Wednesday, September 26, 2007


School is moving along quickly. After two days of learning the alphabet, we were somehow expected to be able to read a page of text, and after a week, to be able to to recite a page from memory. I was able to, eventually, but it took a few minutes and lots of correcting. Tonight, I have to memorize the numbers, days of the week, how to conjugate for the past tense, and the possessives. Which is why I finally decided to post.

Although the school as a whole is at least half devout Muslims, the rest are Americans, and most are in college. I ended up in a class with two American girls who are taking a year off before college, two Japanese women whose husbands are here for the Iraqi reconstruction effort (I wished them good luck), and a Spanish woman. It's too bad, I think, that there aren't any Muslims (aside from the teachers) in my class, because I think I could have learned a lot from them.

It's been Ramadan since I arrived, which means that I've gotten used to the absurd schedule, and it's going to be weird when it goes back to “normal.” The work day starts later, and ends at 2 or 3, when everyone goes home (and the traffic is a mess), where they sleep or cook until the sun goes down and it's time to eat. Shops are intermittently open during the day, and all restaurants are closed by law, but everything opens up after people have eaten, and stays open until 12 or 1 or so. And aside from the handful of places (like large hotels) with a tourist license, it's illegal to sell alcohol, so all the bars are closed.

Aside from that, I really can't say enough about how normal this city is. West Amman, which contains the middle class suburbs is generally pretty nice, with a few newer and swanky neighborhoods scattered around. Like everywhere else there are mall, some of which are a hodgepodge collection of cheap shops and supermarkets, others are filled with upscale boutiques and international brands, and are priced accordingly. I even found the local equivalent of a Wal-Mart, which was just like home, except for the Arabic signs and only the occasional group dressed in traditional white headdress and thob. Most people in the upper class areas, and especially the younger generations, are westernized, wearing normal clothes, and speak English, even amongst themselves.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Orientation, Redux

The next act in my non-travels has me in Amman, Jordan, where things have been so easy that it's hard to believe I'm in the heart of the Middle East. Much to my surprise, everything was taken care of when I arrived, as the school picked me up from the airport and took me to temporary housing. By the end of the next day I had found a place to live, I moved in the day after, and so now I find myself, on the third day, settled in for the long haul.
From Amman

Amman seems, like Johannesburg, to be a great place to live, but perhaps not to visit because its appeal lies in getting to know the place rather than passing through. I've found none of the stereotypes I associated with the Middle East – narrow streets, markets, shouting vendors, pushy restaurateurs – but rather a modern, friendly city with white apartment and office buildings built across hills and valleys, scattered with shopping streets, coffee shops and malls, and extremely friendly and helpful people. It's striking in how tame it is, how easy people are to deal with, how few stares I get, and how calm it all seems. The call to prayers throughout the day were eerie at first, but have started to seem more normal.

Ramadan (which started the day after I arrived) has been an interesting wrinkle in exploring the country. Since most people spend a lot of time with their families, most restaurants are closed during the day, and empty at night, not to mention that the bars are all closed for the month. like everyone else here, I've been fasting (although cheating by drinking water). I don't have a lot of energy to go explore, but there's nothing quite like breaking the fast with fresh, bright yellow dates, followed by a big meal. For someone who likes to eat his way into a new place, only being able to fantasize about what goodies are served in the sweets shops and take aways has been a little frustrating. What I've had though – fresh fruit juices, fresh, soft pita filled with meats and pickles, chicken on rice, yoghurt milk – has been amazing, and cheap.

School starts tomorrow (Sunday being the beginning of the week, apparently), and although I barely know 10 words of Arabic and am still struggling to figure out the alphabet, I'm hoping to be able to pick it up soon. Most people don't speak much English, which I think will make learning easier, and I'm looking forward to talking to talking to people once I get the basics down.

More as I explore.