Friday, May 26, 2006

The challenges of inappropriate television

Okay, so El 3atal and I are perhaps a bit more fanatical than most parents about what our children watch on TV. In the US, we would only let them watch Playhouse Disney, Noggin, and occasionally Nick Jr. For those of you who are not aware, these are channels with very good educational programming designed specifically for young children. They are also learning intensive teaching concepts like colors, numbers, counting, animals, etc. We knew that what they watched would be violence free, inappropriate language free, and adult situation free. As a result, we felt pretty good about it. In fact, Playhouse Disney and Noggin did not air commericals during their children's programming. That's right 10-12 hours of commercial free programming. When we changed to a local cable provider, we lost the 3 Disney channels and were left with only one. As a result, the beans began watching more Nick Jr., which does have commercials. We had the first ever request for a toy as a result of advertising.

You may think, well this doesn't sound that bad. She's not crazy. Let me tell you some of the things my kids do not get to watch:
1. Tom and Jerry: Goodness I don't need them to be given ideas of other mean things to do to each other.
2. Bugs Bunny: Full of violence, inappropriate situations, etc.
3. The Incredibles: Too much violence (it's a great movie, El 3atal and I screened it and decided it was a no)

As you see, the list includes "Classics" that kids my age grew up on. Since moving to Jordan, we've found that anything that is a cartoon is designed for kids. I mean that literally. And, since they're animated, they're clearly acceptable for the youngest of children. I shudder to think that The Simpsons or Ren and Stimpy will ever be introduced here. The idea of animated cartoons designed for adults is clearly a foreign one. So, we're here trying to monitor and control what our children see and hopping from channel to channel. We've had to evaluate the local programming in Arabic and the local programming in English. Much has been given a No rating. An acquaintance was shocked when Butterbean told her we don't watch Tom and Jerry. She doesn't have kids, and when she does, unless she has given it alot of thought, culturally I would expect her to have the "animated cartoon = kids programming" mentality ingrained.

Today, we bore the fruit of Butterbean watching programs that, if not inappropriate due to violence, are inappropriate because they are simply too old. As we sat playing a game, Butterbean turned to me and said, "Mommy, what is agoraphobia." Okay, this is so NOT a word that comes up in day-to-day conversation. So, clearly I had to ask, where did you hear that? She named one of the programs that I had determined was too old for her, but not overtly inappropriate. Ahhh, the joys... My 4 year old, who only about 6 months ago learned the concept of "gun", is being introduced to agoraphobia. We're living in a society that equates animated with kids and I'm not sure how to deal with it. I foresee even more children's programming in my future. At least they do have a steady supply of Barney, Teletubbies, Arthur, and bob the Builder.

Sanity (and good TV viewing).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Amazing Invisible Furniture... Will it Never Come?

So, we got some bad news yesterday (okay, I got it today). Our furniture and household goods are at least 15 days from Aqaba. To keep this is perspective, I'm making do with my 3 children and 15 toys (my ten and 5 a very wonderful friend here loaned us). We've been doing this for the last 6 weeks and I'm listening to the daily refrain of "When are we going to move back to Baton Rouge?" It is quickly becoming unbearable. Add to that the fact that we're having a bit of a roach problem in our temporary house (and boy do I know how hard they are to get rid of once they find their way in) and you have a truly miserable situation. The first information they put on their website tracking our shipment showed it arriving back on the 19th. Then, on the 21st, they changed the date to the 24th. Then, they finally responded to El 3atal's query letting us know that there were a couple of delays due to port busy-ness, changes in ships, etc. And now they're sending the stuff through Jeddah. I'm beginning to wonder if these folks have even the tiniest clue. Honestly, I'm beginning to wonder if they actually have any idea where our container is, what ship it's on, and when it will arrive. I'm betting no, and, as you can imagine, my patience is running VERY VERY thin.

It's probably a good thing that I don't have contact information for the original shipper, freight forwarder or local agent. If I did, I'd be very American about it and call them every single day to yell at them until my stuff arrives. In fact, I'd intentionally pick a time that the kids were fighting over the ten toys and whining about being unhappy. I think they should ALL feel my very real pain. If I were them and were faced with a hostile American lady and her 3 screaming kids, I'd go offload the container myself, just to make it stop. Who am I kidding, if I knew where the container was, I'd go lift the 13,000 pound thing on my BACK to get the situation resolved!

I do plan on ensuring that El 3atal notifies the moving comapny that arranged this for us. We moved with them 3 times and trusted their recommendation. I am SOOOO sorry that we did. I find it ironic that they could call every single day to ask about payment, but haven't notified us once without prompting about the status of the delays. So, if you want your money, you'll call incessantly, but if the shipment is delayed you can't be bothered? Slip shod, crappy service if you ask me. Okay, so perhaps I'm having trouble letting go on this one... :)

Sanity (and send any extra here, it's in VERY short supply).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Post-Katrina Legacy a-la Amman

Many of you may not be aware that El 3atal, the Beans, and I moved to Jordan from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Baton Rouge is about 60 miles (an hour driving) from New Orleans. Back in August of last year, as I'm certain most of you remember, we had a little drenching called Katrina. Now, fortunately, the 60 miles difference makes an exceptional degree of difference in impact of the storm. The biggest challenges we faced were 4 days with no power in 95 degree (high humidity, no breeze) heat, two small trees felled, and horror stories from friends who lost everything they own. So, I consider us to have escaped fairly unscathed. And yet, did we?

Today, I took the beans to a small nice park that a fellow blogger kindly told me about. It's not our regular park, but we go there whenever we're in a bit of a hurry. It's small and easier to take the beans there when we have less than an hour. It was VERY hot and extremely sunny. As we played, we noticed a plane fly overhead. Then another, then another, then another. We've been to this park several times at the same time of day and this truly seemed extraordinary to me. In fact, my pulse started to race and I started to feel the worry kick in. You know, what's going on? is there an emergency? should I get us home immediately? Or maybe you don't know. I wouldn't have understood pre-Katrina. The part of the post-Katrina experience that I've left out is that, being 60 miles away and fairly untouched by the tragedy, Baton Rouge became the primary staging area for all rescue efforts. We were on the New Orleans side just off the interstate into town. We also lived near the fairgrounds where they staged the volunteers. The fairgrounds turned into a small city with air-conditioned tents (something I had only ever seen before in Kuwait, by the by). It also had a helipad and we had a small airfield not far away. As a result, rescue helicopters took off every hour at a minimum from 6 am until well after sunset for at least 4 months. In addition, large supply planes flew so low over the house that we could read their markings. After the first two weeks, you begin to push all of this out of your consciousness. You stop noticing the chop of the helicopter blades. You only notice the planes when they are so low that you fear for your roof. In short, your life goes on. You say a prayer every time you notice the choppers and then go on. Once the helicopters finally stopped their hourly runs, it took me about a month to notice I hadn't heard one in awhile. And then, after 6 months of no helicopters and planes, I had begun to forget. Until the near-panic set in today as I wondered what the emergency was. My mind immediately ran to whether a serious tragedy had occurred in Iraq after the first three planes. Then, I saw the three fighter planes and immediately felt the need to grab the beans and RUN to the car. I needed to get inside, to get safe.

It was only after we started driving and I saw the vendor selling Jordanian flags that I remembered Independence Day is tomorrow. I suspect (like most countries' Independence Day celebrations) that there will be quite an airshow tomorrow. I'm expecting fireworks and other things as well, although this is my first in Jordan. And, although it made me feel foolish, the experience reminded me that terrible tragedies stay with us for a long, long time. They affect the psyches of even the mosty peripherally involved. And, as I tear up writing this and thinking about Hurricane Katrina and the impact she had on my former home, I send a prayer out to all of those still trying to rebuild their lives. All of those dreading the one-year anniversary and the active reminder of those 1000+ souls lost in New Orleans. My heart and prayers are with you. Take care and God Bless.

Sanity (and Hope).

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The I Love You Phenomenon

Since we've been living in Jordan, I've noticed an interesting thing that people here do (okay I've noticed many interesting things, but I'm only going to talk about one of them today). When people meet a new lovely small child, they always seem to say I love you, say I love you. I find this fascinating. I don't tell small children I don't know or have just met I love them. Mostly, this is because the only children I've ever loved on first sight are my own. And, I spent 8.5 months getting to know them before I saw them. So, why, then, would I tell other children I love them when I don't. It almost seems like lying to them. I know that isn't the intent, but...

So, here we are with people constantly meeting my children and saying to them, "Say I love you Auntie." And, I don't know how to nicely say, don't ask my kids to express an emotion they don't feel. I don't want you to cheapen the meaning of the words for my children. I didn't wait 2 years to hear my child say I love you to me only to wonder if she really means it or is just being taught to say it nby all these people. Now, luckily, my children all said it prior to moving, but how much would I wonder if they hadn't? What is it with trying to get kids to tell you they love you? I'm sure it's a cultural thing and maybe 20 years from now, I'll be doing the same thing, but I seriously doubt it. I don't expect to be telling random children I love them. And I certainly don't expect to be asking them to tell me something I know isn't true. But, hey, that's just me...


Thursday, May 18, 2006

C'mon, give me some credit...

Okay, so the title doesn't necessarily reflect what the post is about ;). Since we've been here, El 3atal and I have been exceptionally frustrated. For those of you who may not be familiar with the system in America, throughout your adult life, you establish and maintain a credit record in the US. When they say, this is going in your permanent record, it really is! Here's how it works. At some point (typically in college) you get a credit card. You make purchases and pay them off. The credit card company reports to a Credit Bureau. The credit bureau collects information from all of the various people who may be lending you money. They gather it together and create a file for you. It tells what your available credit is, how much money you have currently borrowed, how timely you have been in making your payments, etc. When you want to take a loan (for a car or house) or obtain another source of credit, the company pulls your file, as it were, and determines how good a credit risk you are. So, any negative information you have in your file is weighed against the positive information and you are assigned an overall score.

So, now you know, if you go to the States, be careful with your credit, it's pretty important. And, you can imagine how frustrating it is to move to a place that has no such system established. As an example, El 3atal and I could walk into a car dealership in the US today and walk out with a car. Today. The car dealership would give us a very low rate since we have been very careful about maintaining a good credit rating. We could also walk in today and probably walk out with a new house. So, it is doubly ironic to us that we moved and the international bank (with a presence in the US) that we are banking with declined our application for a (GET THIS) credit card with a $500 limit. How astonishingly silly this seems to me. If you are an international bank and know that your customer is coming from the US, check their credit. Simple, quick, and you really have an idea what type of risk they are. Why, you may wonder, won't they give us credit. Because El 3atal hasn't been in his job long enough to be "confirmed." I don't even know what that means. Based on the contract, his employment is at-will, so that once he is confirmed after 3 months, they can decide at 3 months 1 day that he isn't a fit. So, how did that help the bank? So, I fail to see how the confirmation really help the bank. But, that's the system here. And so, I call for a credit bureau in Jordan. Because, really, I mean, c'mon give me some credit!


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Going in Circles

Today, on the way back from dropping off registration for the twins at a pre-school and providing the final piece of documentation on Leila for KG1, I decided to take the kids to visit Teta at her office (which has a playground). Unfortunately, I haven't ever driven there before and had no idea where it is (okay I drove there today and STILL have no idea where it is :) ). I called Teta and she told me she was on her way there. She said I should wait for her at the third circle, but I didn't know which branch of the circle we'd be taking. So, I decided, it's a circle, I'll just keep driving. Imagine the scene from European vacation where Chevy Chase keeps going around and around and around the circle because he can't figure out how to get out. That was what this was like. I was afraid that the traffic cop would decide that I was planning an attack on the Le Royale hotel and stop me. Fortunately, he didn't notice our continuing cirular route.

As I was going around in these circles, I was hoping that (all evidence to the contrary) our living in Jordan wouldn't be like this. It does seem like we are going in circles alot. We start down a path and pass many interesting sights on the way, but end up where we started. We're in that position with the car at the moment. We can't transfer the money to buy the car and we can't get a loan until El 3atal is "confirmed". So, after searching, finding, and deciding on a vehicle, we're stuck with a rental that doesn't particularly meet our needs, but gets us from Point A to Point B. But, the bright side (and this is a BIG bright side) is that the rental car company switched cars on us (the registration on the old one expired, so it's good I didn't get stopped) and this one has air conditioning that works. Indeed, we've spent the last month with a car with no air conditioning. We definitely got a taste, quite literally, of Amman's smells and sounds during that time. So, we're have a better rental, but it still won't fit my stroller :(. I'm still unable to visit any local malls because I wouldn't even try to get my 3 corraled for that. I'll do another post on the need for credit bureaus in jordan. Hey, maybe that's a business idea... But not for me.

Wishing you...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Arab to English: Challenges in Translation

I think that any native English speaker must truly enjoy coming to the Arab world. Perhaps it's just my verbal bent, but I love having fun trying to figure out what it is that they are trying to say. I find that everywhere I go I get a kick out of the translation. This little hobby of mine (collecting funny ways of saying things) began with my first trip to Jordan. Some of the amusing things I saw then were:

1. An announcement in the English newspaper with a listing for a job with a reputed oil company. So, we don't know what they REALLY do, but people on the street say that they are in the oil business. Most Americans have only ever heard this word used in a sentence containing mobster (a reputed mobster of the XYZ crime family). I suspect they meant reputable...

2. A menu at Pizza Hut offering a new pizza with a trible blend of cheeses. As funny as that was, we couldn't help ourselves and had to order to the pottle of water to go with it. Now, I knew about the P/B problem, but this was a fun visual sign of it.

3. El 3atal and I went out for icecream and the store had a wide variety of choices. I was tempted to order the one with red fruit in it that indicated that it was Plueperry icecream. They assured us that even though it was red, it was in fact blueberry.

Since we've moved here, I encounter these types of linguistic calesthentics every day. Buying herbs in Safeway, I had the opportunity to purchase Marry Rose. Funny, it looked just like the spice I was looking for (Rosemary), so I bought some, strange name notwithstanding. Yesterday, though was my favorite. Tess, our helper, had a birthday yesterday, so we went to the Safeway bakery to get her a cake. While waiting, we reviewed the items they had to offer (which were lovely by the way). The first thing I noticed was the Scuster Eclair. Imagine, it looked just like a custard eclair... However, that one was thrown totally out of my mind by the White Shallot cake. Wait a minute, aren't shallots onions? So, (not totally trusting myself) I checked it as soon as we got home. Here's what I found:
shal·lot ( P ) Pronunciation Key (sh l t, sh -l t )n. In both senses also called eschalot.
A type of onion with long, pointed, pear-shaped, aggregated bulbs.
The mild-flavored bulb of this plant, used in cookery.

I wasn't wrong, and the idea of a shallot cake is honestly appalling. Honestly, I often feel that I should go around with a black Sharpie (permanent marker) and just modify these things as I encounter them. Now, for the admission of secrets, I actually copy-edit everything. When I'm reading novels, I make the changes in pencil. When I'm reading magazines, I edit in pen (or just my head). So, perhaps all these years I've missed my true calling. A career change might be in order, I'll become the crazy American who copy-edited the country of Jordan! At any rate... as always...


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Reflections on Baka'a

Yesterday, we went past Baka'a refugee camp on our way to a lovely picnic. As we did, I remembered the first time we visited Baka'a. As you may know, the YWCA has a location in Baka'a where they employ local ladies to sew uniforms and bake goods. That trip was the first time I really understood how closely many of the refugees still lived to Palestine. I was used to seeing Palestinians like El 3atal, who lived in a "normal" house and led "normal" lives. As we drove through the camp, I was struck by how almost temporary everything seemed. The shops seemed a bit unfinished. The corrugated tin roofs held on by cinder block reminded me viscerally of Juarez Mexico, certainly the most poverty ridden place I've ever been. I asked El 3atal about it. His next statement was the point of revelation for me. He told me that the temporary roofs fastened in place only by cinder block were the Baka'a residents way of making a very strong statement. I could see it was also a reminder, to themselves, their children, and any who asked as I did. These roofs were the refugees' way of saying, I'm only here until they let me go home. It was their daily reminder of the fact that they are not home.

At the time, I wondered what it would be like to grow up only knowing that you don't belong here, this is only a temporary house. The psychology of living "in transit" for years and years must be terribly challenging. And, as I said, I finally understood how closely these refugees lived to Palestine. Every day, it was in their hearts, their minds, and their line of sight. Every time I think of such a subtle form of protest, such a simple way of reminding oneself and others, it brings tears to my eyes. I'm so thankful for the trip past Baka'a yesterday. I'm ashamed that I forgot about the people in the refugee camps. I had forgotten how they live, in transit, until they can go home. And, I hope that the trip comes soon, although I have no confidence that it will. And, most of all, I hope that the hope remains alive. The next generation of refugees is growing up in Baka'a, still with visible reminders that they aren't home yet. Here's wishing you home in your heads, home in your hearts, and home in person.


Monday, May 08, 2006

In Search of Suitable Transportation

One of the most significant challenges El 3atal and I have faced since arriving in Jordan has been our transportation challenges. For the first 4 days, we never went anywhere in one car. Both his Mom and Dad's vehicles had to be pressed into service in order to fit the family. Why is this, you may ask? Well, we are sadly, sadly American. Very American, in fact. We insist on providing our children with the same level of safety that we do in the US. Yes, that's right, altogether now, CAR SEATS! We have 3 very large car seats that don't fit across the back of anything smaller than a 1980s Cadillac. And, being that the Cadillac would leave us one seat short for our household assistant, it isn't a practical option either. After the first few days, the multiple vehicle arrangement grew unbearably tiresome. So, we rented a wagon of sorts. While it has just enough seats, it has no trunk. Now, for those of you familiar with American style vehicles, you may wonder what I mean. Here's what I mean, our diaper bag is too big to fit in the "trunk". Proportionally you could liken this trunk to the crawl space of a house. It is amazing how big an impact this can have on your movements. For instance, I can't take the kids to the mall. Why, again you may ask? Well, I can't fit the stroller anywhere in the car. Literally. Maybe we could bungee strap it to the roof, but I'm thinking given the cost of the stroller that we won't be taking that option.

So, needless to say, we've been seeking alternate permanent arrangements. However, the range of vechiles in Jordan with three rows is more limited than one would imagine. And, many share the issue of no trunk space. Those that have a bit more trunk seem to have no space between the rows. It appears that youc an either carry your gear and have only people under 3' tall in the back or have adults in the back and no gear. A difficult conundrum that definitely left me longing for my Toyota Sienna :(. Sniff, sniff. We won't talk about the factory installed DVD system, integrated sun shades, the list goes on. We just won't talk about those things. So, El 3atal and I started on our journey to new transportation.

We've looked at most cars in Jordan with three rows. And let me tell you, car shopping here is an interesting experience. For those of you who have never car shopped in the US, let me tell you a little about it. First, dealerships in the US don't have holidays that I've ever seen. A day that people aren't working is a day that they have time to look at cars. On regular days, dealerships are open for browsing and instant, on-the-spot test drives from 9 am to 9pm. Really. I promise I'm not making this up. Since we've been in Jordan, we've encountered dealerships closed for holidays multiple times. I keep thinking, in the US this holiday would mean extended hours and non-stop commercials about their 5th day of June SALE. It's almost as if, if you work, merchants think you aren't needy enough. Kind of like the stores that believe if you have to ask how much it costs,you can't afford it. At any rate, I'm astonished how car buying is done (or rather not done). So, now, many moons later, we're still in the process. We finally found a minivan that, while it doesn't compare in fit and finish (the Lexus feel inside the Toyota is hard to match), is suitable and truly a nice car. But, get this American readers, you can't pick options you'd like. They take a WYSIWIG approach to car buying here. If it's on the lot, it's the option package you get. Now in the US, I honestly believe you could ask them to have the factory install a sink and they'd do it. Oh, you want a garbage disposal in the back of your minivan, sure. Seriously though, if you want a color inside or outside that the American dealership doesn't have, they can order it for you. if want leather seats, they'll order it. If you want side curtain airbags, installed DVD, etc. they order it. So, it's been an eye-opening experience to see how people in other places buy cars. And, it explains some of the hmmm... unique... colors you see on the road. it was what they had on the lot. I'm just a little surprised you don't see more scary looking cars. I can imagine a close-out mentality where American dealerships would sell cars to Jordanian importers anything that doesn't sell. After all, it'd sell here because if you wanted something you'd have to take what they got, teehee.

My hope for us is that some day we'll have a car of our very own that fits us, our gear, and one extra adult. And, as for the car seat thing, we'll continue. After all, I don't want you to see me driving down the road with a twins hanging out of the back of each window as I imagine they would do if given the chance. Far be it from me to have one of my kids part of the statistic that Jordan has 140+ car accidents EVERY DAY and has on average 2 fatalities. So, in some ways I'll continue to be very American. When you see the little blond lady driving down the road with three car seats, just shake your head and mumble under your breath about those silly Americans, I don't mind. I'll smile and wave, I'm not embarassed. Better my children's safety than looking like a local...

Once again, Sanity.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Pretty Side of "Ugly Americans"

I'm sure all of us are familiar with the proverbial ugly American. We have a reputation, not undeserved I admit, of being culturally insensitive, wanting the world to do everything our way, etc. With all of the negative stereotypes I've heard, it was refreshing to hear a positive one the other day. As part of our move to Jordan, we agreed that it would likely make sense to hire someone to help in the house. Originally, I was intending to have someone who lived out and came a couple of times a week to clean the house. However, in looking at our needs and the availability, we finally decided to bring in a live-in person to help with housework and the kids. We wanted a skilled gal Friday part housekeeper, part maid, part Nanny. And, of course given our situation, we needed someone who spoke English. Our experience in this area was quite interesting.

The first agency my mother-in-law called indicated that they had a lovely Filipina girl who spoke English and would be perfect. So, El 3atal's Mom asked to speak with her. Astonishingly in the 15 seconds between the last question the agency owner asked her and the request, the girl left to go to her apartment! Warning signs clanged in my head, but we went anyway to meet her. She seemed very sweet and nice. Unfortunately, she didn't speak English. She'd been taught to say her name, her age, and the fact that she was single, but could not udnerstand any of the other questions we asked. She kept repeating the answers above as if they were a mantra. We were unable to determine her qualifications, but the lack of English rendered it unimportant anyway.

The second person we interviewed we heard of through a contact at our church. She spoke very good English. With the upside came a downside. She wanted 3 times the going rate. Oh, and (minor point here), she had none of the qualifications we were seeking. She had experience with one 4 year old boy (we couldn't really gain a view of what she had done other than escort him to school), had never changed a diaper, had no experience with cleaning, and preferred to live out. My overall impression was that she would not have been satisfied with the exorbitant rate she was requesting and would have considered housework to be beneath her. So, another bust.

By now, you're wondering about the title of this piece aren't you? Our third interview went much, much better. This was through another different agency. The owner is married to a Filipina and has been in the business for many years. He happened to have a candidate in country brought for someone else whose needs had changed. So, after a relaxed (for us, at least) interview, we settled on the third candidate who speaks good English, has experience with kids (including a partial Bachelor's in ECE), and no attitude. As we spoke with the young lady, the owner of the agency expounded to her about how lucky she was. Among the most prominent of his reasons is that I (Madame) am an American. He explained to the candidate that Jordanians treat their household helpers as slaves. Americans, on the hand, treat their helpers like people. He must have told her that God had blessed her at least 10 times. Now, I suspect that many Americans are like me. I didn't grow up with a maid, in fact we had no help (live-in or otherwise). In our most recent home, we had a Nanny for the children while I was at work and a cleaning lady who came every other week. But, in general, these were paid professionals who lived in their own homes. So, this is new territory for me. And, I suspect that this probably does make me a more sensitive and appreciative employer. So, it was nice to hear about the pretty side of we ugly Americans. It will be an adventure (as is everything), getting used to our new addition. So far, our new assistant has definitely been the answer to our prayers. So, as always...