From Convict to Community Service Volunteer

This weekend has been an average weekend in Amman. Thursday night we started the night by going to Souk Abdali. It is the largest market in Amman selling a wide variety of used clothes, shoes, and miscellaneous children’s items. I had been to other souks downtown and expected Souk Abdali to be the same, but it is infinitely more impressive! The souk opens Thursday evening and continues all-day Friday. The best deals are on Thursday night, so we went around 7pm just as the sun was setting. The souk is entirely outside and looks small at first, but as soon as they turned on all of the dangling light bulbs, it looked like it extended for miles!

Photo from Black Iris

Photo from Black Iris

We didn’t find any good deals and didn’t want to spend too long looking because it was windy and only about 40 degrees outside. However, most items are only 1 or 2JD, which is under $5! It was hilarious to see some of the t-shirts that were for sale. Like Goodwill, they are other peoples donations, but almost all of them were from obscure American clubs or promoting small American businesses. How do these items end up in the Middle East? We will never know….

After spending an hour at the souk, we went back to the apartments and hung out with our friends. As the program is coming to a close, I think we are all starting to feel a big nostalgic about our time together. One of my friends, Joey, who goes to Virginia Military Institute and is from New Jersey (and acts exactly like the stereotypical New Jerseyian…) summed up everyone’s thoughts when he put his hyper-masculinity aside and said, “Even though I hate CIEE for treating us like children, I am really glad that they introduced me to you guys.” Everyone has already started formulating plans to meet over summer. Our Jordanian friends, Jomart and Nart, are visiting this summer and I want to go to DC to meet up with them, Caroline, and Andrew. Also, if I am in Portland for my internship, I want to hop down to California to see Allison. I’ve never been to LA and she lives in Orange County which is really close!

We left the apartments to go to our favorite haunt, Seven Barrels. One of the best parts about the nightlife in Amman is that we always attract so much attention because we are foreigners. Most of the time, the attention is from other foreigners and not Jordanians! This night was no exception. We made friends with a bunch of military guys who work at the US Embassy. One was even from Fort Knox, Kentucky, so we bonded over Kentucky things! I’ve met SO many people from the KY, OH, and IN while living in Amman.

Friday night Caroline and I went to the free concert with CIEE-provided tickets. The artist was Maryam Saleh and the concert was… interesting. The music was beautiful but it was entirely in Arabic. I was able to understand several words and even some sentences, but listening to 90 minutes straight of Arabic was exhausting and repetitive. Also, Maryam and her band simply sat on stage rather than performing, so it wasn’t even interesting to watch. Here is a sample of her music….

In the true spirit of Amman, we tried to venture someplace new after the concert. For months we had been talking about going to Salute, which is behind the Iraqi Embassy. Most of the hilarity came from its location and the mythical nature of this random bar that no one else seemed to know. On our way there, we asked the Iraqi guard to give us directions and he had no idea where it was. Great! Somehow we found it and, as always, it is my job to get us inside. It was surprisingly easy and my tactic of “walk in like you own the place!” seemed to work. The place was empty on the ground floor but there was loud music and a lot of people on the top floor. We walk upstairs, smile at the workers who let us pass, and take a seat in a booth. Almost immediately we were approached by a waiter and told, “hefla khasa!” which means “private party!” Oops! We were escorted to the door and sent into the basement which is where the actual bar was located. Once again, we were swindled as we soon found out that the bar has a 10JD minimum-spending requirement. We hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so this was easy enough to spend, but our friends had to leave as they weren’t planning on spending as much. Somehow we always end up being the confused Americans in Amman!

Today, Saturday, was eventful as we went on the CIEE community service trip to paint an elementary school. For four Saturdays in a row, there is a CIEE trip to the same school to fix it up. Unfortunately we could only come to this Saturday trip as we will be in Jerusalem next weekend, but it was extremely fun and rewarding. We even got a free lunch of mansef!

Mansef served with yogurt!

Mansef served with yogurt!

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 7.01.34 PM

The most frustrating part was that the group last weekend had painted the classroom lilac and green. Apparently the teachers complained that the green is too dark and depressing. Our job was to paint yellow stripes over the dark green. Anyone who knows about painting knows that you should NEVER paint a light color over a dark color because the dark almost always shows through. This meant we had to paint multiple coats and it still didn’t look polished. Oh well, we did our best!




This week promises to be the week of FOOD! Tomorrow we are celebrating Jenna’s birthday in both Arabic classes and on Tuesday we are going out to breakfast, courtesy of CIEE, with my Arabic class.


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