Diary August/September 2011
A couple of years back I realised I really did need eye glasses and they weren’t just a fashion statement. Traversing through Connemara with a friend from overseas I pointed out some horses to her. She mentioned that there were no horses in the field, but rather there were some cattle there. I was wearing designer sunglasses at the time, and realised that not wearing glasses full time wasn’t a particularly sensible thing to do, but sense was never my strongest attribute. I’m living proof of that by virtue of the fact that I work in the Middle East.
Males’ in the Middle East are a different breed to your average Western male. I’ve pondered this for quite a while and I think it has something to do with the fact that women are so unattainable. They perceive all infidel women to be game for sex with any stranger who comes along. Despite the Jordanians image of being a liberal society, they are deeply conservative at times. Not wearing a scarf around Amman can solicit arbitrary hissing from males, the way they would to a prostitute. I find it rather offensive, but I’m a Western woman in a very different culture so I keep a zip on my mouth a lot of times when I would normally let fly if I was at home.
A friend happened to be passing through Amman recently and I tried texting to see could we meet up. Alas, I had no glasses on and I had texted a stranger by mistake. It didn’t take much for me to become the proud owner of a real live gigolo stalker, who calls me morning, noon and night with silly messages asking me can we be friends. When I was in Norway on my training course I received a message from him offering me sex for 30 Jordanian Dinar an hour – he is offering to make all my dreams come true for the equivalent of €30 and moreover I’m to pay him. Up until that point I was coping with this as a nuisance but I thought it was a little more serious when the seedy texts began coming through.
As UNICEF are ultimately responsible for me in Jordan I went to our Human Resources person to let her know that a stranger was bothering me and I wanted UNICEF to take some action. She was out of the office on a course so I ended up dealing with the national Jordanian HR officer who, when he saw the text, smirked and insinuated that I was lucky to be offered sex at my age?
My Stalker is obviously not very professional as a stalker, because he was giving me his email details to find him on Facebook and there’s a lovely photo of him. Now, not only do I have his contact details, I also know what he looks like. Our security officer Ziad telephoned the Stalker and told him to lay off or we would contact the police. I found how to block calls on the mobile and life returned to its normal pattern. Then lo and behold a succession of calls came through early one morning from a private number and later than afternoon one Mr Rabee Adel pops up on Skype asking me to be friends. He had also found me on my own Facebook account.
This time I went to our regional security officer, a New Zealand ex-cop, who advised me to go to the police and to bring along our office security office who would be needed to translate. So after lunch on Wednesday myself and Ziad headed down to the police station on 3rd Circle (otherwise known as a roundabout). We were ushered into a room with about 10 men, both police and civilian, and a locked cage in the corner measuring about 5 ft. x 5 ft. The cage came with an offender, on his hunkers, on the phone, smoking like there’s no tomorrow. Incidentally, it’s against the law to smoke in public buildings in Jordan.
The filthy seats were all occupied except for the one pushed up beside the cage, so I slinked in to my place and waited as Ziad explained to the young officer-lad with the rotten teeth, cigarette dangling at the end of his fingers, that we were there to file a complaint. The room went silent, fingers were pointed in my direction and every man in the room sat listening to my tale of woe.
The officer-in-charge would be along in a moment, he explained, so we should make ourselves comfortable and wait. There were great comings and goings in the room – with another offender brought in amid much shouting and general commotion. By this time I had moved to the far side of the room as the newer offender was handcuffed and looked as if he was stoned out of his mind. The whole inside legs of his jogging pants were all torn and he was sporting black underwear.
Once inside the cage, with legs apart, and jutting his chin forward and back, like a Mir cat popping standing on its hind legs, he stood right up at the bars staring in my direction, head banging off the metal, as one of the police officers regularly banged the cage with his baton to get the offender to move back. He lost interest in the sight of a woman in the room after a while and moved over to the first occupier of the cage as the two men began swapping cigarettes and sharing the mobile phone.
Meanwhile, the officer in charge has a sticking plaster across his cheek and takes up his position behind the desk to take details of my case. He takes a few notes and wanders off, while another lad with eyes going in the opposite direction starts questioning me. The first note-taker skips off down the corridor holding hands with another male officer and disappears for the best part of an hour while I assume they went for a late lunch. An hour later and he reappears and complains when he has to write down the details of the dozens of text messages on my phone. Half way through he got bored and said he had sufficient evidence. His advice at the end of it all was to delete the evidence because he had it all written down.
With all relevant business completed, he presents me with a statement written in Arabic and asks me to sign it! He could have been calling me every slut under the sun for all I knew, so I refused to sign because I didn’t know what was written. Poor Ziad attempted to translate, with arm outstretched trying to read the text because he hadn’t brought his glasses. I pointed out to Ziad that my telephone number was incorrect, so after a bit of huffing and puffing (on the part of the police), the number was corrected.
An hour later after I finish in the police station, I’m wandering around the supermarket and the police officer that had taken my statement, phones me. He had taken down an incorrect number for the Stalker’s. It was a shambles from beginning to end. At least the guy in the regional office had the sense to realise the incompetence of the police force and the UN are taking a complaint to the Chief of Police, for all the good it will do.
I was never so glad I rented a car for the month. It’s the real silly season in the Arab world. It’s hovering around 55 Centigrade in Baghdad and not much better in some of the other Arab states. For some reason Jordan gets this breeze and it’s at least 10 degrees cooler (just 40 Centigrade some days) in Amman, bringing everyone flocking here to spend the summer months. Half the city’s apartments are empty for 10 months of the year, and come July and August, everywhere doubles in price and accommodation becomes difficult to find.
Normally the summer travel is divided between Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The beaches in Lebanon are magnificent and it’s generally a good place to be unless the Israelis are shelling it. However, most people drive up from Saudi, Dubai (a very long distance), Kuwait etc, and go through Syria on to Lebanon, with a considerable percentage remaining in Jordan. This year, because Syria is going through a spot of bother people are not as inclined to travel through and have remained here in Jordan. There must be no roads in Saudi because they drive like bloody lunatics. The cars are enormous and they just bully their way on the road with no respect for animal, mineral or vegetable and women drivers are probably considered any one of those categories.
In all the years I’ve been driving I’ve never had so much as a bump (expect when I reversed my Mini into Danny Breen’s car after he charged me the price of a 1 ct diamond ring to lay the tiles on the floor in my kitchen and I was in a bit of a temper when I left the house after paying him). Otherwise, I don’t crash cars… except in Jordan. There are ‘Sliders’ here… people who slide across the road thinking nobody will notice, except when they hit you. You need a sixth sense to be able to spot them. I had a Slider career across the road and bang into the side of the rented car on the way back one evening from having a meal out.
Luckily I was driving an Indian colleague Subhash and his wife back home, so I let him deal with it. He stood shaking his head and waving his finger, only the way Indians can do it, repeating “but you are not making sense my good man,” to the 20-year-old owner of the enormous 4-wheel drive. We stood for a good 30 minutes waiting for the key stone cops to reappear when eventually, for the want of something better to do, I licked my finger, rubbed the offending paint and realised it would come off with a decent bit of elbow grease. When I pointed this out to Subhash, we all piled back in to the car and in true northside Dublin fashion we did a ‘runner’. As I drove away Subhash was shouting out the window to the Slider that we work in the UN if he wanted to find us.
And another crash
Not a week later I was driving to work and a taxi driver cuts across me. I was on 5th Circle, the busiest circle in Amman, at the time and not far from the office, so I just kept going, with the taxi man driving along behind me beeping and waving his arms about. I wasn’t dealing with an angry Arab taxi driver in the middle of rush hour on my own so I got in to work and brought out Ziad yet again; I’ve been keeping him very busy this month.
We got the young lad who makes the tea out with the polish (used for the previous crash) and he got to work on the taxi man’s car. There wasn’t a scratch on it but I wasn’t so lucky this time with the rented car. After the taxi was polished to within an inch of its life, the driver then demanded to be paid for the time he was off the road. I won’t repeat what was used but apparently in English it was two words, the first begins with an ‘f’ and the second ends with an ‘f’.
I’m just glad I’ll be out of here for the first couple of weeks of Ramadan where driving will be even more insane as low blood sugar levels along with dehydration takes hold. Whatever about not eating food during Ramadan I think they’re certifiably insane to actually go without water in this heat. I’m not surprised there are no statistics of accidents, they must sky rocket during Ramadan. I won’t even comment on the woman I saw in a full burqua driving the other day, or maybe it was a man, who knows. I was just glad she was on the far side of the road as her vision is severely restricted in such a rigout. As the booze shops will close down for the duration of Ramadan throughout Jordan, there’s good value in pre-Ramadan booze sales around the city as all the Christians stock up for the Holy Month!!
The exams results are out on Saturday so we were warned there will be random gun fire across the city and cars will be speeding along the minor roads. The culture is so different and interesting at times but so often so exasperating. I think I’ll be safe in Baghdad for the second half of Ramadan where there is little or no traffic in the Green Zone and eating in the work canteen doesn’t bring on waves of guilt that the national staff are sitting looking at you with their tongues hanging out!
Ramadan Kareem everyone.
Until next time