What to do when there’s a Tard at the Post Office

There was a Tard at the Post Office here in Amman this week.  Waiting for me.

No, I’m not using an insensitive 80s junior-highish pejorative – Tard is the Arabic word for package.

As in,”إجاني طَرْد, و نازِل لِآخْذُه” or “‘ijaani Tard, u naazil li’aaxdu”  or “A package has come to me and I’m going down to get it.” (The famous line from our Speaking Arabic Book 2.)

For you pronunciation-hounds please note that the ‘T’ in ‘Tard” is in fact a heavy ‘T’ which means your mouth is held more firm and you need to pharyngealize the sound a bit from the back of your throat.  (No, I’m not making that up.)  If you pronounce it correctly you will sound silly to yourself.  But if you pronounce it like a regular English ‘t’ you will sound silly to everyone else.  Take your pick.

After almost a year living in Amman I still haven’t figured out why some packages get held at the Post Office and some get sent through to the place where we collect our mail.  There doesn’t seems to be any rhyme or reason to it.  We used to think that Priority Mail envelopes would get sent through and anything larger would be held – but that just hasn’t been the case.  Sometimes small things get held and large things get sent through.  I’m sure there’s a reason, but we haven’t been able to figure it out.  In case you’re interested (or new to Amman and want to know) here’s the process for getting a package from the P.O. here in Amman.

Getting A Package Slip

1st we recieve a package slip with our regular mail.  This slip looks very official and alerts us that there is a package waiting for us.  This is always cause for excitement in our household!  One peice of info that I wish was included on the slip was the size or weight of the package – which as you will see could be useful information.  It is very important not to lose this slip – I never have (ok – I misplaced one for a long time – but it wasn’t ever really lost) but can only imagine the headache it would be to try to get the package without it.

Getting to the Post Office

Next we have to find a suitable time and way to get to the Post Office.  The Main Post office is located in the balad (downtown) on Prince Muhammed street.  Or in local parlance – just beyond Hashim’s restaurant near all the DVD shops.  If you get in a taxi and say, “3al-bariid ir-ra’iis fi-lbalad, law samaat” your driver should take you right there.  However, if like me, you often find yourself in Jabal Amman near 3rd Circle or Rainbow Street you can always jump in a service (pronounced ‘serveese’). This is a shared taxi and only costs 1/4 dinar as opposed to whatever the taxi fare would be (probably more).

There are a couple of Jabal Amman services but the correct one starts near Akilah Hospital just below 3rd Circle and runs along the top portion of Mango Street, cuts across by Bishop’s School to Rainbow Street and then descends into the balad.  Just ride it down until you get to the end of the line.  You’ll know you’re there because you get to a place where two streets merge and the driver will stop and everyone else will get out while wishing God to give the driver strength in Arabic.  Actually before this happens the driver may back a little down the hill on the street that merges in and then stop.  Don’t panic this is completely normal.

When you get out, head down the hill (to the left compared to the direction you just came from).  This is a steep street with crazy sidewalks – it’s safer to walk in the street.  Welcome to Jordan!  As you go down the hill another street comes in from the left – continue down and to the left on this street.  It will run into Prince Muhammad street and you will see the Post Office ahead of you across this busy thoroughfare (yes, near all the DVD shops).

Getting your Package out of the Post Office

When you go into the main entrance of the Post Office, take an immediate left and go through a set of open glass doors.  You will be in a stairwell – go up to the next level.  Here’s where it get’s interesting.

  1. Take your package slip (we’ll call this Paper #1) to the counter.  There are usually 3 or 4 men sitting behind the counter.  Depending on the time of day or how busy it is they may or may not acknowledge your presence.  They will probably never smile at you.  Don’t worry – it’s not personal and they do know you are there.  Hand Paper #1 to one of the men.  It will invariably be the wrong man.  Don’t worry he will tell you which of the other men to hand it to.
  2. Counter Man #1 will give you Paper #2 and mumble instructions to you in Arabic.
  3. He’s telling you to head back towards the stairs and turn left down the hallway right before them.  Take Paper #2 to the  2nd (or maybe 3rd I can’t remember) door on the right.  The room will be obvious because there are two desks, 3 post office employees, a large rack, and a large set of windows looking into the Package Holding Area.
  4. Give Paper #2 to the man at Package Room Desk #1.  He will ask to see your passport. This is very important – no passport, no package.
  5. This man will hand paper #2 to a man in the Package Holding Area who will search for your package. This step may take some time.
  6. Once you have your package, take it and Paper #2 to Package Room Desk #2.
  7. There are usually 2 P.O. employees here.  One will say something to you in Arabic.  He wants you to open the package with the box cutter tied to the desk.
  8. Show the contents of the package to these P.O. employees.  They will list out the contents of the package on Paper #3 and stamp it with official looking stamps.
  9. You then need to leave your package on the rack and take Paper #3 to the office of semi-important official who will look at it once, ask your name, stamp Paper #3 and tell you to see the  director.
  10. The director will give Paper #3 a once over and diret you to go back to the counter.  Counter Man #2 will look at Paper #3, give you Paper #4 and tell you to take them both to Counter Man #1.
  11. Counter Man #1 will look it all over, do some calculations, and ask you to pay a nominal amount for your package.
  12. Counter Man #1 will stamp Paper #4 and tell you to return to the room where you left your Package.
  13. Show Paper #3 and #4 to the man sitting at Package Room Desk #1
  14. He’ll keep paper #3 and give you Paper #4 (basically a receipt) and will allow you to take the package with you.

This is, of course, the part where knowing the size and weight of the package beforehand would come in handy as you now have to figure out how you will carry the open box with all of its goodies through the balad and find a taxi/service/bus to take you home.  I like all the goodies in big packages, but love small packages that I can put in my backpack – it makes the long  hot wait/walk in the balad so much easier.

The whole process could take 10 or 15 minutes or the better part of an hour depending on a number of variables (how busy they are, how hot it is that day, how grumpy or happy the PO workers are, how much strange stuff your family has sent you that needs to be explained to the guys inspecting the package, etc.). BTW – generally you can’t pick up packages after 2 pm- so plan accordingly!

If you have time and the package isn’t so big you should stop by Hashims for some falafil and hummus!

So in summary, to get your package you will need to exchange at least 4 different papers, speak to 6 or 7 different men and get 3 or 4 diffrent stamps on the paperwork!  The first time anyone does this it’s pretty confusing, but don’t worry it gets better with time – oh and they will definitely tell you where to go if you seem lost. (I mean that in the best possible way!)

Yeah it’s a bit of a rigamarole (I don’t think I have ever typed that word before), but it is well worth it  to recieve a box of goodies from home.  (This is true for all cultures I think – I saw a guy who I took to be Pakistani or Indian in line in front of me opening (for the PO employees) a package full of crackers and dried noodles.  The guy going through the stuff gave him a quizzical look and the Indian and or Pakistani man picked up a package of crackers and said, ‘you can’t get these here!”  I smiled – and was tempted to ask him if I could try one – but did not.)

I guess I’ve characterized the postal workers here as kinda grumpy.  Which is kinda true.  (Oh – there is one guy at the counter who sometimes smiles – must be the new guy).  But I’m usually there around quitting time which probably doesn’t help matters.  It has to be a fairly thankless job.  I’ve seen a fair amount of impatient, argumentative, and ungrateful package recievers too.  As in all cross-cultural situations it pays for foreigners to be friendly (but not too friendly ladies – in other words don’t smile or make too much eye contact) and use some Arabic.

This last time I exchanged greetings with the package inspector and we had the following conversation after the greetings and while he was looking through my box (I in Arabic, he in English):

Him:  Mr. Brian?

Me: Yes?

Him: Are you British?

Me: No, I’m American,

Him:  Really?

Me:  Certainly.

Him: Because Brian is a British name.

Me:  Actually it’s Irish.

Him:  Really?

Me: Yes, a long time ago there was a King of Ireland and his name was Brian.

Him (laughing):  Ok, Mr. Malik!  (Mr.  King) Or like Bryan Adams, right.

Me (laughing): Sure, why not?

Him:  Ok, Mr. Malik, take this paper to the mudiir (director).

Me:  Thank-you.  Peace on Your hands.

Him (now in Arabic): And also on yours.  God give you peace.

Me:  And May God strengthen you.

Him: And may he strengthen you as well.

Just another day picking up a Tard at the Post Office in Jordan.

Just Another Bag of Bread

To the untrained eye it may just look like another bag of bread. Of course, to the untrained eye it may not even look like that. Yes, this is generally how we buy our bread or khubz (خُبز) here in Jordan. We try to get it fresh from a nearby bakery every couple of days, but can also pick it up day-old from any number of little convenient-store-like shops.

Xubz (pita bread) from a local maxbaz (bakery)

Xubz (pita bread) from a local maxbaz (bakery)

The bread itself is flat and round and has a pocket like a pita. It comes in small (pictured here) and large sizes. It is so good fresh and still warm from the bakery. It’s fluffy, soft-but-not-too-soft, chewy, and just a touch of sweetness. You can’t buy anything like it in the States. Pita back home tends to be either paper thin, or super thick, and usually tough and stale – this stuff is just right.  When you buy it at the bakery they pick it up off from the wooden rack and put the amount you want directly in  a plastic grocery bag.

But I digress . . .

Last night I picked up our weekly meal of “Dream Chicken.” Dream is the name of a restaurant in our neighborhood. It’s not much to look at, but the food is great. They serve up rotisserie chicken, hummus, falafil, foul, french fries, and a couple of different Middle Eastern salads. The guys that work there are Egyptian and for whatever reason they’ve taken a liking to me – it’s usually an hour excursion to go get our supper. Last night they sat me down at the back table where workers sit in between customers, served me tea and we had a rambling conversation as I sipped tea and watched them do their jobs. (but that’s another post entirely).

As I left Dream and was walking down the hill, I realized that I had forgotten to ask for bread. I had no worries as they actually get all their bread from a bakery (maxbaz – مَخبَز) just 3 or 4 doors down. I looked over but the door where you usually tell the boy how much bread you want was closed. Wondering what I was going to do, I noticed another door that I had never seen open before. It obviously led into the inner workings of the bakery with the big mixer, ovens, empty bread racks, and flour everywhere.

I was already several steps down the hill when I decided to to do a very Arab thing. I walked back up and stepped a couple of feet into the obviously closed bakery and had the following conversation:

me: assalaam alaikum (Peace be upon you)
boy: wa’alaikum asalaam (and also on you)
me: ma fii xubz? (there is no bread?)
boy: ma fii! (there is none)

Just as I was about to turn and walk out a man emerged from the back room)

man: la! fii! fii xubz, bas zgiir. (No, there is. There is bread, but only small ones)
me: ma fii mush kalle. biddi zgiir, law samaat. (there is no problem, I would like small ones, if you please).

The man handed me a bag full of bread.

me: salaam idayak. qaddaysh? (peace on your hands. How much?)
man: rubiah (a 1/4 dinar aprox 35 cents)
me: tfaddil (please take this)
man: u idayak (and also peace on your hands)
me: ma’salammi (goodbye)
man: ma’salammi (goodbye)

The man went right back to his work and I left the shop.

As I walked out I realized that I had just had the conversation. I had just walked into a neighborhood shop and had a very normal everyday conversation including an exchange of money and goods with absolutely no hitch. No questions, no stumbling over greetings or amounts of money, no strange looks or questions about where I’m from. The whole encounter probably lasted less than a minute, and the conversation was pretty basic but I felt like I had passed a significant language learning milestone!

*******************

Cool Arabic language note:

The Arabic language works on a system of three-letter roots.  Prefixes and suffixes are added, and vowels are changed to change the meaning.  So:

xabaz خَبَز   means “to bake”

xubz خُبز means “bread”

maxbaz مَخبَز   means “bakery”

ps – the “x” is pronnounced like a combination ‘k’ and ‘h’, kinda like the last sound in “Bach”

Arabic Language Correction

In my last post I gave the Arabic compliment and response you use when somebody gets a hair cut, but I was only half right. I copied the wrong response from my notes.  So here’s the correction.

When someone get’s a haircut you say to them:

نّيماً or “na3iiman” which literally means “Grace”

the response is always, اللّه ينعِم عّليك “allah yn3im 3layk” which literally means “God’s grace on you”

What a friendly way to say “nice haircut!”

Sorry for the confusion =)  And please, any speakers of Arabic feel free to correct me in the comments!

Successful Ramadan Trip to the Saloon

A little while ago I posted about my desperate need for a Saloon this Ramadan.  Not for a pint, as you might suspect, but for a haircut.  Huh? A haircut at a saloon?  Yes, well, in fact this is the common (and amusing) misspelling and mispronunciation of “salon” in Arabic. You can find many saloons all over Amman, usually with an accompanying sign with amusing pictures (to the American eye anyway).  Previously I posted 6 pictures of nearby Saloons, asking for your input on which one I should go to.  There was a lively discussion in the comments about which 80s superstar some of the Saloon sign models looked like with nods to the Baldwin brothers and Rick Astley.

Your input was helpful, but in the end I went my own way (anyone surprised?) and chose option #6 – Fawzi’s Saloon.

Go to Fawzi's for a fine haircutif you are ever in Ashrafiyeh!  (Men only please)

Go to Fawzi's for a fine haircut, if you are ever in Ashrafiyeh. Men only, of course!

It may have been the allure of the Burt Reynolds ‘stache and ‘burns, but in the end it simply came down to geographic proximity and time.  Fawzi’s was closest – literally a block down the street.  Time was of the essence as I didn’t get out earlier in the day, so I had to wait until around 9 PM or so for barber shops like this one to reopen after iftar (the meal to break the Ramadan fast – many shopkeepers go home for an hour or two).

It was worth the wait. Sorry no pics – I’ll try to get some when I take Noah.  Fawzi’s is a small one chair shop.  And what a chair – it’s orange and black and chrome – like something from California in the 70s.  Lots of mirrors, some Qur’anic verses on the wall, a seating area for 3-4 people, some Arab language newpapers and a anti-smoking pamphlet next to the two ashtrays filled with cigarett butts.

A couple guys were sitting on the couch watching what I call theArab version of a soap opera on the small TV mounted on the wall between two mirrors.  Fawzi had a young guy in the chair – toucing up his sideburns with a dab of foam from a brush and the flick of an old-fashioned straight razor.  Nice!  We all exchanged pleasantries on the way in, but after that we were pretty much quiet until Fawzi finished up the two guys ahead of me.  Everybody was watching the TV.  Me too, but I was only catching every 10th word or so.  OK . . . maybe every 20th word.

The haircut was great. Fawzi was a good sport about my limited Arabic.  Actually I think it helped that I thought he said he had 11 sons, when he told me his oldest son “had 11 years.”  LOL.  We both got a big laugh out of that once we straightened it out.  We actually had a fair exchange re. our families and where I was from in Arabic. The haircut was good – but the shave was even better.  He did a really good job. That was actually the first time I ever had a shave like that – somebody holding a straight razor to my neck.  And  in the States I’m not much for the teeny-boppers at Sports Clips messing with my beard with clippers.  But I had an inkling that Fawzi was somewhat more experienced.

So here’s the results.

Shave and a haircut . . .

Before . . .

...and after!

...and after!

Haven’t gotten the final word from the wife as she was asleep when I wondered in an hour and a half after I had left for a “quick” haircut.  The beard might actually be a little too short – but it’ll grow back =)

The best part – the haircut and shave (with tip) – drum roll please . .  . 3 JD or right around $4.25!  Not the proverbial 2-bits, but pretty close.  Nice!

So let me know what you think.  The proper response in Arabic when you see someone who has had a haricut is “نَعيماً” or “na3iiman” – whether you think it looks good or not =).  This word means “grace” in Arabic.  I’m not sure if this means you look more graceful now or if God has been gracious in allowing you to have a haircut (which sounds about right in my case).  And then the person with the haircut would respond: ” الله ينعم عليك ” or ” Allah yan3am 3layk.”  Which I think literally means “God be gracious to you.”  So much more civilized than “nice haircut!”  and “thanks, man!”