12 January 2007

Teaching and Learning

Yesterday morning I took my final exam at the University. I have 3 weeks off, and then I will return for another punishing semester at JU. This week was nice. It’s cold here, but I like it. It’s Friday, it’s cloudy, kids are out playing on the largely-abandoned street below my window, and I’ve had 3 cups of coffee. So far, so good.

Our teachers canceled a day of class this week to give us time to prepare for our exam. Two classmates and I used the opportunity to have brunch at Wild Jordan again. We are tentatively planning to go to Aleppo and see some of the dead cities, so we met to plan. J walked up to my apartment and we shared a taxi to the first circle. She and I got into the cab and the driver pointed to the meter as we drove off and said “bedoun meter,” (no meter). J told him to stop the taxi, and he said something like, It’s no problem, we’ll discuss how much when we arrive. I pressed the matter and asked him to commit to a figure. He thought 5 JD would be about right. I said 2 JD would be about right. It’s usually 1.6 or 1.7 from my place to the first circle, so 2 is more than enough. I told him It’s 2, or we’re out. We agreed to 2 JD, and we drove into some of the worst traffic I have seen yet in Amman. It took us almost one hour to go from near Jordan University to the First Circle. The taxi driver was furious. If he’d turned on the meter, he would easily have had 6 JD by the end of our trip. By the time we reached the second circle he stopped and turned around to us and said, “Circle 2 nafs ashee circle 1,” (1st and 2nd circle are the same thing). J and I both laughed, and she told him to take us to 1st circle. He pointed to the meter and said that if the meter worked, he’d have 5 JD. J told him that next time he should think about being more honest. Not a bad way to practice our Arabic, huh? I gave him his 2 JD, and he said the only thing he said in English beside the word “circle” as we got out: “Welcome to Jordan!” J and I walked down to the restaurant and we met S who had been waiting for quite a while by this point as we were 45 minutes late.

After breakfast we split up and I went to the American embassy because I needed more pages in my passport. A very nice man who seems to like kids as much as I do picked me up. We headed down steep and narrow streets from Jebel Amman and then back up toward Abdoun. I say that the driver likes kids as much as I do because every time we approached a group of kids in the street he honked (which is standard) but he also sped up. At one point he said something about kids see the car, and still don’t get out of the way, and they are therefore all crazy. I was trying to understand each word he said, and I didn’t respond immediately, and so he looked at me in the rear-view mirror, and demanded, “Sahh?!?” “Sahh!” I said, and he laughed.

I entered the embassy after being searched 3 times and saw the American flag at half-staff. I forgot that Ford died, and for a split-second I wondered why the embassy was honoring the death of Saddam Hussein. Then I remembered that Ford had died, and I assume the flag was for him, not Saddam. I could be wrong. I dropped off my passport, and headed home.

Yesterday right after my exam I headed over to the embassy to pick up my passport. As they close at noon, and it was just after 11, I hoped that traffic would not be as bad as my adventure going to the First Circle the previous day. The driver was listening to the BBC’s Arabic service. We made it there in about 10 minutes. I picked up my passport and called A to see if he could pick me up. I waited for him on the street where there is a tiny gap in the Jersey fence that lets the pedestrian traffic come and go. Many people walked past me while I waited. One family got to the small outlet, and the man picked up his daughter who was barley a toddler and was not going to be able to jump up on the curb and back down onto the street. He carried her over, and his wife followed behind. As she past me, she turned to me and asked, “What about me?” We both laughed. A showed up a few minutes later, and I leapt into the car and begged him to get me out of there quickly.

We drove down the street to the Syrian embassy so I could get a visa before I went. As K learned that my residency card permits me to obtain a visa to Syria at their embassy, I went in and waited. Several things seemed weird to me there. First, the room was like an enormous hallway, and there was only one person behind one widow even though there were three windows each with a dedicated line. This is the other weird thing: people were in lines. When I got to the front of the line, everyone in the room stopped talking and watched me. Seriously, it suddenly became really quite. I spent my time in line trying to decide if I should inflict my terrible Arabic on this man, or assume that he spoke English. I decided that every opportunity to practice this impossible language is good, so I asked him in Arabic, for a visa as I handed him my passport and residency card. The conversation was surreal. I spoke in bad Arabic the entire time, and he responded in perfect English the entire time. He told me that I could have a visa, but it would take at least one month, and it would cost 100 US dollars. He told me I needed a letter from the University stating that I am in fact a student there, and I would need 4 passport photos. I told him I’d rather he just tell me No so I could go to the border with a clear conscious and pay 16 USD for a visa after a wait of only a few hours. I took the form and turned around to leave. The entire room of people was fixed on me. “What?!?” I shouted. I went outside and waited for A to come back from prayers. I told A what happened, and he was mad. He said we should go back so he could talk to him. I chalk it up to having citizenship in an imperialist, violent hegemon, and that if this is the worst treatment I have at the hands of people here, it’s not a big deal. But A stewed for a while over this.

It was at this point that I realized I was really hungry. My last meal had been at Wild Jordan the day before, and it hit me really suddenly. A hurried to Abu Jabara on Gardens Street and picked up two falafel sandwiches for me. Then we had coffee. It took me about 7 seconds to eat the two sandwiches. Then he rightly yelled at me for not telling him when I need food. The problem is that I’m still reticent to tell an Arab that I’m hungry because then I know I’m going to be instructed to eat a meal that is equivalent to half of my body weight. In any event, the food was delicious.

A and I sat outside of my apartment and talked for about 2 hours. We continued having a conversation we began the night before about women in Islam. I finally confessed to him that it makes me mad that men’s sexuality is the burden of women. We had a really lively and frank discussion about the roles of men and women in society and in religion, and how these things are often two very different spheres. I also confessed to him that I know it’s not appropriate for him and me to spend so much time alone together, but that I refused to vilify our friendship in any way. I’ve been wondering if he felt conflicted over our friendship. I certainly don’t ever want to make him uncomfortable. At the same time, we are both honorable people, and what is more, he is a great teacher and I have learned so much from him about Jordan and about religion and about Arabic. I’ve never had a more patient teacher. And, from me he is learning a lot of English. I’m curious to see how he negotiates our friendship over the next several months. I would hazard to guess that he is inclined to trust me because he knows my husband and my mom, and so he has a tie to my family, not just to me. Man, gender is sticky here. A was explaining to me how the 5 prayer times change a little each day when we heard the call sound from the mosque. After another great discussion, it was time for him to go.

Next week I am going to meet a Palestinian woman who teachers at an UNRWA school here in Amman, and I’m excited to meet her. Get this, she is an alumna from my university in California. What a small world!


Anonymous Luai said...

It's always great to meet people from your home town/university in other parts of the world. For me we always start off talking about about UofM football. You should wear a sweatshirt of your college to the meeting ;-)

Yeah the flag will be at half mast for a few more weeks in honor of Ford. It's been flying alot the same way lately due to all those flag drapped coffins coming back from the war. i can't remember if the embassy also display the Jordanian flag on it's grounds? And it is lowered to 1/2 staff b/c the US one is lowered?

6:53 PM  
Blogger Frances Goodman فرانسيس said...

I like the idea of wearing a sweatshirt to the meeting. Makes me with I'd brought one to Jordan.

I didn't see a Jordanian flag at the embassy, but I suspect there is one there somewhere.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Weeping Sore said...

Too bad about the Syrian visa experience. It must be frustrating to understand exactly why you’re being treated that way – as a representative of an unreasonable imperialist nation – and not be in a position to do much about it. I suppose there’s some cosmic symmetry in that, imagining the respectful “welcome” most Syrians probably get in America.

I recall an incident you described about your recent visit to Damascus, when the gentlemen at the restaurant asked what the Americans in your party thought of President Bush. I had assumed that Syrians would generalize that all Americans were behind President Bush: goodness knows Americans are experts at stereotyping THEM. I had assumed that since that all Syrians seem to publicly support and agree with President al-Assad, they’d assume the same of all Americans. K explained that the opposite was the case: the fact that they may agree publicly simply overshadows the fact that many Syrians may not agree in private. And they assume the same holds true for Americans. How enlightened!

8:38 PM  
Blogger Steven Kesler said...

I wonder if your experience with attempting to get a Syrian visa through your Jordanian residency might not have had more to do with beurocracy than anything else. I have not yet attempted to get a visa for another country through a NZ residency, but I wonder if your experience may not be attributable more to the complicated paperwork than any other reason? Or, perhaps there just aren't many Americans who choose to enter Syria via a Jordanian residency? Certainly it seems that Syrians have shown a positive attitude towards Americans in your past visits. Would it be possible to get a Syrian visa through the U.S. embassy? That's probably not worth the effort either :-(.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Hi Francis,
I got exactly the same story you did at the Syrian Embassy. I think the difference betweeen the visa you get at the border and the visa they give at the embassy, is that the embassy visa is multi-entry. So if you were planning on making multiple trips and didn't want to spend six hours and $15 at the border every time, it wouldn't be a bad trade-off.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Frances Goodman فرانسيس said...

Hi Rebecca, The man at the Syrian embassy specifically told me that I cannot get a multi-entry visa. Yikes. The guys who work in the coffee shop at the border are beginning to recognize me as a regular.

5:23 PM  

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