First Impressions of Amman: Tsharrafna

Written by Margaret Stoner, (Franklin & Marshall College) Student Correspondent CET Jordan, Summer 2017

My first glimpses of Jordan came after dark during a taxi drive through empty streets, with my clothes inexplicably torn from hours of travel and trying unsuccessfully to sleep on a bench in the Cairo airport because of a delayed flight. I was initially intrigued by the plethora of tan, stone houses stretching out into the dark, but weary enough that most details slipped into my consciousness and then quickly out of memory.

A garden in the University of Jordan next to the language center.

We began orientation a few days later, which extended into the first week of class.  During class time, our teacher focused on teaching us how to talk to taxi drivers and buy food in the supermarkets.  Having come from a small city with maybe three taxis, the whole process was very new to me, and navigating it in Arabic was daunting! Before our taxi orientation, whenever I would want to go downtown I quickly became confused as I wasn’t able to give clear directions to the driver.  However, after a few hours of drilling the phrases and expressions, I was able to approach the cabs with confidence that I would be able to get there and back again, without being cheated. Most of the markings on the roads are very faded, so drivers take liberties with creating new lanes, zooming past other cars with only inches to spare on each side. It was only a matter of a ride or two, however, to feel an adequate level of trust for the driver’s experience and skill.

Delicious food during CET’s welcome

As I’m coming to the end of the first week of CET’s language pledge, Arabic is slowly starting to seep into my everyday thoughts. To add to the challenge, a few of us have changed the primary language on our phones and social media accounts to Arabic, which unfortunately for me, led to a few emails ending up in the “Drafts” folder instead of “Sent.” More challenging than struggling to find the words for “knife” or “What is a safe way to defrost the chicken?” is trying to build friendships while upholding the pledge.  While at this point a lot of the conversation consists of “Could you repeat that?” or “I don’t understand,” we can all share a laugh at our blunders. Through this past week, I’ve learned to be thankful for the words that have started to come more naturally and appreciate if I’ve conjugated a verb both automatically and correctly.

Arriving in Amman during Ramadan feels like trying to introduce yourself to a person who has just woken up and hasn’t had their coffee yet. Most of the students that I’ve met say that their days consist mostly of sleeping and watching television with their families. During the day, almost all restaurants and cafes are closed. Because of that, timeliness is essential if you want to eat at a restaurant for Iftar (the evening meal when Muslims break their fast); they quickly become crowded, and since everyone wants to eat at the same time, it’s not uncommon for them to have a limited menu or run out of something that you might want to eat.  Once the call to prayer comes, the restaurants are filled with families and friends eating and laughing after a long day of fasting.

Before arriving in Jordan, I had heard of its cafe culture.  While it’s been difficult to get a true sense of that during Ramadan, the traces are intriguing.  After iftar, many people drink a cup of coffee and sit in the cafes smoking shisha and playing cards or chess. It’s a relaxing end to days filled with studying and adjusting to life in a different continent.