Thursday, September 3, 2009

In Amman

I've actually been here for about a week and a half already, but things have been so busy that I wasn't able to find the time before now to sit down and write a blog entry about it (and even now, I really should be reading my environmental science textbook for class tomorrow).

My flight to Amman from Delhi was pretty pleasant, all things considered (I can only imagine what people thought of me in the airport with my surgical mask on and my brain scans under my arm) and I got there around 9 in the morning, to be greeted by Abu Yazan, a driver employed by Amideast, who drove me to the very fancy hotel where they were putting us up for the first few days. I checked in and promptly crashed until that evening. Late that night, another student and Subhi, one of our program directors, went out for some food in the neighborhood around the hotel, and it was interesting to see whole families eating dinner at around 11:30 at night - truly a Mediterranean country, I suppose.

Saturday, I did nothing until I went downstairs to discover Matt and Claire in the lobby!!! It was wonderful to see them again and catch up on all the Carleton gossip we had missed over the summer and one another's doings. On Sunday, we met up with more of the Amideast staff, namely Hala and Subhi, and went on a city tour of Amman, including the Citadel, where the ruins of the Temple of Hercules stand nearby those of a Byzantine church and an Umayyad mosque from the 6th/7th century. From the top of the hill you could see the entire city spread out over the many hills that make up Amman (again, very Roman), the whiteness of the noon-time sun washing out the thousands of crowded, sand-colored buildings. We also visited a Roman theatre, and of course the archeological museums present at all the sites. At the museum near the Citadel, they even had fragments of the ORIGINAL Dead Sea Scrolls!

Matt (Al-Buraq!) and Claire at the Roman Theatre

Temple of Hercules

Dead Sea Scrolls!

On Monday, we met the rest of our student group, including groups from UPenn and from the Air Force Academy. We also started our "orientation" with a crash course in "survival Arabic," namely how to say simple phrases in the local dialect. That night, we had iftar - the breaking of the fast - at dusk at a nice Arab-themed restaurant and got to know the Amideast staff. Dragging Arabic out of my brain and attempting to replace the Urdu words that automatically spring to my lips has been difficult - i.e., I'm still unconsciously wagging my head, saying phrases like "ji" or "thik hai" or "koi baat nahin" - but it's been good to get back into an Arabic-speaking milieu.

Tuesday was the scavenger hunt day. Myself, Jamie, and Andrew comprised "Team Traffic Jammin'," and after a long, hot trawl through Amman we managed to find all the places and take all the pictures we needed on our list and got back an hour after everyone else due to our taxi getting stuck in a huge traffic jam. It was a lot of fun, though, and I enjoyed getting to know some new people.

Wednesday, Claire and I (who were hotel roommates as well as home-stay roommates, turns out) got up early in nervous anticipation for our Arabic placement exam, which took up the next four hours or so after 8:30. It was a tough wake-up call to just how much vocabulary and grammar I had forgotten or had never been taught, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well my oral interview went. In the afternoon, we had a panel discussion with American ex-pats living in Amman, and in the evening we headed over to our academic coordinator's house for iftar. Her house was lovely, with a table and lamps out in the garden, and during dinner Matt and I wandered into the kitchen to ask if we could help out with anything and ended up making the dessert, a dish whose name I can't remember but consisted of either walnuts or cheese fried into dumplings whose shell was made of a pancake-like material that had been thoroughly saturated with sugar. :)

Thursday, we prepared to move in with our families. First, however, we visited ACOR, which is one of the best English-language research libraries in the Middle East and will definitely prove to be a great place to study and read as the program goes on. The director even had a Carleton connection, which once again made me proud of our little school. We checked out their collections as well as the amazing archeological collections they have preserved in the basement, with ongoing projects like burned parchment restoration (!). In the afternoon, Claire and I moved in with our host family, who turned out to be related to Alex and Sean's host family, and although they are somewhat quiet and shy they are very sweet and have four "children" who are more or less our age: 24-year-old Khalid, 22-year-old Rawan, 16-year-old Deena, and 12-year-old Hamza. We were expecting slightly younger children, but mish mushkila (koi baat nahin, yaani).

On Friday, after a nice sleep-in, Claire and I thought it would be fun to explore the city a little, so in the early afternoon we went out to Sweifieh, the swanky neighborhood where the Amideast office is, and walked around Al-Wakalat Street, where there are a lot of fancy shops and restaurants and in the evening families show up for a kind of passagiatta. However, we didn't factor in the whole Friday-during-Ramadan deal, which meant that the streets of Amman were like 28 Days Later - absolutely deserted and the vast majority of shops closed. So, change of plan; we went back to the Hotel Geneva and sat by the pool with some of the other girls who are going to be living in a shared apartment as opposed to a homestay. We went home after a little while and enjoyed a calm and relaxed iftar with the family. After a couple hours, we were rounded up to go relative-visiting, which was a little intimidating. Lots of rapid-fire colloquial Arabic all around us. Claire and I each have identifying characteristics, such as "This is Claire. She does not eat meat." or "This is Francesca. She studied in India." Poor Claire is alone in her vegetarianism in this meat-loving country (although after India, I welcome the change in cuisine!).

Saturday, we met up with Sean, Alex, and Matt, who is on his own with a Christian family, and went to the local Safeway (!) to get some school supplies, etc. We also bought food, but since it is very haraam to eat in public during Ramadan, we once again took refuge in the hotel to eat lunch. Another lazy afternoon and evening spent at home, which feels more comfortable by the day.

On Sunday, our week started (weekends here are Friday and Saturday) and I kicked off the academic section of the Amideast program with Modern Standard Arabic (fusha) at 8:30 in the morning (hai allah!), followed by a Jordanian 'amiyya, or dialect, class, then a break for lunch, then Environmental Issues of the Middle East from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. So - long days, and our Arabic ustadha is already putting us through our paces by beginning the class two chapters ahead of where Matt, Claire and I had left off in Al-Kitaab 2 at Carleton (thanks, Natalie). Both of our professors are from the Qasid Institute, and both are extremely personable and patient (especially 'Amil, the dialect prof, who is completely goofy). The Environmental Science class is interesting, but we have some concern about the lack of Jordan- or Middle East-specific material being covered as opposed to generic basic science concepts (i.e., we talked about what an atom is and photosynthesis today. Even for me, that's basic). Our professor, Zuhair Ali, is an internationalyl acclaimed scientist, however, and we got him talking about his personal snake collection and his work with mice and deer ticks in New England.

Long post! At least we're caught up with our first week here. I'll leave it to Matt and Claire to fill in the blanks of this basic outline with fun anecdotes and to continue the saga that has been this past full week of classes.

No comments:

Post a Comment