There are few people in Irbid, Jordan that speak English. But there are plenty that want to talk. Thus begins our rapid Arabic lessons. Day one, Rebecca and I are somehow thrown into an intermediate class. After blankly staring at the worksheet and unable to answer any questions, we are removed and placed into our rightful beginner's class. Some Arabic sounds are unlike any made in English, and I find myself struggling to relearn speech. One sound I am good at, the /r/ sound. My four years of Spanish has paid off in the acquisition of rolling my r's. Thank you Spanish.
We've had a lot of delicious food here, including Jordan's national dish, Mensaf. Normally, I'm very picky with what I try, but I'm very adventurous here. This dish was made with lamb, served over rice with pine nuts and almonds, and covered with pita and a delicious yogurt sauce. So delicious. And schwarma. Their version of fast food, lamb or chicken in a pita with veggies and sauce. I love Middle Eastern food.
Travel lesson number two: Travel in small, attractive groups. It has only been three days, and we have reaped the benefits. As Rebecca and I made our way from a sterile, cold internet cafe to a comfortable, free internet cafe, we contemplated the impact of only knowing the Arabic alphabet. Dismissing the idea, we quickly became comfortable in an environment that we were used to. An hour after the shay fiasco, our server came out with two heaping bowls of ice cream. He smiled broadly as we profusely thanked him for being so sweet. The owner asked if we had a good time and hoped that we would come back in again. Free things? Yes, we'd love to.
The next incident occured today in Amman. Gabriel, another student here, wanted to show us a Byzantine church with an art exhibit inside that he found intriguing. As it was Jordan's Independence Day, it was closed to the public. Fortunately for us, the exuberant maintenance man was more than happy to open up the gate and walk us around the church. Not only did he offer us refreshments from the cafe, but he squeezed lemons to make us lemonade. Jordanian people are so friendly.
Rebecca and I cannot walk down the street without cars stopping to 'welcome us to Jordan.' Everyone is ridiculously excited to hear that we're from the United States, and one man showed us the American flag on his passport. It may help that Rebecca and I never stop talking. We met the University president's daughter in the grocery store, and we have incidents that should place us on the list for our own sitcom. A wonderful example occurred today in a place resembling Target.
Rebecca cannot live without a hair dryer and is lacking the converter to allow hers to work. The lack of converters in this country led her to buy a new Jordanian hairdryer from a store in the mall. Not surprisingly, Rebecca picks the hairdryer with only the floor model left. As she asks one employee if she can take it, two older women come by and try to help the poor salesman that speaks no English. This causes four more employees, who have been watching us stealthily from the moment we walked into the door, to sprint over. Their limited English skills lead to the conclusion that we want a stereo. The continuous laughter of the American girls brings a manager over, who promoptly gives Rebecca the hairdryer. As three more employees circle us, the first employee takes the hairdryer and beckons us to follow him. We turn to see him with the hairdryer plugged it, blowing air around the store. With all customers and employees of this superstore watching, Rebecca takes the hairdryer and we stumble to the registers, trying to contain our laughter. What do we see when we walk up to the register? A huge crate of the very hairdryer we were buying the floor model of. After profuse apologies from the manager and our continued laughter, we left the Jordanian superstore waving goodbye to our newfound friends.
Everywhere we go, Jordanians want to chat with us. They love to teach us Arabic and learn English. Rebecca and I stood in the student center waiting for our ids-3 new friends, one Syrian, one Palestinian, and one Algerian. We sit on the bus from Amman to Irbid-two new friends, both from Jordan and wanting to help us with Arabic. The only awkward thing is the staring. There aren;t many blondes here, so they're probably just curious. I don't think many Americans come to Jordan, but I don't know why they don't. Everyone here is so friendly and welcoming!
Victoria's Secret International.
Thursday after class, we went on a trip to another area of Irbid to visit one of the factories here. The trip was treacherous, as most cab rides are here, and consisted of a persistent metallic smell. It was mechanic row. There were fenders, tires, and pieces of cars everywhere. We went into the factory, which looked like a normal building from the outside. The factory was two levels of women working on underwear for the Victoria's Secret line, Pink. They gave us orange sodas and told us about the factory as we walked through the assembly lines. As a result of the 1994 Jordan/Israel, the factory is owned by a family in Israel. Jordan can then export products duty free to the United States as long as eight percent of their industrial input come from Israel. In the United States and part of Europe, the products say "Made in Israel," while they say "Made in Jordan" everywhere else. The women seem content and happy, they make between 2-500$ a month, which is more than many women make in Irbid. On our way out, we were given a gift bag of Calvin Klein and Victoria's Secret underwear and Gap tank tops. The tour was a lot more interesting than I thought it was going to be, and it was really cool to see the process of Victoria's Secret underwear being made, from fabric to stitching to branding.
This Quiet City.
A few interesting facts.
1. Cocktail does not mean alcoholic beverage.
2. Speedy internet is reserved for American cafes.
3. NesCafe will never replace a nonfat vanilla latte.
4. 1jd (1.40$) is an expensive cab ride.
5. 10jd (14$) is an expensive fruity beverage.
6. Toilet paper will never be in a public restroom. Ever.
7. Jordanians love Americans, but will charge double or triple the actual amount that the item or service is worth.
8. Nail files and chapstick are ridiculously expensive.
9. Tissues are the new napkins.
10. Women dress just like us (in the privacy of their homes.)
11. Everyone wants to learn English. And a speaking partner.
12. Women must sit upstairs in restaurants.
13. Men hold hands with men in public, but not with women.
I've had an opportunity to befriend many Jordanians here, and I've learned more about not only their language, but also their culture. In the beauty salon, the women were dressed very similarly to American girls, tank tops, jeans, with their hair flowing around them. Watching them dress to go outside was so interesting. They put up their hair, wrapped a scarf (or hijab) around it, and put on a long overcoat/dress over their outfit. As I got my nails done, they sat around me and chattered just like a salon in the United States. Except we don't have indentured servants that we refuse to let leave. The woman doing our nails described her trapped life as the owner's indentured servant. She came to Jordan from the Philippines to be the owner's nanny until she could pay off the cost the owner incurred to bring her here. The owner of the salon kept her visa and passport until that happens. Unfortunately, this woman tried to pay off her price, and the owner refused to let her. Jordan does not have the best laws regarding rights for indentured servants, so this woman, who has completed nursing school, is doing people's nails and slaving for this awful woman. Cassidy, Rebecca and I could not believe this was happening, and so blatantly. My other experiences have been much better.
My conversation partner, Asil, is the sweetest girl ever. We speak in Arabic daily, and we also talk about our respective cultures. Women here have a lot more rights and are treated better than I thought. I also found out why women eat upstairs in restaurants. Women that wear the full black covering (abaya), must remove the face covering (niqab) to eat a meal. This cannot be done where men are present. This makes the situation understandable to me, as before I just felt like a second class citizen. Interestingly, women are paid the same amount as men, which is unlike the United States. Also unlike the United States, women keep their own earnings, while the man is obligated to use his earnings to take care of his wife, his children, his mother and father, his wife's mother and father, and his sisters. The woman here don't seem as restricted as I first thought, they just do things a bit differently than I'm used to. It's really interesting to hear about Asil's life and tell her about mine.
Another student on our trip, Mike, studied in Yemen two years prior to this trip. He made it a goal to find a Yemenian restaurant, and we went to it after our exhausting day. Sitting around in a circle, we were given delicious bread and then the choice of a spicy chicken, beans, lamb, beef or en egg and tomato dish. We scooped up our meals with large pieces of bread. It was a nice change from the Jordanian food we've been eating, and I found that I love Yemen food. Mike became my new favorite person that night. Onto week four of class and a trip to the Dead Sea at the end of the week! It's hard to believe that we're through semester one of Arabic!