a rule for placing or taking out a comma anywhere in the sentence almost every time.

I was GOOD at English. Not just James Brown "I Feel Good" good but Mohammad Ali "I AM the Greatest" good.

Then I got to Jordan. Now I spend all day every day listening to broken English. I read children books more than I read adult books. I constantly correct 5th grade English essays that, while good for their age and ability level, can contain every type of grammar, punctuation or spelling mistake out there.

And tragically I'm absorbing English mistakes into my own writing at an alarming and disheartening rate, and my English level has plummeted down to a barely passing 5th grader's. Yep. I just might fail my own class.

When I speak on the phone to someone I know doesn't understand English very well, I find myself saying things like, "No, that's bad time. You come later? I wait you." or copying phrases such as "near to" from my foreign friends.

When writing, I have homophone trouble the likes of which would make my Magazine Editing teacher burst into tears of frustration, and today I managed to spell "their" on the board as "thier." Twice. And my kids had to correct it for me. SO embarrassing.

I'm starting have the urge to read incredibly long, intellectual novels in flawless English... just to prove I still can. WHILE I still can.

Because tomorow mine english mite not is so good.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A normal day in Jordan

So yesterday, after an uneventful yet taxing day at work, I come home and Heather tells me the news of the day. (disclaimer: I have read none of the news reports on this myself as most of them were in Arabic. Therefore all of this info is exponentially second hand.)

Up in part of the city where we used to live, there was apparently a trio of Bedouins who were dealing drugs of unknown specifications. The police attempted a drug bust and the dealers retaliated by attacking the fully armed officers with long freaking swords. Now the sword is a mighty weapon indeed, especially when wielded by a master, but they didn't reach quite as far as the police guns. And the police were a bit peeved that drug crazed sword bearers were slashing at them.

End result - one of the dealers got killed. As is the norm here in the Middle East, his extensive family was a bit ticked off as well. They showed their displeasure at the death of their relative by subtly rioting in the streets, shooting off guns and setting fire to things.

Many people couldn't run errands or go to work because of the ruckus. Apparently it's a totally legit excuse if you say you couldn't make it to work because there was a shooting going on outside.

Comparatively, doing grading analyses all day is sounding positively cheery.

Cake Cake Cake

Just a side note. It took us a very long time to find decent cakes here in Amman. All the cakes were too... fluffy... and fake tasting... for lack of a better way to describe them.

But we have now found the mecca of cakes. Mirabelle Cakes, in Abdoun just behind the Abdoun Mall, has phenomenal cakes and excellent baklava just in case you need to indulge that sweet tooth just a little bit more.

I can highly recommend Mirabelle Cakes from plenty of experience; last month I ordered three different cakes for three different birthdays, and each cake was rapture in chocolate form.

Try the snickers. Just the right amount of crunchy goodness.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now

As I mentioned in my last post, I am still happy here in Jordan. I have my routine, my friends, my life here. I have my favorite cafes, and we are always discovering new places to go.

That being said, I am getting a little tired of Amman. I'm tired of the shebab (guys) hanging out all over the streets at all hours of the day, making it impossible for me to be completely comfortable walking around even my own neighborhood. I'm tired of them saying "Oh my god" or asking me where I'm from or welcoming me lecherously to Jordan every time I walk by. I'm tired of not being able to go out to a club for a reasonable sum of money, and I'm tired of not having any parks or green grass to sit on.

I am NOT, however, getting tired of Jordan. Every time I leave the city, I see more and more things I haven't seen yet. With my mom, I saw Petra and Wadi Rum, two magnificent places of which I don't think I could ever get tired. We are going to Aqaba this weekend, for two days of sun, snorkeling and refusing to think about work or obligations. We still have so much to see in Jordan alone, including the desert castles, Wadi Mujib, some towns up north, the Ma'an Hot Springs, Faynan and others. No, Jordan. I am definitely not tired of you.

Nor am I tired of the region. There's still so much for me to explore here in the Middle East. I haven't made it to Syria or Lebanon, Israel and Palestine or Oman, all places on my must-go-before-I-leave list. Possibly an end-trip to Greece and Turkey wouldn't go amiss either.

But Amman is losing some of its appeal for me, and I think that loss coincides with the departure of so many of my close friends.

Last fall, I started out with nothing and built up an amazing friend base that made Amman the amazing place that it was. As more and more of them leave to resume their lives in their home countries, they leave spaces in my life that I have not yet begun to replace. And the more end-of-the-year schoolwork overwhelms me, the less energy I have for going out and meeting new people to fill the void. It's a problem.

I also think I'm starting to feel how far away my family is and how much I'm missing by not being able to jet home for the weekend. In the next year, I have one family member and two friends getting married, a family reunion and my brother's graduation from the Air Force Academy, all things I really don't want to miss.

So what to do? Do I go back to the states (well, to be honest I'll most likely follow Jimmy to Canada), lose my routine and healthy life here but gain back the convenience of my family and friends? Or do I stay and spend one more year being annoyed with Amman but still getting to experience the wonder and fascination of the Middle East?

Time to go flip a coin I guess.

Through her Eyes

After living in Jordan for almost nine months, so much of what I found fascinating or different about this country has become everyday, commonplace sights and activities.

But at the beginning of this month, I had the extreme pleasure of hosting my mom here in Jordan. And seeing my new world through her eyes was one of the best things I've done for myself in a while. It gave me a fresh start to being in Jordan and reminded me why I love this place so much. On the flip side, it also made me recognize just how annoying some things here can be...

As I drove to the airport in my barely moving rental car, I examined the scenery surrounding me. My mom was lucky to come to Jordan in the spring; flowers are blooming (unfortunately for my allergies) and even here in the desert we have beautiful greenery and vegetation. I, however, showed up in Jordan in August, a much less scenic and much drier time of year. The dust-colored August sky was not quite as pretty as the baby blue we've got going on now.

My mother hadn't been off the plane for more than three hours before we got stuck in our first sheep crossing. Over the four-lane highway of course. Go, sheep, go.

And of course she got to experience the joy that is driving around in Jordan by shutting her eyes and praying every time I got within ten feet of a Jordanian driver. What she still fails to realize is that if you wait patiently for traffic to ease up or for other drivers to let you in, you don't move. Obviously her Oh-God-I'm-going-to-die reflex has not been as severely numbed as mine has over the last few months. If I'm in a taxi and I think I'm going to die, that guy is SERIOUSLY scary.

But she did brave my driving long enough for us to journey pretty much all over Jordan. We saw Madaba, the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum and, of course, the fabulous tourist sites in Amman... all two of them.

She was fascinated by the call to prayer and was even woken up by it once or twice, something that hasn't happened to me in about eight months. She thought all of the Jordanian architecture, with all the beige house replicas all over the hills of Amman, was just as interesting as I did when I first got here. She got horribly lost while we were driving around within the city (which I still do, unfortunately) and thought schwarma and falafel were exotic, novelty foods. Haha. How quaint!

And if she thought those were exotic, she was blown away by the rest of the cuisine. We ate. And ate. And then ate some more. Well, she had to try everything, right? So we had the basics, like hummus, baba ghannush, muttabul and labneh. We also had maglubeh and a mansaf night. And then on her last night here we took her to a fancy Arabic dinner, which consists of about a million small appetizers called mezze, grilled meats called mashawi, and fruit for dessert. And just because we weren't stuffed enough, we had cake for our second dessert.

One thing my mother did have trouble with was the engaging-strange-people-in-conversation faux pas we all make our first couple days here. You would have thought she was in Texas the way she smiled at people on the street and wished them good day. Weirded me out to no end. And she said she would never get used to having to bargain for everything you buy because you know they are giving you the "tourist price." Those silly Jordanians. They mistakenly think I have money.

But the best part about having my mom here was that I got to show her all of those little, insignificant things that make up my life here. She got to walk down Rainbow Street with me. She got to worry about running out of water halfway through the week just like I do. She even got to come to school with me, meet my girls and find out how annoying + cute they can really be.

And somehow that made all the little things here that much more meaningful.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

This day in history

Today, April 17, 2010 marks the day when Gretchen, Lena and Heather finally received their residency cards. Yes, that's right. After eight months of working, they are finally legal to work in Jordan, just in time to finish the year. There was much rejoicing in the teacher's room.

Even better, they spelled my name correctly on the card.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

You try being a journalist when...

For the last month, I've been trying to get back to my journalistic roots and write an article for a business magazine here in Amman called Venture. To make a long story short, it hasn't been going so well.

I might not be the best journalist/reporter in the world, but I've written many MANY articles in my time and talked to hundreds of sources. I know what I'm doing. I know how to call, when to call, how to talk to them, etc. However, it appears I haven't quite learned how to deal with the working eccentricities of most Jordanians.

For one thing, no one here, and I mean NO ONE, has voice mail. It's like it doesn't exist. You have to keep calling and calling and calling and calling. That or you text message. I have in fact sent several professional text messages asking about interviews or job opportunities for this very reason.

The second hurdle I'm having to overcome is the fact that I work until 2. And so does the whole of Jordan, apparently. A normal workdays seems to start at 10 a.m. and finish around 2 p.m. because I cannot for the life of me get anyone to answer their phones after 2 p.m. on a workday. A representative for a source today told me they usually left by 1:30 p.m. and that I would have to call before that. Having a full-time job (until 2 p.m.) is making freelancing in this country an absolute impossibility it seems.

The third, not completely unexpected, obstacle in the way of my writing a decent article is of course the language barrier. No one wants to speak to me in English. They all speak English, of course, at least the higher-up sources I'm trying to talk to, but they think it's easier to have me send multiple emails and annoy the crap out of them as opposed to talking with me on the phone for ten minutes. And meeting up? Ha! When would they have time for that?

In my last interview, which was indeed in person, the guy managed to misunderstand most of the questions I asked him, responding to the small part of my questions he was sure he understood. He finished the meeting by informing me that it was 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday (which is like America's Friday) and that he had to go home.

Needless to say, I missed my deadline.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Moving furniture and missing friends

It all started with a dresser. It just didn't feel right in that corner anymore, I thought. And, well, actually, that bed could flip around too. And what about those bookcases?

It wasn't about the bookcases. Or the bed. Or the dresser. It was about my exchange student sister leaving me.

This was the first time I'd dealt with someone I loved leaving me, possibly for good. And of course I knew I'd see her again. But we'd never have another year like the one we had. We'd never get to have unlimited time to spend with each other, without it being planned, with it being natural and part of everyday life.

The first time I rearranged my furniture was the week she left. For me, it wasn't about making the bed face the window. It was about changing something, a change I could see to match the change within myself, to hide the gaping hole I now felt. It was caring about something trivial to mask the pain of losing part of my heart. It was moving things around so I could move forward.

When my boyfriend at the time moved away, I redid the living room. When my new exchange students left the year after, I rearranged my boyfriend's living room. When I moved away to grad school, I had a whole new apartment to make my own, my new change, my new life.

I was never any good at making friends. Not good friends anyway. Not lasting friends. But somewhere along the way, I got lucky. And in the last couple of years, I've been blessed with more good friends than I can count.

You know the ones who will stick with you. You know the ones you will keep in touch with once you aren't in the same city anymore. And you know that if you are truly meant to stay friends, if they truly touched your life in some way, you will make sure you stay in touch and see each other again.

For one who travels as much as I do, making friends just to have them leave you or to have you leave them is part of life. At first it was hard. I couldn't fathom how I could love my sister so much yet not have her be a regular part of my life anymore. I was afraid that it was the end. But it wasn't. We still talk. I still talk to all my best friends on a regular basis. Now I'm not afraid to lose friends. I'm not afraid to move couches and buy new wall paintings. Because I know that moving away is not the end of the book, it's just the end of a chapter. A new one is just around the corner.

I knew my life in Amman would be transient. It's part of the reason I love it here so much - the constant flow of people. But the price of that change, that freshness is that you lose some of the friends you have on a seasonal basis.

It all started with a dresser. It's continuing now with moving around a chair and buying a new lamp for the living room. It's a week to change, to look forward, to move on but never forget.

To the friend who's leaving this week: you have been such an important part of my life here in Amman. I shall miss you. I hope we can be those friends that continue on regardless of location, but if time does separate us, I wish you luck and happiness in everything that you do.

To the new friends waiting to be made: my living room is arranged and ready for you. Ahlan o sahlan.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sidewalks? In Amman?

Recently, two different people sent me the same article from the New York Times talking about the new sidewalks Amman is installing to make it easier for people to walk. Read the article.

It's true that Amman does have a problem with sidewalks being rather unusable. As we like to say, only the tourists walk on the sidewalks. This is because the sidewalks in Amman are filled with things like holes, trees, shrubs, buildings and other fun things that make in impossible to walk in a straight line. When you walk on the street, people honk at you and try to hit you. Win/win.

Fortunately, it looks like Amman has realized this error and is looking to correct said sidewalks. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen the fruit of this project. I'll let you know when it's safe to walk on the sidewalks.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sugaring and Other Consequences of Cultural Experiences

So about two weeks ago, I was sugared for the first time. No, tragically, this process did not involved cupcakes.

What it did involve, however, was lying with only a towel wrapped around me while a woman ripped out most of my body hairs violently from their roots. Sugaring, it appears, is when a professional hair removal artist takes a handful of what looks like a wad of thick, clear, orange Gak (yes, that awful stuff we used to play with as kids) and stretches it tight and hard against your skin. Then she rips it off of your skin in pieces. The hair comes with it. Fortunately the skin stays put. Regardless, I too would have preferred the cupcakes.

But that's what they do here. Women in Jordan get sugared. It appears that any body hair is just not attractive, so Jordanian women routinely get everything removed. And when I say everything, I mean everything.

In the spirit of trying out new cultural norms, I decided to go with my friend for my very first sugaring experience. Note: I have never, ever had any professional hair removal done in the U.S. My total hair-be-gone experience has consisted of a razor. No waxing, no cremes, and definitely no sugaring. But we had a Dress-To-Impress party coming up, and I thought I'd give it a try.

The most traumatic thing for me going in was the undressing and lying there pretty much naked part, I have to admit. I wasn't even that concerned about the pain part. I really just thought it would be enormously awkward having someone rip the hair off of parts of your body that you can even see. I really shouldn't have worried.

I walked into the softly lit, beautiful room with an older woman, who promptly left me alone. "Well crap," I thought to myself. "I have NO idea what I'm supposed to be doing." The logical thing was to take all of my clothes off, wrap the towel around myself and curl up on the table/bed type thing. So I did.

Once I was firmly seated and just as firmly clutching my towel, the woman came back in. She had to be the sweetest woman on the face of the planet. She made delightful small talk with me, and it seemed completely normal for her to be ripping the hair off my legs as we chatted. The legs went well. She moved on to my arms, which I had decided to sugar as well to enter into the spirit of the Jordanian full-body sugar, and armpits. And then it was time for the clincher: the bikini area.

This was the part I'd been dreading. The painful, excruciatingly embarrassing part. But to be honest, it wasn't that bad. Yeah, it hurt. It hurt quite a bit in fact. But she was just so matter-of-fact about the entire procedure that I wasn't embarrassed at all. Or perhaps I was too busy trying not to cry to be embarrassed. She also kept apologizing to me with every rip. "It's not fair," she told me after one particularly painful separation of skin and hair. "The men, they get to keep the hair. But us? So much pain." I agreed completely.

Once the bikini area was complete, (And this is the part I debated on whether or not to write... But in the interests of honest service journalism and perhaps the chance to make someone out there chuckle, I'll tell all the facts as they happened.) she straightened up and said, "5alas." Finished. Great, I thought, about to hop off the table. Survived. "No, no," the woman said, pointing me back into place. "Turn. Fi hair here," she added, pointing to the very center of her butt.

Well, that was news to me. Yet I obediently rolled over and let the most awkward part of the entire scenario take place. But you know what? Even that was so matter-of-fact that it wasn't even as embarrassing as it could have been. And now my arms, legs... and everywhere else are as smooth as can be.

So if you'd also like to experience the thrill that is the Jordanian full body sugar, I would recommend Sara from Amber Spa. Darling woman. Is now my best friend, based solely on the fact that she has now seen more of me than I have.

Cheers to new, albeit painful, experiences.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Plug by Any other Name

America has the two pronged, sometimes three pronged plug. Europe has the oh-so-fun Europlug, which can be both thick and round. But Europe can also have a variation of the Europlug that is skinnier. The UK has weird, overly large square prongs. Jordan apparently couldn't decide between these magnificent specimens and chose to use all three of the latter options.

When buying electronics, it's pretty much the luck of the draw. Most will have the thick Europlug end. Some have the UK square end. No electronics have the skinny, round Europlug, which conveniently is the only socket available in our apartment.

To compensate for this, we have to buy numerous adapters and power strips. It is completely normal here to have cords with two to three different adapters stuck on the ends of them, changing things from American to Europlug to skinny Europlug. Even better, you can have American three prong changed to American two prong changed to thick Europlug changed to skinny Europlug. Another fun one is having a power strip plugged into a power strip plugged into a power strip.

All the sockets at school, however, only take the UK plugs, which I do not possess adapters for. Ma fi mushkala, as they say. My coteacher showed me the proper Jordanian way of handling such problems: you shove the Europlug haphazardly in the UK socket as far as it will go and stick a pencil in the third hole so that it will think there's a prong there. Problem solved.

Another fun twist to the plug problems here happened to Lena about a month ago. She and her roommates had just gotten a new washing machine from their landlord. They moved it into position, grabbed some dirty clothes... and discovered that their washing machine did not even have a plug. It ended in bare wires. What to do?

Why pull out another ingenious Jordanian solution, of course! Twist the wires together yourself and stick a plug on the end! Now that's a safe way to handle an electrical appliance filled with water!

As if all these problems weren't bad enough, the electrical current in Jordan is not exactly what anyone sane would call stable. We have surges, spikes, lags, you name it. Surge protectors? What are those?

It's a wonder we haven't all electrocuted ourselves into toaster strudels by now.

Gunshots and Fireworks. A'adi

In America, we see fireworks on the fourth of July. And that's about it.

In Jordan, however, they are pretty much a daily occurrence and are usually accompanied by gunshots, honking of car horns and much cheering. They do this for weddings, engagement announcements, exam scores, graduations, job promotions, dinners, you name it. You get used to it. Really fast. Or you develop a nervous complex and twitch a lot.

Newbies here, however, might not take such celebrations in stride. Here is an email Heather forwarded to me from the American Embassy, warning us of just such festivities.

"On Saturday February 6th, the Jordanian Ministry of Education intends to release the interim results of the high school exam (the Tawjihi). Families throughout Amman often celebrate when the test results are announced, and for some the celebrations are exuberant. Groups of young adults may drive around in cars blowing horns, and some individuals may shoot into the air. The direct threat is minimal, but traffic may be congested. Please do not be surprised if you hear shooting."

The Tawjihi mentioned here is a high school exam that determines what fields you can enter in college. For example, you have to make a certain score to be able to study medicine or engineering or something like that. (I wonder what you would have to make to study journalism?)

Regardless, the Saturday in question was unremarkable in its shootings and/or fireworks. Or perhaps I'm just so used to these sorts of things to even notice at this point. But thanks very much for your concern, American Embassy.

Dear Mother Nature,

As much as I appreciate all the water you are giving to this desert region, don't you think four days straight of freezing rain and sleet are a little much? My toes are cold. My toes are very cold.

And what is with this frigid air on the tail end of two beautiful weeks in which I needed nothing but a t-shirt? You're just being a tease now.

My sinus drainage would appreciate a break and a jump back into warmer climates before I get the flu. I think I've already developed emphysema, based on the amount of hacking up a lung I've been doing lately. Do you not hear the emphysematic death rattle in my throat? Not to mention that I can't take my walks now and I have asthma attacks when I try to exercise in my room. And I've been drinking hot, sugary beverages like they are going out of style. That really can't be healthy.

So thanks again so much for the beautiful rain that turns the city into a haze of luminescence, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, yeah? Maybe it's time to heat up just enough for my nose to stop running.



Mac Discrimination

Sorry about the lack of blogging this month, but it's been a doozy.

On that note, one thing that has been making my life even more stressful lately is the complete obliviousness about Mac laptops here in Jordan. It's like they've never even heard of them. You can't get programs for them, you can't find anyone to fix them, and people get mad at you for having them.

At my school, for example, we are attempting to implement a new font on to all our laptops so that all our worksheets match the font in the textbooks. However, to install said font, you need Windows, which I do not possess.

Not only that, but the IT department has NO idea how to work with Macs or that you need different software to install programs on Macs. Super fun. So now I get to write all my worksheets on the grand total of three school computers, which we have to fight over between all of us teachers already and which don't work half the time.

Tonight, as I attempted to create some report cards in a new Internet program that the school is using, I discovered that the javascript in the program cannot be read properly by Safari or Mozilla, the two browsers I had on my laptop. I downloaded the Mac version of Internet Explorer, which I strongly dislike, but even the Mac version of that was not compatible with the program's javascript. So I had to do all my report cards on Heather's computer. Oh, except for the 11 or so names that had not been translated into English and were still squiggle.

Even better, my Mac's screen has been acting up lately. As in not working if you so much as bump it. I have to keep it perfectly still at all times, which is super fun with a laptop. The reason I can't just drop it by the Apple repair shop is that there's a grand total of one Apple shop in Amman that is reportedly ridiculously expensive. I have not been, needless to say.

My coordinator even mentioned that I should perhaps sell my computer and buy a new one. That sounds like a cheap option. Good thing I have oodles of extra money running around.

Regardless, I've gone Mac. I'm not going back.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Half a year Anniversary!

Shoot, two days late.

Happy six month anniversary, Jordan!

So happy together...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Staying Warm Fail

In response to the horrific winter weather happening outside my apartment, I decided to make myself a little warmer by putting plastic on my windows.

Let me explain.

The headboard of my bed is pushed up against an extremely large window in my room. Our entire house is a bit nippy (we have no artificially produced heat, only body heat), but it's especially chilly right against the windows. I am very warm while in my bed, but I worry that the cold air right around my head will aggravate my already irritated asthma. Heather brought some of that sheet plastic you get in America to stick on the windows and seal them against drafts. Sounded like the perfect plan to me.

So I anal retentively followed the instructions about putting the double-sided tape up around the windows. I carefully measured my plastic. And I began sticking it up.

First of all, that was the sorriest excuse for double-sided tape I have ever had the misfortune to experience. It had basically no stick on the double side. So the plastic fell right back off. I attempted to tape the plastic to the walls themselves before I began blow-drying the plastic to dry it and make it seal itself to the windows, or so the instructions claimed.

They were mistaken. Or perhaps they just don't work on windows that slide past each other, so that when closed, one of the windows is a good two inches deeper into the wall than its partner. The plastic didn't stick. It didn't stick at all. And when I tried to just pull it taunt over the sunken-in area, a breeze would blow through and make the plastic crinkle like a plastic bag caught in the wind. Not a pleasant noise to listen to while trying to fall asleep.

Needless to say, the plastic idea failed miserably, and I now have a towel stuffed in the bottom of the window. It's still cold.

Walking in the Diet Coke of Winter Wonderland

So school was canceled today. We didn't get four feet of snow on the ground. People weren't sliding around over black ice. There wasn't six inches of frozen solid snow on people's cars that they had to hack at for an hour and a half just to be able to pry open the car doors (Oh Missouri, how I don't miss thy winters).

When I woke up this morning, it was raining. To be fair, it was a cold rain, but it was definitely just raining. They delayed school for an hour. When I got to school, chaos ensued, as none of us knew the new timetable and were severely unprepared for the unexpected delays of the day. We shouldn't have worried.

We held classes for a grand total of an hour and a half before it started raining again and they decided it was too dangerous for the kids to stay there. They called the parents and the buses and packed them all back home. My friend texted to tell me his work had been canceled for the day as well. It had stopped raining by then.

We had some errands to run, so we walked around in the rainy and freezing yet not incredibly dangerous weather. While we were in one shop, it did start snowing and sleeting for about 15 minutes. The perfect description of a wintry mix.

At this time, it is bitterly cold out there, and people are predicting snow for the next two days. I'll believe it when I see it. In the city's defense, we live in the lowest and warmest part of the city, and I heard that elsewhere it did actually snow and freeze.

Maybe it's because people here don't see a lot of winter weather, but it seems that they get overly concerned about the weather. I've had people cancel plans on me, delay school, etc, just on the possibility that it might rain or snow. If we canceled plans every time we had weather in America, we'd pretty much stay inside the house from November to late March.

I'd write more on this topic, but I better bundle up quick before it starts snowing again!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sweet manna from Heaven, I have found you

Three days ago, I discovered something better than boys, better than shwarma, better than, dare I say it, chocolate. Or at least healthier than all three of those anyway.

I have found: pomelos. A sweet, citrus fruit shaped much like an overly large yellow orange, the pomelo is a juicy, absolutely delicious way to enjoy a healthy dessert. According to Wikipedia, a reliable source, the pomelo is native to Southeast Asia. Even better, it's pretty much a workout in itself to get all the fruit out of it, so Heather got dinner and a show as she watched me maim this humongous "lusho fruit" as it is also called.

Mmm. Vitamin C overdose, here I come.

Nerdy Journalism Friends, this one's for you

I was recently handed a copy of a genuine article written in the Jordan Times on January 12, 2010. Right between two delightful, not to mention cheery, articles about backlash toward Israel and Palestinian reconciliation talks was a photo box that showed a local with an enormous swordfish he caught down in Aqaba.

But that wasn't what made the article interesting. What WAS interesting was that the journalist had thought to include a bit of helpful trivia about the usual size of swordfish... trivia found on the best friend of journalists everywhere - Wikipedia.

How many times did we discuss Wikipedia in pretty much ALL of my journalism classes? When is it EVER ok to use Wikipedia as a source? Why would you ever want to when Wikipedia provides such handy links to actual reliable sources at the bottom of their pages?

This spawned a rash of Wikipedia jokes and Facebook threads from many of my Western friends here in Jordan. My Jordanian friends don't particularly see what all the fuss is about.

Kudos to Ali for the photo.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

We don't need no education...

After pretty much a month and a half of being off work (those January days of giving exams didn't really count), we teachers finally have to buckle down and get back to our jobs tomorrow morning. Woe is us.

But seriously. It is NOT going to be fun to get up at 6:30 in the morning after a month and a half of sleeping in. My sleep schedule is not amused by this. At all.

On the other hand, it will be great to see my kids again! I've gotten many, MANY email and Facebook messages from my girls telling me how much they've missed me. Probably just angling for a grade increase, but I'll take the love where I can get it, I guess.

Home Talk

To learn a little more about our lovely kitchen appliances, see Heather's blog post. Don't miss the kudos to me for cooking in our ghetto oven.

Tough Luck Case, huh Taxi Cab Driver?

So early on in my stay here, I commandeered a taxi, and, as always, the driver began to talk to me. This one, however, had fairly decent English and seemed to be a nice guy. He showed me a picture of his daughter and talked to me about America. About halfway to our destination, he started his spiel.

Apparently his daughter was sick and he needed money desperately for an operation. The operation was scheduled for the coming week, and could he borrow a couple hundred dollars from me and pay it back in installments? He was of course good for the money, and he was so sorry he had to ask me for it.

I told him no, I didn't have a couple hundred dollars he could borrow and I didn't know of anyone who did. I told him I only make a local salary and did not have unlimited money like some ejnabiyah (foreigner) here.

And then I forgot all about him. Until a couple of days ago. When I found myself in a cab with a driver who looked vaguely familiar (and much of the time I go out of my way NOT to notice the cab drivers in case they get too friendly) and spoke great English. He seemed to be a nice guy and talked to me about America. And then he started his spiel. Oh. THAT'S why the guy looked familiar.

This time his father was sick and had to have an operation tomorrow. I received the plea for money again and the sincere apology that he had to even ask me for money. Once again, I declined that oh-so-tempting offer.

You know, Amman may cover a large area, but as we expats are fond of saying, Amman is a small world after all. It is possible to get the same taxi customer twice in a row. And if you couldn't scam me the first time, you are DEFINITELY not going to have any luck the second time.

End of the Month Again

Why is it that the end of every month finds me frantically saving every dime I can and/or begging friends for both handouts and loans? Could it be because I insist on treating myself to an American lifestyle by making spa dates, traveling to ridiculously cool places, buying unnecessary accessories like scarves and eating American food like it's going out of style? Nah. I'm going with they don't pay me enough.

Take this month for example. I go on one little trip to Egypt. Who would have thought that would burst the bank so much? By the end of the month, I am literally living off of cents. I have two dinars to my name. And that's after getting two loans from various friends.

Last night, Heather and I went to Gafra for some dinner. I had five dinars; she had five dinars. We each ordered exactly five dinars worth of food. Then the bill came. 10.26 dinars. I threw down my five; she threw down four... and fifteen cents... and that was all she had. We were a dinar short, and that wasn't including tip.

Crap. We stared at each other. "Think they'll let us wash dishes?" I suggested lamely.

She was just considering telling them that we would pay them the remainder next time we were in the restaurant (hey, it works with our local fruits + veggies shopkeeper) when we remembered another option.

"Credit card?" asked Heather, grinning rather hysterically. "Ok," the waiter agreed.

Whew. Crisis averted. And I got to keep my five dinars until today. I feel richer already.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Storms on the Horizon

So far in Jordan, I've seen cold rain, hot rain and medium rain. It consistently pours water from the sky for hours, making the entire city turn into a mudball, then stops. But what I have yet to see here is a good old-fashioned storm, like the ones in the Midwest and in Texas.

Tonight, however, we have the makings of one that could make the tornado watches in Missouri sit up and take notice. Well, in a couple of hours maybe. To be honest, I haven't seen a storm in so long that I was wondering who was taking pictures outside my window. And then I was cleverly wondering who was banging into dumpsters behind my apartment.

I've got lightning flashing through my room and thunder claps booming in the distance. Ah. Joyous.

CATS The Musical 2: "Kitty" Porn

I might have alluded to the fascinating cat societies that exist here in Jordan, but it's definitely time to describe them in greater detail. So here goes. There are cats here. There are tons of cats here. As in tuna-factory-just-exploded-all-over amount of cats here. All strays, all fairly harmless, all cute to admire from a distance (they're kind of dirty) when walking.
(Photo by Lena)

Even more interesting are the societies they set up. A group of about six-ish cats lives on the roof next to Lena's house. We throw food at them occasionally. Not as pack-animal-ish as dogs, these cats negotiate ways of working together to survive and even thrive by creating communities in which to exist. Imagine, CATS The Musical, only all of them are like the scraggly one that sings Memories.

They make their livings, as it were, living out of dumpsters, though I have to admit that the people on our block do a GREAT job of feeding them. It's always something to have a cat shoot like a cork out of the dumpster you are walking by. And boy are they appreciative of handouts.

Normally I enjoy interacting and baby talking to the cats of Jordan (is that like werewolves of London?). But lately... well, let's just say that the winter season has officially started, cat nip is in the air, and every cat in Jordan is set on producing an abnormal amount of baby meowlers this spring.

Pretty much every night we are serenaded by the melodious yowls of frisky cats. This can go on for hours. Really guys? How long can it possibly take? You don't even have to take her out to dinner or anything.

We were even treated to a couple of exhibitionist cats who decided to put on a show on Lena's roof. It ended with the girl punching the guy in the face and running off. Ah. Young love.

Let's hope the hormones and cat fur settle down by the time we get back from Egypt.

Tighter butts; blacker lungs

Today, Lena and I took a great walk up and down many fabulous hills... to a cafe where we smoked argeeleh.

This is actually quite frequent. Maybe once a week, we will march our happy butts down the thousands (or hundreds or something) stairs to downtown Jordan where we will then negate all the health benefits we just gave ourselves walking by smoking an argeeleh for two hours. That, or we'll take Heather and instead have a humongous meal at Cairo Restaurant (GREAT mansaf) or Gafra, then waddle up the stairs with overfilled bellies.

Granted, we usually share one argeeleh, so we aren't being quite as unhealthy as those guys nursing a single "black lung" (coal right on top of the pure tobacco) argeeleh. And to be honest, it's a great destination and way to relax on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

On this particular outing, Lena and I attempted to retrace our steps to a cafe we discovered on the way to the citadel with a friend before Christmas. We ran around downtown a bit, and after a wrong turn or two, we finally made it up a hill to our destination: Embareh (as we later learned it is called).

Embareh turned out to be a delightful cafe set in a beautiful old house. It is subtly colorful and has beautiful light fixtures. Fortunately it was beautiful outside today, so Lena and I were able to sit on the porch with our 2 dinar Lemon and mints and our 3 dinar argeeleh. Delightful. Even better, the waiter complimented me on my nearly nonexistant arabic, and we got to shoot the bull with him about Egypt (he was from Luxor, a city we will visit next week).

When the bill came, we found out he only charged us a little over half of what our bill would have been. What a great surprise! Instead of the usual eshnabiyyeh (foreignor) fees added on to bills, Lena and I actually got a "cute eshnabiyyeh" discount. We tipped him well.

The downside of walking for an hour to find a cute cafe in which to smoke argeeleh is walking an hour back from said argeeleh. With smoke-filled lungs. After gasping and panting at the top of the million-stair staircase, I remarked to Lena that this possibly isn't the cleverest way to enjoy our walks together. She agreed.

We'll probably go again later this week.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


So I started my new Arabic class today. Aside from recopying all of my Arabic notes into a compact, friendly, organized set of studying material, I had not studied since mid-December. Something about being in America for Christmas really throws off the Arabic practice.

I jumped into the cab with plenty of time before the class, promptly got very lost and consequently arrived twenty minutes late to the first class of the semester. I snuck past the teacher, rolled into a seat beside my friend and sat back to take in the learning.

My last Arabic class consisted of my instructor telling us pronunciations for words and having us say them back to her. In fact, the first time I had put together more than one sentence at a time in Arabic was during the oral test I had to take to get into this level 2 Arabic class. But ten seconds into the lesson, I knew I was not only going to surpass my previous Arabic speaking by about a thousand percent, I was actually going to be expected to understand this crazy language.

My ostaz, or professor, was speaking entirely in Arabic. He continued to speak entirely in Arabic for the first hour and a half of the two and a half hour course. AND, to make matters worse, he actually expected ME to speak back to HIM in Arabic. Full sentences. Correctly. AAAAAAAAAAAAH!

As if this Arabic shockwave weren't enough, I am taking the class at a French School. The majority of my classmates are French and thus speak better French than English. So I spent the time during break and after class speaking in French. If my brain wasn't confused enough before class, it was definitely mush by the end of it.

Fortunately, I discovered I could understand a lot of what he said merely by listening carefully and dredging up unused vocabulary I'd forgotten I knew. Also, the man is amazing at acting out words and repeating similar vocabulary to make you understand. For the last hour of class, he spoke in both French, English and Arabic to explain some grammar/verb rules and words we hadn't been able to catch. I filled up three whole sheets of paper with vocab I learned just in his hour and a half of speaking.

Must commence studying frantically so I can understand him next lesson. One thing's for sure. If I survive this course, my Arabic skills are going to skyrocket. My French, too, strangely enough.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Keepin' Clean

Lubbock is a dusty city. It takes years to get that tough Lubbock dust out of pores, clothes, car upholstery, etc. So I thought I knew all about cleaning up dust.

But Jordan dust is different. It's not as stubborn as Lubbock dust, but boy is it plentiful. I dust a surface one day and wake up the next morning to find that the previous dust bunnies had already told all their bunny friends what a great place they found and to come on over.

Actually the dust probably wouldn't be that bad if I could get used to Jordanian cleaning techniques. Instead of mops and buckets, the way to clean floors here is that you dump a bunch of water on the floor, then squeegee it with a long window-cleaner-looking thing into the drainage hole in the middle of pretty much every floor. I'm apparently not very good at this.

The other option is to dip a small towel into water, then put it around your window-cleaner-looking thing to clean the floors. I have trouble with this as well. My towel always falls off. And it's tough to get into corners.

Fortunately you can hire a cleaning man or woman to come clean your entire house for 10 dinar, which we have now done. Unfortunately, getting them to show up, as evidenced by today's lack of cleaning, is a mite more difficult. Fingers crossed for a clean house next Saturday!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Can I Rephrase that?

Less than four hours after I write a heart-felt post about how independent I am and how much I love taking care of myself, I have a horrific nightmare about mutilation and the oh-so-popular hacking people up into body parts. And unfortunately for my sense of timing, the first thing I thought when I woke up was, "I want my mommy."

I zipped up my man suit and didn't call her shaking at 3 a.m., but boy was that poetic justice.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

There's no place like homes?

As I finally collapsed into my seat to begin my set of flights back to the states, I leaned my head back and thought, "At last. I am going home."

When I boarded my plane for Amman in Chicago, I leaned my head and thought, "At last. I am going home." As some of you brighter cookies in the bunch may have noticed, it was the exact same thought.

How did Jordan suddenly become my home? When did my love and longing for my life here become equal to that of my longing for what I miss back in the states? Can you even have two places that you consider a "home" with the strength of emotion I do for both of my homes?

I think part of the answer to at least the first question is the unbelievable confidence I have to have in myself to be able to survive and be happy in a place like Jordan. Here I do not have my father to call anytime I screw something up. I can't phone my mom from the grocery store and ask her inane questions about life. Here I am completely and utterly independent, or rather, dependent on only myself and my capabilities.

I say that, but the other part of my attraction to my life in Jordan is the group of wonderful people I've discovered here. In lieu of having family to help us out, we have formed an incredibly strong group of friends on whom we can depend. They are like my family; they are always there when I am unhappy, just need to complain or have an annoying questions about how things are done in Jordan. We are all equals in tackling life here; there's no parent/child relationship, only give-and-take on a level plane on which we all can benefit. Even while I was in the states, Lena, Heather and I were Facebooking and chatting throughout our time apart. When you get used to seeing people every day for months, even two weeks apart seems like a long time.

The final and most mundane reason for my attraction to life here in Jordan is how much simpler it is to be healthy. I walk everywhere. My transportation to work each day consists of a seven-minute walk. I regularly walk up and down the numerous stairs leading to The Balad several times a week. Today Lena and I took a two-hour walk to and through Jabal Webdeh just because we could. Plus, even though I am stuffing my face with unhealthiness like falafel and shwarma pretty much constantly, I don't have the same urges to overeat the way I do in America. I probably couldn't afford to even if I did.

All in all, of course I miss my people back in the states. I wish it were possible to zip home on the weekends so I wouldn't vicariously experience special events through other people's pictures. I wish I could be there to go on walks with my brother, or goof off with my mom during a pedicure or hug Jimmy. But for right now, at this point in my life... I want my home here in Jordan more.

This American Life

As I knew it would, my vacation back home in the states flashed by faster than a modest streaker. But it was pretty close to everything I thought it would be.

I hung out in fabulously interesting Lubbock for about six days, goofing off with the cats and the fam while eating way too much. Mom and I went shopping for some new jeans because my old ones decided to fall off when I wear them without a belt, so now I actually get to wear jeans that fit me. That's exciting. My brother and I took some walks to keep my Jordanian legs in practice (kind of like sea legs, but not), and Jimmy and I pretty much went everywhere together.

We decided to have Christmas Day on Christmas Eve because we were scheduled to leave Lubbock for Raleigh early on Christmas Day. We went to bed early, as Santa refuses to stay up too late these days, and awoke to find that Lubbock had given us our second white Christmas ever. Unfortunately that meant my add-on brother Jimmy had to plow his way across the frozen tundra in his highly ill-equipped vehicle before we started opening presents. Yet safely plow he did, and people were most generous this year.

I received everything I asked for and more, including a pretty fabulous Nook from Barnes and Noble (I had told my father how hard it is to find books here in Jordan, not to mention the outrageous prices of those you can find, so he provided a solution for his reading-on-the-computer-refusing daughter.), an almost complete set of the Charlaine Harris books from Jimsies, a gorgeous dress from mon frere, and numerous other nicities.

During the proceedings, Jimmy and I proceeded to indulge in a bit of Crown Royal and Non-Dairy Egg Nog. Once finished with the presents and now two egg nogs along, we proceeded to down two Hot Toddies each, thus demolishing 2/3rds of the bottle and sending us into unprecedented peals of laughter at only moderately funny things. We watched some movies, the rest of the family laughing more at the two of us than the movie, and then I attempted to pack all of my worldly possessions into two <50 lbs suitcases for the trip to the East Coast. We settled down, and I prepared myself for my last night in Lubbock and thus the last night with my kitties.

We awoke to find that Lubbock was indeed set for a real white Christmas and that American had cancelled our flight out. SO we spent the next day goofing off, watching movies and playing with the furballs before hopping on a plane one day later than expected.

We spent a delightful two days in Raleigh, where I saw my mom's family and got to practice my extremely limited Arabic with my cousin's adorable kids (my immediate family was fairly tired of me practicing it on them and had commenced making fun of me) and then headed to Baltimore for a day and a half to see my father's family. We also played Duckpin bowling, and I got to see my dad fall flat on his face. That was memorable.

Although Mom and Dad were staying an extra couple of days, Jimmy and I conveniently had matching flights back to our respective homes, so I had someone to keep me company for the wait for the plane, which fortunately did not include the nervous breakdown that accompanied my first flight to Jordan. I also did not have an annoying guy from Delta tell me that I wasn't allowed to board the plane without a return ticket from Jordan, so my mom did not have to buy ANOTHER $2,000 refundable ticket. Score.

I had a slight scare as the weather turned nasty in Chicago, but I made it to the Windy City with only a 45-minute delay. Once there, I wandered around the terminal wondering why I didn't have a gate number until the genius that I am figured out that my flight was leaving from the International terminal. I booked it over to that terminal, through security and on to the plane in record time, jumping into my seat a good half an hour before the plane took off, which is excellent for my family's record for missing planes but still cutting it a little close by Royal Jordanian's standards.

And then the highlight of my flight happened. No one sat in the seats next to me! So I slid over a seat and had empty seats on each side of me for the entire flight. Ah, leg room! I slept for seven hours straight. That's the only way to fly.