Friday, October 17, 2008

Back to life...

Hmmmm....So now I've recovered somewhat from the onerous ardors of travel, and settled back into school and Ammani life, and regained the semi-normal sleep schedule that is de rigeour in the Middle East. Which is somewhat problematic, because one (generally speaking, of course, I would never do this on a school night :) frequently stays out late in the various coffee houses and cool cafes of the city until midnight or later, and then must return home to finish one's homework, shower (dirty city), and attempt slumber. Which is why I arose rather late this morning. Ahhhh, I love sleep.

No, I don't go out every night, though. Otherwise, I'd be too broke to travel. And that would be most sobering. I decided to return to school this last week, much to the surprise of my teachers. "Min zamaan ma shooftik!" "Long time, no see!" Well, yes, but, after explaining to them where I was, they happily welcomed me back, sent me to the copy center to get the class handouts (I have to buy them every couple weeks, given the lack of a textbook for several of the classes), and asked me how Greece was. I do love teachers in the Middle East sometimes. Hanan has fast become my favorite professor-I actually enjoy going to her classes. The other teacher, Doctor Fatima, I could do without-she made us read an article on arcane philosophy comparing the varying depth levels of the ocean to the layers of consciousness in the human mind. Yeah, I will forgive you if you've already fallen asleep/gone and hung yourself. At least mutual dislike of her helps cement camraderie among my fellow Koreans, Taiwaiinese, Turks, Spainiards, and the other nationalites that make my class a simulacrum for the United Nations.

I have not merely been studying for the past week, though. I have also been securing an internship. An internship! My first 'official' day was yesterday, and I am quite excited to continue. Jess knows someone, who knows someone...which is how the Middle East operates. Wasta, or connections. I also like to think we're uniquely qualified, too...Anyway, the organization is called Relief International, and it works with Iraqi refugees (and anyone else desirous of assistance) to provide education and social assistance that the government can/does not. For instance, there is a program that focuses on children's memories-it has them draw pictures of the past, the present, and where they think they'll be in the future. As many of these children lived through parts of the current war in Iraq, quite a few draw pictures of American bombs, tanks, and planes. The goal is to talk about the difficult issues and try to paint a brighter future...And that's only a small aspect of what the org does-It is run by both paid staff members and volunteers (many of whom are refugees themselves), which creates a unique enviroment at work. Most people speak some English; several speak very good English, like Ahmed, who helped us obtain the internships.

Ahhhh, when I say we, I mean Jess and I, who seem to come as a package deal these days :) Not that I mind, since we get along ridiculously well! So, I had to do a quick revision of my c.v., send it to one of the mudeers (managers), and, luckily, he let us know that we were wanted. On Monday, we took a tour of the facilities, located in East Amman. Alright, so I live in West Amman, Western-influenced and fairly modern. East Amman, not to stereotype, is where you find runaway donkeys chased my boys riding (you guessed it), donkeys. As Jess and I were exiting the cab, she looked over, nudged me, and we both witnessed a galloping donkey racing towards freedom, and a little boy close behind, jabbing the donkey he was on in a vain attempt to reach the headstrong one. Quite a sight. East Amman is more conservative, and where many of the refugees live. The refugee camps themselves are farther outside of the city, but, even so, it's not exactly on the tourist map. Nonetheless, the neighborhood where in which the org's offices are located is your average Arab neighborhood, like many I found in Cairo-a bit poorer than where I live (here in my 'luxurious' apartment in Tala3a Ali), but otherwise normal-appearing.

The downside to working in East Amman is the cab ride-a 3 Dinar ride each way, which adds up when you're going 2-3 times a week. Happily, our internship (unpaid, otherwise), does include a transportation stipend. In case you were insatiably curious, Relief International is funded by the UNHCR, United Nations High Comission for Refugees, or something like that, as well as other private donors. And it's expanding-there are already branches in several other areas of Amman, and they are opening up more in the coming months.

So there we have an overview-what in the world will you be doing, Ms. Laura?!? I, with my exemplary English skills (lol, funny story about that-some of my Arab friends have been reading this blog (which is linked to Facebook), and decided that I write decently, and now want me to help write/improve reports in the office). Although, honestly, just the fact that I'm an English major is probably justification enough. But, see, my sundry loquaciousness has paid off!!!!! To be fair, we are not entire certain of my role yet, but I suspect it will revolve around editing and report writing, as well as evaluating some classes and instructors, and, I hope (if you're reading this Ahmed, take note!!), teaching English to some of the staff members. I've discovered I enjoy teaching, whether it's Arabic (not that I can do much in that sphere) or English. Jess, with her specialization in psychology, will be more focused on working with other social workers to help improve the community work the org performs.

Yesterday, we observed a training session conducted by two Canadians at the center who employed the uses of a translator to convey their message to the students. One of the current projects focuses on involving small groups of local refugee children. Young adult volunteers (Arab, of course), meet with the children once or twice a week and both provide a structured environment, but also try to identify some of the challenges facing them, and then set goals on how to overcome them. Like I said, I'm still learning...

Otherwise, let's see...Ahhh, yes, I had another of my private Amia lessons on Tuesday, and I signed up for another one on Monday. At 8 dinar an hour, they don't come cheap, but they are highly benficial, and it merely means I can't go out as much. But, for better Arabic, I'll take it :) . We review verb conjugations, random vocabularly, conversational idioms-basically, everything you need to know to function in society.

Despite what I said about not going out, I've been doing a bit too much of that...Sort of, anyway. Sunday, I hit up Gloria Jean's, a Western-like coffee house with two gigantic floors engulfed by cigarette smoke, more cigarette smoke, Arabic, Wi-fi, and, oh yeah, cigarette smoke. I generally need to air out my scarves after such venues (i.e., everywhere) on a chair in my room. But there, we met our shila (group of friends), which includes Ahmed, Nadia the Dane, and a bunch of others, many of who were with us during that detestable Wadi Rum experience. Bonded for life, now. Monday, my Arab friend, Sarah, invited Jess and I on a shopping excursion to Sharia Wakaylat-a pedestrian-only avenue lined with, you guessed it, clothing stores, including Promod no. 2 of Amman. I managed to limit the damage to only one fairly inexpensive shirt-an utterly essential addition to my wardrobe, or course. Then, the boyfriend of Sarah's sister, and the sister, picked us all up, took us out for ice cream, and brought us home. Ever the student, I now carry a small notebook in my purse and whip it out whenever I hear an Arabic word I don't know-so I shopped....and I studied!!!

Tuesday night was Roomie night-Jess and I got pedicures at a local salon-for about 1 hour, our feet got an hour of pampering. Or, more accurately, an hour of repair, as our heels were worefully cracked after two many weeks of trudging through dust-filled Amman in sandals. Now, however, I sport beautifully smooth feet accented by deep vermillion toes. Afterwards, we went to a local Turkish restaurant, then bought ice cream around the block from our apartment, and wandered around the neighborhood with Snickers and chocolate-coated lips. Yum yum. The weather has been absolutely spectacular-warm, but not hot, generally sunny, not not scorching. The walks to and from school each day are becoming more and more managable, and the evening tinged with a pleasant nip artfully managed by a scarf from my expanding selection. Slowly, though, slowly. Otherwise, the scarf collection may outgrow my lamentably small wardrobe.

Wednesday was Whispers-a unique little restaurant on 5th circle with a shark tank in the middle, the walls paneled in mirrors so everyone can watch the shark (albeit, a smallish one) and racy music videos. Jess and I (Kathy has been in Wadi Rum for the last several days with some friends and Fadii) went with Ben (cute Brit) and Clement, the Frenchie roommate. American-style food, good company...good times.

And last night, last night I went out for sushi! (oddly, I've only eaten sushi once before, and that also happened to be in Amman...)! Strange, I know, as there is no ocean for hundreds of miles around, unless you count the sea of sand surrounding my barren city. But, ahhhh, it was good sushi, fresh and artfully prepared (some wrapped in seaweed and sesame seeds, otherwise just delectable salmon, tuna, eel....) and with Embassy Man as company, and sheesha after dinner, it was a most delightful evening. I ended it at the house of the Spainairds, somewhere near the university-Embassy Man kindly chauffeured me through the labyrinth of back streets in the ginormous SUV, where we parted, as he has an actual job to do. I however, celebrated the birthday of a close friend, Rebecca. And then Jess and I (the inseparable duo), attempted to find a cab back. After enjoying the harassments of several carloads of men who continued to follow us and utter leering obsenities, Jess called Random Cab Driver, who had inputed his number into her phone just hours earlier. He turned out to be a decent sort-at 2:30 in the morning, he arrived within 10 minutes and only charged us two dinar to return home.

So that, my dear readers, concludes my most recent escapades. Until next time...

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