Sunset view from Al-Salt, overlooking Palestine.
“Life here is so fun,” my roommate said to me one morning while we were sitting out on the balcony before class, sipping some Nescafe. The trip to Wadi Rum was the next day and after that a full weekend of restaurants, hikes, and sites to see. Four hours later our other roommate went home sick and five hours later she tested positive for Covid. It wasn’t that surprising, a few other people had gotten it the day before. Wadi Rum was postponed, our weekend plans were put on hold, and I moved my mattress to the living room. Life here is definitely fun, but still not without its hazards.
I was standing with my roommate when she took her rapid test in the room we share. Within a minute of her taking it, two red lines appeared. “Oh shoot,” I said (breaking the language pledge I guess). I gave her a hug, not CDC recommended, and booked it out of there. That night I had plans to have dinner with my language partner, Dania, at her house. I tried to text her as quickly as I could to update her but it still took me 10 minutes and came out a garbled mess. The gist was: My roommate has Covid, I was pretty exposed, maybe not the best idea for me to join a big family dinner right now. Can we postpone?
With Dania on our after-lunch stroll.
Luckily, over the coming days, I stayed asymptomatic and Covid-free, and that Friday, I hopped in an Uber to Dania’s house. Ubers have been my main mode of transportation around the city so far, besides just walking around Sweifieh. They’re much cheaper here than in the US, about four dollars for a 20 to 30 minute ride, and slightly more reliable than taxis. This coming week, with a little more courage and Arabic under my belt, my roommates and I have plans to tackle the public bus system, but so far it’s just been ubers.
Dania lives a little outside the city center, past Sweifieh, in a residential neighborhood in the desert. Houses were a little more spread out and a few of them were completely massive: entire complexes with walls, ornate gates, glass-filled facades, and a small patch of green lawn. Dania’s house was off the main street across from a decommissioned military jet set on display in the highway median. I’ve seen a few of them around Amman and there’s usually without fail a few kids clamoring around on top of them. This one was no exception.
I was greeted at the door of the Uber by Dania and her younger brother, six years old, who ushered me behind a small café to the front door of their house, set back on a little patio that looked back at a row of houses behind it. Inside I met her parents and younger brother and sister. We sat in the entry room and drank coffee as her dad explained to me the different hand gestures to signal when you want more of a drink and when you are done. It was a little hot inside in the middle of the day so we moved outside and sat behind the house, the building providing some shade. Her mom gave me a small tour of their garden and taught me the names of different plants and herbs in Arabic.
Dinner with our Jordanian neighbors.
Above several different types of mint and peppercorn was a large olive tree. “Zeit zeitoun,” I proclaimed, olive oil, a term I had learned the previous weekend in Al-Salt. I asked if I could try an olive and her Dad said yes with a laugh, grabbing a small bunch from right above my head and passing it to me. I looked at them with a little apprehension, they stared at me expectantly. I took a bite and grimaced, not quite ripe yet, a little bitter, but with an unbelievably strong taste of olive. Maybe in a few months, he said, you’ll enjoy it more then.
After the garden tour we moved inside for lunch. They had prepared Mansaf, one of Jordan’s most famous dishes, in a massive shallow pot. Chicken and almonds sit on top seasoned yellow rice and on the side is a thick, savory yogurt drink to pour over. We also had peppers, spinach, and pepsi, a true feast. In all I spent six hours at Dania’s house, chatting the whole time with her and her family in Arabic. Four weeks ago I don’t think I would have been able to do that. Even thinking back now, I’m not sure how I did it, I don’t think of myself as at that level. A large part of it was thanks to their patience with me, they helped me find words and finish thoughts when I couldn’t do it on my own. But I’ve also progressed a long way, and it feels amazing to become more comfortable and confident speaking and conversing in Arabic.
My two-day zoom school set up.
Due to the Covid cases, our Wadi Rum trip was pushed back and classes were moved online for two days. This past Monday, our first day back in class, we started studying grammar in my Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic) class. I love grammar and Arabic grammar specifically. This past semester of college I kind of hit a wall in grammar study and it started to feel tedious and boring. It was upsetting to lose interest in something that I used to love, but for some reason that first grammar class this summer clicked for me. My teacher was talking about internal vowel differences between subject and objects in verbal sentences and I was hanging off every last word as if she was recounting a soap opera. That night at home I recopied all my notes and texted a few friends back home asking if they were interested in me explaining it to them (hard sell).
Breakfast with my class at a café.
We do a lot of other cool stuff besides grammar lessons in class. The week before last we all went to a nearby café for the day where we ate breakfast and interviewed the waiters about café culture in Amman and what their work lives are like. Back at school, we reviewed the interview notes and each recorded a quick synopsis of their answers. We’re also each required to meet with our teacher for two hours a week one-on-one. At these office hours we usually go over homework, edit writing assignments, or review grammar. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to get a little closer with my teacher. The day before I went to Dania’s I asked her advice on what gifts to bring and she mentioned some things I should ask them about. “Momtez” she said, what a terrific opportunity.