Friday, February 5, 2010

Cribs, Cops, and Crazy Eights

So for those of you who were wondering, I will in fact be staying in my own private bedroom with custom-built wood furniture, a full-size bed, cable TV, attached private bathroom with marble tiling, and an eerily beautiful wake-up call every morning from the nearby mosque (call to prayer, meaning Quran’ic verses played over loudspeakers, is at 6 AM). Right now there are only two minor downsides to my situation: first, there’s no heat, which won’t be a problem in about a month or so but right now it means I have to sleep with roughly 40 pounds of covers on; and second, there’s no internet, which means I’m submitting this entry from an internet cafe. Here’s a few pictures of my crib: Edit: Apparently I'm paying for shitty dial-up internet access that doesn't even have enough bandwith to upload photos. I'll do it at SIT where I have legit WiFi.

Edit #2: All photos are on my flickr account for now. Sorry about the confusion, Blogger is ridiculously slow from Jordan.

I have three words to say about my host family. They. Are. Awesome. They hosted Jake Scruggs (another Pomona kid) last semester, so they’re pretty familiar with what I need/want. My host mom is a total sweetheart, she doesn’t speak much English but like any good mother she puts piles of food in front of me until I have to tell her to stop. She has three kids—Muhammad, Waleed, and Leeana, who are roughly 10, 7, and 4 years old, respectively. They don’t really know any Americans other than me, Jake, Barack Obama, and (thanks to Muhammad and Waleed) the entire WWE wrestling lineup. I never thought I’d be mentioned in the same sentence as both President Obama and The Undertaker, so that’s pretty cool. I watched WWE with the kids last night and tried to explain to them that it was all fake, but they were too busy pointing and saying things like “Look! Fat man, fat man!” In the episode we saw, Jon Heder (aka Napoleon Dynamite and the guy who wasn’t Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory) was the “guest host.” He wound up getting into the ring and beating up a midget, only to get pinned by a very large man with a mullet and then jumped on by the aforementioned midget. This has nothing to do with Amman or study abroad, I just wanted to say that it may be the biggest and quickest fall from grace in Hollywood history since Robert Downey, Jr. discovered cocaine.

Anyway, since my host family’s English is about as good as my Arabic, there’s a lot of miming and pointing involved in getting any point across, but as a result I’ve learned a ton already. They all loved my gifts—I gave Leeana a moose stuffed animal, Waleed a toy lobster boat, and Muhammad a set of cards, which I used to teach them Crazy Eights (themaneeya majnoona). We played that for a couple of hours yesterday because they didn’t have school—apparently, all it takes is two inches of sleet to shut down the entire city of Amman for a day. The kids also have a Konami knockoff of FIFA for the PC, so we’ve been playing that too. My host dad runs a cafĂ©/bar so he is gone most nights and sleeps until the mid-afternoon, but he was nice enough to take me on his errands yesterday and show me around the neighborhood. He speaks the most English, but he’s still nowhere near fluent, which made the drive that much more interesting...

One of my groupmates said that driving in Amman is like “taking the worst parts of driving in New York and Boston and throwing them all together,” and I think she was right. In my short time here, I’ve personally witnessed two accidents, which is twice as many as I’ve seen before in my life (and I was driving in the last one I saw). One of the main reasons for this is that Jordanian roads, including the ubiquitous traffic circles, are designed without lanes. So a three-lane road can turn into a two-lane road without warning, meaning someone is going to get pinched. Also, about half of the cars on the road are taxis, which are low-slung stick-shift vehicles trying to dart in and out of traffic as quickly as possible (the manual transmission is important because taxi drivers would rather tailgate than go to the trouble of downshifting). The other half of cars on the road is pretty equally split between high-end private cars, whose owners naturally have a strong sense of entitlement and demonstrate it by driving like angry New Yorkers; and lumbering government vehicles, which are usually either civilian buses or Humvees and trucks ferrying troops around the capital to different assignments. Basically, it’s like an old Cruisin’ USA game—there are a lot of cars driving fast and trying to outmaneuver each other, and then a few trucks and buses thrown in to make things interesting.

As I mentioned, there are very few lights in Jordan—just European-style traffic circles and cops at some of the busier intersections. The army, police, and traffic cops are basically the same entity in Jordan--they wear identical uniforms and have identical equipment, which usually consists of mirrored sunglasses, blue-gray urban camouflage jumpsuits, bulletproof vests, and submachine guns. Some incarnation of these security forces is stationed at almost every corner, every embassy, and every government building, which seemed intimidating at first. Depending on your perspective, their presence can make Jordan seem like either the most secure democracy or the most democratic police state. In reality, I think they’re more of a resource than anything else—the uniformed guards I approached in the tourist district were very friendly and helpful (and they also spoke excellent English), and without them I would not have found the landmarks we visited for our “drop-off” mission on Wednesday. First, we went to the National Art Gallery, which was incredible because it was filled with Arabic calligraphy art.

Then we also visited Lawrence of Arabia’s house, which was converted from an old church and built on top of one of Amman’s hills. It’s pretty close to downtown near the shopping district, where everything is dirt-cheap—I picked up a couple of bootleg Arabic DVDs (I assume they were bootleg because they were on DVD-RW disks with printer-paper covers) with English subtitles for 2JD. Based on what I could understand from the guy running the store, one is a Jordanian chick-flick and the other is an action-romance where the main character is a guy who looks like the Middle Eastern answer to Vin Diesel. Sounds promising.

Today my main goal (besides getting to Starbucks) is to find a gym somewhere close to my host family’s house so that I don’t have to take a long taxi ride to work out. My host mom said that Jake played basketball at a gym behind the British Embassy, which is a ten-minute taxi ride from home but walking distance from SIT, so I may try to check that out. Until next time...

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