Monthly Archives: January 2011

A Man of Many Names

There is something about my name that affords itself very easily to nicknames. Maybe it’s the fact that it is chock full on short common nouns, or that it already has man in it, a common element of many nicknames. It all started in seventh grade… back then my older brother was going through a brief phase where his friends were calling him Dickie, which left me with the unfortunate younger brother derivative Little Dickie. Since then, I’ve been Bo, Bubbles, Bobo, B-man and even Mandick (taking the middle part of BowMANDICKson). Whenever I go somewhere new, I tend to accumulate a few more nicknames. Here are a few of my favorites from my name at King’s, of course in addition to my Arabic name, Rami:

Bomaly is the Arabic word for pomelo, which is some sort of large citrus fruit that I don’t think I have ever seen (though you may recognize it from this somewhat well known picture of cat with a pomelo rind on its head). The guards at the gate of the school are somewhat notorious for messing up some of the ex-pats names (though certainly no worse than how badly some ex-pats massacre Jordanian names). I guess they heard Bowman and tried to make it into something that they recognized, so Bowman became Bomaly. This has stuck with a few of the Jordanian faculty here, as they found this story pretty amusing. I’m a fan of this one, though I need to get my hands on a bomaly to see what all the fuss is about.

As a bit of an Arabic nickname in and of itself, one student decided to give me some good Arabic sounds for my name, so he added a “kha” in the middle, which sounds like the hard throat clearing k/h end of loch in Scottish. He uses this name almost exclusively for me. It has a nice ring to it.

On a recent trip that I chaperoned to my favorite pirated DVD spot in Amman, Hamoudeh, my insane buddy who works there named Thaer was causing his usual ruckus, trying to peddle random crappy shows, proposing marriage to people, pretending to make deals even though everyone gets the same deal etc. He was trying to get my attention from a bit of a distance but still doesn’t know my name (I guess weekly trips and hundreds of movie purchases aren’t enough) so the students told me he was shouting for Mahmoud, a pretty random typical Arab name. I’m not sure why he picked that or why he thought that I would have an Arab name, but now a small group of senior girls call me Mr. Mahmoud.

And then many of the rest of the senior girls just call me Bowman. If you’re 17 and too sassy for your own good, there’s no way you are addressing the 23 old dude in a lab coat and a bow tie with “mister”. Last year, I had  only 7 female students out of 35, so I didn’t get much exposure to the population of female high schoolers. This year my classes are about 50-50, so I teach around 30 young women, and I am actually having a very different year. I still haven’t decided which are stranger, high school boys or high school girls, but my experience with the newspaper this term has been tipping the scales toward the girls. This term, I have something like 15 senior girls working for the newspaper, and then like 3 or 4 others. They play this game during meetings called “Let’s see how many times we can get Mr. Bowman to blush.” They are very good at this. During the most recent one, I was working with someone else when I head one of the girls say very loudly “Would he rather hold your hand, or hold your ass?” They were making a Cosmo type quiz in which you answer questions about your boyfriend and add up points to get some sort of result. There were just so many things wrong with the situation that I had no clue what to do but turn completely red. Senior Girls – 1, Mr. Bowman – 0.

Arabic Victories/Defeats

Arabic classes are in full swing – a large group of the ex-pat faculty is taking classes four days a week, a huge commitment when you teach four periods a day. It is very much worth it though. Even after only a few weeks I can feel myself getting better and better instead of just stagnating in our English dominated environment. Better yet (but don’t tell my Arabic professors from college yet), the formal Arabic is starting to fade from the tip of my tongue and the spoken Arabic is taking its place, something for which I have been struggling for two years. Here are a few recent Arabic victories, and one defeat.

1. Though I don’t like cutting my hair now that I need to treasure every bit of it before it falls out, I was way past due for a haircut by my terms last week. I went to the same guy I always do, Nasri, the same one who once lifted me on his shoulders in a restaurant, but sadly he wasn’t there. There was a number on the door to call, but I was too nervous because I hate speaking Arabic on the phone – it is so much harder! I walked around and looked for another barber, almost committing high treason, but I must have picked a bad time because no one was in their shop (surprising because it seems like some dudes spend almost all of their waking hours at the barber). So I went home. The next day, I returned, and BAM, same thing. No Nasri. But, I really needed a haircut, so I got up the guts to punch in the numbers and call him. I explained to him in Arabic that I was outside his shop and really wanted a haircut. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was a pretty cool moment for me, as I didn’t feel as helpless and stupid as I normally do. He trotted out and we ended up having a pretty exciting hour and a half long haircut. Now, as I have griped about previously, it’s not like I have much hair, so that’s not why it took long. I decided that I wanted to talk instead of sit there awkwardly like I normally do, but the problem is that Nasri talks with his hands (especially to the dumb foreigner) and thankfully does not try to cut hair and talk with his hands at the same time, so every time he told a story, the haircut would get the pause button, and I would sit there somewhat mangled while he would confused me with stories. But we talked about some really cool things, and after telling me that Jordanians in his income bracket lie all the time to pay less income taxes, he pulled out his store’s tax folder (all in Arabic) and went through it with me. It was a really cool experience, an interesting insight into the inner workings of the country. I love that dude, even if he sometimes gives me a bit of a comb over (though that might be my scalp/genetics fault not his).

2. The guy who cleans my apartment, Lo’ay, left me a really nice note the other day wishing me a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, happy new year for the rest of my life, holiday wishes and lots of other things (it took up a whole page even though it was only pleasantries). He knows I can read Arabic because I went back and forth one time with him when he broke one of my mugs and felt awful, and I kept writing notes saying I could care less. The note is proudly displayed on my fridge, and I am going to get around to writing him back as soon as I get a breather in my schedule. I love interacting with the housekeeping staff at the school because they are always so surprised and happy when a honky like me can speak Arabic, and seem very appreciative that they are being treated like peers at the school, not underlings.

3. Which brings me to my defeat though. At the end of the day I say my favorite housekeeping friend, Muhannad. He is such a friendly guy, always smiling, always asking me how I am. The other day, we went through the usual pleasantries and I asked him how he was, and he responded “not good”. I asked him why, and he obviously wanted to vent. The week before, a few students had purposely stolen his cell phone as a malicious prank (even though they certainly have a BlackBerry or iPhone or both). He knew they knew what they were doing because he had someone call the next day and they picked up. Somehow he managed to get back the battery, which he was holding in his hand as he was talking. He vented for a good 3 or 4 minutes, and was really upset because he has gone a week without his phone and can’t afford a new one (the housekeepers don’t make much money). I was happy that I could be there for him and listen, but I was very upset by the whole situation. This guy is the same one who told one of my colleagues that he could make more money working somewhere else but really likes working for King’s because he likes the idea of working for a school, and being a part of something good. I kept apologizing, because that’s all I could really say. He seemed happy to be able to tell someone this, but really affected by someone dumb kids who had no clue how this would make a great person like Muhannad feel. I guess with learning the language you become privy to not only the good but the bad too.

Good or bad, let the Arabic continue! I can’t imagine leaving this place without developing some solid language skills and I finally feel like I’m on the way!

My Next Job: Mall Photographer

If this teaching gig ever stops working out, there is one job that I think I would be pretty good at: Mall Kid’s Photographer. Their job is to distract children into smiling while they take pictures of them, because children don’t yet understand that okay, sometimes you just smile even if you don’t feel it  for the purpose of the picture. Sometimes I feel the same way about teaching, like I’m up in front of the class doing back flips and cartwheels to try to trick them into actually learning things, getting them genuinely engaged even if it isn’t directly with the material at hand.

Sixteen and seventeen year olds are very transparent in some ways – it is 100% obvious when they find something uninteresting, and don’t feel like smiling for the sole reason that there is a camera in from of them. I find that a lot of them aren’t okay with learning just for the sake of learning if they aren’t genuinely interested, which proves a problem when everyone is required to take math and science. Though frustrating at times, I see it more positively – it’s a nice litmus test for me to see if what I planned is engaging for its own sake and not just because I ask them to be engaged, if the curriculum is actually worth teaching or if we should rethink say, how much time 2×2 matrices deserve in our Algebra classes…

I had one of my favorite Physics classes in a while yesterday. For Thursday afternoon, I brought in cookies as a reward for having finally made 30 mistakes on the board for the year in Physics (part of my Donut Points paying attention promotion). I announced this about 10 minutes before the end of the period, followed quickly by the catch: I will only give you the cookies if you can tell me how many times I would have to run up the clock tower on campus to burn one cookie off, and how powerful I am compared to a horse. I then started a PowerPoint that gave them pieces of information every minute or so that would help them and also announced I’d be willing to give them any information that they explicitly asked for (height of the clock tower, my mass, calories in one cookie, how fast I can run etc). It was perfect because there was literally a carrot dangling in front of them (except sweeter and less healthy), they had to figure out what information was pertinent (instead of a dumb textbook problem that hides all the information in the question) and they had to use everything we had been talking about in 4 or 5 step process to answer a very simple, real life question – a question that didn’t have any Physics lingo in it, whose answer didn’t have any Physics lingo in it. Though it worked better in one section than the other, and some kids hung back and let the strong students take over, the level of engagement and excitement was phenomenal, especially for the last 10 minutes of the last class on a Thursday afternoon (our last day of the week).

The surprising answer: 43.7 times. I would have to run up our clock tower, which is about 15.4 meters = 50 ft high, almost 44 times to burn off a single 120 calorie cookie. And I’m as powerful as 0.5 horses. Granted there were a lot of simplifications that caused the final answer to be an overestimate, but still, pretty interesting! The funny part: even after calculating that ridiculously high number, no one had any issues shoving a few cookies into their mouths. I offered to open up the clock tower for the afternoon to burn off the cookies I had just given them, but no takers…

I count that activity as successful learning trickery.

P.S. I drew that picture on paint!