The Monkey King

As my second week in Amman comes to an end, I have just begun to settle into my routine here – wake up, eat a crazy amount of bread, hail a taxi, go to class, scavenge for wifi, hail a taxi, eat a crazy amount of bread, and then spend the evening hanging out with our host family.  Sadly, that routine is about to be turned on its head as Eid Adha break begins here in the Muslim world – a full 9 days with no routine and a lot of confusing plans.


This past week I did a lot adjusting – culturally, academically, and personally.  My week began with the first of what will be many 2-hour classes in MSA. I had to switch classes to be in the correct level, but once I was, it is great to finally be in a class where I feel like I can truly learn Arabic in an enriching academic and professional setting – a breath of fresh air.

I also had my first session for all of my other classes: Advanced II Colloquial Jordanian Arabic, Media Arabic, Introduction to Islam, and Development Economics in the Middle East.  So far, I liked them all, and hope I will learn a lot from them – however, I won’t have any of them again for another week!

In addition to all these first class meetings, CIEE also arranged for us to visit a nearby research center with an extensive and acclaimed library – ACOR.  I was immediately attracted to this place – the enormous library of fascinating anthropological, social, and archaeological research basically had my name written all over it.  As soon as the Associate Director mentioned that among research fellowships and PhD opportunities, ACOR also offers undergraduate internships, I had my goal.  I am proud to say that I am going to be one of those interns throughout this semester!  I can’t wait to spend more time at this scholarly community.

All in all, the academic adjustment for me was a very positive experience.  It feels really good to be back in school, with a schedule, somewhere to be every day, and learning new things that I’m interested in.  So far, it doesn’t feel like the homework from 18 credit hours plus the 5-10 hours of internship will be too overwhelming, but I may eat those words yet.


Speaking of eating, food at home has probably been one of the biggest indicators of my cultural adjustment process.  I am so lucky that my host parents are both excellent cooks that provide literally endless delicious, home-cooked food.  However, the problem for me is that all this yummy  grub is literally endless …….but my stomach is not.

First, a little bit about the tasty, authentic cuisine I get to eat every day:

  • Breakfast (picture to come): pita bread warmed up over open flame, and then torn up and used to eat some or all of various condiments provided – hummus, lebna cheese, edam cheese, strawberry jam, olive oil and spices (zeit wa zatar), and some kind of non-cheese, non-hummus spread that we have yet to identify.

    zeit
    Zeit in one, zaatar in the other.
  • Lunch: if I’m at school, then I get lunch on my own – usually something tiny since breakfast is enormous.  However, on the weekends, our family will usually eat a big lunch around 3pm, which is usually multiple rotisserie chickens with rice cooked in
    chicken fat, and maybe some cauliflower thrown in, with an Arab salad on the side.img_9510
  • Dinner: on school days, when we come home we are usually offered the leftovers from lunch ^^ since the kids all eat when they come home from school in the afternoon.  On weekends, there is usually a lot of snacking going on as the night goes on, often sandwiches of pita bread and cheese stuck in a panini press.
  • Dessert / Paris Circle: Almost every night, we go out for a walk to the nearby Paris Circle with our host sisters, who love this opportunity to go out and see and be seen by various neighbors and friends.  I really like talking to them and getting to know them better – they are very different from each other but both a lot of fun.  Paris Circle (and its surrounding neighborhood where we live, LWeibdeh) is an amazing area full of coffee shops, bakeries, art
    kepi
    Kepi – the girls say it is the best cafe in Weibdeh.

    museums & studios, local stores, and residences.  The circle itself is about a 10 minute walk from our house, and we walk it at least two, if not four or six, times a day.  In the evenings the whole neighborhood and the circle really light up – actual Christmas-style lights are hung up over the street that twinkle after dusk, and every cafe is full of people drinking coffee, eating cakes, smoking hookah, talking, and people-watching.  Some of the stores seem to only be open at night.  We usually walk past all of this, taking it in, and go to our neighborhood grocery store, Stop And Shop, where the girls buy chips and we usually buy candy for change.  Then we eat our snacks while walking laps around the inside of the traffic circle, talking and laughing in English and Arabic.  In the middle of the traffic circle, a lot of neighborhood boys hang out and skateboard while we endlessly circle them on the outside sidewalk with our Galaxy bars.

So who could complain about a life like that??  The only real issue is that my roommate Ester can literally eat like she’s Michael Phelps despite being like 90 pounds while I get full from all the pita bread very quickly and thus eat a lot less.  Nevertheless, my host family gives me enough food to feed four of me at every meal.


Day to day, my overall personal adjustment to living in the Middle East has been pretty good.  Compared to the first time I studied abroad in Europe, I think it is easier for me to realize and accept that about 70% of things that I experience or witness every day will not “make sense” to me in some way – it wasn’t until halfway or more through my last study abroad experience that I gave in to this lack of cultural knowledge and stopped asking “But why??”

Now, I still ask “But why??” but I know the answer – It’s cultural.  Which is the entire point of studying abroad – to authentically experience a culture as much as I can, observe other people living their lives every day with a very different perspective, shaped by growing up in a very different culture, and realize that it all works.  There’s no one way to do things, there’s not just one way that “makes sense,” and there is certainly no culture or country that can claim to be superior in that respect.  I’m doing my best to remind myself of this every time I encounter something that makes me ask “But why??”

However, that’s not to say that I haven’t been without frustrating or difficult times here –

traffic
Traffic.  Every day of my life.  Every hour of the day.  Plus there aren’t so many driving rules here – it is more than a little terrifying.

hailing a taxi is a twice-daily (or more) ordeal that more often than not is unpleasant, scary, or uncomfortable. Furthermore, the desert heat makes even a nice and beautiful walk here into a sweaty hike.

But overall, I believe that all these little frustrating moments – while annoying – are worth it to try to reach a better or deeper understanding of life in Amman or at least the life of one family in Amman.

It’s also a complicated transition for me to adjust to having siblings – especially a little brother.  He has endless energy – he never seems to get tired or hungry, and always wants to play, or show off his karate skills (he just got his yellow belt), or catch a cockroach to show us, or ride his scooter around the house, or dress up like Spiderman, or play swords with rulers, or etc. etc.  I like him a lot, but I have never had a little brother before that wants this kind of attention from me at home.  I’m working on getting used to it – especially when I’m trying to study or get something done.  I already feel a lot of affection for him though, and when he goes with us on our nightly walks to Paris Circle, we are protective of him even though he runs and leaps and karate-s around like a fruitcake.   I try to play with him sometimes, or color with him – though apparently I color “wrong.”  In fact, my host brother just walked in to reassure me that he is, in fact, the Monkey King.

monkey-king
Already the Monkey King, at just 7 years old.

Things are about to get even more culture-shock-y today as we celebrate Eid Adha at home by slaughtering a sheep in the garden.  I’m pretty nervous to witness this and not sure what it will be like at all.  More later.

eid-adha-mousa
Eid Adha, as drawn by my host brother.

Furthermore, I’m about to take a trip to Jerusalem and maybe Bethlehem – stay tuned for a long post or two about this experience!


Thanks for following this blog.  This entry’s public posting has been delayed.

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