Well, having been here over a week now, I am really learning to redefine my concept of personal space.  Everything here is done close together.  People talk close together.  They walk close together, arm in arm or hand in hand (usually same sex only though, unless you're with your spouse!).  They live close together--I could reach across my balcony and shake the hand of a person standing in the next balcony.  They even drive close together--literally within millimeters of each other!  When I get back to the U.S., I will laugh whenever anyone says I'm "following too closely" when I drive.

While we're on the topic of driving, there are some other fun things here.  They have no concept of road lanes.  Although some roads do have lane lines painted on them, they are taken more as a suggestion than anything else.  Your "lane" is wherever your car can fit.   And they don't use headlights or horns for the same purposes as people in the U.S.  Headlights are not used while driving at night.  It's considered rude and a waste of energy.  Headlights are used to warn another car that you're coming, or get a car to move.  Horns are used to alert pedestrians that you're coming, and occasionally to warn other cars.  Pedestrians here are fearless.  Walking around and crossing the street are like extreme sports.  Almost no one uses the sidewalks.  People just walk wherever they want, and cars usually go around them.  When the car can't fit around them, the driver honks and the person moves (that is, if they want to move).  Oh, and it really gets fun when there are horse-drawn carts thrown into the mix!  Those are on many of the streets too.  Plus a few bicycles.  And the tram cars, we can't forget those.  They have to stop at intersections for the cars, and they have to stop for pedestrians.  

So, all that was to say--getting around from Point A to Point B is an adventure each and every time!  I usually take the tram or a taxi.  In my city, the middle car of the tram is reserved for women and children.  Women would never ride in the other cars unless they were accompanying a husband or male relative.  A single woman traveling alone would always ride in the women's car.   In a taxi, a woman would always get in the back seat and a man would always get in the front seat.  The only time that wouldn't happen is when the other seats are full.  These practices may seem discriminatory on the surface, but it is really to protect the woman's honor.  On the tram, a woman is usually safer with other women than in a car full of leering men (and yes, many of them like to leer and occasionally even grope).  In a taxi, since all taxi drivers are men, it is safer for the woman to be in the back seat for the same reasons.

There are also many cafes and coffeehouses here that are only for men.  I haven't figured out a special reason for that yet (and there may not be one!), but I don't worry about it too much since there are plenty of similar places that are open to women.  I especially like the new one just down the street from me.  It is on the first floor of a building where construction is going on.  The owners of the coffee shop told me they are hoping to expand their venture to include a restaurant on the top floor.  I also found out from one of the other tenants in my apartment building that they are going to put a new mall with a four-screen cinema in there!  That would definitely be cool to have within walking distance.  There are plenty of other malls and cinemas around, but this would be more convenient.  Of course, only the basic framework is up right now, and I heard that took a year and a half to complete!  So I'm not getting my hopes up about this place being done before I leave.  =)

It has been a good week.  My Arabic lessons are going well, and I am continuing to meet new people.  There are Christmas decorations up in some places, and many of the churches and hotels here are having Christmas events.  I hope to be able to catch a few of them! 

One other thing that happened this week--my roommate's wallet got stolen off the tram!  However, we heard that in most cases the thieves just want the cash, and so they will often return the wallet.  Well, my roommate didn't have her contact information in the wallet, so she doubted that they would be able to do that.  But, just one day after the wallet got stolen, we got a call from a travel agent.  My roommate had visited that travel agency and the travel agent's business card was in the wallet!  Turns out the thief left the wallet in a taxi cab.  The taxi driver called the travel agent and let her know where the wallet could be picked up.  The travel agent called us, and we went to get the wallet.  It was being held in some random carpet shop across town--apparently the taxi driver was related to the carpet shop owner.  So we got the wallet, and everything was in there except the cash!  Crazy, huh?

For those of you that would like to see it, I have a video of my apartment that you can view by clicking the video camera icon below.  Note that it is in Quicktime, and it is about 10 megs.  However, I have it zipped down to 8.8 megs or so.  So if you have dial-up, be prepared to wait awhile!  There are parts where there is no sound and parts where there is no picture.  So don't think there's a problem with your system; it's just a problem with my film-making abilities!

Also, you can click on the arrow icon below to see previous updates.

Until next time....Merry Christmas!

Camera icon

Previous updatesClick the arrow for previous updates.