I missed writing my pre-departure blog post, but I thought I would post an update on my experience so far in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan! Now is my fourth day in Amman and my experience has been exactly the opposite of what you might expect when you hear of studying abroad in the Middle East. For the first three days I have sat with my Christian host family drinking coffee and wearing multiple jackets to keep warm. You can say that it’s been a slow start. I know you might be picturing the Middle East with scorching temperatures and a vast desert, but Amman, Jordan has a cold and snowy winter. Just a few inches is enough to shut down the entire city for days. My orientation was held online for the first two days because there was a dusting of snow throughout the city. While I was eager at the beginning to become familiar with Amman and other members of my program, luckily my host family provides more than enough entertainment for sitting at home waiting for the “storm” to pass.
I live with just a grandmother in her apartment. But, the grandmother’s three sons live in the other three apartments in the building with their families. Throughout the day there is much interaction between the four apartments, especially considering that my host mother (grandmother?) has nine grandchildren between the three apartments ranging in age from 1 to 11 years old. One of the grandchildren, Fadi, who is seven years old, seems particularly keen on hanging out with me and so far has been a great Arabic language partner since he is very patient as I slowly construe Arabic sentences and questions.
The Zaaroor Family has a special tradition when there is a snow storm – they make pizza! As a way to warm up the house by using the stove and lighten the mood while the family grumbles about the cold weather, my host Mom, Samira, makes pizza with all kinds of toppings. Making the dough and tomato sauce and then baking the pizzas is no easy task when there is a hungry family of 17 (including me!) to feed. Though she slaved away all day in the kitchen with some help from family members, it seemed worth it when everyone at the table finally ate their slices of pizza with smiles on their faces. Looking around, I think the adults were just as eager for the snow day pizza as the children.
I was surprised to learn that many of the host families for Arabic language students in Amman are Christian like my family. While about 96% of Jordan identifies as Muslim, there is a significant Christian population in Amman. I think that male students in particular are placed with Christian families because if a male student is placed with a Muslim family, then female members of the family wouldn’t be able to take off their hijab in their own house.
Today was my first day of face-to-face orientation at the CIEE study center since the weather finally cleared up and I was happy to finally meet many of my peers and the supportive staff at the center. At orientation we covered health and safety issues for students living in Amman – necessary but by no means exciting. Afterwards I got my first small taste of living in Amman. With a few other students we went to one of many cafes to try shisha, what Americans commonly call hookah. It was exciting to be able to observe other shabab (young people) socialize with each other as they smoke shisha. The cafe culture of sitting and talking with friends for hours at a time is very important to the lifestyle here, Jordanian cafes are certainly no in and out Starbucks.
That’s all for now – I can’t wait to see what the rest of the semester has in store! (I also can’t wait for the weather to get warmer)
Below on the left is a photo of the view from the CIEE Study Center. It may be a little dreary…but the people of Amman certainly are not! On the right is me with my host nephew, Fadi. He wrote me this welcome note: “Patrick, welcome to Zaaroor Family and welcome to Jordan. If you go, I will be sad. From Fadi, To Patrick.”