Saturday, September 21, 2013

Stark Contrasts in Amman

I know it's been a long time since my last post but it's been a busy start to the school year.  Shanna and I are both hard at work, adjusting to a new school and new positions.  Ryker is hard at work playing with his fire truck and talking almost non-stop these days.  He says, "marhaba" which means hello in Arabic.      He continues to wow the local folks with his dashing good looks and friendly disposition.  In the last two weeks he has received free chocolate, a free cupcake, and a free brownie from places we have visited.  The Jordanian people love kids, which makes it much easier to go out with an almost 2 year old who runs around the entire restuarant at times.  Now, I know that isn't saying a whole lot about our choices of places to visit either, but every once in a while you need a taste of home.

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about all the contrasting elements that I see on a pretty frequent basis in Amman.  Just last night, I was driving, and saw a Lamborghini parked next to an empty lot full of trash where a man was searching for what I can only assume was aluminum or glass.    Jordan is considered a "developing" country, so you end up seeing a unique mix of first world opulence and third world poverty intermixed.

For instance, here is a picture of City Mall, one of the many gleaming, modern malls in the city.  It has all the major international brands along with nice restaurants to few Jordanians could afford.

Just outside of the mall, there are empty spaces.  On those empty spaces sit tents, housing the "homeless" people.  Homeless is debatable here, as many Jordanians believe these people are homeless by choice, not by circumstance.  Sounds like a similar argument between people in the States.  Anyways, here is a pic of what you might see as you leave the mall.

As a developing country, albeit, one with tons of history behind it, you also see modern vs. old.  Here is a great example of the skyline transforming from solely 4 to 5 story sand colored buildings that all look alike to the modern, "Western" skyscraper.  In all honesty, they look completely out of place and I get a disgusting feeling look at them.

Probably the largest contrast in my opinion, comes on a daily basis.  I pull into a parking space behind tall gates and head into a school for a day at work at a place that could fit with schools in the states.  I walk into my room and turn on my new iMac.  My kids have a class set of iPads coming.  Every student is speaking English.  I teach a similar curriculum to what I was teaching in the states.  I have pizza, sub sandwiches, or enchiladas at lunch.  I watch my kids play soccer, basketball, or four-square.  
I don't realize I am not in the states.  The stark contrast comes when I pull out of the gate and see I am not in the states anymore.  "We are not in Kansas anymore," is what I think daily.  You would think I would get used to this, but I get so used to the school setting and that familiarity, that I often forget where I am in the world.  Yes, I can still drive down the street and head to Starbucks, but most likely I will pass a man selling fruit out of the back of his truck to make a living, many Muslims heading to prayer at the mosque nearby, and plenty of garbage and trash laying everywhere.  It's like a comfort and a shock on a daily basis.  However; I'm beginning to like this place ...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Top 5 Rules to Driving in Amman

I haven't seen this yet in person, but I have seen a a man riding a donkey on the busiest road going towards downtown Amman. (Zahran)  I guess it is still a mix of the developed/developing world here.

Anyways, there are many things that take time to adjust to when living in a new country.  I feel like Shanna and I were prepared for a few of them before arriving: the more conservative dress, people speaking Arabic, some of the luxuries of home that are absent, and then you have some small frustrations that are new upon arrival.  Why is laundry detergent so expensive?  Why does it take so long to order and get your food at a restaurant, etc. There are also things that blow you away when you arrive like driving.

I was literally scared the first time I had to get behind the wheel and drive.  You see, the school gives us a car.  Amman is not a pedestrian friendly city and public transportation is minimal.  You can always use taxis for cheap, but if we have Ryker along, we really prefer he is in a car seat because OF the driving here.  Although, I have gotten more used to it, driving is still a stressful endeavor a majority of the time.

Anyways, here are my top five tips/rules to driving in Amman:

1.  If you give an inch, you will lose a mile.  Cars will constantly try to get ahead of you, regardless of space, traffic back-ups, or that you are stopped at a red light.  If you give up space to one car, expect 5 others to try and cut in as well.

2.  Turn signals are broken on every single Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Ford, and Porsche here.  Either that, or people here feel it is completely rational and safe to slow down to a complete stop on a busy road to turn without warning somebody inches from their bumper.

3.  Lanes are optional.  Yes, there are lanes paved on most of the major streets.  However; if there are two lanes on a road in one direction, you can bet that people will try and make it three.  Therefore, you are constantly switching between existent and non-existent lanes due to people found in #2.

4.  Horns are utilized at all times.  If you are 1 second late after a light turns green, expect to get honked at incessantly.  If you are going slow, expect to be honked at.  If you don't pull out onto a street, regardless of the traffic in 10 seconds or less, expect to be honked at.  If you pull off to pick up cigarettes at the corner store, block traffic, and double park somebody, that is completely normal.  Honking is optional in that case.

5. If you are indecisive at all when doing anything driving related, you lose out to a Middle Eastern driver.  It is said that if you make eye contact with the driver, it is too late.  They are either cutting in front of you or driving around you.