Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ten Things About Amman

Okay, Sunny, you've inspired lots of us.

So here is my attempt to list my favorite and least favorite things about Amman for all those folks who might be getting ready to bid.

 Ten Best Things:

The weather. This week has been kind of nasty, dry and hot, but usually the weather here is perfect. It doesn't often get higher than the mid-90s in the summer, and even then, the evenings are cool enough to warrant bringing a sweater when you go out. Bonus: hardly any snow in the winter. After digging out of snowstorms in Kazakhstan with a giant wooden shovel, and suffering through sweltering humid Moscow summers, I am loving Amman weather. It rivals my home town, Los Angeles.

The commute. It isn't the safest place you could be, but the upside is that we're all required to live close to the Embassy. My commute is a 15-minute walk or a 5-minute cab ride. Won't get that in Virginia. 

The school. The kids are happy, so the parents are happy. Are there things I would change? Of course there are - that's why I ran for the school board. But all in all, I'm pleased that my kids are so comfortable there.

The pool. Again, perhaps because of security issues, there aren't a lot of places where my kids can just hang out and run around by themselves. But there is a pool at the Embassy, and we spend many a summer afternoon there. The kids can run around and I can read a magazine or swim with them.

The Dead Sea. It's only about 45 minutes away, and I never get tired of that place. It's just so cool to look out at that water while the sun sets.

Aqaba. It's further away - about a four hour drive through the desert, but it is a beautiful resort town, where we can relax and pretend we're on an exotic vacation somewhere we've never been before. 

Cheap falafel sandwiches. There's a place near the Embassy where you can buy a falafel sandwich for about 50 cents and dang if they aren't delicious. They make them with hummus and tomato and mint and spicy pepper sauce.

Fruit. It's summer now, and so we're gorging on watermelon and strawberries. The tomatoes are fabulous. The apricots - picked in our backyard - are obnoxiously delicious. Soon the fresh figs will appear and I cannot wait.

Arabic class. Okay, so I technically don't love it because it is frustrating and I am getting nowhere, but every so often I say something right and I feel like a brainiac - that is, until 5 minutes later, when I once again confuse the verbs "to park" and "to fart."

The nanny. It is an amazing gift to be able to have someone in my home so I can go to work and not worry about whether or not I'll get home in time to meet the bus. Not having to iron shirts or fold towels is perhaps the single best thing about life in Amman.

So that's ten. Moving on, I present The Ten Worst Things:

No Asian food. There's no Thai food or Vietnamese food in the entire Kingdom. The Chinese food is pretty gawdawful too. And while I love falafel, I love a good bowl of pho more.

Speed bumps. People please: could you at least paint them with some sparkly paint so I don't rip the bottom off of my car when I fail to spot one and don't slow down in time? Or put up a stop sign instead. Would it kill you to use a stop sign?

Phone bills. I've been here for two years almost, and I cannot for the life of me find a convenient way to pay my phone bill. I can stand in line at Best Buy, and the phone guy may or may not be there, might speak English, and could possibly know how much I owe. Or, you know, not. And that's just the phone in the house. The cell is through another company, and they were happy to charge my credit card when I first arrived, but I have never been able to get an itemized bill out of them, not once. My credit card number changed recently, and I cannot for the life of me get them to use the new card. They prefer to send me texts asking me why I'm not paying. I'm trying, phone people, I'm trying!

Traffic circles. Mark my words: I will crash the car in the 8th circle. It is simply a fact, and frankly, I'm amazed it hasn't happened yet. The merging! The honking! The squashing in! The cutting off! 

Sweifiyeh. I. Hate. This. Neighborhood. Because everything you need is in Swefiyeh, except for parking spaces. Today I tried to go there to buy a yoga mat. I drove for 30 minutes before giving up in despair and driving home. Triple parking seemed excessive to me - though not, from the looks of it, to any of the other drivers in Swefiyeh today.

Mosquitoes. We're in the fourth poorest country in the world in terms of water. They have none. So where in the hell are all of these mosquitoes coming from?

Narrow streets. There are some streets that are simply too narrow for me to squeeze into. Or maybe I just lack depth perception. Probably both. 

Taxis. They're cheap and usually available, but I can't stand them. They are often smoky and the windows don't usually roll down. I don't mind taking them when I know where I am going and it's close, but I hate busting out the Arabic to explain myself when I need to find some place new. And, when feeling pressured, I always mix up the Arabic words for "left" and "right." These are actually critical words to get right when you're giving directions, wouldn't you agree?

Cost of living. A quart of milk, a chunk of Parmesan, a bag of frozen berries? Sure, you can find these things, but be prepared to pay a premium. We have a Gap down the road - yay! - but kids' jeans cost $65 last time I was there. You can get a mocha, sure, but it'll cost you five bucks.

And the tenth thing I dislike about living in Jordan? I'm fresh out of ideas, because mostly I love it here. Any fellow Jordanites want to weigh in with a tenth?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Nature AND Nurture

I'm raising two sons, as you know, and I'm fortunate that they have such good male role models all around. My father-in-law, for starters. Whenever we visit my in-laws, there is always a time when someone approaches our group and pulls him aside to thank him, quietly and passionately, for some help he gave not long ago, to a struggling family, or friend, or colleague. And it never fails, you know, that when we ask him what the person was talking about, he declines to comment. He is a community leader in the truest sense of the word, looking for ways to help those around him, in ways big or small, without calling attention to himself.

My dad, of course, who was always there when we were growing up. He wasn't much for lecturing us on how to behave, but he certainly led by example. There was one kid in our neighborhood, an older kid, already driving when I was still young, and I remember thinking that this kid was Trouble. But every time this kid drove past us in his souped-up little car, radio blaring, my dad always waved, and the kid always seemed to wave back. I wondered, back then, why my dad was waving at the kid instead of yelling at him or shaking a fist or even just ignoring him - my dad, who was clearly superior to this snotty kid. To this day, I've never asked him why, and I'm not even certain my dad would remember these casual exchanges. But it hit me at some point in my youth that my dad probably waved at the kid because that's what neighbors do. He was - and is - unfailing polite to others, whether they are in a position to help him or not, whether he likes them or not.

Then there's my husband, who is perhaps the hardest working man on the planet. He takes his vows seriously, and when he says he'll do something, you can be sure he will. He doesn't hold grudges, he doesn't gossip, he doesn't scheme. He's a far better person than I deserved to find.

So my sons have these examples before them, along with those they see in their uncles Don and Sean and Brian, and I maintain that they are fortunate indeed, and I am fortunate, because I know that whatever life throws at my boys, they stand a pretty good chance of taking away some of the best characteristics they see in these examples before them - not just the olive skin, or the blue eyes, or the curly hair, but the humor, the intellect, the kindness and the curiosity. My boys are going to turn out okay.

Happy Father's Day, everyone. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

She'll Drown Fluffy Kittens While They Sleep! Introducing Ainsley!!!

Today was a big day in Amman.

Today was the day that the Froggies graduated from school.

The Froggies, you ask? Yes, well, this year Ainsley was in the Froggie class in preschool. And today she graduated! Well, technically, she finished her first year of preschool, and next year she will be moving into a second year of preschool, but no matter! It was a graduation nevertheless!

Actually, it was pretty darn cute. We missed every other school concert this year (fourth child and all) due to sickness or travel or something else significant, so this was our first chance to see her on stage.

She was In.Flippin'.Sane.

Seriously. She was dancing around on the stage, bopping to the music and waving excitedly at the crowd. She pulled on her piggytails and chewed on her hands and hopped up and down. Pretty much the whole time, she was over-the-moon with excitement. I wish we had some pictures to prove it, but no cameras were allowed. When the official videographer (I know, I know - don't get me started) finishes the DVD, hopefully I'll have proof of her craziness.

After the concert, they called each child up to receive a certificate, and they introduced each one with a sweet little story. Of one little girl it was said "This student gets first place for kindness!" Of another "This girl always has a smile on her face!" Another: "This student is our peacemaker." There was one who was "patient and sweet," and one who was "always cheerful." That sort of stuff.

Then it was Ainsley's turn. And we knew it was Ainsley being introduced from the very first sentence. They said "Here comes little Miss Know It All; you'd better not contradict her! Our reliable member, who can do the job just right! With her lovely golden hair, we present Miss Ainsley Gorman!!!" And my little Miss Know It All trotted happily up to shake hands and retrieve her certificate.

One thing I can say for my Ainsley - she's definitely memorable. Was it Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who said "Well-behaved women seldom make history"? If that's the case, little Ainsley's going to be famous some day.
with Miss Danya, who is, according to Ainsley, a "beautiful princess"...

with Miss Shireen...

with Miss Mira, the Arabic teacher...

with Miss Sousan...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Going Native

We walk a line overseas. We work at the Embassy - little America. We shop at American stores online where possible. We look for American comfort foods when we can - mac n cheese for some, cheerios for others.

But we're not in America - not even close. On our bad days, we might try to pretend we're home again, while on the good days, we revel in the differences.

When we arrived in Amman, we chose the school with the American curriculum for our sons. We don't believe in immersing them in the local educational system if it means they'll fall behind in writing or reading or math. So even though we know they won't become fluent in Arabic with the 45 minutes a day of Arabic instruction offered - not even close! - this seems like the best option for them.

For the girls, we chose a local school. They were young enough when we arrived that we weren't worried about falling behind in core subjects. The local school option means that they study in Arabic half the day and in English the other half - with 30 minutes of French every day just for kicks.

Sounds great, right? And so we've dealt with the fact that the girls have different vacation days (no Christmas holidays for the local schools here in Jordan) and different philosophies (you have to reserve the "party room" in order to bring birthday cupcakes).

But now we've bumped up against something new and different. You see, Kyra is finishing up her kindergarten year at the local school, and she is having a kindergarten graduation. Apparently, here at our local school, kindergarten graduation is a big deal. A. Very. Big. Deal. For starters, the ceremony will be taking place at one of the fancy hotels here in town. And they have a dress rehearsal at the hotel a few nights before the actual event. Kids under three are not allowed to attend. No cameras are allowed, either - you have to buy the CD from the professional photographer. There is a dress code, too. Girls need to wear denim skirts, white socks and black shoes with their uniform shirts.

 A friend is lending Kyra the denim skirt, but she doesn't have any black shoes and it's too late to order from zappos. So I ventured into the tangled streets of Swefiyeh this afternoon, in search of a shoe store that was recommended to me by a Jordanian colleague. There, in the basement, I found children's shoes. Of course, the sizing was European, and I only know her size (kind of, sort of) in American. So I had to guess. The salesman said (I think, possibly) that I could return them if they didn't fit. So I bought a little pair of sandals for about $14.

And now we are ready for her fancy graduation ceremony from her local school. Next year, Ainsley will be all alone at the school, as Kyra will have moved on to first grade, American style.

When I pictured local school, I pictured Arabic books and Arabic numbers and Arabic songs. I did not picture myself, on a broiling day in a basement in Swefiyeh, trying to explain graduation shoes to a Jordanian salesman.
Please. Write your own stuff.