Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Happy, Harried Day

We decided to tackle a shopping trip today, to the main souk (market) in downtown Amman.  It's less of a "souk" in the sense of open-air market and more of a centralized shopping area with tons of tiny shops all crammed back to back over several streets.  The shops seem to be organized by items sold: there's a street of scarves, a street of clothes, a street of toys, a street of mechanical needs, etc.  The main goal was to find the street of fabric shops...we did not find a whole street lined with said shops, but we did find several within a close vicinity, and got some beautiful prints (well, we think so, at least!).  I'm excited to delve into these projects when I get home!  I was hoping for a few more Middle-Eastern prints, but the ones available were...well, kind of ugly.  Oh well.  I'm happy with what we came away with. 

sheer fabric...perhaps matching skirts/dresses for me and Fia?
sheer undecided something for Fia
turquoise seems to be a popular color here, and I love how they use it; this is not quite what I had in mind, but I'll use it!

The fabric store shopkeepers were all middle-aged men, which was funny but not out of place here, and added to the fun experience of buying fabric in another country.

We also happened across an amazing little store called "City Rose Souvenirs"...wish I would have thought to bring the camera, because the store itself was a delight to the eyes.  And the prices were so reasonable!  We found a trove of treasures from our "Jordan wish list" there, and had them all piled up at the front counter, ready to pay...when we realized to our horror that the money we thought we had brought was not, in fact, anywhere to be found.  As we were scrambling for what to do, we asked if they could hold it all for us while we went to get our money and come back.  It was extra confusing because our day was already jam-packed and there really was no time for coming back.  They counter-offered that we should just take it all with us, and come back to pay later.  No matter how many times this happens, it always takes me by surprise--it's so trusting!  We offered to just leave it all there until we came back, or to give them the money we did have, or to leave our phone number, but they refused it all and insisted that we just take our purchases and pay later.  Amazing!

my favorite buy: it's a hanging candle-lamp
isn't is gorgeous?  and so reasonably priced!

It took us 2 hours to wind our way out of downtown, a combined issue of terrible traffic and getting lost.  For some reason, we can never seem to find our way out of what I've come to think of as "the black hole" (city center).  And then I thought, it was extra trusting of those shopkeepers to have such faith in us that we could even find their shop again!  Maybe they thought of that after we left, as they did seem happy (surprised, even?) to see me again.  But thanks be to God, I did; and even more thanks to God (and the shopkeeper's directions), I found my way out in about 5 minutes! 

The days here have been over 100F lately--sweltering!  So today we had a refreshing invitation from some friends who work at the US Embassy in the swanky part of town to come swim with them at the embassy pool.  The embassy is like a fortress, or a town to itself, and everything inside is kept up really nicely.  After a harried (though good) day, soaked with sweat, it was delightful to dip into the refreshing water and just float awhile. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Driving Dance

I've mentioned before some of the quirks of driving in Amman and in the Middle East in general.  The crazy and seemingly senseless "rules of the road" (or should we say lack of rules!) has recently again been making an impression on me, and so I am inspired to write a list of all the crazy things we've observed people doing (and have even done know, we've got to try to fit in!):

not a great example, but it's all I've got!
  • Driving is very fluid, much like driving a boat.  Individual cars, lanes, and traffic general just kind of float about with no rigidity or constrainment of lanes.  It is quite common for cars to create their own lanes, wherever they might wish to drive.  
  • Driving is very aggressive and requires you to be constantly on the offensive.  It actually reminds me quite a bit of a video game, where things keep flying at you out of nowhere and you have to be quick on your feet to dodge all the assaults. 
  • Dodging the pedestrians can be more of a challenge than navigating crazy cars.  There seems to be no thought for cause and effect of one's personal in, "If I step out right in front of this quickly moving car, it will have to swerve to miss me, which may cause it to hit another car," etc.  That's right.  Pedestrians.  They are a huge problem.  As aggressive as cars drive is as sauntering as pedestrians cross the street.  They just step out and mosey amidst the traffic without looking, loitering about in the road while cars whiz by, not caring that they might be in the way or creating a hazard for themselves and others.  It's like the road is their favorite place to hang out.  I've watched a person or two saunter out right in front of a car, then just kind of stop and hang out there in the car's way (all on a busy road, mind you), and when the car beeps at the person to move, he will actually get upset, as if he--the pedestrian--has the right of way to loiter in the road. 
  • Speaking of right of ways, I have not detected that any exist.  The right of way belongs to he who has the most chutzpah.
  • Cars often seem to appear as if solidifying from mist out of the mere pavement...This situation results from a couple of behaviors: 1) cars parked on the side of the road will take off with no warning directly into oncoming traffic, they do not look before driving; 2) cars entering a road from a cross street do not stop and look before entering the road, they just kind of barrel out.  The point being, again: traffic is fluid.  No one stops.  Not even when they should.  Everyone just adjusts. 
  • It is a regular practice for cars to back up into oncoming traffic, especially when reversing out of a parking spot.  Sometimes they will drive in reverse a surprising distance against the flow of traffic.  Sometimes they will drive the wrong way in a one-way.  Everything goes. 
  • The trouble is mostly that most businesses on main roads have no actual parking, so the cars are essentially parking willy-nilly on the road, often a few cars deep.  I've seen a whole line of cars parked right in the middle of a heavily-used road--can you imagine driving along, and all of the sudden just stopping and parking your car in the center of the road?  It happens here.  I guess, why not?
  • Traffic circles are really popular here, which is great...except that no one knows how to use them.  Instead of enabling traffic to move efficiently through an intersection, they most often create a quagmire.  For some reason, upon entering the circle, cars want to go directly to the inside lane, only to have to cut out through several lanes of traffic almost immediately.  It's a mess of confusion.  Sometimes, there are policemen directing traffic, but that only seems to make things worse.  Owen has discovered that if you stay on the far outside, you can take advantage of everyone's confusion and cut around them all. 
  • Brake lights are not required, and so at least half the cars on the road don't have them.  This is very hazardous. 
  • Blinkers aren't often used, especially not for lane changes (since, as we've discussed, there aren't really lanes in a functional sense).  In most cases, blinkers = weakness, and alert people that they can cut you off.  If they know what you're going to do, it's all the easier to get there first. 
  • On some roads, no one pays attention to red lights.
  • It is popular to use a turn lane to cut in front of a long line of cars.
  • Beyond the last point, it is also popular to go a step further and use the oncoming traffic's lanes to cut around both the line of cars and turning lane of cars cutting in front of the line of that the oncoming traffic has to squeeze through on their shoulder of the road.  Surprisingly, people don't seem to get upset by this. 
  • I especially love how they negotiate left turns so that 2 cars can turn left at the same time (much like 2 cars can safely turn right at the same time): At the intersection, the car turning left out onto the cross road will stay toward the middle of his lane, while the car from the cross road turning left onto the side road will cut to the right side of the other car...That sounds like a confusing description; but anyway, it works.  
  • Police don't pull cars over while driving.  They flag them over while stopped on the side of the road.  They also drive really nice Audi A6's.
a traffic circle (not my photo)

Driving is an art.  There seem to be no rules, yet everyone seems to know how to "dance" with traffic.  Those who don't "dance" and are too cautious are the ones in real danger. 

Chaotic?  Absolutely.  Efficient?  The antithesis.  And yet, somehow, it works. 

Some things about the way they drive I like.  For example, I like that we just look normal when we don't know where we're going and pull crazy maneuvers.  I kind of like the freedom and fluidity of movement, and that it's okay to pass slow people on the shoulder or in the opposing traffic's lane...I just hope I haven't picked up too many bad habits!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One More Final Push

Today was one last final push...Until the next one, at least.  As mentioned in the last post, the kids and I are helping Owen where we can with his survey work at Tall Safut.  Today is the last day of his survey permit from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and was the day he had planned to take pictures of the wall lines using a piece of equipment called the "boom."  It's really a handy contraption. 

setting up

We wrangled up another helper, another fellow working here at ACOR (thank you James!).  At 6:00 am, we rolled out to the site and started working.  Things went fairly uneventfully, thankfully...minus an injury free fall by Jack off a wall into some pokey bushes, and some decent sunburns by me (after I spend so much time putting sunscreen on kids, I feel done and forget to put it on myself). 

Owen directing the positioning of the camera
Jack and James at the other end
a view from my perspective, as camera catcher in-between takes
the big picture
me and Fia, laying tape and catching the camera
The morning was surprisingly cool, so Jack wore my nursing cover as a cape to keep warm, and looked super cool.

Safita passed out and slept for a couple hours, which was fantastic.

Both kids were exceptional for what must have been a really long, boring, difficult day for them.  Especially on days like today, I praise the Lord for giving us such happy, patient, flexible kids--without their hardiness, we really couldn't do what we do.  

random people who were curious about what we were doing...and wondering if there was any gold

Local people throughout Owen's time surveying this past week and a half keep stopping by asking if there's gold at the site...It doesn't help that his GPS equipment kind of looks like a heavy-duty metal detector, and it also doesn't help that today we were going around putting X-marks on a bunch of stones.   Hopefully we don't come back next year to a tell pocked with looting holes!

checking the pics
Jack was a big helper
and so was Safita--she helped me hold the pole!

We finished the picture-taking a little after 1:00 pm, at which point the kids and I drove James back to ACOR and got a snack before returning to Safut to pick up Owen, who stayed behind to take some GPS points and finish up.  Things took a little longer than expected, and we didn't get home until a little after 3:00 pm.  It was a long haul: breakfast at 5:30 am, lunch at 3:30 pm.  But, this very important survey project is now complete!  Another very rewarding accomplishment to check off...and one step closer to that coveted PhD in hand! 

Finished!  Descending Safut with the rest of equipment in hand.  Can you tell he's tired?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Day in the Life

This afternoon the kids and I played sidekick to Owen on his survey project at Tall Safut.  He was walking around the site taking GPS points, from which he will reconstruct the top plans and etcetera...Safita helped him with this task, and was a fantastic assistant. 

Jack wandered around making stone pizzas and dirt soup in any spare bottle cap he could find.  I was in charge of the glorious (but important) job of cleaning weeds off the tops of excavated walls for pictures that will be taken in the next few days.  Unfortunately, I didn't accomplish very much due to frequent requests to taste the aforementioned pizza and soup, amidst tending to other needs of the small ones.  They really did splendidly, though; we were quite impressed with them.  Safita, adorably, was practically giddy over daddy. 

The sunset and dusk from atop Safut were amazingly spectacular!  The site overlooks the Bekaa Valley, so we watched the villages of the valley slowly sparkle to life while the sky burned beautiful deep tones of red, orange, to deep pink, to heathery purple.  At one point, we were serenaded by a surround-sound of the call to prayer, broadcast from numerous minarets all around the site and down through the valley.  It was kind of majestic, with sunset, and the wind, and the twinkling lights, and the echo of the valley.  Jack got excited about the "scary green prayer" and had fun counting all the minarets he could spot.  There were at least 10 in close proximity, and countless more throughout the valley.  Sadly, we forgot our good camera and only had the point-and-shoot, so the pictures just don't do it justice. 

The young man who farms the plot of land at the foot of the tell came up after a while to keep us company, and before we left brought us a bounty of his crop--I'm not sure what the name of it is, but it's some sort of cross between cucumber, zucchini, and summer squash.  It's tasty.  We ate it with our falafel dinner, which Jack requested on the way home.  (We're so proud when our 2-year-old son requests falafel or shawerma for dinner!  He also loved the cucumber/zucchini thingies and ate them heartily.) 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Day in Salt

Today the kids and I accompanied Owen to the Salt Museum where some of his Safut material is on display.  The museum is very impressively kept up, unlike most of the museums we've seen in country, and is housed in an old, beautiful family home built in the Ottoman period (I believe).  Owen met with the director, and she showed us around.  Everyone was very friendly and accommodating...perhaps it was a bonus that he brought the children along for the first meeting, as it seemed to endear everyone to him.
Salt Museum

model of how sugar is processed

pithos (storage jar) from Tall Safut
The souk (market) was nearby, so we decided to take a gander before leaving.  Typical Arab-style, we saw an upper-floor balcony in full use with no railing whatsoever!  Yikes.
notice the middle balcony, in full use with clothesline and items stored as far out as the edge, with no railings or barriers

There were some super-cute baby chicks for sale in boxes.

Nearby, we passed a heavy older lady who stopped us aggressively, grabbing at Safita and saying, "Abusa!  Abusa!"  I had no idea what she meant--it didn't match any of the usual words I know, like "Boy or girl?" or "What's her name?" or "How old is she?" or "She's beautiful!" or "God bless her."  The lady seemed frustrated and repeated the word a few times in a tone of voice that seemed to say, "Are you stupid??  Abusa!"  We eventually figured out what she meant, when she forcefully grabbed me and started unbuckling the baby carrier to get Safita out.  I laughed in surprise, told her please no, and she displeased but mostly good-naturedly gave me a hearty slap on the leg.  If Safita is out, I let them hold her, but she was tucked snugly in the pack and it was just too much hassle. 

shoe smith

As usual, the open burlap sacks of spices smelled tantalizingly spicy.  The old-style shoe smith sent us back to eras did the music stores selling only cassette tapes.  Talk about living in the dark ages!  It was a nice morning outing. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Subliminal Persuasion

Four and a half months of watching Garfield finally got to us...Finally, I caved and HAD to have lasagna, at any cost!  We've tried various restaurants out and about, but none of them made it right.  I've been resisting any thought of making it myself because it's just too daunting in a kitchen that is void of both ingredients and cooking paraphernalia.  I must brag that I'm very proud of myself for successfully tackling this monumental task, and even making an apple pie to boot! 

Of course, we had to substitute a few things: Yoghurt and Laughing Cow cheese instead of ricotta/cottage cheese in the lasagna, and with no rolling pin the pie dough had to be hand-pressed.  Everything turned out beyond delicious--probably just because these flavors have been lost to us for so long.  It was also extremely satisfying to eat a meal I made myself.

In other news...We are currently settling back into "normal" life after a very nice, albeit busy, visit from Owen's family.  We packed in really full days with no allotment for nap time, but the kids really handled it well; and of course they loved having an extra 3 people around to dote on them.  There's just something special about grandpas and grandmas and aunts.  We saw pretty much the entire country of Jordan in a week!  Maybe I'll share some highlights another day...        

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Long Awaited Moment

Waiting, waiting, waiting...for Owen and Jack to return from the airport with a car load of family!  Grandpa Kitty, Grandma Kitty, and Aunt Lydia are coming to visit!  It has been a much anticipated, long awaited visit, and a desperately needed respite on so many levels.  The time is almost near...