So Familiar, Yet So Strange: Becoming Acquainted with Jordan

 

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Photo courtesy of Ikea


When I arrived in Amman, everything was foreign to me. I had no concept of what to expect as I had honestly never had a vested interest in the Middle East. For most of my life, my focus and dreams were drawn to different regions of Africa for various reasons.  

When I arrived in Amman, I was a zombie. Exhausted and out of my head from two days of travel and jet lag of 12 hours difference, I don’t remember anything about Queen Alia Airport or the late night drive to our new home.  The only thing I vaguely remember is our friend (who met us at the airport with the motor pool driver) declaring, “There is the Ikea. It’ll be an important landmark reference for different things.”

Coming from a post like Liberia, I was confused and amazed that such a place could exist at a USAID post since this agency exists to assist underdeveloped countries and rarely has a presence in developed ones.  Jordan is one of those exceptions.

I remember glancing at the glowing, yellow letters on the side of the blue building.  It certainly looked like a typical Ikea, but I didn’t recognize the letters. Then, as we passed, the Latin letters shined bright next to the Arabic. I-K-E-A. “So strange,” was the only thought I could muster before shutting my eyes to the reality that everything around me was going to be very different.  It was too overwhelming to think about that night.  The familiar and the foreign had collided in this place, and I would have to learn how to navigate a new landscape.

 

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One of my wonderful Arabic teachers, Afnan. ❤

When I arrived in Amman one month ago, I couldn’t read the letters on the side of the Ikea building. But this morning, as I rode in the backseat of my Uber (which is an illegal enterprise here, by the way), I glanced up at those letters, brighter than anything else in the vicinity, and I read ا-ک-ی-ا from left to right. اکیا !

I celebrated in my head and grinned at my small accomplishment.  Even as recently as one month ago, I felt daunted by the idea of being in Jordan.  This morning, I am reading Arabic.

Also helping me feel more at home here is the opportunity to get out and about.  I’ve had some job interviews over the past couple of weeks, and have taken full advantage of having access to Uber here.  This has allowed me to see much of Amman from the vantage point of the passenger. Each time I’m out, I recognize a little more, see somewhere else I’d like to explore and feel more comfortable with navigating the confusing streets and the crazy traffic.

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Last weekend, Andrew and I had our first Jordan adventure with a group excursion to Wadi Mujib.  Some wadis (little canyons) are good for activities like getting the family out for a pleasant stroll and a picnic.  This is not that kind of wadi! Wadi Mujib is more like a challenging obstacle course of hiking mostly through water and often against the current, ladder and boulder climbing, swimming upstream, and sliding down or jumping off boulders into the water.  Because one is usually fighting current or a small waterfall to the face, much of this is accomplished only with rope assistance.

It was a few hours round trip, and Andrew and I were both wiped out afterward. Our group stopped at an English Pub for lunch after, and we both ordered a burger and fries. We were so hungry and tired that we were pretty grumpy before we got those burgers in our bellies.  Afterward, we came home and crashed for the rest of the day. We also took some time with the dog we were fostering, a Jordanian street dog (Canaan breed) who was just the sweetest and best behaved puppy either Andrew or I had ever met!

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Luckily, just a couple of days later, our friend found the dog a wonderful home.  It was so great to have a dog around the house, and we enjoyed the energy he brought to our space, but we agreed that we are both too focused on other things right now to give a pet the attention it deserves.

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For instance, I was able to accompany Andrew on a visit to the field earlier this week as he visited four different sites where USAID is funding school rehabilitation and expansion projects to assist Jordan’s school system with being able to accommodate the influx of Syrian refugees that have arrived in the past few years.  Since the projects are mainly construction-focused, I got to listen to a lot of talk about costs, materials, and design plans.

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The best part, though, was watching Andrew work. Since he is new to post, he’s learning about the details of each project and about the customs and roles of the people on top of everything else that comes with a development project.  I am always so proud to watch him work, but here he’s taking on so many new challenges, and I just beam when I watch him in go-mode.

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My visit to the school sites came on the heels of my own site visit to a non-formal education center in Al-Yadoda.  The visit is part of the research I am doing for a non-profit organization. Non-formal education programs are for youth whose education has been interrupted for whatever reason, and they were unable or unwilling to enroll I’m the formal system.  These centers are an incredible, safe, and caring environment for these young people to continue with their education. Sitting in on the session made me miss being in my own classroom where establishing a similar environment was always very important to me.

In fact, on the morning I accompanied Andrew into the field, I received a message from a student that fed right into my nostalgia about being in the classroom:

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Despite the nostalgia, I do not want to go back to being a classroom teacher.  I’ve had a taste of living the professional life I always wanted, and I can’t go back.  The opportunities I will have in Jordan are quite different from those I had in Liberia, and I am trying to be patient as I continue to “put irons in the fire,” as my ever-supportive husband says.  

My next chance to make a difference in this world will come; and when it does, I will shout in Arabic “Il hamdu llelah!”

Until then, my man and I have plenty more adventuring to do…. 😉

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