Wednesday, 29 December 2010

I'm still around.

Just busy. I'm studying in college, and at the masjid attached to my college, and tutoring English, so I don't get on the internet much. I've been trying to convince the school to stop using Internet Explorer 6, but no dice so far. It's a miracle it even still sort of works.

I've been jumping out of my skin several times every day (and night) when the fire alarm goes off. It's definitely winter now, or what passes for winter here, because the girls are leaving things to cook on the electric heaters, and of course forgetting about them and setting the fire alarms off. It would not be as annoying, if not for the fact that most of the girls in the dorm stay up most of the night, so that's when the majority of the alarms go off, and they won't go and shut them off. Getting woken up and scared out of my wits by the extremely loud bells a few times every night is getting really irritating.

I'm afraid that one day there actually will be a fire (not that it would be that big a deal, since there's not much that could burn), and I'll have rolled over and gone back to sleep, and we'll all suffocate, so I get out of bed and go deal with the alarm, and try to be patient with whoever set it off. My strong fear of fire seems very unreasonable to everyone here; I think it stems from growing up where everything was made of wood or fabric, seeing houses go up in flames like piles of tinder as a child, and having fire safety drilled into me in elementary school. I suppose to a group of very inexperienced girls who have never seen fire, it doesn't seem like anything to get worked up about.

Happy New Year to everyone :)

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Bottles of sand

These bottles full of sand are popular souvenirs in Jordan. You can get them at all the tourist sites and a lot of ordinary shops, but the cheapest place I know of is the souvenir market at the ancient Roman city of Jerash, where the tall round ones are only a dinar (about $1.50) and the larger flat ones are a few dinars.

Coloured sand is very carefully poured through a long, thin funnel into layers of little mounds into the bottle, which form the shapes of camels and mountains when you look at it from the outside of the bottle. They are sealed with a layer of sand mixed with some sort of glue; once the glue dries they won't spill. It is a very interesting process to watch, and incredibly fast.

The Turkish girls often buy a few dozen each to take back to their families. More than one group of Turkish students has loaded up at souvenirs at the market, taken photos of each other outside the main gates of Jerash, and then decided they'd had enough and wanted to go to a mall. I was very disappointed the first time, because I have no interest in malls (which the students spend a lot of time in), but would very much like to walk around some Roman ruins.

Here's Hadrian's Gate at the entrance to the ruins, one of the spots everyone has their picture taken in front of. In Roman times only emperors could enter through it; the picture really doesn't give a good idea of just how large it is.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

I've started tutoring a few of the Arab students in my dormitory in English, and discovered that almost none of them knew I could even speak English. I'm one of only two dorm dwellers this semester who isn't Saudi; the other is a Turk who speaks fairly fluent standard Arabic and studies with the Arabs in the regular college programs.

The Saudi girls seem to have just grouped me with all the other pale people with funny accents - Zarqa has a lot of Chechnyans, and quite a few Russians, Bosnians, and other Eastern Europeans. Hardly any of them knew where I was from, and even fewer of them know where Canada is. If they think Canada is one of the little Eastern European countries, it's no wonder they didn't realize I spoke English.

It's true they've never heard me speak English before, there is no one here for me to speak it with, but still, how do you live with someone for a year and not even know which country they are from and what their native language is?

Immigrants in Canada must feel even more invisible and insignificant - one more foreigner with an accent, not really an individual with a past and stories of their own.  But nobody here looks down on me.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Pretending to Be a Teacher

My college offered me a scholarship (yay!) and I asked if there was anything I could do for them in return, since I stay in the dorm for free. We're crammed in six to a room and not treated very well, but still. They said no, but I got back from the souq this afternoon, totally exhausted, and was just about to shower and eat and then lay down for a bit, and my instructor and an Arab student knocked on the door. The student is taking English composition but knows zero English - I don't even know why the school let her take the course, but that's Jordan for you.

So now I'm pretending that I know how to teach English, and the word is spreading, and all sorts of people want me to teach them. Most of them want an hour a day EACH, which seems unrealistic to me, especially since I'm not charging anything. Or maybe that's why they want an hour every day.

I haven't told anybody that I don't actually know English grammar myself. At all. I studied science briefly in Canada, and promptly forgot all the grammar I supposedly learned many many years ago in high school. Trying to explain English grammar in Arabic is not all that easy, especially since English grammar is nothing like Arabic grammar.

I'm going to look for a copy of the college's English textbook tomorrow, study it myself, try to figure out how to explain all this in Arabic, or very simple English, and hope nobody realizes that I have no idea what I'm doing. It's the best plan I can think of. Fake it till you make it, right?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

My sister in Canada mailed me this package back in March of this year. It's apparently been in and out of Jordan several times, opened and re-taped Allah only knows how many times, and to my surprise everything is still there. Unfortunately, it cost her ninety bucks in shipping, which I feel really bad about, but I'm glad she finally got it back.

I tried to pick it up, in fact I inquired at the post office quite a few times during the nearly eight months the package spent in Jordan, but they claimed no knowledge of it, or of anything else ever being sent to my post office box. I have gotten plenty of other peoples' mail; postal employees are supposed to be able to read English numbers, and read them in the right direction, because the boxes are labelled in English, but a lot of people are hired who can't reliably.

When I first arrived in Jordan, I wondered why nobody I knew ever got mail, or even had a mailing address. This would be why - it doesn't arrive. I still wonder how people go through life without using the postal system.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Soğukçeşme Street

Soğukçeşme Sokaği ('Street of the Cold Fountain') is a lovely cobblestoned street squeezed in between the Hagia Sophia and the wall of Gülhane Park, part of the Topkapı Palace grounds. Its late 19th century wooden townhouses were restored or rebuilt in the 1980s; most of them are now run as expensive hostels. One house contains a library full of books about Istanbul.

An Ottoman water tap.
There are an art gallery and some fancy cafes, towards the end of the street.
Men carrying large trays of things through crowds are a common sight in Istanbul, but it was not crowded today.

Looking back up the street from the end:

Street art outside an art gallery:

It was the middle of a weekday in the off-season, so this cat had the cafe to itself.

A stream in shady Gülhane Park:
Gülhane Park is very popular with couples, young families, and tourists. Girls in hijab and their boyfriends are often seen kissing among the trees - maybe they think people can't see them, or they just don't care if anyone does, I don't know which.
There are birdhouses way, way up in the trees. I don't know what sort of birds they house, but they look tropical. They were too high up to get a good picture.

Begonias planted at the feet of the trees.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Black Sea

On our way to the Black Sea last week, after the pickle shop incident. There were a lot of animals on the road as we drove through farmland - cows, chickens, ducks, and what looked like some sort of buffalo:

This beach is usually very crowded, but summer is over now, so it was just us and the cows.
The beach was littered with the sort of things you might find on a Canadian beach.  There were a lot of beer bottles and cans (here's a Tuborg bottle):

Other assorted bottles as well - this one's covered in barnacles.

Shotgun shells! Very Canadian. There were a lot of less attractive things, including dirty diapers, which I didn't photograph.  I found a lot of empty sunscreen tubes, alcoholic drink containers, dead campfires, and old sofas and rugs littered around. There was a fair bit of garbage, but not as much as there is on the public beaches at the Dead Sea.

Seagull footprints:

Little kid footprints:

Rukiye and a relative having fun in the waves. The first time they got drenched was a surprise.

The seagulls who made all those footprints:

It was a very fun trip, despite the incident with the police.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I nearly got arrested

My friend Rukiye loves pickles. We stopped in a village on our way to the Black Sea, and Rukiye loaded up with pickles - there are whole shops that sell just pickles. They pickle all sort of fruits and vegetables.

If you look closely, you can see that the two big jars on the far right in the photo below are full of pickled melon.
A neat old house next to a very typical Ottoman masjid.

A run down old wooden house which I found interesting.

I went back to the pickle shop to find out if Rukiye was finished (she wasn't). Moments later, the little shop filled up with police officers wearing green uniforms and carrying very large guns. Rukiye and I were escorted to the police station and went before the commandant to explain why I had been taking pictures. The commandant's smoky office filled up with police officers arguing loudly in Turkish. I don't speak that much Turkish and none of the police officers could speak English or Arabic, and I was having a hard time communicating why I was photographing pickles. I found out later that photography was prohibited in that neighbourhood, because there was a police station nearby, although there were no signs or notices about it.  Everyone there already knew.

I suppose that the commandant eventually decided I was just a clueless tourist, because they released us. They didn't even delete the pictures. The commandant found out that he and Rukiye were from the same village, and they had a long chat, none of which I understood. She told me later that he invited her to his house for tea, rather more forcefully than she found comfortable, and she had a difficult time avoiding it.

I was afraid I had gotten Rukiye into trouble, and felt terrible for inconveniencing her. She thought it was all a great joke, and told everyone we know how I'd nearly gotten arrested. I'm told that's not at all unusual in Turkey, or in Jordan. Rukiye was taking pictures of ordinary touristy stuff in Zarqa, and was taken to the police station to explain what she had been doing.

I have to wonder, don't the police have anything better to do that take tourists in for questioning about why they were taking photos? That's what tourists do, they photograph everything in sight. There are a lot of police officers, and they monitor everything, perhaps they don't have anything better to do, but it seems like a waste of time to me.

Oh well, I'm just glad I didn't get arrested, or get Rukiye into trouble.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Masjid Sultan Ahmed

I visited Sultan Ahmed Masjid for the second time a little while ago; it's one of my favourites. People frequently advise me that women's prayers are better at home, and it is difficult for me to pray in public, so I should just stay home. I agree with them, but I love praying in masjids, and I would go nuts if I stayed home all the time.

Built by Sultan Ahmed I, who became sultan at the age of 13, and began work on the masjid in 1609 at the age of 19. He was a devout Muslim who decided not to participate in the Ottoman tradition of fratricide to secure his throne, and sent his brother Mustafa to live with their grandmother after becoming sultan. The masjid was officially opened in 1617, but was not quite completed when Ahmed I died the same year of typhus, at the age of 27. He was interred in a mausoleum outside the masjid, and his brother and successor Mustafa I signed the final accounts for the completion of the masjid.

(An image of the masjid taken prior to 1895).

I took this photo from the upper story of a museum of Islamic art across the square from the masjid. It's so big that it's hard to photograph the whole thing except from a distance. The masjid has the capacity to hold 10,000 worshippers, it is BIG.

This one was taken from across the square, outside the Hagia Sophia.

The gardens are lovely; I took these photos on my last visit, in the spring. I have spent enough time in Istanbul that I don't photograph absolutely everything anymore.

Here are two of the entrances. There is a very heavy green flap over the door, you lift a corner of it to enter.

Two of the huge old doors.

Some views of the courtyard. The little gazebo-like building in the middle is the men's wudu station; they are usually much larger and more ornate at the big Ottoman masjids.

Some of the beautifully painted ceilings in the courtyard.

And, finally, the interior of the masjid, lined with 20,000 blue tiles handmade at Iznik, patterned with flowers, fruit, and cypress trees. Sultan Ahmed I decreed a fixed price to be paid for the tiles, but the price of tiles necessarily increased over time, so their quality decreased over the eight years it took to build the masjid.

The interior is dimly lit by 260 stained glass windows. The original glass is gone, but they are still very beautiful. The original lamps are gone as well, mostly to museums.

Notable for its six minarets (most masjids have one, two, or four), I have heard tour guides telling an apocryphal story that people were scandalized when Sultan Ahmed built the masjid, because the only masjid at the time to have six minarets was the Masjid Al-Haraam in Mecca. Supposedly, the sultan sent a crew to the Masjid Al-Haraam to build a seventh minaret and solve the problem. However, the seventh minaret on the Masjid Al-Haraam was added more than a century before the Masjid Sultan Ahmet was even thought of.

As we were leaving the masjid after prayers, a little old lady walk toward me, filming me with a digital video camera. Her friend, who barely came up to my shoulder, hugged me and spoke to me in what turned out to be Chechnyan, filming the whole time.  I think she thought I was Arab. This happens a lot at tourist sites, and I don’t mind. I appreciate if they ask before photographing me, but most people don’t.

On the way out of the masjid: