Final Weeks in Amman

This will be my last blog post! The past few weeks have been amazing and tomorrow I will be heading back to Chicago after what feels much longer than two months.

We have been preparing for final exams and projects in class. Our final exam presentation is about anything we have experienced and want to share with the class from our time in Amman. This is a culmination of what we have been doing, just speaking to each other only in Arabic during class.

In addition to studying, the past few weeks have been the best in Amman. One of my roommates is friends with the lead singer of Jadal, a popular Jordanian band, and they had their album release concert this week! We have hung out with them a few times this summer and it was so exciting to hear them perform. Experiencing an Arabic concert, surrounded by Jordanians, was an amazing example of all the experiences that have helped me grow culturally over this summer.

As the end of my trip was coming to an end, I was worried I would not get to see Petra, Wadi Rum, or Aqaba. With my roommate and some classmates, we joined a trip to see all of these places in one weekend. The first stop was Petra. Petra, one of the most amazing wonders of the world, was every bit as hot and tiring as the guidebooks say. We got to see all of the sights in just a few short hours (though not for as long as we would have wanted to). After being humbled by the gigantic ruins of Petra, we hopped on our bus and headed for Wadi Rum, a red desert. This too was extremely hot, but thankfully we were staying overnight and would not have to experience it during the day. The next morning, after a night under the stars, we headed for Aqaba. Aqaba is a very unique coastal resort city. From Aqaba, you can see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the West Bank, and Israel. After swimming and sight-seeing in Aqaba, we started the 8 hour journey back to Amman. This journey was further complicated by the many, many checkpoints we encountered. At one of the checkpoints, a Jordanian officer even proposed to a pretty girl on our bus (a joke of course).

This opportunity afforded to me by the SLA grant has opened my eyes to the amazing culture, shown me varying perspectives, and above all, advanced my Arabic skills. By the end of the summer, I was understanding what was going on in my fast-paced, Arabic only class. Towards the beginning of the summer, I could understand some directions or questions, but through the skits and activities we performed during class, I became more comfortable with Arabic. Obviously, I also had a great deal of exposure to the culture. One cannot understand the culture of Jordan without understanding the surrounding conflicts. Many people in Jordan are Palestinian, married to a Palestinian, or have many friends that are Palestinian. There are also many refugees from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. The politics in Jordan are also very interesting. It is a constitutional monarchy. The King (Abdullah II) and the Prime Minister share the executive branch. The royal family is viewed with huge levels of positivity. Their modernity and willingness to adapt is what makes them so appealing to many, including myself. This love for the royal family and their positive work in so many areas, including education improvements for young girls and boys, is impossible to experience without interacting with Jordanians. I also was afforded the amazing opportunity to work with Right to Play Jordan in their Amman office. This inspired me when deciding what type of internships and jobs I want to take in the future. In the Spring of 2017, I will be working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and my time in Jordan, as well as with Right to Play motivated me to apply for this. I will definitely use all that I have learned about language and culture, and also professional skills working with organizations in the future.

Week 5-6 in Amman

This week we continued progressing in our Arabic studies and I am getting more and more comfortable in conversation and speaking faster. I am more comfortable understanding not only my teachers, but taxi drivers and other people I encounter in daily life. This week, while volunteering with Right to Play – Jordan, I sat in on a meeting about education and the programs they have been running. They were trying to create a survey to measure the effectiveness of their workshops. They tried to use only formal Arabic instead of dialect and surprisingly, having learned vocabulary relating to children and education, I was able to follow a decent amount of the conversation.

This weekend, I went to visit the Dead Sea with my friend from Russia/UAE. It was very nice to relax and swim. This was on my bucket list for Jordan and I am so glad I made it to see this place mentioned frequently throughout history.

Week 4 in Amman

This first week was very short. We only had two days of class because of Eid. For the past month it has been a hard, but fun adjustment, to life in Jordan. This week is our mid-summer break and some classmates and I are using it to travel to Cairo and Alexandria. This is a once in a life time trip and will give us useful insight into other cultures and traditions in the Middle East, to round out our experience.

When I returned, I finally figured out how to cook eggplant, peppers, garlic, and onion and add it to rice for a nice homemade meal. This is a real step forward for me and I incorporated some common vegetables used here. In Arabic class, my class has been getting pretty close due to the small class sizes. We have made some memes in Arabic and our Arabic teachers loved them! I also found some great cafes to study near Rainbow Street and I am looking forward to going back in the weeks I have left.

Week 3 in Amman

I have completed my third week in Amman. I am definitely getting the hang of things here, especially how to grocery shop and cook for myself 24/7. I am also getting used to certain aspects of the culture, like taxis. In taxis, women always sit in the back but a man is expected to sit in the front. For example, a mother and 4 kids in a cab would sit with the eldest boy in front and the mother and other kids in the back of the cab. Rarely, even if there is 4 women, will you see one ride in the front of the taxi with the driver. I am also getting better at speaking to taxi drivers in Arabic, so I think my Arabic is improving.

I love Qasid! It is very hard but I think it will be very rewarding in terms of Arabic progress. Our teachers are amazing! First we have Ali, who is a hilarious teacher and loves making us perform funny skits in Arabic in front of the class. Then we have our class with Hadeel, an adorable (very pregnant) woman. They are so involved with our learning and truly want us to succeed.

The homework load is a lot each night. We are supposed to do one our of homework for every our in class, meaning we would have 4 hours of homework a night. There are a lot of assignments and vocabulary to learn and I quickly found out that this class was nothing to mess around with. I managed to get to the end of the school/work week, Thursday, and planned fun things for the weekend!

On Friday, I went downtown Amman with one of my roommates and we walked around, took pictures of the amphitheater, and got some hummus and bread. On Saturday, we went to Wadi Mujib which is this amazing nature reserve! It is right next to the Dead Sea so we could look out and see the West Bank. At Wadi Mujib, we grabbed life jackets and began to walk, climb, and swim our way to the top. When we got to the top, there was this amazing waterfall! I wish I had pictures, but I did not have a waterproof case or bag. It was great to exercise and swim! Overall, it was another great week in Amman.

Week 2 in Amman

On Sunday, I had my very first day of school at Qasid. I quickly found out that this particular class used a different version of the book then I use at Notre Dame. The class was great, and of course, the teacher was amazing, but I asked to be moved to another specialized class that followed the same curriculum and books that Notre Dame does. On Tuesday, I went to my new class with other students from NC State and Yale.

This Friday we went to Madaba and Mount Nebo. Madaba is a Christian town south-west of Amman. It is best known for its insanely cool mosaics and archaeological sights. We chose to go there because it is a Christian town which means some restaurants and sights will be open on Fridays, even during Ramadan. We got there with our trusty guidebook and went to the first stop on the tour, “Madaba Archaeological Park”. We started wandering around aimlessly (there were no descriptions) until the guy we bought tickets from offered to give us a tour! He was very knowledgable and there were so many cool things at this site. In this park there was a Roman Street, Hippolytus Hall (6th century), Church of the Virgin Mary (6th century), the crypt of St. Elianus (595 AD), as well as the Mosaic Exibition which includes a mosaic from King Herod’s Fortress (as in Bible Herod!). He showed us his mosaic shop after the tour and even showed us how they are made! After the tour, he helped us set up a ride to/from Mount Nebo with his brother, a taxi driver, for later that day. I am continuously amazed at how helpful and welcoming people here are!

We then went to several historical sites, one of which was a Greek Orthodox Church of Saint John the Baptist. We looked around a bit and then discovered a staircase that led to the bell tower. it was unclear whether or not we were allowed up, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity! After climbing up to the very top, we had an amazing view of all of Madaba.

After lunch, we went to Mount Nebo with our friendly taxi driver. He was very chatty and showed us pictures of his adorable 3 year old daughter on the way! Mount Nebo is the place where Moses saw the promised land, but he died before reaching it. Some people think he even may have been buried in the mountain. From this point, you can see a lot of the West Bank, the Dead Sea, Jericho, and even Jerusalem on a good day. It was amazing to be there, not only because of its religious significance but its historical significance as well. I didn’t expect, coming to a Muslim country, to visit so many places that relate to my own religion. After Mount Nebo, our driver showed us a Bedoin camp where we talked with some of the Bedoins. Then, our driver took us to an awesome restaurant and then back home to Amman.

Week 1 in Amman

Upon arrival in Amman, I had a very clear plan: buy my visa, find my bag, and look for my ride to my new home. The visa line took a while and the rules commonly accepted in other places do not apply (read: budging & bribing) but I found my bag immediately! The only problem I encountered was not finding the driver but that was quickly resolved when a friendly local woman took pity on me and offered her phone to help contact him. I rode from the airport to Sports City (مدينة الرياضة), a neighborhood in Amman, with two other Qasid students.

When I arrived at my apartment, I was it was so much better than what I had been expecting! It was in a nice location, walking distance from classes and easy to get a taxi. There are 7 of us girls living in my apartment, all attending Qasid, but the apartment is certainly large enough to accommodate all of us. We have a kitchen, laundry room, two living rooms and a small balcony.
The night I arrived, one of my roommates, Glo, and I walked to Mukhtar Mall (our closest supermarket) and I became somewhat familiar with the area. The next day was our Qasid Orientation. We took buses to the Landmark hotel and received some light refreshments, which was surprising because it is Ramadan (will explain later). We were welcomed, given information and our placement tests, then we went upstairs and enjoyed an amazing buffet dinner.

For those of you who do not know, we are in the middle of Ramadan (a month of fasting). This means that during the day, restaurants in Jordan are not open, shops close unexpectedly at weird times, and it is illegal to eat or drink in public. When the call to prayer is recited around 7:50, the city comes alive for the night. During Ramadan, the country comes alive at night. After the call to prayer at sundown, people break their fast at a meal called Iftar. Then people go to the streets to celebrate.

The next day, I went grocery shopping with some of my roommates. If I want to eat anytime when the sun is up, I have to make it myself. That night we went to Rainbow Street, a vibrant modern street with lots of cool restaurants, cafes, and a lot of nightlife. Anastasia, Sarah, Elle, and I found this adorable (and cheap!) cafe and sat down for kebabs, hummus, and tea.
Thursday, Qasid arranged an orientation trip to Ajloun Castle. This castle was built in the 12th century as protection from Crusaders. Beginning in the 13th century, it was used to help send messages by pigeon between Cairo and Damascus. While standing at the top of the castle, we could see the West Bank, Syria, and the Eastern Badia that leads to Iraq.

Friday and Saturday, my first weekend in Amman, I spent cooking, sleeping, and exploring Amman. Saturday night I received my schedule for classes beginning Sunday!