Moving Out, Swearing in, Settling in, and Just Generally Swearing

24 Feb

Well, once again I failed horribly at keeping up with this blog, but so it goes.

 

My first month at my new site has gone reasonably well. Busy, as you could imagine. Setting up a house, settling into a new village, meeting new people, and starting a new job isn’t exactly easy, but folks in my village have been kind and helpful. During this process the J15s (last year’s Peace Corps class) introduced me to a new phrase: “smothering hospitality.” I didn’t know such a thing existed, but I am now familiar with it. Of all the problems to have, this is a good one.

 

So, let me start off with what I left off with last post. Swearing in.

 

I moved out of my host family’s house on January 13th, early in the morning. Packing up my things and getting ready to leave was harder than I’d thought it would be. Despite the occasional personality and cultural clashes, they were a shelter in a storm, and far more generous and patient than they had to be. I got a great host family that accepted who I was and where I was coming from without trying to change me. Leaving them was tough. Plus, their kids are really cute. We’ve talked on the phone a few times since I left their house, and I hope to keep in touch with them in the future.

 

We, the soon-to-no-longer-be PCTs, stayed in Madaba for a few days for our last few days of training. I wish I could say that I remember a lot of it, but I don’t. At that point we were all at a weird place mentally. We were crashing after a long and stressful training, and then excited for the move to our new sites. Exhausted and energized.

 

There were a few highlights in the last days of training. One was a lottery conducted by the Medical Officer here. She’d acquired a bunch of useful items from volunteers that were leaving (or magically pulled them out of The Void, I’m not entirely certain) and gave them away. I came away with two extra blankets, and counted myself lucky. Others got irons, coffee mugs, or packages of instant noodles. I was glad to get the blankets, though it meant that my already brimming bags had to find more space. You wouldn’t think people would complain about getting free stuff, but as ever Peace Corps Volunteers are the exception. EVERYONE was grumbling about the lack of space. And I mean, yes, blankets, heaters, medical kits, emergency flashlights, and CO2/smoke detectors are useful, but come on! It’s not like I’m gonna leave behind the shoes I bought or all the free clothes I’d gotten.

 

Swearing in happened on January 15th at the Madaba municipal building. For those of you on facebook, that’s where the photos of the women in brightly color dresses are from. (It’s called a thobe, and is traditional Jordanian dress.) It was a nice ceremony, but as with all official ceremonies, a bit boring. Our Country Director spoke, welcoming us to Jordan and reminding us that we are the only volunteers the US government is sending over to the Middle East this year. Universities and private companies are, but there’s no one else that the US government is putting their faith behind. Just us. All the other folks the government sends over live in compounds or gated communities, and most live in the big cities. My town doesn’t even have a stoplight. So we were to accept the privilege and responsibility and do our best not to screw up. (My words, not his.)

 

After our Country Director spoke, the US Ambassador to Jordan, Stuart E. Johnson, gave his speech. He welcomed us to Jordan, spoke of the loving family relationship (read: occasionally contentious) between the Foreign Service and the Peace Corps, and his hope that we would go on to become great public servants one day, much like the late Chris Stevens, US Ambassador to Libya and a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco.

 

It was a lovely speech, don’t get me wrong, but I have two things to say. First, don’t try to sell me on another job before even get started on this one. I didn’t like it when the Alumni Association gave a speech at my college graduation ceremony, and I don’t like it now. Second, when sending me out to a village, alone, please don’t remind me of a guy who died. Yes, he had a common touch that could be traced back to time in Peace Corps. Yes, he was champion of so many of the best ideals that Peace Corps has. Yes, he was a part of the lamentably small group of people who both care about how the US is seen in the Middle East and who actually do something to impact it. Don’t just remind me that a good man who started where I’m standing died; tell me how his life mattered. I know the risks. Tell me that doing this work, despite the risks, matters.

 

Okay, mini-rant over. Moving on!

 

After the Ambassador’s speech, we all came up to the stage and told the crowd (in Arabic) our name, what training village we were from, and where we were going to live. That went well enough, a few stumbles, but we all got through it fine. There was a laugh when one of the trainees from my village called himself by the Arabic name the village had given him after they couldn’t pronounce his English name. So hats off to you, Hatim Al-Shakhanbeh (a.k.a. Tom).

 

Then came the actual swearing in. We stood up on stage, raised our right hand, and flubbed the oath.

 

You see the Peace Corps oath is like a lot of government oaths: wordy with a not terribly familiar cadence. And we, the training group, flubbed it. The Ambassador read a phrase that was too long for us to remember, and we kind of trickled out before the end. Cue awkward laughter and a look of pain on the Peace Corps staff members’ faces.

 

Then it happened again, a line later.

 

Then the Ambassador realized he needed to spoon-feed us the oath, and we got through the rest of it with what remained of our dignity intact. Luckily, the audience was made up mostly of our host families, who had already heard us speaking nonsense for three months. I prefer to think of it as another humiliating moment where they just smiled indulgently.

 

And that is how I made the transition from Peace Corps Trainee to Peace Corps Volunteer. Ah, memories.

 

After we were allowed to flee the stage in shame, two of our brand spanking new volunteers made speeches. They were brilliant, thoughtful, and done completely in Arabic, so I understood maybe one word in five.

 

There was one final speech from our Director of Programming and Training, issuing us a challenge to engage with our communities, to teach and learn in equal parts, and to fall on our faces every so often since that means we’re actually reaching for something. (Again, she had a slightly different phrasing, but that was the message I took away.)

 

The ceremony ended. We had snacks and hung out with our host families for one last time. I had thought that only my host father and two of the kids were going to make it, since my host mother had to work and five- and two-years olds don’t handle boring ceremonies well, but she and the five-year old were there. I was surprised, but very happy to see them there. My host sister snuck into the reserved seating and sat next to me, holding my hand for much of the ceremony. And yeah, I got a bit sniffle-y at that. They had to rush out pretty quickly afterwards, since my host father had to work. It meant a lot to know that they had to carve the time out to come. I like to think I’m not the only one who felt the parting.

 

The rest of the day was a blur of last minute packing, buying of things needed, repacking, hanging out together for the last time before we go to site, and generally feeling relieved that I made it this far. I felt buoyant now that I’d finally gotten past the question Can I get through training? It crossed my mind nearly everyday. Could I adapt to the language? Could I adapt to the culture? Could I ignore the stares? Could I withstand the thousand and one questions, much of them inappropriate to American sensibilities? Could I find the emotional and physical reserves to force myself through the inconsolable bad days and fragile good days so that maybe, maybe I could get to do the thing I’d wanted to do? It turned out that I could. And that felt good.

 

The next day I was up bright and wickedly early to get to the training Center one last time. And again, it was an exercise in hurry-up-and-wait, since the bus taking half of the training group south was not big enough for half the group, plus all their stuff. We were supposed to be the first to leave, and instead were the second-to-last. One of our new brethren didn’t come with us, though.

 

The J16s had our first Early Termination (ET) that morning. After getting through training, he realized Peace Corps wasn’t the life for him. I haven’t heard from him since, and I don’t know if I will, but I wish him the best. I’m rather fond of this group of government-issued friends, and I hope this is the only ET we have. It won’t be, but I still hope.

 

We loaded up the buses and headed south. I was the first one off the bus, and I challenge any group of people to unload a van faster than PCVs can. They dropped my stuff off, complimented the apartment, took a photo, and were on the road again in what felt like five minutes. And I was finally alone, in my own space, at site. The deep breath I let out wasn’t so much a sigh as an unraveling of every knot I’d worked myself into over training.

 

Ten minutes later, my mudeera and counterpart English teacher showed up, and whisked me away to go shopping. Food, water, bread (it’s own category here in Jordan), and household what-its were all purchased for me. They came into the apartment and helped me set up the few things that I had. Then they were gone within a half hour. A whirlwind that left me better organized than when they arrived. Then I curled up and took a nap.

 

The next few days were blessedly slow. My landlord’s family checked in on me. I met my neighbors across the street (my landlady’s sister who is married to my landlord’s brother). My counterpart and her teenage daughter came over, and invited me to their place. They invited me to go pray with them on the first Friday that I’m in town. To which I agree, because, why not?

 

Thus began the craziest Friday I’ve had in Jordan.

 

And, fair warning folks, if you want to refill a cup of coffee or something like that, now’s the time. This is another fairly long story. (Also, how do you know you’re acclimating to Jordan well? You give your readers coffee breaks in the middle of a post.)

 

The invitation was to go pray, and so I’m thinking this would be a few hours, maybe grab lunch with them, and then back home by midafternoon. Right? Wrong! Eleven hours later I get dropped off, dusty, muddy, and covered in sea-salt. I was sunburned and sore.

 

She picks me up at about 9am that Friday, and I’m dressed in church clothes. Because we’re going to church, right? It’s only after we’re in the car that I realize everyone else is wearing jeans and t-shirts. We start driving, and head northwest from Karak, and end up down in the Jordan Valley along the banks of the Dead Sea. Now, Karak is about 900 meters above sea level and the Dead Sea is about 400 meters below sea level. We covered that drop in elevation in about three or four miles of switchback roads. So I became acquainted with how my eardrum feel, and didn’t blame the two-year old for throwing up.

 

Once in the Jordan Valley we drive north for about two hours until we reach the Jordan River. THE Jordan River that you (Christians) spent so much time hearing about in Church.  All the while along the road there are soldiers stationed on the side of the road with their automatic rifles and the Big Guns mounted on their trucks. (I grew up in a nearly-hippie household. I do not know guns. They were big, mounted on trucks, and pointed at the road.) I was close enough to the border to see Palestine out the window. We got to the church’s main gates, and the army had set up a checkpoint. They did a quick check to make sure everyone’s papers were in order and there were no bombs in the car, and wave us through. Everyone in the car was perfectly calm, but I was confused. I don’t know where you, dear readers, go to church, but this was an entirely new experience for me.

 

As it turns out, this church service was celebrating Jesus’s baptism, and was one that a large part of Jordan’s Christian population attends every year. So the army was out just to make sure that everything and everyone was safe. Once that was explained, I was fine.  There were at least three different churches built along this one small strip of the Jordan River, and all had rather large ceremonies going on. I went with my counterpart to the Orthodox ceremony, which had a VERY different feel than the Protestant services I’m familiar with. My counterpart talked to one of the (civilian) crowd patrol folks, and I was taken over to a fence where I could actually see down to the Jordan River. I felt a little awkward being there, but if you can’t play up the ajnabiyya card at major religious ceremonies, when else can you?

 

After the service I went with her extended family for a picnic lunch. Again, it was all slightly awkward, but there were a number of kids under ten and a donkey tied up nearby. So, I made small talk, hung out with the kids, and acted like a kid when the donkey brayed. What? I grew up in a city!

 

At one point during lunch a woman comes up, and talks to the family. I didn’t catch what she was saying, but before I know it, the family has whipped out a plate and was loading it up. They handed it off, and the woman walked away. No one commented on it, and no one acted like it was a big deal. It was just random generosity because there was a hungry woman there, and they had food. I’d like to think that we’d do this in the States. I know that people probably do, but it was done so quietly that it seemed almost not worth noticing. It shocked me in a really great way. This is the Jordan that I’m coming to know. And remember the crack I made earlier about smothering hospitality? This is where that idea comes from, the simple act of taking care of those within your reach, stranger or family. It’s powerful to see in front of you.

 

After lunch we got into the car and drove to the Dead Sea, which was incredibly packed. It’s Friday, so it’s the weekend in Jordan. Muslim families had gathered after their services, and the Christian families were returning after the services on the Jordan River. PACKED! So what does my counterpart and her husband do? Flag down a guy who’d brought his camel to the shore.

 

Yep. I rode a camel. No,  I don’t have photos.

 

And I have to give a big Thank You to my mom’s coworker at EMU, who I’m told occasionally reads this blog. She’d gone to Egypt (I think?) and had her own experience riding a camel, and passed along a piece of advice. Camels, you see, are tall, and in order to even get on their backs, the camel has to go to its knees. When they stand up, it’s done front half first and then the back half, and then opposite when sitting down. If you’re not expecting it, then you can tumble off very easily. Being forewarned, I was able to lean into it motion and not humiliate myself. It was a nice ride, calm and swaying. Stinkier than a horse, but not awful. I did not see the camel spit, nor did it kick anyone. But, boy, do they make a god-awful racket when they call.

 

The kids went swimming in the Dead Sea, swallowed too much of the extremely salty water, and threw up everywhere. The toddlers waded in and learned that extremely salty water does not react well with diaper rash. There was screaming, crying, and quick strip downs. I made myself useful by holding onto the screaming babies while their mothers ran off to the car to get clean water to wash them off and their fathers tended to their elder brothers and sisters.

 

After that little flurry of drama, I soaked my legs in the warm, salty water, which was nice. Then I put some Dead Sea mud on my chapped-by-the-cold hands and a little while later washed in off in the, you guessed it, extremely salty water. I sympathized with the toddlers and really wished it were socially acceptable for a grown woman to weep in pain. It was not, so I womaned up, kept washing off the mud, and when that was done, I turned my back on that gigantic, antiseptic nightmare, and spent time with the folks who’d brought me. Also, seeing as how I am a scientist’s daughter, I also collected a few rocks from the seaside (different colors mean different mineral composition, and that’s cool) and pondered how the high salinity and shallow depth of the Sea affected the waves (according to my Dad when I asked him about it later, it’s the depth more than the salt, but the generally processes are the same ones I’ve been ignoring him talking about for years).

 

The sun started to go down, we were exhausted, and headed back. Two hours south, up the mountains (hello, eardrums), a quick detour to show what Karak Castle (a Roman fort still standing and huge) looked like by night, and then back to my little village.

 

And thus my four-hour church-and-lunch date turned into a day-long event. It was awesome.

 

There will be more soon. I’m just tired of typing. 

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The One in which I Apologize for the Radio Silence.

20 Jan

Hi all,

 

Sorry for the lack of communication from this side of the planet, but it’s been that sort of busy where the days run together without any of the lightning-bolt high-stress moments that linger in the memory. I don’t know if there’s a word for it. Adulthood, maybe. Not quite contentment, since I still haven’t adjusted completely to the Jordanian way of life, and I’m not yet comfortable in being a step and a half out of synch. So I’m sticking with adulthood. If there’s a more suitable word, let me know in the comment section.

 

Christmas came and went here in Jordan, and it was wonderful watching it from the Holy Land, and especially in a city with a Christian population in a Muslim country. The city was trimmed with some Christmas decorations, but not as many as we see in the States. These may have been put up to accommodate the tourist crowd that SWARMED in to be here for the season.

 

After finishing class, my villagemates and I went to a Christmas Eve Mass at the Church of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. I know nothing more about the church except that it was built in the 1890s and I got pretty bummed to realize the church was as old as anything I could see in the States. A nice and subtle reminder that even History is still new at some point.

 

A bit about the service. It was jam packed, and most of the people there weren’t congregants or from the Middle East even. The service was conducted in Arabic, which surprised me at first, but then didn’t when I thought about it. I was assuming Latin, but one of the twentieth century popes allowed service in the vernacular. So Arabic it is. Anyway, those who were a part of the congregation responded and sang louder than usual (I assume), to cover what would have otherwise been awkward silence. I tried to hum along to the songs that I knew, of which there were only two or three.

 

It was gender segregated, or tried to be, once the service started and they had to fit people in where they could. Women and children were to one side (mostly) and men to the other (mostly). My female villagemates and I were separated from our male counterparts and LCF. We ladies were sat in a corner (nave? I’m bad a church architecture.) by a mural of Gabriel announcing to Mary that she was going to be the mother of God. Since I didn’t understand much of the service, I ended up studying the mural for a while. I really appreciated the symbology and the attention to detail they put into the mural. (Archangels have six wings, according to biblical scholars, lower angels have fewer. Though Mary, curiously, slept in a room without a ceiling or roof. Perhaps so that the baby Jesus could descend from heaven easier.) Alas, I do not have a photo, since I think it’s phenomenally inappropriate to take photos in church.

 

We left before communion started, since none of us were confirmed in the Catholic church. We met up with the guys and our LCF (who couldn’t watch the service, even though he’d wanted to). Then went and got food (pizza, in my case), and our LCF bought us kunafa, a phenomenally good Middle Eastern dessert, made with pasty dough, honey, nuts, and a centimeter-thick layer of cheese. This has become our own little holiday tradition. First it was Thanksgiving kunafa, then Christmas.

 

Then we called my host father, who was generous enough to drive us that evening, and headed back home. Waiting for me was a piece of kunafa that my host family got for me as a Christmas gift. I thanked them, and retired to bed at 11pm, where I then laid up until 12:30 with the most awful case of indigestion ever.

 

On Christmas Day, I got up and went to language class. Yes, I had class on Christmas. PC is non-denominational, and we were in a Muslim country. A country where Christmas, for the record, is a federal holiday. There’s no work, for anyone, except PCTs. Boo. And let me tell you, learning about modals (i.e. would, could, might) on Christmas day is the HEIGHT of holiday festiveness.

 

After class, though, we got to head into the Peace Corps center, which had been opened to us after enough requests/hounding to give us a place for a party. (Practically speaking, though, not giving us the space would have meant we’d come into the city and meet up anyway. This way we were contained, managed, and safe.) A fellow trainee provided pizza for our lunch; he wanted to remain anonymous, but we figured out who it was pretty quickly. Providing pizza for twenty-five people is expensive, and that rules out every recently graduated college student. That left only four people. Thanks, James!

 

At the party we ate, talked to people of the opposite sex (inappropriate behavior), danced with our hair down (two inappropriate behaviors), played card games (inappropriate behavior), and generally enjoyed an afternoon off. That day I bought myself internet access. So I have semi-reliable internet, people. Whether I am more than semi-reliable to use it for blogging, who knows?

 

I got home and talked to the family, which was great. I hadn’t spoken to the extended family since before I left, so I enjoyed that. I know they’re reading, so let me just reiterate: I LOVE YOU GUYS, AND I MISS YOU! WRITE ME EMAILS!

 

The next day, I was back in Madaba, at the center, for more training. PST is intense, folks.

 

Then a few days later, I got the afternoon off to come into Amman, to the Holiday Lunch that the US Embassy throws for Peace Corps folks. The party at the Center was for just the J16s, my PC class, but this one had J13s, J14s, and J15s as well. So it was nice to finally meet folks we’d heard about or talked to online. The food was all traditional American holiday fare: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pie, and ice cream. I also got to drink honest-to-god American drip-style coffee. It had been far too long. The result of so much good food was, of course, a massive bout of car sickness on our way back to Madaba. Five hours later my roommate and I were still nauseous.

 

Nate and Alison, myself, Emily, Sabrina, and James at the holiday party

Nate and Alison, myself, Emily, Sabrina, and James at the holiday party

The New Year’s came and went. I spent New Year’s Eve in Madaba with some other PCTs, though we got home “late.” For Jordan that means I got home at about 7:30. Whoo! Party animal! Got to play the “Sorry, I don’t speak Arabic” to an overly-chatty cab driver. I didn’t watch the New Years’ celebrations. There was no New Year’s Rocking Eve, snack food binges, or board games with the family. I really felt the cumulative holiday-separation homesickness on New Year’s though, more than on Christmas. Seriously, whose idea was it to send people half way around the world right in time for the holidays?

 

On January 4, a number of volunteer got together at Mount Neebo, which is not far from Madaba. This was where, according to Biblical tradition, Moses looked over the land of Canaan and declared this to be the homeland for his people. And then he died, since he wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land. The view was phenomenal, even on a somewhat hazy day, I could see out into the West Bank.

 

All PC travel is fraught with adventure, and Amanda is LOVING this one.

All PC travel is fraught with adventure, and Amanda is LOVING this one.

After wandering around Mount Neebo for a while, a few of us went down to the Moses Spring, where Moses struck the rock and the stream came out. (In Arabic, it’s ‘Ayoun Musa. So in the bastardized Arabeezi that most PCTs are now using, we called it Musa Spring.) It’s about two and a half or three kilometers from Mount Neebo, so the path between them is walkable.  We started out from Mount Neebo at about one o’clock in the afternoon, and it became, in many ways, a comedy of errors and a reminder of how generous people can be.

 

First error, we decided to forego lunch. The average lunch price was 10JD (about $14), and my month’s allowance from Peace Corps was 25JD (about $32). So, no lunch.

 

Second error, we forgot that Mount Neebo is a mountain, and the spring is in a valley. This meant the path was steep. Very very steep.

 

So we started down the mountainside that was probably at an 8% grade. My knees then started to suggest that hey, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea when, hey! What’s that? A friendly man from one of the hiker’s villages! He was on his way down to the Spring to get his supply of fresh water. Did we want a ride? Yes, yes we did. So an hour-long hike downhill took less than ten minutes.

 

Then we were down at Musa Spring, which at first glace was less impressive than I’d hoped. The spring itself is covered in a graffiti-covered stone arch. This is where my newly acquired guides got their water, and where they encouraged us to drink from the spring. I did.

 

Ayoun Musa, topside

Ayoun Musa, topside 

The spring falls over a small cliff and down into the valley floor, and we followed a little trail down to a grotto beneath the spring. The spring then came out of the rock in four different places, and the trickle above the cliff was an actual spring. I drank from that water as well. The grotto was moist enough that moss grew an inch thick, and small clover-like plants grew out of the moss. It was a strange moment of moisture and green in a desert.

 

Grotto beneath Moses's Spring, with Conor being as enthusiastic as ever

Grotto beneath Moses’s Spring, with Conor being as enthusiastic as ever

Third error, drinking from the spring. I myself suffered no ill-effects from the water, but another hiker suffered a little gastrointestinal distress.

 

A Refreshing Drink at Ayoun Musa.

A Refreshing Drink at Ayoun Musa.

After the grotto, we went back up to the spring to find that our driver had left. So we had a choice: call the driver and see if he could come back, call a taxi, or walk up. We chose to walk.

 

Fourth error, DECIDING TO WALK UP THE MOUNTAIN.

 

Only one of us was wearing appropriate hiking clothes, the rest of us were wearing work clothes. Also, after two and a half months of living like Jordanians, none of us were in shape any more. So as we were walking up the mountain, dressed inappropriately, feeling like we’re going to die.

 

But there were some awesome moments: Watching a goat herder lead his goats up the mountain, singing so they would follow. Resting next to a solitary bush we declared the burning bush. Coming up with new lyrics for a song. Found a goat horn on the ground and decided to make it into jewelry.

The singing goatherder's goats

The singing goatherder’s goats

 

Fifth error, taking a wrong turn and ending up in someone’s back yard.

 

That’s right. At some point we ended up in a woman’s back yard. We didn’t know where we were and didn’t want to turn around and retrace our steps. She was watching us from her porch, and when it became clear that we didn’t know what we were going to do, we called up for help. She comes down, leads us to her house, and then feeds us poor and weary travellers tea. So thank you, Hana’ Last-Name-Unknown for being a wonderful person.

 

 

Hana’a sent us on our way refreshed. We ended up back on the main road, and started walking, hoping to catch a taxi back to Madaba. All those that passed were full. Then a Random Stranger, Name Unknown stopped and gave us a ride. He was just a guy, on his way back to Amman from the Dead Sea, who decided to take a group of semi-stranded travelers back to Madaba. All without giving us his name. When we asked what he wanted in payment, he said nothing. He was just doing a good deed. So thank you, Random Stranger.

 

Then we got falafel sandwiches from the restaurant where the owner routinely stops shabab from harassing PCTs, and where my LCF Rami showed us his awesome new hat. Then I bought new shoes to replace the ones that had been stolen in my first few weeks in Jordan. Then we got some honest to god ice cream.

 

January Fourth was a full day, my friends. There was something magical about it. We thank the Musa Juice.

 

After that, things quieted down. We settled into things, and life just blasted onwards. Then we got snow.

My host siblings, a palm tree, and snow

My host siblings, a palm tree, and snow

 

That’s right, Jordan gets snow. This was the worst snow storm in Jordan in about twenty-five years. The snow came after two and a half days of rain, reducing every patch of ground to red, clay-y mud. Mud that has the consistency of dog poo, and is about that easy to get out of your shoes. I managed to get all of my shoes muddy and splatter mud on two pairs of pants, one dress, a bag, and a scarf.

 

The rains were no joke. Amman flooded. Mudslides cut off the roads. It was a nightmare. PC staff was supposed to come to the villages for a day of interviews, but they couldn’t make it out of Amman. We had our final Language Proficiency Interview, but only because our tester lives in my village. I also stressed out WAY LESS for the real exam than for the practice exam. I came away from the exam with the same standing that I’d had in the practice, but consoled myself that it gets harder to advance the further up the ladder you try to go.

 

Anyway, after those two days of rain, I woke up to an inch and a half of snow. The village went NUTS. A village-wide snowball fight broke out, men in one mob and women in another. Anytime someone was singled out, they were mobbed with snowballs. My villagemates and I were sometimes the ones mobbed. It’s fun the first time, but after the fourth or fifth “Mob the Ajnabiyin (Foreigners)” you get over it.

Host sis showing off her snowball, unaware that her father was armed

Host sis showing off her snowball, unaware that her father was armed

 

Then we had a snowman-making contest. It was a bit impromptu, with the shabab building their own, and then the female PCTs and I building ours with the children. We were winning until a four-year old boy stole our snowman’s head and gave it to his dad. Then he took our body, and a random girl just jumped on the snowpile that was the bottom. Boo. I didn’t even get a photo of it. But my host brother and host sister made their own snowmen, which I do have photos of.

 

Sarah and Alison enjoyed the snow, too.

Sarah and Alison enjoyed the snow, too.

 

Host bro's snowman

Host bro’s snowman

Host sis's snowman

Host sis’s snowman

 

All the snow was gone the next day, but the cold was not. It’s awful, honestly. My sleeping bag’s rated to twenty degrees, but I’m still sleeping with a blanket on top.

 

Then there was a quiet week where I started preparing to move out of the host family. It was nice, honestly. I cooked dinner for them, and they pretended to like it. I packed up. I called my family on skype and introduced them to the host family. It was a very nice, very peaceful end to my time there.

 

I do have more to say! And I will say it! I just haven’t gotten around to thinking about it enough to write it semi-coherently for you people. There will be more. I promise. PROMISE.

 

Preview of things to come:

Swearing in! I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Moving in! I have a new home for the next two years.

Another Week, Another “How Do I Explain This To My Audience” Post

23 Dec

This week went by faster than I’d imagined it could have. Granted it didn’t seem like it was moving so fast at the time, but now I can’t believe it’s my Write the Blog Post Day.

 

It’s cold and blustery, and I’m missing the Michigan snow more than I’d thought I would. Snow is cold and wet, but usually somewhat pretty. Plus, it’s Christmas time, which makes me all wistful. Rain, mud, and muck are just messy and gross.

 

Another excerpt from language class that I hope you’ll find as enjoyable as I did. For anyone who’s learned another language, you’ve probably had that moment where you swear you hear someone else say something so patently ridiculous that it can’t be real. I (and another volunteer) had one of those this week. Our LCF, who was awesome enough to feed us breakfast, reached out his hand and said, I swear, “Cheese juice.”

 

So another trainee and I look at each other, puzzled, and then crack up. Yet another trainee then picks up the bottle of juice and hands it to him. It turns out that the request for the bottle of juice is pronounced jeebnee al-‘aSeer. What I heard was jibna al-‘aSeer, cheese juice. Slight pronunciation differences, and very different meanings. So we explained to the puzzled class why we were laughing, got laughed at, and the lesson went on like it should.

 

Maybe you didn’t find it funny. Maybe you had to be there. But that’s what my life is right now folks. Cheese juice. I can traverse the whole of Jordan in a bus, but I still get tripped up on requests for juice. Everyday is an adventure.

 

Next topic. This past week saw four birthdays amongst PCTs, and I thought that as a moment that deserved to be celebrated. So at our weekly center meeting, I got cake for about forty people, we sang, got them cards, and made merry for a while. Our fifteen-minute break ended up being about a half hour, but the training staff didn’t get upset about it. (Or at least didn’t make it obvious they were displeased.)

 

The big adventure of this last week was the Site Supervisor’s Conference, which was held in Amman. Peace Corps brought together the permanent site supervisors and their future volunteers, had a meet and greet, and plenty of mind-numbing but useful sessions explaining why Peace Corps volunteers give up everything and come to work in another country, what PC’s expectations are, what the supervisor’s expectations are, what our respective responsibilities are, what our safety and medical care and expectations are, what our respective roles are in everything, and on, and on.

 

We stayed overnight at the wonderful Orchid Hotel in Amman, and then headed with our supervisors, called mudeer (if male) or mudeera (if female), to our permanent sites. My mudeera is a nice woman, the principal of the school I’ll be teaching at. She’s a bit stern at the beginning and I, frankly, was a bit hesitant because, hey, I get mixed messages about passing the juice. Eventually we warmed up to each other, though. It’s all about managing expectations: she’d had a phenomenal volunteer in the past and so was expecting another copy of that volunteer, and I was expecting someone immediately enthusiastic about me. That didn’t happen for either of us, but we settled in pretty well.

 

(I think part of the problem is that I have enough language to make it seem like I know what’s going on, but really I can understand a enough words in a sentence to figure out the meaning from context. I’m at that uncomfortable phase between so uncommunicative that I have to just follow along and being able to truly speak a meaningful thought to a person.)

 

After the conference, my mudeera and I went south to Karak. The bus ride was insane, and that’s all I’ll say about it.

 

Then I was in my site for about a day and a half. Except not really, since my mudeera lives in a different village. I spent the day and night with her and her family, and the next morning went to my new town. It’s in a mixed Christian and Muslim town, and the Orthodox Church is next door to my school. There’s also a Catholic church in the village, and the Catholic school is also next door to my new school.

 

But about my new school. It’s small, first of all, with about a hundred and thirty students from grades one to five. There are boys in the first, second, and third grade classes, but fourth and fifth are single sex classes. First, second, and third grade get their own teachers, plus they share the English and phys ed teachers, while fourth and fifth have teachers switch classes. I haven’t quite figured out how that works, but I’ll let you know when I know.

 

The English teacher I’m working with is really nice and very enthusiastic about having me there. I’ve observed a couple of her classes, and she’s a great teacher. I’ve got a few ideas about what we can do together already.  She’s Orthodox Christian, and has invited me to come to her house for Christmas, since my host family in Madaba is Muslim. (I’ll probably stay in Madaba, since I think the volunteers have something planned, but it was a still nice offer from a near stranger.)

 

I also got to visit my apartment. Which was awesome and so much bigger than I actually need. It has two bedrooms, a living room, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom complete with Western toilet. It’s partially furnished already, and my landlord and mudeera have promised to help me furnish the rest. My English teacher counterpart gave me a vase that she decorated, for a little Christmas tree of my own. (I think she wanted me to take it back to Madaba, but I don’t think it would have survived the bus trip.) My landlord is, in fact, the Catholic priest from the village church, and speaks a little bit of English. So there’s that.

 

We went back to my mudeera’s house for the second night, and went on a walk around her village that evening, which was great. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed walking at night. Women in Jordan don’t leave the house after dark if it can at all be avoided, and so I’ve been following the same cultural norm. But there’s something about seeing the night sky that I’ve missed. The area is much more rural than I’m used to, so the stars are brighter. I think that I really endeared myself to the mudeera by stopping every once in a while to look up at the sky. Perhaps since it was a glimpse at my actual personality in a way that my limited vocabulary actually allows.

 

Then the time came for me to head back to Madaba, and aware of my limited language, she walked me to the bus. Not drove me to the bus station, but walked me to the bus, made sure of the fee, scolded the driver if he should try to charge me too much, and walked me to my seat and sat me down. With her seven-year old daughter as an escort. Yep. I felt like a super adult in that moment.

 

On the plus side, I got to see my first sandstorm on the bus ride back. Which wasn’t actually that much fun to see. The sandy soil is brownish, the sky was brownish and there was no discernable horizon. Kinda cool, but a bit of a let down. I was, however, glad I was on a bus at the time, and not walking around in it. Getting a grain of sand in my eye is painful enough, I can’t imagine walking around in a sandblaster is much fun. Maybe I’ll do that in the next sandstorm I see, report back, and have you all laugh at me.

 

Once I was back with the host family, I’d found they’d acquired a pair of live chickens, currently living in the basement. The kids in the family want me to name them, but if they end up as a meal, my poor little vegetarian heart will weep. But, as they were insistent, I came up with the most ridiculous names possible. They’ve decided on Fluffy and Pizza. Awesome.

 

We in the village had still more marriage proposal-related drama this week that lingered from last week. Hopefully it’s all over, and my villagemate won’t have to deal with it anymore.

 

Since Christmas will be here and gone before I post again, I just want to say Merry Christmas! Have a safe and wonderful time! Call your families, give them plenty of love, and know that I’m thinking of you all from all the way over here.

 

Love from the Levant,

Sara.

It’s Permanent Sites Knowing, Practicum Ending, Olive Picking, and Scorpion Killing Time!

16 Dec

I know where I’m going to live for the next two years! Whoo-hoo! I found out last week, actually, the day after I posted. I wanted to give you the news then, but the internet was down. (It was actually a funny sight. The ceremony is over and two dozen young adults grab their laptops in excitement and can do nothing.) So you get the news now.

 

A bit of a disclaimer first. I will only be sharing the name of the governorate (i.e. Jordan’s version of a state) with you. It’s a safety procedure mandated by my Peace Corps bosses. If you REALLY want to know exactly where I’ll be, then email me and we can work out the terms. But, honestly, it’s a village of a few thousand people. The odds of you knowing where it is or being able to find information on the place are slim.

 

For the next two years I’ll be living in the governorate of Karak, which is in the middle of the country, not far from the Dead Sea. If it turns out that I can see the Dead Sea from my house, then I’ll let you know and probably flood you with pictures. You know you want them. I’ll have two other volunteers within about twenty miles, so I won’t be completely alone. Plus, you know, I’ll be centrally placed in the country, so I can get anywhere within four hours.

 

I’ll be working in a school with an English teacher that is, I hear, super excited for me to be there. Fingers crossed she as excited with reality as she was with the idea of a PCV, our personalities match, and everything comes together amazingly.

 

Really, that’s all the information I have that I can share with you. The ceremony itself was hilarious. The staff had put a map of Jordan on the floor with little paper placards with the site names on them. We walk into the room and stare at the floor, bubbling with excitement. Everyone’s there. The Country Director and staff from Amman, our program directors and staff, the safety and security guys. EVERYONE. (It’s not a very large staff, but it’s enough that we notice when they are all in the same room.) Then the ceremony starts and there’s a bit of talking beforehand. Speeches from the CD and staff, and they actually acknowledges that we don’t really care what they’re saying. We wanted our placements!

 

So they hand the stage over to the program directors who called out our names, gave us a folder of information, and directed us to the appropriate places on the floor map. And that was it. (And my “folder of information” I mean a welcome letter with basic facts about the village and school and three photos of the area. That’s all. Two pages. Thank you, Peace Corps!) There was cake and Pepsi (pronounced “Bibsee” here), and plenty of time to talk.

 

In other news, my time at practicum is now over. The school semester is coming to an end, and exams are coming up. So they kindly asked us to maybe leave now. We got them some sweets as a thank you, and promised to visit. I’ll miss the kids, but I’m excited to be over this part of my training. It’s hard to only be at the school three half-days in the week and establish any sort of a routine. The teachers were great and incredibly welcoming, but I think they were glad to get their classrooms back.

 

I also had my first real experience picking olives this week. For those of you who don’t know anything about olives or olive picking, allow me to give you a brief tutorial.

 

Both green and black olives come from the same tree, with green olives being the less ripe form and black olives being the fully ripe variety. The green olives are used for eating here, while the black olives are mostly pressed for olive oil, though some are set aside to be eaten. The green olives were picked before I arrived in my host family, but I helped prepare them to soak in a brine solution. The whole family got together, sat on a tarp on the kitchen floor, smashed our food with a rock. (To separate the pit from the flesh of the olive, actually. Very effective, but watch out for the rock-wielding two-year old. But still, family-sanctioned playing with my food. HEAVEN.) It’ll be a while before they are ready to be eaten, but I’m looking forward to them.

 

Olives as we know them in the States are about the size of a half-dollar and (post-brining) sort of rubbery-solid. The ones fresh off the tree are anywhere from nickel to quarter-sized, and feel similar to a ripe cherry. They’re solid, but still soft, and with a little pressure bleed lots of oily juice.

 

We went out to my host father’s family farm, gathered up the tarps and got to work. First of all, we gathered up the windfall olives, which as a time-consuming process. Then we laid out the tarps and started picking. The tree-picking is actually less strenuous than the ground-picking.

 

The olives are gathered up, poured into fifty-pound feed sacks, and stuck in the back of the minivan. My host father will take them to the press to be made into olive oil another day. The host family was slightly surprised when I picked up and carried one of these sacks on my own. So, thanks, Brad and Cheryl (my bookstore managers), for giving me skills which then resulted in all of the twenty-something male cousins feeling the need to do the same, and thus hurry the whole “carry these to the car” process along swimmingly.

 

And remember the bit in the title about scorpion killing? Guess what you find when you’re gathering windfall olives? I spotted the little white scorpion fellow and remembered you all laughing at me a few weeks ago for failing to kill my own scorpion. So I dropped a big rock on it, and heard a satisfying crunch. Victory!

 

On a should-be-more-serious-but-isn’t-really side of the week, my language class continues you be edifying in so many different ways. Beyond just teaching thrilling linguistic concepts like objective pronouns, we learn all sorts of fun new words and ideas. Like, for example, did you know there are two words for “to fart” in Arabic? One for the loud and obnoxious kind (and pronunciation varies based on how resonant the sound was) and another for the silent-but-deadly variety. See, language IS fun. (Though this is language to be deployed with a selective audience. Grandmothers are to be excluded from said audience, but children, young men, and foreigners who find linguistic peculiarities hilarious are included.)

 

Additionally, I think I won a game of cosmic bingo this week. Remember the bit a few posts ago about the camel in the back of the truck? And then post about the horse in the back of the truck? I can now report that donkeys take to truck travel in the same way they do to everything else: with there serenity inherent to their donkey-like ways. First I saw sheep and goats (which I didn’t tell you about because, hey, it’s not that strange to be carting animals to slaughter), then a camel, a horse, and a donkey. BINGO! I don’t go looking for these things, people. I just keep my eyes open and there they are.

 

I got to play mediator to prevent a marriage proposal to a fellow PCT this week. It’s a common reality of female PC personnel, the marriage-for-green card experience. I myself joked about the one from the deaf guy who wanted me as a second wife, but I’ve had to deal with a few other hinting conversations. They are no fun, let me tell you. But I laugh at them, because to do otherwise would be depressing.

 

In much more serious news, there was a death in my extended host family this week. For all that I enjoy my time here in Jordan, and however much fun I make of myself and the oddities of life around, this is many people’s home. I’ll probably end up missing the funeral because of Peace Corps responsibilities, but I’ll be thinking of them.

 

Sara.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

10 Dec

…to get to the goats, of course.

 

This particular stupid joke was brought to you by a random observation during a walk around the village I took this week.

 

This week was a doozy, folks. And as such I’ve decided this week’s blog post will be a continuation of last week’s post about stresses and stress management. We’ve passed the halfway point of Pre-Service Training, practicum is ending, and we’re getting our site announcements soon. It was nothing unmanageable, but it was very, very busy.

 

I was back at my host family’s home Monday evening, and back to school on Tuesday morning. Despite having missed the whole week before, I was back co-teaching. And a greater portion of the class than before! Adding to that, the TEFL program manager (i.e. the person responsible for deciding my future placement and thus my home for the next two years) was observing me. It wasn’t as awful as I’d imagined it could be. The kids were slightly confused about what I was doing, since my teaching style is different from what they’re used to. Despite that, it went well. The TEFL manager was kind and helpful at the debrief later, and didn’t seem unhappy with my performance. So I’ll count it as a victory.

 

Then later that afternoon, during language class, we had individual interviews with the PST supervisor (i.e. the person responsible for us and our learning, safety, and wellbeing these three months). This shouldn’t have been worrying. Since I came out of the interview going ‘Is that all?,’ it clearly wasn’t anything important. But it hadn’t been discussed much beforehand, I had no idea what it was going to be about, and thus I worried. Mostly it was about how I’m adjusting, what could be done to improve PST for us or for future classes, and what, if any, are my complaints about the process so far. Again, no big deal. But the TEFL observation back-to-back with an unknown interview did not make for a stress-free day.

 

Plus, we had no after-class coffee since we had to rush back for the interviews. 😦

 

The next day, Wednesday, I was back to school for another round of teacher observation. This time it was conducted by one of the lovely ladies in charge of teaching me how to be a TEFL teacher. Unfortunately, this time I fell flat on my face. My co-teacher, who’d given me much of the class the day before to teach in front of the program manager, had a list of activities and lesson that she has to get done before the end of the semester. As a result I didn’t get much time to teach, and what I did do was rushed and uncomfortable. Oh well. My observer understood the situation, and my review wasn’t god-awful. It did, however, have a rather long ‘to-be-improved’ list. Oh well. Live and learn.

 

Again, no after-class coffee since we had to rush to get to the next, dreaded prospect.

 

After that was the dreaded Language Proficiency Interview. (Technically this was a practice interview aimed at giving us a status update and familiarity with the real thing, but I tend to take practice tests as seriously as the real thing.) By the end of PST each PCT must achieve Novice High proficiency on the LPI. Since I’d taken tests with the same standard before, I wasn’t really worried about achieving this. My single year of Arabic study had me scoring in the Intermediate Mid range by the end of it. Here, surrounded by the language, I know I’m already about as good as I was then. I wasn’t really worried, but even my best sentences are riddled with errors in a way that, frankly, pisses me off. Further complicating matters, it’s an interview, which makes it hard to correct any errors once spoken. I guess I wasn’t worried about passing the test, but about embarrassing myself.

 

The interviewer was very sympathetic, and chose those question cards in his collection with the purpose to not make me feel ridiculous. I still felt ridiculous, but I think I did decently. I didn’t get into the green/advanced cards, but I was in the yellow/intermediate section. Fingers crossed, I’ll score intermediate. We should find out about the time that I post this, so I’ll do my best to keep you informed.

 

(I have information! I am officially at an Intermediate Mid level! I can talk like a five-year old, but still sound like an idiot.)

 

Those things over with, I went into the last day of practicum this week just having to go through peer observations. I observed my two PCT counterparts as they taught, and was observed by them. Their debriefs were fine, and said roughly what the TEFL supervisor and trainers. So at least I’m consistent in what I don’t do well.

 

And I was finally able to get after-class coffee. This is a part of the routine I don’t like having to do without.

 

Despite these stresses, I did find ways to relax. In case you’re wondering about my de-stressing techniques after telling you this week and last week about the stresses of my training.

 

First, there are walks around the village, as I mentioned before. Women don’t really walk here, so it’s a bit unusual as far as the village is concerned. But my fellow female villagemates and I walk together with our host sisters and a few young female friends in the neighborhood, and just walk. We get pulled in for tea every once in a while on the walk. (“Shai time,” as we call it. Shai being the Arabic word for tea. Or else there’s “Zatar time” which is tea boiled with thyme, shai with zatar. Take a moment and enjoy that little wordplay from my villagemate. Zatar time) It’s good fun, and if nothing else breaks the routine.

 

Second, sassiness and jokes. Never miss an opportunity to say something sassy or come up with the stupidest jokes possible. Doing this when I’m with my host family and cannot explain why I’m cracking up is, admittedly, a little awkward. But as far as they’re concerned, I’m happy and settling in. That’s a victory. (And the story behind the stupid joke at the beginning of the post? I was walking in the village and there was a neighbor’s herd of goats on one side of the road and his gaggle? clutch? herd? of chickens on the other side. One literally crossed the road to join the goats, and that’s what popped into my head. That’s all.)

 

Third, texting with other PCTs. Never underestimate the power of commiseration, folks! Especially bitch sessions about things that would generally make you a bad person. (e.g. complaining about children)

 

Fourth, and this was perhaps the greatest help this week, Belly-Slammer Hugs. These are a particular tradition in my family. It’s something my Dad did with my brother and I, and then with every younger cousin in the family. Essentially it’s a hug given by a young child with a running head start. They slam (not usually very hard) into you, there’s the appropriate crashing sound effects and toppling to the ground, but it’s really just a hug with a bit of an impact. Kids get really enthusiastic about them. I taught this style of hug to my five- and two-year old host brothers, and they were well received. We’ve spent probably an hour total time this week trading hugs and giggling. GREAT destresser.  My host dad thinks I’m sort of crazy but mostly harmless, so he just watches with amusement.

 

Five, play with young children generally. Make faces. Teach a four-year old the salsa. Give random tickle attacks. Try to stack things that are unstackable. Play pot and pan drum kits. Play hangman in alternating Arabic/English round. Sing along to the Spongebob theme song in the wrong language. Why? Why not.

 

Six, there’s reading and listening to music in my room. I’ve finally cracked into some of the classic novels, since they’re what I downloaded on my nook. And “listening to music” has turned into “dance parties of one” or, if coordinated amongst other volunteers, “disparate flash mobs.”

 

Seven, befriend stray dogs (carefully! from a distance!). We have one pup in particular I keep an eye out for. I’ve yet to pet him, since he has flying ticks. But since I talk to him, and don’t throw things at him or chase him, he’s decided I’m a buddy. He’s walked me to class a few times, and wags his tail when he sees me. My PCT villagemates have also befriended him. We call him Scruffy.

(Slightly scary update: When my villagemates and I were waiting from our bus into town, Scruffy spotted us and walked across the street as a car was coming. He wasn’t hit, but the collective cringe and looking away of the volunteers was funny in a horrifying way. Even when you don’t pet them, dogs get into your heart!)

 

Eight, wash your clothes and/or bathe. Seriously, when water is scarce enough that you schedule such things carefully, taking the opportunity to indulge in something as simple as cleanliness is phenomenal. The fact that it’s ice cold water only mildly diminishes the awesomeness.

 

So, there you are folks, some of my ideas for stress relief. There will be no photos this week since the internet is flaky.

 

Be well until we meet again,

Sara.

Of Colds and Kitties, Travel and Scorpions

2 Dec

Hello again, everyone. I’m writing this in a hurry, so it won’t be proofread. Deal with it!

Winter is doing its flirting with Jordan, and I’m never quite sure how the weather will be when I wake up in the morning. It’s usually some variation on rain or sun, with ever-present wind, but it’s a puzzle every morning.

The cold I had last week lingered on and on. The cold really started the day of my last post, and then clung to me for the rest of the week. I had a fever for four days straight, which was not, let me tell you, a barrel of laughs. My host family was wonderful, though. They treated me well, and gave me plenty of tea and food and piled me with blankets. They also asked me just about every hour if I wanted to see a doctor. No, I did not. It was only a cold, which the PC medical officer confirmed. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad cold, but a cold nonetheless. There did come a moment when I’d been feverish for days, and they KEPT asking me if I need a doctor, that I had to wonder just how awful I looked.

Either way, I survived it just fine. The fever broke, my sinuses are mostly clear, and I’m lamenting the fact that I gave my real father back in Michigan a cold over the phone. Sorry, Dad! Feel better!

I ended up missing all the actual work-related doings of the week, but felt better in time for the awesome weekend that PC had planned for us.

They have every group of Peace Corps Trainees take a weekend during training to visit a currently serving Volunteer at their site. The goal is to have a look at what exactly PC service is like, what you need to do to integrate into your site, how to look after your own security, and very, very important things like that. But also, and in many ways just as important, it was a breather for those of us in training.

I may not have described for you thus far what training is like, but let me take a moment to do so. Three days of my week, on average, begins with a 6am alarm. Then it’s a rush to get ready, eat, and navigate all the usual morning happenings with my host parents, four host kids, and a language I barely understand at the best of times. I meet with my training mates an hour later, then it’s off to the school for three and a half hours of teaching. Then we grab coffee from our lovely deaf gahooaji (coffee shop owner), and walk to language class. I’m there for another three to four hours, then it’s home for lunch at 1pm. I’m back to language class from 4pm to 6pm, and afterwards there’s homework and my own language studying to do, lesson planning for school the next day, helping host siblings with their homework (which by my novelty, American-ness, and general state of not being their parents means that I am the best person to help them). All of this is in a language that I struggle with and cultural norms that I have to constantly think about. By 9pm I’m exhausted, and ready for bed.

Two other days in the week I’m up at 6:30am and at the bus stop by 8am for a trip into the nearest city for Peace Corps training. It’s two days from 9am to 5pm packed with language classes, technical training, safety and security sessions, medical lessons, and check-ups. These days are even more exhausting than the days at site, since I understand what’s being said and do have to process what’s being said.

We have Fridays and Saturdays with our host families, and it’s a wonderful time. Even then, however, I have to think all the time. What’s the word for this? How do I say that? What’s appropriate? What’s how? Are we visiting now or later? Are we being visited? Am I sitting too closely to the visiting men? Am I wearing conservative enough clothing? How will I survive the summer when I’m boiling in these clothes in the winter? Did I just unintentionally insult my hosts? my guests? What’s in this food? Can I not eat it without causing offense? If I have to eat it, then what will it do to my system? Are my feet pointing at someone? Where’s my purse? And that whole thought process doesn’t end until I’m in my room for the evening, door locked, and able to breathe, finally.

Fridays we have off (such as it is) entirely, and that’s usually spent studying with books and studying with the host family by way of simple interactions. Saturdays we have language class twice that day. These classes are usually more intense since our weekday classes are shortened in order to work in the schools.

And that, folks, is my week. The last month, in fact. The “days off” have not really been days off. They’ve just been days where Peace Corps says I don’t have to do anything. I still have plenty to do, and my brain never stops working.

The PCV site visit is as much a case of “this is what I do and what you will do” and “I survived training and you will too.” It was a message I needed to hear, frankly.

The site I visited was in southern Jordan, in an area known as Wadi Musa. It is phenomenally gorgeous. Wind-worn canyons as far as the horizon, winding streets, a city built on the side of a mountain, and, oh yeah, the wonder of the world known as Petra. I did not get to see Petra because they charge 50 JD for a non-resident to visit (about US$70), but only 1 JD for residents. Seeing as I’ll get a residency card in the next few months, I was not willing to part with the money. Instead I got to walk around Wadi Musa, speak English, complain and be reassured, learn about what I’m going to be doing, read a book, and play with the adorable kittens my PCV hostess had adopted a few days before. It was relaxing and heartening, and I’m very glad that I was well enough to go.

My PCV hostess was amazing. To keep her anonymous and thus safe, I will be vague. But she is amazing, generous, and I hope we stay in touch after this weekend, since she rocks.

There were a few funny moments to the trip. (1) I saw horses in the back of a pick-up truck. (Perhaps they felt jealous as my boggling at camels in pick-up trucks last week, so got their turn this week. Also, horses act like dogs in cars, and stick their noses into the wind. Visualize and enjoy.) (2) I got my first marriage proposal. A man was on the look out for a second wife, and since my PCV hostess wasn’t amiable, then maybe I would be. (I was not.) (3) My PCV hostess, allergic to cats, proclaiming that she would not adopt the kitties even as she bought two types of cat food in four different flavors, dishes, treats that will keep them from getting gum disease, and naming them. (4) Various signage in English. (“Fleshy hen farmer.” “Lamp chops.” “Uncocked meat.”) (5) Absolutely losing my mind after eating peanut butter. American food! How I miss it!

There were also a few unfunny moments to the trip. (1) Taxi drivers trying to charge me SIX times the going rate. (2) The long moments sitting on a bus and not being entirely sure whether this was heading where I hoped it was. (3) Not getting into Petra. (4) A potentially acquired stomach bug. (5) A six-hour bus ride one way.

When I got back to my host family, it was actually my host mom’s birthday. Happy birthday, Hannan! We celebrated with kunafa, a kind of cheese pastry with lots of honey and simple syrup, and then a visit to her sister’s home.

Back at home that evening, what did I see in the corner of my room but a scorpion. My very first scorpion in Jordan! It was small, about an inch long, and didn’t look too scary. But then again, they said the little ones are the most dangerous ones, so maybe it was scary. I was fascinated for a minute, but then my brain kicked into gear and reminded me that maybe that the impulse to poke was probably a bad one. I wanted to take a picture of it instead, but I couldn’t find my camera in immediate reach. The last thing I wanted was to lose the thing in my room. So I kept an eye on it, called in my host dad, and he killed it. Maybe next time I’ll step up and kill it myself, but … ick. No matter how hard I try there’s a part of me that’s still a four-year old standing on top of the chair shouting “KILL IT! KILL IT!” I’ll have you call that my survival instinct, rather than girlish tendencies, thank you very much.

I will, with the favor of the internet fairies, be posting some photos from Wadi Musa and of the kitties, but none of the scorpion.

Sleep well, my fair followers, until we meet again.

Sara

.Still More Taybeh

Taybeh

Alfred is the grey one and George is the calico

Alfred is the grey one and George is the calico

Happy Thanksgiving!

25 Nov

Hello, folks, we meet once again. Things are proceeding apace and mostly quietly here. At least as quiet as it ever gets in a household with three boys below the age of 11. Actually, I should say 12, since today/yesterday was my eldest host brother’s birthday. Happy birthday, Laith!

 

Thanksgiving came and went here quietly, which was to be expected since why would Jordanians celebrate an American holiday?

 

The day started out quietly, but strangely, with a day at school. The strikes and whatnot have calmed down, so everyone’s back to work. The “strangely” part of that first sentence came on my way to work. Now, as you can imagine, I still get a huge kick whenever I see a camel randomly when going about my business. They’re not everywhere, especially since I’m still fairly close to a city. In fact, I’ve only seen them half a dozen times since I’ve arrived. The most recent time being this Thursday, tied up in the back of a pick-up truck as it’s driving down the road. Let me repeat, and you visualize this in your head. I saw a camel tied up in the back of a pick-up truck as it’s driving past a school. The camel and I made eye contact for a moment and I distinctly remembered thinking “Yep, I am seeing a camel on a truck. A mode of transportation on a mode of transportation.” before the truck drove off. Alas, I did not have my camera with me, or I would have gotten a photo. I think this is another one of my “One time, in Peace Corps” stories.

 

One time, in Peace Corps, we were trapped in DC for 24-hours because of a hurricane.

 

One time, in Peace Corps, we practiced how to squat on a Turkish toilet in the middle of the Vienna Airport. (For the record, no, I did not take part in this exercise. I actually have dignity, even when jetlagged and sleep-deprived. I just sat on the sidelines and cracked up at passersby’s reactions.)

 

One time, in Peace Corps, I watched the sun set from atop Roman ruins.

 

One time, in Peace Corps, we had the teachers go on strike in the middle of the school day.

 

One time, in Peace Corps, I saw a camel on the back of a truck. On Thanksgiving day.

 

Anyway, back to my Thanksgiving Day narration.  With the strikes being over, teachers (and consequently, I) were back in school. I co-taught a few lessons this past week, and it was not actually as stressful or traumatic as I’d feared. Perhaps it’s because I’m in primary school classrooms, where the students’ cuteness and my novelty whitewash over any difficulty. Or maybe I’m not half bad at the whole teaching thing. Either way, I’ll take the lack of trauma as a win and move on with things. The teachers I’m working with are great and seem very enthusiastic to have us here, which makes everything easier. In fact, at the schools right now the biggest challenge I’m dealing with is the fishbowl sensation. The other two volunteers working at the school and I are novelties and sources of intense curiosity. Having a few hundred students turn and stare at you and ask constantly what your name is, who your parents are, where you’re from, what’s your name, do you like Jordan, what’s your name, how old are you, what’s your name, are you married, what’s your name and on and on is more exhausting than I’d thought it’d be. I now know that I could never be a celebrity in the States. If a few hundred schoolgirls grate on my nerves, then the paparazzi would move me to homicide.

 

After school, my PC villagemates and I grabbed coffee from the little coffee shack by the school. (A deaf man runs it, and it’s one of the few times in the day when my lack of Arabic doesn’t impede me at all. One time, in Peace Corps…) Then we had Arabic class, and one of my more dismal showings to date. But when it was over, we had a little party, and we all went around the table and said what we were thankful for. If the joviality was a bit forced, I’m not going to dwell on it. Our LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator) delayed his trip back home to his family in another city in order to celebrate with us. That was really nice of him, since I think no other LCF did the same. When my host family found out about the holiday, they were very interested in it. I did my best to explain the Thanksgiving legend to them, which I don’t think they quite understood. But they did understand (and seemed very enthusiastic about) the idea that family gathers together, eats a big meal, and says what they are thankful for. So after I thanked them for giving me a place to stay, teaching me Arabic, and being as wonderful as they are, they decided to bake me a cake. It was a really good vanilla-orange-coconut cake, and as with any moment where generosity is called for, Arabs go overboard. Proportion sizes were about double what I’d normally eat, plus tea so sweet I can feel diabetes setting in. So the traditional Thanksgiving food coma happened, if not how I would usually experience it.

 

(The funny side of baking a cake with children is the inevitable mess. So perhaps I should have changed out of work clothes before starting. And I say “baking with children” I include myself since while I was stirring, I splashed batter all over myself. Happy Thanksgiving, Sara!)

 

A bit that those of you who know me and my night-owl tendencies should find amusing: everyday I go to school, I watch the freakin’ sun rise. And I’m actually awake enough to enjoy it. Back in the States, when given the choice, would go to bed at 2am and wake up mid-morning. Now, come 9pm, I’m ready to turn in, and am willingly watch the sunrise? WTF?

 

This week I met with the Teachers of English as a Foreign Language coordinator and we talked about what sort of site I would like to be placed at for the rest of my service. Nothing’s settle as of yet, but she seemed happy at the end of the interview. The official announcement comes mid-December, but the interview makes me hopeful for a good posting.

 

In entirely unrelated news, I am fighting my first bug since I came to Jordan. Between the weather, the damp, a house full of host siblings with the sniffles and no (American) sense of personal space, and a whole school full of kids, I have caught the cold. It is no more enjoyable on this side of the Atlantic/Mediterranean than on the other.

 

With that folks, I’m off for the week. Good night, sleep well, and don’t let the common cold bite.

 

Sara.