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.