An American youth is going for a run in Amman. He stumbles over an assortment of concrete obstacles – cracked sidewalks, cinder block walls, a sandy construction site, a pedestrian bridge over a busy highway – wearing a battered-looking soccer jersey with the numbers peeling off and socks over his hands like mittens.
Or at least that’s what I imagine the Jordanians notice when I overtake them on the sidewalk or cross the street in front of their car. Amman certainly isn’t the most runnable city, but I’m determined to explore my new neighborhood on such a beautiful day. It’s sixty degrees, the sun is approaching a horizon obscured by sandstone buildings connected by a cacophony of telephone wires, and the wintery blue sky is cloudless, except for wisps of shisha smoke issuing from shabaab-infused café parlors.
Around the bend I hear competitive banter and the sound of a ball hitting something solid. Several strides later, I observe a dozen teenagers jogging up and down a small turf field surrounded by a low cement wall, bookended by two haggard-looking goals: a pickup soccer game. I watch longingly for a minute or two, circumnavigating the familiar tableau, before preparing to resume my lonely exploration.
But just as I turn to leave, an observant footballer lobs the ball my way and asks if I want to play. I’m subbed in, and after introducing myself and assuring everyone that Messi is indeed better than Ronaldo, my Jordanian debut begins. Adidas stripes flash, sweat drips, fouls are unnecessarily appealed, especially brilliant maneuvers are celebrated with nepotistic zeal – it’s a truly glorious time. Forty-five minutes later, I wave maasalame to new friends and run back home, glowing.
Two weeks into CET Jordan, my Arabic compares to that of a very advanced kindergartner. But I’ve learned that there’s another language that comes more naturally – the universal language of goals, slide tackles, and otherwise organized chaos on a soccer field. I think about the hospitality, social connection, and inclusivity earned by those who are fluent. I think about what I would be doing at my university back home. Stressing about extracurriculars, attending club meetings out of obligation, applying to summer internships, tallying a colossal screen time, and scribbling optimistically on my daily task planner.
Abroad, I’ve surrendered some of the stressors that usually barred me from that very same social connection: obsession with school and climbing the professional ladder, esteem, and self-actualization. In fact, Maslow’s hierarchy has shrunk considerably.
My life in Jordan is more deliberate, and I’m confronting only the essential facts of life: culture, food, people, sport, language, and experience. It’s a beautiful game.