And Then He Threw A Table At Me

There’s a line in Tolkein’s The Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf returns from his first encounter with the Balrog and tells his companions that he has ‘never felt so spent’. Well, I just got back from an hour spent looking after nine Iraqi children, and I think I have a fair idea of what it must have been like to face said fire demon.

But don’t get me wrong. I signed up for this. Willingly, even.

After three weeks of teaching English at this church Andreas introduced us to, I’ve been enjoying it so much that when one of my co-workers called in to say that she’d be absent, I leapt at the chance to try something new in looking after the children of our students for a change. They looked pretty fun, they sounded like they were having a good time with the girls, and Firas’ youngest is just about the cutest little thing on the face of the planet, even with the super-saiyan hair. The year abroad is all about new experiences, right? And I’m not afraid to say I’ve always been rather good with kids. I guess it’s my willingness to de-age mentally by about twenty years whenever I’m in that kind of position. Clown mode, or something like that. Kids love it. It’s supposed to be foolproof.

These kids don’t exactly speak much English, but I’d been told that they could introduce themselves and that they knew a few basic words, like colours, animals, the parts of the body… that kind of thing. So I thought I’d get the ball rolling with a song and dance kind of game. ‘I get loose’, to be precise. It always went down a storm in Durham, and that was with twenty year old students. Once they finally understood that they were supposed to be copying me – Maryam, the oldest of the girls, had to explain it to them – they seemed to be enjoying it. But one of the kids, Fadi, wasn’t having any of it. He just stood looking surly in a corner saying ‘ba’ over and over again, getting louder every time. After a few minutes of this it became almost impossible to think, so I shot him a dark look. He just yelled even louder at me, and then ran over and started hitting me with a microphone that he’d picked up from who knows where. I scolded him for it but he kept at it, and in the end I let him tire himself out until he got bored of smacking my arm. At least, I thought he had. Instead he ran to the other side of the room, grabbed the nearest small object – a piece of wooden train track – and threw it at me. Luckily, he missed, which is more than can be said for the dollhouse, the microphone, Noah’s ark, the drum, the foam floor mat and three chairs. When I looked up from teaching the girls (whose attention was quickly beginning to wane by this point) and saw a table flying at me from the other side of the room, I guess I realised that we had gone beyond the point of no return. At least he didn’t get his hands on my iPad, or I might really have lost it.

And then the screaming began. Whether Maryam had lost faith in my ability to control the class, or whether she was angry that it wasn’t Susie taking the class, or whether she just revelled in the chaos, I don’t know. But the next thing I knew all five of the microphones that Fadi had been using as missiles had found their way into the hands of the older girls and they were all screaming at the top of their voices into them. Fortunately, they weren’t on, though for all intents and purposes, they might as well have been. I tried everything – disappointed face, changing tack, feigning ignorance, even getting strict – to no avail. They just waved a massive thumbs down in my face and the screaming continued.

It was at this point that Andrew stepped in to lend a hand. For a few seconds the kids stopped, judging how he might react – and then unleashed a new barrage of screaming on him instead. Between the two of us we made absolutely zero headway and eventually Andrew retreated back to the Bible study group. Five ear-bleeding minutes later Kate came to my assistance and we tried again. More screaming – only this time they got tactical. ‘We’ll stop screaming if you dance’. So I danced, and they stopped screaming – for a grand total of two minutes. ‘We’ll stop screaming if you sing’. I whipped out the Circle of Life for them, and they actually shut up – until the English lyrics, at which point the screaming started up anew, not least of all because one of the girls who had slipped away during the chaos had returned with five cups of water. Ammunition to renew the war on the Substitute. There was a point when Kate and I just looked at each other in an expression of utter helplessness. What could we have done? The kids were mutinous in the extreme. They weren’t having any of it; no Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, no introductions, no colours, nothing at all. Just screaming. When their parents came in to tell them to shut up, and they got the screaming treatment just as bad as we had, Andrew, Kate and I threw up our hands in defeat. We’d tried everything. The kids had overwhelmed us. And when the clock struck five minutes past five, I can honestly say I’ve never felt happier to have finished something.

So the next time I jump at the chance to teach kids, somebody stop me. Please. My ears, at the very least, would be grateful. BB x

  

Amman: Observations of a Country Boy

It occurred to me a couple of days ago that most of my posts – discounting the rambling ones – are anecdotal more than informative. That’s only natural; you can’t spin a good story out of a constant streak of facts. And I tend to let my heart bleed all over my writing, so to speak, for good or ill. So I thought I might give you something factual for a change. It’s a little run-of-the-mill as topics go, but I can’t help but feel a few detailed observations on what life is like in Amman might not be such a bad idea. It’s the kind of thing I was trawling the internet for in the weeks leading up to my arrival here, now over a month and a half go. Obviously, we’re talking about a city, and a capital city at that; such places are very much what you make of them. If you’re prepared to go out and make a good time for yourself, you’ll probably find it. That’s as may be. At any rate, that takes a stronger will than mine.

Technically this kind of thing is best left until the end of one’s stay, but I’ll probably be out of internet range in my last week and having plenty of tale-worthy adventures whilst I’m at it. Besides, I think I’ve seen enough of this place over the last month and a half to have a fair idea of how it all works – at least, from my point of view. So without further ado, here’s my fifteen observations about Amman.

1. Amman is immense

I don’t have the figures, but you don’t exactly need them to know this. That you can stand at just about any point in the city and be completely unable to see an end to the seemingly infinite sweep of beige tower blocks has more to do with the fact that Amman is spread over several hills, making a full panorama nigh-on impossible unless you manage to climb one of the larger skyscrapers. Getting just about anywhere requires time, patience and, more often than not, a taxi. Some of the distances may look walkable, but in the heat of the midday sun, it’s just not worth it. Besides, a taxi ride means more Arabic. That’s good, right?

2. Grass does not exist

Looking for a shady green park to sit and study in? Think again. Amman has many things to offer, but grass is not one of them. The great belt of trees in the grounds of the Jordaninan University overshadows a bed of dust and pine needles, along with more plastic bags and bottles than the aftermath of a botellón. If you’re really after a green space, I’d suggest not coming here in summer for one, or else take a weekend sortie up to Ajloun in the north or Dana in the south.

3. Dust gets everywhere

This is one of the very first things you will notice. Wherever you go, there’s no escaping the dust. You can’t see it – at least, not unless you stand on a vantage point and look out over the city, where the brown haze over the skyline speaks for itself – but if you leave anything in the open air for a minute or more, you’ll find yourself brushing the dust from every available surface. Look on the bright side: when the occasional sandstorm sweeps its way up from the desert to the southeast, the wall of buildings act like a filter, so when it reaches Amman itself, it just looks like mist. Only, brown mist. Pretty novel when you first see it, I have to say.

4. Most of your Arabic practise will be in taxis

In a city that thrives on the back of its taxi service, it’s hardly surprising that the place you’re most likely to find yourself practising Arabic on a daily basis is in the front seat of a taxi. That’s not a bad thing per se, so long as you can put up with asking the same bloody questions day in, day out; how long have you been a taxi driver, are you from Jordan or Palestine, why is it so busy today etc etc. You won’t get lucky every time; there are a few singularly impossible cabbies who have wildly skewed ideas as to how much a ride downtown should cost, but for the most part they’re a chatty bunch. Life story, please!

5. Almost all taxi drivers are Palestinian

In seven weeks of living in Amman, I’ve met no more than three Jordanian cabbies. All the others have been Palestinian. And that’s assuming an average of six taxi rides a week. Most of them have plied various trades before becoming taxi drivers, up to and including military officers, teachers and engineers (all of which, thankfully, al-Kitaab One taught me). You can get a pretty good idea as to the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict after just a couple of taxi rides, in this way. Not a subject to bring up yourself, naturally, but if they have an opinion to share, it’s always interesting to hear. Did you know, for example, that Hollywood rarely, if ever, shows Palestinians in a good light? Food for thought.

6. Every bus has a different siren

Remember those BopIt! toys everybody had once upon a time? Try to picture triggering each of the annoying noises one after the other twice over and you have a fairly accurate idea of what a street in Amman sounds like. I’m not joshing you. From vuvuzelas to ambulance wails and car alarms to foghorns, no two sirens are the same. Fortunately, the majority of Amman’s drivers are constantly on hand to remind you what a regular car horn sounds like, every second of every minute of every hour of every day. These people will honk at everything that moves.

7. Stray cats are a thing; dogs really aren’t

This isn’t just a Jordanian thing either. I seem to remember Fes being similar, though I didn’t stay there long enough to see for myself. But there are no dogs in Amman. Cats, on the other hand, are everywhere, prowling the dustbins, skulking along the sidewalk or fighting beneath the window in the early hours of the morning. If you’re an animal lover like me, you’d better learn to accept the fact that the sleek and healthy cats of home are not to be found here. Amman is a fast-growing, modern city where you’ll need all of your wits to get about, and the cats that prowl the dusty roads reflect that, scabs, scruffy hair and all.

8. Cafés and restaurants give you water

This one caught me by surprise. Apparently it’s a Jordanian custom to give water to guests, water having always been something of a scarce commodity in this part of the world. That’s all well and good, but when you notice for the first time that it’s included in the bill, it’s a bit galling. And there’s no escaping it, either; it’s just something you have to accept. Take my advice and find one of the smaller establishments, where you might just get off the hook. Doors might look inviting, but behind all the bells and whistles, it’s essentially the Starbucks of Amman. If you’re looking for a local, look elsewhere.

9. Bins are optional

Rubbish bins aren’t as rare as they might seem at first. Most streets will have one or two skips where the locals deposit their trash, and these are emptied at least once a week, much to the cats’ chagrin. But the way the people of Amman drop litter, you’d think they’d never heard of a bin. Bottles, cups and crisp packets, once used, are simply thrown over the shoulder, discarded underfoot or lobbed at the nearest wall. Little wonder, then, that stinking, wind-borne piles of trash tend to gather in street corners.

10. Rainbow Street is where all the ExPats go

If you miss an old-fashioned British tea or coffee, you’d better get yourself down to Rainbow Street. It’s a creature-comfort lover’s paradise, with milkshakes, bookshops and ice cream parlours galore. But if you’re after an authentic Jordanian experience, you’d be better off looking elsewhere. Not only is Rainbow Street quite pricey by Jordan standards, it’s also crawling with Americans, Brits and other foreign students, with the result that many shopkeepers will address you in English and not in Arabic. It’s popular with Amman’s younger generation, too, so it’s not all rainclouds, but try exploring downtown and its offshoots first. Hashems and al-Quds, though popular, are more of an Arabic experience than Books@Café.

11. Falafels are the way to go

Jordan may be expensive to get to, but once you’re here, eating out can be as cheap as chips. And if you decide to forgo potatoes for falafels, it’s even cheaper. A falafel wrap, stuffed with salad, harira and hummus, shouldn’t set you back any more than forty piastres. That’s about 38p. It’s a great snack, and it makes for a good lunch or dinner, too. Hashems is supposed to have the monopoly on all the falafel joints in town, being a favourite of the King of Jordan himself, but most places will do a good line in the falafel wraps. It’s not the most varied of diets, but it’s cheap, and it beats McDonalds any day.

12. Piracy is the norm

Don’t let the DVD stores spook you: just because there’s not a legitimate DVD case in sight, it doesn’t mean you’re breaking the law. If you’ve travelled to Asia or Africa before, you’ll already know the drill. Shops where you can buy as many as fifteen suspiciously homemade films for seven pounds’ worth are the norm. They’re also the lifeblood of the Jordanian student: especially if you’re up in out-of-the-way Tla’ al-Ali near the Ali Baba International Centre, you’ll be relying on these establishments to liven up the evenings when you’re out of pocket – or energy – to go to downtown and back.

13. Habibah is a dangerous place

Baklava. Kunafeh. Mille-feuille. Pistachio-coated trifles. Honey-glazed cakes. Triple-scoop ice creams. All of this in giant air-conditioned building so vast that it might well be the Arabian equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It’s a good thing that this heavenly establishment is as out of the way as it is, or we’d all be doomed.

14. Vegetables are cheaper downtown

This is a given wherever you go in the world, but it’s worth repeating all the same: for fruit and veg, never go anywhere other than the main market next to the mosque in the city centre. For reasons beyond my understanding, the price seems to double outside the market walls, but especially up in Tla’ al-Ali, the environs of the Ali Baba school. Sure, it’s cheap by UK standards, but if you’re paying UK prices when the locals are getting their produce for half the price, you’re being ripped off. Downtown, ten dinars can give you enough greens to last you a fortnight, if you’re careful, and that’s including a taxi ride into downtown, provided you split it with a friend. It’s barmy logic, but it works.

15. Crossing roads is like playing Frogger

Feeling lucky, punk? Then give the mean streets of Amman a try, if you dare. Traffic lights are like the last egg in an Easter Egg hunt; you’ll do a little fist-pump for joy when you see one. In most places, you just have to brave it and step out into the fury. The rule of the road is one of might is right, but most cars will stop for pedestrians. The only thing to remember is not to hesitate under any circumstances. As the guidebooks will tell you, the drivers will base their actions on what they expect you to do. If you make the first move, carry it through. You’ll pick it up eventually. And it’ll be just as much of a thrill to the last.

That’s it for the time being. It’s probably important to note that this is very much my own opinion, and one coming from somebody used to living in a town of no more than a few hundred people, so Amman hit me harder than it probably should have done. As I’ve said before, once you get outside Amman it’s a very different story and I’ve met some of the most wonderful people on my travels around Jordan. It’s just that Amman itself and I were never made for each other. Insha’allah, Fes will show me the light.

I’ll be away in the south of Jordan for a couple of days to catch the Perseid meteor shower in Wadi Rum, via Petra, so expect some more adventure stories when I get back on Saturday night! Until the next time. BB x

Some Seriously Good News

My year abroad just doubled overnight. Double the countries, double the adventure, double the fun – and half the cash. I’m one happy guy. Because I’m thrilled to tell you all that I’m going back to Morocco next summer!

Seriously, this is the best news I’ve heard in a long time. Not only does this mean that I’ll be spending hundreds less on flights and accommodation, but I’ll get the chance to do a homestay, something that’s been barred to me out here on account of my sex. So even though it’s only a six-week course, I’ll bet it’ll be a lot more intense than two out here – in a good way! I’ll be heading out there on my own, too, which should do wonders for both my Arabic and my confidence, as there won’t be that English crutch I’ve had ever at the ready out here. Last but not least, it’s only a skip and a jump from Spain, so I can lay some early foundations during my assistantship. Win win. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy – there’s a whole batch of new difficulties I’m going to have to face head on by breaking the mold and striking out alone – but for the sake of a smaller city that doesn’t live on its taxi service, I’m more than willing to make that jump. Thank you to everyone who’s been on hand throughout these last few weeks; to Shahnaz and Archie for telling me to keep smiling; to Banner and Anna, for suggesting that I go for it; to my teacher Aziza for giving me the go-ahead; and lastly to Andrew, for putting up with a month and a half of comparisons…!

The best thing of all is that half of August and September are now open to me to do with as I choose. I’m still umming and ahhing between volunteering at an orphanage in Peru and roughing it on the backpacking adventure of a lifetime in Ethiopia, but I don’t want to set anything in stone quite yet, so I’ll keep you posted as and when I make a decision. Freedom feels so good, I can tell you that at least. And freedom like this, or of any kind, is always worth fighting for. I’m not half cultured enough to find a pretentious quote for you on that count, so I’ll let my own irrepressible good humor convey to you just how on top of the world I’m feeling right now. Erin Shore is playing on my iPod and I feel like I could accomplish anything, even a return to the vegetable market in downtown Amman to stock up on a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables. We’re running low and my egg-based repertoire is getting thin on the ground. I think I’ll treat myself to a meal at Al-Multaka tonight before starting to think about my TLRP: a study of angels and demons in the Crusades with a particular focus on Saladin and Reynald de Chatillon. Exciting stuff!

Enough of all this shameless self-aggrandizement. I’ll end up with a head the size of a football field. To finish, here’s an Arabic riddle that came up on a game show on TV last night. The English equivalent might run something along these lines:

A red, red city with greenest walls; its citizens black, no keys at all

The Arab viewership got it pretty quickly. It’s a shame they couldn’t keep the winning streak going, though; the following round, a game of ‘Spot the Difference’, proved too great a challenge. After forty-five minutes, nobody had noticed that the girl in the second picture was missing a finger. I guess they were all of them too hung up on that most decidedly harām shoulder on show. BB x

 

Searching for God

I’m not a Christian. At least, not in the truest sense of the word. Insofar as my upbringing is concerned, I guess I don’t fall under any category other than Church of England, but when the occasional questionnaire gets handed my way, I tick the box marked ‘agnostic’ without a second’s thought. Only if that’s not an option, and it usually is, Christianity gets my vote over the ‘no religion’ box. Why does this matter? Because today I found myself, once again, in a position where it made more sense to come down on one side of the fence. ‘Christian’ simply makes a lot more sense than ‘no religion’. Strong words for a not-so strong belief, don’t you think?

Let me explain (you’d better get comfortable). I was baptised as a Christian. Church of England. Standard fare. I had a fairly regular English upbringing. I attended a Church of England primary school. I went to church every Christmas and Easter, like almost everyone else. The only minor difference was that my parents both had various musical roles in their respective churches, which meant that I probably spent more time in church than most kids my age. It just so happened that one of them was Canterbury Cathedral, where my dad was a lay-clerk. I guess you get a little blasé about that kind of thing when evensong is a biweekly venture. Not to mention all the school carol services held there. It certainly made the local church back home seem a little small by comparison, though I have warmer memories of that. When I was little I went to church every other Sunday, or at least when Mum played the organ. The memories get a little fuzzy sometimes; this is reaching quite a way back into my childhood. I remember only that I used to sit behind the choir near the organ pipes, and you could hear the organ humming long after everyone had filed out of church and Mum took her hands off the keys. Between that and the old gas heater glowing a dim red in the corner, I have this musty image of your run-of-the-mill Church of England parish tucked away in my head. That’s my strongest memory of the early days, at least. Nothing particularly special. I wasn’t even old enough to sit in the choir then, but I knew most of the hymns well enough, especially the ones they used to roll out on the projector at school. Morning has Broken, for one.

Fast-forward on a few years and it gets a little more interesting. Moving back to England from a year abroad in Spain finds me singing in the church choir in my new home town. It’s nothing more than something to do, I suppose, as I have little else to do at the weekends but go birdwatching down at Stodmarsh or Sandwich Bay – I’m still too young to be thinking about girls or going out – but it pays my first wages, and it feels ‘sort of right’. Right enough to take that next C of E step and decide to get ‘confirmed’. It’s not as big a deal as it is over in Spain, with the sailor suits and all the bells and whistles that go with it, but like I said, it seemed like ‘the right thing to do’. And the other kids in the choir were a lovely bunch, too.

Then along comes my early teenage years, a girlfriend and the beginning of a new approach: evangelicalism. She got me into it, I suppose, but it was something I took to with relish. Prayer and worship, spiritual healing, speaking in tongues… It was a brand new world and I loved every second of it. Ever heard of Soul Survivor? That kind of thing. It was a far cry from ‘open your hymn-books to Hymn no. 348‘ or what-have-you, at the very least. I might even go so far as to say that, for a little while, I even believed it. But it was the people that really made it for me, not the spiritual side of it. Just like playing the violin, the practising of which I had come to loathe, it was more the sense of community that went with it that I craved: the orchestra over the recital, and the worship group over the prayers. I guess you could say I built my house on the sand. Little wonder, then, that it all came crashing down with the end of that relationship. Coincidentally, it was raining that night, too.

I wandered for a while. I asked a lot of questions. I even stopped saying prayers at night, realising that most of them had been selfish anyway – especially the later ones. If not selfish, then love-blind at the very least. Eventually I returned, somewhat shame-faced, to my local church youth group, whom I’d abandoned for almost a year and a half. That was where I met Seth and Jenny Cooper, the Walmer Parish, and Katherine, that everlasting beacon, who showed me that there was more to life than a constant search for answers. For a little while longer, I continued to carry the flag, stronger than before. I was happy. But it was not to last. A series of unfortunate events came as the second hammer blow to my faith. I started to read about the Empire, and all the horrors that had been wrought in the name of God. My brother was assaulted on the way home from school. And Katherine, ever the kindling flame, went out of my life. A few weeks later, I gave up altogether.

As a true Christian, that was my final chapter. I had another fling with the Church in Uganda – ain’t no party like an African Baptist Prayer and Worship Party – but that was little more than a dalliance. Back in England, on the gap year that seemed like it would never end, faith eluded me. Mum, on the other hand, found her way to the Catholic Church and embarked upon what she has described as the ‘road her whole life had been leading towards’. I coveted that, I suppose. It wasn’t her new-found happiness of hers that I wanted, but that contented state of mind. Structured. Ordered. At peace. At one. Something that I’ve struggled with in all the hypocrisies of my life for the last seven years. Her faith gave her life a new meaning. I’d been looking for that meaning for a while with no such luck. People say that ‘finding yourself’ is the first step on the road to that level of understanding. If I could have ‘found myself in Africa’ as so many jokingly think I did, I’d probably have more of an idea as to where exactly I am right now. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, as God knows how lost I’d have been – I didn’t, and the search continues. Right up until last night, when I found myself sitting in an Iraqi church, listening to a Californian preacher explaining the meaning of John 3:16 whilst a translator conveyed it to the congregation in Arabic. Talk about a new way of looking at things!

Now we come to the heart of the matter. I’m not a Christian, like I said at the start. I might have been once, but for a token gesture or two of late, I’m not labelling material at the moment. I can go through the motions like a mynah bird, of course, but that’s got more to do with habit and observation than anything else. That, and a burning desire to believe, whenever that day comes. Until it does, everything seems false. To pray to a God you don’t believe in with all of your heart, with all of your soul – does that not seem a bit ingenuous? That’s not to say I’m not religious, though. Given the choice I’d rather be spiritual than to disbelieve entirely. I’ll put it this way: there’s a hole in my heart that’s waiting for faith. I just haven’t found it yet.

I’ve had this discussion/argument with Andrew recently. I put it to him that I’d be happier not knowing all the answers; that sometimes it’s better to stop asking questions and to have a little faith in what you can’t see; that some things, like as not, are necessarily beyond our understanding. It goes against a great deal of my character, and I think he took umbrage at that, but it’s a principle I try to stick to, and as far as I’m concerned it’s connected to the most fundamental principle of all: hope. I swear by it. There is no greater sin in my book than despair. I might not have the staying power that others prize – indeed, if something is beyond my capability (or, more often, interest) I’m more likely than not to throw up my arms and walk away – but I never truly give up on the inside. And as long as that’s the case, I’d like to believe I still have a chance.

Faith lies somewhere along the road, of that much I’m sure. Wherever it may be is, for the time being, beyond my understanding. And that’s not a bad thing. I tried to find it out here, but for all the strength of the community and the goodwill of the people, it continues to elude me. Maybe I’m being picky. Maybe I’m looking too hard. I don’t know. I’ve just got to keep trying.

I leave you (and this gargantuan post, which is approaching essay length as the clock strikes twenty minutes to midnight) with the only Bible verse I’ve consigned to heart, as it speaks to me on much the same level as it ever did five years ago, when first I found it:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

I wonder whatever happened to Katherine? I hope her light is still shining brightly for the rest of the world, wherever she is. BB x

Blood, Tears and Broken Glass

It’s a Friday night in down-town Amman, the streets are buzzing and Andrew and Mac are exploring an abandoned hospital. Yours truly chickened out of this particular venture. I guess that means I’m on lookout? Jeez, how lame does that make me sound…

It’s kind of creepy, sitting outside this tumbledown hospital with the sounds of breaking glass and echoed footsteps breaking the half-silence. Not to mention the dim light from Andrew’s phone flickering off the walls between the windows from time to time. Am I missing out? Very possibly. Will I regret it? Almost certainly. I’m not about to abandon my post, though. Call it a brush with foreign police once too often, but I’m calling shy this time. In the countryside, maybe, but not in the middle of the city on a Friday night. And especially not after watching As Above So Below last night. Not on my life.

We’re into our sixth week in Jordan. Three school weeks remain, and after that – who knows? I took out another two hundred and fifty dinars this morning. The goal is to make that last until the end. With any luck, that should just cut it, travel funds and all, although I have been known to be a little over-optimistic about this kind of thing. Jordan’s bus service may be criminally cheap, but the Amman taxi system is draining my resources at a ridiculous speed. And there’s no avoiding them either, and believe me, we’ve tried. Google Maps gave us an estimate of two and a half hours. We scoffed at that and called it one and a half. Turns out it was a three-hour job. We won’t be walking to down-town again any time soon – not when there’s shopping to be done. And I thought that living twenty minutes’ walk from any shops in Durham was problematic! Something to think about if you plan on staying in Amman. It wouldn’t be a problem if you lived down-town, of course, but up here in Tla al-Ali, it’s a different story. Please don’t buy my fervent dislike for the place, that’s just me and my city angst, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the cost of all these taxi rides – two dinars a throw – racks up fast. I’m looking forward to living in a town where everything is within walking distance.

Now that the end is in sight, though, it’s a lot easier to stay positive. I’ve got it into my head that I’m not coming back next year and that thought alone is keeping me going, no matter how hard I’m going to have to fight to make it so. Hence a slightly less bitchy, more reserved tone this time around. It’s a lot easier with the midterm depression out of the way. Any and all lingering ill tempers were successfully vented this afternoon with The Green Mile. Tears all round, as it should be. There’s no better way to get it all out than with the greatest tearjerker of them all. Next stop, 12 Years a Slave! (There’s a bit of a theme going on here…) Films aside, I’ve plenty of books to keep me going between now and then, thanks to the wonder that is iBooks and all the free material on offer. Best of all, I even stumbled across a book of Arabic short stories penned by none other than our very own Dr. Daniel Newman, which I simply have to get my hands on the next time I swing by Books@Cafe. For the time being, I’ve at least another twenty Henry Rider Haggard books to wade through, including the full Quatermain saga. Excellent stuff. Perfect travel fuel, too.

Although I’m swung to thinking that perhaps Ethiopia might be wiser than South Africa for potential backpacking. It’s just a hunch. Further research needed. BB x

Not All Those Who Wander Are Flossed

It’s just taken me about an hour and a half to wade through the latest Arabic text for tomorrow’s class. With a night of karaoke at the Marriott Hotel on the cards for this evening, I don’t exactly have the ‘I’ll do it later’ gambit at my disposal.

First off I want to apologise for a very rocky week or two of bipolar posting (some of you noticed, I gather…). The mid-term fury is over and things have settled back to the way they were before, helped along the way by much meditation, H.R. Haggard and Karl Jenkins. Ouch, that’s a painfully middle-class sentence. Life in Amman rumbles slowly onwards, the daily Arabic homework’s still coming in thick and fast and the Versailles branch of the British Council still haven’t told Andrew where he’s going. Business as usual. I took an entire weekend out to deal with my restless psyche and it seems to have paid off. It meant missing out on a couple of parties, but for the sake of my bleeding heart, it was worth it. So if you were feeling the strain of my sine-wave posts over the last week or so, fret not; the dust has settled. It should be a little easier on the eye from here on out.

It’s been a fairly productive couple of days, which means we haven’t had that many adventures; but that’s no bad thing. I saw our first clouds in a month or so the other day, and what a sight for sore eyes that was. You’d be surprised how uplifting it was to see a speck of grey on the horizon for once. Blue skies are lovely and all that, but when you’ve had temperatures balancing out over the high thirties for almost three weeks without cease, a cool breeze is a welcome miracle. There was supposed to be a thunderstorm, which we all got super excited about, but it never came. Instead, the sky went a very queer shade of brown and a mild sandstorm swept through the streets. No rain. One of the strangest weather phenomenons I’ve ever seen. We got the full force of the stifling storm heat, though; the temperature soared up into the mid forties. My insides felt like they were being cooked every time I stepped outside and there was a weird charge in the air. Mostly we found ourselves retreating to our various homes to sit like idol-worshippers before the air-con until the sun decided to call it a day. Even then it often carried on long into the night, that stuffy, all-pervading heat. The blankets had to go. How they’ve lasted this long is anyone’s guess. BBC Weather’s been getting an unnatural number of hits from our flat, at any rate. They say there’s a 51% chance of precipitation tomorrow. Good news takes the strangest forms…

I finally got around to sending off an email to the school I’ll be teaching at in Extremadura. I’ve had it written for the best part of a week and a half, but for some reason I never hit the send button. I guess I wanted to be dead-certain on the grammar, but in the end I just had to be happy with what I’d written, bite the bullet and hit SEND. With any luck, I’ll get a reply at some point before I arrive in September. So that’s pretty cool. In the meantime I’m keeping my teacher senses trained with this project of ours at the Iraqi church Andreas got me in on last week. The last session must have gone down well enough, because we had double the numbers this time. We’ll have to call in reinforcements at this rate. Parts of the body this week, following on from the previous lesson on going to the hospital. Getting the groups to use the vocab to compliment each other was a great idea, and also highly amusing. Apparently eyebrows are a valuable commodity. Or maybe they were just trying to get their heads around the pronunciation. I’d like to believe the former. Having to explain the difference between diarrhea and constipation in the politest possible way is definitely going down as one of the most entertaining moments of my teaching career. Something along the lines of ‘let’s say you eat a bad falafel, and it goes right through you… and for the other one, well, it doesn’t quite go right through you…’. British humour. It never gets old.

This church is just about the best thing that’s happened to me out here, though. It’s the one thing I’d return to Jordan for, given the chance. Maybe this is the beginning of a spiritual journey, maybe not. I hope so, at any rate. I’ve been waiting for my chance for so very long now, ever since I left that world behind almost six years ago… I’ll be dropping by three times a week from now on, twice for class and once for the service, so things should start to look up. And that’s a real slice of good news.

Bummer, I’m out of toothpaste. Looks like I really will have to resort to this weird Arab brand I picked up in the corner shop last week. At least it smells nice. After Morocco I’m none too keen to follow up on any of these traditional Arabian dental practices. BB x

The moment we thought Andrew’s placement might have come through…

A Sex-Tape is a Step Too Far

I think the title needs a little explanation.

In addition to the mid-term exam, our Arabic teacher set us the task of coming up with a five to seven minute presentation on a topic of our choosing. It took me until the morning to come up with something I could realistically rattle on about for that amount of time (no, seriously), but after stumbling over my words as usual, I ended up putting Andrew up to a bet whereby he had to talk about Kanye West. Naturally, Andrew tried to make his presentation somewhat relevant to what we’d studied so that he could activate the vocabulary, or whatever buzzword you want to use. The result was an exploration of the modern wedding through the Kimye phenomenon, complete with all the gory details, ego, sex tape and all. Highly entertaining, of course, but our teacher took umbrage at the subject, claiming that it was ‘hardly suitable’ for class, and debarred us from asking any questions so as to bring the topic to a decided halt. Still, the man did a good job, and he held his ground in spite of all the criticism, so I held up my end of the bargain and rustled up a pretty neat lentil and vegetable stew for him and Andreas, as promised.

To kill some time in the post-class hours, Andreas took us to an underground church in West Amman to help him to teach English to a group of Iraqi refugees. Just a couple of hours in a church not too dissimilar in style from a Worth Abbey chapel, which made me smile almost as soon as I set foot in the place. John 3:16 was up on the wall behind the lectern in golden lettering; it was pretty clear from the first four words, even in Arabic. Beautiful stuff. The Iraqis themselves, Christians from Basra, were just about the nicest bunch of people I’ve met here in Jordan yet. Andreas and his teaching partner Jason assigned Andrew and I four to teach, and we discussed hospital related vocab to get the ball rolling. Whilst we worked, the children of our students scampered about the church at full pitch. I haven’t seen such unfettered happiness in a while. One of our group was a lot quicker on the draw than the others when it came to learning all the new words and expressions, but Raja’, the oldest of the group at seventy-one years old, was an utter delight to teach, especially when she came out with a flawless sentence at the end of the session, primarily because she was so shy. It kind of reminded me of how I must have been earlier down the line. Boy, but it was good to be teaching again, though. Getting back into practice for my assistantship in two months’ time. Better still, Iraqi Arabic is the closest to fusHa out there and a joy to listen to. Basra sounds like a beautiful place, as if Iraq needs anything more to make it more appealing. Land of the Abbasids! Home of Abu Nuwas! Man, why can’t I spend my Year Abroad in Iraq?

Wait, on second thoughts, don’t answer that one.

There’s a lot to be said for this religion malarkey. With any luck, one day the moment will come and I will believe. Warm fuzzy aside, I’ve got to say that those two hours were a godsend, no pun intended. All of my frustration and anger from the past week simply disappeared. I have Faras and his friends to thank for that, for being so friendly and eager to learn; and of course Andreas, for giving me the chance to get in on the project. All is well with my heart once again. I’m still going to fight for the chance to go back to Morocco next year, but I know now that I can and will survive another month out here. I can do this.

Hold the phone, according the beeb there’s a storm coming. Rain. You have no idea how happy this makes me. That it’s going to be 41 degrees at the peak of the storm is beside the point. Bring on the rain, I say. Bring it. BB x