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.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some things are more exciting the older you get.......

Yumminess as far as the eyes can see......or almost
I love sweets.  Yes, I sure do.  So when Gretchen showed me this wonderful bag of candy that she bought in Jerusalem, I was envious.  Until she immediately shared the big stash with me, upon seeing the gleam of desire in my eyes.  The best part was when she told me that we could get one on the way back to the border.  I was disappointed to have to go back to Amman so soon, especially since getting to Ramallah took so freaking long.  (6 hours door to door)  However, this blight in my existence was vanished upon seeing this candy.  I merrily grabbed the silver tongs that were beckoning me and dove in to all the candy, stuffing every single kind into my huge plastic bag.  To brighten my day even more, the boy who weighed my candy threw in an extra two handfulls of candy.  Probably just to make it an even three pounds, but I was still happy.  Thirty shekels ($9, 6JD) was a small price to pay to pay for days and days of happiness.  Now where is the Pepto Bismol?!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The umbrella-car office complete with typewriter and copier

I had to go back to the Syrian Embassy today with Gretchen so I decided to take a picture of the 'office' where we had our documents typed up and copied.  As you can see, this guy is in high demand!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trip to the Syrian Embassy

Today I went to the Syrian Embassy to start the month long process of getting a visa.  It doesn't seem to be so much of a process, as much as it is just waiting for a month after you fill out all of the paperwork.  In the past, Americans could go to the border and obtain a visa.  The catch is that you would most likely wait about 6 hours before getting it.  Word on the street is that the regulations recently changed and it's not possible to get a visa at the border anymore. That's fine with me, I didn't want to wait 6 hours at the border anyway.  Especially in August.

Everything was going smoothly until I was told that I needed to have a form typed.  This wouldn't be a problem if I could actually find the guy who could supposedly do this for me.  When I went back and asked, they told me to look for the guy next to the car with the umbrella.  Ohhhh.....why didn't I think of that before?!  I walked out of the embassy and sure enough, there was a car by the side of the road, with the door open and a huge beach umbrella wedged between the door and the car.  There was a little boy sitting next to the copier on the front passenger seat and the father had his typewriter set up on a table.  While the man was typing away (pecking at the keyboard, looking for each letter)  I tried in vain to strike up a conversation with another woman who was also waiting.  She said she spoke French, and I thought, "Great, I can speak French."  Well, great unless my mind freezes and goes into Arabic-only mode because it's been so long since I practiced my French.  I could understand her but found myself struggling to remember simple words in French and ended up replying in Arabic.  I'm 99% sure I sounded like an idiot.  Yeah, I know French.  Oops, just kidding!!  I blame this on the heat.

The best part was when I looked at the finished document and saw that instead of being born in 1982, I was supposedly born in 982.  My last name, Perne, was spelled correctly, alhamdulila, but the guy spelled my mothers last name Porne.  Yeah, so apparently I'm over 1,000 years ago and have a last name that is......undesirable.  Ah...Jordan!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Holy Land Club Update

I think I neglected to mention the name of the club that is located by my apartment. It's called the Holy Land Club. No joke. Little did I know that the 'club' is actually located in a church!!!
Sounds crazy? It is!

The other night, I got so fed up with the loud music that I marched over there myself (with a male friend. Let's face it, I'm not very intimidating) to scope out the scene. I was surpised to not see any light from the place I thought the music was coming from. Following the music, I turned the corner and kept walking until I found the source of the music. A church. The same one I went to on Easter.

There was a DJ parked in the entrance of the church, behind the gates, and about 50 white plastic chairs. Nobody was dancing, there was just loud music and a bunch of people. This whole scene was confusing. Not only is it just weird that a 'club' is in the church, but nobody is dancing. Everyone is just sitting around listening to the DJ spin this obnoxiously loud music. Just in case you are wondering, the music the DJ spins is definitely not Christian music.

I politely explained to the bouncer (yes, there was a bouncer at the church entrance) that this is a residential neighborhood and there are plenty of people (such as myself) who live very close by and hear the music in their apartments at all hours. Then I politely asked if they could turn it down to respect those living nearby.

The polite request didn't work. And no, I'm not really surprised. Being aggressive and confrontational just isn't my nature. Gotta put on my mean face. (see photo below) Or throw stink bombs.

Embarassing photos, still going strong!

My mom has always taken pleasure in documenting every moment of my life, celebrating every 'first' anything and making me pause and pose in odd settings to capture 'moments'. It used to somewhat annoy me but now I actually get it. It wouldn't surprise me if I turn out the same when I have kids.

There have been several times my mom has asked me to pose for picutres that have ended.....badly. For example, the time when my mom made me get in a reindeer and Santa display at the Toledo Zoo when I was about 6 years ago. I begrudgingly crouched under the red ropes, (you know, the ones that are supposed to prevent people from going further) and posed with the reindeer. Cute, right? But not so cute when the whole reindeer and Santa display falls over because I knocked it down. I did what any child would do in that situation. I ran for my life! (note: due to the fact that I have asthma, I only run when absolutely necessary) Hide in the dinosaur display! Hide in the bathroom! Cover myself with snow! The icing on the cake was when my uncle called my mother and pretended to be the director of the zoo and tried to convince my mom she had to pay for the damaged reindeer display.

Then there was the time, about 20 years ago, when we were on a family vacation, driving to Myrtle Beach. My mom saw an abandoned house and thought it would be hilarious for me to pose in front of it with a disgruntled look on my face. I wasn't keen on the idea but I obliged anyway. I knew saying no the camera was akin to not going to bed on time or not eating my vegetables. So I ran up to the house, sat down, posed for the picture and accordingly looked a bit peeved.

On a weekend trip with my friends last week, I saw this abandoned building that reminded me of the one I saw 20 years ago. This time I was the one running up to the building all excited, asking a friend to take the picture. Aw, man, my Mom is going to looove this one!

This post is for your Mom!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hot weather is no excuse

During the past year, I've had my fair share of taxi drivers who have tried to rip me off by outright lying or giving lame excuses. Today I heard one of the lamest excuses of all: it's hot. At first I thought the drivers said 1.50, so I gave him 1.50. He looked bewildered and started to protest. He then said the fare was 2.50 JD's, which I knew couldn't be right. I looked at the meter which read 1. 67. I asked why and he said something about it being hot. He said this with an attitude which didn't score any brownie points with me. Gretchen and I got out of the taxi and went on our merry way towards our front door. At this point, the taxi driver was shouting profanities at us, which I gladly returned, apologizing to the man next to me on the sidewalk.
It felt pretty good walking away, knowing that I hadn't been successfully ripped off. Ahh, the life of a seasoned expat is good.

The Change Girl

"Andak Frata?" Do you have change? This is a phrase I frequently use here in Jordan. Many places don't seem to have proper change. I'm guessing it's not protocol to have a ton of change in the cash register as most businesses do in the US. This wouldn't be a big issue if I didn't get paid in nearly all 50 dinar notes. This means that I'm frequently running around from store to store just asking if they have change, or trying to buy something for 1 JD or less so I don't feel so bad.

There have been several occasions where I'm stuck with a 50 JD note and I need to catch a taxi. There is no way that a taxi driver will have change for a 50 so I MUST find change beforehand. The other day, I was running around looking for change and after going to several stores and finding the line at the bank to be too long, I ran back to a grocery store that I frequent. Now, I would never try this in the US because most people would probably think I was crazy.....but I asked the owner if I could borrow five JD's and I would give him six JD's back later that day. I figured this just might work because many a shopkeeper has told me that I could pay them back later for things such as pudding, phone cards, produce, etc. Either the owner thought I was crazy, didn't understand me, or figured I was so desperate and helpless he needed to give me change. He opened the register and gave me change for my 50 Dinars. I owe him one. At least a nice cup of tea.

The next time I went to his market, I proudly announced that I had change. And not just change, exact change! I was beginning to fear that he would try to hide upon seeing me, telling his employees, "Hide, it's the change girl!"

It seems I definitely am known for not having change as yesterday I walked into another market nearby for a small purchase. All I had was a 20 Dinar note so I asked the owner if he had change. His response was something like, "I thought you would need change." At least he said it with a smile on his face and looked rather amused when I sheepishly handed him my 20 note.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I really should be sleeping...

It's true. It's a Friday night and I should be sleeping. Why? Because I have to work in the morning. I have an odd work schedule, it's true. Tomorrow is the last day I'll have to wake up early on a Saturday morning morning to go to work. Allelulia.

Back to the topic of sleep. I should be sleeping but have found it hard to fall asleep for several days now, thanks to a nightclub right by my apartment. This nighclub is on the second floor, has crap insulation and opens every single window, allowing every music note to go blasting through the neighborhood. I often hear Amr Diab as if I have a radio playing in my room. The ironic thing is that I really like Amr Diab's music and really thought it would be cool if clubs in the US played similar music. Well, now I'm here and I get to hear it all the time which isn't all bad. Just not at midnight when I'm trying to sleep. If I get addicted to sleeping pills I'll definitely sue the club. Those kinds of lawsuits probably don't happen here which is why I'll introduce the concept of bat crazy lawsuits.

In light of the recent frequent and annoying events, I've decided to take action. I'll become a contributing member of the community by filing a complaint. Yep, the 'ejnabeeay' is going to march her little short blond haired self over to my neighborhoods residential association to politely request that something be done about the incessent music.

I was thinking of having an information sheet and petition written in Arabic and going around to get signatures from people in the community. I haven't formally introduced myself to a lot of people here and I think it would be a great way to make new friends. Or make people laugh and have them think I'm really lame and odd. It's a start!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


This is me riding a mule. Not a donkey as I was politely informed.
Camels just waiting for camera happy tourists looking for a cheesy photo op.

Gretchen and her mom walking in the Siq towards the Treasury.
It looks more amazing in real life.

I Have an Address!!

I've almost been in Jordan exactly one year and am thrilled to report that I finally have a mailing address. When Gretchen and I checked before, we were told that it would be months before a P.O. Box would open up. I'm pretty sure we were put on some kind of waiting list, but we never heard anything about a spot opening up.

While I was at the post office the other day to pay our electricity bills, I asked if there were any P.O. Boxes available. Expecting to hear something along the lines of 'come back in a couple months to check' or 'let me put you on a waiting list,' you can imagine how shocked I was when he immediately started to fill out the paper work to get everything set up. For just $18, I am the proud owner of a P.O. Box. Now I can actually get mail!!!! Not that I'm expecting to get much, but it's nice to know that I have the ability to get mail. Cheesy postcards from random places including Toledo will be received with pleasure :-)

Before, I hesitated to even have something sent to either of the apartments. I did receive some mail at the first apartment, to the amazement of one of my roommates. Another package was 'lost, missplaced, or melted in the heat' and and when I moved to my current apartment, I didn't bother. Apparently street signs were just put up a few years ago. When I had to write down my address the other day, there was actually a box listed 'Next to' along with the street name and building number, etc.

I'll have to compile and share the random ways addresses are written here. I certainly appreciate the way it's done here. When you have a sense of direction as bad as mine, you really begin to appreciate the use of landmarks.

Next mission, get a bank account so that I don't have to keep all my money in an envelope. Did I just admit to using an envelope to keep all my money in? Did I just end a sentence with a preposition?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tribute to Ka'ik Sim Sim

Ahh....ka'ik sim sim. This is a photo of the 'do-it-yourself' ka'ik sim sim table where you can add eggs, cheese, salt and za'atar. The tomato is actually mine, I brought it to the place myslef. It's only a 20 second walk from my apartment so I'm sure I didn't look like that much of a freak walking down the street with a tomato in hand.

Some of you may be wondering what is so special about this. There are four things.
1. It's super fresh.
2. It's zaki and delicious.
3. It's extremely cheap.
4. It's very filling.

The great thing about getting ka'ik from this place is that you get it fresh out of the oven. So fresh in fact, that you have to wait before cutting it. Sadly, my morning ka'ik came to an abrubt halt when we had to be at school earlier, but since there is only one more week of school left, the good old days will be back soon.

End of the Year

Sadly, yesterday was the last day we all had with our students at school. As you can see by the photo, I'm pretty sure that the adults had just as much fun as the kids. We had a dancing corner which featured dancing and the limbo, headed by all the awesome teachers.

After giving my last exam, (yes, our primary students have exams) I walked outside to see how the first and second grade party was going. I didn't actually have to be there until it was time for the third and fourth graders to have their party, but who can resist all of this good natured fun? So I got some ice cream and joined in on the dancing and limbo. Having always liked dancing, it was great to finally get to to be an instructor. Ok, ok, maybe it was only telling the students to jump up and down six times, or stomp their right foot once, but this could be the start of something huge!

During all the festivities, I wanted to see if Hala, who was way too busy to enjoy the fun, wanted some ice cream. In an attempt to put a smile on her face, I decided to write 'do you want ice cream' in Arabic. I was pretty sure I had written it correctly so I was surprised when she looked at me with an amused expression and a 'what?' Turns out, instead of asking her if she wanted ice cream, I asked her if she wanted a breast. Yep, buza and bza are quite close in spelling. Not so close in meaning. I just thought my handwriting would be enough to make her laugh but I exceeded my goal. Now I have to look up how to spell 'ice cream.'

As I told my kids that I wouldn't be teaching at the school next year, a lot of them were genuinely disappointed and proceeded to give me big hugs and say that I couldn't leave and I must come visit them next year, etc. This of course, put a big smile on my face. What made the kids smile was when I told them that since I'm not their teacher anymore, I can become their 'Facebook friend.' I've already received some messages saying that I'll be missed accompanied by hearts. I hope they all know that even though they could frustrate me sometimes, I will miss them too!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Odd things that are somehow...normal

There are still times when I casually notice something that seems out of place. Not necessarily out of place here, but out of place compared to what I have for so long considered the 'norm'. While walking around my neighborhood today I saw a woman in her seventies wearing a bandana on her head. It would have been totally normal if there weren't skulls on it.

I noticed a ten year old boy getting out of the car which normall doesn't turn heads. Except he came out of the drivers side, had keys in his hand and there was nobody else in the car. As Gretchen pointed out, no wonder everyone here drives crazy. When you learn how to drive at ten years old with little instruction. That said, they do have drivers education here. I know this because the drivers ed. cars look like taxi's and I tried to hail one last summer. I'm glad the car didn't stop.

Another odd thing is salon experience which I think I've touched on before. It never ceases to amuse me (or annoy me, depending on my mood) that when getting my hair done, the hairdresser is sumultaneously involved in other activities. Such as disciplining her two sons who are in the salon, talking on her mobile phone, answering the business phone, taking bites of schawarma from one of her sons or going outside to see what the commotion is. There is also the issue of tending to multiple clients at once. Whether it's a cut, style, color or threading eyebrows, she's on it. This is just part of the charm of Jordan, and although sometimes it drives me batty, I know someday I'll miss it.

Why communicating makes me feel three years old

As you can imagine, there are numerous times when I struggle with expressing something in Arabic. It's usually a question I have, directions on where to go, etc. Sometimes it can be downright entertaining thinking of ways to communicate using Arabic, English and making gestures with arms and hands.

The other day I needed to buy baby wipes (hey, it's dusty, they come in handy) but I had no clue how to say this in Arabic. So I just walked confidently into the store and said "fii" which means "is there" and then rubbed my hands together and said baby. They seemed a bit stumped at first, despite my use of Arabic, English and hand movement. I then said 'Fine', which in the ubiquitous brand of tissue. Akin to Kleenex in the US. Then, they got it. When I asked them how to ask for baby wipes, they just said 'Fine baby'. I wonder what would happen if I asked for Kleenex baby in the US?

Today, I went into a store to see if they had a chart with Arabic letters. I don't even remember how to say letter (if I ever learned it) and the words 'word' and 'sentence' were not going to get me far. So I asked if he had 'something like this' while making a square shape, followed by 'for children', followed by reciting the first part of the Arabic alphabet. And the guy immediately knew what I was talking about. He might have some next week, and maybe if I'm lucky, he'll just remember what I wanted to I won't have to go through the same miming/word game. Although I have to admit, this miming/word game is really fun. It's like playing charades with a couple of words thrown in here and there. The rule here is that if you are using words other than your native tongue, it doesn't count against you. The best part is I get to play this game every day!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Organized Seating and Dust, Dust, Dust!

It's dust season here in Amman. It's so dusty, that I could barely make out the skyline this morning. At first, I wondered if it was fog, but after a quick look at my dust covered table and laptop, which is had just cleaned a few days before, I realized it wasn't fog at all. It kind of makes me think twice about opening the window. Fresh air and a dust covered apartment or a a slightly warmer, cleaner apartment? Tough choice.

Another quirk of Amman is the seating in movie theaters. It's so organized it's almost baffling. When you go to the movie theater, you can choose where you want to sit when you buy the tickets, similar to the procedure of buying tickets through Ticketmaster for a concert or play in the US. Some friends and I went to see Robin Hood last night, and while we were searching for our seats, we were greeted by a guy with a flashlight who took us right to our seats. It's nice to have someone help out, especially if the theater is so full that you can't find your spot. It's just surprising when compared to other things in Jordan.

For example, the driving. I know I've mentioned this before, but the driving here is....pandemonium. People honk their horns constantly and lanes don't seem to apply here. Driving around the circles seems like a game of bumper cars except not quite as fun.

It has occured to me that someday I might need to drive here but I keep putting that thought in the back of my head. I just can't seem to muster up the courage quite yet.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Too much of a good thing....

Be prepared to read about something quite tragic.

My favorite jeans ripped yesterday.

I guess eating all that ice cream from Gerards and frequenting the new Buffalo Wings and Rings place has caught up to me. I'm sure the knafa and schawarma also had something to do with it.... when I stepped on the scale for the first time in....awhile.....I wasn't too surprised that all of those delicious things added a few pounds. Thankfully, it's not really noticeable. Or at least it wasn't until I tried on my favorite pair of quite snug fitting jeans.

I hadn't worn them in about 2 months so I thought I'd give them a shot. Yeah, they were a little snug but as women around the world know, all you have to do is wiggle and stretch a little. In no time, they will be fitting more comfortably and won't look so...painted on. As I was moving around, I heard a riiiiip sound. Crap! I looked down and sure enough, I put a rip in the crotch of my favorite pair of jeans. Bugger. This was a first. I'd like to partially blame this tragic incident on the fact that they were worn out since I wore them so much.

The moral of the story is that I'll be saving some money and doing my arteries a favor by laying off the Gerards an all that good stuff. I guess I should have taken the hint when one of Gretchen's students, whose father owns Gerards ice cream, told Gretchen that her Dad had seen us on the security camera about four times. In one week.

My next trip will be to the tailor as I'm quite sure that walking around in tight jeans with a rip in the crotch is kind of frowned upon. Especially if you are in the Middle East.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


When you are sick or feeling down, some things are just guaranteed to bring a smile and some comfort to your day. My list always included a get well with from a friend, milkshakes, a good laugh and a hug. Now my list includes adorable get well notes from kids.

Recently, I had a cold that made me blend in well with my students. I was always coughing, using kleenex (Fine for those here in Jordan) and had watery eyes. Upon noticing this, one of my students wrote me this get well note:

Dear Miss Heather

Slamtek, I am really feeling bad for you. don't shout or hurt your throut and take the madisson that named (Stripcells) it will make you feel better.

lots of love

anonymous adorable student (of course, here the student actually wrote her name)

I especially love the spelling of 'salamtik'. Salam means peace in Arabic, but in this case, it appears my student is wishing that I be slammed upon. Honest mistake of course, and it sure did bring a smile to my face!

Saturday, May 22, 2010


As a teacher of English as a second language, I hear quite a few odd things. Some that make no sense whatsoever, some that make you laugh, and some that just leave you with a puzzled look. Here are some examples of definitions and sentences kids have given. Keep in mind they could use a dictionary.
Grumpy: something is nice.
Clumsy: something is not tidy. I hate someone is clumsy.
Vibrant: a thing that move. My mobile vibrat when I was at school.
Trudge: a deep hole. I love to go inside a deep hole.
Shiver: to move the water behind the boat.
Waddle: were we put the boat. I like to waddle the boat.
Toss: plural of toes.
Grumpy: is to made or because something wet. My brother made my room grumpy.
Portrayal: a tall plant that is grown in wet places.
Intimate: in bissness.
Caught: he is warring a nice red and blue caught.
Crept: like a potato that is grown in large quantities.
Float: When the Chinese peopole go to the dead sea they float at the top.
Vacant: a vacant is a person who workes for help. I saw a vacant in the park.
Sting: something so sticky. There is something stingy over there.
Odd: person that is helping people. This odd is not working anymore because it was fired.

Maybe the real reason it takes me so long to grade is because I spend an hour laughing :-)

Not So Far From Home

Living in the Middle East, thousands of miles from home, might make people think that I am missing out on a lot of things back in the US. Fear not, those adventerous enough to visit me here in Jordan....there are many cool things within walking distance of my apartment. I have blogged before about the plethora of American chain restaurants and fast food joints here in Amman but let me tell you about the new additions which are right here in my 'hood.

First and most importantly, a Buffalo Wings and Rings just opened and it's on my street. I didn't eat buffalo wings that often in Ohio but now that there is one on my street, I go all the time. Why? Because it's comfort food. Yep, the place has 2 big screen tv's, gyros, curly fries and buffalo wings made just the way that I'm used to. The kind people who work there change the channel to Al Jazeera International (it's in English, bonus) when I'm there. Guess where the owner is from? Cincinnati!!! Now, all I need is someone to start selling Buckeyes in my neighborhood and I'll be set.

If you walk ten minutes further you'll see a cozy little diner that looks like it took a time machine from the 50's. They even have chili and oreo milkshakes. All the standard fare of a diner plus some more modern additions such as the thai peanut burger. It might be in the Middle East but it's a pretty fantastic old school American style diner with a modern twist. It wasn't opened by an Ohioan but I'll let that slide. Nobody's perfect.

On Fridays from May until September there is a fantastic market called Souq Jara which is also in my neighborhood. It's a farmers market and an art market combined. You can get excellent honey, herbal tea, cookies, watermelon smoothies, crepes, handmade soap, antique jewelry, funky modern jewelry, keffiyeh scarves with embroidered flowers and more. Most recently I bought some handmade soap with lavendar and another with brown sugar. The latter smelled so good I wanted to eat it. And I'm not kidding when I tell you that the woman who makes these wonderful soaps is from ......Ohio! Columbus to be exact.

I also bought as presents or received as gifts the following, from the amazing Souq Jara: herbal tea, sundried tomatoes, jewelry made by some of my students, a comic book, t-shirt and earrings with Turkish coins dating back to the Ottoman Empire.

So you see, sometimes I really don't feel that far from home.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Warden Message

The following is an e-mail I received yesterday from the American Embassy here in Amman regarding the celebrations for the Tawjihi test results. To put it into perspective, the Tawjihi is a huge comprehensive, nightmare of a test, that people take their senior year of high school. It pretty much determines what you will be able to study in University. For example, if you want to study engineering or become a doctor but your test score isn't up to par, it's sianora to pursuing te career of your choice.

Warden Message
"On Saturday February 6th, the Jordanian Ministry of Education intends to release the interim results of the high school exam (the Tawjihi). Families throughout Amman often celebrate when the test results are announced, and for some the celebrations are exuberant. Groups of young adults may drive around in cars blowing horns, and some individuals may shoot into the air. The direct threat is minimal, but traffic may be congested. Please do not be surprised if you hear shooting."
Since I've been living in Jordan for about eight months now, this gun shooting and youth acting crazy thing is an old hat. The only things that annoy me now are when I can't get falafel on Fridays and when I walk to the first circle to find that the cart holding the delicious contents of my daily breakfast sandwich isn't there. Gunshots and fireworks? So over it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Going Back to School

I really can't complain about going back to work. I had an excellent break back home for two weeks in December and another two week break in January, some of which was spend in Egypt, the other part spent just taking it easy in Amman.
Yet, despite all of my awesome breaks giving me plenty of down time, I'm still not looking forward to waking up at 6:30 every morning and dealing with fragmented weekend. Working on Saturday while having Friday and Sunday just isn't a complete weekend. There are two good things that will come of starting work again. A, I'll get plenty of hugs from the kids and B, I'll look forward to my ka'ik sim sim sandwich every morning that I get from Ahmad, formerly known as ka'ik sim sim boy. Ah...the little things in life.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Egypt Photos!

I just uploaded some of my photos from Egypt onto my flickr webpage. I'll add some more when I get more photos from Lena and Gretchen and I'll try to be better at taking more photos in Jordan and posting them on a regular basis :-)


When you just can't wait....

I was talking to a friend the other day about being sensitive to low blood sugar and being incapable to think of anything but acquiring food when I'm hungry. My friend said his brother is the same way and so his mother decided it would be a wise idea to carry a snickers or mars bar with her at all times so when his brother got cranky, she could give him something to boost his blood sugar. Apparently, this worked like a charm on Philip's brother and I thought....that's a really good idea! I can go from cranky and food obssessed to cheery and bright in ten seconds!

Keeping this in mind when I was at Carrefour the other day, I picked up a snickers bar, some cereal bars and a chocolate milk. I was already getting hungry when I walked into the store so had my mind set on some protein and something sweet.

By the time I hopped into the taxi on the way home, I was too hungry to wait so I drank the chocolate milk, thinking that alone would do the trick. It didn't, so I opened my box of cereal bars and dug into the chocolate banana flavored goodness. I still had a craving for something after this so I opened the snicker bar and decided to have a bite. Wow, it was good. And I hadn't had one in years so I decided to eat some more. After demolishing two thirds of it, I decided to save some for later and put it back in my bag. But then I kept thinking about how good it was and it was just sitting there calling my name. So I finished the rest.

I can only imagine what the taxi driver was thinking as the slender, blond ejnabeeay (foreigner) merrily ate junk food all the way home. Somehow I don't think it's every day that a taxi driver sees a woman desperately rummaging through shopping bags for a chocolate and protein fix. That food worked like a charm though so I'm considering implementing the 'carry a snickers bar or nuts, etc. with me at all times' policy.

My Kitchen

This post has been a long time coming. Here is the blog post about my kitchen appliances. More specifically, my countertop stove and glorified toaster oven. When I first laid eyes on the kitchen back in November I was thinking, 'can I actually cook with these things?' The answer, at least concerning the stove, is yes! As for the 'oven', I have only tried to reheat a hamburger which didn't quite turn. The middle was lukewarm and I burned the bun so bad that I could have throw it against the wall and it would have cracked into a million pieces. By some miracle, Gretchen did manage to bake two pies and a green bean casserole in it. I've been too intimidated to try.
The countertop stove works like a charm. All you have to do is turn on the gas tank that is below the stove in a cupboard, turn the knob and light it with the bright green lighter that you see in the photo.
The silver contraption on the middle burner is a dzejva (jezva) which is actually the Serbian word, I forget the name for it in Arabic. Since there is no word for it in English, at least not that I know of, I continue to use the Serbian word as it's the only one I know, which I'm sure is rather confusing. It's what is used to make Turkish coffee, the strong stuff with coffee dregs at the bottom of the cup. Don't forget for that stuff to settle or else you will have a mouthfull of fine coffee grinds. Since we don't have a teapot, I use this to heat water in when I'm making tea or coffee. And since I don't have a coffeemaker, I use the french press that came with the apartment and voila, perfect American coffee.
The blue water container is our source of drinking water that we have delivered every week or so. It's less than $2 so it's quite a deal. We could get one of those fancy water coolers but they cost a lot of money, at least a hundred dollars if not more. So, we stick with the pump and just stick the container on the kitchen counter. At least it's making my right arm stronger.
So the next time you do some cooking, baking or have the luxury of reheating something in the microwave, think of how awesome it is that you have nifty kitchen appliances. It's funny the things you take for granted until they are gone....or downgraded.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Random Notes on Being Back in Amman

After possibly the mose relaxing and restful vacation ever, I'm back in Amman. Being back home and having life be really easy for two weeks was just what I needed. Not having to worry about running out of water, being able to sleep in all the time, having a normal oven and a microwave, not having to struggle to get across ideas in Arabic, etc. was a real treat. Speaking of Arabic, was it really necessary for me to sit in on a three and a half hour meeting, all in Arabic, without someone to translate everything for me. I tried to not look like a bump on a log, but it's hard to look engaged when you don't understand what's being discussed. I succeeded at not falling asleep which I considered a success. Catching up with family and friends was also great. I found out that I didn't forget how to drive and was amazed by the order on the streets. There are actually proper lanes in the US. A real treat, at least to me, who would be scared to drive here in Amman. I got my Taco Bell, Korean food and Thai food fix, as well as the traditional Christmas dinner and tasty kettle corn. Life was good.

Now that I'm back, I'm appreciating some of the highlights about being here; always learning new things, buying my 'ka'ik sim sim' sandwich every morning from the adorable Ahmad, the variety of cafe's, walking everywhere and right now, the beautiful weather. It's kind of ironic that I was so excited to get really nice long johns to bring back to Amman to suvive what I thought would be the bitter cold weather when I got back. It's about 70 degrees now; I'm wearing a skirt, a sweater and I don't even have to wear a hat or a scarf today, which is something considering that I usually don a scarf once October hits.

One highlight of being here is that when you don't have a lot of money, it's rather easy to eat healthily. In the US, the fast food is cheap and the produce is expensive. Here, it's the fast food that is expensive and the produce is cheaper. A whole bag stuffed with fruits and vegetables for under $7? 10 pieces of freshly made mouth watering falafel for 22 cents? Awesome. Of course, everything is relative and I'm sure that for people who earn $300 a month, everything is expensive. Everything is relative I guess.

On another note, I saw some odd foods in US supermarkets. Broccolini. It looked like asparagus but with a tiny head of broccoli on top. I don't get it. Don't scientists and engineers have something better to do with their time. An avacado with 30% less fat. Last time I checked, the kind of fat in avacados are actually good for you. Let's stick with normal avacados and less.....burgers and ice cream.

Another bonus, at least about being a teacher here, is that I'm on vacation again! 2 weeks of vacation in December and 2 weeks of vacation in January. And thanks to my wonderful mother, I get to go to Egypt with some friends in two days! Cairo and Luxor, here I come!