Monday, August 24, 2009


I really shouldn't be complaining, as I'm not even fasting. I don't have to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to drink water and eat a light 'breakfast', what they call Sahur, so that I'm not famished and dehydrated in the morning. But it having all the restaurants closed before sunset and having all the bars and clubs for the month of Ramadan is definitely something to get used to. I love being able to get a nice schwarma or some hommos and falalal for about $1.50 in the middle of the day. I think I'll miss that more than the bars being closed as drinks are so expensive here anyway. It's also illegal to drink or eat in public before sunset but I can deal with this no problem. Just guzzle a bunch of water before leaving the apartment or school and I'm good to go.

This is the third full day of Ramadan and the spirit is in the air. The apartments, houses and even restaurants and stores are decked out in Ramadan lights. Some look like the white twinkle lights that are seen in the US during Christmas and some are shaped like the moon and stars. I haven't taken a taxi during the day yet but I've heard that the taxi drivers, and probably all drivers for that matter are more irritable as they are going without any drinks, food or cigarettes all day. And I thought that traffic on a normal day was crazy here....

On the other hand the streets are virtually empty when the sun sets so I can hail a taxi in an instant and cross the street almost without looking. We will also get out of school at 1:00 instead of 2:00 and there is a special Ramadan course in Arabic that I'm taking from 2:30-4:30 five days a week. So I guess Ramadan is not without benefits.

I've heard that there are special Ramadan sweets, similar to special treats that are usually reserved for Christmas (think fruit cake, egg nog, frosted Christmas cookies, etc.) most of which I haven't tried yet but will soon enough I'm sure. The one Ramadan sweet that I did try was Gedaya, which looks like a pancake and tastes pretty similar, just more chewy than American pancakes. Gretchen and I walked into a bakery and found the placed stacked with these 'pancakes' from wall to wall. Pancakes everywhere! Of course we had to buy some out of curiosity, and also because we love pancakes. So we got home and proceeded to drench them in syrup. Later that night we were notified that nobody eats gedaye this way; they are traditionally filled with nuts and or some kind of cheesiness that is hard to identify. Then they are fried and drenched in a sugar syrup. I tried this stuffed fried variation and wasn't a big fan of it actually. I'll stick to eating them 'pancake style' drenched in syrup and immediately enjoyed. I figure it's also better for my arteries this way. Just talking about this is making me thirsty, I'm going to go indulge in a tall, cold glass of water....

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Getting Things Fixed Requires an Entourage

Several weeks ago, I noticed that some of the molding in our bathroom had just fallen down, and our couch already needed to be fixed, as well as one of our other bathrooms so we figured it was about time that stuff gets fixed. We arranged a time for the couch and molding to be repaired and before you know it, our apartment was full of people. There was one guy working on the couch, two guys working on the molding, one guy just sitting in a chair, maybe overseeing the quality of the work?, and the landlord and her mother. I thought it was odd that the landlord would come with her mother while things were getting repaired. After all, it must be quite boring to just sit around doing not much of anything. I later understood the reasoning....when women live alone, it's not apropriate here for repair men to be alone in the house with them. So, the landlord and her mother were here for cultural reasons, to make us feel more comfortable since there were men we didn't know working in our apartment. This almost made me feel guilty since I didn't feel that the women needed to be there but at the same time I didn't want to tell them to go home.

Shortly after the men arrived, I asked if they wanted anything to drink; water, soda, juice...I don't know why I didn't think of offering them tea, I've already been here 2 months and have realized that tea is as important to life as eating and sleeping! One of the men asked for tea so I went about boiling the water and asked how much sugar they wanted. I figured there was about a 0% chance that they didn't want tea. 3 heaping spoons of sugar for each mug! Just thinking about drinking that nearly gave me diabetes. I then put some biscuits and pastries on the table for them. You can see this Jordanian sense of hospitality has really rubbed off on me. I swear I almost felt insulted when nobody ate the biscuits and pastries. I was thinking, something wrong? I even worried that the tea wasn't hot enough when I tasted mine and realized it wasn't piping hot. Well, when I get back to the US I'll probably still say please and thank you all the time and I'll be super hospitable. A win win situation for people back home :)

The confusing part was when one of the guys asked if I had newspaper. My first thought was, come on guys, did you forget to bring a drop cloth to cover the floor?! Come prepared! Then he said 'selah' which I didn't know the meaning of at the time. Of course I learned a couple days later that it means prayer. After some gesturing I finally understand that it was time for evening prayer and he needed something to kneel and pray with; newspaper, a blanket, a rug, whatever. All of the sudden it dawned on me and I brought him a blanket. He and the 2 others proceeded to face Mecca and do their prayers...while Gretchen and I sat on the couch not quite knowing what to do.

In the end, it was a learning experience for both of us; always have tea, water and a blanket ready and try not to feel guilty when women come and 'do us a favor' by sticking around when men we don't know are working in the apartment.

Random things in Jordan

This blog entry isn't about anything in particular, it's more a compilation or random things that I've noticed in Jordan recently. I've written about the crazy driving here before, and how crossing the street is an experience unto itself, but I believe I neglected to mention the unbelievable amount of people that fit into cars here on a regular basis. The other day, I was in a taxi looking around and I had to do a double take as I saw a car packed with 9 people....and I don't mean an SUV or anything. This was a normal sized car with 6 adults in the back and three in the front. On a normal basis, I'd say you can easily count on seeing at 6 people packed into a small car. The next time I think of complaining that I feel cramped in the backseat of a car with only 2 other people, I will just remember to be thankful that there aren't three other people sitting on our laps.

The other day I saw a mother in the front seat of a car with her baby sitting on her lap! In the US, this would freak people out and I'm sure many passer bys would be cursing about the irresponsible mother under their breath. If my memory serves me right, Ohio has a law mandating that people in the front seat wear seat belts. Even if the mom was buckled up, I don't think the baby sitting on her lap would count as being buckled in safely.

One of the most bizzare things that I've seen has to be the monkey that I saw sitting on the top of a car, being fed by it's owner. The guy looked totally casual, as if this is something totally normal that happens everyday, which it probably is, as I saw this guy and his monkey more than once!

There's one more thing that I saw recently that really stuck out in my head...the boy I saw in the barber shop. Now seeing a boy in a barber shop usually isn't an odd sight, but when the boy is standing in front of a man waiting to get a shave, that's a bit shocking! Just to make sure that I wasn't making any wrong assumptions, I asked my friend Ahmad about boys working in barber shops and he confirmed that it's normal, especially in the summer when they are out of school. I guess they must have a steady hand and experience with shaving but boy, I don't know if I would trust a 12 year old with a blade to get that close to me!!

As they say in Jordan, A'adi, it's normal!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Creeeepy Taxi Driver

Ok, generally taxi drivers here are pretty cool so I don't mean to diss all taxi drivers by any means. But there was an especially creepy taxi driver yesterday who was following Gretchen and I and kept on stopping on the side of the road for us. We were walking up a fairly steep hill getting a nice little workout and had no intention of getting a taxi, even if I did bruise my foot and we looked all out of breath.
After he had been following us for about ten minutes and stopped for the third time, I went over to him and said in Arabic 'I don't want a taxi, get away from me!''s nice to have friends to teach you useful phrases like that...luckily it didn't get to the point where I needed to say 'Ismah walla, bahshii ijrii fii teezak' 'listen I swear, I'm going to kick your ass' But it's good to know I have a nice arsenal of words to get the point across :) Now time to give Gretchen a language lesson....

Haircuts and Vitamin B Shots

It's been a little over two months since my last haircut so I figure I'm due for a trim soon, it's getting a bit shaggy. As I was thinking today of where to go to get it cut, I realized that there probably aren't many women who know how to cut really short hair the way I usually have it done in the states. My favorite tool is this long razor with a serrated edge that is used to layer and texture the shorter hair in the back. I think I might get some really funny looks if I went into a barber shop and I don't want to risk walking out looking like a boy. I went to a barber about five years ago just for kicks and I definitely looked like a boy; I shall not repeat this mistake!

Since I've been here multiple people have told me that they get vitamin b shots instead of taking supplements and I thought it sounded like a good idea. I take a special B12 supplement as well as a general B vitamin every day but hey, if I can get a shot once a week, which is probably more effective anyway, then why not? So I went to the pharmacy and asked if I needed a prescription for the B vitamin shot. The pharmacist said I didn't need a prescription and I walked out with five weeks worth of B vitamins for a little over $5. Pretty sweet deal if I do say so myself.

The next step was finding out where to get the shot; I was told to go to a clinic or a hospital so I decided to walk to the pharmacy that's a short walk from my apartment and ask the pharmacist where to go. As luck would have it, the pharmacist said she could administer the shot. So I walked home to get the vitamins out of the refrigerator and walked back to the pharmacy.

She led me into this little room in the back that's like a mini kitchen and storage room. Generally speaking, I really don't like shots but I'm a lot less queasy than I was in the past. I gave her my arm and was about to turn my head after explaining that I don't like to look at the needle. Uh uh, she shook her head and pointed to my backside. Getting shots in the backside is already not a fun experience but there wasn't even a place to lay down!! Oh well, I was already there and there was no turning back. My memory is bad enough and I'm usually low enough on energy that I really didn't care at this point.

I asked how much I owed for the shot and she told me that it's free. So in the end I get a pretty sweet deal; I can walk down to the pharmacy once a week with my vial of vitamin B that cost about a dollar and get administered a free shot. Just another thing that makes Jordan pretty darn cool.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On Being Alone and Asking for Things

As most of you know, I'm an only child so I'm used to entertaining myself and being alone for periods of time and I used to be generally ok with that. Well, the culture in the Middle East is much more group and family oriented and it seems rather rare for people to spend a lot of time alone. It might even be looked at as weird if someone likes to spend a lot of time alone reading, listening to music or whatever.

Since I moved here, I've been around people a lot more than I'm used to back in the States. I've gotten used to it and I actually really like it. The only downside is that if I'm totally alone (in the apartment, outside, wherever) I start to feel lonely. I guess a lot can change in two months!

One thing I'm trying to train myself to do is to stop saying thank you so much and to not ask for things so much. With friends I often hear, 'you don't have to say thank you' and 'you don't have to ask, just take it, we're past that stage' as in, we know each other well enough so there is no need for these formalities. Having been trained all my life to 'mind my p's and q's' this is going to be quite difficult....and when I come back to the US if I've kept this habit, know that I'm not trying to be rude :)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sweets Update

Remember when I was complaining about the cake here? Well, my friend Ahmad was determined to prove me wrong so he took me to a place called Merwan to see if he could change my mind. I actually didn't end up ordering cake because there were so many other things that looked good so I got the blueberry strudel, he got blueberry cheesecake and we split the two. As far as the strudel and cheesecake go, they are pretty darn good so no complaining there. And if the cake there doesn't turn out to be as good as back home, I can always make my own cake (which I don't think I've actually done before) and top it with a ton of betty crocker frosting. Although our oven is....rather interesting with only one of the bottom part working so maybe I'll just skip the cake making expedition altogether. If I'm home for Christmas, forget turkey, just serve me a sheet cake!

So the photo doesn't have anything to do with cake obviously but I thought I'd put up something with food. After all, my family and friends know that food is usually the first thing on my mind....

Jordanian Bureaucracy

I was told before I came that I had to bring my original diploma to have it certified by AMIDEAST and the Ministry of Education in order to be officially hired by the Ahliyyah School for Girls. So I had my transcripts sent, brought my original diploma and paid an insane amount, $120, to have this all certified. When I went to Amideast a month ago with Melissa to get our diploma's and transcripts certified you can imagine how surprised I was when she told me that they stamp your original diploma. What?! Why not just make a copy of it and stamp that? Doesn't seem to difficult.....but then again it is Jordan. At least the process was relatively smooth and I didn't have to make 20 trips to various offices using 'international sign language' to explain myself.

Today I picked up my diploma and transcripst from Amideast and sure enough my diploma has three stamps on the back. And they are clearly visible even with something behind the diploma. So I guess I'm going to have to order a new diploma to get framed. Lets see....I graduated two and a half years ago and still haven't framed maybe in a couple years I'll actually get around to getting a new one....

Gretchen arrived from the States 2 days ago and it's good to have here here, especially because I had the apartment to myself for the past few days as Sine went back to Denmark and Nadia is in Palestine for three weeks. Having 2 cats of her own in the US, Gretchen is our designated cat expert. I guess it's not good to have the kitten smoke hookah and feed her cheeseburgers after I'm going to stick with giving here a lot of lebnah; the cat might actually like it more than I do which is hard to believe.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Barber Shops, Salons and the Cutest Kitten Ever

A couple weeks ago while driving around in Amman that the barber shops stay open pretty past 11 pm! There were a bunch of guys standing around talking and it occurred to me that maybe men here hang out at the barber shop like they do in cafe's.

I also noticed something peculiar about the salons. First, salon is often spelled as saloon, which I find rather entertaining. Hey, maybe the first bar/salon will open up here in Amman and then it really will be like a saloon. Would you like a martini with your manicure? The other thing I noticed, which struck me as odd at first, is that you can't see inside many of the salons. The windows are often completely covered and you have to ring a doorbell to get inside. You can imagine I was really puzzled the first time I tried to enter and the door was locked so I knocked on the door and just stood around hoping someone was actually there. Soon afterwords, the obvious struck me; the doors are locked and the windows are covered because women who wear the hijab wouldn't want anyone to be able to walk by and see their hair.

Now onto the adorable kitten.....the boys next door found a stray baby kitten and decided she needed a good home. They gave her a bath until the water ran black, got some kitten toys and made a makeshift litter box. Unfortunately my camera is broken or else I would take some photos of this adorable kitten and post them. Hopefully I can get my camera fixed soon because I've missed out on a lot of cool photo opportunities! That's all for now, more on random Jordanian things later....