Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Buddy lied.

The world was introduced to Buddy the Elf when a film documenting his life was released in 2003. Men, women, and children around the globe came to love the man who mistakenly thought he was an elf. His innocence was endearing, making it utterly impossible to have any feelings against him.

Until now.

I have come to discover that the man was a liar. Quoted frequently (and almost daily during the Christmas season), Buddy has instilled a sense of trust in popular culture. Even I was sucked into his charm when he exclaimed, "Watch out! The yellow ones don't stop!" He had been hit by a cab previously and was passing on his knowledge. An honorable thing to do.

I would like to set something straight: contrary to what Buddy said, the yellow ones DO stop.

Unless you have a car in Jordan, the main type of transportation is the yellow taxi. You cannot walk down a street without being honked at by several cab drivers wanting your business. It's a blessing when you need one; an annoyance when you don't. Cabs are fairly cheap with the meter starting at 25 piastres (around 30 cents). A ride across town will cost anywhere from one to two dinars.

If you look closely, you can see the pesky cabs in the photo below. They are the yellow dots.

Yesterday a group of us made a trip across town to CityMall, an uber-westernized megastore that rivals most American malls. The trip from Arjan: two and a half dinars. This is a hefty load to pay compared to most travel, but depending on the purpose of your trip, it may be worth it.

The cab to the mall took us for a ride. Either he was completely lost or completely taking advantage of Americans who don't know their way around. With some panic, and a little frustration, we finally made it to the mall.

That was the good part.

After making some purchases, we decided to grab yet another cab to take us home. My friend Amanda and I hopped in. Everything was going smoothly - so smoothly, in fact, that in my mind I was slugging the first cab driver in the face. Our pleasure was short-lived when our driver pushed on the brakes and came to a stop. "Sorry," he said as he jumped out of the cab. Sticking his head through the window of the now-closed door, he said, "Coffee. Coffee." For the next five minutes Amanda and I watched in disgust as he chatted up a storm with his other cab-driver friend. It was only after he noticed our disappointed glares that he get his coffee.

The numbers on the meter slowly raised. We were paying to not move. Am I missing something? Not only were we not moving, but our driver was not even in the cab with us. From what I understand, I pay cab drivers to take me from point A to point B as quickly as possible. I don't remember negotiating any pit stops or chitchat with friends.

We finally made it home. To top everything off we didn't have exact change, so we ended up giving him even more than what was on the meter.

What did I learn from this?
1. Don't come to Jordan unless you know some Arabic. And when I say "some Arabic" I mean you should at least know some scathing words to get upset with people. I was frustrated because he stopped for coffee, but even more so because I couldn't say a word.

2. The next time a driver stops for coffee, I'm stepping out. To me, that's a breach of verbal contract.

3. Jordanians are very good at never spilling their coffee. In all my cab rides I have never seen any sign of spills. It's amazing.

4. The yellow ones do, in fact, stop.

Despite the tone of this blog entry, I actually very much enjoy riding in cabs here. And I love Jordan. And Jordanians. It was just a funny experience, and I thought I would pass it on.

Monday, June 20, 2011

After some big weekends, things have been pretty mellow here in Amman. It has given me time to appreciate some of the smaller things in Jordan. For example:

I enjoy seeing Jordanian attempts to translate. All over town there are mistakes: "dentaal" for "dental;" "saloon" for "salon;" etc. I saw a Spongebob shirt that you "You will always be in my hearth." It's charming, really. I especially like the slogan they have printed on their fruit cans...

Tourist: Best without taste.

What is that supposed to mean?

Living alone, I have the privilege to make a short walk through town to meet up with my American friends. As I left my apartment recently, I encountered a mass exodus...from one field to the other...

It is truly amazing how these goats stay together. It was fun to see them pleasantly walking on the sidewalk, side by side. This is a common occurrence on my street, and it makes me smile every time.

We live near an area called Jabal Hussein: a hip part of the area with modern shops and restaurants. Vendors line the sidewalks with their crafts and ripped-off items. In Amman, you have the luxury of looking high class at a low price. For example, why buy the expensive Hugo Boss, Polo, or Eternity cologne when you can buy Hogo Boos, Pulo, or Externity? Or why buy Nike socks when you can buy cheap socks with the logo printed on them? I took advantage of this principle and bought myself some workout clothes...

The picture may be blurry due to the pure magic of the outfit. These are the most comfortable shorts I've ever owned, complimented by my new adidos muscle shirt. Adidos is even better than Adidas because instead of three stripes you get four.

I have been learning to appreciate art this past week. Some of us went to the Jordanian National Gallery of Art near our home. Having been to some art galleries in DC, I wasn't super excited. Not that I hate art. I just don't understand it. I understand that art is a visual expression of an artists inner feelings, but the meaning gets lost in translation for me. I mean, can someone please explain this painting to me?

Great colors. I even like how it is off-center and super simple. But why is it in a national gallery of art? Abstract art is something I simply do not understand.

I actually liked this painting...

But my favorite was probably this one:

I enjoyed the colors and the scene that it painted in my mind. I could almost smell the fruit from the orchard. And the three tall trees in the middle were a good contrast to the rest of it. I enjoy art. I just would like to understand it.

There happens to be a film festival this week. We've been to two films. The first was called "Of God and Men," a story about a group of Catholic monks living at a monastery in Algeria. Although the town is being attacked by terrorists, the monks refuse to leave because they have become so attached to the community around them. It was touching to see the bond that the monks made with the Muslim community.

Last night we saw a short documentary about finding humor in the West Bank. It was refreshing to see people retain their humor among such controversy in that part of the world. Just watching Palestinian school girls make jokes and laugh was very tender. Truly. Not only was the documentary great, but the setting of the film was incredible. We were near Rainbow Street, the hippest part of Amman, watching the film on an outdoor screen on a hill overlooking the rest of Amman. To my left was the Citadel (the site of Roman ruins) that was lit with yellow lights. To my right lights shimmered from the homes and stores on a flowing hill. The temperature was, like most nights, perfect. I took a minute to ponder and really recognize where I am in the world.

What an experience this is.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Camels...who knew?

Last weekend we went out to the Badia, or the desert. I was expecting tents, fires, holes for toilets, and a lot of nothing. As it turns out, the Badia is home to many wealthy Jordanians. Slash, the contact we have from out there, is from a very powerful family that owns several wells worth millions of dollars. The Badia, as I came to learn, is a series of small villages about an hour outside of Amman. Most people out there are related to each other somehow. They are more traditional than the folk in Amman. So you get an idea of what it's like:

The people of the Badia have homes just like (or better) than the homes in Amman, yet they set up tents outside their homes for social events. There is no furniture - only carpet lines the floor. In the middle there is pit with hot coals to heat the coffee, which is passed around in a small glass. (We, of course, did not perform this custom, but it was interesting to learn about.) They'll eat and dance the night away in these little tents. It would have been a perfect, relaxing afternoon if it weren't for the swarm of flies attacking my face 80 times per second.

Yes, this is in the Badia. Orchards of apricots and grapes dotted the landscape. I never thought I would see anything "lush" in Jordan, but this trip proved me wrong.

So we to see the camels. Here we see a mother with her newborn child. These camels were very mellow.

Then we met Bruiser. This guy had a big attitude to go with his big body. Slash introduced us to the beast, put a rope around his neck, and challenged us to ride him.

First step: have the camel sit. This things are substantially taller than horses, so it is imperative that they sit down. Slash gave me the rope and told me to tug in a downward motion to tame the camel-ion stallion. Bruiser didn't take me seriously and kept jerking back, almost to the point of lifting me off of the ground.
With some serious help, I finally got Bruiser to sit. Then I got ready...

...and mounted. Notice that these camels only have one hump. Am I the only person in the world who assumed most camels had two? As it turns out, the two-humped camels are the least abundant on Earth. You can imagine how awkward riding these things can be, especially for males. It was actually quite comfortable...until my adrenaline wore out and my nerves regained their sensitivity.

Victory. You sit on their back hips, hold onto their thick back hair, and hit them with a stick now and then. And that's how you ride a camel (and get completely nasty hands that smell like camel).

After taming Bruiser we visited another location with female camels. This darling is pregnant. We called her Sofia.

It took a random field in Jordan for me to finally understand Sting.

We went to a place called Black Mountain, which really was just a hill of volcanic rock. It was beautiful. And we were near Syria. I conquered camels and death on this quick trip.