So there’s the big news, of course – I am now officially a teacher! An unregistered, unlicensed, untrained, and more than likely unqualified one to be sure, but I have students and they call me “Mr. Zach” so I must have done something right. The first day was on November 2, and now it’s the 5th, so you’re probably wondering – what’s been happening in the meantime?

The answer is that we wanted to start off on the right foot with our students, so we told them that Sunday’s class was the only official one for the week, and that they should come back a week from then (this coming Sunday the 9th). Factors that played into this was the lack of doors, lack of sinks (we had just big holes in the marble countertops where they should be), and the lack of desks. All very important things for a school to have. But being that this is Jordan after all, no one really minded because whenever something is supposed to start, you automatically add a week onto it at the very least.

So when I last wrote the night of Halloween, I spent the entire next day on the first of November at the site getting all of the network jacks wired into our switchbox. Although we didn’t put the computers into the lab at that time (the lack of doors allowing the computers to possibly grow legs and leave, so to speak) I verified they all worked without a problem with my laptop. I’m quite proud of myself with putting in these three dozen jacks by myself, with no training except for my STT classes back in Madison. Four years ago, all I did then was 2-3 cables in class, but like riding a bicycle, I guess perfectly lining up those 8 tiny wires in a network cable and snipping them to the right length just sticks with you.

Can you think of a more exciting way to spend a Saturday night?

Can you think of a more exciting way to spend a Saturday night?

The next morning classes started at 9:30. It was weird how it just snuck up on me; I got to the site at 6:45AM or so, and frantically helped the guys assemble enough chairs for people to sit on (sans desks in most rooms), make signs and print out paperwork, and then when I next looked at my watch it was 8:30 and the first students were filtering in through our big rusty gate outside. We emptied out one of my old computer boxes and wrote “Entity Green Training” on it in Arabic, and set it on one of the gateposts. Meanwhile, Ahmad was being maneuvered all over the place by Jeff and Aaron, always needing him to converse with our students. It was about that time that our new office aide/official translator arrived, a young Iraqi man named Ra’ouf, who barely had time to put down his bag before he was thrown into the chaos as dozens of students and sometimes their parents all arrived at the same time.

Meanwhile, I was sitting in my classroom, watching the activities outside. Aaron told me to wait in there for the students, and “Ahmad would arrive shortly” to translate for me. Technically, I wasn’t even required to teach anything today, as it would be a short introductory day only. As my new students started to arrive, I learned with relief that about 3-4 of them spoke some English, and one of them, a middle-aged man named Ali, was a network admin from a now-disbanded Iraqi tech company. Students filtered in quite slowly but steadily into my class, and I wasn’t able to start until around 10:30 when final student (number 17) arrived.

All told, the age range was startling: only 4 of the students were younger than me, with most being in their early-mid 30’s, and the last few being in their mid-late 50’s. Several of the students were in crutches or had other injuries, and one of the older men was wearing a bandage over one half of his face, and large dark glasses that covered the rest of his face. Later, I learned that it was surgery, not an injury – but he told me in broken English that he had come to Jordan after his son had been killed by Shi’a militants; yanked out of a car and shot several times in the head. He wrung his hands as he spoke, trembling with emotion.

Ahmad and I introduced ourselves, and I gave them the rules for the classroom – emphasizing things like responsibility to each other and to the equipment we would be using. I have noticed that many Arabs don’t like to admit fault if something goes wrong, and I made it clear that no one would be punished for mistakes here, that everyone made them, and that all I asked was that we be able to talk about what happened so we could fix it, and even use it as a learning experience for everyone involved. Of course there were the basic rules like not smoking in class, cellphone usage outside only and if necessary, and not all speaking at once if they had questions. By the time Ahmad and I had gotten through all of this, taken questions about course procedure and policy, and added a few other comments, it was time to break for lunch at noon.

After lunch, I ran into a problem. Ahmad was needed elsewhere, and so I was left with nothing to do look helplessly at the ceiling and make small talk with the English-speakers. However, Ali became a great assistant when he offered to translate for me in Ahmad’s stead, and I spent a very enjoyable hour getting into the very basics of computer layout, talking about basic computer standards like hard drive and power supplies dimensions, and why they’re so important to our industry. I got them a little excited talking about how much money they can save themselves doing their own technology work and network construction, and they definitely seemed to be enjoying themselves. Ali was an excellent translator, the other two English speakers told me; although they liked Ahmad, they told me that the young Palestinian was a little hard to understand for Iraqis, and that he spoke far too quietly. I assured them (and the rest of the class, via Ali) that I would talk with my friend about this for them.

I put the whiteboard behind me to good use; drawing out detailed if fairly ugly looking diagrams of laptops and desktops, highlighting their differently-placed but identical parts. Ali closely followed behind me, translating my words into Arabic even as I was still in the same sentence. He was so precise that I wondered if he had been trained in this. The students nodded intently, and some were taking notes. I tried to remember to keep it slow and I was sure to stop every 5-6 minutes to make sure that everyone was following along, and to take time for questions. As Jeff, Aaron, and the IRD representatives arrived to dispense the first attendance stipend to the students, I asked Ali to ask the students to give him a hand, and although he gently tried to refuse the compliment, I insisted; starting the applause myself, gesturing to him and saying “Shukran!” The other students laughed and joined in, cheering as their countryman smiled modestly. The money was quickly dispensed, with each student coming forward and providing a copy of their legal registration with the United Nations Refugee Agency, signing their name, and receiving their envelope with great flourish. Some guy was wandering about, snapping pictures, and interviewing the trainees. I’ll have to try to find him and ask him for copies of the pictures if I can; IRD and I can make a trade of my pictures of Ayn Al Basha’s construction for ’em.

And that was that; the first day of class was over. The Iraqis filed out, chatting and shaking my hand repeatedly. Gazwan, the only younger Iraqi with English skills, thanked me profusely for “coming here and doing this good work” and told me that he couldn’t wait to come back next week. As they headed towards the gate, I leaned against the gritty brick of my classroom and watched them, feeling all the tension of the day leave me. I had done it! I had taken the first steps along the path to my dream: helping the people who need it most, the victims of an unfair invasion that left them the unknown refugees of a broken nation.

That actually brings up another point: are these Iraqis refugees? I was informed that in fact, “Iraq has no refugees in Jordan.” Or at least, so says the Jordanian government, who continues to refer to the Iraqis as “our guests.” There is some debate as to why the Iraqis are titled this way, but some speculate it’s actually in the Iraqis’ benefit to not be “refugees,” which can be highly tracked, monitored, and expelled from their host country. It’s possible that Jordan doesn’t want to subject the Iraqis to this, and so it prefers to “don’t ask, don’t tell” about it so that the Iraqis are pretty much free to do whatever they want to (short of hold legal employment; Jordan is pretty opposed to anyone but Jordanians making money in the country). However, as you can read in this article, there are opposing opinions on this.

Shawn and Philip lead the recycling class

Shawn and Philip lead the recycling class

Since that first day, we’ve all been hard at work to finish construction at the site once and for all. As of today, all of the computers are in the lab and in the reception room (the labs use XP, and the cafe uses Ubuntu Linux), and they’re all networked (still no internet yet, though). The rooms are all painted, (almost) all of them have doors, and the florescent lights’ unfortunately tendency of burning through the ceiling panels has been corrected (it made some interesting patterns on the ceilings, though). Philip has got the recycling program going on the other side of the campus; I barely get to see the guy anymore, but sometimes when I’m working in the office I can see him, floppy-brimmed hat flopping as he jogs around, calling out instructions for containers to be moved, loads to be unloaded, and trucks to be refilled. He really seems to be in his element out there.

Yesterday, Philip had a friend of his come visit us from the University of Michigan, emeritus professor Frithjof Bergmann. Frithjof is involved with technology adaptation: using inventions and technology to help poor parts of the world with basic things like sanitation, health care, and importantly for our work, waste product reuse. He went with us to Ayn Al Basha and talked with all of us about his work and how he wanted to help out. Although he was only in Jordan for the day (he was on his way to a different conference) he told us he was looking forward to assisting however he could. Philip had a dinner for him last night (of which I had to miss the second part of for choir practice, unfortunately) and as I left, the two of them were comparing socio-political theories for the economic problems in America. I do hope that I have the chance to meet him again someday!

Today, the main event was shopping for office supplies with Jeff and Aaron. Amman doesn’t have much in the way of office supply stores, and the first one we went to had some rather ridiculous prices. 2 dinars for a roll of tape? 49 dinars for a stapler? a dinar for a pen? The obviously know that there isn’t much competition. But, intrepid explorers that we are, we went hunting down in the bellahd, the Amman downtown, and found two other small stores that progressively dropped prices for us the more we wheedled with them. The last one we visited (and the one we eventually purchased from) was well-hidden and was the most cluttered business I’ve ever seen with boxes and junk piled up to the ceiling everywhere. The aspect that sold me, however, was the number of Arab businessmen customers this store had compared to the others. They knew where to take their money! The elderly proprietor clapped us on the back, offered us coffee and tea, and promised us “the best price.” We bought quite a bit of stuff for the office, and he gave the three of us some fancy aluminum ink pens for free that are pretty nice. Score!

Computer Cafe (yes, the wall definitely needs a cleaning)

Computer Cafe (yes, the wall definitely needs a cleaning)

Ra'ouf and Uday help me unpack and set up the systems.

Ra’ouf and Uday help me unpack and set up the systems.

In other news: Philip rescued a little kitten from the garbage room at the Sheraton hotel here, and has aptly named the little guy after the hotel. Sheraton the cat is an orange tabby, and I would put pictures here except that he’s been taken to the vet to make sure that he doesn’t have any of the diseases that the cats here unfortunately have all the time. I only saw him for a couple hours when he first arrived 3 days ago, but he seemed quite affectionate, cuddled up on Philip’s coat in the bathroom and purring as he batted at my hands. He’s supposed to get back tomorrow; I’ll be sure to take some photos of him then.

In other-other news: I believe I may be coming down with some sort of ear infection, and my headphones are probably to blame. When you’re constantly surrounded by dust and sand blowing around you and you’re shoving things into your ears, I suspect that I brought this on myself by grinding some particulate into my eardrum. It doesn’t hurt much now, but it feels like there’s water building up inside my ear or something equally weird. I think I should stop by a pharmacy; they’re everywhere in Amman (you can’t go a block without seeing one) and they can prescribe antibiotics without a prescription, or so I’m told. Maybe there’s a reason I never see Arabs wearing headphones over here.