Crumbling Cement Ceilings in Jordan = Just Another Day

Four days ago, I came home at 9 pm, exhausted from another day spent visiting neighbors and tutoring kids who don't know the difference between b, d, and p. I desperately wanted to just collapse on my cot and get 8 hours of sleep, but when I walked through my kitchen and saw my bedroom, my fatigue instantly turned into active frustration. Chunks of cement lay scattered over 3/4 of my room, victims of the weakening foundation of the ceiling. Masses as large as Hakeem Olajuwon's feet lay in a pyramidal pile, while cement pebbles sprinkled the outlying areas. I traced my eyes to the spot directly above the rubbish, realizing that a mass almost the size of two TVs had simply given way to the force of gravity.
The next half hour was spent sweeping my ceiling's remains into the trash, creating only a slightly more presentable mess and a significantly larger amount of dust. I commended myself for having had my cot on the opposite side of the room from the now-only-half-existent ceiling, and brushed off my blankets so that I could sleep and deal with this chaos the next day.
The following afternoon, after several calls to my landlord and two arranged meetings in which he failed to show, I threatened him with "I will call Peace Corps." This statement has never failed to stir him into action (it worked when my pipes froze, when my front door fell off, and when my bathroom simply had no plumbing system). An hour later, he was incessantly ringing my doorbell like an impatient 5-year-old and, once I let him, stomped through the house to look at what minor problem the American was blowing out of proportion. When he saw the gaping gash in the ceiling and the tarp that I had placed under the defective area to catch any future tumblers, he proclaimed, "Aadi." This infuriated me even more than the fact that he hadn't taken off his shoes when he entered my house. Aadi translates to "That's normal." In this context, it can be translated to "No big deal, this happens all the time."
Well, blame it on my stubbornness, but this was a big deal and this doesn't happen all the time. Considering I was paying three times the rent of any normal Jordanian renting a village house, I demanded that he fix it. When he asked why, I stammered that I didn't want other areas of the ceiling to crumble, and I certainly didn't want to wake up one night with a bloody head from a cement block that had decided to release itself from the confines of the clearly defective ceiling. He laughed and said that the weakest part of the ceiling was the area that had already fallen and that I needn't worry; my cot was in the safest corner of the room. Plus, since spring would be here in two weeks, why not just move all my furniture to the front room, which was cooler and had more windows? That way, I could avoid this room altogether and, if the ceiling did happen to deteriorate again, I would be in an entirely different area of the house, safe and not roasting.
This does sound like a reasonable way to escape the room with the crumbling ceiling, but the fact is that my front room has the same problem. The ceilings in all three rooms – the front room, the kitchen, and my bedroom – are peeling and shedding layers; occasionally, I walk into my kitchen or front room to discover that cement scraps are littered over the floor. Since my front room is strictly used for jump roping and the kitchen for cooking experiments, I never complained about these deteriorating ceilings. But I'm sure that if I followed my landlord's suggestion to sleep in the front room instead, it would only be a matter of time and weather shifts until that ceiling would collapse on me.
I explained to my landlord that a. I didn't want to risk having the bedroom ceiling grow into a bigger problem and b. I didn't want to simply move to another room with an equally faulty ceiling. I resorted, for the second time that day, to "I will call Peace Corps." He smiled and asked when a good day and time would be for him to bring The Egyptian to fix the ceiling. Tomorrow, please. Thank you, and have a nice day.
Well, tomorrow came around and I waited at our agreed time of 2 pm for him. At 4, he called to say that he would be coming at 6. In Jordan, that's aadi – it's normal for someone to schedule a time and call several hours later to proclaim that a. they will not come due to some emergency or b. they will come later, after they pray and read the Koran. My landlord usually doesn't provide an apology or an excuse, but I'm used to it by now.
At 6, an Egyptian was standing on my doorstep with a 10-foot metal ladder that didn't fold up. A sack of wet cement was nestled under his arm, and when I opened the door, he shouted "Mindy!" with a toothless smile. He clamored in, carrying the ladder horizontally with impressive ease. My landlord arrived ten minutes later, and ordered me to move my bookshelf and extra blankets into the kitchen. I asked if I needed to move anything else – I certainly didn't want the rest of my furniture or cot getting wet cement splattered on it. He shrugged off my suggestion, saying that it was only the vicinity directly under the already-crumbled area that would get dirty.
I backed into a corner and watched doubtfully as The Egyptian set up his ladder and climbed up. "Mindy! Look! This is what would happen if I hadn't come!" he shouted to me in Arabic. As proof that I would die if I hadn't asked my landlord to fix my ceiling, he then prodded the edges of the crumbled area with the butt end of a broomstick. Chunks of cement avalanched onto my plastic tarp and ricocheted onto my dresser, my plastic tables, my yoga mat, and my cot. I immediately yelled for him to stop, and he laughed when he saw that my eyes had turned into angry slits. I couldn't possibly get mad at this small man waving a broomstick and balancing on a 10-foot ladder, so I directed my frustration at my landlord. I blubbered that all my furniture would be ruined if I didn't move it into the kitchen, and he responded with a shrug that said, "I'll wait." With the help of 3 neighbor boys, I moved the rest of my furniture into the kitchen, until The Egyptian, my landlord, and I were standing in a bare concrete room.
The Egyptian proceeded to entertain himself again by poking the ceiling, and soon a 1/3 of my ceiling was on the cement floor. Clearly, he was having fun. Once he realized he was the only one laughing, he stopped and declared that it was cement time. My landlord explained to me that they would now layer fresh cement over the crumbled area, thus ensuring that it wouldn't deteriorate in the near future. Then, after the cement had dried, we would paint over the cement so that my whole ceiling would be a pretty white. Hearing this, I burst into tears. Between pathetic sniffles, I explained how frustrating this situation had turned out to be: it was already 7, the paint job wouldn't be finished until 10, the floor was covered in cement blocks, I didn't have the time or energy to clean and rearrange all my furniture tonight, and I had to be at school at 8 tomorrow. My landlord's response was, "If you pay me 10 dinar, I will clean up the cement for you." I have to pay you to clean up the mess that you made? This was ridiculous.
I didn't even threaten him this time, I just did it. I called Peace Corps. After a short conversation with our Safety and Security Officer, my landlord turned to me and proclaimed generously, "We will clean your floor for you. For free."
Three hours later, I was staring at an ugly dark-grey blotch on my white ceiling that previously was a monstrous cavity. I didn't care that my landlord said that there was no time to paint over the cement; I just wanted the crew out of my house so that I could start making this room my home again. The next two hours were spent washing my floors, washing my plastic rug, and carrying all my furniture from the kitchen to the bedroom. I managed to get to bed at a decent hour that night (well, actually, the next morning). Walking home from school the next day, my landlord stopped me on the street and asked me how my "new house" was. I told him it was satisfactory, and out of curiosity asked if ceilings crumble a lot in Jordan. In Arabic, he explained that "your house is over 80 years old. I moved out of that house 15 years ago because it's broken, and I built a new one. The ceiling fell because it's old and last week was really cold and this week is really hot. All houses have that problem, but people usually move out of them before the ceiling starts to crumble."

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