Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My First Apartment

I know this may not seem like a big deal to most people, but after living in the dorms for four years, moving into my first apartment is a big deal to me. Not to mention the fact that my first apartment is located in Amman, Jordan! How crazy is that!?

If I were to be pedantic though, I did already sign my first lease for the guesthouse in Japan. That was certainly monumental despite the fact that it was almost entirely in Japanese, but when my room at the guesthouse was smaller than an Atwood bathroom I do not consider it my first real apartment. I'm kinda picturing my kids asking me one day, "Mom, where was your first apartment?" Kids, it was a small one bedroom place tucked in the hills of Amman. hehe

Not only do I have an apartment... I have a roommate too!! Here's how it happened. When I checked into the hostel I chatted with the hostel owner about whether or not they often have people stay long term, if there were any discounts, or if there were apartments for rent in the city. Listening in to this conversation, Kristi was sitting nearby looking at apartment listings! She approached me and when I learned she was hoping to stay in Amman long term as well, I think we both blurted out at the same time, "Wanna be roommates!?" And less than a week later we'd moved into our new home! God continually provides for me in truly amazing ways.

I love the yellow cupboards. So cheery!

The only English channel we get is Al Jazeera English.
At least I'll stay well informed!

As we went apartment shopping, I had my first taste of taxi riding in Amman. I'll say it again, I'm NOT in Tokyo anymore. Among other things, instead of taxi rides starting at about $7 like in Japan, the meter starts at about $0.35 in Amman. That is if the driver starts the meter... The first taxi we rode, the driver was out on the sidewalk and motioned us towards his car. After moving aside a giant bag of fresh pita bread spilling onto the seat, we got in and then waited patiently for the driver's shoes to finish being polished. When finished, the shoe polisher rushed across the busy street to deposit the shoes and we were on our way. I was amused. And thankfully he was a very kind and fair driver. Our next driver however was a different story! He tried to charge us 5 times the honest amount! Yeah right. I might look like an inexperienced foreigner, but don't mess with me. Fortunately, he didn't put up too much of a fight when we refused to pay the extravagant amount. At the end of the day only 1 out of 4 drivers tried to rip us off. Not bad!

Anyway, Kristi and I have been getting along really well and are quite content in our new place. We are thankful that the creepy buildings across the street, that we thought were abandoned, are actually a school. So if I don't wake up to the morning prayer call from the neighborhood mosque, I wake up to the sound of school children outside. Also, we were pretty stoked to learn there was a Safeway a 15 minute walk away. It was only after two large grocery trips that we realized the "Spinney's" only 5 minutes away is actually a much nicer and more organized supermarket. Sorry Safeway, Spinney's is nicer than most grocery stores I go to in the U.S.

As with any apartment, there are a few quirks... like maybe we failed to notice the giant construction site down the street when we checked it out the first time. Our floors might vibrate a bit from the jackhammering during the day, but it's a "nice, quiet residential neighborhood". Oh and laundry has been quite an adventure. Basic steps: Manually fill the washer by turning a lever near the floor, wash for the desired length of time, drain the water (making sure the drain hose is pointed into the shower), switch the filling hose from the wash container to the rinse container, transfer clothes to rinse container, select spin cycle, and hold the unit firmly in place while spinning. Then hang the still soaking wet clothes to dry. Spin cycle is a bit ineffective, unfortunately. But hey! At least each load doesn't cost me 200yen! :)

Kristi and I at our favorite coffee shop.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Is that Jordan?!

I've been in Jordan for one week! I can't believe it! How am I doing and what do I think of Amman, you ask? Well, I'll start at the beginning.

So, I'm on the last leg of my long day/night of travel, a flight from Dubai to Amman. I was anxious, nervous, excited, and extremely exhausted all at the same time. There were quite a few European families traveling with their young kids on this flight. Can't say Amman was ever on my family's list of vacations when I was growing up... Anyway, as we started the descent into Amman and dipped just below the clouds, one of the kids in front of me exclaimed, "Wow, look at that desert!! Is that Jordan!?" The expanse of desert out the window was indeed breathtaking and this kid blurted out my thoughts exactly. I had no idea what to expect upon landing in Jordan, I smiled quietly and thought "Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into."

The hostel I booked offered an airport pickup service. It was expensive, but as I planned for this trip I didn't think I would be ready to conquer a taxi or bus ride within the first hour of my arrival in the Middle East. I will admit though that even this took a lot of trust. I spent a good portion of the flight praying about logistics and safety that would get me to the hostel. I was so grateful to see an older gentlemen and his young teenage son holding up a "Jordan Tower Hotel Hannah" sign as I exited the airport, but was still praying that I would indeed be delivered safely to the hostel. They took me out to their older minivan and my introduction to driving in Jordan began. After offering me a cigarette, which I politely declined, my driver made his way to the line of honking cars waiting to leave the parking lot. Rather than waiting in the line though, my driver weaved around the lot and cut to the front of the line, honking his way onto the main street. Two minutes into the drive I recognized that driving in Amman is a giant free for all. With no lines on the roads, drivers smoke cigarettes, talk on the phone, honk their horns, and weave through traffic at the same time. Wide-eyed, I thought "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Tokyo anymore."

The driver didn't speak much English, but he spoke enough to say, "Hannah is Arabic name! Your parents, they are Arabic?" I shook my head and said no. He nodded and said, "Hannah is good Arabic name." Quick side note: I am continually thanking my parents for my awesome name. It was a perfect name in Japan too! Hannah means flower in Japanese and is actually a popular name there. So even though many western names are difficult, it was really easy for people in Japan to remember my name. Thanks Mom and Dad for picking a name that would be easy for people to pronounce and remember as I travel the world 22 years later!

Ok, back to the ride from the airport to the hostel. The scenery out the window was amazing. I couldn't peel my eyes away from the expanse of desert that gave way to nondescript, white stone buildings dotting the hillsides. We passed a small herd of camels and some sheep and goats too. There was so much to take in visually in addition to the chaotic driving, smell of cigarette smoke, and ubiquitous sound of honking.

At one point the driver pulled over and got out of the van. Now, I had seen pictures of the outside of the hostel and as I looked around I didn't see it. With a small bubble of panic in my chest, I notice the driver lifting the hood of the van. Apparently, the awful smell I had noticed, but attributed to the other old cars on the road, was actually our van. He made some adjustments, came back with a burnt finger nail, and proceeded down the road. "Everything ok?" I asked. "Oh yes, everything ok." I was only slightly reassured.

Before arriving at the hostel we had a minor incident with a HUGE bug, which the driver and his son casually shooed out the window. And then soon enough, we made it to the hostel in the heart of downtown Amman. As I walked up the steps with my bags in hand I had a sinking feeling that the hostel wouldn't accept credit cards. I had exchanged all my Japanese yen for Jordanian dinars at the airport, but I knew it wasn't enough to pay for my whole stay. Sure enough, I needed to pay cash... And given my trauma with ATMs in Japan, I was not thrilled about this... When I asked where to find an ATM, the nice guy at the hostel pointed me in the general direction. "Oh no problem, you go out and follow the main road to the first traffic light. Turn right and it's down the road." Nice vague directions that involved an exhausted, young, foreign girl crossing a busy street with the cigarette smoking, cell phone talking, horn honking drivers. Perfect! Well, with my senses on high alert, I made it to the ATM and back amidst the trinket shops, shawarma stands, clothing stores with oddly lifelike mannequins, and the ever present cat calls from men on the street. Whew!

While my first couple hours in Jordan were certainly overwhelming, it was also totally exhilarating. Instead of the emotions, tears, and anxiety that marked my first couple days in Japan, the culture shock I have experienced in Amman has been accompanied more by excitement than emotional instability. And now, with one week in the Middle East under my belt, I am an aggressive street crosser with an obsession for pita bread, hummus, and falafel. It's great!

A few more highlights of my first week:
1) Breakfast at the hostel was absolutely delicious. Endless bread with jam and hummus and the classic Arabic Platter. And black tea with mint leaves and sugar. So good!!

2) I made it to the Amman Citadel one day this week. This is the site of numerous ruins up on a huge hill in the center of downtown, with a 365 degree view of the expansive city all around it. Absolutely amazing.

Spot the Roman Amphitheater! (slightly the left of the center)

What remains of the Temple of Hercules. Built around 165AD.

3) I moved into an apartment! Stay tuned for the story and pictures. Coming soon!

So far, I am loving this beautiful city and I still find it so surreal that I am in the Middle East. It is utterly different from Japan in almost every way possible. I’ve exchanged the humidity for the desert, orderly and highly efficient trains for chaotic and aggressive driving, and plain green tea for highly sweetened tea. So far it’s been a refreshing (and delicious!) change. I’m enjoying adjusting at my own pace and am so excited to explore this unique part of the world for the next three months!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Facebook Posts from Japan

Since I try to limit the time I spend on facebook, I refrained from posting these gems during the last three months. So, here is three months of random tidbits from my time in Japan. Enjoy!

1. I mostly mastered my "cubicle voice" during my summer internships, but now I have to work on my "train voice." Everyone is so quiet on the train! And I have to make sure I refrain from whistling or singing...

2. The typical contents of my grocery basket at the supermarket in Japan: 8 slices of white bread (for only 75yen!), bananas (cheapest fruit), vegetable sticks (basically potato chips), and Hi-Chews (I'm addicted). 

3. Well I hope what I just bought is body soap... 

4. I made a new friend shortly after I arrived in Japan. She came to the house I was staying at and wanted to meet me after she HEARD me speaking English from NEXT DOOR.  My clinic team will appreciate this and the other clinic teams in our room... And possibly the teams in the next room too...

5. I am totally hooked on green tea. And guess what... I don't even put sugar in it!

6. Guava syrup on my pancakes from Eggs 'n Things was literally one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. 

7. The Saikyo line is one of the most crowded trains lines ever. I try to avoid it at all costs, but sometimes it's necessary. At one point, I thought I was going to be the last one on the train, but at least 10 people got on after me! I literally could not move. No need to worry about hanging on I guess!

8. After living in the dorms for four years, I never really thought I would live in a smaller room. Then I came to Japan...

9. How many people does it take to buy laundry detergent? 5. Me and 4 employees... The last employee spoke English.

10. Not bad for cooking in Japan!

11. You know you're busy when you have an item on your to do list to update another to do list.

12. Perfect sentiment for the solo traveler. Also, the best carmel corn I've ever had.

13. Great comfort in a time of loneliness:
Psalm 139:1-5 You have searched me, LORD, and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and You lay Your hand upon me. 

14. Walking home from the train station at 11:30pm. Twenty something guy in a car drives past with the windows down blasting Kelly Clarkson. I thought I was in Japan?

15. Humidity and jeans do not mix well.

16. Green Tea KitKat!!! And Pumpkin KitKat!!! 

17. Squat toilets... I'm not a fan.

18. My transfer at Akihabara from the train to the subway: down the escalator, up another escalator, down yet another escalator, out the ticket gate, down two more escalators, pit stop at Auntie Anne's Pretzels (because you can't just walk past something that smells that good), through the subway ticket gate, and down a flight of stairs to the platform. Whew!

19. Communion Japanese style! Green tea and rice crackers!

20. Best thing about having a cold in Japan: advertisers pass out free tissues in the street. One more thing I don't have to spend money on!

21. You're welcome Tokyo. Every time I actually carry around my umbrella it doesn't rain.

22. At Mudd, I suffered from sleep deprivation. As a solo traveler, I'm suffering from hug deprivation.

23. Sweet message from my mom:
I see the moon 
And the moon sees me
And the moon sees somebody I want to see!

24. I so would have eaten these during Stems if the coffee cart sold them.

25. Guesthouse manager's question for the American on October 2: What happened to your government?

26. My favorite Australian words/phrases: "Hey! How ya going!?", heaps (a lot), whinge (whine), and budgie (a type of bird). Thank you, my dear Australian friends, for this humorous education!

27. Taylor Swift songs are my go-to at karaoke.

It has been an amazing three months in Japan. So many new and interesting experiences. So many new friends. So much good food. And a wealth of information on how the country provides for people with disabilities. While I'm certain I could stay in Japan for months and not run out of things to do, I feel ready to move on. Ready for another round of culture shock and a whole new batch of challenges to face. Ready for new food and a new climate (I'm really not a fan of the humidity...). I'm excited to meet more great people and see what the next leg of my adventure has in store.

Stay tuned for my next update from JORDAN!! :)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Not a Student...Or an English Teacher

Here's how it normally goes...

Kind Japanese person inquires about the young foreign girl, "Are you a student? Where are you studying?" To which I respond that I actually graduated from college in May. They nod and say, "Oh, then you are teaching English here?" I again shake my head "no" in response. The Japanese people want to know, "What is your purpose in Japan?" So it is at this point that I launch into my spiel about my project, catered appropriately to the listener's English comprehension abilities.

I'm guessing there are 39 other people around the world who have their spiel down too. What is our purpose in these countries? I have found it is difficult to explain. It is difficult to explain that I am traveling alone for one year, that I am not associated with a specific university, and I don't have to write a long research paper when I am finished. It gets even more confusing when people ask what I studied in school. After hearing about my rather social welfare centered project, it comes as quite a surprise when they learn I have a degree in engineering. I'm a bit of a conundrum.

The next question after all this information starts to sink in is typically, "So, what do you do during the day?" I'll admit, it's a good question. I won't pretend like I have some sort of routine because that's certainly not the case, but nonetheless here's a look at some of the things I have done on a somewhat regular basis.

Remember those workshops I wrote about a while back? Yeah, the ones where people with disabilities work? I have visited LOTS of them! This is the number one thing people want to show me. Japanese people are very hard-working so it makes sense that they place a lot of importance in having a job. The workshops give people with special needs something to do after graduating from high school and keeps them stimulated.

One workshop washes, inspects, folds, and rolls towels for a couple local hospitals.

Really cool machine! Put the towel in...and it comes out in a nice roll!

There are a number of bakery workshops across the city as well. They make delicious cookies, breads, and pastries. It looks like they have a lot of fun too! These pictures were taken at the Medaka Family bakery, a workshop that started about 30 years ago. A passionate mother with a son with special needs started the bakery which has grown and flourished into a self-sustaining organization.

Another organization I visited, Palette, has a bakery as well as a group home and shared house. At the shared house, typical working individuals share the house with a couple people with special needs. It's a unique concept that works to create an inclusive community! In the following picture, the woman on the left is the founder of Palette. She is extremely hard-working and passionate about improving the situation for people with disabilities in Japan. It was a privilege to get to know her the past couple months.

The Palette bakery employees.

Palette also organizes fun activities for people with special needs. I regularly attended a hip hop class through the organization. It was awesome! Check out this video, my new friends are really good!

We have a lot of fun!

We went out to dinner after the last hip hop class.
From the left: Megume, Noboru, Naru, Me, and Shoko.

The other thing I have done on a regular basis is a Taiko class! Taiko refers to the traditional Japanese drums. Often there are really cool Taiko performances at festivals. This special group was also started by a very passionate mother of a child with Down Syndrome. She organized a place to practice, found a few willing teachers, and worked to purchase drums for the group. And they play so well! I feel so fortunate I got to join in!

I had the privilege of meeting so many interesting and passionate people the last three months. And I am so so grateful for the warm welcome I received throughout my time in Japan. Whether I'm cheering people on at their workshops, making use of my Zumba skills in a hip hop class, or trying to play along on the drums, I am always reminded what an amazing job I have this year.