Petra, Classes, and the Joys and Sorrows of Soccer






This week has been far too exciting to recount it all in great detail, and instead of doing the entire week I would like to focus on a specific event that happened only two days ago. But first, as with the Roman Citadel, please note that I’ve added a video from the ancient ruins of Petra [NOTE: The video upload is currently not working, so here is the direct link to the video of Petra ]. I simply can’t begin to describe what it’s like and, of course, if anyone wanted to visit Petra, don’t hesitate to invite me along! I’ve got enough survival Arabic to get you there and back again (not a Hobbit’s Tale). 

Second, we have had our first week of classes at the university. I am taking Arabic 201 and a course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and both are highly impressive. The Arabic professor incorporates everyone into the discussion and into the activation of vocabulary, which is very helpful given that we all have different levels of proficiency. The Arab-Israeli Conflict course is simply incredible. The professor is a Canadian that has lived in Jordan for many years, and continues to work with Palestinian and Syrian refugees almost daily. His knowledge of the history of the conflict is something from which the entire class is learning, regardless of political affinity. The class should be discussing more themes of the conflict over the next two and a half weeks, such as theology conflicts and international assistance. I greatly look forward to seeing what shape this class takes.

Lastly, I had a wonderful experience two days ago in the form of soccer, which was at the same time deeply saddening. My roommates and I had noted the near-daily game of soccer among the young children of the neighborhood right outside of our apartment building, and we had talked about trying to play a little game with them. We’d also noticed the decrepit nature of their ball, so two days ago as we returned from school, I stopped by the neighborhood toy store and bought a new soccer ball to give to the kids. When I went to give it to them, they were somewhat confused, one kid said “We already have a ball!” It took a few minutes of broken Arabic, but I got across the message that this was a new ball for them. They were confused, surprised, happy, and gracious enough to invite us for a game.

We made a quick change of attire and returned to play. They were excited to have some new players, but they didn’t quite understand how terrible at the game we all are. The good news is that they were perfectly fine with playing keep-away from the Americans and beating us in multiple games, during which we scored a grand total of one goal as opposed to their fifteen.

There was one aspect of the game which I was not pleased with, however. This part of the story may ruin your day, so you may wish to stop reading here. I wouldn’t blame you.

The neighborhood in which we were playing is still partly under construction, and the workers decided to stop for a while and watch us play. They were friendly men, spoke no English, and were generally pleasant to talk to on the sidelines. I noticed that they had a boy working with them, named Abdullah and no older than twelve, sitting on the side of the game and clearly longing for a chance to play. I asked the men in charge if it would be possible for the boy to take five minutes to join us before going back to work, after all the entire crew was taking a break anyway, so what could it hurt? The worker in charge of him was very clear that this was not possible; the boy needed his energy to carry the 2×4 planks of wood up to the top floors of the apartment building. This wasn’t a good enough explanation for me, as I’m generally pretty stubborn, so I pressed him to ask why they wouldn’t let him play for a few minutes.* The answer I eventually got was just “Suuri”, which I took to mean that the boy wouldn’t be allowed to play because he is Syrian.

In reality, I suppose Abdullah in this situation is lucky. He and his family came to Amman from Syria, almost certainly fleeing violence, and he has the good fortune of having a job and earning some money. Nonetheless, seeing a boy no older than twelve being denied simple childhood play was disheartening. It certainly makes the Syrian Civil War seem more close than before. I’ve thought about trying to do something for Abdullah separately, but I also want to be careful not to upset the social hierarchy. If anyone has a suggestion, I’d be glad to hear it.

*Note: If you’re going to be stubborn with people who don’t speak your native language, be very careful with your choice of wording in their language.