Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pay to Play, a Whole New Concept

So, working in a company here in Jordan has been very interesting. We're trying to gain more business in the governmental services market and it has been fascinating. As some of you may be aware, my previous employer did about 90% of their business with state and local governmental agencies. We responded to RFPs and worked to get on the State's preferred vendor list (a successful RFP response that I prepared in a brief 125 pages!). So, let me tell how this works in the US. The state we were in had an automated list. We put our name on the list to be notified when new RFPs were issued. Notification came in the form of an e-mail with the web address of the RFP. That's right, they are right there on the world wide web for everyone to view and respond to as they find they will be able to provide the services. So, imagine my surprise here to learn that to get the RFP (issued by either a company OR the government), you have to pay a fee. Yes, that's right you pay JD 20-200 just for the privilege of seeing if you can provide the services. Tell me you are joking! What a great scam you could run, charging companies to get your RFP and then not awarding it. Admittedly, they'd probably only be willing to get burned once, but... The interesting thing about this is, you are basically making the statement that you don't want the best qualified people to respond, you want the deepest pockets to respond. I can not imagine issuing an RFP and then intentionally limiting the pool of people who will respond by charging them. It gives a whole new meaning to the term Pay to Play, hunh?

Good responding...

Friday, September 29, 2006

What is it about circles?

Okay, so this is my second post about circles and soon I'll probably post a third. So, what is it about circles that I find them so interesting? Perhaps it's because where I come from we don't have them... I can't help but notice how amazingly bad people are here about going around the circles. Now, I have to go through nearly all of them twice a day, so I've gotten to be not bad at all at it. But, boy, people really don't understand the theory behind them. There seem to be a few different types of circlers, as it were. Let me outline them form you based upon my recent observations.

1. Circle bullies: These are the people who push their way into the circle, shove others into the center or the outside, then push their way out. They seem to believe they are the only ones with a legitimate right to be in the circle. I wouldn't want to make any bold statements, but it seems like most of the these people drive a) luxury cars or b) big SUVs.

2. Circle cruisers: This category includes nearly every taxi driver in Amman. These guys edge their way around the entire circle in the "outside lane". That is, they really don;t even enter the circle at all. They cruise their way around the edge of it.

3. Circle dashers: These would be the people who dash immediately into the center of the circle. They don't ease their way in, they go at a right angle directly into the center. Then, they stay in the center of the circle until they are almost past the street they want and proceed at another right angle out of the circle. Basically, they cause everyone around them to come to a complete stop as they haven't proceeded from the outside line gradually in and then gradually back out again. They've dashed both ways and caused everyone to stop for them.

4. Circle novices: These poor souls are the ones who spend their entire time making jerky movements to avoid others. Their head bounces around like they are at a tennis match. While trying to see where everyone else is going for fear of being hit, they often miss their street and have circle around again.

5. Circle junkies: These are the guys who look like they've come on the circle for fun. They came from one side of the circle that has a u-turn lane, came into the circle and went all the way around. Effectively, they make a u-turn IN the circle, rather than using the lane provided before the circle.

6. Circle clueless: This population seems to mostly have foreign tags. They wander aimlessly around the circle behaving like an amalgamated version of the above. They are by turns bullies, novices, and cruisers. They seem to be unsure where they are going, how to get there, and how to even do the whole circle thing.

7. Circle savvy: These are the people with whom you want to be in the circle. They understand that the circle is a progressive dance. If everyone knows the steps, all will get through with no toe stepping and falling. The people who frequent the second circle just before 2 pm most afternoons fall into this category. It's amazing to watch. It's as if everyone knows the steps and is doing a complicated minuet in time. We're all listening to the same music and moving accordingly. My hats off to all of these people, would that there were more of them.

As I've told El 3atal, I find it particularly amusing that 80% of the people here have more trouble in circles than I do. I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I get by with a minimum of hassle. And, I enjoy driving around circles when the others in them with me get the concept. So, more later on gratuitous circles coming soon to a blog near you...

Happy circling!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Day of Firsts

So, today was quite a day of firsts for me. It marked the first Ramadan I've spent in a country where most people actually observe it. While we visited once before, we came in the middle and left before the end. Honestly, it wasn't much different for me. I am trying to be more cautious about taking food and drinks in the car with me while I rush off here and there. It's a bad habit I've gotten into. And, I snagged a spare desk in an office whose occupant was ill this morning so that I could snack and drink at work without negatively impacting anyone who was fasting. It's kind of funny, that. Everyone was telling me that the people who fast at work wouldn't mind. And, I know that. I work with a group of really great people. But, here's the thing. I have several reasons for going to an office populated only by Christians before eating and drinking. First, I like and respect the people I work with. I don't want to make their fasting any harder. I've been there and done that. When you're trying to get pregnant, it seems like all you see are pregnant ladies. When you're fasting, all you see is food. So, that's my first reason. My second one was, honestly, subconscious. My Mom mentioned to me tonight that Christianity tells me to not make it harder for people. I am specifically directed not to lead anyone astray. And, if your faith prescribes fasting, then by leading you into eating or drinking would clearly be leading you astray. So, I'm glad Mom brought it into my conscious mind.

The second first is quite personally exciting. I had my first real conversation in Arabic today. While I've had the in-class, scripted conversations, I haven't had a conversation where the outcome mattered if it weren't understood. So, let me describe it for you. I got a call at work today from home letting me know that we were out of gas. Unfortunately, Mom and the kids were in the middle of baking cookies. So, clearly, this was a tragedy in the making. I looked for Teta on-line to have her call our building concierge, but she wasn't on-line. So, then I thought about it. I realized I actually have the vocabulary for this conversation. So, I plucked up the nerve and placed the call. Here's how the conversation unfolded:

Me: Hello? Mu?
Mu: Ahlen, miin?
Me: MommaBean, mart El 3atal yihki.
Mu: Miin? Ahh, El 3atal's wife.
Me: Ayewah.
Mu: I'll come right up.
Me: La, la, la. Il ghas fahdi. Tgayyir lo samaht.
Mu: Oh, the gas, okay.
Me: Shukran.
Mu: Welcome. Oh, afwan.

And, the gas got changed instantly! Woohoo. Our first grade communications are actually occurring. Well, alright, a first grader's grammar would undoubtedly be better, but... I felt such a sense of accomplishment. It's nice to be able to do very minor talking on my own. I didn't even have to bother El 3atal with handling the situation. Score one very tiny point for the fabulous tutoring. And, might I add here, my tutor is a saint. If you heard my accent and my grammar you'd understand why I say that. Now, I'm off to do some studying. Looks like this is really paying off!

Here's to firsts!

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Trouble with Grocery Shopping - Jordan Style

El 3atal can't understand why I can't go to just one store each week and do our grocery shopping. I've found it hard to help him see this picture. The truth is, I typically need to go to 3 different stores. That's right, 3 stores a week. Like many Americans, I do most of my shopping at Safeway and Cozmo, allowing the kids to maintain their familiar foods while introducing the wonderful cuisine from here into our routine. However, I can't buy all of what I need at either Safeway or Cozmo. Let me give you some examples:

Safeway only has: Fragrance free laundry detergent (A must for the kids' sensitive skin), chocolate chips (of a sort), whipped cream in the aerosol can (upon occasion) and consistently has (which Cozmo doesn't): Hamoudeh low fat milk, Nabil chicken pops, Aunt Jemima Syrup, and small juice boxes

Cozmo only has: taco shells (and mixes), Nabil turkey hot dogs, high quality pre-packaged ground beef and chicken breasts

Neither carries Bisquick anymore (Cozmo used to). I have to go to C-Town for that. You see my challenges are myriad. My Mom is in town visiting and I've had to explain to her why I didn't bother asking at Safeway for items I couldn't find myself on the shelves. Finally, I let her ask for an item she wanted. The girl told her what aisle it was on and went on about her work. Mom looked and looked and finally gave up. We went from there to Cozmo where I found a guy stocking the shelves and asked for the item. The guy got up from his work, walked me to the exact place and pointed out the brands they had. It a service-level thing. One tells you where to find something (just an aisle number) the other takes you directly to the item.

You might wonder why this is so important. Let me give you an illustration. We were looking for yeast so Mom could make some biscuits or bread. In the US, yeast is kept in cooler cases. It's a baking product that needs to be kept cool. So, in Safeway, I looked for it according to the unusual shelving techniques I've come to expect. Yeast comes in a small package and is used in baking, so it will be on the spice aisle (no there's no logic there). Mom argued and argued with me about it. She said it wasn't a spice (which it isn't) and it should be kept cool. So, we asked. They told us what aisle it would be on (the spice aisle, by the way). We never found it. Next we went to Cozmo. I asked a guy stocking the canned goods. He got up, took us to the proper aisle (it was the spice aisle, by the way) and showed us the packages. They had had it at Safeway, I even saw it. But, the brand they had wasn't in English, so I didn't know what I was looking at. We happily bought our yeast at Cozmo. Mom has now become accustomed to the fact that anything I can't find at Safeway I simply wait to ask at Cozmo. I know if they have it, they'll take me to it.

That brings up an interesting topic. Shelving here is very interesting. You find things in unique places. Right in amongst the spaghetti sauces is the picante sauce. So, you can put hot Mexican sauce in your spaghetti. Too funny. And, I find the most unlikely things with the spices. It seems like I'm getting better at understand the connection in the store managers minds because, like the yeast, I'm better able to predict where they'll put it. I'm not sure if that's a good sign or a bad one, but I am grateful for it. It just takes changing your perspective. And, after all isn't that what makes life fun?

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

THIS is the post office?

So, I got a package (yippee) from my very best friend in the whole wide world for my birthday. Actually, it sat at the post office for about 2 weeks. Some things I didn't know about the post office here:

1. It takes 1.5 hours to pick up a package.
2. You have to go all the way downtown to get the package, no matter where your PO Box is (it wouldn't surprise me if you have to come up from Aqaba to get packages from there).
3. You have to present ID to pick up a package.

For those of you who don't know how this works in the US, let me describe it. Packages come to your mailbox (this is at your house). If your postal carrier doesn't feel like stopping to bring it to you and it's too big to go in the box (most will come to your door), they put in a slip that says you need to pick it up at your local post office. Anyone in the world takes the slip in, hands it to the person behind the counter, and walks away with the package. The process usually take 5-10 minutes. Maximum. You leave, go home, and open your package. Here's how yesterday went...

We arrived (after searching and being told the wrong place by the post office on the 2nd circle). The building is clearly marked as a bank. We only realized it was also the post office after our third trip past it when we saw the drop box hidden next to the steps. We went in and got sent to the second floor. After climbing the stairs, we went to the counter. They took the slip and handed us the airbill from the US Post office and told us to go down the hall, around the corner and down that hall. We came to the receiving room (if you will) where the employee had his back to the door.He asked to see my ID (see #3 above) necessitating a walk back down to the car. Then, once he'd seen the ID, he gave the packing slip to the young man in the back to get the package. Then, the package had the be inspected and customs assessed if necessary. The employee behind this desk (cramped into the same room, mind you) asked to see my ID again. We gave him my national identity card (this is a card available only to citizens from what I gather). He looks at it for a minute and then proceeds to ask whether I am Jordanian. It's kind of like holding an American's passport and saying, "yes, but are you an American?" We are then made aware of the limits for value of items coming into Jordan to both non-Jordanians (20JD) and Jordanians (50JD). Fortunately, I'm Jordanian and the package came in just under the limit for the next 6 months. Who knows what we'll do come Christmas time...

After the inspection, we had to go upstairs where the fellow enters information regarding the value of what I've received (to ensure I don't go over the limit during the 6 months). He looks at the paperwork and send us back downstairs to the mudiir (director) who stamps the paper and we take it back upstairs. Then we come back downstairs to get the package to discover that we need to go to the desk. Once there, we get the requisite stamp and return to the room where the package has been sitting and waiting all of this time. A new employee is at the desk and seems to have been selected for the chip on his shoulder. It was easily the size of Mount Rushmore. He angrily informed us that we needed to go to the desk again. When El 3atal argued that we had just COME from the desk, he got truly angry and carted us out to talk to the second guy at the front desk. This guy wanted to assess us a 3JD "handling fee". To put this in perspective, my friend spent $31.00 on postage. And they want to charge a handling fee? Surely they must be joking. As ridiculous as it is, neither El 3atal nor I had any cash... at all. So, El 3atal goes to argue with the mudiir (a different guy than the first one). He agrees that we won't be paying the fee. However, our "friend" in the package room shouts that we didn't get his signature. So, El 3atal goes back next door and gets his signature. At this point, we are told we may finally take the package! As we're leaving, we can hear our "friend" slamming drawers, pounding things on the table and generally being pissed off at us for every problem in the world. Ahhhm the joys of unreformed processes. In the US, the entire transaction could be performed by anyone I asked to pick up the package and it would have taken 15 minutes. But, looking at the bright side, I did see a new part of downtown :).

Happy packaging!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Woes of a Lone Voice...

So, several months ago, I applied to Jordan Planet to become a recognized part of the Jordan blogosphere. I wanted to join the same hallowed halls as El 3atal, Jan, Bakkouz, Omernos, RamblingHal, Lina, the JoLadies, et. al. Unfortunately I haven't heard back yet :( sniff, sniff. Do they think I'm not good enough? Have they forgotten I'm here? I feel like such a lone voice calling in the anonymous blog-derness. I wonder what I should do to get in? Should I start a poll? Maybe I should take Bakkouz's approach and have a little "vote for me" button... Bakkouz, want to create a cute little jumping map of Jordan for me? Does anyone out there know what it takes?

Please, please, someone help me... Okay, enough whining. By the way, a shout out to everyone listed above, I love your blogs! Thanks for providing insight, entertainment, and commentary on the world I live in.

Happier blog-days for you...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Financial Boom in Jordan?

As I was driving today to pick the beans up from school, I thought of a way for Jordan to not only be financially solvent, but to actually create a boom in the government sector. I am continually amazed at the number of people who are parking in clearly marked No Parking zones. Unlike in the US when people will pull past the sign so that they can claim they didn't see it, here in Jordan, they park right under the sign. Clearly my prior observation that people consider all rules, regulations, and laws to be mere suggestions applies to parking. However, imagine the amount of money that the government would take in if they issued tickets on these cars. I can imagine that it would double the government's income instantly. Admittedly, it would be a short term boom, but the money in the coffers could help offset other looming issues. Then again, given the sparseness of parking lots and legal spaces, perhaps the boom wouldn't be shortlived.

It continues to amaze me that almost no one has parking spaces or lots. In all of Amman, I think there may be 10 parking garages. And the population of the city is as large as the populations in each of the states of Louisiana and Alabama. And, there seem to be about 15 legal parking spots in town as well. So, I suppose it is no surprise that people double and triple park, block others in, and use "creative" techniques like parking ON the sidewalk. I suppose if the curb is no parking, that doesn't necessarily apply to the sidewalk... The upside to the parking paucity is that people here parallel park exceptionally well. I watched a guy (in his early 20s) parking in a space that I would have sworn was too small for his car. The amazing thing is less that he got it in (with about 3 inches from each bumper) and more that he did so with only one gear shift to reverse and one to drive. Now for me, it would have been up a little, back a little, up a little, back a little, and on for 10 minutes or more. So, there is an upside, but it is pretty frustrating to go almost anywhere to shop and have to park. It's also quite a challenge in the morning when I'm trying to drop the beans off at school. So, here I am wishing for parking lots, standing lanes, anything to make drop off and pick up a little easier. As it is, I'll just continue to street blocking, hand holding procession every day...

Happy Parking!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Late night musings

So, I should be sleeping now, but as you might have noticed, I'm not. Instead, I'm doing interesting things like creating a self-portrait to be included as my picture (you know how I see myself rather than a pic of how I really am) and randomly looking at other people's blogs. Well, through this medium, I happened upon pictures of Baton Rouge. Talk about bittersweet. And through a circuitous route, I came to Martin Luther King's Nobel lecture. Here's an excerpt that I found particularly interesting...

" Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

In a real sense nonviolence seeks to redeem the spiritual and moral lag that I spoke of earlier as the chief dilemma of modern man. It seeks to secure moral ends through moral means. Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it."

My oh my... Can we not ALL learn something from this? Would that the leaders of the world (all of them) would sit down, give this a read, then a think. If they could open their minds even the width of the proverbial mustard seed, I suspect their world view would be radically altered. Alas, I don't think it'll be happening any time soon. The full speech by Dr. King was amazing, but this struck a particular chord with me tonight.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Butterbean started school :(, sniff, sniff

So, this week marks more firsts in our lives. ButterBean started school (pre-K) this week. Until now, she's pretty much stayed home with a Nanny, so going to school is a big deal. She's been asking for about 2 years to go to school. Unfortunately, I don't think she realized she'd have to go without the twins... I think that scared her more than anything. On Monday, she had a two hour class where parents were invited to come and stay. I did and ButterBean definitely enjoyed it. Wednesday was her first full day and it did not go well :(. We were a tad overambitious. Since I'm working now, we decided to have ButterBean try the school's afterschool care. They take them from the classroom to the downstairs "waiting room". ButterBean was definitely not enamored of this. She got quite scared and cried for about 1/2 hour. Then when we got home, she went and hid under her playroom table. I cried myself for a couple of minutes. I promptly called the twins' pre-school and asked if they could have someone walk over to the school to pick up ButterBean. We tried it today and (although ButterBean still isn't sure she believes me that she doesn't have to go to the second room anymore) the day went much better. Instead of a miserable, crying, little wreck, today I found a happy playing big girl. Being with the twins in familiar surroundings (they spent June at the pre-school together) made all of the difference. I think she'll even agree to go back to school again on Saturday :). So, anyway, maybe we weren't quite ready, but we're getting there. Keep us in your thoughts...both that ButterBean will get adjusted and that no one will run us down while we're walking holding hands to the pre-school!

Happy learning!

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Ride of My Own

Ahhhhhhhhhh........ In case you're wondering, that's the sound of the whole family. I've been remiss in blogging about a MAJOR event in the life of our family. We finally! got the loan and bought a car. We bought a Kia Carnival (called Sedona in the US) minivan. Many of El 3atal's friends were skeptical about it (okay in the past it hasn't been the prettiest of cars). We, however, were convinced. I will admit that part of the reason we were convinced is that there are NO Toyota Siennas or Honda Odysseys. So, our selection was... well... the Kia Carnival. So, since the purchase was made, we have been extremely pleased. In fact, we're finding things about the car that we like more than our old Sienna. Shall I list them?

1. The three seats in the second row, all of which fold and raise. This lets us have our entire family, HelperBean and GrandmaBean in the car at once.
2. The console between the front seats with cup holders and stuff folds. Easily.
3. Both the front seats have height adjustable armrests.
4. 4 seats with LATCH attachments.

So, I am very impressed. While the fit and finish (faux wood is VERY faux looking) is not as nice, overall the car is a gem and was a super great purchase. For those of you who wonder why we didn't check out the copious other vans in town, we did. Unfortunately, they all had the same problems that our rental car did. All three rows were cramped, none of them had LATCH (instant car seat attachments, for those who aren't familiar with them). Also, none of them had any trunk space. Seriously. We would have had to continue carrying groceries IN the kids' seats. Not a happy plan. So, now we're all happy again, even if ButterBean is disappointed that his car doesn't have TV!

Fahrvignugen (Pleasure driving)!