Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Finding a bit of holiday cheer...

How do you describe an ostrich to someone who's never seen one before? How do you explain, in Arabic, that the circuit between our apartment and the neighbor's blew and devested us of electricity? How do you say goodbye, when all you want to do is hold on forever? How do you let go, though it may be the hardest thing you've ever done? How do you hang stockings without a mantle? And, most importantly, how in the world am I supposed to wrap presents when I am unable to find wrapping paper in the entirety of Amman!?!?

It's beginning to look alot like Christmas...if you live in Minnesota, land of raging snowstorms, subzero temperatures, and whipping winds. If you live in Amman, the weather remains charmingly mild, sunny during the day, chilly at night. The closest thing you will find to a Christmas light is the green glow of the mosque by night. I have been sorely tempted to cut a branch off one of the pine trees on the way home from school and decorate it; alas, Jess chose the more conventional route and actually purchased a baby tree from Food Food (yes, that is the actual name of a Jordanian supermarket), and we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon unbending the stiff wire branches, fluffing the plastic needles, and resolutely singing Christmas carols over the call to prayer echoing from across the street..."Joy to the world...Allah Akbar...Lord is come, let....Allah Akbar...her king..." You get the idea.

It was around 11 pm one evening, and i was walking home through the small park near our flat when a figure, bundled against the chill, sauntered past. "Merry Christmas," it growled in a somewhat gravelly voice. The swingset, bereft of its usual children, creaked haltingly in the slight breeze, and the teetertotter rattled upon the sidewalk. With a hunched gait, the somewhat occult being passed into the shadows of the nearby school, and I towards home, wondering why the only Christmas cheer I had received came from the form of a Creepy Arab Man. Welcome to the Middle East.

At the moment, I have been forbidden to enter the living room, because a certain Christmas elf named Jess is hanging stockings (upon which she wrote our names in smudgy glitter pens :) with large quantities of tape upon the wall. Actually, perhaps I should rescind my earlier comments on the weather. While my fingers fly over the keyboard, gales of wind are driving variout debris past my window, including the comforters we had hung on the laundry line. Hmmmm....Perhaps I should mount a rescue. But that would require leaving the toasty warmth of room.

So let us move on to ostriches. Ostriches, you say, why ostriches? In my defense, I was attempting to teach my young charges about vowel letters in the alphabet. And, for some reason, the only 'o' word I could recall was ostrich. So, I found myself standing in front a room of curiously amused eyes, attempting to describe what an ostrich is in a poor mixture of Arabic and English. "Very tall bird...big eggs. You know what eggs are, right? Lives in Africa..." As you can tell, my classes occasionally devolve into randomness. But, the longer I teach, the more confident I am, the more challenging I find it...and the more I want to continue it. Perhaps, more on that later.

Yesterday, I was finishing my last class for the day (I have between 2-3 everyday), when Ibrahim, one of the Iraqi volunteers, politely knocked, entered, and handed me his mobile. Rowan, the head of English curriculum for RI, was on the other end. "Hi, Laura! Were you told about the workshop for English teachers today at the British Council? It begins at 4:15." I checked the clock. 4:00. Clearly, somewhere the communication faltered. Imagine that. "No..." Less than 5 minutes later, I clambered into a cab and sped off towards First Circle, unloading 10 minutes later in front of a small, sensibly British sign. I brushed through security, entered a small courtyard, found the surprisingly spacious library, and seated myself at a table as the room quickly swelled to capacity. My first professional workshop! Rowan soon appeared as the session began, and we sat through two hours of useful lexical instruction, new ideas for active learning, and other such subjects that only intrigue English-inclined peoples. I was one of few native English speakers in attendance, and certainly the only blonde :) , but was fascinated by the collection of individuals that are teaching Jordanians English in Amman. Mainly women, but with a smattering of men, some veiled, some not, but all equally passionate about their career. Afterward, I stepped out into the cool evening of Rainbow Street, ambling down the cobblestone avenue to the curve in the road, pausing to absorb the view of Amman, undulating hills twinkling with glow of warm dinners and family gatherings...Shivering, I bundled further into my light jacket and trudged down the road to Wild Jordan, a restuarant/gift shop/nature conservation center, where I selected a few gifts for my Jordan family-Jess, Kathy, Nadia...From there I hopped in a cab to City Mall, hoping to find a few more items for people on my list. For once, though, I was not in the mood to shop (or perhaps just did not want to spend the money), and finally arrived home, exhausted after playing Connect the Ammani Dots all day. From home (Dawar al-Waha) to the university to Jebel Al-Nassir to Rainbow Street ot City Mall to home again.

Ah. And I reacquainted myself with the Bedouins this past weekend. No, don't worry. Not much! Aodeh, one of Fadii's uncles (he was with us over That Weekend in Wadi Rum) invited Kathy out for coffee and sheesha, and she persuaded me to tag along. It was acutally a quite pleasant evening. He picked us up from the flat, drove us downtown to Jafra's, enjoyed tea, sheesha, and a meal with us, and even paid for it. Lol. He is a quite fascinating man with whom to converse, being involved in many different projects, including coordinating a camel race in Israel this spring. Does that mean I trust him? Hell no. But, trust is a many-layered beast, I suppose, and varies according to context. Do I trust him to take me and Kathy to a restaurant in Amman? Yes. Do I trust him alone in the desert? No. However, I did enjoy pulling up into the Arab conservatism of downtown in his SUV, draped in camoflauge mesh and photos of hunting in Wadi Rum.

I suppose I can now consider myself Jordanian, as I now have a photo of the king (and his wife, Queen Rania) stuck to my wall. However, I am fairly un-Jordanian in that I am not suffering through any major drama in my life. In fact, I'm appallingly stable, at least in comparison to the girls sleeping on either side of my room. Jess' boyfriend, Andrew, returned home to America on Thursday night, a justifiably difficult separation, and Fadii, the Bedouin at the root of all of Kathy's angst/joy, is still in Europe, and has ceased to contact her for over a week. I sometimes wonder if I should get a boyfriend, preferably long distance, merely to commiserate. But I suppose someone needs to remain dry-eyed...

Ah, yes...and there was the electricity. Around midnight, two nights ago, I was sitting in my room, happily enjoying a handful of Jordanian Corn Flakes when an ominous "Zzzzmmmm" reverbrated through the apartment, and a cutting of electricity directly followed. Kathy was still up, so we flicked the breaker box a few times, to no avail. So, I called Abu Adel, the man in charge of cleaning the building and pretending to know how to fix it. When I hung up with him, I stepped into the hallway, wondering if the new neighbors (two young women, unveiled) had power. Before I could knock, Rina opened the door, wrapped in a towel. "Hi! You don't have power either, then? I was stepping into the bath, when all of a sudden....Poof!" I lent her my torch to finish her ablutions, waited for Abu Adel, and complained with Kathy until his arrival. He, of course, could do nothing, despite puttering around the flat for 15 minutes and unscrewing various items to poke at the wires beneath. Rina ,cleansed, with her hair now towel-wrapped, came over to return the torch and reprimanded Abu Adel for his lack of execution. While chatting in frustration, I mentioned that the normal solution to the problem is merely flicking the breaker switch, "Like this," I demonstrated, and a low buzz filled the room, and the kitchen lights flickered on. "You're an angel!" Rina exclaimed, and I gained a new admirer. Thus electrified, we found our beds and snuggled beneath various layers of Pooh blankets and Grecian coverlets....

One more reason I know I am finally settling into the neighborhood...The man in the local market near by flat now automatically adds a Bounty bar (think Mounds, but with better chocolate) to my order. I usually bob in once a day to pick up yogurt, pop, Snack Mix, and, of course, the ubiquitious Bounty bar. Today, before I could even ask him to grab one from behind the counter, he reached over and handed me one. Seriously, I think chocolate could solve all of the world's ills...

So now, my dears, tis dark outside, and the wind is howling most lugubriously past my window, invoking unbidden pity for anyone forced outside in such inclimate weather. Now rain is whipping in torrents against the pavement. It does bring the tale of Christ's birth into sharper relief though, realizing what his poor mother suffered! I really don't think any stable is adequate shelter in such weather, and a few hours away, over the rolling hills of Palestine, Mary did indeed find succor in such unlikely quarters. But I shall muse on Christmas stories another day. Tomorrow, I cook!

1 comment:

Mary said...

Merry Christmas Laura, and wishes for a wonderful new year. Love you-
the Crystal Lake Schlichtings!