Ahlan wa Sahlan – Welcome to Jordan

This first week in Jordan has been an amazing blur of tea, taxi rides, and trying to adjust to living in a new place with a different culture.  During the day, I have been attending orientation sessions, and in the evenings, trekking my way throughout Amman to learn as much I can about the city and the culture as I can in just one week.  Classes begin on Sunday, and I can’t wait to see what this semester will bring.

Sunday, August 28th

After 24 hours of travelling (which went very smoothly!!!), I arrived in Amman with many of my fellow CIEE classmates.  We were shuttled to the study center, where we were handed a big packet of information & a Jordan cell phone and then shipped off to our host families.  As my bus pulled up to my new home, I saw one of my host sisters waiting at the gate to receive me.  I brought in my bags and was greeted warmly by my host mom and one of my host sisters.  They showed me around the house and gave me some delicious sweet tea.  We talked and watched TV for a while, and later my other host sister came home with my host brother, and eventually my host dad returned from work as well.  They are all so friendly, polite, and generous, and it was so joyful to meet them all that I didn’t feel jetlagged at all.  I live with them in a beautiful apartment in the neighborhood al-Weibdeh, as well as my CIEE roommate, Ester.  I met Ester for the first time when she arrived later that night, and all seven of us relaxed and talked (and figured out how to set up the Jordan phone) until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and went to sleep.

Monday, August 29th

The first full day in Amman!  Ester & I woke up early and took a taxi to the CIEE center.  We

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First roomie selfie

had a wonderful taxi driver who spoke a lot of English and told us a bunch of jokes.

Once we got to the center, we had a few hours of general orientation, and then set out as a huge group of American students (~80) to sight-see around Amman.  Our first stop was the ancient Roman Theater, built between 100 and 200 AD, and which I still climbed in 2016 AD, even though it was terrifyingly steep.  It was amazing to witness such an ancient piece of culture from when Amman was part of the Roman empire.

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Roman Theater

Next, we headed uphill to the Citadel, a site occupied by all those who have claimed Amman throughout history.  Today, the remnants of an ancient Roman temple to Hercules are re-assembled after they were destroyed by one of the many devastating earthquakes to hit Jordan in history.  All that remains are some pillars, and Hercules’s hand & elbow.  It is still quite a beautiful and enormous sight to behold.  I wonder how beautiful it must have been.  Farther along, the ancient Umayyad Palace still stands complete.

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Amman Citadel

After these adventures, we went (all together still – an incredible feat) to a famous cafe in downtown Amman (al-Balad) called Jafra Cafe.  We had a literally huge meal together before splitting off into small groups to explore the downtown area.

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Jafra Cafe

There are tons of shops and markets and stores for all kinds of things, and plenty of touristy souvenir places as well.  Eventually we found a huge, covered market for all kinds of food & clothes, where I got a pretty shawl and had a lengthy and very interesting conversation with the shopkeeper in Arabic.  I was surprised and happy about how much I could understand and how much I could say, as well.  He was very glad that I could talk to him in Arabic, no matter how broken or slow, and I was glad to get to know him.

After a long time downtown, I tried to take a taxi back to my house, but as it was still the first day, I wasn’t totally sure how to get there.  Luckily, my host mom came to the rescue and gave directions to the taxi driver over the phone.

In the evenings we drink tea, relax outside on the beautiful patio, and talk as much as we can with our host family, cobbling together English and Arabic.  My host brother, only 7 years old, knows a ton of English and talks to us a lot.  Both my host sisters also know a fair amount of English as well and are always helping us learn new words in Arabic, both in fus7a and 3amya.

Tuesday, August 30th

We again took a taxi to school and had a few hours of orientation sessions, but the real fun came in the evening.  Ester and I and her friend Daniel went exploring around our neighborhood, al-Weibdeh, and to its hub, Paris Circle, which is full of shops, cafes, bakeries, coffeeshops, and other interesting things.  We found a comedy club and a beautiful ceramics shop, as well as a strange organic juice & ice cream cafe.  Then, as we were walking around, we ran into a girl on the sidewalk who, after we talked to her for a while about her work in Amman for Al Jazeera Plus, showed us up to the roof of her apartment building we were in front of for the view.

We walked out onto the roof terrace and saw the most incredibly beautiful cityscape of gorgeous Amman.  We stayed there, drinking our organic juice, admiring the view, taking pictures, and talking for a few hours, watching the sun set and the city light up.  In Amman at night, all the minarets of the mosques light up green across the city, and we heard the evening adhan (call to prayer) echoing from each minaret across the city, bouncing from building to building.  It was incredible.

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Wednesday, August 31st

Wednesday morning was the infamous and incredibly long & hard Arabic placement exam, to see what level of Arabic each student is at.  The test was 3 hours long, 100+ questions, and very discouraging  – but luckily, I scored pretty high!  After the test, Ester and I and

rainbow street
Seen on Rainbow Street: a tiny camel guarding a parking space.

two friends went to explore Rainbow Street, a busy and interesting area of Amman with tons of famous cafes and shops and a lot going on.  We walked around for a while, taking it all in and talking.  We had some dinner at a fatari restaurant, which is kind of like a quesadilla but different, but which was very good.  We continued to explore the neighborhood and check out everything it had to offer, ending up at a cool bookstore/cafe for dessert and the view.

 

We were quite tired after the exam, so Ester and I went home and relaxed with our host family for the rest of the night.  Our host brother has unlimited energy and is constantly bouncing off the walls and practicing his karate, which he is obsessed with.  It’s a lot of fun to experience life with a little brother!!

Thursday, September 1st

Finally, our last few orientation sessions during the day.  In the evening, Ester and I headed back to Paris Circle with our host sisters to spend time with them and get to know them better.  They also pointed out all the best places around the neighborhood to us, and we all bought some candy and hung out together.  They are a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get to know them more.  They are 16 and 13 years old.

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Friday, September 2nd

Friday is the beginning of the weekend in Jordan, and the holy day for Islam, so many things are closed and most people spend time with family.  I spent most of the morning drinking coffee and talking with my host dad, who only speaks Arabic and is very kind.

One of the main attractions in Amman in the summer is on Fridays, at Souk Jara on Rainbow Street.  It’s a huge outdoor market for handmade jewelry, crafts, ceramics, art, clothes, and pretty much any other beautiful gift you can think of.  Almost all the students from CIEE were there together at some point or another, so we ran into a lot of our new friends.  It was really fun to walk around and check out all the beautiful and delicate items on display….and shop a little for some pretty, delicate jewelry.  They also had delicious fresh fruit juice and spiraled fried potatoes on a stick, which were very popular.  I had made the terrible choice of choosing to walk there (safe area and theoretically quite close, but turned out to be straight down and then almost 100% up steep hills to get there – we took a taxi back) so the juice tasted extra good.

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After the souk we came home and had a HUGE and delicious meal with our host family.  Usually for breakfast we have pita bread with hummus, cheese, jam, and spam, and for other meals something similar or pieces of meat with rice wrapped in various things – mint leaves, grape leaves, cabbage.  Tonight it was grape leaves with little squashes and eggplants filled with rice and lamb and cooked for three days(!) with tomatoes and oil. It was delicious and very filling – and welcome to have more vegetables other than chickpeas.  After all the walking in the morning and the huge meal in the afternoon, I accidentally fell asleep for a while in the evening.

Once I woke up, Ester and I explored al-Weibdeh some more and noted all the cute cafes that we want to try throughout the semester.  We went to a pastry shop and they gave us delicious sugary cookies for free.

However, on our way back, we heard shouting up ahead and a lot of men pushing each other and others trying to separate them.  It looked like bad news so we ducked into a nearby shoe store where the shopkeeper was obviously aware of the situation and allowed us to hide there temporarily with her until it died down.  Nonetheless we took a different way home anyways and had no problems.  It was a little scary but nothing that doesn’t happen on my college campus probably every other night.

Now, we are hanging out at home with our host sisters who are singing along to their favorite Arabic music and talking with us.  We also help them with their English homework, which is fun but sometimes hard for us to explain why English grammar & spelling is so weird.

Amman has been so much fun so far, and I have already learned so much.  Jordan so far is a beautiful place to live and study, and I can’t wait to learn more about its people, culture, language, and history.  More to come!

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