Sounds of Amman

One of the most unexpected things I’ve noticed while studying abroad is the unique mix of sounds I hear on a daily basis. At first they seemed silly and insignificant. They were just another aspect of Amman that I would have to come to live with. Now, after several conversations and laughs about them with friends, the motley mix of noises has come to feel like home.

First, in the early mornings, even before my iPhone “marimba” alarm goes off, I can hear the faint clinking of metal against metal as the construction site down the road comes to life. Even with the windows closed, the repetitive sound of hammer hitting nail and the dull groan of moving machinery is audible throughout the entire day. Once I’ve woken up and start my morning routine, I hear the twittering of birds outside my window. I never realize how much I miss the noise of birds and insects until I come home from Denver, where the only sounds at night are traffic and silence.

The morning taxi ride to school typically is filled with Arabic talk radio or traditional Arab music. Most songs somehow incorporate the word “habibi” or “my love.” I still can’t understand most of what is being said, but trying to listen is a good preface to class. Occasionally, the taxi driver won’t have anything on the radio.  As it is 7am, my conversation with Lauren is often intermittent, so I lose myself in thought and listen to the song of the streets performed by the variety of pitches of the car horns.

Once at school, Gregorian-style chants can be heard from behind the closed doors of the CIEE office where students are reciting new words in their Arabic classes. However, this repetition isn’t my favorite style of learning. Our professors are native Arabic speakers so colloquial words often slip into their English lectures. Even after only three weeks of classes, I find these little words permeating my own internal dialogue. Do I find myself mentally saying “Come on, hurry up!” when I am stuck behind a few slow walking Jordanians? Nope, I think “yella, yella, yella!!!” which means, “let’s go!!”

Around lunchtime, the midday call to prayer is broadcasted from the tall minarets throughout Amman. The call is given five times per day, but I usually only hear one or two as it can be quite faint if you are not near a mosque. One of my friends pointed out the fact that the call to prayer is often portrayed as ominous or eerie in the media. To me, it is a beautiful cultural symbol of the Middle East and it makes me pause to think about what’s important in life rather than spending my entire day worrying about mundane concerns like homework, Facebook, and whether I have enough texting credits on my phone. I think other cultures would benefit from a daily reminder, not necessarily religious, to think about the bigger picture in life.

Often in the afternoon, it is warm enough to open the classroom windows. Yesterday during my “Alternative Perspectives” class, the lecture was interrupted by an extremely loud car stereo playing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” which seems to be a crowd favorite in Jordan as I hear it at least once a day. This particular driver seemed to have parked his car directly below the window and played the song on repeat for 15 straight minutes. Only in Jordan!

Finally, as I spend the weekday evenings in my apartment doing homework, I hear the loud and obnoxious buzz of the main apartment entrance every time someone enters the code to open the door. Living on the first floor has its benefits (no stairs, a nice patio) but also its downfalls (bars on the windows, less heat).

And yet again, as I lie in bed falling asleep at 10pm, I listen to the clanging of the construction site. I am baffled by how the building isn’t yet finished when they have been working on it for almost 24 hours straight for the past three weeks. I’ll be sure to update you on when the new hospital is finally finished and I can get an uninterrupted night of sleep!

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