Although there are A LOT of stray cats in Amman…
For this blog post, I’ll detail a few of the aspects of life in Amman that have taken the most getting used to.
1. Not knowing Arabic. When going to nice restaurants or shopping centers, most employees have a decent educational background and “dheki Ingleezi shway” or speak English a little. The taxi drivers and small shop owners are the ones where communication is made difficult. So far, my biggest feeling of “isolation” occurred when we were set free upon Amman after our first Arabic lesson. I was so preoccupied by making sure I was always with someone who lived in Jabal Amman so they could direct the taxi driver home for us. It was incredibly stressful and I felt so dependent. After I successfully gave directions in Arabic (with my friends there for back up, of course) I now feel confident that I can do it on my own if needed. Other than this incident, Arabic hasn’t been a problem. In fact, I like hearing everyone around me speaking it and I get excited to hear words I know!
2. The water issue. Each apartment has a tank of water on the roof that is refilled weekly or bi-weekly. If you run out of water, you have none. Quick showers are no problem, but poor water pressure is. This means you cannot flush toilet paper AT ALL. Dropping it into the toilet after use is such a habit that is hard to break! Usually if you try to flush it, it either gets clogged or simply floats back up. I’ve seen my friends slip up and then desperately try to fish it out of the water. So where does the paper go? In the garbage can that must be taken out every day for cleanliness.
3. Constantly shivering. Our hotels were saunas. I slept in shorts and a t shirt with no blankets and still woke up covered in sweat despite the thermostat being on 0 degrees Celsius and the windows open to let in the 1 degree Celsius air. It made no sense. Then we moved into the apartments. A couple months ago there were large protests over the removal of the stipend for fuel, both for cars and homes. Jordanians cannot afford to pay for fuel and homes are often made of limestone and uninsulated. This makes for a very chilly situation. CIEE told us that if we run out of our two fuel allotments, we must pay 550JD ($775) for a new tank. Keeping the heat on all day would deplete a fuel tank in a week. The average Jordanian only makes 180-200JD per week, so if he kept his heat running even for 12 hours per day, he would be spending 1100JD per month on fuel (and that’s JUST for heat!) when he only makes 800JD in a month. Therefore, the heat is often only turned on for 2-3 hours per day, usually in the mornings. I am currently in bed wearing wool socks, long underwear, fleece pants, a t shirt, a sweatshirt, and 5 blankets – but I am warm AND not wasting fuel. Suddenly all the protests make sense when you are forced to live in the same conditions as the protesters.
4. The skew of Western media. When the news covers protests in the Middle East, they often portray them as inductive of revolt. Did you know that protests in Amman are scheduled every Friday after morning prayer? This is an outlet for the people to raise concern over various issues where they otherwise wouldn’t have a voice. These Friday protests have been going on for years and Jordan is still a very stable country. It is simply a cultural practice to give feedback to the government.
5. The attention. It is a rare day when walking down the sidewalk doesn’t yield a slew of honks as cars drive by. I’d like to think most of them that are from taxis are simply asking, “Hey, I am available to drive you somewhere if you need me to!” However, a few of the interactions are a bit less ambiguous. I think the worst was the car that drove by with the passenger making hilarious high pitched moaning noises. Most of them range from “Boo-ti-ful!” to “Welcome to Jordan!” I can handle this attention as there isn’t much I can do to avoid it (except maybe cutting my hair off and dressing like a boy?) but the “proper” way to act around men is a bit harder to get used to. According to CIEE, women are not allowed to make eye contact or smile at men as it is considered a come on. When passing a man on the street, he will be inevitably staring. My favorite game to play in cities with passing strangers is that of eye contact chicken. The first to look away loses. This game is all but forbidden in Jordan. I now have to force myself to stare straight ahead and size up the man walking toward me with only my peripheral vision.
In total, I’ve found that I haven’t had too much of an issue adjusting. I am energy conscious at home, so I can appreciate the changes I have to make to conserve even more. I am writing this from a quaint tea shop on Rainbow street and it feels completely at home. Jordanians are sitting around me working on PowerPoint projects for school, chatting over coffee and cigarettes, and typing on their laptops, just as I am. Amman is really not too different from any city in America!