Monday, November 03, 2008

Russian? You?

No, I’m not Russian, thank you very much. Nor am I a prostitute. Nor do I want to be your ‘friend.’ And no, hell no, do I want to make your friend ‘happy’. Welcome to life in the Middle East J The propositions have certainly been interesting this past week. For instance, I’ve ascertained that the question, “Are you Russian?” is actually a veiled form of solicitation, since ‘most’ of the female Russian population here in Amman are, well, prostitutes. Such is my education. Please note that the outfit raimenting me in the photo is in fact a Halloween costume, confined to the vicinity of my apartment, and is in no way, shape, or form a reflection of my behavior in the Middle Eastern region. Further information on said evening shall be provided below.

Hmmmm…class is decidedly mundane, so I will not expound on its daily trials, except perhaps to mention that the favorite homework I do is Jess’, and involves reading a novel, Hayatii, written about the daily emotional drama of Arab (in this case, Egyptian) life. Work, however, is much more exciting, in particular since I have begun my adventures in Wehdat, a.k.a. Palestinian refugee camp in East Amman. This refugee ‘camp’ is unlike the miles of battered tents found on the outskirts of African war zones; it is a veritable city, tangled with alleyways and snarled traffic, pollution and cart-pushers selling roasted nuts, shrieking children and equally shrill mothers, grey apartment buildings and obnoxious lingerie stores, the largest market in Amman, and a sports complex that hosts the offices of Relief International, where I work.

I had been forewarned, but I was still slightly shocked when I hopped out of the car, rushed out of the rain, and stepped on the Israeli flag, painted on the entirety of the entrance floor to the sports complex. Wehdat isn’t more conservative than the rest of Amman, it’s just slightly more, well, political. Recently renovated, the center is a bit of an oasis amid the chaos of the sports center, with classrooms, offices, and a computer lab available to instruct and counsel Arab youth. During my first visit, which Ahmed kindly escorted, I met all of the volunteers and staff at the center and toured the sports complex. Perhaps I should mention that the Wehdat football (soccer) team is the best in the country- I guess political persecution inspires unparalleled football skill…Anyway, I was granted access into the president’s office/trophy room, where I viewed the plethora of fake metallic trophies cluttering the room. The next day, when I went to the center to actually begin my English teaching, I was barraged with eager staff to pick my brain. I set up shop in an empty classroom, and had a constant flood of women relying on me, me!, to improve their English. So, I taught, new vocab words, new phrases, new grammar…Most challenging, to me, was balancing the differing levels of English, from raw beginner to fairly advanced. I struggled with keeping everyone engaged, interested, and learning, especially when certain students would talk for longer than their turn J In the end, I gained as much knowledge as them, both in regards to teaching skills, and knowledge of Iraqi culture-about the totalitarian reign of Saddam Hussein, and his edict about women’s dress (only black or grey) to famed cuisine.

Several of us piled into the company car for the drive back to Jebel Naser, unprepared for the deluge emptying from the skies. The streets flooded, literally, and raging rivers roiled down the hills and roads of East Amman, unable to seep into the ground due to backed up drainage systems. Amman is a desert city, and wholly unaccustomed to any weather without ‘sand’ in the name. Our doughty little car rolled through the streets without getting stalled, Alhamdulillah, and, after the showers came one of the most gorgeous rainbows, vibrantly stretching over the jumble of white and grey Amman.

Ohhhh, and I also went bowling, at one of the 4 star hotels in Amman (why they have a bowling alley, who knows), but I came in second! For someone who can barely kick a football straight, and will never master serving a volleyball, this is quite an accomplishment.

And now we need to have a serious discussion about the weather. Two weeks ago, I was climbing waterfalls and tanning on the balcony. Now, I’m shivering in my bedroom and huddled under piles of blankets in the living room. Well, alright, I am a Minnesotan, so, while everyone else is sporting sensible sweaters, I’m still in tee-shirts, but still…The weather outside is actually quite palatable. It is merely the dreaded chill of the unheated apartment that causes so much complaint. However, our landlord just dropped off portable electric heaters a few hours ago, 3 total, so I will now have a four foot cushion of warmth in my bedroom, since their range is, errrr, limited. So, no, life in Amman is not all parties, vacations, and transcendent revelations.

Unless by transcendent revelations, you mean overcoming one’s fear of giant bugs. Because that I have accomplished. Jess and I went out for a speed walk session two days ago, and returned to do some stretches on the mattresses propped in the sunroom. I pulled my out, plopped it on the floor, flopped on top of it, and felt something scurry past my hair and off the mat. Something large, exo-skeletal, brown…and cockroach-y. I’m proud to say I didn’t even screech, but merely scowled, grabbed my sandal, tracked it behind the couch, and smushed it satisfactorily. Insect-Wawa War-Laura 1, Bugs 0. And last night, as some friends and I gathered in our living room to study and huddle for warmth, I noticed a many-legged creature scuttling across the floor. I was actually excited! When everyone else refused to share my interest, I grabbed the requisite sandal and beat the intruding centipede repeatedly. Laura 2, Bugs 0!

Halloween fell on last Friday, although, due to the lack of festivities in Muslim Amman, Jess and I (Kathy was, where else, in Wadi Rum J brought Halloween to Amman. We spent the day tooling around City Mall, marveling at the Western wonders of Carrefour, purchasing winter jackets in Promod, and adorning suitably inappropriate costumes for the small party we hosted. I was a ‘belly dancer’; Jess was the Looooove Doctor. As a reward/punishment for a somewhat successfully execute party, Jess and I ‘treated’ ourselves to waxing appointments at the spa. Fun fun. However, what cost me 70 dollars in America cost me 12 here.

Speaking of inappropriate topics…alright, we’ll leave those to the imagination. Instead, let’s focus on politics for a moment. As a few of you may have noticed, tomorrow is election day in Amrika, and I have wasted many hours watching the coverage on CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera. Obama seems to be the candidate of choice for Jordan, and our class discussions on the topic inevitably devolve into asking me, one of the three Americans, who I voted for. Errr…well, I actually didn’t vote at all, but, since the reasons for that are too elaborate to enumerate in Arabic, I merely say it’s a secret. Lame, I know. Everyone says McCain, “he just like Bush.” But please affect a slightly high-pitched, nasal accent when reading that. Like most of the cab drivers do. Whew. I need to be sleeping soon, to prepare for a long night of election coverage tomorrow. When we meet again, America will, insha’allah, have a new president!

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