Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Police

So one day we all get on the bus for school, but we soon enough find out that we're not actually going to school that morning, but we're going to go to the police station in Sweileh until we get our visas figured out.

So here's what happens, you get a visa, and it's for a month or forty days or something like that. There's a stamp in your passport that says "see a police station immediately" or something like that. To get your visa extended, you're supposed to do a blood test, and then pay and dinar and a half for every day that you overstayed your visa without the extension. We didn't do either of those things, and we've overstayed our visas by about two weeks, and to leave the country, we need to sort this out.

So we all get off the bus at the police station. Government buildings in Amman have their own sort of charm, or not. They're usually labelled in fancy Arabic script, compared to the usual fonts on most buildings. The national seal, or symbol, or whatever it's called, emblem maybe, is below the name of the building. Outside, there are usually guards in black and grey camoflage uniforms, holding some sort of large black guns, multiple feet in length. I got used to the guns being around relatively quickly, but the harder thing to get used to was the fact that some of the soldiers holding the guns couldn't have been but a few years older than me. Which was kind of strange, but there they stood, holding their guns. Sometimes they themselves looked uncomfortable with their weapons, but usually they just stood there. Along with these soldiers, dependent on the importance of the buildings, sometimes sat tanks, with a man sitting in the top wearing his helemet with a gun at the ready, and several others standing on the ground around it, ready to go. This usually perterbed me more than the soldiers standing by the gates and around the walls.

Walking into the police station, you walk up a big whitish staircase, and go inside, where you are met by several officers wondering why in the world fifteen high schoolers from America have suddenly shown up, much less in their police station, in Sweileh, which is arguably the poorest section of Amman, according to your sources. (Not all of Sweileh is like this, though). They quickly walk us down this long white hallway into a plain white room, with two women sitting at a desk behind a sheet of glass. We all sit, fifteen of us in about ten chairs, complying with their request for us to sit, and our directors argue back and forth about the visas. Then they get us all up, and we move much further down another hallway, and we sit in another room. On the way, we passed plenty of large, fancy rooms, with leather armchairs and big screen televisions, but we settle into another plain white room with plastic chairs. They argue back and forth again, and I can pretty much only catch some numbers and days, which I guess is pretty much all they were arguing about. I never really found out exactly what they argued about, but after maybe half an hour of sitting there, they told us all to leave, and so we left.

Afterwards, I found out that they finally just gave up and agreed to get us out of their police station, as long as we paid them a small fine, something around the price of the blood test that we wouldn't take. And so we paid them for the blood test, didn't take it, but got our passports stamped that we did take it, and each got a recipt, a small scrap of official looking paperwork to present to the security officers at the airport if there were any questions about whether or not we took the blood tests. And that was that.

We went back to school, and when asked why our class was late, we simply offered that we had to go to the police. That was accepted by our teachers without further explanation, and so that was that.

Water Tanks

This is what the roof of our apartment building looked like, just concrete and all, and then a bit higher up there were the tanks. This is where all your water comes from in the apartments. If the tank goes dry, just wait until the next time the water truck comes around. Sometimes there's an extra tank that youc an get switched to, but honestly, just try not to use up all the water in the first place. You share water tanks with other apartments, so it might not be your fault if you run out. But you also don't want to be the ones causing some other family's faucets to run dry because you took too long of a shower. I kind of like having to think about the water tanks, I think it's a good thing to be a little more aware of how much water you use. Especially when our toilet broke and you had to flush it manually with the showerhead, it was interesting to see exactly how much water you use every time you flush the toilet.

All McDonalds aren't the same.

Could you find this in the states? I think not. Yeah, that's pretty much all I wanted to say on this topic. I only went to McDonald's once, and didn't even order anything. Just wanted to see what they had, remembering that they offered mango and green apple sundaes in China compared to the states' chocolate and strawberry. In Jordan, we found this.

Laundry Duty

Laundry isn't hard. I know that. But when you walk up the machine and see this, there's the moment of, "I wish that laundry didn't have to be an experiment." Turns out that turned to the left, the machine spins, and to the right it drains. The middle is supposed to be off, but our machine was broken, so that it ended up being somewhere between off and drain, meaning that it would leak all over the floor if the hose wasn't elevated above the bottom of the tank. Kind of a challenge when the hose is meant to just lie on the floor when not in use.

I've already described laundry on here, and while it was dreaded there, I now miss it. It's too easy here - I don't need to manually fill it up, and it washes and rinses automatically, and there's not a massive risk of soap stains. AS well, if I leave the laundry in the washing machine here for a couple hours after it ends, it doesn't reek of fish.

Too easy.

Trash Days

This is a picture looking down from the roof of our building onto a lovely game of Trash. Trash was kept on the ledge of the window of Ten Ghirsh, and when it became too much, they'd play a sort of game of basketball and try to throw it down into the can. Sometimes it became quite a spectacle, and the challenge was keeping the little kids that ran around downstairs out of the way of the falling bags and bottles.

Al-Matbakh - The Kitchen

So this is what the stoves and ovens look like in Jordan, both in my apartment and my host family house. First, there's the gas tank, which is on the right here. It just hooks up to the stove with a tube, almost like you're camping, and that's where the gas comes from. If you run out, there's a truck that comes around and you buy another tank. To us, the truck is referred to as the "dead clown music" truck because of the music that is plays to let you know when it's coming. It's pretty much on off-key ice cream truck on steroids. It's the kind of thing you despise as it drives past your window at four in the morning, but now that I'm home I miss it sorely.

So then there's the stove, which has wheels and can be moved around, compared to stoves in America which are usually built into a counter or whatever. The stove is lit with a match or a lighter after turning on the gas. It took  a couple tries to figure out how much the gas needed to be turned on so that the stove didn't essentially explode when you lit it. I burned my hands a few times in the beginning. In the picture, the stove is open, and then there's the glass cover pulled up so you can use it. I guess maybe you could put that down when you're not using it, and use the top as extra counter space, as the counters are tiny, but we usually just left it open, in both the apartments and my host family. The table was a good enough counter.

As far as the oven goes, I only used that once, in my host families. We were making Chicago style deep dish pizzas from scratch, which is an adventure quite difficult but really fun if you're up for the challenge. especially because I'd bet that your host family, same as mine, will have no idea why your pizza is so thick, and why the sauce is on top. They asked if I was making a cake, but in the end they enjoyed eating the pizza. Anyways, to use the ove, you put whatever you're cooking on the lower rack, turn on the gas, light a roll of newspaper, and stick that into this hole in the bottom of the oven to light the bottom of the oven. The nespaper is necessary because you have to stick it pretty far in there, and a match wouldn't work. Once the bottom of whatever you're cooking is done, you move it to the top rack, put out the bottom flame, and light the top, and then literally cook the top. It's a strange system, and you wouldn't think it works but it does.

And then there's the two pots. That's just the innovation you create when your apartments were stocked with no lids but two pots, and you're making pasta. By the way, we were short on utensils, so I ate that pasta with a wrench. And plates? Yeah right, we were usually short and just ate all out of the pot. Good times.

Burtqaal Ao Frawla?

Just a random bit. Outside of our school there was a small shop that sold snacks and phone cards and then, suddenly a smoothie machine appeared. They just had slushies in there, but that was really nice after school to get a nos dinar, or roughly half dollar, slushie. They only had orange and "red," which we guessed was strawberry, but it became a daily routine for a couple weeks to get a slushie after school. It's really sad that our school in America doesn't have them.

Gloria Jeans

Gloria Jeans is a chain coffee shop that has little outlets all around Amman, and I'm guessing other cities, but I have no way to know about that. The one we went two was maybe a fifteen minute walk from our apartment building, down Shar3 Jam3a, or University Street, past the University of Jordan. Lovingly known as Fat Street for it's plethora of fast food chains, mostly American, but including the Middle Eastern options such as Lebnani's Snacks, and the local smaller cafés, it was always crowded with college kids and some families.

Gloria Jeans is just a simple coffee shop, but they've got it set up to have plenty of room to sit and study, as we did for many times and long hours. We'd just take all our books there and study, especially right before finals. The guys working there really liked tw of the girls in our group, and we ended up with Ramadan Kareem coupons, which sadly enough we never ended up using. But we still frequented the cofee shop often enough, as there was a second floor room with a big window, which was great for people watching in between Arabic worksheets and notecards.

Old View Café

Our favorite café in Amman was Old View, off of Shar3 Rainbow, or Rainbow Street to the foreigners. I couldn't give you exact directions there, anything more than walk past the billboards and the guitar plaza, turn right after Souq Jara, and go a little further. It's a really gorgeous café though, where you can sit and chill and just watch the city for hours, as we did multiple times.

Every time we went we always had the same waiter, and he always seemed slightly disapproving of what we were ordering. Maybe it's because we tended to bring our own water in, but their water was ridiculously overpriced. We got maybe one or two things, ate the foul and pumpkin seeds and peanuts that came with the cover charge, and sat and talked for hours. Usually by the time we left it was dark, and because the café isn't lit by more than lanterns, we always had a heck of a time figuring out exactly how much we owed, because the check was scribbled on the smallest scrap of paper they could find in some messy Arabic. That probably contributed to his slight disapproval as well. We were quiet enough, and conservatively dressed, and spoke Arabic well enough to order without any problems though, so I'm not sure what the problem was.

We've already decided that if we ever go back there together, that's the first place we go.

The Alley

This is a picture of the alley next to our apartments. The writing on the wall roughly tranliterates to "safwad," which is the name of the apartment manager. I'm pretty sure he painted it up there at some point.

The walls are all very high because the buildings are built into the side of the mountains, so even from what was the ground where I stood, I would take a picture up and just barely get the ground where I was aiming the camera. From the third floor of our building, you could look one direction and be even with the garage of the building next door. From the roof, you were even with the forth floor of one building next door and the first floor of the one in the other direction.

The boxes on the left are the ones on our building. Technically, those are the air conditioning boxes, but the chance of your apartment having working air conditioning was about half. Sometimes though, actually most of the time, it'd be hot enough that if you turned it on they'd start dripping from the temperature difference. That was always weird to get water dripping on your head as you walked out of the building, keeping in mind that it doesn't ever rain in the summer there, and that we literally didn't see a single cloud the entire time. There's just not enough humidity.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Once upon a time there, there were two teenaged boys named Ryan and Jonas. By a miracle of fate, they ended up sharing an apartment in Amman, Jordan. As they moved in, they found a ten qirsh coin, and in pronoucing it in the "manly" fashion in Amman, dubbed their apartment "Ten Ghirsh."

The apartments each had the same number of rooms. There were two bedrooms, once living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. In Ten Ghirsh, both of the single beds from the bedrooms were moved into the living room, along with the cabinets and the couches. Then, the mattress from the twin bed was put on the floor, and you had your version of a Jordanian bachelor pad. Complete with speakers and never ending music, apartment five became "TEN GHIRSH."

Harem Pants

So harem pants were the coveted souvenir out of our group, despite the fact that they weren't really Jordanian at all, just funny looking.

So that's a picture of my harem pants. Some people got them in different colors, but that's mine. And so here's a list of some of the quirks of harem pants.
  • The store that we bought them in was extremely sketchy, and to try them on you went up this rickety staircase to the storeroom upstairs, and tried them on among the boxes full of cheap tourist souvenirs.
  • They were too big for you in you were less than about five two, so then they had to be pulled up to your chest and worn as a romper, or rolled to an extreme so you could wear them as pants.
  • If they fit and you wore them as pants, the crotch comes down to your knees. They're funny like that.
  • Airport security will indeed comment on how your whole group is wearing matching pants.
  • Keep in mind, they don't look nearly as ridiculous in Jordan as they do in the states.

The Couches

The couches in our apartments were interesting, to say the least.

In the lobby there were three couches for us to eat breakfast and lunch on. While they were covered in some fancy looking fabric, they were pretty much wooden frames with some cardboard in there. Cardboard was the secret ingredient in pretty much every piece of furniture we had in there.

And so a couch with three cushions would usually be fine for five or six people in the states, but these couches were extremely uncomfortable to sit between two cushions because you could feel the wooden sticks in your rear when you sat, let's just leave it at that.

Also, random story about a couch. They were randomly repaired in places you wouldn't expect, so one day I was sitting on the couch and moved my foot somehow so that a nail was sticking up from the side of the couch and when I put my foot down it stuck far up into the sole of my foot. Needless to say those couches were uncomfortable and bloodthirsty. And yet we still loved them.

Let Me Close the Elevator, los hamat!

The manager of the apartment had a son, and he would run around the complex entertaining himself. He was a super sweet kid, and many times during one of our lobby meals he'd stick his head in the window and start talking in Arabic to us. He was a sweet kid, kind of hard to have a conversation with because his reply to every question you asked would be his name, but still. He was fun to play soccer in the alley with.

One day, we were done talking to him and wanted to go back to our apartment upstairs, so we get in the elevator and do that whole "ma'a salaama, bishofak" thing, (go in peace, see you later), and press the third floor. The door starts to close, but then reopens and we see the kid standing there pressing the button on the outside, like he wants to come up. Once he realizes the power he now has, he won't stop. So after five minutes of begging, we finally just pull him into the elevator with us. He's rather confused, as this isn't normal for him, but we go up, we get out, and we hit the zero floor button for him again to go back down. He just stood there and looked confused.


So I got home yesterday morning, which is really, really sad. And I didn't get to blog very much when I was over there, so now I'm going to just post about as many random stories and tidbits as I can from my time over in Jordan. But I am indeed home now.