Friday, October 9, 2009

Recent Trips

Thanks to Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, I recently had a weeklong vacation from school. Since the school where I teach is technically Christian, we have a split weekend work schedule. This means that we have Friday off for Muslims and Sunday off for Christians...and therefore we work on Saturdays. There are pluses and minuses for this schedule, and I try to look at the bright side of things (I work for four straight days instead of five, I have two days each week that feel like Fridays). But the major minus is that I can never take weekend trips since I only have one day off at a time. So Eid vacation was really my first opportunity to explore my new country.

I decided to split up the week into several small trips that combined relaxation and exploration. First, a large group of us took a road trip north for a jam-packed day of seeing ruins. Major highlights included: Roman ruins in Jerash, Islamic castle in Ajloun, and Roman ruins and a view of the Sea of Galilee in Um Qais. Each stop was unique and the depth of history within Jordan is spectacular.

Next, we went to the Dead Sea for a day of relaxation and playing in the mud. We paid to use the pool and have beach access at the Movenpick, and although the 40JD fee was steep, it was totally worth it!

And finally, I decided to explore beyond Jordan and crossed the border into Syria for a quick weekend in the old city of Damascus.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Whirlwind September

Semptember was a crazy month filled with school commitments, meeting new friends, and getting to know the ins and outs of Amman and beyond.

First, thoughts on previous posts, and then a brief update of what's been going on.

Reflections on Previous Posts
Now that I've gotten used to the sensory overload that is Amman, some things that really stood out in the beginning have become ordinary parts of my day. I want to start by adding/augmenting my post on beauty. I said, "It is incredibly taboo for women to show their hair in public according to Islam." Ok, this is technically true, but many Muslim women do show their hair in public. Hijab is normal and no hijab is normal. Although the vast majority of Muslim women in the traditional neighborhood where I live do cover (e.g., long overcoat, head scarf, sometime even burkas and gloves), once you pass into west Amman, or "the other side of the wadi (valley)" as I like to say, who chooses to cover and how she chooses to do so is much more individual. Additionally, while outsiders cannot see into salons for females, they are everywhere and easily identified by the fashion posters plastered across the windows. I go all the time! This is probably a shock to those of you used to my slacker beauty ways in the U.S., but I've discovered that a little personal pampering can do wonders for self-confidence, the bonding with girl friends is so fun, and I think it's great that many of the Arab women I've met take such good care of themselves (and manage families and jobs simultaneously).

The status of Pacific Islanders in Amman is still something I struggle with. This controversy is quite similar to the one in the U.S. about the status of lower class Latino immigrants. On one hand, these workers make small wages for demanding work and are not always treated well (and sometimes quite terribly). But on the other hand, they have chosen to come here and perform this work because it earns more money than they can make in their home countries. So transnationalism and the global economy prevail--the money these workers earn barely makes ends meet in an expensive city, what little they can save is sent directly to their home countries, their home country economy now depends on this money, and the host country economy now depends on their labor. So the cycle continues. I think creating safeguards for fair wages and human rights should be a huge priority of the 21st century as we attempt to comprehend and regulate the forces of a completely globalized economy. The compromise many people (including myself) make here are to tip service workers well (e.g., the women who do such an awesome job at the salon) and treat those who work in our homes with kindness and respect (e.g., the woman who cleans my house, when I can afford her!).

What's Been Going On
In brief, I love my school. My coworkers are so warm, dedicated and supportive. Our principal maintains an careful balance for meeting the needs of students, parents and teachers. This is not easy to do, but it's so integral to a successful school. And my students are just lovely. For both personal and academic reasons, I am finding a great deal of value in separated schooling for girls and boys. I will expand on this in a later post, because it is certainly a controversial topic.

I have met wonderful locals and expats. The family from whom I rent my flat is incredibly gracious and always helps when I have questions or need assistance. I am becoming a regular at my corner ducan (store)--the owners are so patient with my elementary Arabic! And I've discovered an unspoken expat code of ethics in Amman. We welcome newcomers warmly, extend any assistance we can provide, and maintain open invitations to meet for coffee or a bite to eat. I've also met locals who have studied abroad or work for international companies that travel in our circles and adhere to the same code. Several acquaintances have grown into true friendships and my social life is quite fruitful.

Mid-Spetember marked the end of Ramadan and lengthy Eid vacation. My school generously provided a full week off, so I was able to explore Jordan extensively and have time to relax. I will post pictures shortly!