Mil'easter

A wet and wild snowstorm (hereafter “The Mil’Easter”) leveled Amman earlier this week. My Jordanian colleagues at work spent the two days preceding the Mil’easter staring out the window, willing the icy wind and iron sky to start spitting snow so they could leave work early.

“You guys, it’s not going to snow,” we Americans told them, having been jaded by waiting in vain too many times for it to snow during our elementary school years.

“Yeah, but the weather reports say it’s going to snow!” they’d insist.

“Well, it’s not!” we’d snort, slowly sinking into a long-forgotten 9 year-old mindset as we remember all of our disappointment at having been led on by overly-optimistic weather reports. “And you’re stupid. And my dad can beat up your dad.”

We grilled up some crow the next morning though when three or four inches of wet snow blanketed the city. Everything ground to a halt – and rightfully so. Cities here in the Middle East have no snow removal to speak of (for obvious reasons), and the locals – although they’re extremely nice people – really, really suck at driving in the snow.

On day two of the Mil’easter, after another five or six inches of snow had fallen atop day one’s dump, I fired up the 4x4 and explored the neighborhood. The unplowed streets were littered with vehicles in various states of stuck or abandon. I know there’s no such thing as a “state of stuck,” but I liked the alliteration, and you will too if you know what’s good for you.

So I’m thinking: “What is it that makes Joe Jordanian think that his 1986 East European beater, which has some difficulty getting from point A to point B when it’s 85 degrees and sunny, will be able to even get beyond eyeshot of point A when it’s 30 degrees, snowing, and 10 inches of heavy snow covers the road?” Some cars had groups of men behind them, heaving and pushing with all their might while the car’s wheels spun futilely (I couldn’t help but notice that the sleek new Beamers and Mercedes had larger groups pushing than did the dented Yugos), while other cars were just sitting, collecting snow in the middle of the street at odd angles where they had spun out.

Also amusing were the drivers of strapping, manly SUVs, who vastly overestimated their gas-guzzlers’ machismo and were taking on steep hills. Perhaps these drivers took literally commercials showing the Hummer they bought crushing children and clawing its way straight up the Mattehorn (I think they only air these commercials in Belarus). Either way, the steep hills leading out of our neighborhood were speckled with spun-out SUVs, hazard lights blinking, drivers on their cells phones, perhaps calling one another and bragging “My 4-Runner made it 150 meters! How far did yours get? Ha! Loser!... so… what do you want to do until next Wednesday when it thaws enough for us to budge our rides?”

Much less amusing is “Middle East Snowball Etiquette.” This little-known code of conduct states that as soon as you step outside, you’re a fair target for any Arab under age 40 with a snowball. Being acutely familiar with American culture, I kind of inherently believed that it was understood wherever one goes that 1) you don’t throw snowballs at people you don’t know without asking, 2) you don’t ask people you don’t know if you can throw snowballs at them, 3) you don’t throw snowballs at passing cars of people you don’t know, and 4) it’s hard to get to know people as they pass by in their cars.

I kind of thought it was cute the first time it happened. As I drove slowly past a couple of 7 or 8 year-old girls, they flashed me a disarming grin, which I returned, and then they pelted my passenger-side window with snowballs. Slightly taken aback, I nonetheless laughed it off: “Oh, those cute little imps!”

But when I was later ambushed by a battalion of 15 or 16 year-old boys, I started to kind of think it was a little less funny, especially since their initial volley evidently wasn’t enough and they chased after my car, continually firing hard-packed snowballs. They eventually left me alone after I backed over one of the shorter, less agile assailants. And that’s why they call me “Shabba Shabba – the Less Agile Teenaija Boppa.”