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I’m Back…in Jordan

Didya know I was actually having doubts about returning to Jordan?

California was SO luxurious. Perfect weather, surreal fairytale towns. Really really. SURREAL. Colors overly vivid. Cute little plants everywhere. And the food…the food…the food. I ate bacon almost every day, as well as oodles of French toast and banana splits. And pie. And americanos. I can get americanos here, actually. But they don’t have half n half.

But then, time to come back. I go to the airport and check in. The Delta lady asked me for proof of a return flight. Apparently this is a Jordanian requirement due to concern that people might come here and then not leave (crazy). I’ve known so many people wandering the earth with no ticket home, it hadn’t really crossed my mind. They didn’t check for a ticket before. Seeds of doubt - I started thinking about how how I would explain the six months I'd already been in Jordan and my return after a brief five weeks away. After having me wait so she could check on it, the Delta lady came back and said she’d check me through but I’d better be prepared to buy a ticket once I got there. Those seeds of doubt sprout. Then I got onto an intensely packed plane for my first leg – SF to NYC. The man beside me had breath that could kill tigers. And he kept leaning near me to look out the window. Sprouts of doubt begin to grow leaves. So, being the not-so-intrepid a traveler as I like to think I am, while on layover in NYC, I book a one way (refundable) flight from Jordan back to New York just in case.

Then, from NY to Amman, I board a half empty plane - I guess tourism in the Middle East dies down toward winter. I stretch out on the row I have to myself (my favorite part is that I can leave my garbage on the other drop-down tray). Little doubt-plant begins to wither. The captain actually introduces himself to the passengers...in such a way as to leave this sense that we all know each other. Clearly he’s taken a cue on hospitality from the Arabs. Then the cabin staff offered bottomless drinks and snacks. Of course these are always available on flights if you go back to the galley, but they don’t announce that. I’d flown for years before I realized you could go back and help yourself. Then, to top it off…they had Pepperidge Farm cookies! Little doubt-plant dead.

So, after a relatively pleasant twelve hour flight, with at least one good in-flight movie (The Visitor), we approach. By the way, all of Israel is restricted airspace so all passengers and crew are required to be seated and buckled while crossing over. Good thing it’s a skinny country. Hate to get shot ‘cause ya had to pee. Of course Amman, Jordan is just over the border (as the crow flies). As we descend, and I look down on the rolling barren hills and cinderblock buildings, I feel…nostalgic. I don’t know why. But we land, I go buy my visa (10JD), they stamp my passport. The next guy checks it like he’s checking a movie ticket, and I’m through to baggage pick-up. The only additional measure is that, in Jordan, bags are also screened on the way out of the airport. I can’t believe I doubted that I could get back in. Now I can cancel that flight before it even turns up on my credit card bill.

My friend Akram met me at the airport. I’m staying with him and his wife, Bianca. She recently arrived from the US and they’ve just moved into a new apartment. I saved the Pepperidge Farm cookies for her ‘cause I know what it’s like to start craving non-ME food after a few months over here. So, I’m just tickled to be back.

Wait...check this out. This is cool:

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I'm the type of geek who gets a kick out of closing my eyes and randomly picking a word out of the dictionary then seeing if I know the definition or can otherwise correctly make an educated guess (i.e.; I get off on checking how smart I am).

SO, on this site you can be quizzed on vocab, grammar, italian, math, geography, art, etc. When you get stuff right, rice is donated to hungry folk. Pretty cool. I'm diggin the vocab and the Italian at the moment.

Posted by jenofear 21:57 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Pilgrimage to Subway

Surviving Ramadan

I really had no intention of doing the Ramadan thing - but whether one chooses to fast or not, it is impossible to avoid being affected.

Setting the scene:
It's 95 degrees downtown. The traffic is gridlocked. Almost none of the taxis (or other vehicles) have AC. And - Ramadan - drinking water (or anything else) is not permitted for muslims. ALSO 90% of the men here smoke...but they can't light up all day. And, of course, no food (which is actually a blessing because people then have less energy to instigate fights). So, the result is that people are cranky and edgy but in a slow-motion kind of way.

I... as an, um, 'Christian' am free to eat and drink without being struck down by God or even judged by the locals. In fact, the family I'm staying with has invited me to go ahead. But I can't eat in front of them. It feels so rude. Their 9 year old boy spends each afternoon after school just lying on the floor. I'm gonna eat in front of him? But it's illegal to eat or drink in public.

So, what are my options?

1. Stay at home and lay around. Anyone who isn't working is doing this.
2. Go out and run around in 95 degree weather with not a single place to sneak shots of water.
3. Hail a cab and go out to SUBWAY.

The round trip ride costs me about 5JD - which more than doubles the price of my sandwich. I like the 6" tuna on oregano bread. I feel subversive as I order, always checking behind me. I get nervous if too many people walk by. Then I fill my drink (trying to mask the refreshing sound of ice pouring into the cup - the employees are also fasting) and slip upstairs.

See, the problem isn't getting food. In fact, there is an obscene amount of food taunting you all along the way in downtown. You can buy it. You just can't consume it. However, Subway has this sly upstairs dining area they've kept open...so far. Last year they were raided and apparently the muslims that were caught in the place got in some trouble (totally unverified information but I'm not a news organization).

I've eaten there at least five times this week. Walla.

Posted by jenofear 05:14 Comments (1)

Amman Oases

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So - in the summer, Amman can be an in-your-face city....in the opinion of this suburban girl (ya know, actually I'm really more of a small town girl - Fairfax, c'mon). Some places here, like downtown, I can barely handle in the daytime at all (ask poor Akram - dude, I am SO sorry). HOWEVER, there are some excellent places to chill here, with my favorite drink of all time - lemonade with fresh mint (how did I never think of this?).

Here....this is Wild Jordan Cafe. It's part of the RCSN (Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature) - http://www.rscn.org.jo/
It doesn't have the warmth of wood, but it has great views, ORGANIC SALADS, live music, and - most inspired - a libraryish place where you can chill without having to buy something. Oh yes....brunch.
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This is a quiet street on Jebel Amman - the embassy and, therefore, expat district. This whole area is entirely pleasant and live-able. This pic was taken on a Friday afternoon when everyone was in the mosque (just hazarding a guess, here).
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Books@cafe. Cosy (woody) English language bookstore. Front patio with views and a bar, large back patio with big shady trees, a bar, a giant screen tv, live music. Inside, some internet access and another bar. Apparently this cafe is the 'gay hangout'. I've never noticed anything, uh, Gay, there. But since I've done the Folsom Street Fair, my meter is probably shot.

Oh, they also have brunch.
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Farah hotel in downtown. This place is the suprise, cause in downtown, you just don't expect any peace. It's a cute backpacker-style hotel.
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Souk Jara crafts market - held Fridays
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Pizza! Quite good pizza too. No pepperoni - these folks have a little thing about eating pork...
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This place is here to promote the local handicrafts. It's also part of the RSCN Jordan_Center_1.jpg
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Posted by jenofear 11:27 Archived in Jordan Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Firsts

Summary of a hectic month

So, I've been busy up to HERE. Following is an explanation of some of what I've been up to when I'm not in school.

First Arab wedding:
Haya invited me to her cousin's engagement party and also to her brother's wedding. She helped me buy clothes. I now own gold glitter sandals.

For the engagement party, Haya had said I could dress in my regular clothes. However, while we were getting ready at her house, her mother kept looking at me uncomfortably and asked if I was going to do something with my hair. I wound up wearing one of Haya's sister's dresses, hand made by their mother. She makes amazing traditional wedding clothes which can best be described as 'fairytale princess dresses'.

Haya and I before the engagement party:
Haya_n_me_wedding.jpg

At both the engagement party, which is strictly women, and the wedding, which was all women except for the groom, the outfits ran the gamut. Anything from tight jeans with a blouse to the aforementioned fairytale dresses to a boudoir milkmaid outfit and 80s flashdance stuff. Once inside, many of the women who cover, uncover. Some can't be bothered and maintain the hijab. Others don't cover anyway.

At the wedding, the bride and groom came in together, stood and exchanged rings, and then danced together. Following this, the music pumped up and everyone was dancing. It was like a women-only disco for the next coupla hours. I was up there. Can't not dance to the ME beat. It's tough, though. ALL the women can belly dance. All of 'em, 8 to 80. It's just how they dance. And the groom is up there, able to see for the first time since he was too young to care, what women have going on.

At some point, they paused for cake and for the delivery of gold jewelry to the bride from the groom's mother. Toward the end, the women covered and the men came in and did a traditional wedding dance (which I recognized because, for some reason, they have videos of this on tv all the time).

First time driving in an Arab country:
We had a girl, Ida, staying with us at our apartment. She's a couchsurfer (see my links) and she had just been travelling solo through much of Africa (hmmmm....). She's a writer and is working on a documentary, gathering personal truths from people all over the world (utruthproject.org).

I inadvertently convinced her to visit Wadi Rum...my contagious enthusiasm apparently. Of course, she thought it would be great if I went with her and I wasn't difficult to convince. Due to the funky logistics of getting to Rum village, we decided that renting a car would be most efficient.

Fools.

We went to the rental agency which is in the heart of Amman. Once they showed me the car, we did the usual 'looking over the car for dings' thing. I lost track but I was pretty sure that they were all covered on the little diagram, which already looked like a cross-hatch drawing. Then the guy told me that the first thing we needed to do was fill the tank because it was empty. He kinda described a place up the road where we could go. He also gave Ida, my navigator, directions to the city edge. Threre is apparently no good map of Amman (I've been trying to find one since I got here). Amman is a city of 3 million people built on 12 hills. Unlike San Francisco, where the roads are still generally on a grid, Amman's roads look more like Christmas ribbon. It took us over an hour to get out of the city. To my credit, I didn't hit anyone and really only got honked at two times (which I think is actually below the average). Once out of the city, the desert is a straight shot south.

Next time I'm taking the bus.

First time teaching:
So, I got a job teaching English technical writing. Previously, I've been known to have a strong fear of public speaking (some of you have seen this in action). So, there I was, auditing one of the classes at the language center to see how they do things when the director told me she had a class she needed me to take - in two days. It's a five week course, she said, with classes lasting THREE hours. Unfortunately, this particular course had no cirriculum and no teacher's guide. Two days later I'm up in front of fourteen people trying to muddle my way through, hoping they don't smell blood. I actually had no clue about what I was teaching because we started with formal business letter format. Did you know that if you begin a letter 'Dear Sir', it is to be signed 'Yours Faithfully'? Not only did I not know this. I can't even care. So when someone in the class asked if they could sign 'With Regards', I said that it was up to them. Holy Cow.

By the second class, we'd changed to a two-hour format and I had moved on to email correspondence. Also, we're focusing more on grammar...which I'm pretty good at (for an American). So things have mellowed out. It's even kind of fun. Now it's just a matter of picking a pace that works. Proper pacing - the bane of teachers throughout the world!

Posted by jenofear 04:04 Archived in Jordan Comments (2)

Summer Language Program

...or when the regular teachers go on vacation

The Good

[*]Registration was super-easy. The form asked for my name, local phone number, and why I want to study Arabic. I attached a couple of passport-type photos (worst photos ever) along with a photocopy of my passport and gave it to the Language Center. Then I went to the registration office to hand in my 500JD. Then I opened a Cairo-Amman bank account with $20 (still not sure what that was about). I'm in. This was two days before classes stared.

[*]Jordan University is covered in trees. This is particularly nice 'cause summer in the Middle East is kinda hot. It's not really THAT much worse than, say, Sacramento. The difference is that there is almost no AC anywhere.

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[*]The cafeteria: The tables have tablecloths. The food is excellent and very cheap. I can get a half roasted chicken and rice with yogurt and bottled water for 1.20 JD. Students ALL bus their own trays.

[*]Our teachers are EXCELLENT

The Bad

[*]Maybe the first teachers we had weren't so excellent.

[*]My walk to school is 10 minutes along a busy, crazy, noisy, filthy, four (or maybe six - hard to tell) lane road with taxis, service taxis, local busses, and big busses pulling in and out along the whole way. Anyone who knows me knows that I shouldn't be anywhere near three-ton hurling masses of metal within two hours of waking up.
I must note though, that drivers in Jordan are leagues more sane and courteous than, say, Syria. But. DANG.

By the way, the writing on the McDonald's sign says 'Macdownaldz', phonetically speaking:
Walk_to_school.jpg

The Funny

[*]I can find my way to the lanuage program director's office with my eyes closed.

The first teacher we had began class by putting up random words on the board - at least we think they were words as no one had yet covered the arabic alphabet with us. Many of the students were yelling at him to cover the basics - this was moot because he spoke no English. Another guy came in - some administrative dude. He spoke English and, I think to pacify the mob, began teaching the class. The other guy just walked out. It took about five minutes to realize we had just taken a big step down in teaching quality. After class, a delegation went to the director's office to 'give feedback'.

The next day, the first teacher was organized and teaching close to our level. But the second teacher came in and it turned out to be the same overwhelmingly horrible guy that we had the day before.

I was part of the second delegation.

The director agreed to let us keep the first teacher for both classes each day. We were satisfied.

The NEXT day, we indeed had the same decent teacher. But apparently he could only maintain a sense of organization for that one initial class period. Over a period of one week, all the students (exept one) slipped out of his class and into the other Level One class being taught by two women. My defection was rather difficult because he tried to stop me and kept redirecting me back to the his room. Then he stood in the doorway of the other room so I couldn't get in and proceeded to get into a long discussion with the teacher of the other section (who at this point had already started class). I waited outside for my sentence. Eventually, I was allowed to pass into the room.

THEN, the....what is he, exactly....department logistics type guy came in and said we had to go back to the other guy's room; that there were too many people in one class. Many of us spoke up and said that we would get our money back before we'd go back to class with that guy. He said we needed to talk to the director.

Delegation #3. We couldn't get in to his office. We talked between two different go-betweens. Eventually we were sent the message to go to the class we had chosen and they would talk to us later.

Now - We're still in the excellent class. Insha'allah we will stay there.

Posted by jenofear 05:53 Archived in Jordan Comments (1)

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