I’ve been in Amman, Jordan now for a week. Since my arrival, I’ve had little time to stand still and think about what I am experiencing and I find myself now, deeply relieved, with some time on my hands. Classes have started, and a bit of order has been restored in my day-to-day life. I will describe to you how I have been spending the past week.
I arrived at my apartment last Sunday (I think) at three in the morning and unpacked listening to the call to prayer (yes, at three in the morning). The next day, I met my roommates, Rikki and Nora, and went out to purchase a SIM card and do some grocery shopping. Nothing too adventurous. We felt people staring at us, but I am relatively used to this because people stare at me all the time when I visit my family in Japan.
The next day was orientation. I won’t go into much detail; essentially marathon socializing with fellow students, some presentations, breakfast and lunch, followed by our placement exam. A long, long, day, and by the end of it I was ready to go home and have a quiet dinner with my roommates.
I had to go to Qasid the next morning for my placement interview. During the night I had developed a sore throat, likely because the air conditioning is positioned right above my bed, resulting in temperatures that alternate between arctic freeze and summertime sahara. I sounded like a chain smoker.
Afterward, I went to Rainbow street with Nora and Tracy, another student on our floor. We hunted around for some bookstores and managed to find two, but to our disappointment, most of the books were in English! And furthermore, the small selection of books that they had in Arabic were mostly translated from another language. I considered buying the Arabic translation of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. But I traveled half way across the world to learn about the culture and language here, and I would like to read some real Arab literature.
We took a Careem (like an Uber or Lyft) to the Amman citadel, where we roamed around a bit appreciating the view. I had my first small conversation with one of the staff members there. There were some very interesting flowers growing on the side of a wall, and as I was examining them, the staff member alerted me to the thorns. He was probably confused as to why I was looking at some weeds and not at the ruins. I explained to him that we didn’t have this kind of flower where I come from, but I believe he thought I was telling him we didn’t have a desert where I come from (zahara is flower and sahara is desert). We were both talking a bit past each other, but he was very nice and welcoming.
It was hot, so we sat at a cafe and bought some drinks. A group of students from Qasid greeted us. We had been spotting Qasid students all day long both on Rainbow street and at the citadel. Frankly, we felt a bit like silly, utterly predictable tourists. It’s certainly part of the experience, and the cultural heritage is beautiful, but walking around landmarks hearing English everywhere makes me feel like I am not in Amman.
As we were getting ready to leave, my roommate Rikki called me and asked if I wanted to go on a trip with her over the weekend to stay with her friend’s family in a village near the border with Israel and Syria. Rikki is an older student who served in the military. Her friend used to be in the Jordanian military, and they met when she was sent to Jordan for training. Of course I said yes. It would give me the opportunity to practice dialect and experience what it actually might be like to be a Jordanian.
The next day was our first day of class! I have class for Modern Standard Arabic from 1-5 pm, Sunday through Thursday (the weekend here is Friday and Saturday), and I have also signed up for dialect classes which will start at the end of June. Most of my classmates are Americans, and I was a little frustrated that most of the conversations between students were in English rather than in Arabic.
This is very different from when I studied in France. The students there were more diverse, so English didn’t dominate the classroom dynamic. Furthermore, many of the students in France were intending to continue their higher education there, so it was absolutely essential that they master the language. Here, however, this is not the case. I was expecting this, however I’m looking forward to meeting more local students. In fact, the previous day I met a local who helps french students learn Arabic at the University of Jordan! I exchanged phone numbers with her.
After class, I rushed home to pack for our trip (Rikki’s friend was supposed to pick us up at six, but he spontaneously arrived in front of Qasid at five, explaining that he wanted to take advantage of the light to show us some sights). I have too much to say about this trip, so I will write about it in my next post.