The End of a Work Permit

Today, as part of the long, arduous, harrowing journey to collect my Social Security payment, I had to go the Ministry of Labour to have my work permit cancelled.

In order to do so, the worker there had to collect my work permit card (easy enough) and write into my passport – above the work permit ‘stamp’ – that it was no longer valid. Then came out a second stamp. She lifted it – I swear – a couple of meters in the air and then slammed it down with a thump onto my poor, unsuspecting passport. I looked down to see the damage.
Over the old work permit stamp, written in bold Arabic font: CANCELLED.

I’m sure she had to hit it hard to get the stamp to come out clear, but I couldn’t help back take her vigour a little personally :).

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Every month, the Jordanian government takes a percentage of my pay for my ‘Social Security’ (I really wanted to call it Superannuation, but no-one knew what I meant.); nothing unusual there. I had been told that if you are a foreigner who has finished working in Jordan, the government is happy to give you back the money before your departure, rather than make you come back once you reach retirement age.

Everything was looking good…until we arrived at the Social Security department. Turns out that as my contract technically finishes in August of this year (not June when I’m leaving), I can’t receive the payment until September. But all was not lost. Apparently, I could give someone permission to collect the money once my contract is up. To get all the official paper work done would mean a trip to court.
Which I found very exciting.

For two years I had gone past Jordan’s ‘High Court’ on the way home from West Amman, and I was always wanted to explore it. The building is designed to be imposing – much like the Australian High Court, though not quite to same degree – with gigantic wooden doors and high arched ceilings. The iron fence along the street line and sandstone masonry further lend to the feeling you’re entering some sort of castle or fort.

I usually head past the court after 2pm when everything is shut up for the day (it’s a government building, after all), but when I arrived today (along with my guide from the school, and the friend I would give permission to pick up the social security) it was abuzz with activity. I’m not sure what you need to go to court to get done here, but it seems that it is a lot of things. There were plenty of everyday citizens and a good mix of lawyers as well (you could tell the lawyers apart as they hastily threw on their robes as they run up the front stairs.).

Our first stop was the old gentlemen sitting out the front by a small, rickety  wooden table under the shade of an umbrella. I wasn’t sure why we were speaking to him at first, until I realised he was the one who filled out the official court documents. We needed it in duplicate, so he pulled out his trusty carbon paper to wedge between two copies of the same form. After much arguing about how to write my name in Arabic – which I mostly disagreed with, but kept quiet – we could head inside.

I assume the courtrooms were on the further side of the large foyer, but once through the front doors, we made a sharp left into a room full of practical but unimpressive cubicles. After a couple of minutes we were called up.
The office worker (or was she some sort of paralegal? I couldn’t’ figure it out.) took the form and started entering the details into the computer. It looked like she had done this many times before.

She turned to the friend next to me, ‘Does he speak Arabic?’ (in Arabic)

‘A little,’ I interrupted.

‘Why do you want this form signed, in Arabic.’ She now addressed me directly.

I explained in general how I was leaving and how I wanted him to pick up my social security.

‘What do you want it for, exactly.’ She asked.

By this stage I was well aware that my request was being verified orally (important for both the foreign and illiterate), and painfully aware that I had no idea what ‘social security’ is in Arabic.

I looked to my friend. He gave the ‘Fraid I can’t help ya, bud’ shrug.

After a few minutes of further futility, my new friend, the officer worker/paralegal, had reached the end of her patience. She decided it was best to speak out the term and have me repeat after her (once she said it, it made sense to me).

Having spoken the magical words, I was free to go.

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10 days to go…

Wait. 10 days? When did that happen?!

When we wake up tomorrow, we’ll be into single digits, which is both exciting and terrifying.

Today, I spent most of the day at work running around having the storeroom lady sign that I have returned all my textbooks, the librarian that I have no outstanding loans, the department head to say my marking is done, the secretary for proof my grades are uploaded, the account for…well, I don’t know why I need his signature, and last – but not least – the principal to tie it all up in a neat little bow. It’s becoming official.

(I quite enjoyed the experience. It appealed to the list-writer/organiser in me. It felt like running through the Royal Adelaide Show, getting all the stamps required for the yellow brick road.)

Up till today, I’ve largely ignored that we’re leaving Jordan, but now it is really sinking in. I thought the “goodbyes” were frequent before, but now they really are coming thick and fast. Sadly, we’re at a point where we end most of our conversations with ‘have a good life’, because if we’re not going to see someone again in the next 240 hours, chances are we never will.

I know that’s a little morbid, but in a sense, I think that’s ok. We’ve been incredibly blessed by our time in Jordan, and it is good to mourn it. We’ll have plenty of time to be thankful about all we are getting by returning to Adelaide; now is the right time be thankful for Jordan and sad to leave it.

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Birthday Candles

Arab birthday candles are the coolest.


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Temple Mount

The Western Wall plaza in the old city of Jerusalem is a hectic place.
The wall itself – the closest point to the original location of the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount above – is the place of Jewish pilgrimage. Every day sees thousands of tourists, children celebrating their Bath or Bar Mitzvah and faithful mourners making their way through the plaza. The Israel Defense Force patrol with arms bared (often in more ways than one), and thick, steel gates with metal detectors and X-ray scanners mark each entry and exit.
Busy, energetic and surprisingly modern and western.

Make you way through the almost hidden foreigner’s gate, through one last X-ray scanner, up the wooden ramp and onto the Temple Mount itself, and you enter a different world.

Yes, the I.D.F. still mark the entrance, but this world is definitely Arab. Old men in Middle Eastern dress sit in circles talking, and no one is in any hurry at all. There is far more space and many more trees than you’d expect (It’s like stepping into the Tardis; from the outside, it doesn’t look like all this space should exist.). The language is different and the so is the architecture. Standing infront of the Al-Aqsa mosque at the south end of the mount, surrounded by Arabic, I could be back in Amman (not to pick at faults, but the half discarded construction material doesn’t hurt either 😉 ).

When we were there, we figured this relaxing locale was the perfect spot for lunch. We found a seat on the steps leading up to the Dome of the Rock and ate our olives, hummus and bread overlooking the Mount of Olives. After that, we walked back down off temple mount and forward about 400 years.


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Trade Embargo

Thanks to Iran’s tenuous relationship with the international community and trade embargos, you don’t come across this everyday:

iran_glove_1Produced in I.R.I, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I saw these on our recent trip to Dubai. My only question: why is there so much English on the packaging?


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the last ten-dollar-runaways-style hair cut for a while

Going to the hairdressers here is always an experience. I almost always have some story to come home with, and today was no exception.

First, I should probably mention that after living for two and half years in the Middle East, I feel like I am qualified to say that Arab women can be quite blunt when they want to be. I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all, it can just come as a shock to Westerners who grow up with certain politeness rules in place, and any violation of those rules usually results in one being offended. It’s something I quickly got over in the first few months living here.

Today I showed up to my local hairdresser, asking for a cut. She’s a rough woman, my hairdresser. She grabs and pulls and pokes; gentleness is not her forte.

Her first question was ‘Where is the baby?’
I laugh and reply, ‘Ma fii bebe lissa, inshallah.’ I don’t have kids yet, as God wills it.
How many years have you been married?’ she asks.
‘Almost three,’ I say.
There is lots of tutting and exchanging of glances with the other two women in the room.
‘Inshallah, God will give you babies. Enough, three years is enough to be a bride!’

In the middle of cutting my hair, she grabs my eyebrows and says, ‘You want your eyebrows done?’
Now, she’s done my eyebrows before, and it was not the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had, her lacking gentleness and all, so I quickly declined. She turns to her friend, and says, ‘But she needs it! It’s too messy! And her arms! She needs sukar (sugar wax)!’ all the while shaking her head and tutting. I don’t think she quite knows how much Arabic I understand, so I sit there trying not to laugh. But goodness, don’t go to a salon here unless you’re up for some severe scrutiny of your physical features.

I have to confess, while I was there, I was planning on writing a blog post about how this would be my last $10 cut and blow dry for a while. But then my hairdresser started lamenting loudly about how much her electricity bill was this month – 58JD! For a woman who probably only earns 250-300JD a month, that is pretty steep, and it’s an indication of how tough things are for the average Jordanian. Obviously it’s not as bad as places like Egypt, but times are tough. I’m not sure if the conversation I overheard was a deliberate ploy to soften me up for when my bill came, but if it was, it worked, because suddenly the price of a cut and blow dry went from 8JD to 14JD.

Nevertheless, I’m going to miss my shrewd, slightly grumpy, little bit nosy hairdresser. Maybe not the Joan Jett-Cherie Curry style hair cut, though 😉

Photo on 2013-06-13 at 19.25

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