Saturday, November 29, 2008

Babci lives on

I've been in the U.S. almost two weeks now. Meeting a nephew and experiencing reverse-flipped-repeat-rereverse culture shock seem to have just about completely stumped my ability to blog. The only person I want to portrait is little Des (the nephew), but there are two problems with that: first, you may get bored of me telling cute baby stories; second, if he ever grows up to read my blog I don't want him to get off on a too-embarrassed foot. Actually, make that three problems: third, I'm having way too much fun making a fool of myself with him to take the time out to write about it!

But, meeting Des this Thanksgiving week has been an interesting convergence of factoids. One, it's really easy to be thankful for Thanksgiving with a cute nephew to play with. Not only that, but it's been great to spend time with his parents, too.
Second, with my parents around up until last weekend, it was also a little bit of a family reunion. Almost the entire family, but not quite, on my dad's side was together for Thanksgiving for the first time this year in... no one can remember how long, but at least a decade!
Third, it was our first family holiday without the Babci, one of the most amazing people in the world, around. I didn't call her, didn't go through the brief words of loving encouragement and prayers and tears that I've received from her faithfully every birthday and holiday and other special occasion for years now.
Fourth, I did a double take when I realised that my mom has actually stepped up to the plate and braved the title of Babci for herself! In a strange way, was it God's mercy that the original Babci passed away just two weeks before Des was born, leaving the position open for the new grandmother to take on the title?

(Babci is, at least according to our family's tradition, Polish for grandmother. So of course my mom's the new Babci because she's a new grandma. But in our circle of friends, and especially for my brother, my cousins and me, the label Babci carries with it an enormous weight and the aura of a big personality encapsulated in a frail body...)

Anyway, the fifth converging factor was the day after Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving now has, as far as I have been able to ascertain, a minimum of four titles. Please tell me any titles I may be missing!
1. Black Friday (aka, the biggest shopping day of the year)
2. Buy Nothing Day (seriously. In response to Black Friday: you choose, buy loads or buy nothing)
3. Make Something Day (a response to Buy Nothing Day, apparently)
4. National Listening Day (simply NPR's good idea of a good way to spend a relaxing holiday Friday, I think!)

It's this final one that I really was inspired to embrace last Friday, were it not for the cutest little baby in the world yanking my attention away from the important task of listening. Oh yeah, and all the shopping. But I was really inspired by one of my favourite blogs to not only do some listening, but to record the story I've listened to.

So in honour of the passing on of the Babci baton, I think it's finally time for me to write down some original Babci stories. In her final years she grew quite chatty about her fascinating past, so even though she was no longer around to be listened to last Friday, I hope her stories - and even more than her stories, her wisdom, can live on. For a start, I've already posted some of her story that I shared at her funeral.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Scenario #17: Women and airplanes

Have you seen the film Love Actually? I love how it begins and ends in Heathrow airport, one of the world's busiest airports - I think it's the airport out of which one can fly to the largest number of different destinations in the world. In the first scene of the film, as the film reel shows people of different ages and different nationalities and different type of bags arriving in the airport and being greeted by their loved ones, the voiceover says, "Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends."

My flight from Doha to Washington reminded me so much of this scene. Here were some of the people I met:

- A Pakistani American woman who had recently returned to her native Punjab to get married. Now she was expecting her first child and flying to Virginia to finish out her pregnancy while living with her parents. After her baby is born in the U.S., she hopes her husband will be able to join them, or else she and her child will return to Punjab.

- An Indian woman who was traveling alone with her one and a half year son. During the interminably long wait to board the plane (thanks, U.S. security regulations!) the boy became increasingly restless. Finally, when our place in the queue was nearing the front, he reached an incurable tantrum. He whimpered and cried and screamed, and soon I was playing the staring game with him as our bus waited to let us off and onto the airplane stairs. As long as he stared he forgot to cry, but alas, I won the staring game and he won the crying game. His poor mother was at her wits end, no doubt trying to figure out how she would handle 15 hours of angry fellow passengers watching her try to calm her son down.

- A Sudanese woman and her eight-year old daughter. Neither one spoke a word of English and so they begged me to help walk them through the frightening process of flying across the world to meet their husband/father. Baba had lived in the U.S. for the past nine years and only now was ready for his family to join him. The woman wore niqab, the headcovering that left nothing showing but her eyes, and so she and her daughter were given extra attention... and extra security checks. The daughter was scared of flying, and when I went to my seat in another part of the plane I felt terrible for leaving them helpless without a translator.

Meanwhile, surrounding me were several men travelling alone, including:
- An Arab man who watched films the whole time.
- Two middle-aged American men who chatted in the empty space by the toilets for several hours.
- A young Asian guy who enjoyed the selection of games on the plane's video system.

With such a collection of fellow travelers I found myself:
(a) grateful that I was not squeezed between two of the sketchier-looking men on the plane
(b) concerned that the woman with the crying toddler was sitting next to some unsympathetic guy, the pregnant woman was squeezed between two sketchy men, or the woman on the way to meet her husband was finding herself having to explain her situation to some flight attendant who didn't understand Arabic.
(c) imagining what it would be like to have my entire face covered in black for a fifteen hour flight, eating by tucking my fork up under my scarf and sleeping with an elaborate set of garb arranged on my body
(c) wondering why no airline has yet thought of having a section for women only, somewhere for these women to feel safe and where their children are welcome

Seriously, in the Middle East, many restaurants have "family" sections, where women and children are allowed to sit safe from the haunting eyes of less-thoughtful men. Men accompanying the women are also welcome to sit in the family room. It works well, everyone's happy. On these flights from the Middle East to the "West", there are so many young, impressionable and vulnerable women... why not reserve a section for these sweet ladies and their kids?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Profile #62: RSCN

The Jordanian government knows how to raise awareness about the environment: Glamour

The people who might be able to do something to help the environment are the same people who holiday in five star resorts and stop at the Middle East's only drive-thru Starbucks as they zip to work in their flashy SUVs.

So, if Jordan wants to get its population on board in saving its fragile ecosystem - and a very fragile system it is! - meanwhile earning serious brownie points with the huge numbers of greenconscious Westerners who pass through its land each year... Glamour is the word of the day.

In fact, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, as it is called, has set up nature reserves throughout the country. These reserves are more about the glamourous ecotourism than about the preservation, though. (After I visited one such site, Wadi Mujib, I questioned whether this particular reserve was actually preserving anything to start with.)

My last day in Jordan, we visited the Dead Sea Panorama complex, the newest nature reserve to be receiving tourists. It's an amazing clifftop location overlooking the Dead Sea and Palestine beyond.

As we sat on the courtyard terrace, sipping our virgin cocktails (the real kind were available, too), looking out at the beautiful view, we perused the menu. The restaurant is a lovely state-of-the-art facility with a rather nice menu of Lebanese food. It'd be the perfect setting for a wedding reception or something of the like.

My friend decided she'd like to smoke an arguile (hookah, shisha... that stuff), but the waiter apologised. He said they don't offer arguile because the land is a nature reserve. My friend apologised profusely for even suggesting such an affront. Then her sister lit up a cigarette, and the waiter brought her an ashtray. One can only push the envelope so far for the sake of nature!

There really are some lovely facilities and several of them are quite eco-friendly. Like the Fenan lodge, which is all solar-powered, meaning that people mostly walk around with candlelight at night. I've heard it's gorgeous: a candlelit B&B in an idyllic setting. Or the nearby campground where they set up the tents for you and make sure you're fed, and offer some sort of showering facilities.

Nonetheless, these reserves continue to be an adventure. We're allowed to clamber endlessly and freely over rocks and through gorges. Some of it's actually a bit dangerous. At the Dead Sea Panorama, apparently the "be careful by cliff's edge" signs are a recent addition. Anyone want to guess why? There's barely a beaten path to follow when hiking and no one really says anyone if we fall away. As we do so, we get to know our environs, see little critters us city folk don't recognise and identify unusual plant formations. Glamourous it may be, but somehow it's still rugged enough to feel green.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Scenario #16: Work

I've had several conversations lately about overworking. Today, I start with my questions:

- What is the difference between working too much and working too hard?
- What is the bare minimum of rest a person should have?
- When we choose to work more than we should, what is really going on? Why would we do that?

Please do give me your answers. Personally, I'm kind of passionate about this topic, but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise.

To me, working too much is a huge problem while working too hard is actually a difficult feat to achieve. Working too much entails spending more hours than we should working, but if we do that we start to shut down mentally or physically, so we actually end up not working hard enough.

I think each person is different, but I also think the Bible was onto something when it mandated one day a week. It seems reasonable that once every handful plus of days, we take a day to catch ourselves up emotionally, mentally and physically. But there are people who will work a month then rest a week. Or two months then rest two weeks. Personally, I'm kind of like that, but two months is really pushing it. This whole conversation has come up in my life because I know people who have gone a month without a day off and that seems terribly dangerous to me. As a bare minimum, bare minimum, I'm suggesting one day every two weeks... plus proper vacations from time to time!

Do we overwork to escape something else? To prove ourselves? To avoid being bored? Because we feel people are depending on us? I've heard them all. The worst is when one leads to another, I think: for example, we work too hard to avoid being bored... but then we feel all eyes are on us to really do something amazing, so we start trying to prove ourselves... but then we fall behind on the cleaning and on contact with our closest friends and it just seems like too much work to catch up on those things, so we work to escape the dirty house and our unreplied text messages. Oh no!

Sorry, today's is not a very literary post. Maybe later I'll make this into a story about a person who worked too hard!

Ironically, I'm writing this on my last day of work... and I have too much work to do.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Portrait #61: Overattentive taxi driver

Last night we were going to check out the European Film Festival here in Amman. It runs for a few weeks and every night shows a film from a different European country. Last night was Bulgaria.

My friend gave me directions for the taxi driver, and when I got into the taxi and read out the directions, he said he knew exactly where that was. No problem.

Amman is a city of hills, so we drove down our Jabal (mountain), up the next Jabal, then down the other side of that. We zoomed along a highway for a few moments then the driver stopped. "Here we are," he announced. "I think... right?"

I replied, "This is it? I've actually never been to the place before, but I know it's in this area."

"Yes, this is it." he affirmed. "I think. But where's the entrance..."

Now it just so happens that this theatre is the median strip of a somewhat major highway, so we were all the way on the left side, right by the fastest-moving traffic. This did not stop the driver from putting the taxi in reverse and driving backwards past the theatre to look for an entrance.

"I'm sure this is fine," I said, reaching for the door handle. "Just stop here and we'll walk."

"No, I need to make sure this is the right place" was his reply.

"No, really, we'd be happy to walk."

"I can't just leave you in the middle of the highway!" he protested, as if driving backwards in the middle of the highway was better.

"Please!" I pleaded. "Let us get out and we'll figure it out. If this isn't it, we can't be too far."

Keep in mind that we were slowly driving backwards this whole time with cars zipping by on our right.

The driver glanced again at the building and declared, "Look, there's a guard. I'll just back up a bit further to ask him."

"We really can figure it out on our own," I tried weakly.

"Don't be scared. I'm just looking out for you."

"I'm not scared," I sighed. "I just want to get out. Please, can you stop here?"

Meanwhile my friend, who was patiently watching the interchange without understanding our heated Arabic, started counting out change to pay the fare. So as the driver set his focus on the guard, I turned to my friend and told her to just go ahead and pay.

But the driver wouldn't accept the money. He was too busy driving backwards, and now he had the added task of trying to get the attention of said guard. He pulled into the driveway where the guard stood, and asks the guard where we were supposed to be. The guard obviously knew about the European Film Festival, so he immediately gave walking instructions for how to get into the facility from there. As the guard talked, the car finally came to a complete stop, so we pushed the cash into the driver's hand and got out.

The driver told the guard, "I just wanted to make sure I brought them to the right place."

Then he drove away, and I told the guard, "That driver is crazy. He wouldn't let us get off!"

The guard chuckled and nodded and pointed us to the elevators.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Portrait #60: A really cool teacher

I first encountered her when I got on the bus for the four hour drive down to the camp. She and another teacher were sitting on the right side of the front row and my mates were sitting on the left. This meant that the only seat on the bus left for me was the fold-down chair in the front, where the driver's assistant usually sits. I certainly didn't mind - it was the best view on the bus! But Sitt Lara wanted to greet the students, so once the bus started moving, she moved down, told me to get out her way, and picked up the microphone off the bus console. Did this older, proper-looking woman really want to sit in the seat usually reserved for the servant boy?

Eventually, she went back to her respectable seat, but not without dancing a bit in the aisles first. She's fifty-two years old and not a small woman. She wears thin wire-rimmed glasses and a flowing white headscarf, and her eyes and nose peek out from her headgear in a way that made me think at first that I'd best not mess with her. And yet here she was, playing around with the bus console and dancing with her students.

The next day, the students were doing their group activities before lunch, and several of us leaders joined in the games. The last game entailed one player from each team running to the middle of the room. Whoever grabbed the dartball sitting in the centre first, and then managed to escape without being tagged, won. It was a great way to build team spirit, as we cheered our teammates on. To keep the tension high, the moderator didn't call out the names of the individuals who would have to represent each team until the very last minute. So when Sitt Lara's name was called, she didn't hear. She was too busy cheering the rest of the team on. The other team's significantly more sprightly competitor ran to the middle, grabbed the dartball, and was almost back to her side of the room by the time Sitt Lara realised she was supposed to participate.

So Sitt Lara asked for a re-do and the game moderators agreed. This time, she was determined to be ready. I can't remember if she won the race for the ball, but I do remember her Olympic-worthy pose in preparation for the proverbial gun to go off. She stood a metre ahead of us, the rest of her team, right in the middle of our line. She wore a tailored skirt suit with the white headscarf, and as she flexed her legs, her long gray skirt was stretched to the max. Her arms too were flexed, left arm up and bent, and right arm down and bent. Her whole body leaned forward and rocked back and forth. All 200 pounds of her were focused on the prize of that dartball.

Shortly thereafter, she got word of the fact that I am a "doctor." For her a sociologist was as good as a psychologist, so she decided that I'd be qualified to help her work out her needs. If it wasn't too inconvenient, she asked, could I sit down with her for a while? Since she talked with me as if I were some sort of psychotherapist, I suppose I shouldn't share the contents of the conversation.

But I'll give you the background information: she was widowed at a young age, and has never remarried. Why? Well, she said there are five types of men who would marry a widow: an older single man, who will probably want children and she doesn't want any more children; a divorcee, who might still have ties to his previous wife or else might also want children; a widower, who is probably just looking for someone to help him raise his own children; a man who is already married and looking for a second wife, in which case she's better off alone; and... I can't remember what the fifth one was. Well, after an explanation like that, how could I doubt her? She'd clearly thought it out and had a clear explanation of why she would not be remarried. Nonetheless, she was humble enough to ask me, little old me who is half her age and has less than half her experience, for advice.

She's a clever one, though, and she loves her work. Her desire to help her students is so strong that she may suffer from it: wanting to be sensitive, she gives them their distance, but at the same time she's eager to sit with them and encourage them. She asks for no recognition for her work with marginalised girls and gets silently irritated with others who seek reward. I truly enjoyed meeting someone who tries so hard and has such pure motives, even to the point of throwing cultural proprieties to the wind whenever it seems that doing so will be better for her girls.

But perhaps the moment my heart was truly won over by Sitt Lara was when she informed me that she spends five or more hours each night gaming on the internet. It's Marge Simpson, to the tenth.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Scenario #15: married dude with fat divorcee?

It is a well-known fact that in Islam, men are allowed to marry up to four wives. But I think it's also somewhat well-known that very few Muslim men actually choose to exercise this right. "Marrying over", as it is often called, comes with a lot of obligation and emotional hassle. Plus, I like to think that there are good-hearted men who want to build a family with their one wife and their shared children. Oh, and let's not forget that women prefer to have a man all to themselves, so there aren't loads of women queuing up to be second wives, much less third or fourth wives!

Nonetheless, in many communities of the Middle East, this simple little law changes the entirety of inter-gender dynamics. A married man is not a 'taken' man as I have generally been taught to think. I'm not talking about sordid affairs or stealing someone else's husband; I mean that when an unmarried woman is speaking with a married man, often the dynamics are not all that different from what they would be if she were speaking with a single available man.

So the scenario I have in mind is not completely unreasonable, and yet I still can't really imagine it. I was told the other day about a situation in which a slight married man (think Mr. Bean but capable of enunciating complete sentences) sat down with a woman ten years his senior, who just so happens to be 'back in the market' to talk about the philosophy of luuuuuvvv. About what it means to be in love and what relationships should look like. Rather a flirtatious topic, I would think, in a culture where men and women are rarely good friends to start with, much less men and women who are both in the market!

Yet, this woman is not particularly attractive. She's fifteen years his senior and must weigh at least twice what he weighs. She's not in possession of any incredible wealth. Though her mind might be stimulating, I couldn't quite see a reason for the likes of him to want to flirt with the likes of her. Plus, he is well-educated and comes across as a cultured person, not the type to be looking for a second wife. Could he truly be in the market? Why did he start talking about love and romance with her?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Portrait #59: Crazy... Two young Iraqis whose mother's job changed their lives forever

How can a teacher be a war criminal?

She's a Shiite from the south of Iraq and she is deeply in love with her husband. He's a Sunni from Baghdad. They were studying together at university and became good friends. Then they decided they wanted to be more than friends. So as their university years ended, he approached her family about the possibility of marrying her. And she talked to her father and to her brother and to her mother. Her brother was furious and beat her up. He said there was no way. But when the man she loved stayed faithful and kept trying in a respectable way, he eventually came around.

They got married and that same night she became pregnant. And the next day he left for his military service, to fight in the war with Iraq that ran throughout the 1980s. She had their baby and stayed living in the South with her family. His barracks were nearby so every month he was able to come for a few days to visit.

When his military service ended, he was able to get a good job back near his family in Baghdad. He wasn't from just any old Baghdad family. His family lived in the same neighbourhood as most of Saddam Hussein's extended family. And the two families ran in the same social circles.

But it was actually through her Shiite family that she got her job. Her sister married a man who was a decorated pilot in the Iraqi army, and her sister got a job as a secretary for someone who was well-connected. So when her sister learned through the Baghdadi elite grapevine that Saddam Hussein's cousins were looking for someone to teach their children, she immediately thought of her sister, the woman I met. She had completed her university training as an educator but because she was busy being in love and convincing her family to let her marry the man of the dreams, then watching her husband go to war and raising their baby... well, she had never had a chance to build her career as a teacher.

This was her golden opportunity. And a truly amazing opportunity it was. She got to be a private tutor for children, focusing on their basic educational needs, in an atmosphere where she could concentrate her energies on teaching and not have to worry about discipline. Plus, there were the perks. She got an amazing salary, a private car, and invitations to events in high society. This well-spoken, kind-hearted woman could be an influence in the lives of the future leaders of her country.

She enjoyed her job and was able to be a teacher while raising her own children. Things were going well until she started feeling some funny headaches. She went to a doctor and learned that she needed treatment for a potentially serious neurological problem. So the Iraqi government paid her expenses to go to Jordan's world-famous doctors for treatment. This was 1998, and the treatment took a couple of years. She came with her two children and her husband.

When the treatment ended, she and her husband started discussing their options. They'd been living in Jordan for two years now and the pressure on Iraq was beginning to mount. Something in their guts told them that trouble might be around the corner. So they decided that her husband would travel to Europe and get a job and start working on a way to bring his family to join him. In the meantime, she'd wait in Jordan.

But trouble did come, and her Jordanian residency was revoked. She had to leave the country before she could come back, and this entailed passing through Syria. In Syria, though, her name was on a blacklist, and as soon as she arrived in the airport, she was taken into custody. She spent 21 days in a Syrian jail before she was deported to Iraq. Fortunately, her children were safe with the family. So she went back to Iraq for a year or two, but when the war started, anyone affiliated with Saddam Hussein's family could be at risk, so she quickly came back to Jordan with her children. Her husband was living in Europe at the time, travelling around from country to country depending on his work. Every year he would come to spend a few weeks with his wife and kids.

This time, they were in Jordan as refugees. They still have a comfortable savings account, but they don't have a residence visa, so the children, who are now in their early twenties, were not able to complete their education. She can't work. As an Iraqi these days, it has become very difficult to get a visa into many countries. So her husband is now working in the Gulf, but he doesn't want to leave because he may not be allowed back in. And she and the kids can't go to join him because they can't get a visa.

As refugees, they are eligible to apply to the United Nations to be resettled permanently to another country. Returning to Iraq is absolutely out of the question for this family, so they applied for resettlement. They were granted an interview with an immigration official from the U.S., but all of the questions in the interview were about her relationship with Saddam Hussein's family. They asked her if she knew details of the Hussein family gossip and about the neighbourhood where they lived. They just got word that they have been flat-out refused resettlement.

She told me her story, then she commented that she feels that the U.S., and in fact the entire refugee system, has been unfair to her children. She hasn't done anything wrong, but she understands that there are consequences for the position of privilege she used to hold. But her children were not even teenagers at the time that she was working as a part of the Hussein family. Why should they suffer for her choices? Her son can't work, can't study, has no future. Her daughter is no better off. Neither has any prospect of seeing their father or making a life for themselves, and she misses her husband whom she loves dearly. These seem to her like such unfair consequences of her choice to educate a few children of privilege.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Portrait #58: The two women with last shift at my gym

I'm always the last person out of the gym in the evening. When my gym membership ends next week, the staff will get to go home fifteen minutes early each evening, I'm sure! So I appreciate the fact that they still say hi and smile at me, because I suspect that they're regularly checking their calendars wondering when they will be rid of me. In my defence, I do rush there as soon as I'm done at work, but we must keep in mind that most women who frequent the all-women's gym don't go to work at all.

These two women's smiles and greetings have made the gym a pleasant place to frequent, but I'm often struck at the huge differences between the two.

The first is a petite dark-haired beauty. She is the type that looks like a teenager but by the confidence with which she carries herself, you'd guess she is older than she looks. In fact, she is 32 and has two children. Her son is already himself a teenager! She got married at 16 and divorced only a few years later - she told me she had been too young to know how to be a good wife back then.

The second I don't really know much about. She has blonde highlights in her cropped hair, and smokes after her workout and shower every afternoon. Yes, she is an employee of the gym, but I suppose use of the showers and the facilities is one of the perks. Then again, maybe she's the aerobics instructor: by the time I get off work and into the gym each day, aerobics classes are over.

The first was actually the person who showed me around when I first visited and convinced me to buy a membership. She latched on to me and was happy to show me everything. She said there have been some other women from Brasil using the gym and she'd love to introduce me to them.

My first encounter with the second was when she walked out of the showers dressed in nothing more than a towel. As I jogged on the treadmill, I watched her trek over to the reception desk, lose the towel, and start combing out her hair wearing nothing more than her underwear. Then she smoked a cigarette.

When I head for the showers after my workout, the first woman is wiping down the floors. In fact, even though she took initiative to play gym salesman for me, her job description is actually that of the cleaning woman. Meanwhile, the second woman might be chatting with a friend, measuring a client's waist and giving fitness advice, or smoking a cigarette.

As I'm leaving the gym, right at closing time, my two favourite gym staff are getting ready to leave as well. The first woman is putting on a long skirt, long-sleeved blouse and a headscarf. The second woman is peering into the big mirror in the aerobics room, putting the finishing touches on her lipstick.

What I love about these two women, though, is that sometimes as I walk out onto the street, I glance back and see them leaving together, chatting and laughing with each other. These two women are so different, and surely come from such different backgrounds, but they act like lifelong friends.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Portrait #57: CRATS

(I have slacked off on my blogging adventures. I've taken no portraits, pondered no scenarios and told no stories in the past week. This is because I was given the gift of sight last Sunday (also known as LASEK surgery)! But apparently the gift of sight is not always received immediately, and while I now see things that are far away much more clearly, I can barely make out the words on a computer screen. I may still be typing everything wrong here now and just not realising it, but I think I've improved enough to at least try.)

But to celebrate my return to the blogosphere, I today want to portrait a phenomenon of the Middle East that I finally named this summer, in the end of my 7th year hanging out around these parts. The CRAT*

The Crat is not a human, nor an inanimate object. A crat is very much alive, and savvy and often quite hard-working at the business of surviving. On any given day I will cross paths with at least a dozen crats, some of which are horrifically ugly, others endearingly cute, and yet others just plain scary. Usually when I pass a crat there is a bag of rubbish or a big bin close by. Crats don't usually scare me, but I think they probably should. Usually they either tug at my heartstrings or they groce me out.

Today, I passed three crats hanging out by a bag of rubbish on the sidewalk (pavement for you Brits). They were tearing at the plastic to get to all the yummy goods sitting inside. People aren't usually very nice to crats, so when they saw me coming, they abandoned their feast and fled to the street.

My timing in walking up the sidewalk was fallacious, however, in that a car was approaching from the other direction. So as the crats fled my imposing presence, they ran straight into the path of the oncoming car. One tan crat was just plain slow, so never made it to the road in the first place. The second crat, a bright white character, was clever and fast and got out of the way in plenty of time. The third crat, gray and white striped.... SPLAT! I actually screamed. I've never screamed like a girl before (that I know of), but the thought of seeing a crat slaughtered in my face was a tad shocking.

The car shrieked to a stop. I stopped dead in my steps. The gray and white little guy stood up, shook its head and slowly followed its friends in the opposite direction. After taking a breath, I waved at the car. It drove off. I continued on my way, and Amman 's crat population continues at an all-time high.

*CRAT = Cats that play the role in society usually expected of Rats