Monthly Archives: December 2009

HOME (will write again in January)

After an epic 28 hour journey from Amman to Chicago to Austin, I’m sitting here with my family in our (relatively) new home enjoying a relaxing 2 week break before I head back to my Jordanian high school life. I’m spending ten days here, and then three in Washington, DC catching up with friends from UVA. After a day and a half, I’m still pretty jet-lagged, which makes me not very excited for my return journey, when I am going to have to get those eight timezones back while explaining the mysteries of our physical world to unruly high schoolers.

If you had told me even in my senior year of high school, before I had heard of UVA, before I had any interest in the Middle East and before my parents moved to Texas – before I had ever considered the possibility of somewhere other than New Hampshire being “home”, if you had told me that I would be hopping around between these three places… It makes me really think about the word “home” and makes me wonder if I associate the concept with a physical place or something more ethereal. Passions, people, memories, relationships, life activities, employment, excitement. Who knows where “home” will be in the future physically, but something tells me that it’s actually always been somehow in the same place. And home will probably stick right there in the future.

Until January.

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Dropping Heath Ledger in Physics Class

When I originally applied to teach at King’s, I applied to teach Math, but there were no openings. Well, the nice thing about private school is it really don’t matter what your official background is, you can teach whatever you want!

Reason #65 that I am glad there were no openings in Math and instead I’m teaching Physics – DROPPING EGGS!

The nice thing about being 22 is that I still have the attention span and similar “fun-o-meter” to my students, so whenever I think of something exciting I want to do with them that even tangentially relates to what we are talking about, we do it. Recently, we have been talking about momentum and impulse, and I decided that we needed to drop eggs to demonstrate the subject. We probably could have easily talked about it in the classroom quicker and more efficiently, but I wanted to see eggs explode, and the nice thing about teaching is that you do whatever the hell YOU want to do. We dropped them into water, Styrofoam, and on the ground to demonstrate that if it takes longer to slow something down (the Styrofoam) then less force is needed to do it (and perhaps the egg wont break). We dropped them from different heights to give the eggs more or less momentum when they hit the ground.

To add a bit of a twist, I spent the entire first period of the day decorating the eggs, drawing faces on them and naming them things like “Heath Ledger” and “Michael Jackson” (too soon? not soon enough?).

Another one of those moments where I thought “Really? You guys trusted me with this job… and your children?”

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

In the Dana Nature Reserve the weekend before last break, where I met Hussein with his wonderful Bedouin Jokes, my friend Molly (a recent Williams grad also starting her adventure in the Middle East, blog here) and I went on an epic 6 or 7 hour hike up through the Wadi there. On the way back, we encountered a little girl named Afaf, a Bedouin who lives in the reserve with her family. Afaf, who is 12, immediately offered us tea, so we sat down to partake, when she realized that she didn’t have a lighter. Then she invited us to follow her to her tent and we had a little adventure along the way collecting sticks, water and hanging out with her donkey. She spoke very little English, but we communicated well in Arabic, good practice for me. We eventually got to her “house,” which was actually just a half tent, where she made a fire and brewed us up some very sweet tea. As we waited we chatted and met her brothers and a slew of other fun little kids from the area. It was an incredible gesture, very touching, and a very fun end to a grueling hike.

Well, Molly was stealthily documenting the entire blossoming new friendship so she put some of the pictures to Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” in a funny little video called “Rami’s New Friend” – in case you forgot, I’m Rami. Check it out.

If the embedded video doesn’t work, here’s the link.

Thursday Nights: Hummus, Pirated DVDs and Hookah

Amman is a very expensive place to live unless you find a way to do it right. Jordan actually has one of the highest costs of living in the Arab world, which may come as somewhat of a surprise. Prices for a lot of things are pretty similar to those in New York City – again, unless you find a way to do it right. My Thursday night schedule is definitely an example of that.

Dinner at Hashem’s Restaurant – 1.50 JD (about $2)
Hashem’s is a famous hole in the wall in downtown Amman that serves a menu of hummus, fool, falafel and all variations of those alongside great bread and wonderful tea. You aren’t given a plate, but rather a piece of paper to put on the table in front of you. The owner is this frog-like old man with a voice that sounds like it’s seen it’s fair share of tobacco products. Even ordering seconds and thirds, and numerous teas, it’s hard to get over 1.50 JD a person, a whopping $2. Two bucks for a great, authentic experience, and some of the best hummus/falafel in town… heaven.

Pirated DVDs at Hamoudeh DVD 1 JD each, or 6 for 5 JD (about $1.40 each, or 6 for $7)
Literally right next to Hashem’s is Hamoudeh DVD store, a mecca for pirated DVDs. No one buys actual DVDs in Jordan, people just buy fake copies. It’s not like you have to go down a back alley and find a guy wearing a long trench coat and know some sort of secret password – these are regular stores that advertise themselves and are treated as legitimate commerce. Hamoudeh even prints their logo, phone number and location on all of their DVDs. The street with Hamoudeh has probably 8 or 9 of these stores, but Hamoudeh is the best. It’s like being a kid in a candy store – I just go in and buy a dozen movies for $14, sometimes even movies that are still in theaters, or full seasons of shows for $6-7. Occasionally the soundtrack is a bit off, but otherwise, they are great quality and great for the price. I’ll never be able to buy a $18 DVD again.

Argilah (hookah) at Jafra – 2 JD (about $2.75)
After a rousing dinner and some movie shopping, we trek on over to Jafra, a cafe about 50 yards away from Hashem’s and Hamoudeh. You pass between two fake DVD stores and head up to this wonderful second floor spot in this very old building, filled with Jordanians enjoying the cafe life of Amman. After a rough week of teaching class, it’s simply amazing just to relax and puff on a hookah while listening to their house singer dish out great Arabic music while playing the Oud, a traditional Arab instrument. People in Amman really love their cafes, and Jafra is one of the best in my humble, limited, foreigner opinion.

Total cost for a wonderful evening, with one DVD purchase – 4.50 JD (about $6.50)
Estimated price in a city in the US – about $25-30

Hummus + Hamoudeh + Hookah = Heaven.

Inshallah ya Habibi

I often get frustrated with the fact that the human race speaks so many different languages – we spend so much time, effort and brainpower trying to learn each other’s language, imagine if we could put all that effort into figuring out everything that’s messed up about the world?

But that was mostly before I started learning a second language. Arabic is really a beautiful language. Some people might not think so because there are some strange sounds in Arabic that aren’t in other languages, and one or two of them aren’t really all that sexy. But the language itself really has a wonderful grammar structure and is incredibly expressive. With a set of roots and patterns, you can use one word to easily make ten more.

And Arabic really has some great words and expressions that are somewhat untranslatable into English, or at least we don’t use their translations in nearly the same way, which makes me realize the usefulness of having multiple languages to be able to express more exact feelings. Some I find more confusing than useful (like there are different words for maternal uncle and paternal uncle) but some really are gems. Here are a few of my favorites.

Insha’allah (ان شاء الله) – Actually means “If God wills it” or more often translated “God willing” and Arabic speakers use it all the time. A lot of times it’s used as we would in English as more like “I hope that happens!” but has a much broader usage in Arabic. Will the rental car be ready by tomorrow? Insha’allah. No, but I need the car tomorrow, will it be ready? Yes, insha’allah. I don’t care if God wills it, just give me a yes or no!! I have learned that 40% of the time Insha’allah actually means probably not.

Habibi (حبيبي) – Habibi is a great word, it’s the ultimate Arabic pet name. You could translate it as dear, sweetheart, honey bunny, anything you want, but nothing in English really comes close. I call my students habibi, my co-workers might call me habibi, you would certainly call you spouse habibi, really anyone who is dear to you. I think it’s a word very emblematic of Arab culture because relationships between people are really strong and important here. It’s also a great word to know because it’s in every single Arabic pop song, without fail. If you know that, how to say “love”, “heart” and “I love you”, you can understand 80% of Arabic pop music.

Haram (حرام) – Literally means “something forbidden”, but it used a little bit more widely. True, you can say “haram” if someone punches an old lady, but you could also say it in many other situations, like I like to say it if someone plays a really good card while playing cards or when expressing displeasure about something in general.

Wallah (والله) – The Arabic equivalent of “I swear to God” but again, much more common, and much less sacrilegious. You can phrase it like a question (like “really?”) or use it to express that you are indeed telling the truth, or use it as almost emphasis. The student translation of wallah is a little different though – it usually translates roughly as “I’m lying to you right now”. I left my homework in my dorm, wallah; I wasn’t the one who threw the food, wallah; I’m going to do better next term, wallah…

I feel like there are so many others, but I’ll leave it at that for now…

Meeting up with Friends where East meets up with West

As I mentioned previously, I spent Eid Al-Adha ’09 in Turkey with one of my best friends from college, Sam. We spent 4 days in Istanbul and then decided out of the blue to go to a place that we hadn’t heard of before we got there – Cappadocia. We took a 10-hour overnight bus to this very strange place which turned out to be this other-worldly landscape where early Christians carved all these churches into these weird structures that people kept calling Fairy Chimneys – what?

Overall, an extremely interesting country that is on the bridge between East and West in almost every sense. The geographic is obvious; religiously, 98% of the country is Muslim but there is a similar secular feel to it as a European country, though you can hear the call to prayer booming 5 times a day; ethnically, Turks are nearly exact middle ground between Arabs and honkeys (for lack of a better term); landscape-wise, the country was a strange middle ground between a desert and a more lush; linguistically, Turkish sounded very Eastern European but had many elements similar to Arabic (but was ultimately completely incomprehensible – see DUR sign above)… I could go on – but it was interesting as a Westerner living in an Eastern country to travel in this strange transition land. Check out my friend Napatra’s post about East/West and everything in between. Experiences like this, and insight from people like Napatra, make me really rethink our broad generalizations of the world around us. I think they are more dangerous than they are useful.

Anyway, in case you found this post boring, my favorite thing I saw in Turkey (of many, many things that I saw) was a guy selling Cialis and pirated copies of children’s movies, most prominently Turkish Ice Age 3, at his little street stand. That sounds like a sweet afternoon. Christmas is coming up, Mom…

If you would like to see some of the actually beautiful and cool things in Istanbul and see the Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia, check out the Pictures page for my new album about Turkey (pictures taken by Sam though). I also added a photostich of the Hagia Sophia, one of the most prominent landmarks of Istanbul, which was just TOO TALL to capture with one image! Check it out, yo.