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.