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.