I arrived in Jordan a week ago. Our first reaction coming out of the plane in the middle of the night was: “Oh my God! We’re in the Middle East!” and trying so hard to picture what it meant. Kasia and I both went on a trip to India two years ago and thus had a similar background to set the comparison. However, we soon realized that there isn’t much comparison to be made. It is a completely different place!
At first, we stayed in a hostel dowtown, in a neighborhood called “Al Balad.” This neighborhood is full of shops of all kinds and of cheap restaurants and cafés and is very busy during the day. There are a lot more men than women, especially in the restaurants (in some, women are not even allowed). The few women that we saw were mostly covered, and some fully covered. To walk around the streets surrounding our hotel gave us the idea that what we generally expect from a Muslim country is true, and that Jordan was even more conservative than we expected. A couple of days later, we were proved wrong when walking up-hill (Amman is very hilly) away from Al Balad, we discovered a much wealthier neighborhood called Jabal Amman. A lot more women, a lot less head scarves, cleaner and more expensive were our first observations. We thought this was the wealthy part of Amman and were quite shocked by the contrast, but only to be told the next day that this was just a middle-class neighborhood! Since then, Kasia and I have been trying to figure out what Amman is, perhaps over-analyzing each and everything we see.
We have finally settled at Zain Hostel, a hostel for female students located within a five-minute walk from the university. We live in a fully furnished studio with another girl from our language program. The place is by far the most luxurious hostel I have ever seen and the staff is very welcoming. Most of them speak almost no English which gives us a great opportunity to practice. We also “enjoy” the daily and nightly call for prayer from the Mosque on the other side of the street. At times, it is really beautiful, but at 3:30 in the morning we found it more loud than anything else, especially because it goes off three times in a half hour.
Surprisingly, everyone we have met so far, i.e. the staff at the hostel, at the university, taxi drivers, understand when we speak Arabic. In fact, it is much easier to learn and remember words in a country where you are surrounded by Arabic at all times. However, starting class last Sunday made us aware of our limitations, especially in terms of vocabulary. For instance, we know how to say “United Nations” in Arabic, but not yet our body parts or fruits and vegetables. To say the least, the vocabulary lists from our course at McGill were quite random. Nevertheless, our grammar skills allowed us to enroll into the pre-intermediate level, just were we expected to be. Our main teacher is named Dr. “Awesome”, really! He is very passionate and expressive when he teaches. In fact, most of the teachers don’t know much English and must sometimes use the funniest body language in order to make us understand what the new vocabulary is about. We met our second professor today and she seems to be a very sweet lady.
I will tell you more about the University and our daily discoveries in later posts. I must go do my homework! Salam