Public Transportation: Egypt

I have a lot of things to say about Egypt still, even though I am living in Jordan now, so I thought I would write about public transportation in the Middle East in two installments: one about Egypt and one about Jordan.

This one, then, will be about Egypt.

I have to admit that I loved public transportation in Egypt. It was always an adventure, and my Arabic was still at the "barely surviving" point and so it was always fun to try and communicate what I wanted to the driver of said public transportation. I don't think I ever rode a public bus in Egypt, but while I was there I rode in tens of taxis, a sleeper train, a regular train, and the metro.

I rode a "regular" train to a day trip to Alexandria. This was really fun except the riding on the train part. First of all, I really don't like long trips in shaky vehicles, and the train was hot and smelled like urine. Oh, and it was a 2.5 hour trip--both ways! We had seats but I stood up most of the time, memorizing scriptures in Arabic. It was awful (the train ride, not memorizing).

I also rode a sleeper train from Cairo to Luxor, and then the next night I rode the same train back up to Cairo. They call them "sleeper" trains but I didn't get much sleep. I was quite sick both trips and the disgusting toilet did not help matters. The sleeper train went something like this. There were ten "rooms" per car. Each "room" had a couch that folded into a bed and another fold out bed on top of that (like bunk beds). A stowed ladder gave one the ability to climb from the floor to the top bunk, where I was banished because my roommate was sicker than me.

In addition to the two fold out beds, the room also came equipped with a fold out sink. It was in this small sink with 8% water pressure that my roommate washed her hair and I shaved my legs.

On a moving train.

I thought it was pretty impressive. This is the same kind of train that I rode last year when I was in Egypt, with the annoying "yalla" train man who I wanted to strangle at four in the morning. My train man was not quite so annoying this time, but he was getting pretty friendly with me when I first got on and asked if I was married.

I told him I was engaged, and the conversation stopped there.

A train-like experience that I enjoyed a lot more was the Metro. The metro in Cairo is, I am sure, just like any other metro in any big city, with stops at main cities along the route and crowds of people pushing to get on before the door closes (oh, and it only costs 1 pound--about 20 cents).

The one in Cairo, though, has a special feature--the women's car. Men are not allowed in this car, and if they accidentally forget to look on the outside of the car and step in, they immediately step off and run to another car. This is one thing that I love about the Middle East--women can ride in the other cars, but if you don't want to ride with the smoking, harassing, sweaty men in the crowded cars, you can (if you are a woman) ride in the women's car.

Needless to say, I rode in the women's car every time. It was wonderful. (And I took this picture without any one knowing. I don't just take pictures like a tourist!)

Finally, my favorite experiences came while I was riding in taxis. Taxis in Egypt, and Cairo especially, were something special. I think that there was a requirement that a car cannot be a taxi in Cairo until it is at least 20 years old and falling apart. Several times I was afraid that I would have to get out and push the taxi up some of the hills that we went up. Another time, our driver kept his window rolled down and every 3 minutes had to reach through the window and shut his door from the outside, because it wouldn't stay closed.

Haggling with taxi drivers was also fun. I felt quite confident in my Arabic haggling ability and usually got a good deal. I would flag down a taxi driver, tell him through the window where I wanted to go, and ask how much it was. He would say "20 pounds," I would say "Are you kidding me?! I am not paying more than 5" and then walk away unless he accepted my offer. One time, however, I was with a student who seemed to be having problems with his Arabic numbers. I finally agreed with the taxi driver on 10 pounds, when said student jumps in with his own price--"20 pounds!" I yelled at him and we had to get another taxi.

My favorite experience, though, was when our taxi driver pulled over (this is the same one who had to keep closing his door from the outside), got out, and offered to let my friend drive.

In the middle of Cairo.

I quickly starting arguing with him, since my friend did not speak Arabic, and finally got him to get back in and drive by telling him that my friend was a horrible driver and "this is my life on the line!"

For how much I detest public transportation, I am sure having a lot of experience on it here!


My House, in Pictures

This is Zaina. She is feeling grumpy because it is morning.

This is the back of my house. The floor with all the windows is mine.

This is my kitchen.

This is my bedroom. (Do you like the car wallpaper?)

This is the front of the house--the top floor is mine.

This is my...dining room?

Life in a Palace

Dear friends, I have now moved in to my home stay.

It is a palace.

When I saw the house, I was shocked. I had heard that it was a big house and that the family I would be living with was quite wealthy, and their home is in Sweileh (one of the richest—and poorest—areas in Amman), but I was not prepared for what I saw.

It is a four story house. The family that I live with lives on the main floor, which is large in itself. The mother’s sister lives in the basement. Supposedly a Kuwaiti guy lives on the third floor, but the door is always locked from the outside.

And I and two other Americans live on the fourth floor. We have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a washer, a huge living room, a balcony, a computer room, and tens of windows to look out of.

Did I mention that the home is built on a large hill? Oh, and we can see the king’s palace from our windows.

Yes, I am spoiled.

I was expecting my homestay to be a miserable experience. I guess I have heard Dil’s philosophy for too long—that you can’t learn Arabic without being miserable. Hey, I experienced it myself, right? I didn’t realize that I could learn Arabic, shower every day, and have a place to be by myself whenever I wanted it.

This is why my homestay is ideal. The people who “technically” live in the house are the sister downstairs and then my “mother” (Basheera) and “father” () and their 30 year old daughter. When I first found out that I would be living with a retired couple with no little children, I was really upset. I requested three main things from my homestay: no smoking (I am allergic), I wanted to be by myself, and I wanted them to have little children.

Well, they don’t smoke, but instead of living by myself, I am actually living with two other people from my program, whereas most other people are in pairs. There are even a couple of girls that are by themselves, and I am not one of them. Like I said, before I saw the house and met the family I was upset.

But, I guess the Lord really does know what He is doing, even when I request otherwise!

I really do feel incredibly blessed and want to thank you all once again for praying for me. The family is also ideal. Like I mentioned before, they are incredibly rich and in addition, also great cooks. Each meal is a delight of Middle Eastern food not before experienced (so much with my diet of pitas and fake nutella that I had at the hotel!).The mother, Basheera, speaks only a little English, and I love talking to her because I understand her Arabic quite well. She is, as my coordinator said, “motherly but not overbearing,” and the only time I get overwhelmed is when she offers me so much food.

I haven’t talked much to the father and the daughter who lives at home, but they always have family visiting them. Right now, for example, their daughter Ruba and her 3-year-old daughter Zaina are visiting from Saudi Arabia. (Side note—Ruba’s husband is half-Turkish and half-Russian, so Zaina has pale skin, blue eyes, and curly red hair. Her mom remarked that she could be my daughter! Oh, and she only speaks English. She is really fun to play with!) And, they always have other family members there as well. Really, I can’t ever tell who is staying in the house and who is just visiting.

I feel that the situation is ideal because, as “homestay” girls, we are always more than welcome to hang out with the family (and work on our Arabic). We take our meals with them and can do anything we want with them. But, if I need some alone time, I have an entire house upstairs where I can go and be alone.

And, I can shower every day (although I only use about 3 minutes of frigid water—I take what I can get!).

A Funny Break

Ok, so the last couple of posts have been really spiritual and the next couple will be really informative, so I thought I would throw in a funny break. I don't want you all to get overwhelmed when really my life is incredibly funny and awkward here all the time.

So last week I broke my shoes on the way to school. They were teetering on the edge of being broken, but I tripped over some random construction cement pieces in the middle of the road and broke my shoe the rest of the way. It was still wearable, but the top separated from the bottom all the way through right under the arch. Needless to say, it made walking slightly difficult through the undergrowth and dirt that sometimes passes as a sidewalk in Jordan.

Fast forward to later in the day (please remember, these shoes, as is customary for me, had about a 3.5 inch heel on them). I was at my friend Brian's apartment where I had just given him a haircut. He and Jason, who lives in the same apartment building, were going out to eat at a Yemeni restaurant and invited me to go with them.

As we were walking down the hill from their apartment to the street, I immediately saw a danger zone. They live on an incredibly steep hill, the tread on the road is completely worn off and very slick due to the car tires spinning and the run off over several years. To make it worse, water had for some reason been running down the road (there is no sidewalk) for the past thirty minutes or so, for some strange reason that seemed odd but unfortunately not unusual in a country that is so desperate for water. And remember my broken shoe.

I started walking carefully down the hill (my shoes also have no tread on them), thinking I could make it down without falling.

I was wrong.

About halfway down the hill my shoes no longer held up and I completely slipped. My feet flew out from under me and I landed flat on my backpack. (I apologize that I am not telling this as funny as it was in real life, but I guess I tell stories better in real life. There are no hand motions on my keyboard!)

Needless to say, I took my shoes off and walked down the hill the rest of the way!


Mission Prep in the Middle East

Before I came to Jordan, I wondered how I was going to survive with keeping my enthusiasm for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ under wraps, as we are not allowed to proselyte in the Middle East.

However, I have quickly realized that the Lord provides a way when we provide the faith, preparation, and enthusiasm.

Before I came I made "spiritual" Arabic goals. My first desire was to be able to pray in Arabic, and my second was to be able to bear a ten minute testimony in Arabic. I wanted to be useful in the branch when I got here. However, as I will write about later, most of the people in the branch in Amman are Americans and speak English. They translate sacrament meeting (from English into Arabic) but you don't have to know Arabic to understand.

However, there is a branch up north in Al-Husn that is all in Arabic. I visited the branch before on a Saturday, but last Friday I went up there for church. Each week a group of students goes up to the branch up north, and last Friday was the first week anyone went. I wasn't actually in the group assigned to go, but I volunteered to go and show everyone how to get there. (The desire was also selfish--I really wanted to go back up there to the Arabic branch--I love those people!)

When we got there, President Cotton asked (half-joking) if any of us wanted to give a talk. I immediately volunteered to bear my testimony, so he put me on the program.

In Arabic.

It was a beautiful experience. Finally, my study of the vocabulary in the scriptures and Preach My Gospel is paying off, big time. I told the branch that I felt kind of scared to talk to them, but I do have a testimony, and I wanted to share it with them. I testified of basic truths: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that we have a prophet on the earth today, that God hears and answers my prayers, and that through the atonement, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can live with God again. (Side note--I was also able to help in the Primary and Young Womens, which was really fun and a blessing when I realized how much I understand--the church is the same in any language!)

Then, last night as I was cutting my friend's hair at my other friend (Brian Harker)'s apartment, he (Brian) got a call from the Cooks (the missionary service couple here and also the district president for the Middle East) asking if he would come and translate a missionary discussion they had with an Arab Christian that night. (To keep it short, Christians can become LDS in the Middle East, but not Muslims.) (Brian is one of the administrators here and studied in Jordan two years ago and Yemen last year.) Naturally, I asked if I could tag along and was once again pleasantly surprised when I could understand most of what was going on in the lesson. (Get this--the lesson they had for him that night I had just read that morning in Preach My Gospel.)

(Another side note--if you would like to keep this man in your prayers, his name is Samir. I have no doubt that he will be baptized--he has such an enthusiasm for the gospel and I feel he would be a great strength to the branch here in Amman. He has many questions but not about doctrinal matters--mostly he likes to discuss why he loves the Book of Mormon, but he frames it as questions. He is working to stop drinking coffee and tea, too, which are Arab staples.)

And tonight, I am going to another missionary discussion, this time in English (or perhaps Portuguese) with a woman from Brazil who works for the embassy and has been attending the branch here. She lived in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, so the first day I was here we became good friends. I am more than excited to go. If you would like to keep her in your prayers as well, her name is Isabella.

Finally, I have gotten more and more excited to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and am waiting impatiently for my mission call. Each time I am able to testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I am filled with the Spirit. The gospel is true, even and especially in the Middle East!


The Mission Call Guessing Game

Just kidding. How about we change the date of my mission papers from May 20 to May 24th, and we have got it right. I just got an email that said my mission papers are in and I should expect the call in about two weeks.

And now the infamous guessing game. If you want to guess where I will be called to go, please post a comment or email your guess to me. Guess country, language, and when I am leaving (my availability date is September 1).

For the one who comes closest, I don't know what to promise you. A special treat from the Middle East? The first email when my call comes? Or just a feeling of satisfaction that you guessed right?

Whatever it is, it will be full of thrills and excitements.

A Visit to an Arab Home

May 17

Today I went down to my new friends’ home in a village called Hesban, south of Amman (and just north of Madaba). First of all, let me tell you about these friends. This was the girl I met one of the first days here who became my instant friend and we decided to meet every day to practice Arabic and English. I have since become good friends with her and her sister and talk with them for several hours every day at the university. They had been wanting me to come and visit them in their home so I asked my friend Nikki to come with me and, not knowing what to expect, we got on a bus, hoped it would take us to Madaba, and set off on our journey.

After forgetting to get off in Hesban and riding all the way to Madaba, I called my friend Sawsan to tell her that we had arrived, but when she found out we were in Madaba she told me, “That is about half an hour from Hesban!”


However, consistent with Arab hospitality, she and her father drove to Madaba and picked us up and took us to their home (even though I said we could get a taxi or a bus if she would give us directions). Now, I know that their family is not a catalyst for the entire Jordanian family culture, but they are a very traditional Arab family, so I will try to give you all a peek into Jordanian family life through describing this family.

They are quite rich and live in a “villa” on the top of a hill overlooking the town of Hesban. From their house we could see most of the town, and they pointed out to me where their relatives lived—which turned out to be about half of the town! (This is quite normal in smaller towns.) Their house was surrounded by fields of olive trees, fruit trees, and other delectable things…and I think they said they have sheep and goat too.

The first room into which Nikki and I were invited was the “salon,” whose American equivalent is something like the living room. This is the room where guests are invited to sit and visit, and most guests never see more of the house than that—only if they are quite good family friends. As stated before, the Ma-Sha’allahs (isn’t that a perfect last name?) are quite wealthy, so their salon was beautiful, with blue chairs, blue carpet, blue dipped chandeliers, and even blue lights to match.

After sitting in the salon for about ten minutes and looking out on their extended family’s houses, we were invited back for “breakfast.” Unfortunately, since we arrived at 11, I hadn’t realized that they would feed us so soon and I had eaten breakfast at the hotel, which was a big mistake.

The “breakfast” spread was quite enormous, with a “buffet-style” of hummus, olives, jam, falafel, olive oil, zatar, and a couple of other things with large pita-like things to dip in all of the different “dips.” And of course, normal Arab hospitality is such that if your guest stops eating for more than one minute, you must offer them more. I know how to refuse more, but I don’t know how to waste what I have in the way of an enormous piece of bread to dip in tens of dips. Needless to say, I left that meal very full. (An interesting side note—the mother is a very good cook and made almost everything in the meal—the jam was homemade (with fruit from their garden), the zatar spice was homemade, the olives were grown in their garden, and she had made the olive oil and falafel also. They apologized that the hummus was not homemade but that they had purchased it from the store. I was quite impressed.)

“Breakfast” was back in the “family room” area, which was also richly decorated. We ate from communal dishes, which means that we all had our own bread but we dipped it out of shared bowls that sat in the middle of the table. We ate breakfast with four of the sisters and the mother (they have seven children—five daughters, with the oldest one married and pregnant with her first child, the second oldest (24) engaged, and the other three ages 20, 19, and 12, and two sons, both high school/junior high age—and they all live at home except the married daughter, which is also very normal in the Arab world), and the whole time we were eating the conversation was lively, with Nikki and I trying to eat and converse in Arabic at the same time.

A side note about Arab women in the home—my friends belong to a devout Muslim family, and they are always wearing hijabs and wearing the traditional long overcoat-like-dress thing (I don’t know how to describe it and will have to take a picture sometime) out in public, but in the home they take their hijabs off as long as there are not strange men in the home (strange meaning anyone not directly related to them or their parents). Again, they are completely covered down to their wrists and ankles in public but in the home, anything goes, and I was shocked at first when I saw them skimpy clothing they were wearing. But, this is just in the home, and when their sister’s husband came over, they covered themselves fully again.

(sorry, this post is turning boring fast. I will have to finish when I am in a more exciting mood)

(Ok, I think I realized why this post is becoming boring. It is because I am trying to fit too much information into one blog entry. I like blog entries to be short and sweet and to the point—the point being humor. So, I will see what I can do to remedy this error.)

After breakfast and a few hours (really) of me “pretending” that I understand Arabic and throwing in a few phrases now and then, the girls thought it would be fun to dress me up like an Arab. The result? I have realized that I will probably never be able to fold a hijab right—they require way too many pins for me to be comfortable! After trying several colors, they finally decided the leopard one was best for me, and then we paraded around the house (feeling like an idiot) while everyone commented once again that I look like Nancy Ajram (an Egyptian singer who had plastic surgery to enlarge her cheeks) but with slightly smaller cheeks.

Thanks guys.

Other highlights from the day? The father tried to convert me to Islam and quoted several verses from the Quran to me, couldn’t believe that I don’t drink coffee or tea because there is no proof that they are bad for you (he kept bringing up the “proof” that pork is bad for you, and because of that it is forbidden in Islam—but did I bring up the fact that there is no “proof” for girls to cover their hair in public? Is hair bad for you? But again, as a guest in their home and country, I just told him in my broken Arabic that we do have a living prophet on the earth today who talks to God and he told us that we should not drink coffee or tea. I said as much as I could without crossing the “proselyting” line—which line-crossing is strictly forbidden in the Middle East), got tempted several times to drink “Arab” coffee, even though I explained that it was forbidden in my religion, and spoke Arabic for about 8 hours. And, I almost died eating a ridiculous amount of mansaf (the national Jordanian food--watch for a post about this later).
All in all, it was a pretty successful day.


May 20

Dear friends, today is May 20.

For those who are less excited about this day, it is the day my stake president in Provo sends in my mission papers. To celebrate, I read D&C 4 in Arabic.

Now I just have to wait until my call comes...


A “District Conference” in Al-Husn

Last Saturday, the 10 of May, my professor mentioned that the Young Women in the North Branch (up near Irbid in Al-Husn) were having a YW activity, and if we wanted to go he would give us the number of the missionaries up there and we could call and find out when and where, etc. Of course I jumped at the chance of meeting with the branch up north which is held all in Arabic (the Amman branch is in both Arabic and English) and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to have a “missionary” type experience.

I was right.

After calling the missionary couple (the Cottons) up in Al-Husn and talking to the hotel clerk about which bus station to go to to find a bus to Irbid, and convincing my friend Gini to go with me, we caught a taxi, explained to the bus driver where we wanted to go in Arabic, and then figured out the bus system, found a bus that would take us to Irbid, and then rode for about 75 minutes to Irbid (can I just say that if I had not been on a BYU program I would have kept driving for about 30 minutes and crossed the border into Syria? That is how close I am to these forbidden countries!). Then, I got off the bus in Irbid, caught a taxi to Al-Husn, and then called President Cotton from Al-Husn, who came and picked us up and took us to the branch house.

It was thrilling.

As we were riding up to Irbid, I realized just how little I knew about where we were going. I didn’t even know if we were on the right bus, or if the taxi driver would take us to the right place, or where the branch house was, or even what the activity was or how long it would last. But hey, I had my Arabic skills and the Cotton’s number, and that was basically all I needed. I guess my Arabic skills were good enough to get us there and home, because we didn’t have any problems either way.

When I got to the branch house and started explaining about our travels, Sister Cotton asked, “Have you been on a mission? Because you sound like a missionary!” I was delighted and told her that I was actually waiting for my call, but I felt like I was traveling to a district conference or something!

The Saints up in Al-Husn are incredible. They are all converts and Jordanian natives from either Catholic or Greek Orthodox background, and it was delightful to meet with them and try to communicate with them in this incredible hard language called Arabic. I socialized with the women (turns out it was a joint RS/YW activity of making pizza and “cold pineapple cake,” which consists of jello on the bottom, then a layer of cooked cake on top of the jello, then pineapple juice poured over the cake, then cool whip spread on top with pineapple slices and pistachios sprinkled on top) and played “FISH” (or Sumuk, in Arabic) and some sort of question and answer game in Arabic with the YW…and I played with the branch president’s three young children, who were also present.

And again I realized how my “survival” Arabic skills just don’t cut it when I am playing with children.

The moral of the story? Going up to Al-Husn was the best thing I could have done with my Saturday—better than going to the Dead Sea or Mount Nebo or downtown Amman (and even better than going to Syria, I guess). And who knows, maybe I will be using public transportation all the time on my mission and I will have similar experiences of excitement and adventure!


A Day In The Life

Some of you have asked about my daily schedule. I have realized that my posts are sporadic glimpses into my life and it is difficult to get a full picture. If you have been on a mission, please notice how similar my life is to a mission and remember how I always wanted to go on a two year mission. :)

Each day I get up (earlyish) (first of all, Amman is 9 hours ahead of Utah), get ready, and study Preach My Gospel (in English and Arabic) and memorizing scriptures in Arabic (I am trying to memorize the scripture mastery scriptures in Arabic--it is incredibly helpful for both mission prep and Arabic skills). Then I go downstairs (I am still living in a hotel--hopefully next Saturday we will move into our homestays) and eat breakfast.

Breakfast consists of a buffet, and I am taking full advantage of the only meal every day that is already paid for. I usually make a mixture of goat cheese, zatar (an Arab spice), chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, olive oil, and some sort of green salsa thing, and then put it on top of some delicious sesame seed bread. I eat a lot of this, and then if I still have room I eat fruit, or more bread (but with jam this time), and once I ate cereal (the milk was water with some milk powder mixed in, and I am pretty sure the cocoa puffs had sesame seeds in them. I decided to stay away from the cereal). Really, though, I just eat as much as possible so I can get away with not eating lunch.

Then, I go to the University of Jordan--by bus or by taxi, depending on how many people I can get to go with me (it is cheaper by taxi if there are four of us, but cheaper by bus if not). The University of Jordan is only a couple of miles away from our hotel, but one time I tried to walk there with a friend and it took way too long--and we weren't using much Arabic. Riding the bus is always an adventure and I have stood for several bus rides--in the middle of the aisle, trying not to fall over, because the bus was so crowded. (More about public transportation in the Middle East to come--and believe me, these will be fun entries.)

At the University, we only have two or three classes per day, depending on the day. We have class Sunday-Thursday, Friday is the Sabbath here in Jordan, and then Saturday is a free day, for us to squander or take advantage (language-wise) as we like. We have two classes every day--a current events class (in Fusha Arabic) and a Jordanian colloquial class (in Jordanian colloquial, naturally) about Jordanian customs, etc. Both of these classes are completely in Arabic. This sounds scary, and it is. Actually, the Jordanian colloquial class is not so bad, but I have a hard time keeping up in the current events class for several reasons. We also have a newspaper class each Monday and Wednesday (and this class is taught by Jason Andrus, a PhD student from the states who came over with us and not a Jordanian University professor) and this class is in English--but we go over the several newspaper articles we are assigned to read each day in Arabic.

This information is crucial to knowing why the current events class is difficult for me. Each day in the current events class we talk about the newspaper articles whose translation is due for that day (right now we have to translate 3-4 news articles each day). As stated, this class is in high Fusha, and this is the first reason the class is difficult for me. Unfortunately, I never took the initiative to memorize all of the news vocab I was supposed to in the states, and since I am not even kind of a MESA major, I really don't know what is going on in the news--not in Lebanon, not really in Myanmar, and not in any other place (except the Israel-Palestine situation).

And, my professors probably shouldn't know this, but for the past week I didn't even do the news articles before class. Which is kind of a problem, when you haven't memorized the vocab and your teacher is talking 120 words/minute in a different language and then asks your opinion about what she just said.

Usually I just pretend like I don't have an opinion, although we all know that is not true!

The rest of the day is ours to do whatever we want to improve our Arabic. We have to talk for two hours each day of the week with Arab natives and we have to do our newspaper homework, but other than that we have to take our own initiative to learn Arabic.

I usually end up spending many more than two hours a day speaking with Arabs, and I have been completely surprised with how good my Jordanian colloquial skills have gotten in the short time I have been here--partially because I am having such an easy time finding friends.

Finding friends here who will talk to you for hours on end is easier than you think. First of all, I have had excellent luck finding wonderful friends thanks to many of you who are praying for me back home. I can feel your prayers and I thank you for them.

Secondly, life at an Arab University reminds me a lot of high school in the states--most of the people don't have anything to do besides homework--most of them don't have jobs and many of them still live at home, especially the girls. Therefore, they just have classes and...nothing.

This shared circumstance has led to a somewhat strange phenomenon, at least in my mind. I call it a “glimpse into Arab social life.” The University of Jordan is filled with streets crisscrossing every which way, with raised sidewalks and benches on each side of the street. When people are not in class and not in the library (which is often, as their library is quite small and not meant to accommodate even a third of them, and the buildings are not study-friendly either), they sit on the benches or the ledges on the sides of the road and just sit. And talk. And watch people as they walk by.

At first I was quite intimidated, especially since everyone stared at me. At the university I am allowed to walk around by myself (a BYU rule) and I take full advantage of that so as not to get overwhelmed by always having to be with people (another BYU rule), but it is sometimes somewhat of a disadvantage because I stick out so horribly and am definitely an oddity to be stared at and talked about. I don’t know what sticks out more—my red hair, my blue eyes, my incredibly white skin, my lack of a hijab (or veil), my pants instead of long coat-like dress that most of the Muslim Jordanians wear, or my backpack.

Actually, my Jordanian friends told me the other day that if any doubt remained in anyone’s mind about me, the clincher that I am American is the backpack. Most (like 99%) of the Jordanian girls at the University just carry around a purse and the book and notebook they need for class. But as I carry my life around with me in my backpack (including hand sanitizer and toilet paper since they do not provide such “hygiene” at the university, my laptop, my newspaper, my notebook, and my textbook, as well as my sunglasses, my lunch, and a few other things), a purse just wouldn’t cut it for me. Plus, I just don’t have a purse to match every outfit well—but I will share a post about Jordanian style later.

Anyway, so it was quite intimidating to walk around as throngs of Jordanians sitting on either side of the sidewalk/road on which I was walking would stare at me as I walked past. I felt like I was back as a sophomore in high school walking though the zone of “popular seniors,” who at lunchtime would sit on either side of the hall by the office and stare at people and throw things at them as they walked by. Except this time I am an adult, the same age or older than most of these people, and no one is throwing things.

And, I am a foreigner.

However, I am quickly getting over my fear. I have an advantage in looking so out of place because everyone wants to talk to this strange looking girl from America who speaks Arabic.

This is where the missionary part comes in. So my goal every day is to find people to talk to. At the beginning of the day I make a “language goal” for the day, which usually consists of choosing a topic to “survey” people about, deciding how many new words I want to learn through my conversations, and writing down questions about said topic that I can ask people in case the conversation lags. (Let me put in a plug here for Preach My Gospel. The other day I studied the section on “finding people to teach” for my morning scripture study. Suggestions that have worked well for my language learning as well? Basically all of them, but especially things like talk with everyone, pray for the ability to see unplanned opportunities to [speak], talk to people about their families, look for clues to help you know how to begin talking with people, listen sincerely to what people say to you—especially important when you don’t understand what they are saying!—be warm, friendly and cheerful, and especially the direction that “nothing happens in missionary work until you find someone to teach”—or in language learning until you find someone to talk to. These are on page 157 of the English version of Preach My Gospel, in case you are interested in having, say, a FHE lesson or something on how to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and are looking for ideas.)

I have been astounded at the results.

Yesterday, for example, I walked up to these two girls sitting on a bench, introduced myself in the normal way (“I am a new student from America here to study Arabic, and for my class I have to ask Arabs about…”—the topic for yesterday was Jordanian marriage customs and the Nakba, or expellation of Palestinians from Israel in 1948), and asked them a couple of questions about Jordanian marriage customs.

Before five minutes had passed, five girls had come up and joined the conversation (friends of the girls I originally started talking to and curious about this strange looking girl speaking Arabic) and before the hour was over, I had ten new friends who asked me to skip class and go and eat traditional Jordanian food with them (I pleasantly declined).

And, they were impressed with my Arabic and couldn’t believe that I had only studied it for nine months and had only been in Jordan for less than two weeks.

I am always reminded of what Paul said in the book of Acts (17:22) about the men of Athens, who sat around on Mars hill, spending their time doing “nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” Unfortunately I am unable to preach to them the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, as Paul did to the Athenians, but that time will come, both for me and for the Arabs. Until then, I am making friends right and left and am finally learning how to just sit and chat with people.

And, I am learning Arabic!

Glimpses of Egypt

When I was in Cairo I fell in love.

With Egypt.

It is shocking, I know, but even with the cockroach infestation I feel this strange love toward Egypt. So much so that I think when I get back from my mission I will seek out opportunities to study Arabic in Cairo (sorry Mom). I will let you know how that goes in two years.

I have tried to express through these pictures the "trueness" of Egypt and what I experienced there--although I still have more posts coming about Egypt, enjoy this smorgasborg of what I saw and experienced.


Visual Aid

For those who need visual stimulation, this is my laundry.


The Toilet Paper Scholarship

Bathrooms in the Middle East are somewhat...strange. At least they are strange to my western mind. In my opinion, a bathroom should have several things: a toilet that flushes (and this is most important), toilet paper, soap, a sink with running water, and paper towels. I am not too picky and don't expect a mirror or other things in public restrooms.

Unfortunately, I have been in "bathrooms" here that have none of these things.

Before I arrived at the University of Jordan, I thought for sure that bathrooms at the University would be different. I thought at least they would have the essentials of a toilet, soap, toilet paper, etc.

Not so.

It is true that many of the bathrooms have toilets (but no toilet seats--go figure) and not just holes in the ground (although those are plentiful also), but I have seen absolutely no toilet paper, paper towels, or soap.


I don't know why I think it is so weird that you have to carry around all of those things yourself at a university, but you do. But I think I have figured out why the university does not provide toilet paper for its students:

The first reason is that Jordan, and the Middle East in general, is severely lacking for water. Because of this, the water used to flush a toilet is used sparingly and there is not enough to flush waste and toilet paper. For this reason, they have "trash cans" in each stall into which you are supposed to throw your toilet paper after using it (contributing to a horrid smell in every bathroom). So the first reason is that if you are using your own toilet paper, perhaps you won't waste as much and not as much will get "accidentally" flushed down the toilet.

The second reason is that poor people here, and especially in Egypt, walk/sit around and sell little purse-size packages of kleenex (they are called "Nice"). So maybe the university does not provide toilet paper because they want to contribute to the economy by forcing their students to buy "Nice."

My favorite reason, however, was one provided by Andrew Grover, another student here. He related the story that at BYU Commencement they used to give brownies to all of the participants, but now they announce that they don't give out brownies anymore because they used the money to provide a scholarship for a student called the "Brownie Scholarship."

So now I just need to find out who is receiving the "Toilet Paper Scholarship" given by the university from the money they saved on toilet paper in public restrooms!


A Tribute to my Mother

This post isn't exactly about Arabs, but since today is Mother's Day and I am in another country with no convinient way to call my mother, I felt the need to put a Mother's Day tribute on my blog. If you don't like mushy stuff and only want to read about Arabs, skip to the posts below.

I never appreciated just how much I expected my mother to be until I went to college. Only then did I realize all of the different roles I had taken for granted that she was able to play.

First of all, she was my doctor all growing up and even in college. When I was going through a medically-difficult year, I felt like I was calling my mother every other week, telling her my symptoms and asking her to diagnose them--and most of the time she was right. Not only did she diagnose my symptoms, but she also gave me a "prescription," telling me what foods to eat, what medicine to take, and what to tell the doctor I had, if it got to that point. For example, one time last year I had extreme vertigo for more than a week, and when I called and asked her about it, she suggested it could be an inner ear infection. Sure enough, when I took the correct medication I was fine.

All of this medical knowledge came not from a formal medical education, but years of experience through raising seven children. Impressed yet?

Not only has my mother been my doctor, but she has also been a friend to whom I could rant and rave--especially about Arabic. Last year when my classes and jobs were so intense I thought I wouldn't survive, I would call my mother, tell her I just needed to complain, shout about how much I hated Arabic, and then calmly thank her and hang up. She never felt the need to give me advice or tell me that I didn't really hate Arabic, which would have only irritated me. Instead, she realized that I just needed to express my feelings and listened accordingly.

My mother is also my biggest fan. Whenever I feel pleased with an accomplishment, I call and tell her why she should be excited for me--even if it is only the fact that I saved $75 at the bookstore and only spent $13. She is always appropriately happy for me, and once again I hang up and go on with my life, feeling better after being able to express my opinion to someone who cares.

One of the things I love most about my mother is that she is always there. Since she began having children she and my father made an executive decision that she would stay at home with the children, and I have never heard any complaints from her about having stayed at home for more than 25 years while the rest of us went off and had adventures. Last year, while I was living in Jerusalem, she and my father went to Hawaii for their anniversary--the first time my mother had been out of the continental United States. My parents are coming at the end of my program in Jordan and I will give them a tour of Israel and Jordan, and it will be the first time my mother has been out of the US.

Finally, I have seen extreme sacrifices that my mother has made, without complaint and even happily if it blesses the life of her family. For example, this past Christmas my mother received a wedding ring from my father to finally replace the one she sold more than fifteen years ago to pay the bills. When your children are hungry, your husband is in school, and your grocery budget is $10/week to feed 5 children and 2 adults, the expensive ring on your finger somehow loses its value in your eyes. Several years ago she got a nice CTR ring and wore that on her wedding finger until my parents felt good about spending the money on another wedding ring.

Basically, I can agree with Abraham Lincoln and say that all that is good in my life has been taught to me by my mother. Thanks Mom, and happy Mother's Day!


An Arab Magnet

This is what I was in Egypt—an Arab magnet. I don’t know what it was—whether it was my beautiful Egyptian eyes, or maybe the passionately angry scowl that I threw out at the men sometimes, or the short reddish-brown hair that was continually in a pony tail (since my straightener burned out), or my CIA-ish sunglasses, but for some reason wherever I went I got a lot of attention. And I mean a lot. All the men asked me if I was married (“I am engaged” quickly became my favorite Arabic phrase) and continually told me how beautiful I was. Perhaps they were just impressed with my incredible Arabic skills.

But if it I was popular with the men, I was like Santa Clause with the children. Everywhere I went children would run up to me, say hi, ask me if I would take a picture of them, and offer to give me favors.

My favorite was when I was at the biggest park in Cairo (Hadiqa Al-Azhar) and I was casually walking to the bathroom with another student. Some little children having a picnic with their families waved at me, and I of course waved back happily (what can I say, I love the children as much as they love me!). They immediately ran over to me and asked in Arabic, “Do you want some of my drink?”

Do I want some of your drink?! Repulsed by the idea of drinking a strange child’s Coke from a communal bottle that probably wasn’t washed before it was filled again (ever!), I quickly refused, pretending to be polite. The girl (she was probably about 7) insisted, and again I refused. After doing this several times, I think she finally got the idea. After exchanging names with the group, I used the restroom (and got away without tipping!), and then had to walk past them again. They ran back over to me and started following me around the park!

I was more than happy to speak with them in my broken Arabic, and then they wanted a picture with me. I, of course, obliged.

And then there was the girl in the bathroom in Garbage City (more about that to come) who, immediately upon my entrance, asked, “Will you take a picture of me?” and then followed me throughout the city.

Or the family who rushed up to me, also in Garbage City, with their little baby (I think it was her christening day—they were Christians, obviously) and asked if they could take a picture of me holding her. This time, however, I had my camera ready and had them take a picture with it too (although the guy who took the picture couldn’t figure out how to work my camera and pushed the “off” button instead of the “take the picture button”).

Or the little boy in City of the Dead who ran up to me and asked if I would take a picture of him and then, unsatisfied with the result when I showed it to him, asked me to take another, this time of him “standing on his hands,” or something.

And, of course, my favorite tour guide, who was twelve years old and lived near Coptic Cairo. I asked her if she knew where a certain church in Coptic Cairo was, and she said she would take me (her seven year old brother followed us). She talked animatedly the whole way in Arabic, and then when we got to the church, she showed me where it was and then started to walk away. Then, she turned around and ran back and asked if I would take a picture of her!

What can I say, I am just an Arab magnet!


I have long been wondering how I would do laundry here, especially considering that by the time we move into our home stays (if we even move in to our home stays!), we will have been living in hotels for a month. (Now please tell me, how does living in a hotel with other Americans help improve my Arabic? If I had known this I might have just gotten an apartment close to the University. Can I tell you how much I am beginning to hate hotels where they don’t change your sheets and they refill your shampoo bottle each day with lemon-scented Ajax? But these are stories for other days.)

Since I brilliantly realized that I should bring way more clothes than they suggested so I wouldn’t have to do laundry so much (even though everyone continually makes fun of all the luggage I have—who’s laughing now?), I didn’t really have a problem with it in Egypt. I had to wash one shirt, so I washed it in my sink with body wash (I forgot to bring my Tide with me! I knew I had forgotten something) and hung it up in the shower to dry.

Once we got to the Ambassador Hotel in Amman, however (our home for 2-3 weeks), I realized that laundry might be somewhat of an issue. I am used to washing one or two things in the sink and hanging them up to dry (I can thank my disgusting apartment in Provo for that skill), but all of my clothes in the sink might be a problem.

The next solution is naturally the bathtub, but somehow my roommate and I were blessed with a “shower space” with a two foot by two foot square of tile protected by a six-inch ridge surrounding it, with a shower curtain hanging down to about 8 inches above the top of the “shower ridge.” (This makes showering quite a problem, as the water sprays out all over the floor. No wonder they have a drain in the middle of the bathroom floor and not just the shower!) And there is no stopper for the tub (there is no need! Why would anyone need six inches of water?).

Laundry, therefore, has turned into an adventure. The other day I bought some laundry soap called “Sar” which also doubles as dishwasher soap, kitchen cleaner, and a few other things. (How good can a sop named after a deadly disease be? And anything that is so multi-purpose is going to give you strange results.) To stop the drain in my “shower space,” I used a plastic bag filled with orange peels. Then I filled up the “square” with as much water as possible and dumped a bunch of “Sar” in, hoping to take some of the “Cairo smell” (a mixture of cigarette smoke, disgustingly sweet water pipe smell, sweaty bodies, urine, trash, and other filth) out of my clothes. Then, I dropped a few articles in, let them soak in Sar for a couple of hours, and then rinsed them out and hung them up to dry for two days.

The result? I still smell like Cairo. And I have decided today to look for some stronger laundry soap. The Sar just didn’t cut it for me.

“His eyes are like the moon”: Arab Compliments

When I was in Egypt I struggled to know how to compliment young male children in Arabic (specifically, compliment their mothers about them). In the States, you can use such meaningless compliments as “He is adorable!” or “His [dark black curly] hair is darling!” This, of course, always makes the mother feel good and is an act of social politeness.

Not so in the Arab world.

For example, I know how to say “Your baby [daughter] is cute,” but the word for cute is too femmy for male children. However, it is a great way to start a conversation and to explain why I am staring at their child. I tried once in Egypt to tell someone that I loved her son’s hair (he was about one, and his hair was thick and black and curly), and this is what I said: “I love your son’s hair!” She looked at me totally not impressed and said, “What about it?” However, I couldn’t think of the Arabic word for curly, so I just said, “I like it!” and smiled at her widely.

She was totally nonplussed.

So, after a few failures like that, I finally asked Jason Andrus (who is our newspaper teacher on the group and who, coincidentally, is also the son of the man who was the first counselor in the bishopric in my ward at the Academy) how to compliment mothers on their young male children.

He told me to compliment them “like the Arabs would,” and this includes phrases like “his eyes are like the moon” or “he shines like the sun.” I thought for sure he just wanted me to make a fool of myself in front of someone, but he said, “The more awkward you feel saying it the better. The Arabs love it when it is cheesy.”

Well, armed with this information, and sure that I was going to make a fool of myself, the next time I saw a mother with a little boy I told her, “Your son’s eyes are like the moon!”

Expecting her to break out into laughter, I was surprised to see her smile widely and thank me for the wonderful compliment.

So what do you know? Now whenever I compliment anyone about anything, I think I will throw in how it is like the moon or how it shines like the sun.

“I love this bread! It shines like the sun!” “Your house is beautiful—it is like the moon!” “Your face is happy like the sun!”

I will have to let you all know how it goes.


An Eternal Blind Date

Yesterday I made my first “real” friends at the University. It went something like this: I got to the University of Jordan campus with one goal: find a friend who will speak to me in Arabic. This is more difficult than it might seem because so many people here, especially at the university, speak English way better than I speak Arabic. After wandering around by myself for about 15 minutes, “exploring” the campus and asking about 8 different people where the language center was (even though I already knew—I was just trying to use my Arabic!), I realized this was not working.

I needed an extended conversation, but how do I go about speaking to people in Arabic? Just sit down in the middle of a group of giggling girls, tell them that I am a new student and I don’t have any friends, and I need to speak in Arabic? Will you please be my friend?


However, I realized that I could “make up” a story about having to do an assignment for my class (although it is technically true). I could walk up to people, tell them I was a new student from America studying Arabic (all in Arabic, of course), and for my assignment I was supposed to speak with people about their families and their studies in Arabic (both safe topics, considering the Arabic vocabulary words that I know!).

The problem? It is a lot more awkward than you might expect to just walk up to people (especially since Arab girls are more often than not in groups and rarely by themselves) and ask them to talk to you. Again, I realized that this was great practice for my mission, and somehow that made it easier.

After walking around for a couple of minutes, looking for my first victim, I saw a female student sitting by herself on a bench near the main gate.

Just sitting.

Not studying, not talking to friends, not even eating. I was as though she knew that I was coming. I saw my chance and took it, walked over to her, sat down, said my “Arabic line,” and asked her if she would talk to me for a minute or two about her studies. I was expecting ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and then I would use the line on someone else.

I was not expecting six hours, which is what I got!

She immediately started speaking in fast Jordanian colloquial Arabic (which is still unfamiliar territory for me—more on that later), telling me that she was studying English (but her English is not very great—which is excellent for me!) and she would love to talk to me in Arabic. We “talked” for about an hour (well, at least I tried—it is hard to keep up with my limited vocabulary!) and she bought me lunch, which was very nice of her.

Then she had to run off to a lecture and I had to take a test, but we exchanged numbers and met up after my test, and this time her sister was with her. Her sister is a master’s student in English teaching, which is somewhat detrimental to my Arabic ability, but when she spoke to me in Arabic she spoke in fully vowelled, beautiful Fusha (the formal Arabic language—“normal” people don’t speak it, but I am learning both Fusha and colloquial so it is helpful).

We talked about everything under the sun—literally!—and the took me to dinner.

This is where the eternal blind date comes in.

As I was sitting there eating dinner, I started thinking about what an awkward situation I was in. Half the time I didn’t fully understand what they were saying, which made communication even more awkward than it is on blind dates with strange men.

Some of the issues: should I pay for myself? Should I offer to pay? Would they be offended if I offered to pay? (They come from a very rich and well established family.) I got my wallet out of my backpack when we got to the restaurant, and they made fun of me as if they thought I thought someone would steal it. So I guess that was a tip-off that they didn’t want me to pay (I didn’t offer, by the way—I thought it would be best that way).

Another problem that I ran into was knowing how much to express my opinion and how much I should pretend like I think the other person was right (see the blind date resemblance? I thought of a certain experience in the Bookstore at this point…). Because there was also a language barrier, half of the time when they asked for my opinion about something I just validated their point.

Another opinion that became a problem included wondering what I should say when they asked me where I wanted to sit in the restaurant. Should I express my opinion that I wanted to sit by the window? What if they didn’t want to sit by the window? If I don’t care where we sit, would they think that I just don’t ever have an opinion? How much should I laugh at their jokes? And how much should I talk in my broken Arabic as opposed to just listening, nodding, and smiling, pretending I understood? Were they secretly laughing at my accent? Could they even understand what I said? Do I pretend that I don’t know what is good because I don’t know how much they want to pay and ask them instead? How fast should I eat? Should I take on their Arab friendship ways (including touching the other person a lot, perhaps in case they try to run away or something) or should I be my American self? How much should I truly tell them about my life, and how much should I make up to make myself look presentable to girls from a rich Arab family?

And we were together for six hours yesterday!

Really, I thought it was fun and I am excited to talk to them every day. I couldn’t help but see the similarities, though, between making Arab friends and going on blind dates!

Organization and Overwhelmement

Monday morning we flew from Cairo to Amman. We left at six in the morning, and before that we had to get ready, eat breakfast, and load our luggage on the bus. After fighting Egyptian and Jordanian customs and going on a short flight to Amman, and then fighting crazy baggage handlers who asked us (more like demanded—every five minutes!) for tips for loading our luggage onto the busses (which we had done at least 8 times before and were very good at doing ourselves, thank you! I refuse to tip people for doing a service I didn’t ask for and can do myself!), we were allowed to drop our luggage off at the hotel and then get back onto the bus to get shipped over to the University. After a short introduction to Jordan by the “special guest speaker” Kirk, who is here for a week to help us get “settled,” we were turned loose a couple of blocks away from the University, told to go and find several buildings on campus, and then find our own way home.

In Arabic.

And not even in the Egyptian Arabic that we know and love—oh no, in the Jordanian Arabic, of which we know very few words. The dialects are similar in many ways, but different in the most critical. For example, when asking directions, it is nice to know direction words. However, these differences occur between the direction words especially! For example, in Egypt to say “go straight” they say “ala tool”—but in Jordan they say “dougry.” Can you see the similarities?

Neither can I.

The worst part was not being lost in the middle of Amman trying to speak a strange language, having just arrived three hours before—oh no, the worst part was that everyone spoke to me in English! I wanted to tell them, “I don’t care if I ever get back to my hotel! I don’t even know what street it is on! I just want you to speak to me in Arabic!” but I didn’t know that many words in Arabic.

All in all, it was a very overwhelming day.

Which brings me to my point (I guess I should be cautious in case my professors ever read this, but I am sure by now my opinions are not a hard to find commodity here in the Middle East):

Disorganization breeds discouragement, discontent, and depression. Did I mention a feeling of being overwhelmed?

Our classes do not start until Sunday (Friday is the Sabbath here) and so we have had a week of nothing except two placement exams and a couple of meetings. Other than that, the instruction is, “Get out there and…learn Arabic, or something!”

I do not learn by osmosis!

Anyway, “if I were in charge of the program,” it would be perhaps slightly more organized. Perhaps I would make sure I was sure of the meeting and testing times before telling the students. Perhaps I would give them the address of the church (the site of one of our meetings) before telling them, “It is between the third and fourth circle in Amman. No one in the neighborhood knows what it is. Just wander around until you find it. And don’t be late. And learn Arabic while you are at it.” Perhaps I would even provide them with a map of the city, or at least explain how the bus and/or money system works. Perhaps I would even give them the name of the street on which their hotel is!

But is such organization even possible in the Arab world?
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