Saturday, June 18, 2011

قي عمان -- In Amman

Marhaba ya shabaab! Shoo fi ma fi?

It's the end of my second full day in beautiful Amman, Jordan, and I already feel at home. That is to say, I feel way more comfortable than I probably should, considering I don't yet know my way around and I only know a little bit of Jordanian and Palestinian amiyya (colloquial) dialect. Still, the city is so lovely, the sun so warm, and the people so nice that I don't feel nearly as nervous or out-of-place as I expected I would.

We arrived in Amman at around 8:30 p.m. local time. Our itinerary promised us that we'd be met at the gate by a rep from Petra Moon Tours (?), who would help us purchase our visas. Sure enough, there he was, giving each of us 20 dinar to put inside our passports, which he then collected and cut through the line towards the visa desk to run the paperwork. I spent the next 20 minutes or so feeling very sleepy, not to mention very very paranoid because my passport was not on my person--since I now have a bit of a passport-possessiveness complex after losing my first one, a stressful mistake that set me back $250.

But alhamdulillah, thanks God, our visa guy came back and started sending us through the border control and customs. These types of things normally make me nervous, but the officer told me he liked my blue eyes and didn't ask any scary questions, so it ended up being fairly painless. After waiting for the rest of the group and our bus, it was off to ACOR! Driving through Amman for that first time felt so surreal. I was so utterly jet-lagged, and everything was lit up so beautifully, it almost felt like I was in some kind of Arab Disneyland, rather than another country.

Our first few full days basically consisted of a few hours of orientation, some amiyya classes, and exploring this absolutely gorgeous city. Amman is one of the oldest continuously populated cities in the world, so it still bears the footprints of many historical empires--Greek, Umayyad, Ottoman. Roman ruins still sprawl out next door to exquisite mosques, tiny shops nestled in-between. City streets housing hookah lounges, falafel stands and ultra-modern coffee shops detour into bustling traditional souqs full of carpets, street food, intricate jewelry, and nostalgic carvings and paintings of the land that was once called Palestine--the ancestral home of 50-70% of Jordanian residents. Once again, my heart sank to remember the millions of refugees who are still denied their right to return home, the millions more whose olive trees and houses have already been wiped off the map, and how much dispossession and grief has resulted from the struggle over a land that took our plane all of five minutes to fly over.


The rest of my Friday was spent exploring the hills of Amman on foot. Did I mention that it's really hilly? My legs are still sore. Inshallah, God willing, the terrain will help me work off all the falafel and kabab that I'll undoubtedly stuff my face with this summer.

Eventually we made our way to a hookah lounge, where I ordered baba ghanouj and an arghile (known in the West as "hookah," of course) with lemon-mint shisha. The crowdedness of wust al-balad, the downtown area, creates such an amazing energy--as does the remarkable diversity of the area. Gucci hijabis, foreigners, niqabi women, guys that look straight out of Jersey Shore, elegant ladies in embroidered thoths, men in long robes and kufiyyas on their heads, me--and hipsters! Lots of them! Who knew that Amman had such a thriving hipster scene? (Our observation of this quickly led to the invention of the word الحبستر -- even if transliteration is like, sooo mainstream.)

Our last stop was at an absolutely amazing concert in Souq Jara by the band المربّع (El-Morabba3). Jordanian alt-rock that sounded like Sigur Ros, Fairuz and 90s rock thrown into a blender with a little mint and lemon. I was legitimately impressed within the first few numbers--then, as if they weren't already cool enough, the bass player became the lead singer, the lead singer turned into the doumbek player, they brought out a fantastic guest singer, and the electric guitarist whipped out a violin bow and started coaxing out elaborate microtonal scales, and my jaw was on the ground. All this with the backdrop of an Amman sunset and the ruins of the citadel of Hercules on the horizon. Jus sayin.


Today was slightly less exciting, but I was able to stuff my face with homemade Arabic food and get some much-needed shopping done. My speaking partner, Mais, took a group of us to Carrefour (think Walmart, only French in origin and Arabicized), where I was able to grab some school supplies. This subsequently led to my first encounter with a Jordanian who speaks no English--our cab driver, who not surprisingly was somewhat confused by our unusual directions to go to Jordan University Street and turn right after Eat 'n' Go. Figuring out the rest was another humbling experience for beginners in a difficult language--but somehow we made it work. :)

Tomorrow begins my first classes at Qasid Institute, so I'd better get some sleep! For now, ma salaama!

3 comments:

  1. Love this story Erin, keep writing!

    I'm Nonpartisan is Candace.

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  2. Hey Erin, been forever since I've seen you and you've really found a beautiful written voice! Keep writing, I'm looking forward to reading. :)

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  3. Thanks so much to both of you! Caroline, speaking of beautiful written voices, my mom is always gushing about posts from your blog. Great stuff!

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