Thursday, September 28, 2006

FYI

Today, the 28th of September, the high where I live was 40 C, which is 114 F. Presently it's 10:35pm and a mere 87 degrees.

Bring it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Iftar!!!


How blessed I am to live in such a beautiful city!!! Granted, I hardly ever see this view, but wherever I am, the sunsets are always breathtaking.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of celebrating Iftar (breaking the Ramadan fast) with some friends. There was a lot of excitement building up to Ramadan and I really had a blast with them . It was an honor and a really special thing to experience. I did what everyone else did and from sunup to sundown, and fasted from food and water. It was surprisingly easy, except when we broke the fast, there was no water to drink. I was super thirsty! I did get to drink some apricot juice though. (Sidenote: I can finally stomach tap water!)



Here I am crushing nuts for dessert. I had a metal stake and smushed it around in the bowl over and over again. The peanuts crushed super easy, but the almonds were a challenge!


Here I am preparing our "break-fast." They always break their fast with a date, so we had dates and bananas in sweetened milk. It was okay, but not something I would want to drink everyday.



This is just an idea of all the food we ate. I don't remember the names of most of it, but we a lasagna type macaroni, pickeled veggies, a sort of slimy spinach soup, bean soup, duck, chicken, rice, and bread. For dessert we had pancakes fried with nuts (the ones I crushed!) and a stringy sweet dough also with the nuts I crushed. Over and over again, I heard "Sarah, eat! Eat! Eat!" My reply was, "Don't you know that your stomach shrinks after you fast? I can't eat anymore!" Nevertheless, I left stuffed.

You know, a lot of people have said to me, "Wow! You're living so far from home and I could never do what you do. It would be so hard!" After having been here for awhile, I would say to any of those people, "It's worth it!!!. Yes, I miss my friends and family, but I
get to experience life and people and culture in ways the others will never, ever get to. There are hard parts, but I don't regret moving here at all."

This is not how I expected my life to turn out. It's better than I could have ever imagined!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ana btitkum Arabi shuaya shuaya

I've had a busy week--finally! Two hours a day of Arabic lessons doesn't sound like much but I guarantee it is way more than you would think!!! We speak Arabic most of the time and have a big paper to write down all of the new vocab words for the day. At the end of the lesson, my teacher records all the new words I learned. Then I go home and transcribe the words into my Arabic notebook and listen to them over and over until I have them memorized. On top of this, I have homework. It usually involves writing sentences or paragraphs in Arabic (keep in mind, I don't know the alphabet and can't recognize words, but I have all the words I've learned written down). Today, I also have to buy a newspaper and look for the 4 letters of the alphabet I have learned so far.

I really love my tutor and my classes, which is surprising because I've never liked school. It's a really rewarding pursuit because I can immediately practice all the new things I learned. The grammer structure, new sounds that aren't in English, and the major lack of vowels in words confuses me somewhat, but I figure it'll all work out.

I had my first chance to practice my Arabic for an extended amount of time yesterday. I spent the day with my Arab family. I met up with my brothers and sister to see a movie. (Have I mentioned the movies yet? You have assigned seating, everyone talks through the movie, and there is a random intermission at some point during the movie.) After that, my roommate Amy and I took them to Cinnabun for some American food. I personally, am not a huge fan of Cinnabun but they seemed to enjoy it.

We took a microbus (i.e. a decrepit mini-van) to their house and I got to visit my mama and baba. She fed us Fetta which of course is amazing, but I have no idea what it is. She also brought a plate of meat and I asked, "What kind of meat is this?" They replied "Buffalo." "What? We're eaing buffalo? I wouldn't think there would be buffalos in this part of the world. Buffalo like this..." then I used my hands to make horns and acted out a buffalo. They replied, "Yes buffalo, like cow." Ahhhh, there's the problem. We're eating cow--not buffalo. We finished off the meal with peaches, pears, tea, 7-up, and cookies I brought. Everyone kept coming up to me and saying, "Sarah, you must eat more! Eat more!" Fortunately, I am becoming more and more skilled at either giving the impression that I'm packing it in when I'm actually not, or at declining more food.

Then, we just spent the evening together. I love this family dearly! Over and over they tell me, "We are your family Sarah. If you need anything at all, we will help you. We love you Sarah! YOu light up our house." Isn't that wonderful? They invited us to spend the night, but we didn't last night, though I plan to sometime soon.

Amy and I will go back over there on Sunday to celebrate the first day of Ramadan with them. They told us we must fast and break the fast with them. I'm really looking forward to experiencing it. Plus, it's really an honor that they've invited us for the first day of Ramadan, which is one of the most exciting!

Well, I'm off to some exciting adventures today--like asking someone what time it is in Arabic...and then trying to understand their answer!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This Girl Gets Around

There are about five means of transportation here: my legs, bus, metro, tram, and taxis.

1. My legs: the most common means of transportation for me. I have learned my way around the city through walking and have become a pro at crossing streets in a frogger-video-game sort of fashion.

2. Bus: I just tried this out for the first time. There are tons of different kinds of busses and I only went for the nicer ones because they actually have numbers rather than just shouting something out the window. To get on the bus, it slows down and you run up to it and jump on while it's still moving a little. To get off, you walk up to the front and wait for the bus driver to slow down enough for you to jump off.

3. Metro: They're like el-trains in Chicago, but not elevated. My favorite thing about this is that there are two cars for women only. But, it can get quite crowded and stuffy. A friend and I were counting how many bodies were touching us the other day and I was literally smashed up against 6 other people. Good thing I don't have personal space problems!

4. Trams: I'm not really sure how these work. All I know is they are the cheapest, most unpredictable, and slowest form of transportation here. They cost about $.3 and drive on rails through the middle of the roads. They often get slowed down during rush hour (3pm-1am) when cars and busses also drive on their rails.

5. Taxis: These, minus my legs, are my most common form of transportation and have also been the setting for some of my greatest adventures. When you think of taxis here, don't think of NYC taxis that are yellow, clean, air-conditioned, and have a meter. These taxis are black and white and usually reek of smoke and have loud, loud Arab music blasting from their speakers. If you're lucky your window will open and you won't have to reach your hand outside the window to the outer door handle in order to get out of the taxi once you're in. I'm not sure they even know what a seatbelt is. The ride consists of a lot of accellerating, slamming on the brakes, and honking. Because I am a female, I always sit in the back. There is a key to paying your driver: You must get out, crumple your money up in your hand, hand it to him through the window, and walk away behind the car. This is because they don't have meters here and taxi drivers are known for trying to rip off foreigners. This method gives me enough time to get away before he tries to argue me into giving him more money.

Since there don't really seem to be any traffic laws here, it makes for some wild rides. During the day, everyone honks and then drives into the middle of the intersection. (My question is, if everyone does this, who yields?) Eventually someone will slam on his breaks so the other driver can get through. At night, the taxi drivers means of communication is his lights. No one drives with their lights on and only turn them on to alert a pedestrian or car in their way. When asked why he didn't use lights a taxi driver replied, "It drains the battery." Hmmm. Where is he getting his info?

I was in my first taxi accident last week in which my driver squeezed through a spot that he didn't fit through and scraped the entire side of his car on the bumper of another. He didn't stop driving though. He merely accelerated and then opened his door and stuck his head out to assess the damage. Meanwhile, we were coming up on some traffic and he was facing the wrong way. Thankfully, I emerged unscathed.

Two days ago, a 5 minute taxi ride turned into an hour long taxi ride. I directed him to the Sheraton hotel in the area. He began to talk and talk in Arabic and drive and drive. I didn't know my way around enough to tell him how to get there. I wasn't recognizing anything and asked him about it, but he assured me he was going the right way. About 15 min into the ride, I had already exhausted my knowledge of Arabic directions so I went to grab my mobile to call a friend, but unfortunately, I had left it at home. So, I settled back in my seat praying that I wouldn't end up in the middle of nowhere with a crazy man. He continued to talk to me in Arabic and my response was always, "I don't understand." He continued to drive and I began to see road signs that were not at all where I wanted to go. Then, began to say over and over "Mish henna! Mish henna!" (it's not here! it's not here!). Next thing I knew, he pulled up to the Sheraton hotel in the middle of the city. This was NOT where I wanted to be, nor was it where I told him to go. I repeated my directions that I had already told him many times, and this time he responded with an "Oh! Ana aarfa! I know!" and thus turned around and drove me there, giving me a tour of the city (the president's house and everything!) on the way back. A few times he almost stopped the taxi and was trying to get me to give him money, but I refused and just kept telling him to keep driving. Finally, I arrived to where I was meeting my friend...an hour late and exhausted.

Lesson learned: NEVER, EVER, EVER leave the house without your mobile when you don't speak the language and don't know where you're going.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's been a busy week

It's been a busier week than my previous weeks, of which I am very grateful for! I volunteered at an international school this week. On Sunday, I taught gym (yes, I taught gym) to 1st and 2nd graders. We all named our favorite animal and acted like it. Then, we played freeze tag and my personal favorite: blob tag. After that we did handstands and cartwheels and finally played a game of soccer. Tuesday, I had my first ever substitute teacher job. I spent half of the day with 3rd and 4th grade. From 8:30-12:15, we had spelling, handwriting, reading, science, and math. I was of very little help in math when they asked me to assist them in long division. I haven't done long divison since the 4th grade and had to shamefully say, "I'm sorry but I have no idea how to do 4th grade math." By the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that my calling has absolutely nothing to do with teaching elementary school. Kudos to my roommates and all the other teachers out there who do it for hours and hours 5 days a week!




Wednesday, a friend and I went to apply for our year-long VISAs. If there was any sort of organization or system to this VISA application process, I didn't figure it out. We took the metro (i.e. subway that's not below ground) downtown and wandered into a building with about 200 windows. We took the precautionary measures of walking through the metal detectors. No worries, the alarm went off on over 50% of the people who walked through but the guard didn't seem to notice and the guy in front of the TV to watch our bags get x-rayed was too emmersed in conversation and his breakfast to pay much attention. Thus, I felt much safer after doing that.

We then made some photocopies and had our pictures taken for our passport. The girl who took my picture then photoshopped it for me (perhaps thinking I would pass out copies to my friends since we all know how good those sort of pictures look). She gave me sky blue background and then trimmed some of the curls off my hair. In one part she trimmed off to much so it now looks like I have a mullet in the picture.



After all this, we finally made it upstairs and wandered our way through the halls, only after going through another metal detector in which the guards were just as focused as the previous guards. We rounded the corner into a really, really long hallway packed with people. We went to a window and shoved our way to the front. (I discovered a long time ago that they don't do lines here. You just push and shove to the front.) A woman gruffly directed us to window #12. From #12 we went to #43 and back to #12. After this, we were told to return to window #38 in 2 hours. Sounds simple, right? I think not! If only you could see how crowded and confused this place was. Behind all
the windows were hundreds and hundreds of passports and papers scattered across tables and tables.

We left to hit up an english bookstore. We returned 2 hours later. I shoved my way to the front of the line at window #38 and requested my passport. The woman told me to come back later. Hmmm, I thought. Where is my passport? We came back 1/2 hour later and it was still not there, so we went for lunch. We returned an hour later and finally they handed our passports to us. Done, right? Nope! Only halfway! You have to apply for and get a VISA before you can apply for and get permission to leave and re-enter the country. And, the VISA lasts for a year, while the re-entry VISA only lasts for six months. Where's the logic in that?

So, we went back to window #12 and were sent to window #2. She gave us some papers and sent us away. We returned and she sent us back to window #43. We returned and she sent us away because we didn't do something right and when we had corrected it, we went back to her again. This time, she took our passports and said, "Tomorrow, 10am." Our jaws dropped. We have to come all the way down here again tomorrow? "Please, it's hard for us to come down here. Is there anything you can do?" Her response: "Tomorrow, 10am" and then she walked away.

So, what was there left to do but to commute an hour back home and then return this morning. We did take the bus today which was an adventure. So, we went through the metal detectors and walked up the stairs, down the long hallway, to window #2 and she just handed us our passports and we walked out. This morning was a 2 minute visit, and yet a two hour commute there and back.

All that said, I am now an official tourist resident for the next year and am free to come and go from the country as I please through March 12th. I don't plan on going downtown anytime soon though.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

I have the dirtiest feet in the world.

Really, I'm being honest. I took a picture, but I decided not to post it because they're really dirty. Seeing as how I live in the desert and it doesn't rain here and people don't use the garbage cans very often, I get super dirty. Then today, I wore my crocs so dirt hopped into every hole in the shoe. Plus, today was really, really hot. It's supposed to cool down a ton next week, and only be in the high 80s. Hmmm, cool in the high 80s. Is that an oxymoron?

I also just found out that the city I live is #2 on the worst air quality in the WORLD, surpassed only by Delhi, India. I don't even want to know what my lungs look like!

Great news! I found a language tutor and will start classes next week! I'll do 2-2 1/2 hours 5 days a week of meetings where I'll learn to speak and write. (Keep in mind, the Arabic you speak and the Arabic you write are practically different languages in themselves.) Here's what the rest of my week will look like:

15 hrs-in class study
10-15 hrs- studying outside of class (going over words I learned, listening to my class on a recorder, going out to speak Arabic with other people, etc.)
5-20hrs-visits with Arabs (this will happen more and more as I meet more people)
2-Arab fellowships a week, where I'm can't listen to the translation

I also hope to find a place to volunteer with refugees, am attending three other meetings a week, fellowship in english, and reading all these huge history books on the culture.

It sounds like life will begin to get busy! I'm excited!!!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Tour

So, after hours of trying to use this thing we call technology, I think I finally got these videos to work. Nevermind the fact that I sound a bit confused in all of them when I can't get it to work. You might have wait awhile for the video to load, or maybe that only happens here. Happy touring!





Sunday, September 03, 2006

Petra Pics

I finally have internet at home, so here are the long-awaited Petra pics!


This is the view from immigration in Jordan. I'm looking across the Red Sea (think Ex. 14) at the Promised Land. I also got a picture of Saudi Arabia from the Red Sea!

Can you believe all of these places were actually carved out of the rocks themselves with very ornate designs? The camels belonged to Bedowins who tried to get us to ride them. Five years ago, Petra would see 10,000 visitors a day. Since the Middle East has become "dangerous" the tourism has decreased, so we practically had the place to ourselves. This was great for pictures and atmosphere, but overwhelming because we were constantly bombarded by people trying to sell us things. My favorite line was the man who walked up to us with his camel saying, "Taxi with air conditioning!"


I'm standing in the monestary. It's called the monestary, though it never served this purpose. We rode donkeys over a mountain to get here which made for some laughs! When there, a guy climbed to the very top (probably 500ft) and sat on top and played a flute. After that, we climbed to a place where they would make their sacrifices. From there we also saw Aaron's (Moses' brother) tomb.

Here I am with one of my friends on the donkey ride. I thought Szu-Szu was going to tip over a couple of cliffs. I think the two of us may have been a bit much for him. Because we were in a tourist area I didn't have to wear long sleeves and pants, but I also think it lead to my worst sunburn of the year.

Here I am later that night learning how to dance the Arab way. (Sorry the picture is hard to see!) Again, dancing around (and next to) men is only appropriate because I was in a touristy area. Fortunately, Arab dancing is very similar to country line dancing, except we dance in a circle.

A tour of my flat is on it's way soon!