Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Joys (& Woes) of Having a Home

Oh boy. I don’t even know where to begin.

Well, first and foremost, I finally have the internet. Usually 3 days without connection to the outside world doesn’t bother me, but being in a foreign country and being disconnected from the outside world can be quite alarming. But alas, I somehow managed to find the most American café in Amman and thus, free WiFi connection.

Alright. Let’s recap the past couple days, shall we. They have been full of all sorts of entertainment.

To start, I must say I am still in unbelievable awe of this beautiful yet mysterious city – a feeling I do not think will ever fade. Hearing the call to prayer fill the streets of Amman each morning, afternoon, and evening is truly a beautiful and incredible experience. Each time it comes on, I literally have to pinch myself. Like wow, I’m actually here. This is actually happening.

In a lot of ways the Arab world is just as I imagined it would be. While Amman is very modern and Westernized in comparison to its neighbors, there are a lot of obvious differences to Western cultures.

The most obvious and blatant of which is religion, which reigns supreme. From hearing the call the prayer ring throughout the city 5 times a day, to the way both women and men dress, it is obvious that Islam is a very important aspect of daily life for most Jordanians. The division between classes is also very obvious, like in most cities. Don’t let any perceived notions of the Middle East fool you. Yes there is a lot of poverty here, some parts of town are worse than others, but no, people don’t live in tents and roll around town on camels - in some parts of the country, yes, but not here in Amman. There is a large upper class, obvious by the caliber of Range Rovers and Mercedes on the road, but I’d say most of the population is of middle class – just like the states.

Not every woman in the city where’s the hijab either (the head scarf), and not every man wears long flowing robes like something out of a biblical movie. Yes, a lot do, but like I said, Amman is much more westernized than what you may think. Most people here rock iPhones or Blackberry’s and I hear American music on a pretty daily basis. Jordanians are a very proud people and are not afraid to tell you. They are proud that Jordan has remained safe amongst its more violent neighbors and they are very passionate about their country’s progression - as they should be! They love Americans and American culture, its U.S. policies they're not a big fan of – which, in some regards, can you blame them? They may benefit from U.S. aid but they have also been surrounded by the war in Iraq, which was largely brought on by the United States. But, we’ll save that whole discussion for a later date.

Anyways, the past couple days have been a rollercoaster of events. We finally managed to move out of the orientation phase of the program and into the most anticipated/exciting/nerve-racking/potentially-scariest phase: the home stay.

We were given a short description of our family the night before so I had somewhat of an idea what my family would be like…or so I thought.

See, when I received the short description of my family I was on a bus going to dinner, so it was loud and the woman was very soft spoken. I thought she said I had a ‘mama’, ‘baba’, & 4 siblings, but due to the loud atmosphere I somehow managed to miss some very crucial information.

Yes, I have 4 siblings – 2 younger siblings, twins, a boy and girl who are both 21: Muhammad & Ma’ise (pronounced like “mice”); as well as, 2 older siblings in their late 20’s: Ahmed & May (pronounced like “my”). However, the ‘mama’ and ‘baba’ part…not so much. Unfortunately, they both died about a year ago. I’m not sure how, too afraid to ask. But from what I can gather thus far, it wasn’t expected and the 2 older siblings have since moved home. A different sort of family dynamic than previously expected, but I am optimistic nonetheless.

May & Muhammad picked me up from the program base on Thursday – waiting for which, was somewhat similar to be picked up by your parents from grade school…only you don’t have any idea what your parents names are or what they look like. Either way, I got the initial hellos over with and we made our way “home”. They are a middle class family, so it isn’t luxurious living by any means, but it is still a very comfortable and nice apartment.

I live in the neighborhood of Arjan, which is close to a gym, grocery story, & only about 7 minutes away from school. So cheap cap fare each day is a plus. It’s a nice apartment on the first floor of the building complete with: a family room, dining room, kitchen, 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, and a big beautiful outdoor porch & garden, which has a cool view of the city and gives a very Middle Eastern vibe.

Unfortunately, I will be sharing a room with Ma’ise, for the next 4 months. I was kind of bummed about that because I was looking forward to having my own room to unwind, but I’ll make do. After all, I should be a pro at it seeing as I’ve lived in the sorority house for 3 years. Ma’ise speaks the least amount of English, so it’s a bit of a challenge to converse, but also kind of works out to my benefit because now I’m not forced to hold awkward conversations…which I hate. Plus, she’s never really here, or so it seems, so maybe it won’t be so terrible after all.

The bathroom/shower situation is…well, it’s new. If you didn’t know, plumbing is a luxury and never again will I take it for granted. The plumbing in Amman isn’t like that in the states, which means there are some new standards to become accustomed to. Throwing your TP in the toilet is now a thing of the past, as I now toss my TP in the closest trash bin. Yes, trash bin.

Breathe that in for a minute.

A potentially messy situation, but a do-able adjustment.

There is also the issue of the bidet. You know, the odd sink thing that you find next to the toilet in some foreign countries. Well, from what I have gathered, you are supposed to use this strange contraption to, err, “wash” after using the bathroom. And by wash, I don’t mean your hands. Catch my drift?

To be completely honest, that thing scares me. I just can’t imagine having to scoot myself over after using the toilet to “wash”. I just can’t bring myself to do it. So the bidet will continue to be a mystery to me, one that I’m not sure I want to solve.

Apologies if that is TMI (too much information), but these are just a couple new challenges I now have to face on a daily basis. So while you all use your luxurious bathrooms at home…I’ll be here…with my bidet.

The issue of the shower isn’t as problematic, it’s just an adjustment to realize that hot water is a luxury and that water pressure is pretty much non-existent. Only one shower has hot water, so all 5 of us share that one. Fun times. Good thing I packed some shower flip-flops. Nonetheless, showering isn’t a terrible experience by any means. I just won’t exactly be engaging in a long, leisurely shower any time soon.

I have been prepared in almost every way to face the challenges of the Arab world; it’s just the small things like these I have somehow forgotten to give a wink of thought to. And I’m sure there are all sorts of new learning experiences to come.

Okay, so things aren’t exactly ideal, and I’ve definitely had a couple “holy moley, I don’t think I can handle this” moments, but I am prepared to deal with the obstacles and am trying my hardest to view it as a learning experience, because it is. Believe it or not, things like plumbing and hot water aren’t a norm in most parts of the world. And if 4 months without these things is all I have, then I am more than happy to deal. I’m slowly starting to transition from the “holey moley” moments to the “man, I’m really blessed” moments. Something I think all of us should be forced to adopt at some point in our lives.

I’ve had 2 days now to cope with the changes and get settled and I must say, I’m feeling much better now than I was the first day. Because I won’t lie, the first day was a bit of a breakdown for me. The transition was a lot more alarming than I think I had previously expected but I’m now learning to take things with a grain of salt. Hanging out with other American students has really helped me to see that, too, because they all are going through the same things.

Needless to say, I’m feeling much better today and am actually much more optimistic about my home stay family.

My two brothers speak wonderful English and last night I sat with them outside to watch the Jordan vs. Iraq soccer game, which was very entertaining. They informed me that we have many Iraqi neighbors so it was essential we watched it out on the porch so that we could be loud and obnoxious when Jordan scored. Jordan won 2-0 and man, they weren’t lying about making some noise. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole city heard us screaming and making noise!

The two brothers made me feel much more comfortable, as we joked around about my experiences thus far. The oldest brother, Ahmed, used to work for CIEE (a study abroad program) and he now works with tourism so his English is perfect. He also understands that I’m going through a bit of a cultural adjustment and has been very kind in helping me find my way around. He gave me a number of different restaurants, cafes, and bars to visit and was very happy to answer any of my questions.

It’s also incredibly nice that he speaks perfect English. And I mean perfect. It’s a lot more comfortable to speak in English at this point, but I know having a family who communicates primarily in Arabic will be hugely beneficial to my Arabic speaking skills, which is very important to me. I’ve already managed to pick up a few good words thus far, and its only been a couple days!

School starts tomorrow, because the workweek is Sunday through Thursday here, unlike in the states - another different transition. I am actually very excited to get the ball rolling in regards to school. It’s been a while since I’ve really had to use my brain, but I’m ready to dust off the ole cobwebs and get into a routine again.

I’ll be taking Arabic 5 days a week, 3 hours a day, so I’ll certainly be perfecting my skills. Additionally, I’ll be taking 2 seminar courses until the research period of my trip begins. I’m taking a Field Study Seminar, which is essentially a course to assist in my research honing skills. We’ll do some community work as well, which I’m looking forward to. The other seminar course will be for 2 hours a day and is very general – it’s mainly a seminar to discuss a number of different topics about Jordan and the region as a whole. It’ll be a wonderful opportunity to discuss a lot of current topics including the Arab Spring and Arab-Israeli conflict and there will be a number of guest lecturers from Jordan who will come and speak to us. An exciting course, which I’m very much looking forward to!

I’ll leave things at that. Information overload, I know. I hope I didn’t lose anyone back there, but like I said, its been one hell of a past couple days.

I’ll leave you with a couple of last entertaining notes from the past couple days - just a couple short blips of funny things. The first of many to come, I’m sure - Enjoy!

  1. Cell phone: I finally managed to purchase a cell phone two days ago, so I am no longer a roaming nomad of a foreign country with absolutely no means of communication. I will mainly use it to communicate with my student friends and host family, so don’t expect a phone call form me any time soon, but still, it was a relief. After my tearful goodbye to my Blackberry before leaving the states, I was thoroughly looking forward to this moment. Unfortunately, my finances couldn’t afford a new Blackberry while in Jordan, so, while it may not be the hippest gizmo to hit the market, I purchased myself a snazzy Nokia phone. Yes, a Nokia. Remember those? Its key features include: a black and white screen, large brick like shape, and T-9 capabilities. Face Time, 3G, and touch screen features? Who needs ‘em when you can have this state of the art technology?!

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  1. Taxis/Cars: I was a little bit nervous about the whole taxi situation, seeing as it is my main form of transportation throughout the city. But it actually hasn’t been that challenging at all. As long as you know somewhat of where you’re going, the cab should be able to get you there…and if not, well, then I suggest getting out and trying again. As far as roads and order goes, however, well, it’s pretty much non-existent. Cars and taxis literally drive around with no order. If you can cut someone off up ahead, then by all means, do. If you’d like to drive as fast as possible through the streets, then have at it. It is seriously incredible the way the whole traffic system works here. It’s literally every man for himself and it gives a whole new meaning to the word road rage. While sometimes its funny, I have to admit, it can be pretty darn scary, too. According to my Safety & Security information sheet, “In Jordan, road accidents are the second cause of death. There is a traffic accident every 5 minutes, and a citizen is killed every 9 hours due to road accidents.” So, there you have it. Looking both ways before crossing really is important, and they are now words to live by.
  1. Revolution policy: During the orientation phase of the program we went through the standard information: safety and health guidelines, program expectations, course syllabi, and, of course, guidelines and procedures in case a revolution occurs. We’ve been advised that while riots and demonstrations may seem “cool” to our naïve American eyes, they are indeed, not cool in Jordan and in fact, pretty darn dangerous. So yes, Mom, Dad, you can breathe easy knowing that if a revolution of sorts occurs in the streets of Amman, there is a phone tree to alert students to get the H out.
  1. Running: several of us were concerned with being able to, you know, exercise while we are here. Not exactly a modern fad, but running is a pretty frequent event in my life, so naturally I was curious about it. We were informed that there are gyms in Jordan and that we can certainly use them if we’d like. But when we asked if running around town was a possibility, they informed us that it probably wasn’t a good idea. The exact quote was, “Running in the street isn’t encouraged because Jordanian’s first impression is to think that they are running from someone or being chased”. Stick to the gym, got it.
  1. Party Rock Anthem: For some reason, people in Jordan are seriously obsessed with this song. Not only does my younger brother Muhammad play it on repeat at my house, but also I’ve heard it streaming into the streets almost every night. Not exactly the tune I would have assumed they’d be jamming to, but I figured ACD & NWS would appreciate it (code name shout outs).

Alright, signing off for now. Hope all is well in the states!

Love and miss you all!


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  2. Al I'm absolutely loving your blog thus far!! I'm SOO excited for your adventures and sounds like your having an amazing experience already! Keep the posts coming and im already looking forward to the next one!! Love n miss you!!! Xoxo -hil