Tuesday, August 21, 2007

As promised... Silly signs from Jerash

As I promised in a previous post, El 3atal and I went to Jerash recently and I found much fodder for my silly misspellings and grammar challenges. We hadn't been to Jerash in, well, 11 years. We last went just before our wedding. It's a nice drive up there and we made a spur of the moment trip. We dropped the kids off at school, decided to ditch work, picked up our fabulous helper and set out. (No, we didn't stop and get her so she could schlepp our belongings... I want her to enjoy seeing the sights of Jordan while she's here. Haram, these poor girls who get stuck in the house seeing nothing but the adjoining buildings.)

So, here's a selection of the signs I found particularly amusing. I had a nice one of the sign on the way in (I thought) and came to find out that since it was bright and I wouldn't see where my camera phone was pointing (of COURSE I didn't remember my real phone), I took a nice picture of the ground under the sign :).

So, first, on your way in make sure you stop and let them check your ticket at the "Tickets Check." Note the period. I'm sure what grammatical function it could possibly serve, but... Oh, and if you only bought one ticket, go back and get the others. Clearly since it's a tickets check you need many. Actually, when I first read this, it almost seemed like a conversation with oneself. Okay, so let me see if I've got everything. Tickets, check! Water, check! And so on...

Then we came upon this one proclaiming the Jerash Museum with "Free Entry All Days". Not everyday, mind you - all days.

And, last but most certainly not least, when visiting the Amphitheater, they had this very nice box for donations (likely to do with the festival). As you will note, although they are not GRATEFUL for your donations, they will accept them gracefully. I always hate when someone is clumsy in accepting my donations. In fact, I determine which charity to give to based on its level of gracefulness in acceptance of monies. :) While we can all use a bit of grace, I'd hope they would be grateful as well. Teehee. In fact, I rather think they meant to be.

All in all, it was a very nice day. And, as a bonus, El 3atal and I managed to snag paintings for the office. So, we rather did do work after all. We got a large painting and a series of 3 nice paintings for about 30JDs. All original works of art. The three small ones were gold, yellow, and orange paint on a black velveteen type of "canvas." I was quite pleased with our finds. Okay, to leave you with one nice shot, we went to see the church with the fine mosaics in the floor. So, I'll share those pics. I was actually wishing for a service. They could put a thick Plexiglas covering over the lovely mosaics and have very nice services there. But, they didn't ask me...

I hope you all enjoy my trip vicariously... Visit Jerash and support the local economy.
Happy Romans!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

You MUST be kidding, consumers personally bear the price of crime?!

Well, El 3atal and I went to apply for credit cards for our business and personal accounts today (I'm beginning to hate any trip to the bank as it invariably takes almost an hour, by the way). We started signing documents and completing paperwork and what not. Now, I'm one of those rare people who reads everything (and I DO mean everything) that is put in front of me before I sign it. I made the mortgage closing attorneys in the US crazy. I even caused one to be late for her next closing because she scheduled it too close after mine thinking I'd be like all the other clients and just sign everything she gave me trusting her that it said what she said it did... :).

So, while signing documents, I took the time to read this special paper they gave me. Whenever a company of any type gives me a paper about one specific term from their terms and conditions, it tells me that it is either a) very unusual, b) very problematic for them, or c) both. So this specific paper called out term 5 of their Terms and Conditions document. What is term 5? Well apparently it says that if someone STEALS my credit card, I will pay for ALL of the charges. Yes, that's right. A criminal steals my credit card and I am liable to pay the money THEY spent back. Okay, I'm sorry, but you MUST be kidding. Theft is, indeed, a cost of doing business. It is a cost that offsets the profit they make charging interest, etc. So, I have no sympathy for them.

Having had very personal experience with this (in the US someone stole our credit card number, created their own card with THEIR name on it, and spent several thousand dollars right out of our bank account when El 3atal and I were out of town), there's no way I'm bearing the bank's risk for this. I'm not sure if it's a good thing that they don't have enough of these serious, sophisticated crimes to even conceptualize of them, but for the consumer it sure isn't. So, once again I'm amazed at the lack of logic and willingness of consumers to take on costs that should not be theirs. In the US, the lender must explicitly state what your liability is in case of a stolen credit card, etc. For most credit cards, it hovers around $50 of liability as long as you report the theft within 2 days of receiving a bank statement or becoming aware of the issue. There is a government-mandated maximum as I recall as well.

So, El 3atal and I did exactly what we can do as consumers, we voted with our feet and walked out the door. No thank you, Arab Bank, we don't want to bear YOUR cost of doing business. And, I highly recommend to all of you out there, read EVERYTHING before you sign it!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My first funeral and a chance to say goodbye

Yesterday was the perfect day for a funeral. With the sun shining and the cool breezes zipping through the trees, saying goodbye was a blessing. One of our friends lost his father and we went to the funeral yesterday to pay our respects. As expected, I couldn't help contrast the experience with funerals I have attended in the US. I imagine that everyone does that. As another first, the funeral was a Greek Orthodox one, so it was very different from our Episcopal service as well. I guess the thing that made the funeral today most touching to me is that Saturday my great-aunt died. They will have a memorial for her next Saturday. Had we traveled to the US as planned, we would, in fact, be there now. I would likely have seen Aunt Louise in the nursing home and said my goodbyes. And, yet, part of me is very glad that it all worked out this way. Instead of remembering a woman who was, honestly, waiting to die, I get to remember Aunt Louise as I've always known her. We visited her just before moving to Jordan and I have great pictures of the kids playing with her and dashing about her yard. That's the way I'd prefer to remember her... So, Goodbye Aunt Louise and safe travels.

As for the funeral today, it was definitely a new experience. One thing that was very different than the US is the timing. My friend's father died the day before yesterday. And the funeral was yesterday. That's beyond quick... as a counter-example, my great-aunt died last Saturday and the memorial is next Saturday. Typically in the US, funerals are 5-7 days after the death to allow the family to get there in time. Given the US' size (it takes DAYS to drive across the US) and the widespread nature of families, you've got to allow a bit of time for folks to gather.

Another very nice difference was the coffin. For those who aren't familiar with US coffins, they seem like dream liners... They have lots of silk pillows and cushioning and doodads. It's like a huge feather bed for someone who, let's be real, isn't in any discomfort. They're often quite fancy in design and come in a variety of woods and colors and what-not. The decisions are mind-boggling and they can cost as much as a small car (I mean literally thousands of dollars). In contrast to that, the coffin yesterday was a fairly simple, lovely wooden casket with no visible padding. They placed roses around the "rim," as it were, so that when it was open you saw the departed one framed in flowers. It was simple and beautiful.

An interesting difference (El 3atal says this may be a Greek Orthodox tradition as it wasn't the case at his first funeral last month) was that the men and women sat in separate areas of the chapel. There was an excellent turn-out and I was happy for the family that so many people came to show their love and support. In addition to sitting apart, the men and women adhered to different dress code standards. Funny to say that. The women were pretty much all in black or black and white and were all dressed in nice pants suits or skirt suits. The men were a mix. Some wore full suits with ties, some wore jackets with no ties, some wore slacks with T-shirts. One guys even had on white tennis shoes :). I found it very interesting to see the difference in the approach of the men and women.

All in all, it was a very moving experience and the day couldn't have been better. On the way home, we saw the movie set where they are filming the American? movie. It's just outside the cemetery. And, as El 3atal realized and mentioned today, funerals give the chance for closure. They let you say goodbye. What a blessing to have the opportunity.

Happy Goodbyes!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What's in a Name, part 2: That which we call MommaBean by her father's name would sound as silly?

As a follow up to my previous post on names (and returning to my unwanted maiden name), I thought I'd share the second bit of silliness attendant with this. As most of you reading this blog are likely aware, on all official Jordanian documents, they have your name, your father's name, and your grandfather's name. Now, for an oldest son here, it is traditional to name his oldest son after his father. And the father's name becomes the middle name. As a result, such names as George Elias George X or Mohammed Mahmoud Mohammed Y are fairly common. In fact, it's probably more like George Elias George Elias George Elias X. To an American, that's kind of odd. But, then again, having a Jr., II, III, etc. is rather commonplace. Here THAT is odd. Now, my family chose to take the Jr tradition and shift it a bit. As a result, they give the same first name and a different middle name that starts with the same letter. Let me explain...

My grandfather was Wilton (Yeah, I know, tell me about it!) Thomas. My dad is Wilton Taylor. My brother is Wilton Tyler (he promised never to saddle a child with the first name Wilton, by the way). All of them use(d) their middle names. So, when I moved to Jordan, I became MommaBean Wilton Wilton X. Imagine. Wilton Wilton. How silly does that sound? And you should see the looks El 3atal gets when he they ask my father's name and he says it's Wilton, then my grandfather's name and he says Wilton. They always ask if he's sure. I mean really sure. And, yes, he confirms, it's Wilton Wilton. So, not only is it an unattractive name, but I get to have it twice on all of my documents :). Please, please save me from the Wiltons...

But, in one small coup for me, when getting my Jordanian driver's license, the gentleman who did the final input and entry doesn't speak English. As a result, I was able to get him to put my name in English properly (with my married last name rather than my maiden and NO Wiltons). A small step for MommaBean, a tiny one for womankind :).

Happy Wilton!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What's in a Name? Jordan as a Pioneer in Women's Lib?

The Middle East is know for many things, however a powerful and and active women's liberation movement isn't one of them, or is it? With such highly publicized, if not overly prevalent societal women's issues as honor killings and, less publicized but not less legal, a husband's right to keep his wife and children from leaving Jordan, it's easy to understand the West's preoccupation with women's treatment. And, yet, Jordan is actually leading the women's crusade in one particular area.

In the United States, a movement started in the 1850s as part of the overall suffragette (right to vote) movement, when a forward thinking woman named Lucy Stone made the shocking decision to keep her maiden name after marriage. An entire organization was founded aimed at the preservation of women's names. The idea gained little traction until the 1970s. During the women's lib movement, it was a political statement to retain your maiden name. Even as late as the 1970s, it was somewhat shocking action.

I, of course, was raised during the women's lib movement. Even so, I never seriously considered joining the 17% of women in the US and keeping my maiden name. Among other things, my name was already 19 characters long. By changing my name to my husband's I could shave off 2 letters. And (bonus!) I got to keep the same last initial. All of those monogrammed items wouldn't go to waste. I probably took at least some of this lack of interest in keeping my maiden name from my mom. Although she was fairly feminist, she unloaded an unwieldy (and not very pretty) last name for one much more pleasing to the ear (in my humble opinion) on her marriage. She even kept it after her divorce until her remarriage just a couple of years ago (well, she's in fact retained her first married name in her e-mail addresses). So, with a brother to keep the name going, I had no real interest in, nor need to, keep my maiden name. Some 11 years ago, I happily gave up my maiden name, jumped through significant hoops and changed all of my legal documentation to a new name. And then I moved to Jordan.

Finally, I come to my evidence that Jordan is leading the women's liberation charge. In becoming a citizen of Jordan, I had to jump through hoop after hoop. From obtaining paperwork from the various agencies certifying that I'm not a terrorist to waiting in line after line and going from building to building, it seemed a never-ending process. And, then, at the end of it all, I had a new citizenship - and an old name. That's right, I had to GIVE UP my married name and take back my maiden name in order to become a citizen of this fine nation. I find it quite curious, as if the father's claim on a woman is more valid and important than the husband's. In fact, it's almost as if the government is keeping families from melding to become one unit. Mom has one name, dad has another, what do the kids do? Clearly they take Dad's, but that means that from my Jordanian documentation, my children and I don't even appear to be related. This is familiar ground for those American feminists of the 1970s who ran into bureaucratic hurdles due to different last names.

So, here I am with American documentation saying one name and Jordanian documentation saying another (yes, this ALSO produced challenges and arguments while trying to change over my driver's license), not because I want to keep my maiden name out of a spirit of women's liberation, but because the government has forced me to. After 11 years getting used to a new name, I now have to ask upon signing any legal document in Jordan, which name do I sign? Somehow it feels like I've gone backwards. But maybe, just maybe, this is a good thing. After all, perhaps it will lead to my dropping my last name altogether decreasing my name to only 13 letters. It's a mouthful enough, perhaps this is a sign that Jordan wants me to make life easier and just use my first name. Only time will tell, I guess.

Happy name changes!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Traffic Engineering, another concept for which i am surprised there is a word...

Shortly after arriving in Jordan, I expressed some surprise that there is actually an Arabic word for order or system. I mean, honestly, when going to visit government offices, banks, well any place that deals with the public, there is no order or system. So, perhaps the word is an ideal to which we might aspire. In an irony that surpasses even this, El 3atal and I (in a goofy moment of missing our turn, had the privilege to drive by Jordan's Traffic Engineering Department. I HAD to take a picture (of course). As you probably can't tell (lack of zoom feature on my cell phone), the blue sign beside the road with the arrow indicates that this is the Traffic Engineering Department.

As you also might notice, we're stopped in the middle of one of the worst traffic jams in Jordan :). Based on the design of the road here (2 lanes coming up from a tunnel and two coming down from a circle) merging into 2 lanes total (one of which is blocked by parked cars), I suspect this is always a traffic snag. Traffic Engineering Department indeed!

Happy Traffic Engineering!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Into the Land of the Un-none...

As part of our business, El 3atal and I have mailed brochures around the Middle East. Many came back with interesting things on them, but this was my very favorite. I appreciate the effort they took in translating to English, but I really think there should be a clearing house that corrects it :). I've actually thought maybe I should open this business in Jordan, but am afriad that most companies are content with "good enough". At any rate, how awful must it be to be not unknown, but un-none?

Happy misspellings!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Cough, cough, could you PLEASE extinguish your cancer stick?

While there are many things I love about Jordan, the proportion of the population that smokes inconsiderately isn't one of them. It is hard to go to a restaurant, office, or anywhere really and not be "treated" to the horrible smell of cigarette smoke. And, at restaurants, people are even more likely than American smokers to hold their cigarette above their heads outside of their booth, presumably "sharing" them with their neighbors. What a time to be sharing! And, while all of that bothers me, here's what actually bothers me much, much more...

  1. Packs of young children, no older than 7 or 8 roaming the streets after school smoking
  2. Pregnant mothers smoking and damaging the fragile lungs of their unborn children
  3. Parents puffing away while their children suffer from the traumatic effects of second hand smoke

The American Cancer Society shares these effects of second hand smoke:

"Secondhand smoke can be harmful in many ways. In the United States alone, each year it is responsible for:

  • an estimated 35,000 deaths from heart disease in people who live with smokers but are not current smokers
  • about 3,400 lung cancer deaths in nonsmoking adults
  • other respiratory problems in nonsmokers, including coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort, and reduced lung function
  • 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections (such as pneumonia and bronchitis) in children younger than 18 months of age, which result in 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations
  • increases in the number and severity of asthma attacks in about 200,000 to 1 million asthmatic children
  • increased incidence of middle ear infections in young children

Pregnant women exposed to ETS are also at increased risk of having low birth weight babies. "

I aks you, is this what we want for the future of Jordan? Asthma, respiratory infections, low birth weight, isn't it time to protect this most precious of all assets? Can't we speak out for those who have no voice? It's time for us to make a stand. I urge all bloggers to unite. Blog about this, talk about this, e-mail your friends. Please get involved. And, as a first (and easiest) step, sign the petition that El 3atal has created. You can find it at http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/JordanSmokingBan.

It's time for us to decide what we want for our children, for Jordan's future, for OUR future. Join us and make your voice heard. In fact, make their voice heard, those children who can't speak for themselves and whose environment is causing them to make choices that they can't take back. One of the lovely Konouz heard us talking about this over the weekend and said he'd heard that each cigarette takes a minute off your life. Our hearts should cry out for those 7 and 8 year olds who are already killing themsleves. Please join with us and give them a choice.

Happy future!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Collision Course: Abu-3arab and Lazy Americans just don't mix...

So, on Tuesday, El 3atal and I finally started the process to transfer my American driver's license and be a legally licensed driver in Amman. For those of you who are not aware, this is a costly (although that doesn't bother me so much) and VERY time consuming process. And, it was made more time consuming based on the fact that I moved from a part of the US that tops the governmental laziness here (in limited ways admittedly). So, the first step in this process was several hours spent at the Department of Statistics. During this process, you take your governement ID (or iqama I presume) and your American license. You go to the building in Jubeiha and go back and forth between the same three rooms at least three times each. First you go and get a form completed, then you take that to the guy who blocks and tackles for the office director. Then you go back to the first room where they look at the signature and fill out another form, then you go back to the director (through his lineman) where he signs it. Then you go back to the first room to get the final paperwork. Basically this is a letter asking the DMV to allow you to get a license. Honestly, I've got no clue why this process is in place, as it really doesn't add value. It does give 4 or so guys (plus their attendant office boys) a job, so maybe that's the purpose.

After obtaining the much-coveted letter, we proceeded to the DMV office near the 7th circle. We wandered from room to room to room to room getting stamps and initials and my details typed into the computer. The highlight of this process was the visit with the "Doctor" who was very nice and helpful. He even asked me if I wanted my license to say that I have to wear glasses. The way he said it made it clear that he'd be just as happy to not put it :). Good thing I can trust that all those licensed drivers here have adequate eyesight. Finally, at the very last stop (after my American license had been seen aprroximately 100 times, the last guy says, oh, sorry you have to go to Marka. WHAT!?! And, here's where the laziness of one government brought to a crashing halt the inefficiencies of another one. So, let me give you a little background to put this in perspective...

We moved to Jordan from Louisiana. For those of you (okay that's like everyone, I know) who may not be familiar with Louisiana, let me describe it to you. It may seem oddly familiar somehow. In Louisiana, the largest industry is the government (is this sounding familiar yet?). Governmental officials are openly corrupt (this even extends to the man who was in jail for embezzling state money and still re-elected to his office). Government contracts are awarded on the basis of who knows whom, who did what favors, and who has more influence. The general population embraces mediocrity seeing no reason to work towards excellence. So, is this sounding at all familiar to you? Sound like any other place you might know?

Well, this governmental laziness tranlates itself rather unfortunately into the driver's licensing process. In Lousiana, when your driver's license is about to expire, you receive a little postcard from the state. It bascially says, your license is expiring and you must do one of three things. First, renew on-line, second renew by phone, third come in if you have had any changes to your personal information. If you have not had changes and choose one of the first two options, Louisiana sends you a sticker to place on the back of your license that "renews" it for another four years. It saves them the money of reissuing a license and the time of having you bother them in their place of work. So, about 3 years ago, I received my little sticker and placed it on the back of my license.

Fast forward to Tuesday and the last guy in the long procession of people to see my license at the DMV says, well because it's a "label" not on the actual license, they have to give permission in Marka. Needless to say, we became even less convinced about the process. We got in the car and headed over to Marka (ugly in the best traffic) and finally arrived. When we got there, we waited to get into the parking lot. Mind you, they let us pull in. But, there were no spaces. They were actually letting people pull into the parking lot and then simply rounding two corners and sending them back out the other gate. Why, oh why do they even let you in? So we wandered a few blocks away and found a space big enough for the bean-mobile. We walked down to the buildings and were directed to the clerk. He looked at the license and directed us to the Mudir's office. We spoke with him for a few minutes at which point he asked us to go to the American embassy and have them write a letter stating that it is still valid. C'mon, have you ever BEEN to the embassy? It also runs like a Jordanian governmental organization.

Needless to say El 3atal argued quite vehemently against this (in Arabic of course with some, I suspect, unfortunate references to Abu Ghraib). Finally the guy in the Director's office (who was not in fact the Director, but was VERY nice) went off to speak with the Director. He came back a while later after pleading our case and was successful in getting a waiver. While he was processing it, the Director came into the office. He was also very nice and I was generally impressed with both men. After that the processing flowed rather smoothly going from window to window to window to get the various things completed and the payment made. However, perhaps my favorite moment of all was when we got to the counter where they actually issue the license. They have a semi-state-of-the-art camera with the adjustable arm so that they can take your picture onsite and drop it into the license. However, we'd been advised that we had to have a picture with us. I thought perhaps I'd be taking a picture, which I would have been fine with. But, in fact the fine man took the picture we brought, set it on the desk under the camera that was angled for this already and took a picture of the picture!

When El 3atal commented with amusement on this (the poor fellow asked what we were saying since El 3atal and I were clearly talking about it), he mentioned how funny we found it that they took a picture of the picture. He went on to tell El 3atal that the citizens of Jordan are never happy. It seems that originally, they had been taking pictures of the people who came in and theyc omplained because they didn't know and weren't ready for it. So, they started taking pictures of the pictures people brought in and people complained that they didn't have one. How usual, I suppose. We're never happy with what we've got. In the US, it's expected that you'll have an awful driver's license picture. It's even a badge of honor that people compare (look how bad mine is). This is owed mostly to the haste of the governmental employees who have a stool for you to sit on and who snap the pic as soon as you sit. Typically this means it's mid-speech or mid-blink. So, Americans are used to it. But not here, it seems ;).

After all of this (two days and at least 8 hours), we finally got my new Jordanian driver's license. I hope I don't have to deal with any other areas where Louisiana's laziness will negatively impact Jordan's inefficiencies. I'm not sure I take many more of the 4 hour detours :). It was a bit burdensome and certainly didn't meet up to the sign posted in English that indicated that they were "seeking Excellence". Seeking maybe, but not finding...

Happy seeking!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Medina or Amman? Yesterday I began to wonder...

Medina or Amman? El 3atal and I were confronted with the surreal site of a taxi from Medina driving in front of us along the streets of Amman. Unfortunately, my camera phone doesn't have a zoom or you could see it better. The tax is min Saudia. The Top says Taxi min Medinah. Oh, and he has passengers! :)

Further odd evidence that we are actually in Saudi Arabia... El 3atal and I went and dealt with transferring my license to Jordan (another post on that later). While we were there dealing with them we overheard a troubling conversation.
A driver's ed instructor was in the office of the Mudir (a fine man, I assure you) in Marka. He was trying to get his license back. Earlier in the morning, he had been issued a ticket and had his license pulled in front of the Marka DMV office because he had a female student with him - alone. That's right, his only crime was providing driving lessons to an unchaperoned female student. What?! His argument (and listen to the unassailable logic here) was that as a woman is free to drive alone and ride in a taxi alone, why would you draw the line at driving lessons? When El 3atal explained to me what the hoopla was about, my first question was, what are we in Saudi here? The Assistant Mudir (also a fine man and very helpful) told him they'd let him off with a warning this time, but don't let it happen again! Yikes! Maybe there's a swing coming in the conservative direction. I certainly hope not, but who knows.
Happy Saudization?