Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Hoosier in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Hi everyone. I'm sorry I haven't posted yet; part of the reason is because I still feel pretty confused about how things will be here...guys, I'm still homeless! More on all that later.

After arriving at about 4 am local time, that day I went out to explore Amman. I enjoyed going with a few folks in the group, but it always takes some solo exploration before I feel more excited about a place, especially to get a better feel of the local culture. That's the stuff I relish. Very few things excite me more than going to a place where I've never been, where it seems that very few Westerners go, where I do know what it's like- relying on my instincts and others. It really allows my adventurous masculine heart to I just need some poor maiden to rescue (Anne?). Gosh, I love that book. Anyways, I took a taxi to an area called 'Jabal Ashrafiyyah'; the ride itself was quite encouraging. The guy kept saying how good my Arabic was, as we talked for probably 20 minutes, without any 'uh, I don't know what I can say now' moments. This was my first real interaction, so that was a confidence booster. I feel fairly confident in my shift to Jordanian Arabic, although I'm super eager to get some more formal or intentional language training. Still, I already feel as comfortable with the language as I ever did in Egypt. I guess all that hard work at home will pay off! It's easier for me to speak than hear, since I don't know a lot of the Jordanian phrases; plus, just trying to get reaquanted with the language in general. Anyways, that first night I walked from to downtown and the suqs. Downtown was wild, and it reminded me of Cairo; shops everywhere, and always in sections...10 gold stores in a row, then 10 shoe stores, then 10 money exchanges, 10 pet shops, etc. It's wierd...I'm no economist, but you'd think they'd want to spread out, but I guess not!

In general, Amman is actually much better than I thought it would be. Asthetically, it's beautiful. It reminds me of Jerusalem, with the rolling hills of white buildings...only much bigger. It was originally built on 7 hills (although now it's more sprawling), so whenever you are on a hill, you can see the most of the city. It's much cleaner than Cairo too. Then again, there's not the same's there, but not like Cairo. The people are very friendly, but not like Cairo. There's not the massive mosques either, which I grew to love seeing in Cairo. I probably need to readjust my expectations. My time here will not be like in Egypt. Jordan isn't Egypt, my group isn't the same, and what I will be doing isn't the same. I can't expect to have that same sort of ideal 5 months. Still, all in all, I like Amman. From all I had heard, I was expecting to really be turned off to Amman, especially given how much I fell in love with Cairo. But I've been pleasantly surprised thus far.

Since that first day, my life has been filled with orientation and apartment searching. You are probably assuming that apartment searching is a fairly simple, even boring, quick process. Nope. Originally, I went with a couple of dudes to an area called 'Jebel Ilwebdeh,' which is the artsy area of Amman; very cool. We started looking in shops for postings, logical stuff like that. Then we got smart, and just started asking random people. One girl wasn't sure, but told me "she'd start looking for me." Another guy got on the phone, then walked us about 15 minutes to an apartment, which ended up being the owner of the shop we were just at. This was perhaps one of the strangest place I've been to in the Middle East. Living there were 4 50ish-year old women- all sisters, all single, all professionals. One is an engineer, another works in the MInistry of Agriculture, the other is a professor, and the actual landlord owns her own business! I tried to subtely ask whether that was odd for Jordan, but she said no. What?! That's odd in the US! We sat around for probably an hour or so, talking, drinking tea, and getting to know one another. Only then, can a deal be made. It was such a fun conversation, especially since one of the women is an Arabic professor. Most of my interactions here are either in English, or more often, I speak Arabic, but the other person can't correct me or tell me words I don't know. It becomes a sort of the half-blind (me!) leading the completely blind (them, in terms of English!).

The next day I went on my own to look for apartments, in Jebel Ashrafiyyah. Okay, I should give some background on Amman. It's an extremely divided city, the Western part being very modern, Western, and middle-upper class; the East is poor, highly religious, and just a different world. They don't interact. Naturally, (if I live in Amman) I would like to live in East Amman. Jebel Al-Ashrafiyyah is the first district of East, so it's not like it's destitute, but it's definetely poor. It's a very different experience living there. In our group, I literally don't know if anyone else has been to East. I mean, they will, and I know many of them value that experience, but that just shows you. Right now it's wierd because there is such a 'Fublright culture.' I like that culture, I really do, but I'm hear to understand and experience Jordan, not just have a good time. Understand? Maybe it's just during this first week of orientation, but there's pressure to do 'Fulbright things' all the time. Also, the program is pretty insistent we live in West, so they don't exactly give much direction for finding places in East. Hence, my adventure. Anyways, I got in a taxi to look for apartments in Jabal Al-Ashrafiyyah. My taxi driver, Abu Rakaan, was from there, so I asked him if he knew of any free places. We then began driving around on this mad goose chase, asking his friends, stopping to pick up a cup of coffee, asking more friends, on and on, basically in what seemed like a hopeless hunt all over the area. Finally, we found a place, very cheap, and in an area I liked...but it was unfurnished. Off we go again...friends, children, perfect strangers. He literally drove me around for 4 hours, asking, stopping, etc. The strange part, I thought, was that whenever I'd meet with a landlord, there was Abu Rakaan right by my side. I wanted to say, "Do you have somewhere else to be?" He was enjoying it though. Eventually, he took me to his home, and we had juice and talked. He didn't speak a lick of English, so it was tough. Certainly, we had a good conversation, but again, I don't know how productive it is, since I'm not really learning anything new. I'm just wandering around linguistically, grabbing for words and grammar here and there. But I guess his 11-year old works on computers, and is a genius. 11! That's different. Then we looked at some pictures (Matt Rudd, you'll like this story- think Dahab). Okay, maybe I'm an ignorant, stereotyper (not a word, I know), but when I'm in an poor, Arab-Muslim's home, I assume it's a fairly conservative culture. And it is! Well, there we are, looking at pictures. "Oh, that's a nice picture of you working on a tractor." "Wow your son is very cute." "OH LORD, that's you wearing a speedo!" Okay, wearing a speedo is one thing. Wearing a speedo at a public park is another. Taking a picture of yourself in a speedo is yet another. But showing a picture of yourself wearing a speedo to a perfect stranger (a foreign one at that) who yet met 2 hours ago- that's bold! I guess, if you've got it, flaunt it! In actuality, it's one of those cultural things where speedos aren't viewed as sexual, just functional. I had a great time with this guy, but I still get so confused on what obligations are, and all that. A poor taxi driver who spends all that time helping, driving me around, buying me juice, HAS to want something more than the regular fare. I gave him 10JD, which was more than the fare, but he seemed a little disappointed, although he was firm in his happiness to meet me. We exchanged numbers, but I still left feeling like I was obligated to something, of which I wasn't certain. Arabic culture can be an obligation/favor culture, so it's hard know what is appropriate. He may have genuinely just wanted to help. I know he had an excellent time, but if I never call him, would he be upset?

Yesterday, I visited Irbid for the first time, which is actually the city where I would ultimately like to live. It's in NW Jordan (about 30 minutes from either Syria or Israel), a city of around 500,000, but very traditional. I liked it, although there are 2 huge colleges (which in general is good, but it may be difficult to avoid the insulated environment of college students). I'd prefer to be in a more traditional Arab community, not West Amman and not in a college environment. I'm feeling a bit uneasy and conflicted about housing right now. I'm sick of not knowing anything. Where should I live? Maybe Irbid isn't big city enough? Maybe it's too much of a college town? If I live in West Amman, I could really live the good life, truly. It would be amazing, maybe better than any other place for me, and certainly easier. But is that what I should do? West Amman is how a small percentage of Jordanians live, and it has quite a few foreigners. Living in East or Irbid is probably the experience I need. But would it drain me too much? Even this dude's (taxi driver) home was pretty run-down...three rooms, very poor. That's much of East and perhaps Irbid. Yes, it's similar to my Cairo experience, in terms of location, but there I had 6 American roommates and was always around Americans. All day I was with Americans. It's harder when you're isolated. Like with this taxi driver, we had an excellent time, but we are so different! Culturally, religiously, maybe most difficult, socio-economically. More than likely, however, I will live with one other American, a really great guy named Will. Still, I don't know what to do. Also, if I'm in the West area, I know I'd be more Fulbrightish, like I kind of explained earlier. Best option would be if I can find a good neighborhood in Irbid, but that may not be possible. Actually, the biggest problem is just finding a place at all! Because of all the rich Iraqis coming in, it's major slim picking, in Amman especially, and in the poorer areas, you can hardly find furnished places.

I just have NO idea what my life will be like here, and I'm starting to wish I knew something. Housing? Community? Where I'll study? I actually really want to start studying, so I don't feel like I'm wandering around in terms of Arabic. Yeah, I don't need a ton of stability, but just so I could feel like I'm beginning to build a life. Ultimately, the Fulbright program is unique because they actually want you to find a community and just sort of circulate, getting to know folks. Yes, there's research and formal Arabic study, but this other aspect is most important. Certainly, I've been doing that, but I would love to have a place where I can start to establish real relationships, whether personal, academic, or in my patronage. These are all opportunities to get to know Jordan, it's history and culture, what it's people want, what they like, etc. While I am beginning to do this, I want to be more intentional about it. Tomorrow, Will and I are spending the day in Irbid, hopefully meeting professors from Yarmouk University, and looking for places to live. Mom and dad, that guy from Indy's brother is actually meeting us there. He INSISTED on taking us everywhere all day, which is very nice. I felt like telling him that we'd be okay alone, but that's hospitality I guess.

Well, I'm wrapping this up. I feel like it's long and boring. Sorry if it is. If you want to know anything specific, just tell me. It's always difficult to write about being in another country because there's so much different or exciting. I wish I knew more of what I'd be doing so you would know, but I don't. Okay, I truly miss you guys. Thank you for all the notes and e-mails. I love getting them!



Blogger Dad said...

Hi Bo,

So many few answers. All these things will shake out in due time. I'm glad you will likely live with Will. Though I know you like to take 'the adventurous way', you ought to seek Alain's input on living arrangements, too. The guys on Sanders met this morning, and we prayed for you. I love you,


8:06 AM

Blogger Robin Bobo King said...

Thanks for the encouragement dad. Gosh, I wish you could be here to see the whole Jordanian-Palestinian and Transjordanian dynamic. I try to make it a point to ask cab drivers if they are of Palestinian descent, where their families are from, and if Palestine became a state, where they would want to live. You get such interesting stories. Thanks for praying for me too. I love you.

10:10 AM


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