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  • November 2008
    M T W T F S S

Skype: the Power to Prank 1/2-way Around the World

There’s only 1-hour left on Thursday, Nov 27th here in Jordan, but Thanksgiving is still going strong back home in the States.  (And it will be going strong here tomorrow as we decided to celebrate a day late due to today being a school day for us here in Jordan).  I took a few minutes to phone some dear friends back home.  We used to participate in this really awesome Thanksgiving Dinner stateside.  It was basically tons of volunteers working really hard together to serve hundreds of meals on Thanksgiving. It was always an incredible time and this was the first year in awhile we didn’t participate (for obvious reasons).

So here’s the beginning of the conversation when I called.  A friend answered and for anonymity’s sake, we’ll just call him M.  Actually let’s call him MM.

Me:  Is this the place with the big Thanksgiving Dinner?

MM:  Yes, that’s right this is ______________.

Me:  Great!  Are you still serving dinners?

MM:  Why yes, I think we are,  (off phone to someone: are they still serving in there?)  Yes, we are.

Me:  Great!  I hear that you provide transportation, do you think someone could come pick me up.

MM:  <<slight pause>>, Well I might be able to arrange that.  Where are you calling from?

Me:  Amman, Jordan.

MM:  Where was that sir?

Me: Amman, Jordan.

MM: Uhh, I’m not sure I quite got that, where are you coming from?

Me:  Amman.

MM:  I see, well I’m not sure you’re giving me enough to go on here . . .

I broke down laughing and had pity on my poor friend.  Ahh …. Skype …. the power to prank people 1/2 way around the world!  But even better than that, the power to catch up with people that are important!  I spent another 20 minutes or so chatting with folks as the phone got passed around.  Thanks for being a good sport MM!  And nice work volunteers keeping the T-day tradition alive in the western suburbs of Chicago.  Wish I could have been there in person, but I definitely was in spirit.  If anyone took pictures be sure to pass them along to me.  Thanks!

Scary Rooms

This should have been a halloween post – I know!  But Arabic tests, sick kids, a failed NaNoWriMo attempt, and cross-cultural living have taken precedence over blogging.   It’s a shame, because there has been so much news and life-happenings to blog about.  But rather than tackle any of the huge issues of the day, I think I’ll ease back into blogging with a poll.  Namely a scary room poll.


You remember that room don’t you?  From your childhood.  Maybe it was in your house, or maybe your grandparent’s farmhouse or your Aunt Ruth’s place.  It was THE scary room of your youth.  For whatever reason it just freaked you out.  Maybe it was the way it looked, or smelled, or felt.  Or maybe there was a story associated with it.  Or maybe there was no reason at all.

For me it was the basement.  Which kind of makes sense. We lived in modular home that was brand spanking knew back in 1977 (? maybe – mom?).  Typically scary rooms are found in old Victorian style homes, not pre-fab modern construction.  30 years later the brown and orange shag and the faux wood paneling might be scary design considerations, but what room could possibly be scary in a trailer on steroids?  But basements are another story, right? Basements can be scary no matter what home rests atop them.

Plus we had a story – in the 8mm home movie of the two halves of our home being rolled together – there was a man who clearly got crushed!  He was never heard of again, except on chilly, lonely evenings in the Fall.  Or so we liked to say . . .

So the basement was always a little scary.  I don’t think it was old Ichabod (that was the name of the “dead” contractor – scary, huh?) really, but rather the darkness and coldness.  Access to the basement was from a trapdoor on the back porch. On windy days it would slam shut, “trapping” you downstairs.  Where there were all the ingredients for terror: a musty old woodpile ful of spiders,  drippy pipes, cobwebs full of spiders, a crack in the floor, and the scary old wood stove.  If the light switch at the top of the basement stairs didn’t work I would run down the stairs, eyes closed and sprint across the room to the other switch downstairs.  We had found out that if you left that one halfway the one upstairs didn’t work at all, requiring a scary trip through darkness to turn on the lights.

Of course a flashlight would be an easy solution – but also a cop out.  Sometimes you just have to face your fears because being a wimp is so much more scary.  Of course after I read Lord of The Rings, I just pretended I was Samwise holding up the vial of starlight from Galadriel to chase away Shelob the giant spider. Did I mention that I have an irrational fear of spiders?  Oh – and that I’m pretty much a geek?

Shelob's Retreat

Anyways, It’s funny how light (real or imaginary) always dispelled the fears.

Anyways – that’s me.  What about you?  What was the scariest room for you growing up?  Try taking the poll below.  Hopefully my basement story won’t skew the results.  Options are listed below in alphabetical order (I think).  Please answer once and post any interesting stories in the comments.  In a couple of weeks I’ll post about this again.  (BTW – there is a tie in with Arab culture – there is a typical scary room here in Jordan and I’ve heard some amusing stories related to it.)

Thanks for voting!  Please do add a story or thought in the comments – what made the room scary to you?  How did you fight your fears?

Intercultural Note #2 – It’s a Man’s World

There is no question that here in Jordan it’s a man’s world.  There are the obvious indicators:

  • Many women cover their head and wear conservative Islamic clothing, while men wear pretty much whatever they want (although rarely shorts in public and usually conservative by American standards).
  • Only men can sit in the front seat of taxis.  Women have to sit in the back and wrangle the kids.  I would also note that the only working seatbelts are in the front.  So the the women and kids often sit in the back unrestrained (kids) and unprotected (women & kids).
  • In the evening (in our neighborhood) the men sit out on the street shooting the breeze and smoking narghile, while the women stay inside and . . . I’m not sure what b/c I’m a man and don’t know – but imagine it includes a lot of kid-wrangling and cleaning.

After being here a few months I have a few follow-up observations on these three cultural observations (I don’t know if I amright or wrong on any of this – so comments are welcome, esp. from those who have lived here in Jordan).

  • Jordan is actually very progressive (for the Middle East) when it comes to clothing and women. The queen never covers her head (that I know of) and many women can be seen wearing conservative, but Western style attire with no head covering.  Then there are the young 20-somethings who wear their designer jeans and tight shirts and cover their heads.  I haven’t quite figured them out.  And then there are those who cover their head partially and those who go for the full veiling.  The question on my mind is this – who decides? Is it up to the woman or the man? The other question is does it really matter?  For us Westerners it seems to be the ultimate affront for a man to decide what a woman will wear.  But is it really an individual man who is making the decision our an entire culture?   Does that make it right or wrong?
  • When it comes to men and women in taxis it comes down to this – in public non-married men and women do not closely associate together (in terms of physical proximity).  Apparently only 1 or 2 female taxi drivers exist in Amman.  So in almost every case if a woman sat in the front she would be sitting next to a man she is not married to. I think the woman sitting in the back is a way of protecting her honor.  Admittedly there should be working seatbelts back there.  If we ever happen to get one of the women drivers I will happily let my wife sit in the front.  It’s funny, because in the States everyone sits in the backof the taxi so it’s not really an issue.  Here I think it seems bad because there is something that a man is allowed to do that a woman is not.  BUt again, is this restricting her freedom or offering her some sort of protection?  (and protecting something often requires restriction of freedom, but then the question can be asked what if the something/someone does not want/need to be protected).
  • About the men sitting on the street – I wonder if this is a carry-over from bedouin times?  One can argue about how much a man should help women with the cleaning and kid-wrangling, but this network of men on the street offers a very effective community watch program.  And in bedoiun days (that are not so far off – perhaps 2 generations) perhaps this was a very necessary and valid function for men to be outside the house/tent serving as gaurdians of the family.

In a less obvious way the Arabic language indicates that it is a man’s world.  As with many languages there is a marked disctinction between male and female words.  There is the whole issue of objects being male or female (which I don’t get at all), but then things also change depending on if you are talking to a man or a woman.  There are different pronouns and verb endings. Right from saying “Hello, how are you,” many things are different depending on which gender you areaddressing.  There are even different words to indentify your uncles, aunts, and cousins on your father’s side vs. the uncles, aunts, and cousins on your mother’s side.  Your father’s sister is your “3ami” and your mother’s sister is your “xalti“.

Of course, this only indicates a high degree of gender seperation, not necessarily male-bias.  However,I recently came across an interesting linguistic artifact.  The slang term for prison – are you ready for this?  “Bayt Xaltak” or in other words your “Mother’s Sister’s house.”  Yup.  She must have been one bad woman.  Of course in English we call it “the Big House” I just never knew it belonged to my aunt.  What about you?