Between Iraq and a Hard Place
8 months in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Waking up for class Sunday morning was painful and unnecessary. I was placed into Intermediate Arabic II which doesn't start til 2pm but Liz had class at 9:00 and since it was day one I told her I'd share a taxi to school with her. It's been awhile since I saw 7:00 in the morning. Shireen had given us a key, kind of a big deal according to our directors, but everyone was up and out by the time we left for school at 8:15. We got a taxi within 2 minutes and were on our way to school.
I expected traffic to be an interesting experience based on how it was in Meknes, but Amman is a whole different story. It has 6 times the people and thus 6 times the traffic and 6 times the crazy. I got really excited when I saw a seatbelt in the back only to be disappointed when there was no buckle. To give you an example of how close we get to sideswiping other cars and or buses, it would not be safe to stick your wrist out the window 60% of the time if you didn't want to get it knocked off. Most of the way to school we drove on what would have been a four to five lane highway, had there been lanes instead of uninterrupted black pavement. In a truly Arab moment, our cab driver pulled up close to a maroon car and started shouting greeting to a driver. They continued driving side by side at 35 miles per hour asking about the family, where they were headed and then saying goodbye. It seems like everyone knows everybody even during rushhour in a city with over 6 million people. To top the drive off our taxi didn't pull off of the highway to drop us at school, but on the right side of the lane where we had to climb over a barrier and down a concrete incline, to then cross another street to get safely to campus. I'm not letting that happen again but at least he didn't try to rip us off.
Now that it's Tuesday and my schedule is finalized I figured I would just write about life at the university. First off, the university is huge with several gates that you need an ID to get in and out of and secondly there are about 40,000 students that attend the University of Jordan. My first impression of the campus was of the women. We were told that they "dressed" for class but they go above and beyond. Their hair is either done perfectly or their hijabs perfectly coordinate with their outfits- and speaking of hijabs, you have your typical way to wear it which lays flat, and then there is the equivalent of "bump-it hijab" use your imagination. Then there is this magic foundation that they all seem to have that perfectly matches their skin and won't melt off in 95 degree weather, despite the fact that a lot of the girls are wearing several, tight, layers of clothing. It's one of the cultural things that I want to figure out while I'm here- haha. The guys look less like guidos then the Moroccan's did but they are still fans of tight jeans, tshirts, stunna shades and gel. Another interesting thing is that you can immediately pick out most of the American students because we are the only ones who wear backpacks. The girls have large shoulder purses and the guys carry around a pen or two and a piece of paper folded in their pants pockets. I guess books, notebooks and general school supplies aren't cool here, that is unless you're using your notebook to sit on or to block the sun. I can't help but wonder what they think of us.
But anyway- classes. I ended up getting placed into Intermediate Arabic II, which was what I wanted, but sadly they changed the section of Intermediate Arabic II that I'm in so now I have different professors and earlier class times :(
I really hope that my Arabic classes are just as good as the ones I had on Sunday and Monday. Sunday was fusha (Modern Standard Arabic), which is what all books and news are written in but what you won't hear spoken in the street. MSA covers all Arabic speaking countries, but what's spoken in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, etc. changes from country to country. I had Professor Huda and she conducted the whole class in fusha- which was a first to me. Although I didn't understand all of what she said, I understood most of what she was saying and could answer everything she asked me so that was exciting. Too bad I won't have her this semester, same with my amiyah (what is spoken in the streets) teacher. Professor Ghadeer was awesome, had us trilling and would have been awesome to have. She also taught most of the class in Arabic and tried to convince us that amiyah is actually easier. Which should turn out to be true since it's not written, takes out a lot of the sounds I have trouble saying, and doesn't really like complex grammar rules like fusha does. Also sad that I don't have her for class.... maybe next semester?
Then come my two area studies courses: International Relations and Diplomacy in the Middle East and The Middle East: An Alternative Perspective. My IR class is about to be intense. The guy teaching it taught at Rice University in Texas for 5 years and is teaching us the exact class. It looks like I'm gonna have to do several hours of reading for each class, a fair amount of writing and a research paper. He told us that he has high expectations and that his course will probably be as hard if not harder than our polisci courses at school. I'm excited. Our professor also seems really intelligent- he has a radio show, tv show, writes an op-ed column and does a few other things that I have since forgotten about. My other course is going to be a lot less structured and will focus on various stereotypes of the Middle East as portrayed in different types of media, will be largely discussion based, and will go in whichever direction the 8 of us want to take it. Our professor has a PhD in American Studies, and is really laid back. She's also given us a fair bit of reading but it should be a fun class.
One great thing about Jordan (and Morocco too) is the lack of copyright law. What that means is that all 13 of my area studies texts only cost me $30 because the professors just check them out from the library, take them to a copy shop- and then the shop binds the texts and charges us for the ink and paper. It also means bootleg DVDs are hella cheap but I haven't found them yet.
Liz and I aren't the only ones at our house going to school. Laith started school on Sunday with his cousin Zena and Tala had her first day of school today. I didn't get to ask her about it because she was passed out by the time I got home. I think their respective pictures demonstrate their individual levels of enthusiasm for going to school.