Tomorrow will mark the end of the second week with the new students of the second EGT session. I meant to write a little bit about them in the previous entry, but I wanted to keep it focused on biking. There’s been a lot going on, and it was worth a separate post all by itself.

Qayssar has left and moved on, unfortunately. After he graduated, he was offered a job by a translation agency in Amman that would make full use of his massive translating brain, with both French and English things to translate for businesses. I’m very happy that he has a better-paying job that will use his skills more effectively. My new translator is a jovial, pleasant gentleman named Wamidh who was in the plumbing class during the first session. I hadn’t met him before, but I had seen him chatting with Nahzee, the plumbing teacher, before over the last few months. Although he does not translate quite as fast as Qayssar, he has the distinct advantage of being a mechanical and aircraft engineer, which means that he can drawn upon his vast experience to help in my descriptions of electrical concepts. He’s very kind and helps out immensely in class.

The entire Ayn Al Basha complex has become much more professional for this session. We had a shipment of new uniforms arrive this week, with different varieties for the students and teachers, and also full-length body suits for the gardening and construction courses to protect their clothes. The cooking class also has immaculate new bright white, double-breasted vests with matching white hats, as well. All of the uniforms have the EGT logo (which I helped design) on the breast pocket. Here’s a picture of me (being completely serious, as always) in the teacher’s uniform. The students’ uniforms are identical, except without the silver patches on the shoulders so they’re completely gray. Jeff told me that he and the rest of the admin office were getting a type with gold patches on the shoulders, but I think he was kidding.

This is my "I'm a teacher" pose. I could start teaching something at _any moment_!

This is my "I'm a teacher" pose. Look out, world; I could start teaching something at any moment!

Everyone is so much more organized this time around. The cooking class has a new teacher, who is training the new students in actual restaurant and serving behavior, so at each lunch we’re no longer treated as if we were in a cafeteria, walking and collecting our food, but instead my ticket is collected, then a solemn young man escorts me to my seat, pours me a glass of water, and brings me the food, and then collects my plate when I’m done. Although the cooking class is the most striking, every class has the assurance of “having done it before” now, and operate so much more smoothly compared with three short months ago.

My new students themselves are very different from the previous class. “My guys” in the old class could be loud, rambunctious, and always joking with each other. They also had a wide range of ages, with an average age of approximately 34. The new class is much younger, averaging at 21. Surprisingly, they’re much more solemn and quiet. They want breaks less, come back more promptly, and write many more copious notes. On the first day of class, before Wamidh had arrived, they gazed at me quietly and expectantly, and I encouraged them to loosen up and talk amongst themselves a little more, something I’d never even have to twice with my talkative, joking guys in the first session. I loved all those guys, and these new students are very different, but I feel like it’s good and an entirely new way for me to teach. Several of them are very fluent in English, and have some background in computers as well, so they’re excited whenever I can give them the chance to expound their own experiences to the rest of their class (did I use enough “ex” words there?). I’m looking forward to seeing how the next couple months proceed!

I’m now officially signed up for the Dead-to-Red with Luay and his team, although my new friend-through-Philip, Galen Thompson, is also interested in joining us. Galen and Philip worked together in Habitat for Humanity several years ago, and he just arrived back in Amman after a 3 year absence this week. He also has an excellent blog, which you can access here, and at the sidebar to your left. His blog is very technical and perfect if you want to find out more about what EGT actually does (as opposed to this one, which might as well be a travel blog).

I met with Haitham tonight to discuss the trip to Egypt that he, myself, and Silas are planning on taking in a couple months. We met at the Gahwa Borij, or Tower Cafe, where the two of us often sit and chat, and talk politics while enjoying an argeillah and drinks. I enjoy the Tower because of its convenient location near to my home, and for the fact that it pretty much serves every kind of non-alcoholic cocktail under the sun that you could want. The prices are particularly great to, especially compared with Sweiffiyeh, which where I’ve sometimes gone after church before…an argeillah there is as much as 4 times expensive, for a suburb that’s only 5 KM away.

The atmosphere inside an Arab argeillah bar is like nothing that exists in America, at least anymore. It really is the perfect epitome of what America’s alcohol bars are to people from home. Men of all types, of all ages and creeds congregate there at the Tower all night long to talk, watch football, play chess, backgammon (an incredibly popular game here), read newspapers, and of course, smoke and drink sweet things. Young teens, looking moody and rebellious in carefully wrapped keffiyehs sit and play cards, trying to look tough, and old Bedouin men (called hajjis with the utmost respectful ceremony, as learned Muslims who have made the holy Hajj journey to Mecca during their lives) with faces like carved mahogany sit quietly in the corners, deep-red keffiyehs adorned with the traditional thick black rope wrapped around their heads and flowing down their backs. These older men might also be wearing business suits as well, but here it’s as common as having a pen in your pocket as to be wearing a keffiyeh in any way, be it at your throat or over your hair.

The air in the Tower is thick and heavily scented with the dozens of different varieties of tobacco available, from the classic Tufahtayn (Two Apples) to my personal favorite, the Limon wa Nahnah (Lemon and Mint) and everything in between. The smoke hangs visibly above everyone’s heads, glowing eerily with the light of the fluorescent bulbs in the ceilings. The slender Egyptian coal-turners walk slowly and methodically, seasoned eyes cast over the coals burning over the tops of tinfoil-wrapped chambers, searching for the coal that has burned enough to be picked up and discarded into the silver pan that sits under each squatting pipe. If all of the coals have burned down enough, the turner picks up the entire chamber from the pipe, breathes deeply and blows out the remaining ashes from the coals, then gently adds three or four new coals, positioning them expertly to most effectively warm and cook the tobacco beneath the foil. The Ma’allum, dressed in blue and with a thick bristling mustache, monitors his customers and coal-turners, and is ready to take the few dinars in payment that each argeillah and semi-mandatory tea and Pepsi will yield him. I know from experience that he can make change for almost anything you hand him, making him literally more effective than some banks here.

Patrons gather around stocky square tables, diligently wiped down as each customer comes and goes. Tonight was a particuarly busy night because of a football game, and after Haitham left, I found a chair in the corner (next to a Hajji) and read a book for awhile, trying out a new cocktail made from what appeared to be an entire fruit basket (and at the ludicrously good price of one dinar). I was originally introduced to the Tower by Shawn a week after arriving to Jordan, because he lived only a block from it, and since then, all of the Egyptians and the Ma’allum recognize me with a smile, sit me down, and unless I stop them for something new, bring out a lemon and mint pipe.

The Tower, or any small, downtown argeillah bar, is a great place to see Arab culture at its most natural and relaxed. Even if people aren’t interested in trying out the tobaccos, it’s definitely worth attending just for their cocktails and smoothies, which are simply incredible (and the cold on the throat helps the rough flavor of a Tufahtayn go down easy!)