"there is no sahil."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

at home

A lot has happened in the past week or so since I last wrote. On Thursday, we moved out of our little hotel in Shmeisani and into our HOMES! I am living with a family in Jebel al Weibdeh, very close to busy downtown, the huge bus station, and popular shopping areas. Jebel (hill or mountain in Arabic) Weibdeh is really quiet despite this, especially in the evening. Weibdeh is also considered a kind of arts and culture destination as it's home to two contemporary galleries, the French Cultural center, and a couple of little artsy, fancy-pantsy cafes. I'm very glad that I am so central, although Amman is sprawling and it's difficult to identify one spot as city center. Weibdeh has a high Christian population and is pretty relaxed in terms of dress as well.

No one walks anywhere in Amman, in part because there are no sidewalks, but also because of the lay of the land (very steep hills) and the spacial distribution--your mosque and your butcher might be within walking distance from your house, but your school, gym, grocer, etc., probably aren't. Weibdeh is great because we do get to walk quite a bit, at least to church and the bus station, and just to walk, and there is a nice little circle in the middle with a garden and park benches. Being at the very top of the hill, we also have a great view of the flag.

My host family is Palestinian, like the majority of Jordanians. They are Christian and speak very little English, and although I speak very little Arabic, we've been getting along fine. Everyone is happy to help me learn new words, I have been checking English homework, and my littlest sister even sat me down for a lesson on colors the other day. We have a huge extended family, which has been really fun and reminds me a lot of home. In fact, three of the other girls in the study group are my COUSINS! One lives in the apartment behind me, the other has been over for lunch a few times, and the last one was a total surprise--she showed up for dinner with her family on our first night at home. So far, we have had a lot of family time. I have three little sisters, Jaquiline (15), Naheel (13), and Nardeen (6). My host mother works at a daycare and also as a seamstress, she just finished some beautiful curtains (and she makes amazing yogurt), and my host father is a pharmacist.

The University is huge, with over 30,000 students. Our building is brand new and quite nice, but most of the other buildings were constructed in the mid-sixties and seventies, and look it. I think there was a collective gasp from our group when we saw the MS DOS computers in the library. The campus is quite big and the buildings very uniform, and makes me miss the familiarity of Smith. Yesterday we took a walk to find the north gate, and ended up making a wrong turn somewhere along the way. A five minute walk turned into forty minutes, which was fine except that we were in long sleeves and it was in the 80s by about 11am. Internet is not a huge thing at the university and there are only a couple of places we can access it, usually with a time limit and strange hours. I am in a cheap internet cafe right across the street now, and I have a feeling this will probably become a part of many people's routines here, especially with the staggered class schedule some of us have. The cafe owner just walked around with an aersol can of air freshener, and sprayed the entire place. I'm used to weird things, though. Our neighbor wraps his remote control in plastic wrap. Whatever floats your boat.

We have colloquial (spoken) Arabic for the next two weeks along with a guest lecture each day. We start our regular class schedule on the 15th. The professor is hilarious and my class is only about 8 people and a lot of fun. I am in the beginning class and ahead of the game so far, but I am hesitant to move up since I have the equivalent of only about half a semester of Arabic. When we start Modern Arabic though, I will be taking that dreaded placement test since there are six levels! Wish me luck. I have some studying to do.

Yesterday we had only just finished our guest lecture on our first day of class when the director, Allison, told us to stay in the classroom because there had been a shooting downtown. If it's news to you, a gunman from Zarqa killed a policeman and one British tourist, and wounded six others at the Roman Amphitheater in downtown Amman. We were put under house arrest for the day, and will be getting another "briefing" later this afternoon. I think all of us are settling into routine and feel very safe and welcome here, especially away from the group and with our families, but it is unnerving to think that we were in the amphitheater a week earlier, same day, same time, all thirty-two of us walking around together. I was looking at some of the photos I took there today. It seems like this incident was unavoidable and hasn't elevated anyone's paranoia, but nonetheless it is scary.

ON a lighter note, it has been fun trying to figure out where everyone on the program lives. We are scattered all over the city, and on Thursday some of us are having dinner over at one of the apartments! It will be cool to see what the apartments are like. From what I understand, the landlords are almost like a host family themselves. I am also starting to think about plans for break, since I am off for what looks like a month or so. Options include but are not limited to: India, Tunisia and Morocco, Palestine and Israel and Lebanon, and Syria if I can finagle a visa.

In other news, I am still anxiously waiting to get sick (from food and water) like everyone says we all will, and I will be sending postcards as soon as I can.

CHECK OUT barbie in hijab!


Blogger Bridget said...

Hey Cait,
glad to hear everything is going so well for you. Not too much going on here, senior year is crazy, as to be expected.I really enjoy reading your blogs. Goodluck with arabic!Once you can speak enough you need to tell your extended family there about all of the crazy stuff we've done.
love you,
Bridge a dee (yeah that's right, I miss you THAT much) ;-P

12:02 PM


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