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...apple."
"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.