Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nick Works Out With Jordanian Bodybuilders, Hilarity Will Probably Ensue

After much deliberation, I settled on a gym to work out in today. I joined Nadi Weder (Club Weder), a bodybuilding gym that’s about a 10-minute walk or a half-dinar cab ride from my host family’s house. The owner Mohammed is the former national bodybuilding champion of Jordan, and he speaks only broken English so I got a chance to try out some Arabic on him when he showed me around. Unfortunately, he speaks only in the Jordanian local dialect, which I’m quickly learning is completely different from the MSA that I’ve learned for three semesters. He can still understand some of what I say, but it’s a little awkward because talking in MSA a pretty big social faux pas (think of addressing a blue-collar worker in Shakespearean English). But I’m still looking forward to my time at the gym for a few reasons:

1) I’m the only American. Most of the gyms I’ve looked at are very western and the common language is inevitably English. This place is old-school enough that almost all of the people are locals, though some still speak excellent English. Oh and by the way, when I say “people” I mean “men” because this gym is dudes-only (I told you it was old-school). It’s kind of a bro-fest—I saw one too many guys working out in polo shirts today—but since my lifelong goal is to be a frat boy, joining Club Weder was definitely a step in the right direction. Maybe I’ll introduce the Jordanian masses to beer pong and set gender relations back another decade. On a more serious note, the fact that it’s a local gym means I’ll get lots of chances to practice amee’a (the local dialect) that I wouldn’t get in a western gym. Just today, three people came up and asked me where I was from and about life in America.

2) The gym came highly recommended by Ahmad. Let me explain a little: Ahmad is the assistant to Dr. Raed (the program director), and he’s the unofficial “get-shit-done” guy. He has a barrel chest and a hawk-like gaze which broadcast that he is not a man to be trifled with. He also has his ear to the ground. In Arabic, there’s a word called “wasda,” which roughly translates to “connection” or “hookup.” A wasda can be anything from an inside recommendation for a restaurant job to having a Barack Obama on speed-dial. Dr. Raed has wasdas with lots of local academics, which makes him a great program director because he can bring in expert speakers to our seminar classes. Ahmad seemingly has wasdas with everyone in the city of Amman. He begins an inordinate number of sentences by saying “I know a guy...” For example, I was talking with Dr. Raed and some of his Iraqi friends during orientation, and they were having a good time describing Iraqi dive bars where “you can take home beautiful women.” Jokingly, I asked if there were any places like that in Amman, and they all said something along the lines of “no, no, Amman is much more conservative.” Ahmad turns to me and just says, in all seriousness, “I know a place... but you have to pay 70JD, and you cannot take the women home.” So, to reiterate, Ahmad has the wasdas and he knows and likes the owner of Club Weder—in fact, Ahmad described Mohammed by flexing and saying, “He is like me, but with more definitions.” Which brings me to my third point...

3) Thanks to Ahmad’s wasda, I got a discount. I paid 70 JD for the entire semester instead of the normal 30JD/month. Considering that my other choices were between 40-50JD per month and had a lot of stuff that I considered extras (pools and masseuses are nice, but I didn’t come to Jordan to get back rubs), this is a really good deal. Coincidentally, 70JD is also what Ahmad told me a Jordanian prostitute would cost, so I figure if I pick up just one girl with the help of my swollen biceps and washboard abs I’ll at least break even (kidding, Mom!).

In other news, we had our first classes today. I thought there was a general understanding that this was a party semester and not “real school,” but someone didn’t get the memo and we still have an annoying amount of work to do. Luckily, we are doing what’s called “qualitative research,” which as I understand it is basically glorified gonzo journalism with citations, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Finally, in one week of being in the country I have am proud to report that I have only mistaken ordinary Jordanians for terrorists twice, and both occasions were completely understandable. The first time, I was hailing a cab at the corner of my street when a black van with three guys bundled up in kaffiyas (the traditional checkered headdress) raced around the corner and screeched to a halt next to me. From my perspective, it looked kind of like this:

As they threw open the sliding door, I froze for a second and considered which P90X Kenpo moves would work best to disarm three armed terrorists. I was about to unleash a fearsome ball kick-back knuckles-back kick combo when they tossed a stack of newspapers at my feet and kept going. They were just newspaper delivery guys. I felt bad, but I don’t think any jury in the world would convict me for freaking out a little there. The second time was on Saturday, when every high-school senior in Amman celebrated graduation by driving around the city and shooting fireworks and guns into the air. When I woke up to gunshots, looked out the window and saw kids with weapons piling into vehicles, naturally the first thing I thought of was the invasion scene at the beginning of Red Dawn. Once I verified that Jordan was not actually being overrun by Soviet troops and that I wouldn’t have to lead a band of high-school kids into the mountains to form a resistance a la Patrick Swayze, I went back to sleep.

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