Monday, July 31, 2006

Going Back to Work

First, let me just say Ahhhhhhh. That's the sound of my personal relief. Tomorrow will be my first day at my new job. Okay, for those who weren't aware I was looking for work - I wasn't. It came looking for me. A local company here got my resume to potentially help them address a short term need and convinced me to take on an even greater, long-term challenge. So, tomorrow I head for the work-a-day world again. Well, except that my work will be somewhere between part-time and full-time. Oh, and it will be split between home and the office. I'm very excited. Staying home with my wonderful beans was fun, but not for me full-time. I go stir crazy and get annoyed easily. I'm just not a SAHM. Thank goodness that Tess (our household helper) has more patience. Well, and thank goodness she cooks and cleans, never my strong suits.

My new job is actually going to be quite fun. I get to something that I've done before, but never as comprehensively in one place. I've been brought on to help address a number of problems, starting with Employee Development. The company is having turnover issues that relate, as always, to many different things. But, as a consulting company that hires many fresh college graduates, I believe they have some challenge with their employees seeing what the future can be. So, I'll be working on a suite of projects in their overall development program. I get to develop annual employee development plans, an annual commitments (targets) process, an annual review process, a career path and promotion criteria process. In short, everything needed for employee development. They have some pieces, but don't feel like they're a great fit with the company. Their consultants are in Project Management and technology. They are also bringing in a couple of companies that do app dev and IT hardware. So, my experience at Blue Streak and previous companies will definitely be useful. Okay, you can see I'm excited. Enough about that. I have to take ButterBean to get her haircut. She wants a haircut like Dora the Explorer :). First time I've ever taken a plastic toy to the hairdresser before as a model of what I want... Oh, and JooJooBean decided she wants her hair cut like Boots the Monkey! The fun never stops.

Good hairstyles.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

As Different as Two Days Can Be...

Yesterday, coming off of our very disappointing trip to the "zoo", we decided to take a family outing to the Dead Sea. Given that we have three small children, El 3atal and I decided that our best bet would be to get a room for the day at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel. As you may not be aware, they have a wonderful set of pools designed with kids of all ages in mind. For the very small, they have a pool about thigh deep on the twins. It had a whale that you could sit on, a rhino to bounce back and forth on, and a twisty snake water slide. For the slightly older ones, there was a second pool about the same depth with a Little Tykes type play structure. The main difference is that when you twist the various steering wheels, you start huge sprays of water. The 3 slides on it are all water slides. These proved too fast for ButterBean. The big kid pool had a huge water slide structure that was full of twists and turns. El 3atal and I definitely enjoyed this one greatly. They had a lap pool for the very big kids (read this adults) and steps down to the Dead Sea. We left a bit late (about 10 am) and got there in time to play for a few an hour or so then order lunch. After lunch, we took the kids to the room to rest out of the sun for awhile. El 3atal and I went into the sea and played on the big water slide for a bit. Then we went to the final pool on property which is a large, abandoned kidney bean shaped pool just behind the lobby. We had a very nice swim and were the only ones in the pool the whole time. Finally, we went back to get the kids and played on the snake slide for a bit longer. Then we took them down to the beach to play with their sand toys. While they played, I thought we'd give Miss Tess (our household helper) the (perhaps once in a lifetime) opportunity to swim in the Dead Sea. ButterBean decided she wanted to come, which caused JoojooBean to decide she also had to come. Then, of course, JuniorBean refused to be left out. This all would have been fine except that JoojooBean is unable to simply sit comfortably. As a result, I have a large scrape under my knee from a mean rock on the bottom and JoojooBean stayed in for about 5 minutes before she wanted to get out. El 3atal took the kids and ButterBean decided she wanted to go out too. Not wanting to cut Miss Tess' visit short, I stayed in with her (the only way I could convince her to stay in). Unfortunately, JoojooBean decided that she had to have Mommy, so our trip was cut a bit shorter after all. Miss Tess got to experience rubbing the nasty, snotty feeling mud on herself and floating in the surreal way of the Dead Sea, though. She said it was a really fun experience, so I'm glad she got to enjoy it as well. After that, the kids clamored to play on the snake slide again before we headed home. We played for a few minutes longer and then loaded into the car for the drive home. Although it was probably 50 times as expensive as the zoo, it was easily 50 times as fun as well. So, all in all, it was money well spent. After the fun we had there, maybe I'll convince El 3atal to join the Amman Waves after all :). Or maybe not...

Fun in the sun.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Trip to the Zoo?

So, today we decided to try and take the kids to a zoo. We heard there was one out near Kan Zaman (a very nice restaurant/gift shop type area). After much searching (literally we backtracked 10 times), we discovered that it was farther down the road. There were no discernible signs on the route there. Finally, we did find it though. We paid the entry fee (a steep 2 dinars for the 6 of us, teehee) and went in. This was the most interesting calling itself a zoo that I've ever seen. The animals were in cages. Understand these were not exhibit areas, they were cages made out of cement and chain link fencing. The poor pitiful animals. Terribly, all animals looked underfed, underbathed, and generally suffering. Perhaps the most unusual thing about this "zoo" was the selection of animals.

Let me enumerate the animals for you. As we entered, we saw two ostriches which appeared to have no tail feathers left. I don't know if they pulled each other's feather off or what. Next we saw that they had 4 baboons in the two cages across the pathway. Next door to the ostriches were two cages with pelicans (in Louisiana, these roam free, you see the on the side of the road). These cages had about 8 pelicans each. Next to the baboons were eagles (about 10 in the cage) and then came the buzzards (about 5). Next to the pelicans were goats, lots, feeding on food that was tossed among the veritable plethora of goat droppings. Ewww. Poor things. That ended the first path. The second path started with a peacock and peahen (female peacock). There were more baboons (4), some dogs. I don;t know what kind, the sign said wolf, but I'm skeptical. There were 3 cages with one in each. There were three cages with a hyena in each. Next came the tiger. He was alone in his cage. There was also some sort of wild cat that looked like 1/2 bobcat, 1/2 house cat and one black jaguar. They had two very large grizzly bears. Next were two cages with 6 lions between them. In case the zoo wasn't holding your interest, there were also carnival-type rides and fair-type games. I commented to El 3atal that I am amazed that all around the world they seem to find the same type of cheap prizes in lurid colors. If it weren't for the fact that the stack of cans that you should upend was played with a real gun, you could have been at any state fair in the US. There was about the saddest playground I've seen since I was in Jordan (and THAT's saying something). As we were just about to exit, we noticed there was one more set of cages. Not wanting to miss out on any of my 2 dinars' value, we walked down this path. This was my favorite section of the zoo. They had more baboons (they MUST have received a discount on baboons). Next they had a dog. Not like a wild dog, like a peek-a-poo. It looked like it needed nothing more than a bath and it would be ready to head into the house for dinner. Finally, this path had a cage of cats. Again, not wild cats. The sign said they were Siamese cats. The funny thing is that there wasn't a Siamese cat in there. There were a couple of tabbies, a couple of mutts, and a couple of kittens. That's it. Just plain old cute little housecats. Too funny.

All in all, it's an experience we won't repeat I'm certain. By the time we reached the last set of cages, ButterBean was more than ready and asking to go home. The twins happily waved bye bye to the kitties and off we went to seek out greener pastures. I can certainly see why one blogger talked about the abuse of the animals at the zoo (if this is the zoo they were referencing). PETA would definitely have a field day. Again, two dinars was barely worth it, and we won't be going back.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Fair and balanced blogging

In the interest of fair and balanced blogging, I'm following up on my blog about the fabulous breezes in Amman with frustration about the lack of parking. In the US in larger cities, apartments are worth more money if they have off street parking (so for those of you looking in the US, off st parking in newspapers does NOT mean you should be looking for a street named St. Parking that has lots of apartments as one of my foreign friends did). In Amman, business don't even have off street parking. How crazy is this? I mean, maybe if the shop is a one-off in a residential neighborhood, but c'mon, malls barely have parking lots. What is that about? Today I wanted to go to the bank to get cash from the ATM. Unfortunately, there wasn't a space within 3 blocks of the bank. At this point, I gave up without the cash. My patience extends only so far. So, not I'm left longing for drive-thru ATMs and parking lots at banks. Any bank worth its salt in the US would have both. But then, I suppose I shouldn't get started on banks in Jordan and my thoughts on them.

Warning: Tangent Ahead
We're still lost in a bureaucratic tangle that includes 12% actual interest rates for personal loans. They claim it's 6.6%, but it really isn't. So, the car purchase is still on hold until we can find reasonable financing. Even at 6.6%, American banks would be ashamed to try and offer that interest rate to car buyers. Of course, there they are competing for business and here business is given grudgingly. So, I guess I can't blame them. After all, if you don't actually WANT to lend money, it makes sense to charge ridiculous rates, refused to lend money, and make every transaction a pain for people. I guess I just hit on the banking bottom line, they don't actually want to give people money. Boy am I glad I figured that out.
End of Tangent, you are welcome to resume reading

So, at any rate, I'm reflecting on how spoiled I am expecting parking places, lots, and whatnot at every place of business. You'd think it is a tragedy to have to walk 3 blocks to park, but then it wouldn't be if there were sidewalks. So, walking in the street for 3 blocks with Amman's driving during the summer months with the influx of gulf drivers and the newer contingent of Lebanese drivers filling the streets is clearly putting your life in danger. So, I guess I'll simply go without cash until tonight when I'll convince El 3atal to get me some. Hey, maybe this is a good thing after all...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Word About Breezes

Okay, most people in Amman must take breezes for granted. But, being new to the area, I have to say a word about this amazing phenomenon. Most of my life has been lived in citites that are flat. I don't mean a little flat. I mean, flat like a pancake. Montgomery, AL, where I was raised has no hills. None. Not one. Baton Rouge, where we lived for last 8 years has even fewer (is that possible?). So, I'm used to places that have very high heat, very high humidity, and no breezes. Coming to Amman has been something of a revelation. In the shade, it's not only cooler, but you feel cooling breezes blowing. I've always associated breezes with the sea, and there's no sea here. Where do they come from, these mystical cooling currents of air? If I were a poet, I'd write a fine poem about them. But, as much as I'd like to be (and think I could be), I'm not. So, I won't add to the already inestimable amount of bad poetry already in existence.

When we moved into our apartment, we installed AC units in two of the rooms. The reason we made this decision is that El 3atal tends to get hot easily. As you may recall, I come from high heat and high humidity. I actually LIKE it hot. I get cold easily. So, I wear jeans all of the time. I have for years. This was nice as it means my wardrobe choices won't offend more conservative folks here and yet I didn't have to change an ingrained habit. So, we installed these AC units in our bedroom and the den/playroom. We use the bedroom unit every night as our room gets the bulk of the sun and very little of the breeze. Every other room in the house, though, gets such nice breezes that no AC would be necessary. We've only used the den AC once. And that was mostly because it was a Thursday night and the fireworks and wedding celebrations were a bit rowdy. We didn't want them waking the kids. As I sit here a type this, I'm being gently tickled by a cool breeze and smiling at this new sensation. Those of you who've always lived here, you don't know what an amazing thing you've got. Don't take it for granted. Turn your face to the heavens and give thanks for the blessing of breezes. They are a beautiful and rare gift.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Competitive Advantage

El 3atal is very involved in important business and often talks about such strategically important topics as competitive advantage. While I grasp the concepts, my mind is much more on operational detail. However, recently I was confronted with such an obvious case of competitive advantage that I felt I had to share it. El 3atal likes to get hummus sandwiches from a particular shop in town. Their hummus is unusually good, and he enjoys the sandwich with just hummus, salad, and bread on it. (They usually look at him a bit funny when he orders it, but...) Recently, I went in with him to watch his sandwiches being made. The guy who makes the sandwiches is quite tall (say 6'4 or 6'5). But, on top of his overall size, his hands are HUGE. I mean each one is larger than a standard dinner plate. As a result, he makes holding the pita and sliding in items look like child's play. As I told El 3atal, I would really hate to be up against him for such a job. In his job, it's all in the hands. How easily you can control the bread and fixin's (as we Southerners are want to call them) determines how quickly you complete an order. And, in a small store-front like theirs, turn-over is everything. So, this guy has a clear and distinct competitive advantage. I'd like to have a picture of his hands, but figured he might be skeptical of my asking...

At any rate, I am amazed by the size of this man's hands and wonder if it makes it hard to do simple things like grasping keys and such. Perhaps one day, when my Arabic is much, much better, I'll ask him. Or perhaps not.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

How long will we remain silent? I'm sorrowful at the answer...

For the most part, I avoid political topics on my blog. This is not because politics doesn't interest me. It's really more about the purpose of my blog. The underlying bottom-line purpose is to keep my family and friends in the States up to date with what's going on. It's a bit about my experience in a foreign land raising three wonderful children. I hope, through my blog, to provide a western perspective of the realities of life in Jordan. This is especially true since it isn't so many of things that people think. Some examples, I do NOT wear an abaya, burka, hijab, or any other covering for my clothes, face, or head. In fact, I wear exactly what I wore in the States - jeans and a short sleeved shirt. And, I'm modestly dressed for the local standards. Also, there are not violent protests in the street. Don't get me wrong, there are protests, but I haven't heard of any violent riots. I do not feel generally unsafe as an American. I don't get dirty looks (not many anyway) and don't get followed around town. I'm just another Mom doing my thing. However, today, I am feeling that I can no longer remain silent. And, so, this issues in a groundbreaking post of a political nature and to the point of the title, How Long Will We Remain Silent?

As an American, I have felt a terrible burden for several years. It's a burden of conscience, heart, and soul and is awfully heavy. This burden springs from knowing that our government, of the people, by the people, for the people has been increasingly bought. The purchase of our nation has been stealthy and mostly silent. And, the truly insidious nature of this is that the purchase is for votes on an issue that doesn't affect most people. Most Americans are neither interested in, nor affected by, the State of Israel. Most Americans have no idea how much money the American government pays in support of a racist regime. And, (and this is what truly saddens me) most Americans don't care. This isn't a mean-spirited apathy, it's the natural human one. Most Jordanians don't care if the State of Alabama and the State of Mississippi are having issues either. It's just not in their realm of understanding. It doesn't touch daily life. And yet, America's participation in the state-sanctioned terrorism of Israel makes it a burden for each American to carry. By our votes, we carry the responsibility for each Palestinian child, mother, father, sister, and brother killed by the Israelis. We carry the responsibility for each person maimed and for each person jailed with no trial. And, still we (and I include myself) remain largely silent.

For far too long, Israel has committed such awful crimes of degradation and intentional genocide on the Palestinians, who are not citizens of Israel and thus have limited rights. And, they've done so with sometimes blind eyes and sometimes sheering on by the American government. And now, they've once again attacked a sovereign nation. They've begun bombing a nation in return for the action of extremists. This is akin to an extermist Canadian (let's call him a libertarian, for illustration's sake) coming into the US and kidnapping two American soldiers. The US would then, byt his Israeli model, be perfectly justified in attacking Canada and killing innocent Canadian civilians. I think not. Somehow, Israel has managed to convince people that they deserve a special exemption. Okay, I say somehow and the reality is that, like all other bullies, they have big fists and an even bigger brother. And, as an American, it makes me ashamed. Deep down, knowing I did not vote for the current Administration, I am still ashamed. And, someday I hope that I will no longer be ashamed, but at this point, I remain unconvinced. The purchase of America is far, far down the road and I'm not sure whether there's any way back. How long will we remain silent? I am afraid of the answer, it brings me great sorrow... And, like Lina I'm angry about the current situation. But, I also recognize that another angry American won't do much more good than another angry Arab...

I'm wishing you, your family, and your loved ones safety and security in these tough times.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Space Between

Sometimes it feels like I'm somewhere in a no man's land. Unlike the Americans who are here for a short, definite period of time with a specific purpose (Embassy staff, folks in the ministry, CIA, you know those sort), we haven't come for a defined period of time. In addition, since El 3atal is from here, his friends from his youth are all also from here. Those who came from the US all have a built-in network of family and friends. While we share a common experience in that we've lived in the states, when they came back here, it's like coming home for them. For those here for a defined period of time, they seem to have a network defined by their community (others in the same ministry, staff of the same company, etc.). And then... there's me. No network, no community. Okay, by now you think I'm feeling sorry for myself, but that actually isn't what this post is about. It's really more about this experience that is undoubtedly both unusual and common at the same time.

Mind you, it's no different than moving to a new American city. Suddenly you lose the networks you have built up over time. At least here, I do have something somewhat unique in common with people (being an American). It's just interesting how out of the loop I sometimes end up feeling. And, the funny thing is that, despite the lack of many close friends, we're very happy here. Life is settling into a comfortable routine. Today I unpacked and put away the final box. I also filled the new shelves in our family room and cleared another office shelf for El 3atal (I did not get early enough praise for any of these 3 activities). In short, it's rolling along. The kids are happy as am I. And yet, I get the sense that Leila is also feeling caught in between somehow. She wants to have a new best friend, but we haven't found anyone that she's "clicked" with yet. I know that it will get easier when school starts, but it seems such a long way away. The irony of that statement is that it seems like yesterday that we flew over here (really that awful flight is burned into my active memory) even though we've now been here 3 months. So, I know that the next month and a half will fly by, and hopefully it will help push us out of the space between and plant us firmly in the space we're in.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

High and Dry?

When we first moved to Amman, we lived in a rented apartment. It was a nice apartment and I suspect fairly typical of rented places. We were having problems getting hot water, so I complained to El 3atal about the fact that the water wasn't getting hot. I turned on the hot faucet and nothing happened. Five, ten, fifteen minutes later, the water was still cold. What was going on? Finally, El 3atal got smart and asked if I'd turned on the boiler. Done what? Turned on the boiler, why? It wasn't cold outside, we didn't need the heat on. Okay, so color me confused and surprised. You actually have to heat the water in the boiler and then it comes up through the pipes? There's no pilot light like in the US that keeps the water in the hot water heater hot? Ah, a learning experience. I love those, although I prefer ones that aren't quite so frigid. And now, for the honest truth. It's a secret I try to keep, so don't tell anyone. (whispering) I'm not the most patient person in the world. (whispering done) After a month and a half or so, it seemed like it was taking nearly an hour for the water to heat. Patience, I told myself. Things here just work differently. Finally, it seems like the water just plain stopped heating at all. After the third day of cold showers after waiting an hour, I complained. My mother in law came to take the situation in hand. Okay, you're in now right. you HAVE to know what it was... here it is. We were out of solar (the gas that powers the boiler). Oh, and the long time it took before... there was an issue with the switch that pumps the water and it wasn't functioning properly. So, all my patience was in fact just letting the system stay broken. Perhaps patience isn't such a virtue after all.

Fast forward to our new place. Imagine my surprise when, one day, the water just stopped. No warning at all, no sputtering. Just no water suddenly. What's up with that, I wanted to know. Another brilliant question from El 3atal. Did you turn on the pump? What pump? What is he talking about. Am I speaking another language? It sounds like English, but it makes no sense. Now, come to find out that the government open the taps, as it were, for us 3 days a week. During that time, the well under the building is filled. The pump gets the water from the well under the building to the container on the roof. Oh, so that light switch isn't really a light switch. I see. And then it hits me, wait a minute! There's only water coming 3 days a week? Ah, so now I know I'm really in a foreign country. I'm so glad that folks here have had this situation for a long while. otherwise some idiot like me would come along and build a house with no pumps, no wells, no containers on the roof, nothing. And then where would we be? High and dry, of course...

Wishing you and yours quenched thirst and hot showers.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I'm Sorry, It's HOW Much???

So, you read the headline and thin I'm going to talk about being taken advantage of, don't you? While I could, perhaps tell some stories like that, this isn't one of them. In fact, I'm going to talk about what I consider to be the most amazing bargain. El 3atal and I are spoiled. Really, I mean that. In the US, our walk-in closet in the bathroom was as big as a small bedroom. It was huge. We each had our own side and all of our clothes fit fairly easily. So, moving to Jordan, where built-ins or closets are somewhat unusual has been a challenge. In our apartment, the kids' rooms has built in closets, but ours did not. All bathrooms have pedestal sinks with no closet, cabinets, drawers. Nothing... So, what were we to do. Well, we went and looked at furniture, just to see what things would run us. We found some very typical Sauder (build it yourself pressboard with "paper" veneer) stuff in the stores. And, it cost about what you'd expect in the US plus the 30% mark-up. We looked at folks who come and "build in" closets as well. The cheapest of the cheap seemed to run about JD 1000 (just under $1800). Now, El 3atal's family has a carpenter. From what I hear, a good one. But, how much do I really know about that? So, we called him in to assess our needs and give us a price. And, finally today (after a really short 2 week wait), we have managed to secure the following: a wardrobe for our bedroom, a large cabinet for our bathroom, a smaller cabinet (but still large) for the kids' bathroom, and a custom built gate.

Let me wax on rhapsodic about the quality of the workmanship of our wardrobe. This thing is gorgeous. Truly, it is a beautiful work of art. We got our bedroom set at rock-bottom prices from a furniture manufacturer. In fact, our entire house was furnished in their store. The bedroom set is mahogany. It is lovely, but is, perhaps a bit hard to match. And, given how spoiled we were with lovely furniture at such low prices, I had a great deal of concern about what we would be getting for such a low price. But the workmanship is astonishingly good. And, while the color match is not exact (it's a bit hard to match the brightness and red hues in our bedroom set), it's close enough. In fact, the wardrobe looked so nice, I started to think, maybe we should get a whole set made. Teehee. Or perhaps we should simply be thankful for the blessing of such a lovely closet and move on. Yes, that's what we'll do. Regardless, to buy the same pieces at the same quality in the US would have cost us North of $5000. Easily. So, once again, I'm counting my blessings and saying prayers of thanksgiving. If I ever figure out how to get pictures from my digital camera to the computer, I'll post a pic of the wardrobe. But for now, you'll just have to envision it as best you can. After a day of playing with the kids, getting up and down to work with the carpenter as he built the cabinets, and putting clothes and supplies away. I'm exhausted and headed off to study Arabic.

Peace and Joy.