Sunday, December 6, 2009


Just kidding. I didn't go on a road trip. I took a bus to Jerusalem. Actually, it was a taxi from my neighborhood to the north bus station, a bus to the border, another bus to the Israeli side of the border (don't ask), a shared taxi to downtown Jerusalem and then a normal taxi to my hostel. And then I hoofed it for the next two days in and around Jerusalem, with the exception of the bus I took to Bethlehem and back.

Israel/Palestine was beautiful. Geographically, it looks a lot like Jordan - dry and hilly. But there is so much more history there, and frankly, so much more tension. Kristin, Elizabeth, and I noted how incredible it was that such distinct groups of people (i.e. the inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter and Armenian Quarter of the Old City) could live literally right on top of each other and fail to interact. I rode in a taxi to my hostel with a Mexican priest on a special religious mission trip to Jerusalem. The taxi driver, who was Arab, asked him where he wanted to go, and he replied in English. The driver nodded, but then turned to me as if to say, "So what does he want?" I told him, in Arabic, "He wants a church." (I didn't know the name.) The taxi driver replied, "Oh! Church!" With all due respect to my driver, I would have thought that "church" was a word most people in Jerusalem knew in several languages. Most of the visitors to the city are looking for a church of some kind, after all.

I came to find out that my taxi driver, who looked about 30 years old, spoke neither English nor Hebrew. As we drove through a calm, leafy, European-looking neighborhood north of the Old City, it became clear to me that this was not his territory. The distinct separation to which the residents of Jerusalem have become so accustomed was glaring. I was staying in a Jewish neighborhood, and he didn't belong.

Aside from the eerie feeling of segregation, I felt at home in Jerusalem. When obnoxious shopkeepers weren't trying to persuade me to check out their wares, I walked the streets in peace, relishing for the first time in a long time being surrounded by signs in a language I couldn't read. It's so different from Jordan, in more ways than I could begin to list now. Someday I'll get around to it. I would say I can't wait to go back, but I guess I can. Either way, I'm stuck with the Israeli brand for awhile; my passport stamp means I can't visit most Arab countries until I get a new passport. But that's a story for another day. I'll be back in the US in about two weeks.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Up in the gym.

Today was my first day as a full-fledged member of a women's spa/health club in Amman. I joined because I eat way too much bread/not anything healthy at all in this country. The receptionist at the gym (who remembered my name from three days ago when I first met her) and the young trainers are all really nice. Last Thursday they took all my measurements and said they'd have a "program" ready for me today. Their side comment was: "You're so little! Why do you want to work out?"

Something was obviously misunderstood. When I showed up to the gym today I was all set to get started on my "program" - structure! Direction! Hooray!

Try torture. My program? 30 minutes on the treadmill, 10 minutes on the elliptical, 10 minutes on the exercise bike, 10 minutes on the arc trainer, 10 minutes on the stair stepper, and 1o minutes on the "wind machine," whatever that is. THEN 15 different weights with 2 sets of 20 reps.

I laughed out loud. Clearly when I came in with a normal-level BMI they assumed I was in good enough shape to run a marathon. Even 30 minutes on a treadmill seemed daunting to me. Slightly confused, I hopped on the treadmill and started jogging. I looked around. None of the other women were running. Some of them were fast-walking, sure, but they all adhered dilligently to the heel-toe motion. Oh, I thought. So this is how they manage to spend 3 HOURS in the gym and not die.

Needless to say, I probably won't be sticking to my "regime." Oh well. At least I got a lesson in women's exercise culture. Until next time.

OH! They also have an erg. I hopped on it, stoked to see a familiar piece of equipment, even if it wasn't included in the master plan a.k.a. "program." When I hopped on it, it didn't turn on. No way to actually row. Maybe I'll ask about it next time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Back in Amman or How to Not Shower for Five Days (and Counting)

So the trip to Sharm al-Sheikh was absolutely wonderful. The mountains of the Sinai Peninsula, which dissolve seamlessly into the Red Sea, were breathtaking. I didn't really get to explore them. Instead I indulged my desire to sit by the pool/sea for a full three days, eating as many chocolate-covered mini croissants and waffles as I wanted. Pictures are coming soon...really.

Meanwhile, I am quickly realizing how much I took for granted the small conveniences of home. Our house is being redone little by little. Don't get me wrong, it looks fantastic. But during the renovation process I've had to learn to be a little bit more flexible about things like, oh, personal hygeine.

While I was in Egypt the living room was renovated, and when I got back my family decided they wanted to repaint the bathroom and get a new shower curtain. Actually two very good ideas. Everything came out of the bathroom on Friday, the day after I returned. The hot water heater came down from the place where it hangs on the wall so that the wall could be painted. It is now Tuesday and the hot water heater is still upside down on the ground, not heating water. The shower curtain has been missing until last night, when the new one was put up and promptly removed to be "hemmed."

Yesterday I asked if I could take a shower, and my family indicated that that was out of the question, since the hot water heater is not functioning at the moment. They suggested I ask my "host aunt," our next door neighbor, if I could use her shower. I haven't yet. I'm not complaining. I'm getting used to being a little grimier than usual. I just hope everyone around me can get used to it to.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Amman

I'm a self-proclaimed morning person. All my friends know I prefer to get work done before noon and I am worthless after midnight. It's probably because of this that I enjoy my mornings in Amman so much.

The air is getting crisper (though not really cleaner) and the fall temperatures are beginning to set in. Every other morning I catch a taxi early with my American neighbor because she has class at 8:00, and those 15 or so minutes in the taxi are pure bliss. The streets aren't yet crowded, the sun is low enough so that it only peeks between buildings in thin spears. The city is just waking. In those hours I know this is my Amman.

This morning I spent my hour before class sitting on the university campus, listening to my iPod, and attempting to read a poem for class. It was just chilly enough that I had to occasionally pull my sleeves over my hands. It was wonderful and peaceful. It'll be hard but I'd like to try getting up early when I'm back at school in the States. It's a pretty rewarding experience.

I'm having some technical difficulties (namely, my computer's charger cord is on the blink) so pictures are further delayed. But I'm going to try to go to a PC store today and get it looked it, so that might be another experience in itself!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Making Friends and Influencing People

I officially had my first incredibly frustrating but ultimately rewarding "adventure" in Amman yesterday. I had to visit the Arab Medical Center (or, rather, a building close to it) in the Fifth Circle. Getting there was easy. It's behind the only two five-star hotels in Amman, and very well-known. The problem is that it is located in one of the most commercial, uninhabited districts in the city. I was naive enough to believe I could catch a taxi back without a hitch, no problem. Problem. Since the area is so busy, taxis don't stop. All the people standing around were waiting for people to pick them up - people they knew.

When I finally managed to snag a taxi off the busy main road, he refused to take me where I needed to go. For 40 minutes I wandered around the hospital and the gigantic Sheraton hotel, watching taxis fly by. When I finally felt exhausted and on the verge of tears, I swallowed my pride and mustered all the Arabic I knew to ask the information desk at the hospital where I could get a taxi. The information worker directed me to the parking guards at the Sheraton. "They will get you taxi," he said.

Across from the hospital were three men sitting under an umbrella. Whenever a car would approach the hotel, they would stop it, check in its trunk, and if everything was all clear they would push aside a very scary looking tire-puncture-thing to allow the car to pass (this precaution probably began after a series of hotel bombings in 2005). I assume they took turns at this because two of them seemed to be lounging under the umbrella, while a third wielded a clipboard and checked car trunks under the mid-day Amman sun.

I asked them, in Arabic, where I could get a taxi to my home. The working man smiled and said, in Arabic, "I will get a taxi for you, it may take about five minutes."

I secluded myself to the side of the road, near the two sitting twenty-somethings under the umbrella. Our conversation, mostly in Arabic, went as follows:

"How long have you been in Jordan?"
"One week."
"One week? And you speak Arabic?"
"Well, yeah."
"How did you learn it?"
"In college, in America."
"So, are you Arab, or American?"
"[laughing] American."
Long pause.
"But I've only studying Modern Standard Arabic so far. I don't know much spoken Arabic."
Another long pause.
"So, you know Arabic grammar?"
"Yes, I do."
"With the case endings [strange markers used to indicate parts of speech and their cases, the equivalent of which does not exist in English and which are never used in spoken Arabic]?"
"Yes, of course."
He thought for a bit.
"The boy ate the [some Arabic food I didn't recognize]."
"Say it with the case endings. The boy ate"
"The boy...ate...the apple."
At this the working man had come back to the umbrella. He smiled and said, "That's right!"

The three men sort of shrugged and pondered the idea that this little American girl was in their country, speaking their language. They did flag down a taxi for me, and were able to convince the driver to take me home. I didn't really understand why that was such a difficult proposition, but then, taxi drivers here operate on a different level of rationality. I think.

That was the first time I'd ever seen real pride in the Arabic language. Usually, if you try to speak Arabic here, you will get a response in Arabic and then a sigh and then a response in English. But these men seemed to be legitimately impressed by the fact that I had taken the time to learn their language, and to learn it thoroughly. As with most foreign languages, I had learned more technical aspects of Arabic than they had ever learned or would remember. I couldn't ask my host family if they had any Scotch tape, but at least I could impress hotel workers enough to get myself a taxi. Arabic success numero uno.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Marhaba, al-Urdun!

I’m here.

I’ve been in Jordan for about 48 hours now and it feels like much longer.

The first night was a blur. A few of us were picked up at Queen Alia International Airport and driven back to our hotel. We ended up tooling around the outlying areas of the city right as the sun was setting, casting a reassuring glow over the predominantly brown landscape. The sunset meant the hour of iftar was approaching – Muslim Jordanians would soon be breaking their fast among family and friends. After a 10-hour flight from JFK, which I had to sprint across the airport to catch following a delayed flight from Atlanta, I was just happy to be on the ground with both of my bags. The beautiful cityscape was just a bonus.

Dinner was a variety of Middle Easternish foods, plus an attempt at macaroni and cheese. As I ate I could feel myself falling asleep, so after dinner and a few minutes of chatting with some other students, I called it a day. I flipped on the TV as I got ready for bed and found “The O.C.” in English with Arabic subtitles. I’ve never been happier to see Adam Brody.

Sleeping was difficult the first night. I woke up disoriented but wide awake at 1:00 a.m. I didn’t get back to sleep until after 4:00. The last thing I remember hearing, before I finally got out my iPod and prayed for sleep, was the muezzin reciting the call to prayer. It was time for the suhoor, a pre-dawn meal unique to the holy month of Ramadan.

Yesterday we got to visit the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature along with WildJordan – a cafĂ© and shop located in the same building. The view from the terrace was incredible, but I had forgotten my camera back at the hotel, so no pictures. Amman is built on seven hills, like Rome, and though the building we were in stood only three or four stories tall, we looked down on scores of rooftops in the small valley below.

Across the valley stood the Citadel (Jabal al-Qal'a) – our next stop. There we found the ruins of a Roman temple, bath houses, and more. The Citadel looked down upon a gigantic and incredibly well-preserved Roman amphitheatre. Our guide told us it could hold 7000 spectators. Naturally, we all climbed from the bottom of the amphitheatre to the top. I’m still regretting that decision today.

By afternoon we were all exhausted from the sun, the walking, and the jet lag. It was great to get back to the hotel and eat dinner – after sundown, of course.

Today was less eventful, with an Arabic placement test, some more orientation information, and a tour of the university where I’ll be studying.

It’s great to be here and more or less settled. Pictures coming soon!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Trip by the Numbers

Days until I take off for Amman: 8
Intermediate (sit in the airport) stops on the way: 2
Jordanian dinars in my possession: 32
Water bottles I should buy while at JFK: 3
Protein bars to bring with me: 1,000

Okay maybe I exaggerated on the last one. I will be packing a few, though, just in case I find nothing appetizing on a particular day or happen to feel malnourished. I have been warned by several people about the intensity of the Arabic Language program I'm about to enter and so far protein bars have been my best defense. I guess they're not really a good offense, though.

I'm doing my best to fight off the jittery nerves that come with the knowledge that in about a week I will touch down in a foreign country with nothing but clothes, water bottles, and various essential travel documents. I'm assembling a "happy bag" for my 11-hour flight from JFK to Amman. So far it it looks like its contents will be chocolate, earplugs, my iPod, an inflatable travel pillow, a healthy supply of Tums, an eyemask, and the small amount of Xanax my doctor prescribed for me (at my mother's suggestion).

Today was my last day at my summer internship and my coworkers took me out to a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant. They wanted me to start getting used to the food in Jordan. We had a great time and they gave me a beautiful journal and matching pen/pencil set (among other great gifts) for my journey.

I'm so excited to go study in Jordan for four months. I just wish I could get the whole getting-there part out of the way.