31 July 2007

like echoes or ripples on pond.

I met a prostitute tonight. Walking down the road trying to hail a cab, one pulled up next to me and a young woman stuck her head out the door. She was very blond, quite pretty, and wearing a high-neck overcoat in the 90+ degree heat, which can only mean she was concealing an outfit not fit for Ammani streets. She said something in Russian, a language I recognize but don't speak (Nick, where are you when I need you?), and when I looked bewildered, she asked in English, "Where is the Rasputin Club?" Not being a frequenter of brothels, I didn't know, so she went on her way. Turns out, it's one of the lowest of the low down by the university, which is not a neighborhood you'd associate with anything positive. I met a real live prostitute. Combine that with the disturbing number of Holocaust deniers I've met here, and it's been a half-year of new experiences.

My friend James, the Peace Corps volunteer who just left, is having allergy issues with his malaria medication and is sick and alone in Benin. Send some love his way.

26 July 2007

don't blame your knowledge on some fruit you ate.

I hit a bit of a dry spell for a while in terms of entertaining stories, but it seems the Petra bachelor party bus opened the floodgates again.

Between SAT and GRE class yesterday, Angel, the young woman who runs the front desk at Amideast, struck up a conversation with me. She's always been friendly and I sense that she's lonely, but this was the first chance we've really had to talk. She asked about me in Jordan and how long I was staying, and we got on the topic of Peace Corps and my moving to Ethiopia. She thought it was great and wanted to know how she could get paid for humanitarian work. Apparently, she's volunteered with a lot of NGOs but is now 28 and in need of a "real" job.

She's also unmarried and quite content with it, which is very unusual here, but she's feeling that motherly instint kicking in. Thank god mine is still very dormant. She said she'd love to marry an American man for the citizenship so she could have access to things like visas and the Peace Corps. I respect her honesty about the situation - she's not the only one who thinks it's pretty fabulous to be an American. Then, I almost passed out on the floor. She said she'd also love to marry an Israeli, but her family would kill her, so that's the only thing stopping her. She worked at a kibbutz outside Eilat (inside Israel proper) for a few years and loved it. Nevermind that I met an Arab who could say the word Israel without spitting - her family's Palestinian, so that's an even more mindblowing idiosyncrasy. It was an enlightening ten minutes.

Then, one of my GRE students asked if we would be getting next Tuesday off of class...for elections. Never mind that it's only local Amman elections in a state that's only nominally democratic and class runs from 6 - 9 PM, outside polling hours - he thought democracy was special enough to warrant a day off. I think Election Day should be a national holiday too. Hooray for freedom!

But, as all things go in Jordan, you can't have fun and interesting experiences without something getting creepy. On my cab ride to work this morning, my cabbie struck up the standard Arabic conversation. When we got to marriage, it was early and my lying reflex hadn't woken up yet, so I instinctively resorted to truth and said I wasn't married. At the near-ancient age of 22, he was aghast. He said it was important for me to get married young so I could have as many babies as possible before I got too old. I replied that I was a student and didn't want to get married until I had a good job, and even then, I was having exactly two children. He said I was very pretty and if he were younger (I'd peg him in his mid-fifties), he'd marry me and we could have lots of strong babies. Then, he reached back to shake my hand in affirmation of our new understanding, and just to drive home his point, fondled my thigh and attempted to reach into my crotch before I swatted him away. Honestly. It was 10 AM. I thought the creeps only came out at night, but not in Jordan. Liberate the proletariat already.

22 July 2007

if this is real then i was mistaken.

Paging Albert Camus. I went down to Petra yesterday with Patrick, a UGA law student working at the Jordanian Stock Exchange for the summer. Petra, being an ancient archaeological site, was uneventful - beautiful, but unchanged since last summer. The bus ride back, however, was an affair to remember. Patrick and I were the first ones on the bus, and we thought we'd have the thing to ourselves (a welcome change from the blaring Arab dance music on the way down). Ah, if wishing made it so.

At the next three stops, the bus filled with twenty some-odd (male) soldiers and tech-school students for the three and a half hour ride back to Amman. For those keeping a tally, I'm the only woman. All the other men knew each other, so the kissing, hugging, homo-erotic shabab behavior hit a peak early in the journey. Then, the driver, in his infinite wisdom, welcomed the "ajanibs" (foreigners) and turned on a particularly awful CD, thus initiating a shabab dance party in the aisles. It was only a matter of time before they dragged Patrick into the dance fest and tried forcibly to make him shake his hips like a belly dancer. By grabbing him around the waist from three directions.

But then, I was punished for my hysterical laughter when they also dragged me into the aisles and attempted to dance with me. It was funny until they started shaking their chests and suggesting I do the same. Now I understand how the stripper at a bachelor party feels. When the men started showing interest in me, Patrick and I said we were married, which ended up backfiring in a way the brother-sister cover story usually doesn't.

After the cigarette and bathroom break (the bus was actually non-smoking, wonder of all wonders!), the men were tired and wanted to chat. Patrick, fortunately, doesn't speak a word of Arabic and I was able to dumb down my own abilities, since the men already had a hard time with the idea that only the "wife" could speak the language. But, both of us are actually pretty bright, so despite pretending to have no idea what was going on, we understood.

In sum, the men were asking if we would be consummating our "marriage" that night, and if so, was there a way they could be involved or at least watch. They started by asking to see us kiss, then gradually progressed to discerning where we were sleeping and if that meant "together." One of the creepier guys was even nice (?) enough to offer us his house if for some reason we lacked a bed in which to consummate our love. They also tried to get our phone numbers so we could all "hang out" again sometime soon - we pretended we were just visiting and leaving the next day, which was technically true for Patrick. Thank god we don't have any friends and no one called during the trip. No exaggeration, this went on for the last 45 minutes of the bus ride. We ended up getting off at the first stop somewhere in the ghettos of East Amman just to avoid the further awkwardness.

All the fun and cultural bonding of the dance party was lost by the effects of sexual repression in this country. Honestly - can anyone give me a reason, given stories like this, that isolating men and women from one another in all social contexts is a good idea?

17 July 2007

coat check and i lost the number.

EDIT: I rescind my previous statement about my GRE students. We had to have a long division and 'big number' multiplication review today before we could continue working with percentages and simultaneous equations. I died a little on the inside. Okay, a lot.

the world requires no audience.

Just when I'd hit a new low, I discovered that cheese fondue is indeed procurable in Jordan, and a mere two minutes from my apartment. It was an emotional moment for me and Candace. To add to the excitement, three days ago I discovered that the Mrs. Fields and Pretzel Time at Mecca Mall has, after six long months of teasing, begun producing the soft pretzels they advertise. With the processed cheese nachos at the movie theater, what more could a girl possibly need?

My new class of both GRE and SAT students are much brighter than the last ones, which is reassuring. I have an engineer who wants to go to UF and an Iraqi linguist who's fluent in French, English, and Arabic. I've been living in the richest and most stable country in the world - what the hell have I been doing with my life?

We're losing two more friends next week, which brings us down to just Candace, Fleming, and me. I leave in a month - the derka family will officially become a diaspora. But, it turns out I have one friend in the states who loves me enough to come visit between trips to Thailand and Greece. Or he just wants free housing, but I'm okay with being used.

My friend James leaves for Peace Corps Benin today. We're planning a trip to Madagascar so I can kidnap...I mean see... my beloved lemurs. A random Ethiopian guy found our PC facebook group and sent us all a message telling us how happy he was that the Peace Corps was coming back to his country - talk about a heartwarming moment. It reminds me of that time last summer when people thanked me for studying the Middle East (until they decided I was actually a racist imperialist). It was nice while it lasted.

In one month, I'll be in Oxford for an old Semester at Sea friend's wedding, then back in the free world on August 21. My, how time flies. I'll also graduate sometime in there, providing I finish (start?) a psychology paper on the developmental impact of sexual apartheid in Jordan. I have six months of anecdotal evidence, but at some point I'm going to have to read some real research to give my work some validity, I suppose.

I think I may have found Jesus. Or just satire good enough to rival The Onion.

12 July 2007

nauseous with the truth.

So, I hit a cultural sensitivity low yesterday. My boss decided that we should all go to the Dead Sea for work. I told her I had to teach my class at 4 and absolutely had to be back in Amman by then. I was assured that all would be fine, and so against my better judgment, I went. After an hour and a half to load the car and pick up Manal and her children (which should have been a red flag), we finally made it down there. After another hour of setting up and coffee/snack time (where I learned that my boss once smuggled bibles into Soviet Russia - perhaps another red flag?), we finally got to work around 1. At 230, I subtly reminded her that I had to be back by 4, and we should probably start packing to leave by 3. "Of course, of course." We all discuss my job and how I'm the only SAT teacher. At three, Manal realized that, perhaps, she should get her kids out of the pool. Then they had to shower. In the meantime, no packing was taking place. By 320, Susan and her daughter decided that they wanted food before leaving. My boss had vanished to say goodbye to someone.

By 330, the driver and I are getting awkwardly bored in the room trying to decide what "madam" wants to bring with us. We finally rally the children and load the car by 345. It's about 45 minutes to Amman, so I've already given up on getting there on time and am now trying to call Amideast to warn my students. The line's constantly busy and I keep trying while the kids try to blast the radio and everyone talks loudly. The kids want to stop for drinks, so we pull over as Susan asks if someone will cover my class. No, I'm the only teacher. "Oh, that's too bad."

Amideast calls me at 415 to find out where I am, and I explain that I'm on the way but not driving, so it's out of my hands. We pull over for ten minutes and wait for the other driver to catch up and get something from our car to bring back to the Dead Sea. Amideast calls again, I try to explain without using profanity to describe the rude, inconsiderate women responsible for my lateness. Susan asks if I'm in trouble, and I explain that I should be - you can't show up 30 minutes late to a class. "Oh, too bad." Finally, by 5 PM (my class only runs 4-6, mind you), we make it to my office. As I'm leaving, Manal says "Sorry you were late." Not "sorry I made you late." No sense of personal responsibility whatsoever. None of these women "work" in any true sense of the word (others work for them), so the idea that someone they view as their equal (me) would have to be punctual for a job (gasp!) is completely foreign to them. But if their child's teacher walked in an hour late, you bet they'd be bitching. Money really is the root of all evil. They've sold any sense of social decency down the river to be part of the elite.

Whew...feels good to get that off my chest.

In other news, I've realized that if I don't have electricity in Ethiopia, I won't have a refrigerator and hence won't be able to store cheese. It was a sad moment for me.

09 July 2007

everything must belong somewhere.

Take note, this next sentence doesn't often roll trippingly off my tongue. I was wrong about England. It didn't really "speak to me" in January - I thought it was a nice place to visit, but nothing particularly special. After a chaotic week, however, I'm sold for the following reasons (disregarding the bomb scare at Heathrow the day I arrived):

1. Cider. Bulmer's, Strongbow, Kopparburg - I love it all. It's like apple juice with an adult-friendly kick.

2. Theater. I didn't realize how much I missed culture until I found it again. We saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which is hilarious. Three American men, who I am almost certain had their start in improv, in tights, striped socks, Converse high-tops, and a plethora of wigs, props, and capes, performing 37 works in 97 minutes. Unfortunately for me, the Cambridge Shakespeare festival starts today. Missed Hamlet in England by 12 hours.

3. Queues. They're indicative of a greater culture of politeness that is sorely lacking here in Jordan. We tried to hail a cab in the rain 100 yards in front of the taxi line (the Jordanian way), and they wouldn't stop because that would ruin the system of taxi stands. People bump into others and apologize. The attendant at the tube ticket line was nice enough to explain how I could save three pounds with a day ticket instead of the two individual ones I asked to buy. Such craziness would never happen here in Jordan - it's hard enough to get a cab driver to take the fastest route and then give you all your change. Stereotypes about the coldness of the Brits aside, the proper English manners are alive and well.

4. Conor. That's right, my favorite band happened to be playing two shows in London while I was there, and I got to spend my Independence Day watching one of them. Yes!

5. The Tour de France started in London on Saturday, right next to Claire's hotel (she was nice enough to give me a free bed and company for the weekend), so I watched the start of the world's largest sporting event. That was neat. Crowded though, and because of security concerns, there were no garbage cans (rubbish bins, to use the parlance of the region) on the streets. Fortunately, I'm used to that.

6. The food - Ha! Not so much. But the Indian and Thai was good, but not so much on the pub food. Except the desserts - no knaffa to be had in London, just plenty of custard.

7. Museums. There was a Dali in Film exhibit at the Tate Modern with 100 some-odd works, including the Persistence of Memory and Apparatus with Hand, two of my favorites. Also interesting, but not so artsy, was a section on Global Cities - for the first time in history, more people live in urban areas than rural ones, and the exhibit looked at how various metropolitan areas are dealing with unprecedented growth. Lots of frightening statistics - 20% of people in Johannesburg, South Africa have no income. Great photographs as well. The Imperial War Museum was also amazing - an exhibit on genocide, the Holocaust, covert warfare in British history, and great exhibits on WWI and WWII - particularly interesting from the British perspective, since I'm used to a mere paragraph for the bombing of London and rooms dedicated to the atomic bombings. Two interactive blitz and trench experiences, complete with accurate smells, were also fascinating.

8. England banned smoking indoors as of July 1. Yes.

Even though you can't walk on the grass at Cambridge and the pound is the world's strongest currency ($10 for a pint?!), I'm learning to love England. Only one real issue though - the CCTVs everywhere. Signs on every building, corner, monument, tube stop warning you that you're being watched. An amusing irony from the country that gave the world George Orwell and 1984.

But now, I'm back in Amman, out of the rain, and preparing to start another month of GRE class, journalism, and slaving for the upper class. Back in the states 21 August!

Barack '08!