29 September 2006

Another Week in Jordan

Two weeks of school down, 14 more to go… We are nearly through one week of Ramadan, and as it heated up again here this week, energy was sapped. Yesterday in hour 3 of our class our teacher decided to introduce asking questions in the past tense to a room full of hot and hungry people. There was nearly a mutiny. She went over asking questions, and then asked if we understood. No one moved, except me. I shook my head “no”. She repeated herself, and then said, “Ok, do it now,” while she snapped her fingers at me. “Yella Yella!” I sat there. She said, “You don’t know how? Tell me what you want to ask in the past tense, and we will go through it.” I said, “I want to know how to ask my roommate why she didn’t kill me in my sleep yesterday.” At least everyone laughed, but in the end the teacher took us through asking “Did you study Arabic yesterday?” Boring!

I shared a taxi downtown with a Dutch guy, English gal, and an Australian gal. We spent the ride discussing the terrible state of British food, and the terrible state of the American political consciousness. The English gal said, “Americans, they don’t know where anything is on a map, and they eat all the time.” The taxi driver was trying not to laugh. We unanimously agreed that the Australians are hard to pick on compared to the Dutch, English and Americans.

After school this taxi took me down to the NGO where I’m volunteering and we talked about choosing a project to work on. One Danish woman argued with everything everyone said. She’s adamantly anti-American, but she’s pissed at the wrong person with me. I reminded her how rad those cartoons were this year. Thankfully this woman is leaving soon. It is very interesting to be privy at a group conversation in which people discuss what an NGO can do in Jordan to be of service. I could not help but think that they really need an anthropologist to make their projects more applicable, if not more beneficial to the communities they target. I have been around anthropologists so much that I forget what an utter lack of cultural competence can mean in a situation like this. This NGO actually has funding, but they have strange ways of using it. One suggestion was to look at organized labor in Jordan, such as it exists, and generate pamphlets to distribute to workers. These pamphlets would have a 10-point sketch of their rights. This is absurd to me! I can’t imagine that workers don’t assert their “rights” because they don’t know about them! The Australian Embassy put out a call for proposals for 65,000 dollar grants (!). They also distributed a list of projects they funded last year, and all seemed to me to be classic applied anthropology projects. Some examples include the establishment of a community radio station in south-east Asia that will be used to distribute information about health care services, etc. It would be run and maintained by locals. Another project established, trained, and funded a women’s resource center in India. All the projects create jobs, use local knowledge, and contribute to local knowledge. None of the project were based on ignoring, or eradicating local knowledge. None of the projects seemed to begin with the argument that the population was unaware, and would be suddenly empowered by the introduction of knowledge as facile as a 10-point pamphlet. What do I know, I’m American. We divvied up tasks. The proposal is due to the Australians in less than one month, so I’m nervous about getting this together. The fellow in charge, who seems genuinely happy to have me there, asked me to take the call for proposals and go over it so I can make suggestions about where to start, and how to target our project. My impression is that every person there, even the brilliant Danish girl, really cares about human rights, and wants to make a positive contribution, but they don’t have a back ground that lends itself to developing applied research projects, and in the end are reduced to pamphleting, and generating reports that few read. This is really ideal for states and corporations that wish to continue exploiting people. I don’t mean to imply that I’m what they’ve been looking for, and that I have the expertise they need necessarily. What I mean to imply is that these groups, I think, could really be more effective if they had more anthropologists there to balance out the folks with degrees in Justice. But, this is what I’m here to learn. I suspected this stuff happens, and I’m so excited to see this from the inside.

It’s the weekend! Today I need to write to the mother of a student who was killed in a car crash two weeks ago. I’ve been putting this off. I need to sit down and do this. I need to read the call for proposals from the Australians, and I need to learn about 86,000 vocabulary words. Oh, that reminds me. I decided that flash cards would be helpful for me. I went down to the University Bookstore to find 3 by 5 cards, and they didn’t have them. A day or two after this I saw M, and he had 3 by 5 cards. I told him I’d been looking for those, and asked him where he found them. He said he got them at the very bookstore I’d been at. Apparently, they are secreted away behind the counter and I need to go and ask for them. It’s like a Speakeasy, but for flash cards! Welcome to Jordan!

“I” and L moved into the apartment next door to us, and “I” bought a hubble-bubble two days ago. I went over there last night after we had Iftar and we smoked. “I” went down to Lebnani Snack and picked up three juices for us. They have these wonderful fresh juices that are so good after a day of fasting. We sat in their apartment and watched the Arab telenovelas. I don’t know what soap operas are called here, but I can say for sure that they are the same everywhere. There is actually a soap opera about the Bedouin! Ahhh, I hear the propane truck driving around playing ice-cream man music.

28 September 2006

More on Confidence

How can people be so tied to their faith, while enduring dreadfully, woefully harsh conditions of existence?

"Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo." -Marx

25 September 2006

Battle for the Kitchen

Today I attacked the Insect Lord to re-take the kitchen in the name of all that is Right and Just. Bugs and microbes fell by the score, a real massacre! At the end of the day, the field was mine! Here’s the result:

I also gathered firewood for the impending winter.

24 September 2006

Giving blood and eating in Jordan

I'm not down, but I'm worried about this sign.

Today V and I went to the hospital to have our blood tests done for our visa paperwork. We will go back in three days to pick up more paperwork from the hospital, and then we will likely take it to an entirely new office to get additional stamps for no apparent reason. Today is the first day of Ramadan in Jordan. We wanted to go early before people were too hungry. We arrived at about 9:15. The only time this could be done was during school, so here it is only the second week and we’re already missing school! As we were standing in line a man tried to go ahead of a woman who was there first. She edged in ahead of him, and they began to argue in English. He said that there were two lines, one for women and one for men, and it was his turn since a man was supposed to go next. She told him to go fuck himself. I started laughing, and he seemed more enraged. But, she took her turn! Then, up several flights of stairs to a room where women were having their blood work done. Since no one gets in line in Jordan, I just walked up and was immediately taken. I feel guilty for this sort of stuff, but I’ve waited for coffee after people who arrived after I did, so I suppose it all works out. I greeted the lady in my best Arabic (which sucks nonetheless), and I was done in no time. V was next. She told the lady that she didn’t want to do this. The woman told her to stop being scared, and jabbed the crap out of her. Then, we went to school to the International Student Office with our Ithbat Talibs, and gave those to a nice lady who will generate more forms for us to cart around Amman this week. I have no connections in Jordan; there is no Wasta for Frances. But I have seen over and over that being polite and patient with people generally does not go unrewarded. A SNAFU with V’s paperwork was fixed this morning. One must smile a lot here, and be nice, or one is hosed. All this done, we went to class in time to chat with M at the break, and then catch the second lesson.
Amman is beautiful right now. People have put up decorations and green crescent-shaped lights on their balconies. The heat is finally dissipating, and the evenings are really beautiful. Yesterday “I” and L took me all around Amman. We had breakfast in the downtown souk at this wonderful restaurant. L and I were the only westerners there. The three of us split hummus, foul, and 10 falafels, and tea of course. A guy walks around the restaurant, which is mostly outside, with a big salad bowl containing falafels. As he passed, we asked for 10, and he reached his hand inside the bowl, and counted them as he plopped them on the table! I can’t believe I haven’t died of food poisoning! The food is so damn good. Damn, I’m hungry. Later, we had dinner and two of our three tea glasses had food on them (and, it wasn’t our food). “I” said if we wanted clean dishes we needed to spend more money on our grub. I suppose that’s right, but then where’s the charm? I love a restaurant where the waiter smokes while he takes my order! We went on an eating tour of Amman yesterday. “I” said that we needed to eat all day because it was the day before fasting would begin, and because the temperature was perfect, and we needed to celebrate. After our 80th or so meal, we walked further into the Souk and “I” took us to a place down an alley where they serve this amazing desert. I didn’t catch the name, but it was cheese covered in what I think is wheat, and topped with ground pistachios. It’s served warm, and with honey. No wonder everyone here is diabetic. We sat on the dirty curb of this alley and chowed down with all these older men. It was so good! Then we continued our alley tour and had amazing tea at a little shop where the men could not stop staring at L and me. We looked at gold again, and “I” took me to a place downtown where there are Umayyad ruins. I don’t know how I missed these on previous Jordan trips. It’s smack in the middle of downtown, and I apparently have walked around it a million times. It was neat. V was home sick (and homesick), and L got sick when we returned home. So, “I” and myself went down to the souk right by where we live, and I purchased a toaster. Now, I don’t have to go downstairs in the morning and talk to any of the douche bags who also live here. Must do homework. Then food.

Domesticity: The Saga Continues

Today I installed a ceiling lamp in the downstairs hallway. It sounds like a simple task, I know, but the Swiss engineering presenting numerous challenges and obstacles. Nothing fit and parts were missing, etc. I wish I hadn’t thrown away those 57 what-does-this-go-to that I found yesterday. Oh, well. I made it work anyway, and the15 minute job only took two hours. Be glad I’m not your electrician. Someone gave us this lamp as a wedding gift almost six years ago, and now It's finally installed. Here are the results:

23 September 2006

Adventures in Domesticity

Yesterday, I evicted death from the refrigerator. He moved in shortly after Frances left for Jordan, Stinking Corpse. Today’s chore was much less stinky, thankfully, but a big project, nonetheless – organize the junk room. I didn’t take any “before” pictures, but think Hurricane Katrina and you’ll have a rough idea. In the process of cleaning, I found:

Item: Number Found

Why-did-we-keep-this: 112
What-does-this-go-to: 57
Oh-that’s-where-that-was: 14
That’s-really-gross: 2

Here’s the “after” pictures: An efficiently packed closet.

No books on the floor. You can actually walk around Frances' loom.

And there are books on the shelf, imagine that.

21 September 2006

Stamps, Dresses, Tea

I have finished my first week of classes! T.A.I.T. (Thank Allah it’s Thursday). Today we had half a day of pronunciation, and then we went into the lab. It was quite helpful. Our teacher said several words from our book, and they were recorded at our individual stations. Then, we spent the time we needed listening to each word, writing it down, and then we could check in our books to see if we spelled it (and heard it) correctly. I found this sooo helpful. It gradually beat into my brain what words mean, how they are spelled, etc.

We had attempted this week to complete the visa process. Both V and I wanted to have this completed before the onset of Ramadan. No luck. We had a setback a few days ago, and it was rectified yesterday. We needed to get a paper called an Ithbat Talib. Ithbat is the Arabic word for “paper with many stamps,” and Talib means student. Ithbat actually means Proof. Our registration paperwork and receipts are not sufficient “proof” of our student status. We had to visit three different buildings and 8 different bureaucrats to get this mysterious paper. We finally did. We now need to have our blood tests done, and this can only be done Sunday through Thursday from 8 to 1, so we will be quite late for class on Sunday. Then we will submit all of this and wait indefinitely. Wish us luck.

In the mean time, L and “I” took us both downtown last night. It was really good to get out for an evening. We got back at almost 10 last night, and for the first time since I arrived I was not already awake when the first C to P sounded. My alarm actually woke me up for the first time this morning. We took a taxi and were let off in the row of travel agents. We walked down further into the souk, and found a dress shop. We went in, and all three of the ladies got dresses. “I” was so funny, he haggled with the guy forever over price. At one point, he told the store owner that we three are his wives, and so he needed a break! I got my dress for 17 JD, and (to my surprise) it did have a price on it. It was 29. Both are more than reasonable. We walked around, and I’m sad to say that we were the ONLY Westerners I saw. Business must be really bad. Merchants were practically begging us to buy stuff. Happy with our dresses, we walked around, and looked at the gold, clothing, fabric, and sweets. Ummmm, sweets. Oh, ya, then we ate at a wonderful restaurant on one of the 8 thousand streets we traveled. They brought me hummus, eggplant, and a wonderful salad of tomatoes, cucumber, and mint. Yum. We had tea, of course, to finish the meal. V is German, but she has lived in England for many years now, so she’s a tea drinker. But, she’s a drinker of English tea. We discussed the importance of learning to embrace Arab tea min nana. Just swap the milk for mint, and you’re fine. We discussed Foucault. We discussed Jordan. It was really a wonderful evening. L and “I” are both graduate students, and L has a similar grad-school horror story to me. Her and I have bonded over this. The 4 of us may very well go to Cairo at the end of Ramadan when there is a one-week holiday.

Right now it is finally beautiful here. This morning it was downright chilly as we walked to school. There are clouds in the sky, and we didn’t open the windows in class this morning because it was too cold. It’s very much like California that way I suppose. One day it’s over 100 degrees, and the next day a scarf is necessary. I get to sleep in for two days. All is good.

20 September 2006

Who put the Con in Confidence?

"This is, while in general efficacious to happiness, the world's law may yet, in some cases, have, to the eye of reason, an unequal operation, just as, in the same imperfect view, some inequalities appear in the opperation of heaven's law; nevertheless, to one who has the right confidence, final benignity is, in every instance, as sure with the one law as with the other." -Melville

While stuffing my benedict hole with the "Milano's Special" at a local pizza parlor, what should come to my imperfect vision but the Trinity Broadcast Network. They have a statue of Jesus on a white horse in front of the neoclassical building that is their headquarters in Texas, if I recall correctly. That will be significant to some, but beside the point of the "Message." An old, white dude on TBN had the following pitch. Jesus one day on his way to Jerusalem stopped at a fig tree, because he was hungry. Seeing that the tree bore no fruit, he cursed it, "you shall never bare fruit again." The tree shriveled up and died. You see, the fig tree is a symbol for us (present company excluded, of course) believers. Elsewhere in the bible, "the branches that do not bear fruit will be gathered and cast into the fire." Clearly, this means "hell," or at least old, white dude said so. TBN bears fruit, ergo, if you donate money to TBN, you will by extension bear fruit and avoid hells eternal fires! To buy this argument requires, well in a word, confidence. Let me here place my vote of "no confidence" and keep my cash, thank you very much.

No Barking
As for other total non sequiturs, arabic does not have the English letter "P" in the alphabet. The closest sound is the "B." Consequently, the "P" and "B" are frequently confused in transliteration. The coolest sign in downtown Amman reads, "No Barking."

19 September 2006


"in the pulpit it has been with much cogency urged, that a merely good man, that is, one good by his nature, is so far from there by being righteous, that nothing short of a total change and conversion can make him so; which is something which no honest mind, well read in the history of righteousness, will care to deny."

18 September 2006

Strange Nouns

Today I learned the Arabic word for the moon's nose. Just kidding. I got my book today, and I'm not sure the pictures help. The class is good. Our teacher is halling-a** through the alphabet, and most are in a panic.
I talked with M today, my friend for CA, and he said that I have a good deal rent-wise here. I trust his opinion.
Must eat lunch now.

17 September 2006

First Day of School

This morning V and I walked over to school. We made it to the steps of the building, and sat down to have some water. I was sitting there trying to recover from the walk in the heat, when my friend from the U in CA walked up. It was so good to see a familiar face! He brought his niece with him. He had coffee in hand, and looked sleepy. He just arrived in Jordan two days ago. He had to go in and see the Big Man, so I didn’t want to keep him. Actually, I never saw him again today, but I know he’s here.

The Level I classes were split, but not by those who know the letters and those who don’t (as would make sense) but quite by random. So, today I sat there while the teacher showed the class three letters. That’s ok. I should ease into school. Since I really hate school, this is a good way to begin. I can just get used to sitting in a classroom again, and get over how silly most of the students are. I do like the structure of the class. We have two hours of speaking with one instructor, and then two hours of writing and reading with another instructor. Both are very nice ladies. The first from Jordan and the second from Egypt. Many of the people in my class are American and are here for one semester with some sort of study abroad program. They are all 19, or there abouts, and they all act that way. It’s not their fault. I am officially 1) old, and 2) tired of being around 18-19 year-olds. They talk silly and are dressed really inappropriately for a Muslim country. The second teacher very diplomatically told them this, but they didn’t get it, I reckon. There are two Arabs here born and raised in the States who are really pissed off to be here. Both were sent quite against their will to live here this summer, and through January. Both, coincidently, were given a car and an apartment in a nice neighborhood, and both want to leave NOW. As we introduced ourselves, the fellow in front of me made it clear to the teacher that he doesn’t want to be here.
He turned to me and told me that he, “misses high school, and does not want to grow up.”
I said, “oh, you want to major in business when you begin University back in Arizona?”
“Yes! How did you know?!?”
I said, “R, I just saw your next 5 years flash before my eyes, and it ain’t pretty!” He turned away quite confused.
I came here to get away from these hoople heads. Again, this is not their fault, it is my problem. I’m just going to have to kill them and stash their bodies in the eastern desert. All in all, though, I enjoyed class. It’s funny, we were there for 4 hours of instruction. Everyone was exhausted. V said to me as we left that this was too much time, and asked if I was tired. I realized that I am definitely a graduate student. I don’t really feel anymore. I could sit in that room attentive for 10 hours, and then write a 15 page paper to hand in tomorrow. I forgot how much I’ve learned to stand in terms of having instruction crammed into my head.

Tomorrow V and I are going to sign up for a Jordanian language partner, and begin the long process of obtaining our Visas here. We learned today in class that we get a one week holiday at the end of Ramadan, and we’re talking about going to Egypt (if our visa paper work is in order by then). Our Egyptian teacher said we should go to Cairo during Ramadan because it’s really beautiful and festive there. She also said that the festive-part of Ramadan is a bad thing since people are supposed to concentrate on the suffering of the poor in particular, so to party down at night sort of defeats the purpose of abstaining all day. She talked at length about Islam, and the teachings. It strikes me as strange that a professor can talk so openly about religion in a classroom. I guess that’s not a big deal here. Tomorrow we can buy our books as well. I went to the University bookstore after V and I had our now-daily iced coffee from Star Doughnuts. Ummmmm. Oh ya, the bookstore. I got a notebook that has the cover text and design on the wrong side! Ha! It’s a 5 subject note book, but it says this in Arabic. The Arabic numeral for 5 is “0” so this strikes me as amusing that to me it says it’s a zero subject notebook.

After 4 days, “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” finally downloaded to iTunes, so I’m now going to watch a movie.

15 September 2006

Salt, Jordan

Salt Group
Originally uploaded by frances.goodman.
Sit down, this might take a while.

A few days ago I went to take my placement test. It was not worth walking over to JU and getting all sweaty. I told the lady there how little I know, but she said I’d be fine. I was handed an exam that was a three page essay about which we were to answer questions. Did I mention it was all in Arabic?!? I handed it in on the spot, and walked home. The next day we returned for orientation. The most important part about this was that we were told about what to do to get our one-year visas. It’s going to be a lot like V getting her stuff from Cargo, plus an HIV test. Keep fingers crossed. Classes begin on Sunday.

After orientation a wonderful couple living in the same building as us very kindly offered to take us grocery shopping. I also wanted to purchase a mobile phone, and since one of the couple broke her phone that day I invited myself along for that errand as well. We drove to the Souk al-Sultan (how decedent, it’s not that far, it’s just straight up hill one way). “I” went into the phone store with me and helped me get a phone. He is from Jordan, but has U.S. citizenship. He and his wife L live in up-state NY where they can’t wait to finish their PhD and get the heck out! I got a MobleCom phone and a 5JD phone card. “I” said I can chat for a couple of hours with this card. Very cool. Instead of purchasing a plan, it’s pay-as-you-go. I can continue to purchase phone cards, or not. The keys have English numbers, but Arabic letters (for IMing). Very cool. Then we went to the bakery. Both V and I wanted some good bread. This bakery has mostly bread, but there were some yummy sweets there too. They have sliced bread that is already toasted for sale! How cool is that? I got a wonderful loaf of something that is grainy and wheat-y, and really good. There were no prices, but I handed the guy a 1 JD note and he gave me more than half back in change. Well under a dollar for delicious home made wheat bread. Then we walked down the street and ate at a really good Syrian place. “I” asked me what they have, and I had to say, “I have no idea. They put 5 or 8 bowls of yummy food, fresh vegetables and fresh bread in front of you, when you’re done they bring tea, and when that is finished they bring a bill for well under 5 JD.” It was better than I remembered. My companions were just as enthusiastic, and I was glad. I hate taking people to a restaurant that they think sucks. I asked "I" to write down for me the name of my favorite dish there: فتة حمس. (Fatha Hommus)

Today we went with the Friends of Archaeology group to Salt (click on the "Salt Group" link for the slide show!), this is a town that is a bit north west of Amman. We drove there in under 20 minutes, but only because it’s Friday, I’m told. This group is primarily organized by a local dentist and archaeology-enthusiasts. It’s really cool because he was interviewed in a recent book called Jordan: Living in the Crossfire. He’s famous like a rock star! We went to the Salt Municipal building and heard a detailed talk about Salt’s ambitious plan to become a World Heritage sight. They applied in 1999, but were declined. Since then they have secured funding from the World Bank, and other neo-liberal groups to either restore decaying buildings, or to raze existing modern building and replace them with new buildings that are built in the appropriate style. We walked and walked, and then we walked more. We saw many of the historic buildings fixed up, and many more that are in line (potentially) for restoration. We headed down to the souk, and it was time for prayers. “I” decided to make sure none in the group walked in front of those who were praying. It was really nice of him. We were taken up (I mean UP) the hill for a lunch at this amazing garden with an equally amazing view. We were served mansif. The goats head was in the pile of rice. I ate rice, and tried to fish around for as many pine nuts and almonds as possible. It was a bit goaty for me. At one point V said she was freaked out by people eating with their hands. You are supposed to stick your finger into the rice, and scoop up a golf-ball size amount of rice and meat, then toss it into your mouth. This seemed cleaner to me that double dipping with a spoon. Mansif devoured, we headed for the Salt high school. Though it’s historical architecture, there is something about schools that always make them look like schools! Then we went to two different Islamic shrines. At both men talked with us about the Prophet (PBUH), and about the Koran. At one point a man in the crowd began to yell over the speaker that this was all bunk, and Mohammad was just a sham. I could not believe myself. The man is Arab, he was speaking Arabic, he wasn’t a Cracker. He was promptly tossed out. I was really stunned to hear this.
On the way back up in the bus I was in someone shouted “Star Academy,” and one of the young women on the bus stood up and sang for us on the way back. It was wonderful!
Here in Amman it’s Friday night. This means that everyone who was not married this morning is now. I can hear horns, and fire crackers, and music. It’s a beautiful time of night, and the temperature is perfect.

13 September 2006

Meanwhile, Back in America...

The Fall quarter is about to start, and I'm TAing for a freshman only program called CHASS (College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science) Connect. The program is designed to curb the astoundingly high freshman dropout rate by giving them extra resources, survival skills, and a peer safety net. Before they even start college, they are required to read "The Gangster We Are All Looking For" by Le Thi Diem Thuy over the summer. The book is a quasi-coming-of-age novel dealing with the Vietnamese immigrant experience, war, mental illness, and accepting the death of a family member. Most of the novel takes place in San Diego in the 1980s. Since we will be discussing the book at the CHASS Connect welcome week, I got pictures of the places referenced in the book for the benefit of students not from SD.
This is probably the "red apartment" on 49th and Orange. Note the jacaranda tree in bloom referenced on page 102. The Church of Jehovah's Witnesses "Kingdom Hall" is behind the photographer.

"On the other side of his building was a church of Jehovah's Witnesses. It was covered in beige stucco and, with its two small watchtowers, looked like a miniature castle on a cake" (p.42). Though this church lacks the two towers (artistic license?), it is probably the one referenced in the novel.

The old Navy Housing in Linda Vista built in the 1940s. "Linda Vista is filled with houses like ours, painted in peeling shades of olive green, baby blue, and sun-baked yellow" (p. 88).

The Vietnamese restaurant on El Cajon Boulevard. "After the movies [the Chinese movie theater no longer exists], we'd walk across the street to the Vietnamese restaurant with the big smiling plastic cow's head on its roof. The restaurant's specialty was beef noodle soup" (p. 47).

The Great Wall of China. "How about the Great Wall of China that snakes like a river from the top of the steep hill off Crandall Drive to the slightly curving bottom? Who has seen this?" (p. 90). It easy to understand why children would call this the Great Wall of China; it extends over four blocks.

The subject of missing loved ones overseas seems particularly poignant right now, but I found this qoute comforting, "sometimes you don't need to see or touch people to know they're there" (p. 94).

12 September 2006

School, Apartment

Much was accomplished today. We went to JU to register and pay our fees. First, we headed to the student advisor to pick up many forms. Then, we had to go to the Arab Bank of Cairo and given them 20 US dollars. Then, we went to the Financial Office to give them much more money in JD. Of course we were lost much of the time, but the students at JU are very kind and helpful. We would still be wandering if not for them. When we finally found the Financial Office, I got in the wrong line. I waited a long time to be told this. Finally, we found the correct window, and the fellow there took our money. Back to the advisor’s office. He issued us student ID cards, and gave us receipts for our paperwork.
Then we headed back to where we are staying, and decided to make that permanent. This turned out well since they have actual apartments here. We have a two bedroom with a living room and kitchen. I’m happy to be on the east side of the building since it’s cooler, though nosier. The room I was in was quiet, but had a view of an apartment, and a street light which made it bright in that room all night. Now, I have a wonderful view of the neighborhood, and it’s not as bright. The breeze is coming through my room as I type, and it’s quite comfortable. This is the Summer Jordan I remember! The best part is that someone else will clean my room every week!
I haven’t been sleeping well yet, and I thought last night I finally would. We had an amazing wind storm here that rattled everything that moves. Most of the night it sounded as though someone was trying to open my door because it was rattling around so much. Tonight I hope to sleep because I take my placement exam on Wednesday morning. Then, orientation on Thursday.

Jordan University:

The Language Center:

It's official. If I'd known that picture was going to be my ID, I would have demanded another.



Room with a view:

11 September 2006


Today I went with Verina to the airport to pick her stuff up from customs. It was amazing. She learned her fist word in Arabic: Shaheen. It means “cargo”.

We headed down to the airport with a driver she hired to take us. Upon arriving at the airport, we were told that the road which goes directly to the warehouse was closed. This was despite the fact that the guard who insisted this continuously allowed ALL the other traffic through while we sat there, our driver arguing with him. Alas, we were told that we needed to travel on an alternate route, which would take us about 15 kilometers out of the way. The guard had asked where we are from, and the driver told him that we’re both American. As we drove away, Verina told him that she’s German, and he said, “It’s OK, American, German, it’s all the same here.” We drove down the road to the airport and walked up to some offices where many men smoked and stamped things. While we were waiting, a door opened, and a cigarette butt was tossed out. The door closed again. The smoker we were talking to would not stamp Verina’s papers. We left, and attempted to find the alternate route. Apparently, driving onto the airport is serous business here. We stopped at a gate and we gave the smoker there our passports, and drivers licenses. There was much argument about how to spell Verina’s name in the book of stamped things, and eventually they settled on spelling it “Ferena” instead of borrowing the “V” from Persian. I guess. We were issued illegible plastic cards, and we continued on. We came to another check point, and the smoker there looked all through the SUV we were in, and in our bags. We eventually continued to a series of buildings, one of which said CARGO on it.

We went into an office in this building, and met a man who explained to Verina that an individual cannot simply show up and claim her things, that she needed an intermediary, and he said that the nice man who appeared out of thin air would be her representative for 50 JD. Fifty! She told him that she’d already paid for her things, and would not pay any more. He kept saying that there was no other way, but she raised her voice and demanded her things. We continued on while 50 JD-guy kept following us from window to window trying to get ahead of her and explain things. We went to about a dozen different offices and windows and people asked us the same questions, and kept stamping her paper work, and writing little notes on it. We finally ended up heading down into a warehouse, where we passed through a metal detector unbothered. We waited and waited. And waited. Many different people approached us and told us to move, and then said that for 5 JD they could track her stuff down quickly. It just went on and on. It was so hot in there, and everyone was smoking. Boxes were being opened, and the contents disbursed to people. At one point I realized that where I was standing must represent the U.S. government’s worst nightmare: hundreds of Arabs, each with his own box cutter. One box of blue jeans caused great shouting, and then the guys there descended on it, and each walked away with a pair of jeans. Another box had about a zillion copies of the TV show “24” DVDs. Those were also handed out. Hummmm. Her boxes appeared after the driver yelled at 80 different people. They needed to be opened. The presence of books sent everyone into a yelling frenzy. Evidently, one cannot bring book to Jordan unless enrolled at the University. Since we won’t register until later today, we currently have no proof of student status. Back up stairs to many, many windows. Two more offices, three more windows, 50 JD-guy showed up again, and told “Ferena” that she would have to pay a massive fee based on the insurance slip which estimated the cash value of her stuff at 700 British Pounds. She said, “I don’t need to show the guy behind the window the packing slip, and he won’t need to charge me.” Further, the guy asked her if there were books in her stuff. Then, he smiled and said to her, “You don’t have books in there, right?” Right. It was awesome! She had to pay a 2 JD fee when it was all said and done. We headed back down to the warehouse, and were told to go into a room just past the metal detector so a guy could search through our bags. Before we were done being searched, a person we’d not seen before appeared and informed her that her luggage was outside. The driver pulled the SUV up to the dock, and a man put the boxes in the vehicle. The boxes were actually quite small, after all that. They were a bit bigger than a VCR, but when she only tipped the man who moved the boxes a few feet 2 JD, he complained to the driver that he needed 5 JD. She looked at him, and said “Thanks very much, lets go!” Our driver said that he hoped she wasn't too upset, that "this is how business is done here."

So, back to the place with all of our identification, and back to Amman. Amazing. For four small boxes, it took several hours. Our driver was amazing, and she gave him a commensurate tip.

10 September 2006

Apartment Hunting

Today Varina and I went apartment hunting. We decided to just walk around and see if there were For Rent signs in windows. It was 104 here today, such a nice time to walk around the steep streets of Amman! Right near where we are staying we saw a sign, and Varina called the phone number. The fellow who answered the phone told her to wait right there, and he would meet us. He walked out of the building and met us. For rent was a studio for JD 250. It has no windows, and is the size of my car. In the same building a lady is renting a 3 bedroom flat that is 150 meters square. I don’t know what that is in American precisely, but the place is humongous! It’s a new apartment, and all the furniture was still wrapped in plastic. It has high ceilings and crown molding, and beautiful wood trim. And, it’s JD 900 a month. She wanted the year paid upfront. Ughhh. She said she’d take JD 800 a month. What a bargain! The place is beautiful, but we’d really need another roommate to make it affordable. It’s walking distance from school, and it has three bath tubs, and a balcony, but Holy Crap! We’re going to keep searching for the all-elusive two bedroom apartment.
The fellow who owns the studio saw us walk out and asked us if we wanted her flat. We told him that it is 4 times the size and 2 times the price we want. He invited us in for tea. We wanted to keep looking, but he said, “I need to talk to you about my flat.” So, we went in and met his wife who speaks no English, and his son who speaks perfect English at age 5! His wife served us apple juice (!) and this guy began to tell us that very soon he was going to move his wife and son to a different apartment, and he was going to go back to Australia where he has a second wife. He said, “My wife doesn’t understand what I am saying, and she doesn’t need to.” So, he said he’d be looking to rent his apartment out, but that his furniture is “not rental furniture,” so he wanted to find tenants who are not pigs. He is smart enough to know that he shouldn’t rent to boys. He has a beautiful apartment in this same building and it’s even bigger than the too-big one we declined. The kitchen is to die for, I have to say. He said he would charge us JD 800, which is a good price for this place, and we’d need to take care of his stuff. There is a big fish tank that is in between the reception room and the formal living room. All I could think of was Deuce Bigalow. You know, he’s looking after this guy’s apartment, and there is a big fish tank, and it’s trashed. I was just staring at this thing, and he said to me, “Have you seen Deuce Bigalow? None of that! Don’t kill even one of my fish!” Egads! What to do. We’re still looking.
We went to Jordan University and found the language center. It’s really a nice campus. There are trees every where, and lots of benches. People were occupying every bench and taking advantage of the shade. We had to go through security to enter the campus. The guy asked each of us where we’re from. I told him I’m from California. He said, “What are you doing here?!?” I told him I’m a student. He said, “OK, welcome.” I was a little surprised at this actually because there seem to be A LOT of ex-pats here. We walked around the campus, and then discovered that there is a tunnel that runs under the main street between JU and the Doughnuts Factory. Thank God! We crossed under the street and headed for coffee. Much to my shock the place has been totally redone, and it’s got central AC and shiny marble floors and over-stuffed chairs, and still really good coffee. Varina bought me a latte, and we talked for a long time. It was nice.
We did well today. After we left the apartments, we walked down to that main street, and got a taxi to the Suq. I treated us to Frostis, and I got some groceries and some bottled water. Varina still needs to learn to cross the streets here. She just wanders out into the road and assumes that cars will stop. We took a cab from the Suq to JU. It was great. The taxi driver backed down INTO on-coming traffic to make a U-turn during rush hour to take us directly to JU. Varina saw God, I think. I love this place. So, we’re going to keep looking for apartments. Tomorrow we’re going to the airport to get her stuff out of Customs. I may spend the next year there with her waiting for that. Then, to JU to register officially.

09 September 2006

JU by Fuzzy Moon

The director here where I'm staying just took over sometime earlier this year. She's really nice, and genuinely seems to enjoy talking with people and being helpful. Today another student showed up here who is going to the same language program I am. The director made sure we met this evening. The student is from Germany, and just finished her Masters at a University in Manchester. She hasn't been home for two years, and now she's in Amman where she will stay through June at JU. We talked for well over an hour, and I think we're going to go apartment hunting tomorrow. All of her stuff will arrive tomorrow at the airport, then she's going to come back for me, and we'll go to the police station to get visa extensions. It was good to talk to someone here who isn't an archaeologist. She's not even an anthropologist. Kind of refreshing.

So Far, So Good

My room is a mess, and the cook made coffee.

08 September 2006

Greetings from Amman

I made it. All in all, the flight was pretty good. I took Royal Jordanian from Chicago to Amman. By the time I got on the plane in Chicago, I'd been traveling 8 hours. That stupid O'Hare air port didn't help anything. I had to take a train to a different terminal and stand in line to get my boarding pass. I was the last one in line, and no one got behind me. I was worried since I had only one hour between arriving in Chicago and departing. Luckily RJ is on Jordan-Time, and everyone in line was late like me. People began feeding me and offering me coffee. Those people saved my life. Chicago had only one security line for the entire international terminal. I mean, one conveyor belt, and 3 dudes. I mean: one f-ing line. We RAN to the gate, and I was pleased to see that I got an isle seat even after checking in late. Good luck further visited me as me and my row mate had four seats to ourselves. Yea! Surprisingly, RJ did have booze, but the only beer was Amstel. No pork. They have a funny thing on the flight monitor that tracks the progress of the plane. I can only call it a cube monitor. It's like a compass that lets us know what direction Mecca was in at all times. The most hilarious part of the flight was when the guy came down the isle, or attempted to, really, with the duty-free trolley, which was nothing but an unstable tower of cigarettes. He was out by the fifth row much to the consternation of those in rows 6 and up. At one point people just started to raid the thing as he stood there totally unalarmed. By the end of the flight, he just walked around with a sheet of paper and people told him what they'd pinched, and paid him. Classic Jordan!
The fellow who sat next to me is going to get his US citizenship next year, and he lives in Houston with his American wife who talks funny, and boy does he do a perfect Texan accent. We had a long chat about every thing, and when I told him I'm here to learn the language he said to me, "Iz goin' to be a verry de-ficult yr, Arabie iz hartt!" But he was actually very encouraging. He has family here, and he gave me his number (he'll be here for one month) and said that I can probably stay with his family. He encouraged this since it would be best for me to live with Arabic speakers to really learn this language. His funniest language story: As you know there is no "P" in Arabic, and some Arabic speakers have trouble differentiating between the P and the B in English. His faux pas came when his wife took him to her church and he was introduced to several people, and finally asked one if he was "the bastard of the church." As opposed to "pastor". Damn, English sucks.
It's almost 8 at night here. I was so dazed after 24 hours in a dark plane I thought it was early morning when I came out the airport and saw the sun on the horizon. But, then it disappeared!

07 September 2006

Greetings from Phoenix

I'm sitting at the Phoenix airport waiting for my flight to Chicago. The nice lady at American West put me on an earlier flight to Phoenix because there were hardly any people on it, so I got to have an entire isle to myself! That's good since the man I was assigned to sit next to spent the whole time on the phone shouting stuff like, "OK, we're gonna have to run a serious audit of the Smith account..." I quickly moved when the stewardes offered that I could move.
Now I wait... I just had a BRC burrito, and now I'll go to Starbucks. The available plug, and free WiFi make this one of the least sucky airports I've ever visited.