The Jordan Times

This entry is a little bit more serious in tone but lightens up at the end.
I got the idea for this entry whilst sitting in Books@Cafe sipping a beer. More on this place at another time.

You can learn a lot about a country by the headlines in the national newspaper, in this case from reading the Friday 3rd of September edition of The Jordan Times.

The main focus is on the Palestinian and Israeli peach talks. Some of the headlines read:

Leaders face tough choices as peace process resumes;

All eyes are upon us;

Palestinian negotiators real target of Hamas attack;

Mixing middle east diplomacy and mid-term (US) elections;

Palestinian strategy towards independence; and

Islamists, professional associations decry peace talks

and the Editor is entitled ‘To make Peace a reality’

I guess these are predictable, given the region, but it is obvious that peace here is key to stability for a number parts of the world.

Two other challenges which we all face are youth unemployment and what to do about CO2.

Give us jobs, say Somali pirates

Export restriction stand to hurt industry – this about restrictions on exports of cucumber and zuchhinies because of hot weather, Russia has a similar problem with wheat, no exports until the local population is feed!

Obama struggles with urgent task of fixing economy – as the US economy is 70% related to the comsummer, nothing will improve until the 10% unemployment comes down, which must be a disaster for those directly effected.

Climate aid reaches $30 billion – a central quote ‘its (.. the aid ..), is horribly confused’ rings in my ears.

Disasters show ‘screaming’ need for action – UN climate chief.

Red Cross aid workers face anger in Pakistan – one doubts the floods are related to climate change, but the worlds response seems lax at best. But who would know, remember the frog in a pot of slowly heating water.

There is also a familar ‘Arab society looks down on artists’, which is a common complaint as far as I know.

Afganistan also figures, and on a slightly lighter note in the Business pages there is a quote from the Finance Minister ‘We gave assurances to people that their deposits are not lost’ and then is added, ‘will not be lost’ – hmmmmmmm!

Stock exchanges or using the French word Bourse, are considered shining lights of a western style economy. One headline grabed my eye

Yemen hopes to draw investment by setting up bourse authority.

and, the Amman Stock Exchange rose 0.61% yesterday.

Sport is still important, but does not run for pages, in Amman only one page is allocated to cover the deads of the Jordanian U-19 & U-16 football teams, and there is bit of US sport.

Finally, Jordanians, I am pleased to say have a great sense of humour, as I think this small supermarkets sign indicates – remember it is Ramadan!

Joke, I think

To make Australians welcome there are a few gum trees around, this is one of pair down town.

Gum Tree

And, here are a couple more views of Amman at dusk, which is by far the best time of day.

Dusk
Down you go!

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Amman is fun

The weather has turned out to be just perfect, about 21C at night and about 31C in the afternoon and then quickly drops about 4.30pm when the breeze picks up. In fact, there is rain forecast for this week on Friday, in the mornings there are often clouds rolling past the window looking to East – the flat is reasonably high up and hence the clouds appear quiet low.

Taxis work reasonably well, they are certainly cheap, but you often have to some idea were you are going, as despite assurances, in my short experience many drivers don’t speak English and I certainly don’t speak Arabic – yet! However, the easiest way is to learn were things are by a landmark, in my case, Amman Mall and then guide the driver from there, shortly I will know the Arabic for forward, right and left and also STOP! I have had two more funny taxi experiences. My trip from the Readers bookshop saw me asking the driver if his aircond worked, he smiled and flicked on the aircon and fine white dust poured out and blew all over the both of use – ‘no’, he said. Modern education learning theory (along with the old maximum experience is the best teacher) indicates you learn best from experience, I certainly learnt that the air con did not work. The other was a trip back from the Rovers Return an English pub near the Crown Plaza. I had easily made it there in a taxi, after another round of mobile phone call conversations back to the base, but the return trip did not go as smoothly. The driver was a young happy guy who kept asking other drivers across the passenger side window where he was and where the Amman Mall was. He spoke a few words of English and was able to explain that he was only helping his Dad out, who normally drove the taxi – ‘he would know where to go’, he said. Well, with much laughter between us and despite ignoring my advice to turn left and getting lost, he eventually got me home!

My work collegue, Manar, is full of enthusiasm and is pleasure to work with, as is the e-Learning coordinator, Lina – they treat me as the expert, but they are both clearly capable. Today I attended a typical staff meeting. The same problems were raised as those in Oz, the only mild difference being the enthusiasm with which the teachers contributed, clearly they were very committed to the education of their charges. ABS is keen on meetings, just possibly a little too many.

On Wednesday we went to the medical centre to have our blood test. This was accomplished by all expats and some new staff pilling into a couple of buses and being taken to old white multi-storied building. There were a number of young men hanging around, or so I thought, but they were simply there to get the same blood test to get a work permit. The groups of men lined up, as we did and we were ushered up some stairs and ask to wait and then ushered down the same stairs and asked to wait or sit, I sat! Our passports were taken and given to either one of the two nurses (I assume they were nurses) who efficiently drew blood – hopefully I passed, I did in Australia having had the similar test on behalf of the school, nothing like a bit of duplication.

I am off on Saturday on holidays, returning on Wednesday. First stop is the Mujib nature reserve which is just South on shores of the Dead Sea. I have had trouble booking this online, so hopefully it is not overbooked. The reserve is on the edge of the Dead Sea and there are small chalets that overlook the sea. I have got a paid for reservation for a couple more days at the Swiss resort Moebpick, which is also on the shores of the Dead Sea – this looks really wonderful, it is still low season as it is a bit hot, not sure how hot! I have booked a nice new car at 30JD per day from EURO’s Car, they have an office just down the end of the hill near the apartment, very convenient. The main road leads off towards the school and you turn left down towards the airport, but turn right on to the highway to the Dead Sea before you get to the airport.

I thought you might like to see some pics of the sky in Amman – they are often blue, but as with yesterday and today cumulonimbus (can you believe I spelt that word correctly) clouds can be seen – I think that is what they are called, no doubt I will be corrected if they are not.

Blue Sky

 

clouds

 

Next week I’ll tell you a little about the country side, the Dead Sea and driving in Jordan.

End of Second Week

Dear Friends,

Following advice from Jaani, my tech whiz friend, who also owns the company that hosts my site (jstar.com.au) I have created this new Blog using WordPress and a theme called Titan – anyway it looks nice!

My adjustment to life in Amman has been a pleasant experience, people are friendly, the weather is great……. The school (Amman Baccalaureate School) is displaying all the characteristics of a well run school and also, all the normal start of year flusterings.

Trips to and from school take only about 10minutes, we catch a school bus like the yellow ones you see on American TV, and the trip is very comfortable. At the end of the day you are dropped back again – to your front door.

There are only a few new expat staff, but more new local staff mostly in the Junior and Middle year parts of the school, which are expanding. We have just finished the first two days of induction, which went fine – on a more humours note, for a number of years, when I worked in a school, I avoided these first days, and very successfully too, but in this case I enjoyed the newness of everything. No doubt work will start with a rush next week.

But the silver lining is that at the end of next week we have a weeks break! Not sure what to do yet, but I am hiring a car and tackling the roundabouts and seeing if I can perfect the art of the ‘nonchalant maneuver’ (had to look up how to spell those two words!) on the road. I have not bought a mobile phone yet, so will not be abe to pin it to my shoulder!

First week in Amman

I arrived on a hot and pleasant Sunday, normally a working day in Jordan, but not for me this time around. I was meet by Chris and Khaled and transported to my new apartment. The Ethiad flight had been terrific as both legs: Melbourne Abu Dhabi and then Adu Dhabi to Amman were half full.

I had meet Chris on a prior visit, but he was collection a new teacher, also from Australia, who was to move into his apartment as he was moving to a different one and Khaled was given the task of taking me to my new lodgings.

Khaled had been forewarned that I was a keen EPL watcher, as he said to me in the taxi

“You wish to be able to watch EPL”

“yes” I relied with enthusiasm but also internally some dread as I just assumed this would prove difficult.

The school provides Internet and Cable (Showtime/Orbit), but Showtime/Orbit had lost the rights to the EPL to Abu Dhabi TV – ADTV. Khaled checked with a few contacts on the mobile as he drove with confidence through ever congested traffic from the airport. Roads in Amman have few if any line markings – really none that I could see clearly – and the road resembles a wide black tarmac and the vehicles simply flow more or less in a straight line with the occasional maneuvers, we would call them lane maneuvers, that without doubt would probably lead to instances of road rage, but not in Amman – a gentle tap on the horn being all that was necessary to warn or indicate the drivers presence a few centre meters from your tail.

Khaled concluded that a card could not be purchased to work in the box I already had and that I would need to buy a new box and that this would cost, and of course ment I had to swap cables when I wanted to watch ShowTime rather than ADTV and visa verse. This was fine by me, wondering what this cost might be, but remaining outwardly confident – Khaled certainly was.

“ADTV have a shop on the way and we can stop there and pick it up”

“Fine by me” I said. With that, within 5 minutes, we simply parked outside a new shop front and I signed up, all within about 15mins, and only 250JD for the box and a yeats subs – Khaled informing me he would buy it from me when I left.

Another 15 mins or so found me at the new apartment. Within another 10 minutes I had meet Said, the guy who looked after the building, unpacked my things and was watching the lead-in to the first round of the EPL.

How hard could this new country thing be, I asked myself. I have had several new country experiences one in Singapore which did not go well and another in Gravesend in the UK which was much more positive. But it took at least 24 hours to get connected to the EPL in the UK, here it only took 20minutes. And, I was also hooked up to the Internet straight away and emailing home and checking my new facebook page, all of this well inside the hour.

Khaled departed and I was on my own – this is when you have those “what the ….. am I doing”. I well remember a good friend, who I have not seen for a while, Malcolm Dow stating similar misgivings, to the entire school assembly of teachers at the school we worked at together, when he was about to depart for Togo! Amman is much more civilised than Togo, surely, all my research and previous two day visit had suggested this, and I am pleased to say my original thoughts seem to be correct, but I have actually never been to Togo, limiting comparisons I guess.

The time on my first Sunday was about 12pm and I had arrived and moved in and was about the watch the EPL game, in fact there were two, so I settled down onto the couch with the fan and promptly fell asleep only to awake in time for the game!

Amman had experienced two heat waves prior to my arrival, I had followed these with interest on the web and wondered if all the talk of Amman having a nice climate were a load of old cobblers, why was it necessary to start a third on my account? The evening was lovely however, a cool breeze and the temperature fell to about 24C. For some reason for the next week the local climate found it necessary to reach a peak of about 43C on Friday and several other days over 40C. Clearly this was a test, from you know who! What saved me was the shower, the fan and the never-ending re-assurances that this weather was just not on from ever Ammanian I raised the matter with, mostly they raised it first. I figured if they find it hot, good.

On the drive in from the airport Khaled said they might be able to arrange a portable aircon and I began to think about this offer. I was certainly not going to give in unless I melted first. But fortunately the temperature is slowly moving south and the design of the buildings make the high temperature bearable, they really are amazing. I remember summer days staying in Swan Hill in 40+C in my grandparents timber house and that was hot – this feeble attempt by the weather in Amman I convinced myself was not, and it was not going to deter me.

I began walking in the evening to explore, having made one sortie in the middle of Monday, which was obviously a mistake and there is more on this in a little bit, as was my early morning exercise session in the bedroom before I went for my first walk at about 5.30am on the Monday morning. One wonders why we do such silly things and at my age, all you really need to be able to do is two things – lift a pint and call out for another one, maybe there is a third one as well!

The apartment is on top of a hill, a big hill, there is a steep climb from the main road, much steeper than was wise for me to walk up quickly with effort, thinking I was 20 again. I made it no trouble, felt great, had a shower and around mid-day thought why not find out were Amman Mall is – this was my mistake referred to above. I had negotiated the traffic and found the fly over but not the Amman Mall and completely stuffed myself on the return leg (pun intended), as I said it is all bloody up a steep hill and a tad hot (40C). By the time I got home I was hot and bothered, as they say and wondering “what the …. am I doing here”, again.

I had a shower, the first of many for the week – it turned out to be the best way to keep cool. There is a bit of physics going on, if you stand sopping wet in front of the fan, believe it or not you get cool, real fast – too fast maybe.

Now to moan a bit – the left knee, my good knee as it happens, decided to have a hissy fit the week before I left Australia. I thought it was fine, but no it wasn’t, and it was very happy to tell me “What do you think you were doing walking up all those bloody hills at such a pace” and it added “dick head” just to be nice.

This was only the end of Monday, the EPL was still going fine and thanks to Khaled who had packed the fridge with food I was able to refrain from venturing out. Much icing during Monday & Tuesday (the fridge is brand new and has a simple ice making facility) and lying around watching the EPL & replays, the knee seemed to be less sore, however, the knee was a problem again during Tuesday evening and night but by the end of Wed it seemed to be on the improve. So I decided to find the Amman Mall, by foot, rather than by taxi. For some reason I thought foot would be easier despite my previous experience – why? But I took it really slow and made it to the mall and also spied a new IBIS, I ventured in and asked slyly “psst, do you sell beer”

“of course” replied a charming young waiter.

“You beauty”.

True to his word an ice cold large Heineken was placed down in front of me and I had a very nice evening, thank you IBIS.

I then ventured into the Mall, found a supermarket, stocked up and made the sensible decision to catch a taxi home – previously my basic problem was that I did not how to tell the taxi driver the directions. Anyway, the trip home was easy, cost nothing, maybe 1 dollar Aus and all that was needed was a few waves of my hand

By Thursday the leg was acting up again, maybe I could entitle this first chapter “Amman: the first leg of my journey”

“Maybe not”

However, I had asked to visit the school and Chris had picked up at about 10.30 on Thursday. I meet with a number of people and was developing a very positive attitude towards the people I meet and sensing that I may enjoy my stay.

Later that day Chris drove me over to the Cozmo supermarket to get a few supplies (this is an important place as it sells booze, alas not during Ramadan). I also purchased a wireless router to make things easier at the apartment. I have got into the habit of listening to the radio, over about 40 years or so, and the advent of Internet radio has been fantastic. But a small problem emerged that the 500mb ADSL connection was too slow to allow good reception, but this is being upgraded and I am sure all will be fine.

Calling home proved to be easy as one would expect but expensive – enter Skype. Cathie (wife) had not used Skype and like all experiences with technology, the first one is the key, if it is positive no problems, if it is a stuff-up the general reaction of people like Cath’s is to say stuff it. Well we had a terrific three way conversation between Cathie and myself and our daughter in London and also with Lisa who was at home. Another thank you, thank you skype. I hear Skype is listing as a company and I reckon the freebe aspect is coming to and end. I also meet the new cat via Video link – Charlie Mack is its name.

I was beginning to worry on Friday morning that this hill thing was going to be one of those negatives. There had to be an alternative way of getting to the main road, from where a taxi would be easy to flag down. I had tried ringing one and also enlisted Said’s help but the small language gap proved difficult . My second trip to the Mall by taxi was a fluke. Said was chatting with his mate – it turns out it is his son, who works in the large house across the street, when I had asked him to try and ring a taxi for me, and just as he was about to ring out of the blue (the skies are very blue in Amman) a yellow taxi rolls by, the driver slows and has a quick word with Said and two minutes latter, after dropping of the passenger, returns and kindly takes me to the Mall – I figured it was unlikely this would happen each time I wanted a cab! So, on Friday about 3ish, in the heat of 40+C I set off by turning right not left down the hill, thinking that as right is flat this must be a good thing, within 3 minutes I had found a nice flat route to the road and also a nice little store that sells ‘stuff’. I was set!

Saturday turned into a hot one and I just stayed at home and showered and showered and showered, but it was not that bad really.

On Sunday I got very adventurous and caught a cab to Mecca Mall, lovely airconditioning, great supermarket, then to Cosmoz to the bookshop, Readings of all names, bought some books and then home to watch the two EPL games, a great day.

And, the temperature was falling with the eveing breezes coming in through the bedroom window, according to the temperature gauge on the fan the temperature feel to 27C, during the really hot days it had got to 32C, but mostly it hovers around 30C.

Monday, today as I write, the morning is beautiful with a cool breeze. I check the temperature on the net, 37C positively balmy, but the trend is downwards, by the Wed, the day I start work, it should a mere 33C!

I decide to go and visit Wild Jordan and the Book@Cafe in Rainbow Street, I am feeling good, the weather is great, I have survived my first week – treat time! Three taxis, one mass conversation at the Amman Mall, I had made it that far i.e. 1km after the first driver decided he did not know how to get to either places and just dropped me off (I still had to pay), this was after a conversation with his base operator, who I also spoke to and who seemed to speak good English. The mass conversation at the Amman Mall involved seven people and only two spoke English, me being one and the other a young Jordanian lady who unfortunately did not know where either place was, so could not direct the taxi drivers.

So, I went down to the main road and pondered what to do. The easy option was to call an end and catch a cab back to the apartment. Cunningly, I waited for a new looking yellow cab, thinking that new cab equals a driver who will know where to go, and I was right!

Wild Jordan is both a Cafe and head quarters of the Wild Jordan environment society and tourism unit. Chris had taken me there on my previous visit and it is just a wonderful place that over looks the old town, with views to the Citadel. I was the only one in the Cafe, which was open but only severed drinks no food as it was Ramadan – fine, I would love a coffee.

I then ventured to the Book@Cafe which I had read about on the net. Great place, good selection of books and second hand ones too, I bought a couple and then ventured to the cafe, which was buzzing with young people, a few tourists and me! I could even see an Amstel Beer tap, but I thought its flow would be curtailed during Ramadan so I only ordered a Lime-mint smoothie, the latter word describing quite how I felt – smooth and relaxed.

I took a seat at the bar/counter and had some food, the lime drink and then studied a young couple sitting opposite. I could have sworn I saw the young lady, not only take a swig from a nice pint of Amstel, but also a long draw on a pipe full of tobacco before disappearing in a cloud of said smoke! Not a shisha pipe, as many were also smoking these in the cafe, but a pipe like I used to smoke to look classy when I was 18 and grandpa used to smoke – I kid you not! Anyway, I then looked around and spied a few other pints and then struck up the courage to order one and followed by another and after catching a taxi home have just finished my first set of recollections about my time in Amman.

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Ramadan

Ramadan Kareem

It is Ramadan in Amman, the religious holy ninth month and it started on the 11th of August, I arrived on the 15th, it runs for about a month depending on the cycles of the moon and so on. As the most important religious period for Muslims it involves fasting (refraining) during the daylight as a form of self sacrifice to reflect on God and ones own role in the world. As I understand it this also involves similar ideas to the Christian religion and most other religions for that matter, of doing no harm to others in all forms, one assumes includes other living things and the environment in general.

Eating in public is frowned upon, but Jordan seems to be very tolerant. There is also a large non-Muslim community and a long tradition of both groups living together harmoniously.

At sunset there is much rejoicing over the evening meal or Iftar.

You are probably familiar with the call to prayer. In Jordan the Ramadan Drummer or musaher also makes an appearance, walking through the streets, one and half hours before sunrise to wake people up, this is very effective I must say, so they can consume their pre-dawn meal or suhoor. The drummer in this case is also accompanied by a companion, both male, possibly to guard the drummer! Both chant a mani, short poem, to remind people to get up and get ready to be good during the day.

Whilst I like to think of myself as tolerant person I was relieved to learn that this practice would cease once the 12th of September rolled around, nevertheless and interesting part of the culture.

The problem with the drummers is that they also set off dogs, in my case the lovely huge German Shepard ensconced as a guard dog in the house across the road, and car alarms. Fortunately the one that is set off stops after about 10 rings as if it is simply joining in with the drummers to help amplify their message.

Given the heat that has accompanied Ramadan this year I am sure the fasting has tested many but the Jordanians go about their daily lives with grace and good humour, including taxi drivers!