Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ancient Relic Appreciation

I have been reminded in the last month how many ancient sites I've been privileged to see in my lifetime. The sermons at our church have been on the churches mentioned in Revelation. Years ago, when Jason and I took college students to Turkey I saw the ruins of Ephesus and Pergamum. I have seen Topkopi Palace, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia so many times that I tired of them. I've seen the underground church in Cappadocia and stayed many times in the city of Antakya (the Antioch where Paul started his journeys). Since we've been in Jordan I've seen Mt. Nebo, the Dead Sea, the Dead sea scrolls, the ruins of Jerash, Karak, Pella and Ajloun castle. 
I'm living in a country where you can't throw a rock without hitting an ancient ruin with the ancient ruin you thought was a rock.
Now that we're nearing the end of our time living among a lot of old, dead civilizations I'm starting to appreciate the experience. 
While walking through Jerash with our kids, our son enthusiastically lead the way to each ruin. He was the only one of the four of us to have been to Jerash before. Our daughter was tired and trudged behind us groaning at all the distance between each ruin. 
"Just leave me here and come back for me," she moaned. I told her that she would look back fondly on the chance to see these things someday. I also told her that she lives in a good time in history. Travel is affordable enough for us to see ancient sites, mankind has dug up quite a bit of them and many of them haven't been destroyed since their discovery. She agreed that this was true, but it didn't make her more enthusiastic about the experience. 
I think about places like Syria and Iraq which have lost sites and artifacts in the recent past. Those are sites I, and everyone else will never get to see.
I confess that part of this newfound enthusiasm for ancient things surely is due to my old age. So, Jordan, bring on your ancient architecture!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Run Visa Run

I've been privileged to live in a time period and in a country that has granted me citizenship. This means that I can move and work freely within the bounds of our countries borders. Since we are such a big country with a good economy, few of us consider applying for visas to work in other countries.

Other people groups are unable to find work in their country and move in order to work in a different country. This often requires a visa of some kind.

We are not Jordanians but have been living in Jordan for nearly 2 years now. This has required us to get a visa. Our hope when we first arrived here (with the promise of a teaching job) was that we would be able to get an iqama. An iqama is a 1 year visa that is given to those working in Jordan for a local company. When the job fell through we considered the other visa options available for US citizens:

-a student visa, valid for as long as one is a student at a local university (we attended a language school that couldn't get this visa for its students).

-an investment visa which you acquire by investing a large sum of money in a local market. (we don't have a large sum of money)

-a tourist visa, good for one month with the ability to be extended.

Ultimately, we had to settle on the last option. This requires one to go to your neighborhood police station after your first month here and register for 2 additional months in the country. When those 2 months are up, you can apply at a government office for another 3 month extension which (if approved) gives you the ability to stay in the country for 6 months. After those 6 months, there are no more extensions given and you must leave the country. You can come back into the country the day after you leave and start the 6 month process all over again. The government at any of these points can choose to deny you your visa and you have to pack up and leave. Thankfully, they've given us all the extensions up to this point.

Anyone trying to do a border crossing with a family will understand that it can be costly and time consuming and wearisome. There was a time when it was a cheap and easy and fun to make a visa run into Syria. A mini vacation and you have a new visa. For obvious reasons, Syria is no longer an option...Egypt is iffy at the moment. Saudi Arabia is not option and Israel is an awkward option. Last year we were able to visit our friends in Ukraine for our visa trip. This year we were able to go to the resort area of Taba, Egypt.

There are many people here (predominantly Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, etc) who work as maids in order to make enough to support their family back in their home country. Jason does a fine job providing for us and I hope that we will never have to be separated by so much physical distance in order for him to continue to provide. I have a new appreciation for living in a country where I don't have to wonder if my visa request will be denied. We'll move back to the US in a couple of months and I won't have to worry about the government kicking me out of the country.

I'll look back on our time here in Jordan as a great cross-cultural adventure. We definitely got to spend time in a good country. Thank you Jordan for renewing our visa.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Somebody is a Homebody...

...and that somebody is me!

Incredulity has been expressed many times by our friends when I tell them that I am truly the boring one between Jason and I. While I am the more outgoing of our dynamic duo, he is the one with the ideas. All the travel, fishing, hunting, soccer playing, etc. is by his encouragement.
Whether it be from nature or nuture my ideal day is one where I spend a portion of my day exercising, cooking and reading; never to leave the house. I revel in hours spend chopping veggies, baking breads, reading old dead guys.
My family knows that they're happy this arrangement because they've experienced the me that has too much going on. I get short tempered and unable to enjoy interacting with them. They get less fun interaction, homework help and homemade food when I'm overcommitted.
All this is hard because I do miss being in a classroom learning Arabic this semester. I love interacting in a classroom and learning something new. If there was some way to do it all I would, but for now I enjoy doing what I can.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Moldy Oldies

Winter this year has been somewhat of a disappointment. We had one tremendous snowstorm that shut down the city for a couple of days. Since then, we've had nothing. This is not a good scenario for all of us who need water for our everyday needs. With the influx of refugees there are also many more people in need of the water supply. I also love the rainy season for it's ability to clean the streets and make the air smell slightly less like big city air.

There is an advantage to the lack of cold and moisture this year. It has to with mold. The buildings here are build of cement and stone with paint slapped onto the inside walls. When the walls get cold and damp, the mold begins to show it's ugly face. In our house, the walls lining the shower and any wall with furniture close to it harbor patches of black mold.
This isn't an example from our home, but it's indicative of what we have. This is a widespread problem that everyone here deals with. The expat forums are full of people asking for advice and tips on how to deal with it every winter. There is some mold-resistant paint sold here, but it's pricey. So, most of us use a cleaning mixer and paper towels to wipe down the walls every few weeks. Also, our tile floors leach a mineral that grows white fuzz in the corners of our rooms. Sort've like weird indoors patches of snow.
I continue to wonder why the newer buildings aren't build in a way to combat this problem. One thing I've learned in traveling through other cultures is to not ask why. All cultures have ways that things are done that are illogical.
I do wonder how many of the people here have mold-related illnesses.
So, I say bring on the dry weather, but please fill our reservoirs so there's no water shortage this year!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Happy Holidays

While most of you are buying candy for Halloween, we here in the Middle East are in the midst of our holiday season. It's the week of Eid al-Adha, an important end to the muslim holiday season that starts with Ramadan which ends in Eid al-Fitr and a month later we have the current Eid holiday.

This holiday commemorates Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael (we differ on this point) and Allah's provision of a sacrificial lamb in his place. The first morning of the Eid many of our neighbors bought a sheep and slaughtered it. They are then required to give a third to the poor, keep a third and a give a third to friends and neighbors.

Our landlord gave us a portion of their sheep which will have it's home in a stew pot in the near future. The streets and stairwells obviously are a little bloody on a morning with such a holiday.

Everyone is dressed well during this holiday as they are to pray in their best clothes and many of the children are given new clothes as gifts. Children also receive gifts of toys, candy and money from family members and close friends during the four day festivities.

Visiting friends and family is a must during this holiday. Copious amounts of date cookies and Turkish coffee are consumed as everyone stays up late chatting and reveling in holiday cheer.

These are some assorted cookies the neighbors gave us. I couldn't help but get in a festive mood. This resulted in chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, caramel corn and salsa.

Have I visited my neighbors yet? Nope.

Why? Because I'm a shy person and am not always sure what the cultural protocol is for this holiday. I know it's their holiday season and may not want the goofy foreigner intruding on their holiday season. I am hoping to go see a couple of ladies that are good friends in the next couple of days.

If I don't, I won't have wasted my week off school. The kids and I are enjoying our time of movie marathons, dance offs and baking. Happy Holidays!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Spreckin da Arabic

We're back in Jordan for our second year of language acquisition. I was slightly concerned that our summer away in the States would be detrimental to all that we had gained. In talking to other foreigners and given our own experience taking a break may have actually helped. Summer was all about resting and recharging after a year of busy time in an unfamiliar place. That rest has translated into our brains being given time to organize all the useful words and sentence structures we gained.

I've been delighted to come back to see that I now can understand most of the conversations going on around us without having to concentrate, translate and conjugate each word. This has the added bonus of knowing that we aren't the topic of most conversations that go on around us on the street. Classroom discussion time on issues such as economics, theology and government are much more engaging as all of us are better able to express our opinions in Arabic. Tasks such as giving drivers directions, asking for prices and goods at the store and calling for water aren't the stresser they were last year. Gone are the days of rehearsing a phrase 5 times before I enter the scenario in which I need to use it.

Simply put, everyday tasks have become everyday tasks.

Sermons at church are still a challenge. This is mainly due to the preacher's mixing written Arabic in with spoken Arabic in every message they give. We are gaining an understanding of the written Arabic, but it's coming much more slowly. Written Arabic is also the Arabic used in radio and TV news reports. I do understand the gist of any report I hear now, but the details so far elude me. 

I may sound like a 3rd grader, but it is exciting to be able to read! I'm not just sound out the letters slowly when I sing hymns and look at signs and advertisements.
While the first year of language was a very, very hard task, this is starting to be an exciting adventure once again.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Night Life

There's no way to sugarcoat it. It is hot here in the the city. Whilst we're not a desert exactly we are right next to one that loves to blow its sand our way. So, between the cloudless skies, the hot pavement and the relentless heat, people here have adapted.

P.S. What prompted me to write this was twofold:

1. Everyone here seemed to be so loud late into the night and I was a little flummoxed

2. In Egypt they instituted a 7pm curfew during the latest disturbances. I'm only able to fully appreciate the import and inconvenience of that curfew because of how people live here.

First let me say that fans and A/C do exist here, but A/C can be pricey and fans only push around heated air. Also, the houses are built to minimize the heat inside with high ceilings and lots of windows (obviously a problem in the winter). There also seems to be a fairly consistent breeze blowing through the city on any given day. The inside, while not always extremely cool, is better than walking around outside or sitting in a hot taxi.
Their solution is that, unless absolutely necessary, stay home and sleep in during the cool of the morning.
Get up around 10 or 11 am and have breakfast.
Then there's a nap time.
Get up and eat lunch between 3:30 and 6
Get the family out of the house for errands. Maybe take the kids to the park.
Eat dinner between 8 and 10
Let the kids play outside while you socialize until midnight or so.
Wash, rinse, repeat and stay outta the heat.

Our kids have started school and there's is no way that I would let them stay up past 9 even if it's hot and there are people out socializing. We all just have to learn how to ignore the noise and go to sleep at a reasonable (for us) time. I don't think I appreciated the logic behind their environmental adaptation last year. This year I understand their reason for the differing hours. It's not one our family can do though with our 8-12 and 8-3 school hours.

So, Egyptian people, I understand now why a 7pm curfew would be so hard. Neighbors, I now understand why our hours of eating and sleeping confuse you.