Last Post Before My Mission

Dear friends and loyal fans, this is the last post before my mission. I had big plans to finish updating my blog with posts on the University of Jordan, Arabic Style Part 2, Food in Jordan, Weddings, and City of the Dead and Garbage City in Egypt, but those things just took lower precedence on my "things to do before I leave on a mission" list. So they (and you) will just have to wait until I get back.

Therefore, this blog will become inactive until approximately April 2010.

Until then, I will be in Taiwan, speaking Mandarin, and having a "real" mission this time.


An allergy...to my contacts?

Well, I finally went to the eye doctor yesterday. I figured if I had something mortally wrong with my eyes I should probably go to a doctor before leaving the country again (even if I will be in the MTC for three months!). For those who don't know about my eye problems from the Middle East, you can read about them in this post.

Anyway, the doctor said I might have developed an allergy to my contacts, of all things. It is not like I am not already allergic to everything, so this shouldn't be surprising.

I am just relieved that it is not a side effect from the spider bite, or something like that!


Public Transportation: Jordan

I suppose I should finish my "public transportation in the Middle East" two-post series before I head off to Taiwan and forget everything Middle-Eastish.

I have to admit that public transportation in Jordan was not my favorite. Perhaps it was because they didn't have a Metro (and no women's car), or perhaps it was because I had to spend so much money on it throughout my stay, but something just didn't sit right between me and the public transportation system. It was, however, always an adventure, and one that I was lucky enough to have any time I wanted to go anywhere, since I didn't live within walking distance of anything, and people just don't ride bikes in Jordan. (I think I saw two the whole time I was there.)

The most convenient and certainly most expensive type of public transportation was definitely the taxi.

In one of the guide books that I read, it said that 25% of the cars in Jordan are taxis. Which might make one think that taxis would be easy to catch, but that would be a wrong assumption, as I found out entirely too many times.

Most of the time taxi prices are calculated by a meter, which starts at 25 cents and goes up incrementally, depending on how much gas is used. So if you are stuck in traffic, the meter is going to be more expensive than if you were driving on a highway.

Taxis in Jordan are much cheaper than taxis in Israel, and they are even cheaper than Egypt, because they have a cannonized meter which is set by the government. You do, however, have to bargain prices if you are going out into the countryside, or somewhere that the taxi driver probably won't be able to find a customer for the way back.

Taxis also have a set of "rules," usually posted on the dash and written in both English and Arabic, which includes NO SMOKING (which is not observed, but you can call them on it, and they might or might not get angry), don't throw things from the vehicle, and this strange rule: "radio and cassette player prohibited with annoying form." ?! The Arabic makes a little more sense, being يمنع تشغيل الراديو أو المسجل بشكل مزعج (for those readers of my blog who speak Arabic), but I always laughed at the English translation.

Oh, and the final "rule"? "Driver is fully familiar with the rote and Should reach the final destination in each trip." The "Should," capitalized in the original, is the clause that makes this sentence true, as I found out that often my taxi drivers didn't know where to go (like my taxi driver who didn't know where the American Embassy was?!)

The best way to get around Jordan, since they don't have a metro, is the "micro," or mini bus. They have large busses too, but I couldn't ever figure them out, so I mostly stayed away from them.

A micro is about half the size of a normal bus, and they are cheaper, which was always a bonus for me. For 25 or 30 cents, you could ride on any set route around Amman, and for slightly more, you could take a micro to most cities (or villages near main roads) in Amman.

The micro has its "route" painted on the side of the bus, which includes the cities in which it stops (or the main parts of the city, if it is an inner-city micro).

The best thing about a micro is that you can get on or off anywhere along the route that you want. The "system" goes something like this: a micro will start at the beginning of the line, and when it fills up, it takes off. There are two people who work on each micro--the driver and the "micro caller," who walks around collecting the money, tells the driver when to stop, and opens and closes the door. This is usally a man in his late teens to mid-twenties, but once I saw a boy who couldn't have been more than 13 (and he thought he was pretty hot stuff) as the micro caller.

So once the micro takes off, the man walks around, collecting the 30 cents from everyone. He also starts calling off "normal" stops, like "the mosque," "the bridge," "City Mall," and the like. Of course, this is all in very fast Arabic, and if you are not familiar with the route it is more than a little difficult to know where exactly you want to get off.

You can also request your own stop, as I always did when I was going home, since I lived in the "rich" area and most people didn't ride the "dirty" micro around me--they had their own expensive cars and the like. Anyway, I could never fully communicate with the micro caller where exactly I wanted them to stop, since I lived in a remote area, so I would tell them "Elba House," and then when we got close to that company, I would stand up and say, "Stop here. I want to get off here." And then the micro caller would always try to get me to sit down, because I was a woman and clearly I shouldn't be standing when the vehicle was moving, and I had to tell him again, "right here. I want to get off at this street right now!" and the micro driver would pull over to the side and squeal to a stop, and I would get out, most of the time while the micro was still moving.

So here is the system. If you are standing on the side of the road and see a micro coming, you raise your hand and flag it down, and most of the time they will stop, even if they don't have any seats left (if there is only one or two of you.) They just pull over to the side and you hop on and they squeal away, weaving in and out of traffic to pick people up and let them off on the side of the road, and the whole time the micro caller is calling out destinations, taking peoples' money, and asking who needs change. When you need to get off, you just signal the micro caller, he tells the driver, and the driver pulls over to the side of the road, you jump off while it is still moving, and it squeals away.

This is a bunch of BYU students on the inside of a micro.

And these are two looks at the inside of a micro. I found that Arabs really like decorative things, and not just Arab women, either. This decoration with the tassels hanging from the roof of the micro was quite commonplace. And check out those hearts hanging from the rearview mirror?!

My favorite part of the micro, though, was how the cultural interation (or non-interaction) between men and women came across. If a woman borded by herself and there were only open seats by males, the woman would just stand there with a look on her face that said "I am not sitting by a strange Arab man," and then the micro caller would say, "Ok, one of you men need to move so the woman doesn't have to sit by a man." And if no one would move, he would pick someone and tell them to move so she didn't have to sit by a man. Since I was a foreigner, I am sure everyone expected me to not mind sitting by a man (because I am a Western woman and have no morals, right?), but there was no way I was not going to take advantage of this cultural expectation and sit by a man, so when I borded alone, I borded with the same look on my face, and most of the time it worked.

Oh, and people don't walk, by the way--perhaps because sidewalks are unpredictable and have trees planted in the middle of them!


In honor of my almost-MTC date (for those who have forgotten, it is the 17th of September!), and with the joy that comes from watching others enter into full membership of the church, I thought I would post about the baptisms that I witnessed while I was in Jordan.

The man in front-center is Samir. I was able to help with the translating of several of the discussions that he received from the Cooks, the missionary/service couple (and district president) serving in Amman, as they did not speak Arabic.

Helping with Samir's discussions was an incredible experience, one that I am not sure will be replicated the whole time I am on my mission. He knew the Book of Mormon like one who had studied it diligently for several years, and when he came to discussions, he came with all of the material read and with questions he had while he was reading written down in a little notebook. Each time a new principle was introduced to Samir, he thought about it for a minute and then said, "That makes sense! I won't have a hard time having faith in that principle."

When he was taught the lesson on the Word of Wisdom, he immediately stopped drinking coffee and tea, although those liquids are Arab staples and an integral part of hospitality. Culture meant less to him than committment to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

I think for all present at Samir's baptism, each person's personal committment to live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ was renewed. Samir now has the Aaronic priesthood and my last day in Jordan, I watched him pass the sacrament. It was one of the most beautiful things that I witnessed there--a newly baptized member progressing in the church, line upon line and precept upon precept.

Shortly after Samir was baptized, Suleman and Amir were baptized. They are standing on either side of President Cook, the grinning senior missionary in the picture. I was also privileged to help with translations for them, and it was a beautiful experience to watch them as they learned that there was truth beyond what they had learned in their former Christian religions. Shortly after they began taking the missionary discussions, they decided that they, too, wanted to follow the example of Jesus Christ by entering the waters of baptism.

Their story is beautiful--they were Arab Christians who wanted to worship at a place closer to their home. One day Suleman found our small branch building in Amman and asked if he could worship with us. Muslims are not allowed to attend our church meetings because of Jordanian laws that the Church respects, but Christians are always welcome. He invited his friend Amir and six months after, took the missionary discussions and decided to be baptized. I would describe their faith as childlike--their faith in the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ saturated their very lives, and while Samir's baptism was a thrilling and exciting experience, their baptisms (held on the same day) were a peaceful reassurance that Heavenly Father does love all of His children, in whatever country they may reside.

Three others were baptized while I was a member of that branch--an eight year old American boy, whose family was in Amman working with the Embassy, a sister from Syria who flew down to Amman with the other 3 (active) members of the branch to be baptized, as they don't have a font in Damascus (and I am not sure if LDS baptisms are legal or recognized there), which was also a beautiful experience, and a Phillipino sister who was married to an American in the branch, who was also working for the Embassy.

This many baptisms in such a short time is quite unusual, and I feel that it was a tender mercy of the Lord that I got to witness the restored gospel of Jesus Christ changing minds, changing hearts, and changing lives as people accepted covenants to follow the example of the Savior and be baptized in the name of the Son.

And if I never witness a baptism in Taiwan? That still does not take away my desire to serve my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, by preaching the gospel of peace and glad tidings of salvation!
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