Friday, September 25, 2009

Photos from Jerash and Umm Quais

A Sweet Dream....

This is me sneaking some contraband water during Ramadan, when drinking and eating in public before sunset is illegal. I don't think anyone saw me. Besides the photographer of course.
The other day I made an exciting trip to Cozmo to do some grocery shopping. This place has it all; macaroni and cheese, a huge selection of tea, a bakery, tons of pasta, a ton of British food [yay soup in a cup, porridge and vindaloo curry base] I would use my parentheses by the way, if I didn't spill some tea with honey on my computer, consequently rendering some of my keys out of comission. Cozmo also has a pretty decent ethnic foods aisle, similar to the ones I'm used to seeing at Krogers and Meijers in the US; a lot of chinese, Indian, Thai and Mexican. I had a good chuckle though when I saw Taco Bell salso in the ethnic foods aisle. For Jordan, it is 'ethnic' of course, it was one of the more subtle reminders that I'm not in the US anymore.

The possibility came up recently that I just be able to come home for about two weeks around the holidays. I'm excited for this for multiple reasons; I'll get to see a lot of people that I miss, I'll get to stuff myself with all things I have been missing [kettle corn, macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes to name a few] and I'll bring back some stuff that I stupidly left at home. For instance, my super awesome camera that has a million features I can be creative with. Just when I'm starting to get back into photography, I don't have my best camera with me!

As I was taking nap today, I had a very vivid dream of driving my Honda Civic around in Toledo, passing the Barney's gas station and being filled with giddy excitement when I spotted.....Taco Bell! I'm pretty sure I drooled on my pillow as I dreamed of a grilled stuffed burrito with ten packets of hot sauce, cinnamon twists and a soda. When I awoke from my dream I was sorely disappointed. I mean really disappointed. I awoke to the realization that I'm still in Jordan and there is no Taco Bell here. Not even a Del Taco or anything comparable. I just wanted to go back to sleep.

Now most of you are probably thinking "Duh, you're in the Middle East, of course there isn't a Taco Bell!" But, check out the list of restaurants and fast food places that I've seen in Amman:
Fudruckers, Applebees, Papa Johns, Dominos, TGIFridays, Bennigans, Burger King, Popeyes, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, some other fast food chain I can't think of, and rumor has it there is a Chili's that's going to open up soon. Sometimes it's the little things.....

On another note, guess what I found when I was going through some drawers in the dining room today? A SMOKE DETECTOR! Yep, that would have come in handy last Tuesday!! Ha ha ha ha.

Also, my camera mysteriously started to work again. It 'broke' about two months ago and as soon as I was finally getting ready to get it looked at somewhere, it started to work. This is awesome, I'm not complaining, just not what I was expecting. Kind of like that smoke alarm tucked away in the drawer with no batteries.

It's back to school on Monday, the lovely Eid break is almost over. Back to the busy teaching life and piles of grading. On the bright side, now that Ramadan is over, I'll be able to start a yoga class {cancelled during Ramadan} maybe do a dance class, go to a cafe after school and say adios to the nightmare traffic that ensued after school for the past month. Did I mention how thrilled I am that Ramadan is over? Not that I didn't enjoy the Iftars I had with friends {the breaking of the fast meal when the sun sets} but now life is back to normal. Allelulia.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Smoking Hot Good Time....or Not

You know the old saying, "You never really appreciate what you have until it's gone?" Well, I've found this to be more true than ever when a fire erupted on the ground floor of my apartment complex and there was NO smoke detector and NO fire alarm. I sometimes even considered them to be a nuisance when they would go off because of steam from a shower or a baking catastrophe in the kitchen. Now that seems like a minor inconvenience. Let me explain.

On Tuesday, I was home alone sitting in front of my computer when the electricity went off. No big deal, I thought, it should come back on in a couple of hours. I only had one candle and my phone screen was the only source of other light but hey, no big deal. Suddenly I smelled something burning. Burning plastic.....I rushed to the kitchen to see if I left the stove on but everything was ok. I opened the door to the apartment and was hit in the face by a wave of smoke and an even stronger burning odor. At this point my brain turned off....

In this moment of panic, it seemed like a good idea to jump off my balcony, but after looking over the ledge, I figured that a third story jump was not a good idea. Crap, I'd have to run down the stairs. It was pitch black and smoky as hell. In another lucid moment, I ran out of the apartment in my tank top, using my phone as a light to guide my way down the stairs and using my other hand to hold onto the railing. It honestly didn't even cross my mind to cover my mouth or put on a sweatshirt.

I'm pretty sure I was one of the last, if not the last, people out of the apartment. The fire trucks were already there and there were tons of people in the street. I didn't even hear the fire trucks (did they even have their sirens on?) there was no smoke detector to warn me and I didn't hear anyone scream 'fire' or anything else to warn me. The system seems to be as follows: Inshallah you won't be sleeping, or if you are, the smoke or burning flames will awake you from your slumber. If you are awake, Inshallah you will realize very quickly that there is a fire and get the hell out before you are either burned or suffer from smoke inhalation. Inshallah, your brain will still work and you won't even think of jumping off your third floor balcony (2nd floor here in Jordan) and you will have the presence of mind to cover yourself up with something before running through a ton of smoke.

The good news is that the fire department arrived within three minutes and nobody was hurt. The family who was living in the apartment over the summer had just moved back to Bahrain the same day so nobody's belongings were destroyed either. Best case scenario for a fire really. Unfortunately all that smoke seemed to expedite the cough that was already starting. By the end of the night, I was really hacking up a lung and couldn't sleep. Gretchen says it sounds like I have emphesema when I cough. This isn't helped by the fact that I didn't shut the door when I left the apartment so our apartment was filled with smoke and a nice layer of soot settled on everything. Ironically, my room had the most smoke of all.

Before going to bed, I told Gretchen, "Hey, things can't get any worse!"

I spoke too soon, I really should have kept my mouth shut because a couple hours I spilled some tea on my laptop. Tea with honey. Sticky wetness on my laptop sent me into panic mode once again. Luckily there wasn't a lot and I cleaned it up pretty quick. My computer is still working although the mouse pad is busted. Thankfully my friend Ahmad picked up an external USB mouse and now everything is in working order. When I get paid in 2 weeks and can stop subsisting on rice and beans, I'll try and get the mouse pad fixed.

The next morning I went to see a doctor and on the way into the hospital, my favorite sandals busted. At this point I just started laughing. What else can you do at this point? So I walked in with my right sandal in my hand. After being diagnosed with a throat infection and having four medications prescribed to me, I just walked out with both sandals in my hand. What's the point of wearing one sandal, really?

The icing on the cake was when I went to school to get my visa extended. I was taking the day off due to feeling like crap and hacking up a lung. I was told it was a good idea to get my visa extended that day because it would be nearly impossible to get it done over Eid. So I showered and went to school, where I was going to get a ride to the police station and be accompanied by the HR person of the school who could take care of the details. When the guy looked at my passport and visa, he said that we couldn't just go to the police station to renew my visa since I had already been here three months. He would have to go through the Ministry of Interior to get my extenstion. And of course, this would have to wait until after Eid. My visa is currently expired but luckily I wasn't planning on leaving Jordan for the holiday anyway and the school will pay the '1 JD per day for every day my visa is expired' fee.

In the end, I can laugh at it all. It's all one big adventure. I have survived so far.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My First Weeks Teaching

Sorry I have neglected you has been a crazy two weeks since school started as I have been trying to cram my head full of new information; how to memorize 100 students names, how to make a lesson plan, how to teach effectively, how to make learning fun and how to manage a class. Not to mention that waking up at 6:00 am definitely takes some getting used to! Those who know me are aware that waking up at 6:00 is not something I'm a big fan of. If I wake up around 8 or 9 I usually need about 15 minutes before I'm coherent enough to speak. Waking up at 6 means I need about a half hour. Luckily Gretchen seems to be the same way so we're happy just mumbling a good morning to each other when we wake up and the conversation doesn't start until we've left the house after 7.

Before I was complaining about Ramadan because I can't go to a cafe or eat out before 7. Plus the bars are closed. I have since slightly changed my mind about Ramadan due to the fact that I will most likely be getting a nine day holiday directly following the end of Ramadan. And I sure could use the 9 day break after the lack of sleep and constant work. I've also more or less put my Arabic studies on the back burner as I immerse myself in figuring out the whole teaching thing. This vacation time will be a time for sleeping in, finally getting back into Arabic and doing some pleasure reading. As well as doing more reading on how to teach effectively, etc.

Although the last 2 weeks have been a bit stressful, there have been a fair share of things at school that brought a smile to my face or made me laugh. One of my students told me that I look like Pink, which at first confused me because I wan't wearing anything pink that day and I wasn't sunburned. Another student raised her hand to ask me a question after receiving instructions for an in class exercise. I walked over expecting to clear go over the instructions but I was met with a 'teacher, why are you wearing a headband on your neck?' That day I was wearing a big silver necklace that lies low on the neck and I guess could be easily mistaken as a headband. The best was when a student raised her hand and asked me why I wore the same skirt every day.....I guess three days in a row is when people start to wonder about your fashion sensibilities; even fourth graders! Next time I should ask why the student wears the same clothes every day.....the obvious answer being that they have a uniform. I don't know how well that would actually go over though. Maybe I'll just actually have to switch up my wardrobe.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How 5th Graders Develop their English Skills

My friend Gretchen and I have been sharing a lot of stories lately related to our new positions as grade school English teachers. So far, it's been pretty great as the teachers and staff are all very helpful and make a point to tell us if there is anything we need, just ask. It makes the task of teaching for the first time less daunting to be sure.

As I was discussing the curriculum with Gretchen she mentioned that the first story her 5th grade students were reading was about nuclear bombs and death. Naturally, I was curious and got ahold of the story. Before I even started to read the story, I saw what she was talking about. The title is Nuclear Disaster! and the middle of the pages displays a prominent orange and yellow photo of the nuclear mushroom bomb. No joke.

As I was reading the story, several phrases jumped out at me, for example: my father looked sick. Mainly he was beginning to be sick, but mainly I think he was distressed. Bodies, just dead bodies, they're all dead. The Johnsons, the Peters' - they were all in there, all dead. There were dead birds in the streets. Not exactly a cheery story for the students to be reading, much less during the first week of school. I can picture the first day of class...."Welcome to English students, I think we will all have an enjoyable and educational time reading about death and nuclear bombs."

In the corresponding grammar sections I found the following sentences. There is always a risk of nuclear war if countries keep nuclear weapons. There are some countries, including Britain, that still have nuclear bombs. Steve emerged from the cellar to find destruction everywhere.

No wonder people from other parts of the world often know more about world affairs and wonder why we cringe at the sight of violence on the news; they are exposed to these things in grade school!

Jordanian 'Meetings'

As it's the beginning of the academic year, we have been having a lot of meetings at the Ahliyyah School for Girls, where I have just started my position as a fourth grade English teacher. Many of the meetings consist of a handful of people in an office and are conducted as I would expect they would be. The surprise came when we had two huge meetings, or an 'Arab Pep Rally'.

I was a bit surprised when the movie clips from Dangerous Minds, and some other American movie meant to inspire us as teachers, played for about 20 minutes. At first it was a nice break from all the Arabic, of which I understood very little and was making my brain tired. But as the film clips dragged on, I just wanted to go home and take a nice long nap.

To inspire us further, there were at least three poems read, some of which were read by who seems to have been designated the 'official poem reader' because of his commanding voice. There was a poem about different kinds of birds, trees and I don't even remember what else.

The meeting wrapped up with a series of songs sang by different people, complete with a piano, microphone and some kind of electonic gadget. They were all in Arabic of course, and quite beautiful, and I'm sure I would have appreciated them more if I wasn't tired, hungry and extremely fatigued. Just so that the Westerners wouldn't feel left out, they also sang an Elvis song which was quite sweet of them. I have to admit that I perked up a little, as I could actually sing along.

Sometimes it can seem like a waste of time watching the movie clips, singing and listening to poetry, but I'm sure that once I start attending 'normal' meetings as we would expect in the States, I'll be complaining that I miss the singing and poetry!