Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adventures in Amman

I did something very dangerous tonight-I visited the mall, where I discovered my favorite French clothing store, Promod, displaying the latest European fashions at fairly exorbitant prices. Sigh. The woes of being a poor student...Well, there are a few perks. For instance, expensive steak dinners at the Meridien :)

Alright, so let's backtrack. Saturday, the Bedouins left, leaving behind a lot of cleaning, two beautiful Bedouin rugs, and the offer of a weekend in Wadi Rum. Sunday, that annoying thing called school pushed me out of the apartment and onto campus again. My roomies and I went running one evening during iftaar, jogging through the incline-prone hills of my neighborhood until I was thoroughly exhausted and forced to realize that I am utterly out of shape, despite that fact that I am thinner than I have been in years, thanks to Ramdan. Shukran, Mohammed, for commanding all of the Middle East to fast for a month in extreme heat. While Muslims are allowed to sleep all day and stay up all night, I am priviledged to maintain prolonged bouts of activity during the day and then sleep at night. At least the end is in sight-I think Ramadan is officially finished on the 30th of September. During which period I, happily, will be in Greece, attending a conference on pornography.

Whoa! Laura!?! Seriously, I am flying to Greece on Sunday to meet up with Sarah, a friend studying at the AUC (American University in Cairo, for those unintiated to my Cairo days), who is presenting a paper on Egyptian pornography at an academic conference in Athens. As a caring friend, I offered to provide on-site moral support that will extend itself to several nights on Santorini as well :) Her conference coincided nicely with the Muslim holdiay of Eid al-Fitr, commemorating the end of Ramdan, so I have vacation from school.

I awoke this morning to the absent of glaring sunlight pouring through my still curtain-less windows, and I arose, somewhat befuddled, to the most salient sign of autumn yet-clouds! Yes, where once only sapphire skies supplied endless sunshine to Amman, clouds now skittered above, offering welcome shade from the incessant heat of the desert. In the air, too, a slight nip touches your skin, reminding you that the seasons will change and the climate will cool all too soon. At night, a shawl/scarf is sometimes needed, and not just to protect my modesty-for actual warmth! Besides, my modesty has long since been compromised...

Two nights ago, I went on a date, alone, with a man not my husband! Haram. I know. A mutual friend of ours set us up, and I assumed that we would meet up for coffee after iftaar. You know, during the few hours when restaurants are actually open in this city :) But then I got a text asking me what sorts of food I like. Hmmmm....I told him I have an unfortunate allergy to wheat, and he tactfully suggested a steak place, after calling me a 'wheat-less wonder'. I've never been called that before! He asked me to meet him at Le Meridien hotel in Shemeisani, one of the nicer hotels in Amman, and I, for the second time in less than a week, pondered what to wear. After roommate consultation, I flew out the door, into a cab, and off to the restaurant, a verrrry nice steakhouse that actually serves wine during Ramadan. His name, btw, is Herb, and he works at the U.S. Embassy, meaning he's a bit older than the riff raff my age. I'll leave the quite innocent details, and the two glasses of delicious Bourdeaux wine, to your imagination, but it was a very pleasant evening. And one we hope to duplicate soon with a visit to a sushi restaurant.

Speaking of the U.S. Embassy, I have enjoyed several hours in this obscenely large bastion of American political might on entire Herb-un-related business. I would like to visit Syria during my stay in Amman, mainly because Damascus is 4 hours away by a 4 dinar bus. In other words, really cheap and really close. However, those bloody Israelis stamped my passport on my last ill-fated visit (with the infamous Colin and co.) , and the Syrians, as you may imagine, are not too keen on the Zionist entity that is there neighbor. Resulting, for me, in a conundrum-how to get into Syria without telling them I've visited their incendiary neighbor? The answer lies within the walls of the U.S. Embassy in the form of a second passport, a seldom-advertised option for American citizens who travel too much. Or have an innane desire for travel in the Middle East. I fear that I fall into both categories. Anyway, I have a second U.S. passport in the works, which should be ready in about 10 days, after which I will somehow need to convince the Syrian border guards that my new, blank passport is NOT because I visited Israel, but because I don't travel much. Should be interesting.

I also need to visit the Jordanian police station nearest my house to receive official residency. Which entails getting blood tests at the unversity, running around campus attempting to get forms signed, and flirting the police to get a 1 year residency. I will let you know how that goes. And how many bribes I end up paying in the process.

I did something very touristy a few days ago-I visited the Roman Amphnitheatre downtown, one of the few ruins in the city that date back to the time when Jordan was once an outpost of the Roman empire. Although impressive enough, I think I've seen one too many pyramids to be impressed by something even the guidebooks label as 'average'. Jess and I did discover the trail of tourists that wind through downtown, though, and merely followed in their fanny-pack-laden and scandalously-clad footsteps to the ruins site. I, of course, chose to wear one of my attractive outfits for the photos, drab grey sweatpants with an even drabber grey tee-shirt. I love being utterly low maintenance here, all for the sake of appearing 'unappealing' to creepy Arab men. And they are creepy.

In particular, the gas man. Who, might you ask, is the gas man? He is the man who drives thorough our neighborhood in a creaky blue truck, selling canisters of gas to replace the empty ones used by the stove. Touting a tune not unlike that of an ice cream truck seeking little children, the gas man's vehicle harbours an equally creepy man, who came to our apartment, leered at us, replaced the canister, 'fixed' the broken part, continued to leer at us, and eventually left, but not before forgetting to leer at us. Ewww. Need I say more about the creepy Arab man?

Not that they are all creepy, of course. I have met many who are both courteous and wonderful, including several who may help me find an internship teaching English to refugees or the like. Last night, Ben (cute Brit), Clement (his French roomie), Jess and I devouring a thoroughly satisfying meal at a hole-in-the-wall joint called Hashem's, downtown. For less than two dinar per person, we enjoyed copious quantities of greasy French fries, sugary tea, falafel, and hummus. As I am allergic to falafel, I consumed obnoxious quantities of overly greased French Fries while the Arab patrons of the restaurant commented on me and my friends. In particular, I could not help but laugh when they watched me give myself a shot and consulted among themselves what exactly I was doing, until one eruditely concluded I am diabetic. Another nice perk of downtown-one can purchase any movie, ever made, for 1 dinar. Pirated, of course, but there are dozens of stores with well-stocked shelves of American classics, Disney flicks, romantic comedies, and Syrian soap operas.

Dear me, but it is late here in Amman. I feel a bit apart from the rest of the world, tucked away in my dessicating corner of the desert. But even here, the winds of economic woes blow harshly, and conversation, even in little sheesha cafes downtown, inevitably turn to the stock market, and the financial situation in America. People sometimes want me to explain the problems with the economy, and the solution the government has proposed, but how do I clarify an issue of which I have little knowledge? I prefer Arabic, a comforting, immutable, and somewhat frustrating anchor that can't be influenced by human manipulation. The foundations of Arabic run deep, into the sands of history 1500 years ago, and they are unlikely to be disturbed by the epherma of international banking. And alhamdulilah for that! And for Wadi Rum tomorrow. A weekend with the Bedouins.