This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of taking a trip to Wadi Feynan. If you ever come to Jordan most of your trips will be to desert valleys [wadi] with beautiful multi-colored rocks, uncharted paths, and kind locals. The tourism industry in Jordan has made a killing off of weekend expeditions from Amman to the valleys including transportation, meals, accommodations, and activities.
I have had several opportunities to stay in traditional Bedouin tents, biked across the desert, watch the sunset, and sleep in the Econo Logde, an eco-friendly hotel in the middle of Wadi Feynan. And through it all I did it without a phone, a computer, or wi-fi—what a concept.
But really, on a daily basis I don’t have wi-fi or access to internet for at least two-thirds of my day. I go to school I talk with people in Arabic, I meet with friends and have coffee, and I look up when I walk from place to place. Disconnecting from my phone and technology has really made me realize how much I use my phone in DC and at school. But what for?—It is such a distraction and doesn’t allow you to live in the moment.
I also realized that not being constantly connected to a phone also helps me with my Arabic. Instead of being on my phone I take the time to engage in conversation and focus in on the target language. I have heard that the iPhone is killing the art of conversation and I agree; we look for any excuse not talk to people who are in the same room as us, and for what?—Take time to turn your phone off and enjoy time with the people you love.
When I go back to GW I think I will try to turn off my data when I don’t absolutely need it and avoid receiving Facebook and Snapchat updates at all hours of the day. I also want to start only using my phone if I have a wi-fi signal and saving those important moments for myself instead of constantly having to share them with the world.
For a city with few public areas for walking, transportation can also be difficult.
For me, getting to school everyday is a bit of a challenge. The university is about a 15 minute drive from my home. I leave my house and walk to the roundabout about a block away. I then pay about 2 to 3 JD [dinar]--depending on traffic--to a taxi to get to school. Hopping in a taxi here you give the taxi a well-known landmark and most likely he just knows where it is. For example, going to the north gate of the University of Jordan, I have to say baba il-shimel fi il-jami3a il-urdunia [north gate of the University of Jordan].
Unfortunately, there are barely any reliable buses that can get me within walking distance to my home. Buses vary, there are some that are more like big vans that carry many people and go to very specific destination. While others are like more traditional buses in the United States that go to general drop off locations. However--unlike in the US--buses in Amman run on Arab time meaning ma fish mushkila [no worries], whatever time the driver feels like it.
Not only can getting to school be a bit pricey, but after school when we all want to go to a different part of Amman to a cafe or hang out spot, the taxi prices increase later at night on the way home. But, there is a silverlining!
Some advice to those wishing to study abroad in Jordan and worried about transportation costs:
1. Splitting a cab with people going to around the same area as you is more affordable and typically I only have to pay 0.50 JD instead of 2 JD.
2. Don't be afraid to figure your way out by walking to your destination. Although it is not much of a walking city, if you are in an area that isn't as traffic heavy it is fun to walk.
3. For those trying to practice their Arabic, the forced interaction of directing your taxi driver and possibly having a full conversation is always a benefit of taking a taxi. For example, on my way home the other night for an artsy area of Amman, the taxi driver I met was very nice. He asked me where I was from and told me about his family from Palestine and why he likes Amman so much.
With less than a month until my program in Jordan begins, my anxiety has reached its’ peak. So much to do prepare and plan for; I find myself avoiding my first post for fear that I will sound too formal or too anxious or too idealist or digressing in getting to my point—which I have already done.
I have been studying Arabic for three years now and the Middlebury Program at the University of Jordan will advance my Arabic. If you haven’t heard of the Middlebury Program let me give you an idea of how intense this language program can be. A friend of mine went to the Middlebury campus in Vermont over the summer after one semester of French and never really being able to learn a language and came out speaking fluent French. My program is a little different. I will be living with a host family in Amman, taking four classes entirely in Arabic, and signing a language pledge that says I will only speak, think, read, and write in Arabic. For the next five months I will be eating, sleeping, living, and breathing completely, 100% in Arabic.
In order to brace myself for what is to come in two weeks and three days I have made the following preparations. First, I have been reviewing my Arabic vocab and grammar so I can place into the proper level for my placement test. Second, I have downloaded an Arabic language pack on my computer so I can type in Arabic. This was preceded by making my own stickers to put on my keys in order to learn the Arabic keyboard. Finally, I have taken the initiative to read news about Jordan in both English and in Arabic in order to keep up with current events.
In addition to the language classes, I am also anxious and excited to live for five months in an Arabic speaking country. I realize Jordan is probably not the most westernized country there is to study abroad in; therefore, there will be challenges to overcome. As a side note, I am currently writing to you from the comfort of my friend’s family’s house in Madrid, Spain. I’ve know them since I was 12 when I came to visit in the summer and this is my fifth trip back to Spain to visit. Like most of Europe, Spain is modernized there is always some form of transportation to get around, walking around is very easy and safe, and there is little in the way—for me—of a language barrier. Going from Spain to Jordan maybe like jumping into a pool of ice cold water, where transportation isn’t as simple, walking around my neighborhood may not be safe to do alone, and I have yet to learn conversational Arabic. These challenges differ from the challenges of my classes as they are more difficult to prepare for because until I arrive in Jordan I don’t like to have expectations. I only have one, which is to expect the unexpected.
There were protests planned for Jordan. Now nothing dramatic or horrifying had happened here, such as in next-door Egypt or Libya, but there was a nervous feeling in the air as Friday approached. Emails were sent to our parents, the State Department gave us a debriefing, and we all waited to see what would come out of it. Some students claimed they wouldn’t tell people they were American, others planned to stay out of the downtown area; each had their own plan to deal with the seemingly impending chaos.
Friday came and went, and some small protests materialized in front of the American Embassy, mosques and a gym. The police had come out in full force to quell any potential riots, but those riots never appeared.
I am an American, but I do not visibly look like one. Because I am a Muslim, I wear Islamic dress which has give me a “pass” to blend in with the local Jordanian culture. This has its pros and its cons. It’s great to have people automatically speak to you in Arabic and give you the local price for things, but it can be a little confusing trying to explain to them why you have no idea what they just said. As a Muslim American, I have two identities, which are often in conflict with one another. In America, Muslims are the “other”. We are not welcomed in politics or mainstream society. Ours mosques are targeted and infiltrated; some do not even consider us American. I have walked in the streets of DC to have people tell me “Go back to your own country”, even though I am in it. On the other hand, Muslims view America as the big bad monster in the room. Due to American foreign policy abroad, America is often seen as an antithesis to Islam and our Prophet. The recent film uploaded on YouTube did nothing to help that reputation.
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