Something about Jordan- I always feel as if my brain is about to explode.
No, seriously. It’s not necessarily that more is going on here. I just concentrate far, far more on everyday life. Not just because it’s fascinating and I want to learn more, but because it’s necessary. To stay connected to one conversation in Arabic, I have to concentrate solely on that, otherwise I’ll hear words from another conversation nearby and my mind will start jumping from conversation to conversation, trying to absorb everything and perking up to say, “Look, I know things!” But then I don’t understand what’s actually going on, just a few words from each conversation. And sadly, my concentrating face is not a smile! Someday I hope to be able to tune out of conversations a bit or not be distracted by other conversations in the vicinity… but that day is not today.
Not only that, but each day is a learning experience. All day, er’ry day. Really we’ve been doing these incredible, incredible things back to back, things I used to read about other people doing. Maybe it’s just because it’s the beginning of the program that we’re getting exposed to all sorts of opportunities but still- brain explosion. It’s hard to even process what all has happened in such a short space of time. Last Saturday, the girls in the program volunteered with Reclaim Childhood, which primarily works with Iraqi refugees in Jordan to empower women and girls through sport. We ended up playing basketball and a ton of name games (all in Arabic!) and it was a lot of fun. Also mindblowing though, because sometimes you don’t even realize that you’re learning so much until someone from home says, “What are you talking about?”
For example, what I now know about refugees in Jordan: They aren’t just from Palestine. That’s the biggest group of course, but the refugees in Jordan are from everywhere around essentially. First, there were Palestinian refugees from all the wars that came with Israeli establishment. Really it’s estimated that between 60-80 percent of Jordanians are descended from/are Palestinians. Which is really kinda crazy. I don’t think there are official figures but it’s generally acknowledged that at least half are. Every single cab driver we’ve spoken to has said they are Palestinian, that their grandparents were refugees etc. And then there are a bunch of Iraqi refugees that came during the Iraq war. They’ve been here near a decade now but only recently are starting to get some rights, like access to public schools. There have also been Syrian refugees from the north because of unrest there and Libyan refugees that were admitted because of medical issues. So really there’s a lot. And I learned none of this from a class or reading an article. Everything is solely from different conversations I’ve been privy to and things I’ve gotten to experience.
This past Thursday, we also got to tour a UNRWA school in East Amman. Really interesting not only because of the school but because it exposed us to East Amman. We all live in West Amman which is wealthier and more Westernized, where as East Amman is generally poorer and where more refugees live. The UNRWA schools are really important here and are a huge presence for Palestinians throughout the region. Some figures: 700 schools and nearly 483,000 students as of December 2010.
The school we visited is among the best, but many are seriously lacking in supplies. Even here there are 2 shifts of students because there simply aren’t enough teachers or space for them all to come at once. Some of the teachers made us a traditional Palestinian dish- like all things I eat here, I have no idea what was in it but it was delicious! Even touring the school isn’t something a lot of people get to experience (lots of red tape and bureaucratic crap involved I gather), so I feel really lucky. Hopefully, some people will get to volunteer there since dealing with bureaucracy has been an ongoing process, even from last semester.
And everyone here is oh so nice. When people hear that we speak Arabic, that we’re trying to learn more about the language and region, they just open up to us. In taxis, at the university, in the street, in restaurants. Last week, a couple people from the program and I walked around the downtown districts of Amman. We meant to stop in at a coffee shop for 10 minutes (because it was cold outside!) and ended up staying for 2 hours talking to a random Arab man who had heard us speaking Arabic. He was kind of ridiculous, telling us all about his 3 wives (he kept trading up for a new model essentially), his kids and crazy stories about Las Vegas. He wanted to practice his English (as most people we meet want to) but since we can’t speak anything besides Arabic, we had a back and forth with him in English and us in Arabic. When we were done, he even bought all the food. Incredibly nice and completely unexpected.
Even normal things can turn into an adventure- like buying birthday presents. That’s a whole post on it’s own though! But seriously, I know I had heard about Arab hospitality, but what people say is true. If you try to reach out, you will be reciprocated. I know at least four different people who met people on airplanes to the Middle East and then were invited to dinner, meet the family, a drive to where they’re staying. And that’s the norm! It’s both crazy and incredibly awesome. I just wish I had the guts to speak to locals even more!