It’s hard to believe that I was sitting home in Rocklin just a week ago. The transition has been stressful and exhausting – I still feel like I’m catching up on sleep – but I have every reason to believe that this experience will prove to be the most rewarding period of my life. Our language commitment went into effect Thursday, so it’s all Arabic from this point forward. I’ve quickly realized that understanding anything spoken by local Jordanians is nearly impossible, as the local “ameea” dialect is entirely different from the classical “fusha” Arabic taught in class. I’ve had many conversations descend into a chaotic display of frantic arm gestures and dramatic facial expressions. Until this point, there was always the comfort of other American students around to speak English and help translate, but our mutual commitment means that we’ve abandoned that safety net has well.
Fortunately, I have an incredibly gracious host family that has offered to support and assist me for the semester. Several delicious meals and a comfortable bed would have sufficed, but my host mother goes above and beyond in her display of patience with my broken Arabic. I come home every day to find a full meal prepared and waiting in the microwave for me, and she is always willing to sit with me and endure the conversation. I have two brothers as well – Ziad has a strong understanding of English, so it’s nice to share a room with someone close to my age who can help teach me the local slang. I’m about a 5-10 minute taxi ride from the university as well, which only costs the equivalent of $1.50 each way. Other than the lack of internet at the house, I really have no complaints!
For any of you worried about my safety over here, we’ve received every assurance that Jordan is a “fundamentally safe and stable country.” My favorite quote from the day was from our resident director when discussing the potential threat of demonstrations in Amman: “What the people have been asking for is qualitatively different from the other countries in the region…95 percent of the population support the king and believe that the Hashemites have done an exceptional job in sheltering Jordan from the turmoil of the last century.” My host mom reiterated this point, throwing up her hands in frustration over the limited, yet persistent marches in downtown Amman.
Naturally, there is always one caveat:
Traffic deaths are the number two cause of death in Jordan (after heart disease), with around 13 fatalities in Amman each week. There are few traffic lights, intersections or stop signs, and if the lane lines were visible – which they’re not – drivers would still ignore them completely. We joke that honking is the third language of the locals, as car horns are used in lieu of blinkers to notify others of the intent to change “lanes.” In Eugene, I felt comfortable walking anywhere with music on full volume – safe to say that’s not the case here. The ability to take in all the sights and sounds while maintaining an awareness of the traffic is a skill that must be acquired immediately.
The good news to report is that I passed my proficiency test, which means that I can stay in the program and register for classes after all! I had begun to doubt my ability to meet the demands of this immersive program after the initial challenge to communicate, but I find it getting easier every day and it’s nice to relax and move forward now. We start classes on Tuesday – in addition to two Arabic courses, I get to take an elective on Arab media and another on business communication. My only class taught in English is Intercultural Communication – one hour per week.
Though admittedly overwhelming, I am so lucky to embark on such a unique journey here in Amman. I remain 100 percent committed to the program’s objective, as well as all the challenges that are certain to appear along the way. Every day is a test of patience and determination – I find myself trying to recall words and frantically translate from the moment I wake up until I retire to my room at the end of the day. The one reprieve I allow myself is the sweet sound of my iPod each night – anything from Mac Miller to Lady Gaga or Slightly Stoopid seems to do the trick. Still, I find the sounds of the city oddly comforting. Listening to the hum of traffic, the regular calls to prayer, and an occasional blast of what I hope are fireworks is really the only appropriate way to conclude a day in Amman.
From my bedroom window in the neighborhood in Talaa al-Ali.
Our peer tutor, Ahmed, took us to his hometown of Salt on Friday night. View from the roof of a local family home.