Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Marriage of Convenience

Yesterday I was exploring downtown Amman with Peter, who I met at the University of Jordan's Language Program. He's 6'5 so you can imagine the looks we got between the two of us. It was particularly cute when little boys would gawk openly at Peter and I'm pretty sure they were thinking 'wow, I hope I get to be that tall!"

We ended up talking to several different vendors/shopkeepers and one of them asked if we were married. We kind of laughed about it but then I thought, 'wait! you could be my creepy guy decoy'! So we developed a system. If we're ever together, and I'm getting a creepy vibe from someone who asks if we are married, then we'll say we're married. It's brilliant. I have a 'secret signal' that I'll do and boom! more respect and less ogling of the "married" American.

For those of you who have wondered what beer and milk would taste like combined, I have an answer. It tastes odd, but not as bad as it sounds.

There is a yogurt drink called shanineh here, which is very similar to doogh in Iran. It's thinned drinkable yogurt with salt. Sounds weird but it's good. Unless you get an uber-fermented batch. While walking around the massive fruit and vegetable market downtown, I stumbled upon a little shop that sold cheese, olives and other random things. Peter and I ended up talking to one of the workers and I inquired about the substance being poured into a bottle from a silver vat. He explained that it's shanineh, and offered us a sample. Now, I really do like this salty yoghurt drink, which is also supposed to be quite good for you. If the amount of fermentation has anything to do with the health benefits, then I'm pretty sure this stuff can cure anything. It was so fermented that it kind of tasted like beer. Lesson learned; keep trying new food and drinks because even if it's not great, it can be a pretty entertaining experience.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Floating Without a Microwave

I came to the realization this morning that I'm going to be eating a lot more cold food than I normally do. I will also be mixing food more often than usual. This is because I don't have a microwave. It's not the end of the world to be sure, but microwaves sure are convenient, especially if you like warm food as I do. I warmed up my lunch today over the stove!! For a moment, I felt like I was back in time, living a rustic life in a cabin. Well, this 'cabin' has satellite television so scratch that. It's obviously the 21st century and I just don't have a microwave. I don't even know how to make microwave popcorn without a microwave. Come to think of it, what is that microwave popcorn doing in our cupboard?

Over the weekend I took a trip to the Dead Sea with two American students, Ariana and Mike, that I met at the University of Jordan. The whole trip was absolutely amazing. And the Dead Sea is only 45 minutes away. The only downside was that any small cuts I had hurt A LOT once I took a dip in the Dead Sea, which is 30% salt, five times more salt than any other sea. I'm pretty sure this is the only body of water on earth where it is physically impossible to drown. Trying not to float actually takes effort; whenever I would put my legs straight down into the water, they would just float up so I landed on my back or stomach.

Normally, when I'm swimming in a river, the ocean, etc. I get anxious because I have a fear of seaweed and water dwelling critters brushing up against my legs. You know how jumpy I am! My anxiety quickly dissipated when I remember that the Dead Sea gets it name because it is so salty it can't sustain life. There wasn't even any seaweed, just rocks. It's kind of hard to describe what being in the Dead Sea is like, but if you put a couple pounds of salt in your bathtub and filled it up with lukewarm water it might give you a pretty good idea. It feels like your covered in baby oil and apparently it's really good for you. People have been coming to the Dead Sea for over two thousand years to cure skin conditions.

One of the highlights was indulging in a green mud pack, and watching all kinds of people slather on the green mud. There is something especially amusing about seeing men of all ages happily spread this green mud all over themselves, boasting about how good it is for you. It has been my experience that men don't get all excited about the prospect of putting on a face mask or going to the spa to soak in a specially formulated salt and mineral filled bath to soothe their muscles and cure any skin ailment.

Another thing that gave me a giggle was when I looked at the nametag of the man who helped us with our luggage upon arrival. Jihad. No joke, this guys name is Jihad. Now Jihad doesn't really mean 'let's go wage war on all of the heathen westerners' like a lot of people think. My understanding is that it's a more personal struggle; overcoming temptation, having a good heart, etc. But still, I'm pretty sure that there are many Jihad's in the US who have since acquired an American name like Jimmy, Jay, etc.


I finally started a flickr account so I can share all of my photos, yay!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dryers are Better than Sliced Bread

I forgot to mention how much I miss dryers. It's not that the process of hanging up my clothes bothers me that much; it's that my clothes and towels are not soft fluffy and warm when they are done drying. When I got the towel off the drying rack this morning, I swear it was crunchy. And my t-shirts just don't have the same softness. Maybe if I rub a dryer sheet on all my clothes it will help?

Going to the Grocery Store

As I get settled into Amman, I'm realizing that some everyday occurrences are both exciting and daunting. Taking a walk is fun since I get to soak up new sights and familiarize myself with my new neighborhood, or just enjoy the sunshine and get to know the different areas of Amman. On the other hand, there is a lot of head turning in my direction, which is occasionally accompanied by a 'what's up' in English, a whistle or something in Arabic that I don't yet understand. Given my somewhat shy nature, this can be a little unnerving to me, depending on how I'm feeling that particular day.

Doing simple things like going to the grocery store alone makes me a bit nervous as I haven't yet learned how to say "Could you please help me with this, I have no clue what I'm doing". Today for example, I saw a delicious display of nuts and seeds but did not see bags to put them in and wasn't sure where to weigh them. I'm sure I was a funny sight when I went up to the cashier and said in Arabic, "I don't know how to.." while pointing at the display of nuts. I did recently learn how to say nuts, but I thought "I don't know how to nuts" would sound more awkward than it already did. Lucky for me, the man assisted me and, either taking pity on me or hoping to strike up a conversation (in very limited Arabic) gave me the nuts for free. Whew, that wasn't so bad but now it's on to the fruit and vegetable section.....

On the way home, with my short blond hair, green striped t-shirt and reusable orange grocery bag, I'm sure I was a sight. Using reusable bags haven't quite caught on here so it's one more thing to make me stick out thus far. And I really need to learn how to say "I have my own bag" instead of just awkwardly giving the bag to whoever is bagging the groceries.

I was pleasantly surprised the other day to find that we have the super satellite television at the apartment so I have a choice of a couple hundred TV stations. So I can still watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and hopefully be able to watch Ugly Betty when the new season starts. At this point, I think I would be overwhelmed if I tried to watch anything in Arabic. "ah...I did understand the words door, buy, understand, apricots, nuts and window, but I generally have no clue what's going on"

After I inquired about where to take the garbage, I was notified that we just put the garbage out in the stairwell and the tenant comes to pick it up every day. In that moment I realized that although American have a reputation for being lazy, we do take our own garbage out, and that gave me a good laugh.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ginormous Bug Bite and the Royal Jordanian Film Comission

Several days ago I got what I thought was a mosquito bite on my achilles tendon.....and by this evening it looks more a bee sting, spider bite or something similar. It doesn't really hurt but i hope this goes away soon because it sure does look funny. If it keeps spreading I'll get it looked it and you know what....going to the doctor and getting treatment is a lot cheaper than in the US so no worries!!

I moved into my apartment with Sine and Nadia yesterday evening. I really loved staying with Melissa and Taurik; they were very helpful and extremely hospitable. I have been told that Middle Easterners are very hospitable but they even exceeded my expectations and now I know that I have a family here who's willing to help me and answer my questions, or eat grilled cheese and watch the Daily Show.

A couple of hours after arriving at the apartment I was introduced to at least six of Nadia and Sine's friends and we all went out for a nice meal to celebrate Sine, Ahmad and Nabeel's birthday. It was my first experience out at traditional restaurant and boy was it tasty. We all shared a spread of hummos, baba ghanouj, tomato and cucumber salad, pita bread, yogurt, pizza's, different meats and of course, tea. Before we left, a chocolate cake was brought out with three fire cracker looking things that were spouting out flames; it looked like it was it straight out of Ace of Cakes. The cake presentation was pretty impressive but I must say, I still prefer sheet cake from Kroger with buttercream frosting. I'm sure I'll find something I like just as much soon.

I'm sitting here chatting here Ahmad, Sine's language partner, and it turns out that he has relatives in Toledo. One of my neighbors works at the organization I contacted here in Amman regarding volunteering several hours a week. Small world.

In twenty minutes, I'm heading out to see part of the refugee film festival put on by the Royal Jordanian Film Comission in partnership with the UNHCR. World Refugee day was yesterday and there seem to be numerous events going on throughout the week. Thursday there is a play put on by Iraqi refugee children regarding their experiences as refugees. Although it's going to be in Arabic, I would like to go and see what I can understand and if I'm lucky, there will be someone there to give me an idea of what's going on. Be prepared for some heavy heart wrenching blogs ahead.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mensef, Cocktails and Yellow Hair

I had the opportunity to try Mensef today, the most popular (as far as I can tell) Jordanian dish. Mensef consists of yellow rice with almonds and or pine nuts, lamb and a yogurt sauce. I had heard mixed reviews of this mysterious dish so I didn't have very high expectations. Originally I was excited to have the opportunity to eat with my hands again but when the dish was put in front of me with some silverware and I wasn't surrounded by others eating with their hands, I succumbed to the temptation of silverware, to the pleasure of my just washed hands. It wasn't great but it wasn't bad either. I'm sure I'll be eating it again.

Today I found out that Jordan has the healthiest and tastiest cocktails that I've ever had. Their version of a 'cocktail' is what we call fresh squeezed juice or a smoothie. The orange carrot one sounded pretty good and it was indeed fantastic. A fellow student ordered a lemon mint one which was equally as good, with more of a punch because of the bitterness of the lemon and the strength of the mint. Fortunately, the guy understood when I ordered it in Arabic, I just have to get down 'for here or to go' and I'll be good.

Melissa's daughter Maria says that I have yellow hair. I don't know why but it puts a smile on my face.

The big event today was the placement test that I took at 10. I came here feeling pretty confident about my Arabic for only having taken two semesters. By the time I walked out of the placement exam I felt like a moron. Of course, the same test is given to everybody; the novices to the advanced. It just made me realize how much more I have to learn. During the oral exam I was asked to point out Jimmy Carter in a newspaper photo which amused me. The orientation actually started on time, which almost surprised me because from what I can tell, the Jordanian way of doing things is...not quite as formal and organized as the US. For example, the orientation was supposed to be yesterday at 10 but instead of e-mailing us, we all went to the language center only to find a sign on the door saying that the orientation had been rescheduled for the next day at 1:00. So I didn't have to wake up at 6:30 and leave at 8 with Melissa and the kids but at least I got an early lesson in 'the Jordanian way of doing things 101'.

We were all told today that we must be on time for our weekend excursions. I believe the administrator's exact words were "you must be on time for the bus. The bus might be late by 15 minutes for technical reasons but it's very important that you be on time" As melissa told me, "in Jordan, you hurry to wait"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sun, Ice Cream and Tanning

Yesterday I was outside talking with Melissa when I got all excited because I heard an ice cream truck. Well, I thought it was an ice cream truck until Melissa laughed and told me that she too thought it was an ice cream truck when she first heard it but as it turns out, it's a gas tank truck. These trucks used to drive by the houses and honk their horns to let people know they could come out and buy a tank of gas but as this constant honking was a nuisance, they were forced to change their 'arrival announcement' to something more pleasant. Incidentally, it sounds exactly like the ice cream trucks back home.

Driving from Amman to Zarqa today I noticed a sign that read "Amman Tanning". Now, why on earth would anyone feel the need to go tanning in Jordan? I mean, the forecast 360 days a year is 'sunny and clear'. I actually did look up the extended forecast and for the next five days it is going to be sunny.

I just learned that I get to try Mensef, the famous Jordanian dish, on Thursday which means that I get to eat with my hands, yay! The Daily Show is on, gotta go :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cheapest Person on the Plane

I thought I knew how to do something as simple as weigh a piece of luggage. I'm either horrible at basic math or the scale at home doesn't work. At the airport I realized that my luggage was 16 pounds over the weight limit and thankfully, my mom said I could charge the fee on her visa. "The card is for emergencies so you can use it now" she said. Well, if this is an emergency then my life must be pretty darn good.

We all know that nowadays some airlines charge extra for everything from the peanuts to the blankets. So when I was asked if I wanted anything to drink, I immediately asked "is it free?" This was met by a funny look and a "yes".

As I prepared for the long flight to Amman from Chicago, I got out my magazines, iPod and pillow before storing my carry on in the overhead bin. I tossed the magazines on my seat and the AARP magazine landed on top. The man sitting next to me glanced over and said "aren't you a little young to be reading that?" What can I say, there were some good articles in it. And I'll be the best prepared senior citizen on the planet when that time comes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


It's down to the wire now...only a few hours before I leave for Jordan! After several trips overseas, I've finally nailed down how to pack like a pro. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everything I wanted to take fit in my luggage.

Time to have one last meal in the US, which oddly enough is going to be korean food; hot stone bibimbop.

Did I mention that I'm super nervous?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


My departure is only a few days away and although I'm pretty excited for all that lies ahead, there are a few things I'm a bit apprehensive about.

The Airport: It seems some of my meds are not available in Jordan so I'm bringing nearly a years supply of several of them. Here's to hoping I don't get arrested for drug trafficking at the Queen Alia airport.

The Heat: I have heard it's very hot in Jordan but on the bright side (so I've heard) it's a dry heat so in reality it should be easier to bear than the heat in Toledo which is quite humid. It's been compared to the heat in Arizona. Unfortunately someone today notified me that the heat is absolutely unbearable in Arizona. So much so that people don't really go outside unless necessary. I have no air conditioning in my room so this scares me. I envision long nights sleeping on the couch under the AC unit covered with frozen peas....or frozen okra. Don't be surprised if I post a photo of me walking in the the city with an umbrella and one of those electric fans that people carry around at Cedar Point. I'm not exactly going to blend in as it is so why not go all out?

My Grammar: I read in my 'Teaching ESL' book that some students who study English as a second language know English grammar better than native speakers. This scares me. I haven't had proper grammar lessons in who knows how long. Luckily I'm bringing 'The Grammar Bible' with me and will read it diligently. My friend Gretchen who just earned her Masters in Journalism and will be teaching at the same school, will no doubt be answering a lot of my questions. Give it a few weeks and she'll regret ever having wanted to share an apartment.

Waiting in Lines, Bureaucracy and Getting Stuff Done: The Middle East is a lot less organized when it comes to bureaucracy, waiting in line and generally getting things done. I'm not making a personal judgment yet but this is what I've read and heard multiple times. Waiting in line here is generally a pretty orderly experience; you wait patiently in a straight line until it is your turn. In the Middle East, whoever pushes their way to the front first gets served. I have rarely if ever engaged in the sport of line pushing and I'm afraid I'll be horrible at it. Plus I don't know how to say "hey, you cut!" in Arabic. And even if I did, I'm sure I would get very strange looks in response.

Food: Don't get me wrong, I love love love Middle Eastern food but I know from previous experience that I'm really going to miss things like sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, stuffed pork chops, Taco Bell (don't laugh foodie elitists) ice cream with peanut butter topping, kettle corn and the variety of cuisines one can so easily access in the US; Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, etc. There are a variety of restaurants in Amman to be sure, it's what they won't have that scares me.

Hospitality: Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to experiencing the Middle Eastern hospitality that I've heard so much about. But I also know that this hospitality (tea, snacks, food) can lead to an ever expanding waist line. Is using diabetes (that I don't have) as an excuse to turn down sweet tea and desserts unethical?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Coolest Cupcake Cake Ever

This American flag cupcake cake made by my friends MaryAnn and JoAnna for my going away party is just so impressive I had to post a photo of it.