Saturday, June 27, 2009

South Amman

A lot of change can happen in one short week. I am still in the middle of all these changes, but I'll try to give you a snapshot of the transition to my next stage in Amman. First, the last week was my final one at Ali Baba, where I was studying Arabic 4 hours a day for the last month. It was interesting looking back on my progress throughout the month: I picked up a newspaper this week and was able to understand most of the front page headlines (and a couple articles) without a dictionary, I learned a decent number of colloquial words and phrases (but still can't shake my 2 years of formal Arabic in conversation), and managed to perfect my 3 sentence introduction of my name, where I'm from, and what the heck I'm doing in Amman.

My teacher, Sanabel, attempted to help me figure out how to register for residency in Jordan (since I will be here longer than 6 months), but besides help filling out the form (100% Arabic), I was on my own trying to wade through the horrible bureaucracy of Jordan's Ministry of the Interior. Now imagine the DMV, super sized, with no recognizable directions or instructions, in a foreign language which you barely speak. That's basically what I was dealing with. After waiting in 3 incorrect lines, I finally got my number and watched for it to appear on the screen above the long line of windows. When I was called, I had to fight through a crowd of men trying to push forward, and had to shove my number through the mob to be recognized (even after I was at the window I had to ward off intruders trying to stick their faces in the little window hole and get their forms through first). The man seemed confused by my attempt to turn in the form, and called over an English speaking official. He told me that because I'm not in a university program, I can't get residency, but I can come back in the fall when I am with SIT and try again (but having residency for 2 months doesn't exactly make sense). So my efforts failed, I'll just have to keep renewing my visa and pay normal foreigner pries for the tourist destinations.

I'm writing at the moment from one of the stranger sights in Amman: a full fledged Christian bookstore. It is full of Francine Rivers novels, teen study Bibles, various religious accessories, and a whole stack of The Shack. While I couldn't find a bi-lingual study Bible, I did manage to find the Narnia books in Arabic, and actually understood the majority of the first chapter in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. At least it has A/C, coffee, and free internet.

I went this morning to check out what will soon be my new flat in Jabal al-Ashrafiya, in South Amman. I found out about the place from an add on the posting board at the Good Book Shop (above), and it is amazing how quickly you can go from complete uncertainty about where you will be living next week to a done deal for the next two months. I will be paying half as much as I do now for a flat within walking distance (maybe 20 minutes) of my internship. The place is owned by a Jordanian family (mother teaches Arabic to English speakers), and they have 3 separate flats for rent (an Aussie and Brit are in the other flats at the moment). I'll get some pictures next week of the place and especially the amazing view from the roof top terrace. It will also be nice (for my spoken Arabic) living around Arabic speakers instead of an American roommate (despite the great time I've had with Ryan the last month).

On top of that, I start up work at Ruwwad tomorrow. It has been difficult getting specifics on my first week there (the camp starts on July 7th), but I can basically go along with whatever they want me to do. The great thing about my new apartment is that I can drive easily (or walk with limited difficulty) to work and my favorite spots downtown, which will cut out a ton on taxi driving time and cost. I actually just finished walking around for the last hour from the apartment to downtown, and then up the hill to 1st Circle, where a lot of good coffee shops and bars are located. So now I'm hot, fairly tired, and ready to sit and read for the rest of the afternoon. At least I'm getting a good workout here.

Check back for updates on a number of aspects of Jordanian life, and my thoughts on the first week of work at Ruwwad.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pictures! and other odds and ends

By popular request, and due to my free time a couple days ago, I finally have a couple pictures up from my neighborhood. As you can see, Amman is a city built on a ton of hills, which makes walking around town incredibly enjoyable (especially with the added benefit of the rather high temperature). In the top picture, you may notice that Amman is not a desert, contrary to popular belief. In fact, it even snows here in the winter. Granted the large green patch shown in the picture is the University of Jordan which is kept looking pristine by a staff of gardeners, but all around the city you see a decent number of trees and plants struggling to make it through the dry summer. The picture on the right shows the street I live on (I live in a 1st floor apartment on at the bottom of the hill), and another example of the wonderful hills here. Below, you can see me and some friends at a nice pub called Amigos. Pictures should be coming more frequently once I start work in a couple weeks, because part of my job will be documenting a kids camp that the organization I've working with is putting on (more on that below).

I just finished week three (of 4) in my intensive Arabic course at the Ali Baba language center. It always amazing how quickly a month can go by, especially when you are doing something that takes up your whole day and then abruptly ends. Yesterday, I took a field trip with my 2 teachers and 4 other American students to downtown. We had to talk in Arabic (mostly...) and did a bit of shopping and sight seeing. Fun opportunity to put into practice a bit of what we've been learning. I bought a nice black and white kuffiyeh and a Mahmoud Darwish book that I'll try to read (in Arabic of course) when I have some time.

After the excursion down town, I parted from the group and took a cab to the neighborhood of Abdoun to meet my contact from Ruwwad (May) and all the players going into organizing the summer camp I'll be working on the next two months. I finally got a bit of a better description of the camp and of my role in the whole process. Here goes:
  • The camp runs from July 7th until early August. There are four locations around Amman which will host the kids who mostly come from Jabal Nathif, a poor neighborhood south of the city center.
  • About 800 kids will be participating in activities including taekwondo, soccer, art, and dram.
  • My role is to report on the camps and help organize the coordinated reporting efforts of the camp director and all of the staff members. These other reports will all be in Arabic, which makes my job nice and interesting. I also get to help translate all the final reports from Arabic into English.
  • Part of my job includes photo and video documentation of the camp, which means I get to travel around to all the locations and just have fun with my cameras and then slap them together into some interesting videos, which I'll try to put up here if the bandwidth allows me.
  • The camp is sponsored by Queen Rania's School Initiative, so maybe she'll stop by, who knows?
Alright, I think that's enough for this post. Last night I went to church for the first time since arriving in Amman (many churches meet on Sundays, when I have class). I'll write about that awesome experience and my conversation with a couple Iraqi Christians in my next post. I hope everyone is doing well back in NC or wherever you're reading this from. Hit me up on facebook or skype and let me know how the summer is treating you so far. I'm gonna be gone way too long and don't want to lose touch with all of you.


Friday, June 5, 2009

It's been a week in Jordan and I'm getting pretty nicely settled in. It's amazing how much my Arabic has improved in the last week. My two years of studying Arabic at UNC laid a great base, and now being surrounded by it I'm able to finally take off. I'm still working on my colloquial skills however, since a large number of people here don't actually speak the formal Arabic that I've been learning.

At Ali-Baba, my language school, it has been awesome having one-on-one instruction. This week our conversations took some very interesting turns and I had opportunities to discuss some incredibly difficult topics all in Arabic. My second day in class, I told my teacher about a research paper I did on the Palestinian political cartoonist Naji al-Ali (whose character, Handala, I now realize is on about every key chain here), and we launched into an hour long conversation about his work and the Israel-Palestine conflict. More than half the population of Jordan is Palestinian, so it's a pretty hot topic of conversation.

Yesterday, Obama gave his speech in Cairo to the Muslim World. I watched the whole thing, and really liked most of it. I feel like I basically have job security for a while given my interest in the middle east and specifically social entrepreneurship in the region (which Obama promised to support in the future). Additionally, I'm glad that a US president is finally standing up a bit to Israel and supporting a Palestinian state. After the speech, my job for the day was recounting what Obama said in Arabic. Somehow we got on the topic of religion, and I ended up explaining some of the finer points of Christian theology (most notably the trinity and the divinity of Jesus). Wow, it's hard enough trying to explain that stuff in English, try doing it in Arabic. It was a good conversation, and i hope that Senabel and I can have some more talks like that, maybe I'll ask her some questions about Islam. For now though, I'm glad it's the weekend. 4 hours of Arabic a day takes it out of you. Still no pictures, but I'll work on it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

3 nights in Amman

Well I made it to Jordan, and after a couple days my bags decided to join me. I stayed with Tarek, a guy I met on couchsurfing, for the first three nights and yesterday I moved into a nice little apartment closer to my language school with Ryan, another American. I've got a little time before I head off to class for the next 4 hours and I figured I would put up a quick update on here.

Amman has been great so far. My Arabic is enough to get around with limited English (sometimes), and I have made a couple friends in the city through couchsurfing. I'm taking Arabic classes 4 hours a day, and then should be doing homework, but usually end up going out afterward. I'm still figuring out the general schedule here. Back home I'm used to having dinner around 6 and then starting up again around 8 for the evening. Here, it seems that a lot of people go out around 6 and then get dinner when they get back.

So far I have mostly been in the western part of Amman, near the university. This is the rich part of the city: the houses are pretty nice, the streets are decently clean, there are western sytle fast food places everywhere, and a lot of people are pretty well educated. However, in east Amman the conditions are a bit worse, that's where the refugee camps are and other lower class neighborhoods. I'm going on Sunday to talk to an organization called Ruwwad that I might be working with for the rest of the summer, volunteering with them in the camps. Still a lot of details to work out, but hopefully that will work out. I also might work some with my friend Haya who has a program teaching English in a refugee camp, and is currently in the 30 finalists for a contest sponsored by the Queen for social ventures in Jordan.

That's it for now. I'll try to get some pictures up now that I have my camera. I have internet access in my apartment, but it's really slow, so uploading pictures may take forever. I hope everyone is doing well wherever they are this summer. Keep me updated, I'm on facebook daily. I'll try to get some more meaty posts up once I have some things to think about (wait until the speech tomorrow maybe).

سلام (Peace),
ذانيل (Daniel)