28 January 2007

the city of brotherly love.

Put the champagne down and suppress the urge to say "I told you so," I didn't give up and move to Philly. Many moons ago, Amman was better known as Philadelphia, but today, it is most certainly a city of brotherly love. Jordan is a country that, by any standard, should be in a refugee crisis. The nation of 5.6 million people includes over two million Palestinian refugees and 800,000 Iraqi ex-pats/refugees who have fled Iraq for Jordan, mainly Amman, in the past three years. Yet somehow, it remains the most stable country in the region, albeit a loaded accolade, given the sordid events taking place in neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.


General regional instability aside, here I am in one of the most western cities in the Middle East. The buildings are all the same shade of limestone creamy white and few of the streets have names, so I rarely know where I am save a few major landmarks. If not for the Arabic writing everywhere, you might mistake Amman for a monochrome version of an American city. Popeye's, Domino's, KFC, McDonalds, Applebee's, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Hardees are scattered among the shwarma and falafel shops, and Kraft mac and cheese and (wait for it...) Orville Redenbaucher's microwave popcorn can be found alongside hummus and olives at the local Safeway supermarket. There's a liquor store four blocks from our apartment and we just joined a women's gym across the street from the university (where we can wear such scandalous items as shorts and tank tops). We have to cab it to school, but no one walks in this town anyway since the "sidewalks" (in the loosest sense of the word) are better suited to hiking than walking.


I'm living in a quaint three bedroom apartment, rented from a former police officer/recent widow and her three kids who just moved into a smaller place nearby. I got lucky and drew the master bedroom, so I have a spacious bed and private bathroom. There's an enormous kitchen, a family room, dining room, and living room for "entertaining visitors." It's socially unacceptable to not offer food or drink to guests, so we have a stash of tea and cookies in case our landlord stops by for an impromptu visit. Overall, the apartment's pretty lovely, except for the fact that you can't flush toilet paper anywhere in this country and we're only allowed to run the heater a few hours a day. Gas is quite expensive and ours is allocated monthly, so if we run out, we're SOL for heat for a while. The gas trucks drive around the city refilling tanks every morning playing a little jingle to let you know they're coming. I thought it was an ice cream truck the first morning, but sadly, I was mistaken.


Now that orientation is over, we start colloquial Arabic classes next week, then Modern Standard and area studies February 11. We've been exploring the town in our free time, often with Abu Faras, Zuleyma's favorite cab driver and a generally adorable old man. He drove us home in a torrential downpour, and pointed out a virtual waterfall down a staircase by saying, "water, Zuleyma. Water." Then he shocked us all by saying that he'd heard some very sad news that day. We were expecting that he was sick or something, but instead he said that sixteen American soldiers had just been killed in Iraq. "They died for no reason. They all have families, there has to be a better way." Your own support or lack thereof for the war aside, his empathy was touching. After all the images of Arabs celebrating the deaths of Americans we see in the media, Abu Faras is a refreshing look at how a great deal of citizens on both sides really see this conflict. There are certain aspects of Jordanian culture I find grating, but things like this warm my heart and remind me why I came here.

On the home front, here are my two favorite excerpts from the 2007 State of the Union.

"In all we do, we must remember that the best health care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors." Taken out of context, this is a textbook argument for reproductive choice.

"And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change." Admitting there's a problem is half the battle.

19 January 2007

wild jordan.

At long last, here I am! Cambridge and London were fabulous, and now I'm sitting in the nature conservation association's free internet cafe (tree hugging is alive and well across the pond!), which features a mind-blowing selection of vegetarian entrees - I never expected to encounter tofu and veggie burgers over here. I'll post a real update on my adventures soon, but Jordan is defying expectations thus far. I should have a cell phone shortly, but since it's Friday, there's not much open until the evening. Pictures coming soon(ish) too, but I start orientation soon, so we'll see how much free time I have. Until then, salaam!

PS. There's a town called Petropavlovsk in northern Kazakhstan. And here I was, so proud to have been to Siberia. I'm going to try to visit Kazakhstan this summer with a friend, we may have to detour through there just to say we did.

10 January 2007

moment of truth.

At long last, it's finally here. In less than 7 hours, I'll be on a plane and officially embarking on my first foray into the expat lifestyle. I'll be back in eight months with a more worldy outlook and fluent Arabic (in my dreams!). For my language proficiency pretest today, I did a "role play" about going to the pharmacy to get help for my sick friend. Since I don't know how to say hurt, sick, pain, or any of the body parts, I managed to explain that "my friend ate meat and now he can't leave the bathroom." This is going to be an amusing adventure, if nothing else. Oh well - Amman, here I come!

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