Friday, October 29, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Currency Problems

I have a theory that I can't travel anywhere without at least one thing really going wrong.  There was the time I forgot my wallet when travelling overseas, flying to India on Sept. 11th, 2001, not getting my luggage and countless others. 

This time, it was a currency fiasco.  I thought it would be a good idea to come to Budapest with lots of cash that I could immediately exchange.  Then I could get something to eat, pay my rent and so on.  The only problem was that I couldn't exchange the 220 Jordanian Dinars I had.  Yep, I had over $350 worth of cash that was absolutely useless.  After going to several banks and at least 3 exchange places, I was out of luck.  This country just doesn't have JD's.  My bank account in Jordan had 2 JD's and my debit card for my American account had expired.  I was out of ideas.  I was hungry.  I needed coffee.  On top of this, I had just arrived to a country where I didn't know anybody.  The last thing I wanted to do was say, "nice to meet you, I'm broke, can I borrow some money?"  I can see it now, "hey guys, look at the idiot who brought some obscure currency to Hungary and now is mooching off us." 

In actuality I got lucky to meet a really nice group of people who didn't want to see me go without lunch and coffee.  They fed and caffeinated me.  One person even brought me homemade food.  I was a happy camper.  I also got a briliant idea from a friend.  Call the Jordanian Embassy!  And so I did.  And luckily, the embassador exchanged the JD's to Forints.  I don't think it was a normal service but he did it anyway.  It probably gave him a chuckle and a good story. 

"So there was this American woman coming from Jordan who tried to exchange JD's for Forints in Hungary........"

Getting used to things

As some of you know, I'm in Budapest, Hungary for the month of September doing the CELTA Course. After Budapest, who knows, I might get to go back to the US for a month, which would be great, or I might head straight for a presently unknown destitation.  In any case, I might have to change the name of my blog to Adventures in Some Random Place.

Here are some things I've noticed I'm having a hard time adjusting to here in Budapest. 
1. The Weather.  I really got used to having sunny weather 97% of the time in Amman.  I'm still going through 'weather shock' because it's been gray in Budapest since the day I arrived.  It was rather sunny twice but that's it.  It's also raining for the fourth day in a row.  Depressing.  I feel like I'm in the UK and the weather is the main reason I wouldn't ever want to live there! 

2. Crossing the Street.  I know, this sounds weird.  Crossing the street in Jordan was at first kind of scary, a bit of a production, but I really got used to it.  There aren't any crosswalk lights (see, I even forgot the names of the things) to tell pedestrians when to cross the street.  There also aren't any trams to look out for.  Crossing the street in Jordan used to scare me but I got used it.  People can cross the street wherever they want and cars would generally stop for them, even if they miss hitting the person by a hair.  Also, hearing cars honk their horns all the time became normal.  It was chaotic organization and it more or less worked. 
In Budapest, it's different.  There's a designated area where people should cross the street and there are crosswalk lights (someone tell me what these darn things are called)  I'm not used to waiting for something to tell me when to cross the street, I just cross and people stop.  Here, people don't cross the street even if there are no cars coming.  Therefore, I'm faced with the anxiety of crossing anyway or waiting and being a good citizen.  I'm also not used to the whole tram thing.  I came within a foot of getting hit by a tram twice in the first three days just because I wasn't watching for them.  I was standing in the street the other day, waiting to cross the street, when I got honked at and was given the ' are you crazy' look by the driver.  Nearly everyone waits on the street to cross in Jordan. 

What can I say, I have to get used to things being organized. Until then, I'll have to remember to look for trams, not stand in the street and wait to cross when everyone else does.   

Monday, August 23, 2010

Peace and Quiet During the Ramadan Heat Wave

There's a double whammy going in here in Jordan.  First, it's Ramadan so 95% of the restaurants and cafe's and bars/clubs are closed for the month.  Second, it's hooooot.  It's been 100 Farenheit or higher for the past week or so, and since people are fasting (not even drinking water!) that means not many people want to go outside.  Understandable.

The bummer is that there aren't many places to go during the day for people who aren't fasting.  Want to hang out at a cafe?  Good luck.  Want to have a nice lunch at your favorite restaurant?  ha ha ha ha. Now, there are some places open.  These are cafe's, restaurants, etc. that have a tourist license.  But there aren't too mnay.  After around 7:30, all the places are open (except bars) but if you want a place to have a cold drink during the day and get some air conditioning. good luck.  Living on the third floor of an apartment with no air conditioning and only a slight breeze, you can imagine how hot it gets.  My bedroom is like an oven so I opted to sleep on the floor in the living room.  Grab a yoga mat, a blanket and two pillows and hey, you've got a bed! 

The nice thing about the heat and Ramadan combination is that I can walk around my neighborhood and have the whole place to myself.  I could probably be singing and skipping down the street in a tank top and shorts and not be noticed.  Ok, well that's probably an exaggeration........but it is nice! 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sneaking Food and Drink During Ramadan; 2 Years strong!

Drinking in Dressing Rooms

I would say for the most part that I'm pretty culturally sensitive.  I try to dress appropriately for my surroundings, try to understand others viewpoints and beliefs and so on.  And even though I don't fast during Ramadan, I try not to eat and drink in public before the fast breaks, which is around 7:30 these days. I've slipped up a couple times because I completely forgot, but for the most part, I'm pretty good. 

Did I mention how hot it has been lately?  In the US it wouldn't be that bad beause there is air conditioning almost everywhere.  Not in Jordan.  We are lucky to have 2 fans in the apartment.  My friends and I decided it would be a good idea to go to a mall for part of the day.  Why?  Simple.  There's air conditioning and cafe's where you can actually get a cold drink and enjoy it before 7:30.  Well, that's what we thought.  

The cafe's weren't serving drinks.  Bugger.  I bought a delicous cookie, that was just begging to be eaten right then and there but these hopes were quickly dashed when the man behind the counter said, "that's to go, right?"  In other words, yes, you can buy this cookie, but if you eat in front of me or anyone else, you will be sucker punched.  Dangit.  The mall, as we found out, is not a safe zone.  

We are some pretty savvy ladies so we quickly came up with a plan.  A) Find a clothing store with big dressing rooms.  B) Grab some clothes and pretend to try them on.  C)  Get out can of coffee and cookie in dressing room and quickly stuff our faces before anyone suspects us of rogue consumption before hours. 

As you can see in the above picture, our plan worked out fine.  We shared water, Getchen had her chocolate croissant, Lena and I had our coffee in a can (bought from a Whole Foods loke market) and I had my cookie.  In the end, everybody wins.  We were happy and nobody was offended.  No crumbs or spills were left behind.

Who says you can't find ways to enterain yourself during Ramadan? 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

But they promised!!!!!!

2 days, 1 night:  Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba.  Hours of driving, lots of walking, intense heat and being around lots and lots of people causes crankiness.  And a need for comic relief. 
Normally, I wouldn't feel the need to fit in Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba in less than 48 hours but as my friend Kristin was leaving Jordan soon and hadn't seen any of the above, a weekend trip travelling at the speed of light was pretty much the only option. 
I'll fast forward to the last couple hours of our trip which was on a boat ride in Aqaba.  This was the very last thing on our agenda.  After walking around in the scorching heat all day, going to the public beach (where we got stared at all the time since we were the only ones within eyesight who weren't fully covered) and various other misadventures, we were looking forward to some rest and relaxation.  Specifically, a boat ride complete with a barbecue dinner, submarine view of the coral in the red sea and a half hour swim when the boat was anchored.  
After waiting for about a half hour for the late tour group to arrive we boarded the boat, only to realize that because the tour group was late, it would (supposedly) be too dark to see the fish and coral in the submarine like compartment on the boat.  Strike one.  This was a bit of a bummer but we knew we still had a nice swim and barbecue dinner to look forward to. 
This might come as a shock to some, but I opted to go swimming before eating.  Generally speaking, I have a high tolerance for heat but that day was particularly hot and humid.  As soon as the ship docked, Kristin, Gretchen and I got ready to go for a dip.  We figured we would probably be the only ones since everyone else on the boat was family and didn't exactly look prepared to go for a quick swim.
Yellla!  We walked around the boat, ready to get into the water, only to be met by a woman (who just happened to be blocking the stairs) saying, 'ma bsiir' (they shouldn't).  This lady had picked the wrong day to piss us off.
A) We were promised that we could swim for a half hour and it was scorching hot.
B) I could understand what she was saying.
C) It had been a long two days.
D) We were trying hard to be culturally appropriate (Jordan Style) It's not our fault most 95% of the people who were on the boat were from Saudi Arabia and therefore very conservative.
Long story short, we went swimming.  We climbed down the ladder, stripped down to our bathing suits and jumped in at the count of three. 
We swam to the side of the boat (the crew wanted in us in close distance to prevent a lawsuit presumably) and were met by......all the passengers of the boat. Yep, all the passengers of the boat had decided it was a good idea to crowd around the side of the boat and watch Kristin, Gretchen and I swim.  Usually being stared at in such a fashion perturbs me but this time I was slightly amused. 
Hey, we were promised. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ahmad to the third power

In the US, most people know at least one Jim, one Sarah, etc.  In Jordan, everyone probably knows at least ten Ahmads.  No joke.
The other day I was having a conversation with my friends and the name Ahmad came up.  Then came the confusion.  Which Ahmad?!  Your Ahmad?  My Ahmad?  Ahmad's Ahmad?  Which Ahmad?  I kid you not when I say it got quite confusing. 
A couple days before this, I was talking to the women who own a clothing shop next to my apartment...I decided to strike up conversation which started by common ground.  Oh, you know my friend Ahmad (he is Circassian and they are Circassian = common ground) This was met by......"oh.....Ahmad who?"  Oh, the Circassian Ahmad who works at the same language center I do.  Suddenly the lights went off...."oh, that Ahmad." 
My friends and I were wondering how many people would turn their heads if we yelled, 'Ahmad!' downtown.  My guess is about 50. 
Next time I mention any Ahmad, I'm going to have mention the last name, family origins and occupation.  Then, and only then, will people might pinpoint exactly which Ahmad is being talked about.  And now, I have to call back my friend Ahmad.