22 October 2006

Driving in Jordan; Follow Up

It's the last day of Ramadan, and I guess there needed to be a few thousand last-minute car accidents in Amman. I was sitting here watching a movie when I heard screeching tires and a big Smash sound. This was about an hour ago, and the tow-truck just arrived. I think the cops didn't show up. I understand that people just exchange cash at times like this. Taxi versus nice new-looking white car: taxi one; new car zero.

In other news, I received an e-mail this afternoon from a student I had last year. Perhaps you remember her from this blog. She left school because her parents are nuts, etc. I was really upset when she left. (There is more bad news with student these days than good, it seems. One killed in a car crash a month back, Dr. C told me one recently announced she'll have a baby in May, etc.) Well, she wants to come back, and asked for my help. She had a long dark few months there where she worked some major issues out with the folks, and realized that she's too smart to languish at a trade school. Good news!

I'm going out for my last Iftar this evening with my neighbors. V has left for Palestine.

19 October 2006

It's Nearly Eid!

Ramadan is almost over. I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month! It’s funny to realize that most of the time I’ve been in Jordan I’ve been hungry. My Arabic class is largely out of control, and I think the teachers are too tired from fasting to deal with them. I will say, coincidence or not, it is all of the American students from a program called CIEE (I want to shame them) who cause problems. One girl, I do mean girl, wore a knee-length skirt and a tank top to school the other day, and asked the teacher how to say “do or die, bitch,” in Arabic. Really. This is during Ramadan. I can’t wait to hear how some Jordanian skull-fucked her in Aqaba over the break when we return to class in 10 days. “Teacher, how do you say ‘skull-fuck’ in Arabic?” Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? Did their program undertake no cultural-sensitivity training before they were shipped over here?
Last night I went to Jebel Hussein with my neighbors. It was really packed. I think people are out shopping for the Eid holiday which marks the end of fasting, and the beginning of massive gift exchanging. We had to wait 30 minutes for a taxi home, and when we finally got one, a lady jumped in front of L and tried to take the taxi from us. L almost took her down. I got home at 1 this morning, and was in school at 9, only to be sent home pretty early. I could have just slept in. Lesson learned.
I received word this week that my background check went through, and the government gave me an elaborate letter inviting me to apply for a residency permit. I thought that’s what I already applied for, but it turns out I just applied and gave money for them to make sure I pay my taxes or something. So, I’m still here on a 3 month visa. I’m actually beginning to worry that another 6 weeks won’t be sufficient to process my permit. The next week is Eid, and no sane person will be at work. (It’s time to fricken’ eat!) To say that Jordanian bureaucracy is glacial in speed is not merely repeating a cliché. My roommates background check is still pending (gee, wonder why that is?) and they will not process my residency permit until her permit is also ready to be processed. Flippin’ heck, as she says.
I think tomorrow I will go to Aqaba with L and I. His brother lives there, and we’re invited, though I’ll be in a hotel since the apartment is one room. I don’t mean one bedroom, I mean one room. Rumor is we’ll stay there through the weekend, perhaps head up back via the Dead Sea, and arrive in Amman in time for Eid. I’ve never been to Aqaba, so that would be really nifty. We are planning a trip to Syria, but getting visas for our passports is tricky, and with Eid approaching nothing is occurring on the visa front. So, we may go the week after next (instead of during my school break), and I would miss a week of school. This would be completely worth it for me to go to Syria with I and L. Apparently, Americans can go to Syria via Jordan if they do so as a "tour group" and go with a tour guide. All that means is that we’d pay some dude to drive us from Amman to the border, he would take our passports and process them while we wait in the car, and he will drive us to Damascus. We have the option of keeping him on to drive us around, or we can part ways. We are thinking about 5 or 6 days (post-Eid) spent in Damascus, where I is thinking about basing his dissertation research, Homs, that other town that starts with an H, and Aleppo. Humm, lets see, school, or Aleppo. School. Aleppo. Yeah, I’m going. It is surprisingly inexpensive for the “tour”. Apparently there is an amazing mosque in Damascus. I’ve seen it on TV when we watch for the C to P in the evening. It’s one gynormous and intricate mosaic. L was telling me that in the tile and grout they put finely ground glass, so the entire building shimmers. It is indescribably beautiful, and I should know the name since I is really thinking about focusing on this for his work. So, Inshallah, I will go sit on the beach and smoke nagilla with L for the next few days while I flails in the water. We may stay at the Movenpick at the Dead Sea because L gets a massive discount because of her fellowship here, and then on to Syria! How cool is that?

11 October 2006

The F***ing Moon

I don't care if you are tired of pictures of the University. I thought it was so beautiful here last night that I took a picture to show you anyway. Look at that moon! It's beautiful and cool here at night. I just wish it wern't still fricken' hot during the day. By Monday it's supposed to be down to 70!

10 October 2006

مطعم كشمير الارجيلة

Last night I went to a wonderful restaurant near the third circle called Cashmere Argeela (that's the title of the post). The University planned an Iftar dinner for the international students (that's me). About 80 people showed up, and a wonderful buffet was prepared for us. Our teacher was the lady in charge, so she let our table know first when we could proceed to the food. She also made sure that those who were fasting got to go first. Since this included me, I went with most of the other students in my class, and I didn't have to go later with all the crackers. The buffet was amazing. They had everything, and none of it sucked.

Later there was music. In the picture is a gal in my class, and just to her left is R, who insists almost daily that I don't know what the next 5 years of his life will be like. Every time someone received a hubblie bubbly, the band sang a little happy-hubblie-bubbly song. It was really fun!

This place is near the third circle, between the Radisson SAS and the circle, right across the street from the Grand Hyatt hotel. It looks dingy from the outside, but that really belies it's interior. The place is huge, and it's really beautiful, and the food was great. The only downer is that they don't open any windows there, and they encourage smoking.

07 October 2006


It's getting cold in the mountains and the dogwoods are turning pretty colors.

Come for the NGO, stay for the Chicken!

This week at the NGO we met with a representative from a labor organization. He spent a lot of time laying out how utterly fucked labor is here. Those are my words, not his. The fellow in charge of this project wanted to deal with labor issues on-site. In other words, he wanted to deal with specific concerns as they pertain to specific locations. Both myself and the other primary person on this project were interested in at least tipping our hats to the social costs of migrant labor. But, this would inevitably bog us down in “migrant issues” more than “labor issues.” Before we went in to talk with the rep, our head said “no” to the social angle on this.

The rep was really interested in our project, but very politely told us that we couldn’t escape the corruption and politics that make unions run here, nor could we escape the social baggage. I was interested in the social costs of migrant labor (as Kearney has dealt with it in the Mexico-California route) as that type of economic extraction that might exist here. But, the rep had a more broad recommendation: he said that we should not bother recruiting members for Jordan’s unions, but rather we should focus on enforcement of what few laws exist here. For example, the state will recognize a verbal contract, but most day-laborers don’t know this. If they are shafted at the end of the day and don’t get a promised per-diem, they have a right to pursue juridical action. In a way, I walked out with the impression that he envisioned organizing labor DESPITE unions. They are really powerless here. Any union in Jordan must be sanctioned by the state. Further, they have the power to dissolve or reorganize any union at any time. This is a good state strategy, they disallow unions for teachers in public schools, and they put all sorts of unrelated profession together under one union. The rep thought that this latter issue was a real problem, but as a teacher who belongs to the United Auto Workers, I’m not sure I feel that my union is weak, and certainly not because it’s diverse.

Interesting food for thought. Just in case you though labor rights are not actually a threat to a nation-state...


Last night I was invited to Iftar at A’s aunt’s house in Jebel Hussein. The meal proceeded very much as tour books on Jordan describe. They stuffed me with food despite my pleas that I could not eat more. I remember last January a few British citizens were kidnapped for a few days in Gaza. Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent in Gaza, had a great piece on From Our Own Correspondent about this. He said that though it had never happened to him [yet], and he certainly hoped it never would [but it did], the mostly likely threat to come from a Palestinian is being fed to death. He’s on to something.

I was fed so much food that I really thought my esophagus was going to explode to make room for my stomach. I really can’t eat that much these days. When it’s time to break fast, I just want juice because I’m thirsty, but I really can’t eat that much even though I feel really hungry. We arrived at her house just as the call to prayer sounded (meaning we could eat). She brought us into her living room, which doubles as a dining room. There was a small table that was covered in food. She made maglooba, which is rice, eggplant, tomatoes, and chicken. I ate chicken for the first time in 18 years. (K said that Jordan is a good place to eat chicken.) She shoveled food onto my plate. She put two big pieces of chicken on the rice. I started picking the meat off the bone with my fork, and she motioned for me to lean back. She moved in and picked up the meat and pulled it off the bone, and tore it into little pieces, and put it back on my plate. She wouldn’t eat. She kept “dressing” my meal. Every time I made some progress, she picked up more chicken and put it on my plate. She sat there smoking and watching me eat; A went to the mosque to pray before he would eat, so there I was with a Palestinian woman who has to be pushing 80 years old, and who speaks as much English as I do Arabic, eating this amazing food in her small apartment. I actually ate most of the chicken before A returned. He bought some hummus for me (even though “this is for breakfast!”) because he remembered that I love hummus, but I had not yet had any as his aunt kept pointing to the rice and chicken and saying “Yella.” He said, “you haven’t have any hummus, you have to eat!” I protested that I’d had 6 kilos of chicken while he was away. This is apparently no excuse in Jordan.

At one point A noticed that I was eating my maglooba with a fork. “Don’t you have a spoon?” Did I mention that I’d started with a bowl of soup and two glasses of orange juice? I used to spoon for the soup, and then switched to the fork for the main. They both started laughing hysterically. Who knew you eat maglooba with a big-ass spoon? I was eating hummus, salad, and maglooba. I finally stopped eating, and she protested that I had not had enough. She told A to tell me that if I stopped eating the hummus with bread then I would have more room for maglooba.

She offered me tea. Once made, she set it down in front of me. Then she pulled it away, and said that I needed to eat more, and then I could have tea. I ate more. After another several heaping spoons full of rice and chicken, I refused to eat more. I really couldn’t eat any more. Seriously. So, then there was dessert. I had a peach and a pear. They were so sweet. Then she brought out a wonderful custard-ey dessert that tasted like roses.

It was amazing. I felt so awkward there.  I realized as this woman took so much time to feed me that Americans have not been socialized to accept such hospitality.   I suppose this is because we don’t extend it ever.  She has no idea who I am, but she welcomed me into her home and almost fed me to death. (I didn’t have breakfast this morning. It’s now 2 in the afternoon and I’m still not hungry.)   It was an amazing evening.   I’ve been invited back for Iftar on Wednesday.  I think I should not eat until then.

04 October 2006


This is funny.

Driving in Jordan

It is almost the weekend. Two evenings ago I met up with a friend we made in December. It was his birthday, and I had his mobile number. I called, and to my surprise he answered, and asked how my mom, aunt, husband, and Amy are all doing. He came to my apartment at nine in the evening, and we drove around Amman. I didn’t return home until 2 the next morning, and my adopted father, who lives across the hall from me, opened his door, and asked me where the heck I’d been.

I saw great swaths of Amman I have never seen, and I learned my way around much better. Sadly, I’d always assumed that Amman’s reputation for being perhaps one of the more boring Middle East capitals was well-earned, but I think I changed my mind some. I haven’t seen anything here that I would categorize as a major party-hub or anything, but instead what I saw were little hamlets of buzzing social activity all in one city, yet distinct in style somehow. Particularly as it got late, people started to come out, and everyone seemed to be on the streets talking and playing soccer and eating sweets. I saw beautiful churches and mosques; I saw neighborhoods with skinny winding streets that lead to central green spaces where people were gathered to smoke cigarettes. Downtown I saw men lined up for pieces of kanafa from “the best place in Jordan.”

A is a coffee drinker more than a tea drinker. This suits me fine; I learned in December that he knows where the best coffee in this city is. Several times we pulled up to a coffee place and got tiny cups of sweet, steaming joe. It was so good. As it got later, and then earlier, shops began to close, but the coffee joints were open the entire time I was out. Who could ask for more?

At one point A said he wanted me to see “my embassy.” It was awful! It’s castle-shaped! There was so much security there I couldn’t help but think that it drew more attention to the building than was a good idea. A slowed down a little so I could gawk. I leered out the window, and a man in a police car across the street announced to the traffic (in English) that we needed to stop looking at the building. If the embassy were shrunk down significantly, it would be a perfect prop at a miniature golf course. We drove on to less icky neighborhoods. I saw incredibly affluent neighborhoods that I assume are filled with people who have more money than taste, I saw incredibly affluent neighborhoods that I assume are filled with people who have money, and don’t care if I know this. I also saw very poor neighborhoods filled with people who look like they need hope. I saw wonderful old neighborhoods filled with people who were either laughing or yelling. We drove by A’s aunt’s house, and she was outside with other relatives. I was profusely welcomed, invited to Iftar, and offered a place to live if I should ever be in need. This is the Jordan I came to live in. Moments like that make me look around and mentally thank those around me for letting me live here.

Ramadan is a good time to learn Arabic words for food. There are always these amazing vegetable stands here that have the most elaborate displays of fruits and veggies stacked up in cone or pyramid shapes. During Ramadan, there is also an amazing selection of juices. Practically everyone who sells food will have bottles of tamarind juice. Sometimes it’s made with rose water in it. I’m sure somewhere a team of expert scientists has determined for sure what Muslims have long knows: there is nothing more cold, sweet and delicious than that juice for breaking a fast. So both A and I improved our second languages, at least in terms of ordering food.

Toward the end of the evening (or beginning of morning) A told me I needed to see this strange street in Amman where cars seem to be pointing downhill, but roll backwards. I thought he was kidding, or that I didn’t understand, but this street really exists! It looked newly paved, but there was no other development there. Yet. Several other cars were pulled off to the side of the road, and like us, were rolling backwards (into on-coming traffic). That’s ok, the on-coming traffic was there only to find a place off to the side to try this too.

All that, and we never went too far into Abdoun (save “my embassy”), Shmeisani, or Sweifiyyeh.