Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Not Constantinople

Here we are in Istanbul, easily the most European city we've set foot in since leaving Austria in May. Our hotel is located in the Golden Horn just a few minutes walk from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. It is a wonderful location. The streets are cobblestone and the all the buildings in sight are very European...but our hotel is an old Ottoman-style house. It is quite amazing--on the inside, at least--but there are a few downfalls (namely hardly any lights, small rooms, etc). I've posted a picture here but we'll have to get some better shots. It really doesn't do the place justice.

On Monday we headed out to explore Topkapi Palace. The gardens are amazing and extend much farther than the grounds of the "palace." There is a park that Andrew and I have walked through almost everyday that is part of the Topkapi grounds, but you don't have to pay to go in so they are much better!

We went on a tour through the Harem first off. The Harem is the name for the living quarters for the Sultan and his family. It housed the slaves (who were apparently paid) and his wifes (no more than 4 at a time) and his children. I wouldn't mind living in a harem myself after looking at this one.

Our guide was pretty humorous. He didn't speak English very well. Surprizingly no one speaks English very well here. Combine that with my lack of Turkish and it is pretty much a recipe for disaster. I would have thought a lot more people would have spoken English...or Italian...or Russian...or Arabic...or anything a lot better than they do, but that's okay. Anyway, in each room our guide would say, "Yes, my guest, we are in the bathroom of the king. I mean, the hammam of the sultan. I mean the Turkish bath where His Highness would be massag-ed and bath-ed." It was funny because he would say "Yes, my guest" even though there were upwards of 60 of us and he would say it in each room. Then he would say the same thing in 2-3 different ways (see the hammam example). Before moving on to the next room he would say, "Yes, my guest, we are to see the room of the mother of the sultan. The sultan's mother room." Then we would go into the next room and he would say, "Yes, my guest, we are in the room of the mother of the sultan. The room where the sultan's mother lives. The room of..." I think you get the picture.

Andrew and I then went on to explore the rest of the palace. There were quite a few rooms that we were, unfortunately, not allowed to take any pictures...but we had a good time looking around at all the treasures and enjoying the gardens and fountains.

**On a side note: Andrew and I went to McDonald's (on the Asia side) the next day, and who do you suppose we saw? Yes, my guest, we saw our tour guide. In a city of 10 million people we ran into the guide of our tour. The one who was giving us a tour of the Harem.**

After grabbing a bite to eat we headed off to the Cistern. Andrew likened it to scenes in Pirates of the Carribean and The Phantom of the Opera. I likened it to being really slippery, but it was kind of like those movies, too, as well as one of the Adams Family films...a lot of movies have cisterns in them. Probably because they are really cool.

I was not in the best outfit for going into the Cistern. The Cistern is an underground building used for storing water. Thus, it is wet. They've built platforms so you can walk around without getting too wet, but water still drips from the ceiling and the fish splash water up onto the platforms (I'm sure it is not malicious). So, I am wearing a long skirt and a pair of flip-flops that are over 2 years old, are paper-thin, and have absolutely no grip on them. There were times when I held onto Andrew's arm and he just pulled me along. It was that slippery. But, it was definately worth seeing.

On our way home from the Cistern we stopped by the Blue Mosque. It is really cool inside, but I think that I liked the Muhammed-ali Mosque in Egypt better. I almost think because it was more reverent. I can't really tell. The mosque in Cairo was based off the Blue Mosque, and I think that the Blue Mosque is more inviting because it is a lot lighter and open. But the people here aren't quite as into the religion as they seem to be in other places in the Middle East. People were letting their kids chase each other around and things were pretty crazy.

Between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are these beautiful gardens and a wonderful fountain. I like to pull Andrew into the park every time we walk by (which happens to be every single day). They are just really pretty. I'm not sure if you'll all agree but I haven't seen water, sprinklers, grass, or flowers for quite a long time. The park is beautiful!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Good ol' Dubai

Dubai seems to me to be a city of "new" wealth. Everything about the city screams newness! We arrived at the airport and it was definitely a lot better kept-up than Amman or Egypt. It was also quite a bit hotter! We were a little worried about finding our hotel since we didn't have an address, but we followed the directions given on the internet site: "tell the taxi driver it is by the clock tower." Andrew and I, thinking that this was an Arab country so it definitely has some history, thought that the clock tower would be some old fashioned tower. We were wrong. And amazed.

As you can tell, the clock tower is anything but old. And once we got to the tower, our hotel was in plain sight. I think we fell asleep almost as soon as we got in our hotel room. The heat, even at 1:00 A.M. was quite oppressive.

The next day we took advantage of the hotel's free shuttle to the beach. As we were sitting in the lobby, Andrew picked up the paper and read that the day before had been the hottest day of the year. It had reached an even 46 degrees Celsius (114 F), there was a nice load of sand dumped on the city from the "empty quarter" during a sand storm, and it had been overall a pretty miserable day. We were glad we had missed it.

We knew that it would be hot at the beach, and that we would probably burn so I insisted that we lather up with sun screen. It's probably expired by now or something since it's the same sun screen I used as a lifeguard when I was like 16...but apparently it still works well since we didn't really burn at all.

Anyway, the beach was beautiful. It was clean, the water was clear. There were no rocks or seaweed. It took us forever to find anything resembling a stone, shell, or living creature. The water was nice and warm. It was perfect. We had 4 hours of ocean bliss. The best part was that the beach was pretty uncrowded! I've never been in a more deserted beach in my life! We didn't figure out why until the next day...but it was definitely a good time at the beach, regardless of circumstances.

At 12:30, we decided that we should probably pack up to leave since the shuttle was coming at 1:00 to pick us up. We were drying off under some palm trees when in the distance we hear some disgusting gagging noises. Not too far away, at the showers, a man was puking his guts out. Like I wanted a shower now. Andrew and I headed to the showers anyway and rinsed off our feet while the lifeguards tended to the poor man.

We left the beach and commenced waiting outside for the shuttle. Soon beads of sweat started forming on our faces. Then those beads of sweat began dripping down our faces. We realized that our shirts we soaked. Our pants were soaked. Our hair was soaked. And we had just dried off. We decided to go to a near-by cafe and buy some AC. This was done by purchasing the cheapest thing on the menu and eating it as slowly as possible. Luckily the cheapest thing on the menu was ice cream. We were cooled inside and out! But after finishing our ice cream we had to head back outside to wait. Why was the shuttle taking so long? Why of all days did it have to be late?

We went and waited by the road once again. Drenched in our own sweat. Ringing out our shirts to dab our foreheads. Fanning ourselves with our hands. It was horrible. Finally the shuttle came. We filed in and turned the AC vents to face us. We were exhausted. I saw a billboard, that I wish I had caught on film...but was much too tired to do so, that had the traditional "men at work" sign on it, only instead of working then men were sitting under umbrellas. The sign said, "Men at rest. 12:00-4:00 P.M. Sunday-Saturday." Or something to that effect. I conceded with the sign and quickly fell asleep. It seemed to take forever to get the hotel but we finally made it there.

We somehow stumbled up to our room, drank more water than imaginable, and fell asleep. I slept for six hours, woke up and was still exhausted. I'm pretty sure we were suffering from heat exhaustion. At least it wasn't heat stroke, which I suspect was the level of the man vomiting at the beach.

The next day, a nice Indonesian couple staying at the hotel said that it had been 52 degrees (125 F) at noon the day before. I haven't been able to verify that, but if it is true, that would explain our reaction to the heat. I'm sure I sweated out more water than I had taken in that day. The other days we were in Dubai were all around 45-47 degrees and the heat was manegable...but our first day there was utter insanity. I've never been hotter. Nor have I ever sweat so much in my life! The beach was worth it, but it may have been nice to have done it on a slightly cooler day.

Dubai reminds me a lot of Las Vegas, architecture-wise. That, or a museum of art. It is just amazing the array of buildings they have. And then you go in the buildings and they are just as extravagant. Although I'm sure Dubai has slums, we didn't find them. Everywhere we went was pristine. And boy, did we go everywhere!

On Friday we set out to go to church. We had an address, and although our hotel didn't seem to use the numbering system, Dubai actually has a nice grid-like address system. We gave the address to the taxi driver and set out for our short taxi ride to the church. We ended up in a fancy neighbourhood, which could be right...but we couldn't find the villa the church was supposedly in. We drove all around the neighbourhood and asked everyone we saw if they were familiar with the address...costing us a pretty penny. Alas, we could not find the church and didn't have a number to reach anyone with. At 80 dihrams, we decided to call off the search. It was getting much too expensive. (Not too expensive though. USD outweighs the dihram 3 to 1!) The ride cost us 4 times the amount our trip from the airport cost us! And airport rides are outrageously priced.

Not only did we skip church on Friday, we went to the mall in the evening. We had planned to go the day before but were busy dealing with heat exhaustion. We didn't buy anything though since everything was too far out of our budget range. We did, however, watch an interesting fashion show. A fashion show for hijabs. It was pretty cool. It was a contest for local designers so there were judges for the hijabs. I really wonder how they judged though since all the outfits were black, to the ankle, to the wrists, and hooded. They did add some flair here and there, but really, it was a close call all around. They did a "casual wear" section and a "formal wear" section. Some of the formal wear was pretty scandalous! Seriously, some of the gowns I wouldn't wear...low cut, strapless... They were covered by capes, but I still would not venture out in those gowns.

After the mall, Andrew and I went to the Clock Tower to take some pictures. Dubai has a mascot and he is placed all over the city. His name is Modesh and he has a catchy smile! The fountain has quite a few of these Modesh mascots so we decided to pose with them all. It was pretty fun...people thought we were crazy, but Dubai is kind of a crazy city, so I suppose we just fit right in.

Andrew and I had learned our lesson and refused to venture out during the day, leaving our next days (Friday and Saturday) just mornings and evenings. Besides which, Andrew had developed an ear infection from swimming and getting water stuck in his ear so I had to take care of him.

This involved finding the nearest hospital. I went to the front desk and asked where the hospital was. The clerk was unfamiliar with that term in English. He questioned what I wanted. I said, "My husband is sick. We need a doctor." The clerk informed me that what I needed was a "poly-clinic" and said the nearest one was "Sunny Poly-clinic" and was five minutes (insert ambiguous hand gesture here) that way. I was like, "What way?" and he's like (repeat ambiguous hand gesture) "That way." I'm like (mimicking hand gesture), "Oh, that way?" and he's like (repeating hand gesture), "Yeah, that way."

I went up and retrieved Andrew. He was in pain, swollen, and deaf in one ear. Cool things can happen in just a few days. I told him that I found out about the hospital. It should be cheap. It was close. But I had no idea where it was. Then I told him again. And then I told him again. And then I said, "Never mind. Let's go." So we went to the desk. I stopped to ask another person where the clinic was. They gave me the same ambiguous hand gesture saying it was five minutes that way. Great, I thought, Andrew and I have walked these streets countless times. We had staked out all the pharmacies for self-help just the night before. There was no clinic in sight from the hotel. So, we walked five minutes in what we deduced was that way. After walking for a few minutes we saw a fancier-looking hotel and I decided to ask the clerk inside for directions. He had no idea what I was talking about but was really nice about it. He phoned the local directory to get the number for the clinic and then asked for directions from his hotel to the clinic. He then walked us outside and said, "Turn right at the next street, walk down the whole block and it should be the last building. You'll see a pharmacy with a sign saying, "Ben Sina" and it will be right after it."

I was dubious because we had visited that pharmacy and they told us to go see a doctor but had not said that there was a doctor right next door. Plus, we didn't even see the clinic when we were there...but we followed the directions to a tee considering they were a lot better than the directions we received before. We got to the end of the block and didn't see the clinic so we kept walking. I stopped and said, "This is dumb. It should be right here! Why can't we find it?!?" A man on a bicycle stopped and said, in a nice Punjabi accent, "What are you looking for?" I sighed...would he really know where it was? "The Sunny Clinic," I said. "It's right here." He said and pointed to a sign high up on the building we had just passed. Yup. It read "Sunny Clinic." I thanked the man and dragged a confused Andrew to the sign. We looked at all the signs plastered on the apartment complex. That's right, folks. Apartment complex. We found one that said, "Sunny Clinic. Floor M. Entrance E." Cool, a little computer printed flyer telling us where the clinic was. No wonder we missed it.

We found the clinic by walking through completely unmarked doors. We were ushered into a waiting room where we were almost completely alone, except for the company of one woman who stood up and rushed out of the room as soon as we entered. She was the doctor...she was wearing a sari, but that's okay...she was still the doctor. She looked at Andrew and gave him a prescription. We paid the clinic 50 dihrams and went to the clinic nextdoor to get his prescription. We then walked across the parking lot and...into our hotel. That's right. Our hotel was right there. Why they didn't say, "Take a sharp right until you get to the apartment building with the blue balconies and then go into a door marked "E" and go to floor "M." is a question I'll never know the answer to...but we got Andrew the help he needed and he's feeling a lot better.

That evening we were able to go to the suqs downtown and found a clock with Arabic numbers, hurrah! We walked through the long gold suq and were bombarded by numerous people trying to sell us stuff. It wasn't nearly as bad as Egypt or Jordan. They were pretty wimpy, as street sellers go. I think that's because selling without a license is actually an enforced thing in Dubai, so we had people making us offers but then a police officer would walk by and the seller would disappear. It was interesting. But it was nice to not be bothered!

Dubai was nice, but if I had to live there, I would insist on having a few things:
1) a car with AC
2) AC in the house
3) 24 hour access to a pool
4) an ice machine

Excluding #3, I never thought that I would want any of those things. I've always thought that I could do without AC and ice, but in Dubai that's really a death sentence. How did people live before air conditioning, you ask? Simple...windmills. It's true. Without a cooling system you couldn't live there!

Language-wise, if you don't speak a lick of Arabic, you'll feel right at home. 80% of the city's population is foreign. Most people we saw on the streets and roads and everywhere were Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Thai, or Indonesian. Andrew spoke Arabic to two people the whole time we were there - our first taxi driver was actually from Syria, and another taxi driver was from Pakistan who spoke mostly English. Andrew started in Arabic with him, so he struggled through the conversation in Arabic the whole time, amazed that a Westerner like Andrew actually spoke the language. He insisted that we must have had Lebanese or Syrian ancestors or something!

Best point of the lack of Arabic: in one of the pharmacies we went to, a native Arab lady came in and asked the pharmacists if anyone spoke Arabic. One of the Indians affirmed, so she stayed. Even in her home country, she couldn't get by on Arabic. Wow!

So, if anyone wants to come out here for a lucrative job offer, we say go for it. It's hot, but it's a cool, organized, modern city, and English is pretty much all you need to survive (plus AC and all that other stuff I mentioned...)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Goodbye, Jordan

Hopefully this post doesn't get too sappy. But it is our last day here, which is rather sad. Soon we'll have to head back to Orem, BYU, school, and work--real life. There are a lot of things that I'm going to miss about living in Jordan:

-Signs in more than one language...

-Our bridge (the yellow and blue one in the picture above)
-Falafel on every street corner
-All the history, both Biblical and political
-The Dead Sea
-Crazily decorated taxis
-Sunshine everyday
-The company of the Slades
-The Call to Prayer
-Our Branch
-Singing every verse of every song we sing in church

There are also a number of things I'm looking forward to when I get home:
-Sunshine with a chance of rain
-Having something to do everyday
-Our own mode of transportation
-Salad, and any other foods that aren't fried
-A little less dust
-A dryer
-Milk that doesn't go bad 2 days after you buy it
-My family

Well, I suppose I'm glad to be heading home, but Jordan has become a part of us, so now when we go home we'll miss it, too!

The next leg of our journey

We're busy finishing packing, cleaning the apartment (I just found a huge cockroach under the table! Gross!) and thinking about leaving Jordan. A sad thought, but there is a golden lining: we'll be traveling through the United Arab Emirates and Turkey on our way home.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, August 16th we will leaved Jordan and fly to Dubai in the UAE. We're not really sure what we'll be doing in Dubai since everything is super expensive. I know that we're planning on visiting some near-by Emirates, hanging out at the beach and the pool at our hotel, and basically relaxing. We also plan on finding the chapel and going to church on Friday. That should be an experience!

We fly out of Dubai on the 20th. Turkey should be more of an interesting experience. Andrew has been there before so he has some good ideas of what we can do while we're there. We should also have internet connection in our hotel, so that's exciting! Maybe we can post something while in Turkey!

We head back to Jordan on the 25th at 1 am. We'll probably be spending that morning sleeping in some forgotten corner of the airport and then will head into Amman to pick up our suitcases from the Steeds, who will be watching all our luggage while we're traveling. We will probably take a nap at their house because sleeping in airports isn't very efficient. Then we leave very early in the morning on the 27th, which means that we'll be spending the night of the 26th in another airport. It should be fun.

While we are a little nervous to fly in light of recent events, it looks like it is one of the safest times to fly. Security will be at its highest so we have little to worry about. The ban on carry-ons has been lifted for now so we should be fine to bring all of our suitcases home...without any liquids, of course. We look forward to seeing you all and sharing our experiences with you!

The Last Hurrah!

We are quite happy about the fact that we are leaving this apartment. In addition to the funeral wailings, they have started digging up the road in front of our house. It certainly is noisy in our neighbourhood. It is interesting how they are going about paving the road. They kind of just work around the cars that are parked in the street and people will drive right through the construction honking their horns at the tractors...I think it might work a bit better if they would close the road for a few hours and get everything done without interruption, but I'm no civil engineer, so what do I know?

Anyway, to celebrate our last evening with the Slades, we decided to go out for dinner. Jason suggested that we go out but no one would say what we were thinking for dinner. We all sat in silence waiting for someone to make a group decision. Finally Jason said, "Well, what do you guys want? Pizza?" Crystal, Andrew and I all said, at virtually the same time, "That's exactly what I was thinking!" So, we all headed to Pizza Hut, or as they say here: Bitza Hoot. It was a very enjoyable evening. We all had fun watching Ezra goof off and dance around.

Ezra doing the pizza dance

When we want ketchup the most, we can't get it. I like to have ketchup with my french fries, but here they tend to be a little stingy on the ketchup packets giving you only two for a whole thing of fries. Hardly enough ketchup if you ask me. Instead they use mayonaise, which I find disgusting. Who has plain mayo on fries? Gross! But then, when you think you have no need for ketchup, like when you are eating pizza, they give you a whole bottle.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Funeral Wail -- 24 hours and counting

For the last 24 hours we've been listening to an on-going wail. It's kind of off and on and because it's been going on for so long we kind of tend to block it out. All of a sudden we'll hear it again and think, "Wow, it's way too early for the 'Call to prayer.'" At first we thought that maybe it was a political campaign of sorts but there wasn't anything in the news about that. Then we thought that maybe the Call to Prayer times really had changed (rather dramatically) but after checking the schedule we found that it had not. So, after hearing it again this evening we went out onto our balcony to record it. As we were doing so we noticed quite a few fancy cars parking and then people walking toward some unknown location.

A Sample of the Wail

Andrew said, "Do you want to go for a walk?" Normally I'm the one who says this, but since he said it, I jumped on the opportunity. So, we headed out to find out what was going on.

We walked down to the traffic circle and started following people up the street (where cars were double and triple parked!) to an apartment building not far from ours. Everyone was dressed rather nicely and going into the courtyard of this apartment. Since Andrew and I were not-so-nicely dressed and we were uninvited, we decided to just ask the guard what was going on. The conversation went like this:

Andrew (in Arabic): What's happening?
Guard (in English): What?
Andrew (in Arabic): What's happening?
Guard (in English): What?
Andrew (in English): What's happening?
Guard (in broken English): There's man dead.
Andrew (in Arabic): Oh, there's a funeral.
Guard (in Arabic, confused): You speak Arabic?

So, it's a funeral. We kind of walked by the courtyard very slowly to observe what we could. They had carpeted the ground (this is outside, mind you) and there were flowers and stringed Christmas lights arranged very nicely. Everyone was hugging each other (well, the men were hugging the men and the women were hugging the women) but that was about all we could see.

Oh, no: Out again!

Yes, we ran out of water today...again. Hopefully this is the last time. Afterall, this is our last week here so we really shouldn't even have a chance to run out of water again. However, since this is us we might run out even though we fill up tomorrow and are leaving on Wednesday. Crazily enough we've only had two weeks here that we haven't run out of water. I'm not sure whether or not to count this next week as the third week or not. I mean, we won't (crossing our fingers) run out of water, but if we stayed the whole week, we probably would run out of water. It's a toss up!

A few weeks ago we decided to keep all of our water bottles to see how much we were drinking. We collected quite a few--and most of those are 2 litres! That's not all the bottles in the house, and we have thrown a few away...but that is a lot of them. We call it our water bottle graveyard. (aka: weapons of little-to-no destruction).

Water Bottle Battles

We have a lot of fun things that we do in our apartment to keep Ezra (and ourselves) entertained. Ezra and I will play a game kind of like hide-and-go-seek, but instead of Ezra ever finding me, I jump out and scare him and chase him all around the apartment. Ezra also likes to get "stuck." This involves tickle torture. We also have been known to engage in pillow fights.

Here are Ezra and Andrew having a water bottle battle.

No one was harmed in the making of this film.

Party time!

We are really in the last stretch here! Last Thursday was the last day of classes so we had a party! Andrew was both happy that the semester is closing but sad that we will be leaving soon. He took the camera to school to catch some pictures of class in action.

Crystal and I came to campus to meet everyone there. When we arrived a good Arabic feast was laid out already, complete with various types of humus and foul, pita bread, falafel, some pastries stuffed with meat and potatoes, vegetables, sesame cookies, and kanafa (which Crystal and I both think is really gross). It was really good. Jordan doesn't have any very good baklava, at least not in my opinion. Andrew and I found some good baklava once...mostly though they sell huge pieces of dessert that look like baklava but inside have the same cheese that they put in the kanafa. Even though the desserts were kind of disappointing, it was fun to socialize with everyone once again.

Some of the Action

After we were all stuffed and getting ready to go, the students paused on the steps of the Language Center for a final picture. It was hard to get everyone to stand still and we had so many people taking pictures so the students didn't know where to look, but this one (of the three I took) ended up okay. Andrew is on the back row, the second on the left.

After we left, Andrew and I wandered through campus to take a few pictures of some landmarks. The campus is really quite beautiful. There are so many trees (in comparison to the rest of the city!) and so it tends to be a lot cooler. The students hang out all over campus all day. They sprawl all over the sidewalks, under the trees, on the benches...

Our final picture of the main gate. No longer will we be harassed for our ID cards or teased by the guards because we can't speak Arabic (well, Andrew can but I struggle...). No longer will we take the bus to the University and get over-charged. No longer will we fight our way through traffic to get to the pedestrian tunnel to get to the Falafel Dude's place. No more sitting outside the Language Center waiting for class to get out. Sad, but joyful at the same time.

(It reads, "The Jordanian University" : Al Jamia Al-Orduniya)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Transportation stress continued...

Transportation woes continue here in Amman. Last week it was impossible to get a taxi. The Palmers just had a hellish taxi experience. It was our turn today.

As a BYU group, we were all invited to a special screening of a documentary on Palestine and the West Bank. It was going to be really interesting. It was going to be at 7:00 PM. It was going to be at the house of one of the members of the church here, who lives next to some hotel in Shmeisani, a large neighborhood of Amman.

So, Nancy and I went out and got a taxi at 6:30 - plenty of time to spare. The only thing we knew about our destination was an older name for the hotel (which has since been bought out be some other company) - the Taiki Hotel. We flagged down a taxi after fighting with other would-be taxi hailers for 10ish minutes. I told the guy to take us to the Taiki Hotel in Shmeisani and he nodded, acknowledging he knew where the hotel was. Great! We'd get there on time - early, actually.

Two minutes into the drive, he asked me where the hotel was. He got angry when I told him I had no idea. I called Kirk, our program director, and got the real name of the hotel - Star Plaza Hotel. I told the driver and he said "Ah, okay," once again acknowledging that he knew where to go.

Two minutes later, he started yelling at me, demanding to know the address of the hotel. I told him I had no idea, and that he was supposed to know. He yelled back that he didn't have to know - that was my responsibility, to know Amman. I got sick of him, so I asked him to let us out. We weren't at Shmeisani yet - we could get another taxi and still get there.

He refused. He told me that he'd make a deal - he'd take us to the downtown area of Shmeisani and let us get out there, and someone there would be bound to know. I agreed.

As we continued driving, he sped past the exit for Shmeisani. I immediately asked him why, and he responded by telling me he was avoiding traffic. I was wary.

He took us to the good old diwar al-dakhliya - the dreaded place of last week. He saw the first hotel there - the elaborate Royal Jordanian - and said "Here's a hotel - that's the one you want - get out." I knew we weren't in Shmeisani, so I told him, but he said that he couldn't go there. I gave up and got out. Paying him was a hassle - it was 85 piasters, so I gave him a dinar. He "didn't have any change" and wouldn't let me try paying him with any coins I had. So, we were trapped at the interior circle, had just been ripped off 15 cents, and were far from where we wanted to go.

I flagged the first taxi I saw. He pulled over, but after telling him we wanted to go to Shmeisani, he refused and drove away. Ugh. So, we waited for another taxi, who also pulled over and then refused. Nobody wanted to take us.

We went out to the main road and tried getting a taxi there, but rush hour traffic was at a standstill. Any taxis stuck there already had people there. We went to a side road and tried getting a taxi, but failed again. It was 7:10 and we were stuck. We gave up.

The problem with giving up this time was the same as last time - we couldn't get home either. We crossed the death-defying interior circle in rush hour, luckily found a minibus, and headed back up towards home. The fare-dude on the bus ripped us off though and avoided us so we couldn't call his cheating. Grrr...

We decided to not go home yet, but go on to the UJ and eat at the Pizza Hut above the Egyptian falafel place. Good pizza, but the waiter messed up our order and overcharged us. Ugh - ripped off three times in an hour!

Coming home should have been easy - we only live two stops from the UJ - 3-5 minutes. So, with our luck for the evening, what were the chances of a high speed car accident resulting in the chrushing and explosion of two cars, completely stopping traffic, right before our bus stop? Yeah. It happened. We were stuck in the bus for 20 more minutes.

We finally made it home safely, not doing anything we had planned on. Rats! I can't wait until August is over and taxis go back to normal (of course, we won't be here for that...)

Egyptian falafel dudes

As part of the intensive Arabic language study abroad, I have to have 10-12 hours of Arabic speaking time every week. Lots of BYU students just go find random people on campus and start talking. Some have host families that they can talk with all the time. Others, like me, have a harder time getting this requirement done. Fortunately, I've had a great source of Arabic speaking practice: a falafel restaurant across the street from the University of Jordan.

It all started during my first week here. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, and so I set out to find someplace to eat other than the snack stands in front of the UJ. I went across the street to where all the restaurants are and found an alley in between Pizza Hut and Popeye's Fried Chicken (good old globalization). At the back of the alley I saw a food establishment-looking place. While I stared at it, a big white haired man yelled at me in English, asking if I wanted falafel. I said yes and walked over.

When I got over to him, he introduced himself as Franco - hardly an Arabc name - from Egypt. After talking for a while, I discovered that he owned a pizzeria in Milan for 8 years and spoke some Italian. So, we hit it off.

While we were talking, a younger, skinnier Egyptian worker came out, and introduced himself as Marco (he overheard the Italy conversation). I ordered my falafel sandwich (hummus, falafel, cucumbers, tomatoes, and french fries all in a warm, soft, pita bread) and left, not really thinking to go back, for some dumb reason.

I didn't really go back until Jason arrived a couple weeks later. During our lunch break during his first day of school, I took him to the "Italian/Egyptian falafel place" as I called it. Franco and Marco immediately asked where I had been (and had remembered my name! Wow!). I got a falafel sandwich and ate it happily.

The next day, we returned. While we sat in the back courtyard, Marco (the young guy, whose real name is Rida) came and sat with us and talked to us for an hour, all in Arabic. After, we talked with Franco, Marco, and the 4 other Egyptian workers there for another hour. Thus began our daily lunch break at the Egyptian falafel place.

After a few weeks, public school got out and two kids started working at the restaurant - 17 year old Fadi and his 15 year old younger brother Mohammed. Instead of being Egyptian like most other workers there, they were Palestinian Jordanian. We soon discovered that their dad was the co-owner of the restaurant, with Franco (or Fikri, his real name) being the other owner. During the summer the kids work there, cooking and cleaning and working at the cash register and stuff. We quickly hit it off, and the kids would look forward to our visits.

Almost every day this summer, Jason and I have gone to this restaurant to eat their great food and hang out with the workers, kids, and customers. It's been great for my language skills, and gave me a good perspective into normal Arab life. I can also eat like an Arab, using pita bread as my only utensil (as can Nancy). Since I went every day to buy food as an excuse for talking with them, I had to try foods other than my traditional falafel sandwich. Here are some of the variations:

-Classic Falafel Sandwich, Andrew style (without pickles, cauliflower, or eggplant)
-Falafel Sandwich Kabeer (big falafel sandwich rolled in a large, thin, crepe-like bread)
-Falafel Sandwich on bread
-Foul sandwich (falafel sandwich minus hummus, plus foul)
-Ground beef, tomatoes, and onions (that's exactly what they call it in Arabic too - it's like thick spaghetti sauce that you eat with pita)

After trying the foul (pronounced "fool" - فول), I decided it was probably one of my favorite Arabic foods. So, the Egyptian falafel dudes convinced me to eat like a normal Arab. Most people who eat lunch there sit out in the back, eating hummus, foul, and falafel with pita bread - all from single plates at each table. So, I got a bowl of foul and a bowl of 6 falafel balls and two large, warm, fresh pitas. 'Twas bliss.

Since then, my usual is the foul/falafel/pita thing. Even Nancy is converted. She's come a few times with me. They occasionally give me a few extra falafel balls to take home to Nancy.

They are all great friends with me now. I talk with Marco/Rida about his love life, Mohammed and Fadi about their goals and ambitions, and Franco/Fikri about business. They're already sad about us leaving so soon, as are we! Where will I be able to get such great Arabic conversation and food every day!?

Here are some pictures of the Egyptian/Palestinian falafel dudes. They're great!

I sit in those chairs in the back, behind Franco

One of the other Egyptian workers. He didn't really talk with me until a month into my frequent visits, and he introduced himself way back in the beginning, and when he started talking with me, he already knew my name and everything about me, and assumed I knew the same about him. Unfortunately, I don't know his name. I think it's Mohammed, but I may be wrong. Oops!

Notice the bowl of falafel balls in the corner. Yum! He's talking with his girlfriend who's on a business trip in Turkey (she's Palestinian)

I didn't believe him when he said he was 15. I made him show me his ID. He's really 15. Really, really, short guy. Funny guy too!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Days of the week

Well, we are on our last week here in Jordan. It's pretty crazy that we've been here this long. Soon I'll have to readjust to American culture. I think the hardest thing for me will be getting the days of the week straight again. I just got them straight here. Switching up the days of the week is not a very nice thing to do to your brain.

While back in America, Kirk said, "Classes start Sunday." Everyone's reaction was, "What?!? We can't have class on Sunday!"

But Sunday here is like Monday. It's the first day of the work week after the weekend. Our weekend typically falls over Friday and Saturday. We go to church on Friday--so Friday is like Sunday, but also like Saturday because it's the first day of the weekend. That means that Saturday is really Saturday because it's our day of play. But it's kind of like Sunday because it's the last day of the weekend. Thursdays make us really excited because they are like Fridays--the last day of the work week! Mondays are like Tuesdays. Tuesdays are like Wednesdays, leaving Wednesdays to be like Thursdays. (We like Thursdays because that means it's Friday!)

Sometimes on Friday afternoons we plan to call home only to realize that no one will be home because it isn't Sunday morning for them--it's actual Friday. But then it's hard to remember to call home on Sunday because that's kind of like Monday so we have Family Home Evening. Sometimes we forget to have FHE on Sunday because Sunday isn't called Monday and we forget (because FHE is on Monday) so we have it on Monday instead.

It feels strange to go shopping on not go to church on go to school and work on's just odd! But then again it's sometimes hard to remember to go to church on Friday (Sunday)...

We fly home on Sunday, but we'll have gone to church on the Friday before so it won't feel like Sunday. It will feel like Monday. So I'll still be all confused when I get home!

I just know that we're going to show up at church at 9 AM Friday morning and be the only ones there. We'll stand around for a few minutes wondering why no one is there, and then it will hit us: It's Friday-Friday, not Friday-Sunday! Hopefully we'll be able to remember to go to church on Sunday!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Cooking at Kirk's

Yesterday we had a cooking class at Kirk's landlord's place. We decided to walk there because taking a taxi that far just didn't seem to make a lot of sense. The walk seemed a lot shorter than the first few times we did it--I think because we know the city better, it just seemed closer. Kirk's house is at the top of a huge hill. When you look at it, it looks more like a wall than a hill. It isn't too bad going up but we all were huffing and puffing a little.

Kirk's house is like a castle compared to our house. His landlord's house is even better! The kitchen was so Americanized! It was really clean and beautiful. They had security cameras and everything! And it was huge! We all fit nicely into their kitchen ready to have our first, and likely only, cooking lesson.

Interestingly enough, what we made we won't be able to make in America. The main ingredient is a plant that has no known name in English - ملوخية or mulukhiya in Arabic. To me that means that it most likely isn't grown, used, or sold in the States. So, although the dish was good, we won't be able to make it at home. I think that we could replace spinach or grape leaves for whatever plant it was...although I'm not sure how well it would work.

PS - Andrew just did some intense Google searching and found that the plant we used last night is corchorus olitorius, or just corchorus in English. Maybe we'll have to find some mulukhiya seeds to grow back in the states.

It was relatively easy to make though. You just put some cut up garlic in a pot with some salt, pepper, and oil (she said "a little" oil which translates to being a whole lot of oil in English) and then fry it for a few minutes until the garlic smells done. Then you put in the chicken and cook that in the oil while you cut up the leaves. You then put the leaves in the pot and add some water. Boil it until it looks done.

It was really an interesting dish and tasted really good. It was kind of slimy, like when you leave a flower in a vase too long and the water gets all gross. We ate it with rice. It was really filling. I was full after I had almost finished my bowl. But they serve up here like they do in Russia... Or anywhere in the world if you happen to be a missionary. Just when I was almost done the landlady came and dumped another spoonful in my bowl. I was already full so I was kind of sad about this because now I was obligated to eat at least some of it. At least here it is good manners to leave food in your bowl. That means that the host was so rich and food was so plentiful that it was not possible for you to eat everything. Phew! So I didn't quite finish all of my second bowl--I don't think I would have been able to! I think she wasn't offended. In any other culture the host might have been, but here, it's a pretty safe bet that she was flattered that I couldn't finish.

Our Brush with Disaster

Ashley and Ben came over last night to play some games with us after going to Kirk's house. After they left, Andrew and I got ready for bed. As we were brushing our teeth we were in high spirits, kind of goofing around and laughing. We spat in the sink and then turned on the tap...and nothing happened! We stared at the tap in shock...looked at each other...looked back to the tap...and then remembered that there was no water! We had to use our drinking water to rinse our brushes off. Bummer!

Just another thing you can't do when you don't have water!

Thank goodness our tank filled early this morning. Sometimes it doesn't fill until late in the afternoon, but today it was full by 9 AM! I never thought something so simple could make me so happy!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Up on the housetop

We seem to be out of water...again. This time we might actually be out instead of just needing to pump our water. Andrew and I went up onto the roof to check things out. Our roof is pretty scary. There are pipes and cables and satellites and tanks and solar panels everywhere. It's all pretty trashy. We're not completely positive which water tank is ours since there are three different kinds of tanks, but we think that they are these big metal boxes. Please note how rusted the tank on the left is. It is no wonder we are not supposed to drink the water.

There are also some more interesting double-decker tanks that we don't think would hold enough to get anyone through the week. This is a picture of a newer tank...some of them were really gross looking!

After tip-toeing around our roof for a while (there really isn't a good place to put your feet down firmly), Andrew went to get a shot of the city. In this shot we can see our neighbour's roof and understand how they can have parties up there. Do you see how nice and organized their water tanks are in that nice little line? Ours are not like that. Ours are sporadically placed here and there. Some plastic ones, some metal ones...some broken ones. I'm kind of jealous of their roof--and their nice-looking water tanks.

In case anyone is wondering why the tanks are on the roof, it is due to water pressure. Our dear friend gravity is the only thing that helps our water get through the pipes and into our apartment.

No better place to be!

Andrew and I went downtown on a specific mission yesterday: to find a clock with Arabic-Indic numbers (those portrayed to the right). Since this is an Arabic-speaking country, and since there is such a clock in the Relief Society room we thought that it would be fairly easy to find our much-wanted clock. We left for downtown shortly after 1 o'clock via bus...a very cost-effective transportation method. Traffic was remarkably non-existent and the bus was not even full. Needless to say, we arrived downtown in record time and promptly started our clock-finding mission.

As we explored the "stores" in the area, the ever-vigilant "store" owners would ask what we were looking for. Andrew would say, "We are looking for a clock that has Arabic numbers." The "store" owner would say, "We don't have them." Andrew would say, "Do you know where I can find one?" The "store" owners would then give one of three responses:
1) "No, but can I interest you in _______?"
2) "It's impossible." -or- "That's a very difficult task."
3) "Well, I have this friend of a friend. His store is just on the next street on the left or right side--I can't quite remember which, but he sells clocks--you'll see his store. And it's possible that he might have one."

After listening to answer #3 a few times we realized that there really isn't a friend of a friend. The "shop" owner just didn't want to tell us no. Since #3 was the most common answer we started saying, "Yeah, okay, thanks...we'll check that out." And then would just keep walking down the street completely ignoring the "shop" owner's advice.

***Please note: "Shop" is in quotation marks because "shop" is a very relative word here. A shop can be a collection of books spread out on the sidewalk. It can be a nook under a staircase. It can be a little hole in the wall. It can be a stand. Or it could be an actual store.***

We finally decided to give up our mission a few hours later and went to hydrate ourselves with some fresh juice. For 50 piasters you can get a cup of the most delicious freshly squeezed juices. The favorite here tends to be "cocktail" which is a mixture of pretty much all the fruit they have. It is really something. The funny thing is that there really is no competition here. You will walk down a street and everyone is selling exactly the same thing. They just sit around and socialize, but if you buy from one person, chances are that you will be yelled at by a few more for not coming to their shop. That's what happened here. We bought juice from the store on the left. The shop keeper on the right yelled at us as we walked by, "You should buy here! It is much better!" If he really wanted us to drink there he should have tried to get our business before we had our juice. Although he acted rather mad, I'm sure that he's still best friends with the other shop keeper.

After drinking our juice and picking up a few last minute souvenirs, Andrew and I realized that we had a 20 JD bill and two 10 piece coins. This is quite a tragedy if you are dependent on a taxi or bus to get home since no one ever seems to have the correct amount of change, if they have any change at all. We were stranded in downtown Amman. Not to be worried, we walked around to see if there was anything else we wanted to get. We knew that we wanted a kursi, or a Qur'an holder so decided to go look for one. Although we had seen plenty while we had been looking for the clock, certainly had a time finding one while we were looking for one. In the end, we didn't ever find one, but we did see some interesting things.

We ended up buying two little key chains. Andrew bartered them down to 2 for 1.50, to which our store keeper agreed. Then Andrew said, "Oh, there's a slight problem...I only have a 20." This was a long shot, but much to our surprise the store keeper said, "Oh, that's not a problem." And he gave us our change without having to go borrow from the store down the street. It was pretty amazing since we had one shop keeper who couldn't even break a five without borrowing some change! Downtown is definitely a cool place to be. There are so many interesting things to see!