Monthly Archives: November 2009

Turkey Day in Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. This is the first time in my 22 year existence on this Earth that I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my extensive extended family. We usually spend time with my Dad’s side of the family, feasting and then playing our traditional Thanksgiving game of… floor hockey. A little strange, but an absolute blast.

Coincidentally (because the Islamic calendar is lunar and hops back about 11 days every year), Thanksgiving coincides this year with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha (عيد الأضحى‎), which is a holiday marking the pilgrimage to Mecca. To commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience to God (copyright Wikipedia, ha), Muslim families all over the world sacrifice some sort of animal, usually a sheep – not that different from Thanksgiving, eh? We make pilgrimages to our families houses and sacrifices turkeys. But there is a big difference – the actual Eid is tomorrow, but today is a day where many Muslims will fast for the entire day. So this year, our day of feasting ironically coincides with their day of fasting.

Nothing reminds you more that you are an ex-pat than Thanksgiving. I was invited to 3 or 4 separate feasts, all from people trying to keep alive in their hearts the most genuine of our annual holidays, even if it would be with randos and not their families. I decided to celebrate right here on campus with the American faculty, and it looks like it’s going to be a gathering of a few dozen. We are all thankful of this nice calendar coincidence because we actually get a week long “Thanksgiving” vacation, just like we normally do.

Then, later tonight, I’m headed off to Istanbul, Turkey to meet up with one of my best friends from college, Sam Davies, and travel for a week. The flight was only $300 and will only take a little more than 2 hours – crazy! So to add to the irony and weirdness of this day living outside of the States, I’ll be ending my Turkey Day in Turkey. I’m thankful that I have this opportunity to live, teach and travel abroad, and I’m thankful for all my family and friends who won’t fade even though I’m 9,000 miles away.

Cheers, I’ll write again in a week…

Bedouin Jokes

Meet Hussein. Hussein is a bedouin from Southern Jordan who works at Dana Nature Reserve. I went last weekend to this beautiful place where they are working to preserve the environment and the unique culture of the people there. We stayed at an Eco-lodge – no electricity, amazing vegetarian menu, only accessible by a 25 minute drive with a pickup truck. We mostly just hung out on the roof and watched the intense stars, and then spent the entire next day hiking around some really cool rocks. Overall a really cool experience.

What made it even cooler was the ridiculousness that is Hussein. Hussein is absolutely hilarious. When we first met him he told a string of absolutely hilarious jokes with his wonderfully colloquial English that he’s picked up from tourists. Then he came and hung out with us and entertained us for a good two hours, after which he added to his colloquial arsenal “Dope, dude.”

Here are my two favorite jokes that he told:

1. [This might not make sense, but try and think about it or maybe do what I said he did] The question was “Why don’t Jordanian men kiss their wives during sex?” To demonstrate the answer, he pulled up the bottom of his dishdash (his long dress-like robe thing) and held it in his teeth. So funny. He told us that one time he told this joke to a group of French tourists, but he took off everything he was wearing underneath, so when he told the joke, they got even more of a show.

2. [This might only be funny to people living here] A Jordanian, an Egyptian, a Saudi Arabian, and an American are on a plane and it’s going to crash unless they get rid of some of the weight. The American starts throwing bags of money out and the other three protest, so the American says “Don’t worry, we have a lot of money in my country.” Then, the Saudi starts throwing barrels of oil out of the plane and the other three protest. He responds by saying “Don’t worry, we have a lot of oil in my country.” Then, the Jordanian takes the Egyptian man and throws him out of the plane, after which the other two start freaking out. The Jordanian says “Don’t worry, we have a lot of them in my country.”

Tying a Keffiyah (كوفية)

Keffiyehs (كوفية) are extremely beautiful traditional Arab head wear found throughout the Middle East. They protect from the harsh desert sun and also do well in the bitter desert cold. They come in many colors, which often signify various groups and countries – the red ones are associated with Jordan. Most have a very distinct, stately checked pattern. They have come to really represent the region and are a symbol that is still a huge part of Arab life and a point of genuine, unassuming pride. Students at school wear them as scarves when it’s cold out, many older men wear them daily and they are found often in elements of design (like pink breast cancer ribbons here are designed like little keffiyehs!).

One great thing about keffiyehs is that they can be worn in literally hundreds of different ways. Often they are seen worn un-folded with a black rope-like thing circling the heard, though they can just be tied on the head, which is how I prefer to wear it. Now, some of you that knew me 3rd year in college, or that have done manual labor with me on an ASB trip or something know that I am a little bit enamored with bandannas. Naturally, I just as enamored with keffiyahs, which are big, pretty, glorified Arab bandannas. Awesome.

Here’s how I tie mine:

  1. First, fold it in half to make a triangle and put the middle part of the big side of the triangle in the middle of your forehead right below your eyes.
  2. Then, let the top of the triangle hang down behind your head and grab the other two corners.
  3. Take each one and wrap it all the way around your head and tuck it into itself.
  4. Then, take the part covering your eye and fold up around the parts that you wrapped around your head.
  5. Tuck all the frillies into this fold, adjust and ENJOY!

You know you live in a boys’ dorm when…

I had forgotten how weird I was in high school, and subsequently how weird high school boys are in general until living in the same building as 80 of them. High school girls are kind of a mess emotionally, but high school boys are just plain strange . For example, one of my students has decided that he is only going to speak to me in Spanish – what? The problem with this game though is that I don’t speak Spanish… and neither does he. We haven’t gotten very far past “Hola Senor!”

Another crew pretends to speak heaviy accented, FOB-ish English, even though they speak perfect English. I’m often greeted with a “Mr. Bowman, how you are?” I wish I knew Arabic well enough to pretend have an Amercan accent.

Living in the dorm is by far reveals the strangest things though. Whenever I walk out of my apartment, the dorm either reeks of Axe body spray or smells like rotting garbage. There’s really not much in between. The Axe smell is mostly in the morning (though rumor is that they spray it when they smoke cigarettes too), and as it starts to dissipate, it starts to smell like someone left a diaper in the heater, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were somehow true based on the state of the bathrooms. Beyond the daily feast of odors, I have found kids shocking each other with an electric flyswatter, I have found 10 kids in the same room blasting a song that repeats “I’m in Miami, bitch” over and over while the lightbulb in the room changed colors, and I have seen more homoerotic behavior than I would at gay night club in Miami (where the aforementioned song might have actually been playing).

Moral of the story is that high school dudes are weird, and you just have to step up your weird-game to relate. Needless to say, that’s something I’m decent at, so I have made some weird little buddies.

Swimming in the 4th Driest Country in the World

It’s kind of nice being good at swimming here because it’s something that I can say I’m better at than a vast, vast majority of Jordanians. I should try out for the Olympic team or something. It’s not very surprising considering that Jordan is the 4th driest country in the world and has about the same amount of coastline as my home state New Hampshire (like 20 km). They do have quite a bit of shore front property on the Dead Sea, but unfortunately, more than a third of that “sea” is actually salt, so “swimming” is non-existent (but Jordanians sure get good at bobbing in the salty saltwater instead). Needless to say, swimming is not an integral part of childhood here.

I’ve had two great experiences with swimming with the students so far:

1. Puking at the Swim Meet. The swim coach jetted off to India for a week a while back and I was left with the rag-tag bunch of King’s students that calls themselves the swim team. Conveniently enough, this was also the week of the first swim meet, so I had the pleasure of coaching the crew in the first meet. I was nervous we would embarrass ourselves because there are very few swimmers who can dive, do flip turns and do all four strokes, or even do two of those. The swim meet day came along and the competition strolled in – eight feisty 8-12 year olds to take on our high school swim team. Why did they bring little kids? I have no clue, but we had to make do with what we had. At first I was a little relieved – at least we can beat little kids! And then, I realized, well… perhaps not. A few of the races went well, but the little people ended up beating out swimmers more than once, which was incredibly embarrassing for our high schoolers (some of the kids were so little they had to be lifted out of the pool). To top things off, one of the swimmers pushed himself so hard to try to beat the little kids that he puked all over the deck after his race, then tried to run to the bathroom but didn’t make it, puking and falling in his own vomit. After he did make it into the bathroom, he eventually puked what was left all over the bathroom. A successful start to an illustrious swim coaching career.

2. Swimming for the First Time – On Friday, my weekend duty was to supervise free swim. Three kids strolled in and one of them said “I’ve never swam before – it’s easy, right?” Well, I took that as a cue that I wouldn’t be watching from the sidelines, so immediately disrobed and hopped in the pool right away. Glad I did too. Even though he was tall enough to stand in the shallow end (though not by much, puny little 5 ft tall, 90 pound freshman), he immediately started sinking and drowning the second he got in the pool. I lifted him up while he squirmed and freaked out, calmed him down, and eventually set him on his feet. No, buddy, it’s not easy. It was fascinating watching him be in water for the first time – I had never seen someone so old experience swimming for the first time, and it kind of blows my mind that it’s not an intuitive thing for humans. He definitely didn’t get the hang of it, but maybe I’ll be able to teach him some skills throughout the year.

Wish me luck as I continue my quest to be one of the best swimmers in the country.

Rami Es-Sahem

One thing that a lot of people seem to find amusing is when I introduce myself with my Arabic name, Rami.

Bowman, as I hope many of you know, means “archer,” and an archer in Arabic is a Rami Es-Sahem (رامي السهم). That literally means “thrower of the arrow.” Luckily, Rami also doubles as a pretty common Arabic name, so thus I officially dubbed myself Rami. Now some of the students even call me Ustaath Rami (Professor Rami). And that totally rocks.

Don’t tell the Jordanian government that I have yet another alter ego though…

Teacher Moment #2: Enjoy your “dinner”

On the weekends, I’m usually too exhausted to do anything. I watch a lot of movies (you can buy pirated movies for 1 JD ~ $1.40 here, which is wonderful), workout, relax, and then do the occasional grading, lesson preparation. Sometimes, I can be convinced to do something fun (and there is some really fun stuff to do around here), but sometimes I just want to sleep.

Last night was one of those rarer times where I was convinced to do something fun. I went with a bunch of other younger teachers out to a bar/restaurant that has a salsa band every Friday night. After about 15 minutes, and after ordering some really obnoxious drink that came in a huge container with very long straws, I looked to the side to see one of my students eating a very late dinner with his parents. He came over to say hi, and we chatted awkwardly for about 30 seconds. As he was leaving, he said “Enjoy your dinner” and walked away. No more than one minute later, the waiter pushed a serving cart right by his table with about 15 drinks on it (there were a lot of us!), including my obnoxious one, and certainly no food.

He was incredibly awkward when I saw him in the dining hall today. Moral of the story: no matter how hard you try, you can never escape the fact that you’re a teacher, not even for two hours on a Friday night.