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As my fourth training session draws to a close, I find myself at a large crossroads. As my business and personal relationships and friendships here in Jordan grow larger and wider, I also find my urge to travel and see new lands growing stronger at the same time. How can I reconcile the two? I swore to myself back in 2008 that I would only stay in the Middle East for a year, and now in two weeks, it will be a year and a half with no sign yet of a new place to travel to.

My schedule has never been busier, that’s for sure. I just finished the Training for Trainers (ToT) class last week, with much fanfare. I discovered that the Italian government was sponsoring the majority of the cost of the training, much in the same way the United States BPRM is sponsoring most of the regular refugee training. My students finished their one-month course on the 9th, and to celebrate, the Italians threw a gala at the fancy Meridian Hotel in Amman, a suit-and-tie affair to commemorate the graduation of our trainers into new and more challenging curriculum for their students back in Iraq. I had the tie, but not the suit, unfortunately…I was planning on wearing my dishdash like last time but I was nixed on that one.

The entire gala was excellent…several of the other EGT trainers showed up besides myself, like Talal the art instructor, Taher the mobile phone repairman, Imad the car repairman, and Abu Eid the plumber. Wamidh and I both were present as the dynamic Iraqi/American computer repairing duo, and of course the guest of honor was my colleague Jeff, the ToT program facilitator, who decided that he was going to go above the call of duty (giving a speech) and beyond it (giving a speech in Arabic). To clarify, Jeff is not an Arab. The car ride from work to the hotel had a lot more Arabic in it than usual.

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The speech went amazingly well, in which Jeff neither sneezed nor panicked (although the provided translator missed a few jokes; I told Jeff that he should have brought Wamidh up there with him but of course that would have been a faux pas since we were guests), and the dinner was delicious. My four students looked their best, and Ali Habeeb (literally Ali the Darling/Lover) even insisted that I take his extra suit jacket and wear it for the occasion. I had told them in class I didn’t have a suit jacket here in Jordan with me, and Ali told me that he had brought an extra one. “Which do you prefer, the gray or the black?” he asked me the day before, and I told him that I didn’t have anything that went with gray, and he happily handed me the black jacket. It’s the Arab way, I tell you – become friends with an Arab, and he or she will literally bend over backwards to make sure that you have anything you could possibly wish for – or that you didn’t even know you’d need!

From left to right: Ali Habeeb, Ali Farouqi, Ashwaq, and Imad

From left to right: Ali Habeeb, Ali Farouqi, Ashwaq, and Imad

In other news, training for the Dead 2 Red 2010 has begun. It’s going to be tough without Galen with us this year, but I’ve been rejoined by my two friends from last year, Omar and Rami. The two of them work for the Intracom company here in Amman, and not only were they able to find two new members to complete our team, but also single-handedly secure our sponsorship from Intracom. As members of the newly-christened Intracom Cycling team, we’ll be getting all of our entry fees paid for, a transport pickup truck to carry our bikes, a hotel down in Aqaba, and perhaps even matching red-and-white biking jerseys. What style! I’ve never worked with Intracom before, but let me tell you I’m more than happy to be biking with their sponsorship – you guys have got my vote in whatever tech support stuff you do! (and a link from me too!)

Introducing the Intracom Cycling Team 2010

Introducing the Intracom Cycling Team 2010

Finally, the title of this blog post – “Yohm al-Huhb.” Literally translated, it means “Day of the Love” which of course is the common Arabic translation for Valentine’s Day. As far as I can tell from the past two years, it’s not celebrated here in Jordan beyond a small percentage. It was kind of a dual-personality day for me. I spent the first half of the day taking ICDL (International Computer Driver’s License) tests at the Baptist School. ICDL is the sole course that I teach over at Whitman, and my students have always found it ironic that I’ve never actually taken the tests that I’m teaching for (my employers figured that my decade or so of experience made up for my lack of certification for some reason) but I was given the opportunity to take the exams through Whitman’s program, free of the regular charge. I elected to take the first three of seven exams all at once today, and performed admirably – 100% on the “Information Technology” section (who would have guessed it), 94% on Microsoft Word (confusing questions that were probably haphazardly translated from Arabic) and 100% on Microsoft Access, which downright shocked me because I’d been spending the past 5 months telling my students to be careful on Access’ trick questions. The latter was the only test I had any worry about at all, and some questions definitely made me sweat. But apparently my diligent reading and re-reading of the questions before clicking anything onscreen paid off with a perfect score. I look forward to sharing my tactics and strategies with my students tomorrow on Monday.

I had purchased packets of Saudi cookies (the Arab-world version of Oreos, really) to give to my students for Valentine’s Day and thanking them for coming in on a Sunday to take a test. I had a few left over, and I walked the 3 kilometers back from the Baptist School to my home. I gave out the remainders of the cookies to random street cleaners and beggars that I saw on the road on a whim. I told them that it was a custom in America that people should give sweets to people they care about, and in my own clumsy way I wanted the less-appreciated people of Jordan’s society to be thanked for their thankless work. Most of the street-cleaners here are Egyptian, and my Egyptian-Arab accent isn’t too good but I hope my message was clear…I was just a strange guy on the street handing out cookies because it was Love Day or something. Not something they see every day, I imagine.

Now that the ToT training class is over, my schedule is back to “normal” which means relaxed mornings in which I can choose the exact time that I need to come into work. Feels good to be back to the schedule I’ve kept since August of last year when I finished my last BPRM/IRD class! Training for the Dead 2 Red is going to be of the utmost importance, though, and I went out and bought breathing filter masks to wear for training here in Amman over the next couple weeks. I’ll borrow Philip’s bike (unused and untouched for the past year on my house’s balcony) and bike to Whitman tomorrow, I think. Will I be able to make it from 3rd circle to 6th circle without either being hit by a cement truck or asphyxiated from toxic diesel fumes? Only time will tell!