Monday, January 31, 2011

The Deluge and an Artist

Me and Eric left home late this morning. He had needed a shower and the hot water heater took longer to warm the water up then expected. The heater isn’t an American style heater, it’s a small tank without insulation that stays off unless you turn it on and he forgot to turn it on when he got up.

It was raining outside, which ain’t normal for Amman. You can tell we’re on the edge of the desert out here. You conserve water. There are no water-fountains. The water gets turned on only once a week. All the Fremen wear stillsuits. So it was good that it was raining, but Amman can’t handle rain so all the traffic ran slow.

When we got into the cab I gave the driver directions. He looked kind of haggard and tired and sad. He looked, in short, like a stereotypical Jordanian.

“Jabbal al-Webbdeh, shukran” I told him.

He looked back at me with baleful eyes and in a skeptical deadpan said “In Shah Allah,” if god wills it. He seemed seriously doubtful that god would grant us that grace.

We got to our culture course late. When we got in Samia was talking to the class about art. She is opinionated. She is inconsistent. She is, in short, an artist. And she is teaching out art course like Mark VanBuskirk the Earlham drawing prof would, but his occasional aggravating artsyness magnified over and over again. The art was good this time, I will put pictures of cool things up on Facebook, and i will try to see if I can get it on this blog.

The ridiculous things is that the thing I may have been most interested in was the floors. They were Pergo wood-laminate floors, the kind I’ve usually installed when I did floors back home.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Telling Off Of Hosnei Mubarak

Saturday night was Movie night at Bruce’s. We sat around and chilled and talked while he and Leila and Eric made pancakes.

The Arabic is “ahlan uu sahlan,” roughly translatable as “make yourself like my family, make yourself at home.” We went for ahlan whole-hog, and at this point the ‘ham program is really feeling like my family. I’m getting into the part of the program where I really miss American social norms. I miss people assuming female friends are just friends. I miss inane America chatter. I miss Walmart.

Oh man. I miss bacon. So much.

I was sitting in the living room with Abu Joe yesterday, typing things on my computer and watching al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Egyptian Revolution. The coverage cut to a video of a man giving a speech.

I didn’t recognize him, but I wouldn’t recognize any Egyptian politician. Taking a shot in the dark I pointed at the screen and asked “Hosnei Mubarak?”

“Yes! Right! Yes, Mubarak!” Abu Joe said enthusiastically.

“Mubarak, ah, he, ah,” he gave me a flustered look, and pointed at the television “F*** you!” He stretched his fist toward the picture of Mubarak, middle finger free and aloft.

“F*** you! F*** your mother!” he gleefully insisted. “Aeewa? Tamam? Okay?” he intoned, looking back at me. “Aeewa, kteer tamam,” I said over a laugh.

“F*** your mother!” he gleefully barked, returning his gaze to the TV. He flipped off Mubarak with this left hand too. He rolled both hands forward at the screen. It was a common mode of self expression in the kind of American movies always shown on Arabic television. It’s always the most ridiculously hyper-violent movies. I frequently wonder if it means some Arabs would disbelieve that anything that isn’t super violent could be American.

I… I got up this morning and wasn’t exhausted. I didn’t know how to handle not just wanting to be asleep until eleven.

I just plain don’t know how to deal with this. I’m not sure I can emotionally handle the shock.

Still I got going. It was drizzling the entire way to my tadreeb (=internship) and I thought it would be a nice thing for Jordan, but might make it unpleasantly muggy to walk home in the afternoon. When we all headed down to Melkite Mass it was still raining, so we used the back staircase and went in through the side door in the sanctum.

I spent a good chunk of the day editing Fr N’s speech, and the rest of it doing my Arabic homework. Not thrilling but still pretty good.

And when I left…it was still raining. Positively pouring. But I had resolved to walk home to conserve cam money at the beginning of the day. I buttoned up my coat and turned up my collar and tried to stay away from the street to avoid as much splashing as possible.

For the first mile or so it was fine. I was damp, but I felt like I was adapted for this, built to live in grey and wet and vaguely miserable places. But after a while the rain got old. For the middle leg of the trip I was fine but certainly not enjoying the stroll.

And then came the big traffic circles. There aren’t ways to cross them without going on the street. The streets aren’t really designed to drain that well, rain doesn’t happen enough here to make it worth it. And I was sharing the street with cars. Puddles. Constant traffic. Total soak-age.

Being wet in Amman is full of grumble. It is good spirited, energetic and proactive grumble though. More token kvetching than anything else. Okay, it was really nice and beautifully distracting. Yes I got soaked, but I was okay with it. When I walked into Arabic I found most other people feeling otherwise but I was happy.

I’m still drinking WAY too much coffee there. Oh well.

Stay tuned. Revolutions to follow.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


I woke up early-ish to go into my internship today. I don’t normally go in on Saturdays, but this week is when our World Interfaith Harmony Week event is going to happen.

Fr Nabil is giving a speech as a part of it, and it has been my job to write the speech for him. I wrote a quick draft of it last Thursday before I headed out, but there were a few things Fr Nabil wanted changed. I changed them but he still seemed to be stumbling around the edges.

The English language as a enormous vocabulary, and it’s really too big to really get a handle on. The tongue’s been hanging around for a millennia and a half, badly copying words from other language and adding them to it’s own vocabulary. Sometimes it borrows the same word from the same language twice… or more. We took “castle” from the French, and then the French language changed and we also took “chateau.” It’s the same word, but because English is weird we kept both versions. A castle is the kind of building the French aristocracy lived in when we borrowed the word the first time. And a chateau is the kind of building they lived in by the second time around. The French don’t need both words, but English speakers did so we kept it.

Well that means we have an enormous vocabulary with obscenely specific grades of overtones. Our vocabulary is the biggest out of all languages in the world, and that messes with foreign English speakers. Fr Nabil speaks excellent English, but I was using words that he didn’t know, and he didn’t know how to pronounce them. It’s not like they’re spelled phonetically. So writing a good, concise, and eloquent speech for Jordanians to understand?

Harder then I would have guessed.

I met up with Eric for lunch. We had meant to get some other people together, but business happens and we couldn’t get nobody ‘til two. In the meantime we went to sharia el-reenboo’s R&B American Café and ate barbecue burgers with beef-bacon and a peanut butter milkshake. They didn’t really do a very good job with it alas, it was a fairly bland and incredibly greasy burger. I think that if I opened a restaurant and made good, competent, and subtly correct American food here I could make a killing.

After that at two we went to the Coffee Station to hang out with Simon and Tyler. And then I wrote you this in between hanging out and talking about what makes good fiction. I am not sure what makes it be good. What do you think it is? You should post a comment and tell me what you think.

I’ll catch y’all on the flip side!

Friday, January 28, 2011

End of Prologue

Yesterday I earned a new achievement badge in AL-URDUN: the Semester. I leveled my character up to the Competent Proficiency at my internship. I am pretty happy about that. The whole not being utterly useless thing is a good feeling, and I’m getting something of an idea what Fr Nabil wants. He’s seeing more and more of what I’m good at, and letting me do more of that.

But yeah, I got back a copy of the press release that I had drafted and there was exactly one change. It was a pretty gorram rad realization that I had managed to write that sort of media statement mostly competently after having seen one vaguely-equivalent example in all of my life. I also got to design and put together the English language program for Harmony: Jordan as a Model (our Event). Funny enough I learned what day and when it was going to be while I was actually putting the program together, but I think that’s how things work in Jordan. Two drafts in Prince Ghazi called and said he was coming, but that we should change the time. So we did, and I added parts about “HRH Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed’s Arrival” to the program. Plans here just change and shift around and migrate until they are actually happening. And half the people will still be late anyway. It is just how Jordan works.

Dude. They have kings and stuff. This dude grew up thinking of himself as royalty. Holy schnitzels.

And I got told that not only was I allowed to come but that if I could get out of class, I was supposed to. I think I will be able to get off class, but I will need to find a way to get myself down there, the event being at the Jordan River at the site of Jesus’ baptism and all. It seems likely I can bum a ride with Fr Nabil or Woroud, but things shift around like crazy here so I’m a lil’ stressed about if it’ll work out. Also, he invited the whole group to attend, though I think he realizes anyone else coming is unlikely. Also I wrote Fr Nabil’s English speech. Changes were made, but I get the last edit before Fr Nabil himself so that makes me pretty happy.

After I was done I walked home via Safeway, where I bought some notebooks, a sketch pad, some headphones, and Twix. I went with the purpose of breaking my otherwise-unspendable 50 JD bill and getting some taxi fares. I succeeded at the breaking of the bill. But I miscalculated the tax and ended up with no ones. So I still had no taxi fare. I’d had to borrow a one from Eric to get to the internship that morning. So I went to the Safeway. But nope, I still had no ones of my own. I'm a lil' derpy.

The walk back took an hour and twenty minutes, so I got to see a lot of the city. It has a lot of dry desolate beauty about it, but also a weird lushness. And the King Hussein Mosque, even if it’s done in a 70’s architectural style, is gorgeous.

I got to Arabic later than I wanted to, only fifty minutes before class. I HAD been planning to use the lightning-fast internet there but couldn’t get on. Bill was full of frustration, and I punched a hole in the wall. Okay I didn’t do that.

And that brings us to TODAY! BAM I am now officially caught up! The original plan was to sleep ‘til 11 but I woke up irrevocably at 8:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep, despite closed blinds and total darkness. So I did the only thing a responsible person would do. I read webcomics, stalked through facebook, and discovered the stats page of my blog now that I have admin privileges. So. Tell anyone and everyone who you think might like reading my rambling to read this, okay?

Eric and I actually got up out of bed at 11:30 and dressed. And after that we went to Reem (the excellent food stand), where we truly had a sabaH ash-shawaarma. It was excellent. We walked home through desolate semi-developed Amman. After that the whole program group met up at Mukhtar mall and went through the ordeal of finding and fitting into as few taxis as possible to drive halfway across the city. Or three blocks. Whatever.

We went to Asma, the housing co-ordinator’s, father’s house. We ate this delicious Palestinian chicken, pita, nut, and onion dish and overstuffed ourselves. After that they brought out the overwhelmingly sweet dessert. Three of the group physically exploded after eating that. After that they brought out the tea, which lost us another two. Then came the dessert-like fruit salad. Simon popped after eating that, splattering Simon-parts everywhere. Then came the coffee, which caused the explosion of everybody but Bruce.

After that we went to explore sports city and failed to find a gym. Nuts to that though, I was exhausted. So I came home and ate delicious food, and watched the News about the Revolutionary Semester.

It’s inneresting. When Tunisia revolted it happened so fast, and everyone just accepted it. The President/Dictator guy had fled to Saudi Arabia, and that was that. I’ve heard it said the situation has calmed down there now, and reports coming from people’s friends in the country said things like “it’s safe, it’s calmed down, and it’s good. Except the old government is hiring street gangs to go across the city to other neighborhoods and create destruction and chaos. They are trying to make it look like without the government things fell apart, but except for the government’s hired thugs, there is no chaos.”

And in Algeria people were quick to accept the irrevocably of the revolution too. Then when Beirut started acting up people all said “It’s the same, I just hope the extremists and the religious extremists don’t come to power anywhere because of this. The governments were bad, but the extremists are worse.”

No one accepted it in Egypt though. At first it was just said that it was the residue of the Christmas attack on the Copts, but Egypt was unified. It was just a more stable Iraq. Then it was that Mubarak had a better secret police. Then he had a better army. And then there were too many people in Egypt. Finally with the scale of riots now, people are starting to think that maybe there’s a chance of revolution. Add in Yemen, and it could be a hell of a revolutionary semester.

More to come. Stay tuned. Yalla-bye!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Post in Which I Chuck Up

So on Tuesday I woke up at something like 6:30 in the AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. The light was everywhere, oh so bright. Screamin' through my morning window. Billowin' through my blinds. And consuming my sleepy eyes. I seriously felt like it was eating my eyeballs. When I stumbled off to the bathroom, I was very dizzy. So I stumbled back to bed and coddled my head for another hour, pillow on top of my head.

Well when my Alarm went off I got up out of bed, got on my pants, and immediately got down in front of the toilet and Hwauuuuuuuuuugh! Food poisoning? Gastro-something-medical sounding? Does it really matter? The point is Auuuuuuugh! So I empty my stomach and then practiced emptying it some more. After that I go back to my room and collapsed some more. At this point, I realize I should call my internship and tell them I ain’t coming.

Because I am a derpface, my brain assumes this means I should text Bruce. He’s just like “Tell your gorram internship, not me” and I’m all “Ohhhhhhh, you are the most insightful human being I’ve ever met! I will do this thing you have told me to do!”

I am totally foshotally a high-functioning tired/sick person. I couldn’t quite manage talking, so I texted Fr Nabil that I am sick-sick-sick. I was not sure whether he did texting or not, but at the time it wasn’t really a huge concern for me.

The thing is by 11:00 I was feeling arright and so I started just relaxing. By 12:00 I could sit up in bed. By 1:00 I could walk. So at 2:00 I went on a run. Basically the worst decision ever, right? Usually. But. This time, I dodged the bullet and BAM(!) suddenly felt amazing. Up and at ‘em in time for Arabic.

Oh Arabic. Love the class. It has made me realize I have a problem though.

I never drank coffee before coming here. It’s bitter and generally bad-tasting, right? Well I get here, and several times I’m offered Arabic or Turkish coffee. I want to be sociable. I want to try new things. So I try it, overloaded with sugar, of course. It’s basically melted mocha ice-cream by the time I tamper with it. Prollem is I like melted mocha ice-cream.

And there’s coffee everywhere. It was at the hotel. It’s at my internship. It’s at Arabic. And if I’m not stopped, I do things like drink nine cups.

Small cups though. So it’s okay, right?

Oh, compulsion.

At Arabic I invented a personal greeting.

The basic form for saying good morning and all that is sabaH el-_____. Good morning = sabaH el-kheir. The response is sabaH an-noor = have a morning full of light. Or sabaH el-werrd = have a morning of flowers. Or sabaH el- 3asl = have a morning full of honey. Well, I wish people I really really like sabaH ash-shawaarma = have a morning full of shawaarma. Shawaarma is the delicious, delicious shaved lamb meat that’s a lot like donner-kebap. It is amazing. Best street food. Ever.

And really-truly, sabaH ash-shawaarma is the best kind of morning I can with anybody. So I say to you masaH ash-shawaarma = may your evening be full of shawaarma

Yesterday was fairly swell. I had class at 10:30, which meant I got to sleep ‘til 9:30. Sleeping in, after the food, is indisputably the most glorious part of Jordan. Just as getting up for my internship in the morning is the hardest part, and is infinitely more difficult then either the language barrier or getting money for cabs. In class we talked about economic history. Oh history, so happy.

After class I went to Books@Cafe the cybercafé/bookstore with Anna and Simon. I like Anna and Simon, so this is cool. Anna had to leave before too long, but me and Simon hung out for a while and ate a giant Barbeque Chicken Calzone between us. He regaled me with stories of his freshman year, terrible roommates, and plotting the utter destruction of mirrors, replete with the lamentation of the mirror-women. He’s a gorram amazing story teller. I want him to write a book just about crazy things that happen to him and the way he lives his life. I’d buy that book so-so-so fast. He’s good people.

After that I came home and then I tried to walk to the Safeway. I succeeded, but Safeway is just sort of this big cube-shaped building. When I got there, the entrance I found was dark and locked, so I assumed it was closed. It was, of course, actually open but there were no fracking signs. No signs anywhere. Later I found out that the door I found was apparently to a lawyer’s office. Why is a lawyer’s office in the Safeway building?

Jordan confuses me. Jordan, among other things.

One more double-day post, and I will be caught up. More to come!