Red-eye flights defy all concepts of structured time. We reached Vienna with brains jumbled and clothes rumpled. The terminal wait took a happy turn, however, when I was given the chance to practice my German with a little Austrian girl. We made it through the greetings and get to know yous. Her name was Emma. She was three (paired with the thumb, pointer, and middle finger raised, very German hand gesture for the number). The intercom blared, and we switched gates for the second time since landing, leaving Emma behind. These are the impromptu experiences that make me love language learning. What for many would have been a barrier to communication actually became an introduction to conversation.
In the early afternoon, we landed at Queen Alia International Airport. We exited the plane to overwhelming cigarette smoke, rhythmic music, and the beautiful, dry Amman air.
Our big yellow bus was waiting in the parking lot. A few weeks before I left for Amman, I received an email with wonderfully minimal details about my host family in Jordan. My host mother was named Rana. She was a teacher. My host father, Saed, was a bus driver. Waleed was 11 and Zeid was 7. Bana, my long-awaited little sister, was 6. The address that I was given existed nowhere on Google Maps, each child was a year older than given, and "a bus driver" meant the bus driver that would take us to and from every activity and school day for the next six weeks. I was an hour in and already my love of schedules and all things detail was blatantly unrequited.
The bus ride took about 40 minutes, quite good time considering the traffic (A quick note about driving in Amman: there is no right of way, lanes are nonexistent, and driving backwards is perfectly acceptable.). We drove through the rural, the rich, then the real Amman. Bana, who had come along for the ride, taught me the word for purple in Arabic (which I promptly forgot) and told me she was seven, not six. She had our resident director Michael shaking with laughter at her sassy remarks. Zeid was shy. I was more so. I know virtually nothing, but each new experience, each conversation I wish I could join, is an incentive to learn.
And then there is the food. The day I learn to order in Arabic is a day my billfold and bowels should beware. I have yet to find a food that I do not like. There is Arabic Salad, Tabbouleh, Safron Chicken, Tahini, rice (oh, how I love rice), and my out-of-the-box for the night: banana milk. It is a most delicious creation.
I have spent my first three days in Jordan staying at the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR). The ACOR compound is my wish-it-were home. Artists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and more sleep in apartments located on 6 floors. Meals are provided. Everyone helps with dishes. There are patios to sit on and bottomless tea cups and a library of with thousands of volumes (Arabic, English, and a surprising number in German). I wanted months to curl in the heat with dusty books and a wandering mind.
ACOR was our chance to acclimate, to relax. So naturally, we were up at seven for daily classes in the "conference room": a partially partitioned section of the library's basement. We talked about language and courtesy and made Nadia, our on-site coordinator, write far too many words on the whiteboard. We met a past NSLI-Y alumna and ate all our meals family style.
In the evenings, we saw the city. Amman is built on seven hills. Hills which make the "hills" in Iowa look like airport runways. Our explorations took us up and down the streets of Amman. We learned how to exchange currency and attempted communication. The fruit vendor believes my Arabic is terrible. Here's to a steep learning curve. We went on a scavenger hunt through the university neighborhood. For the first time we were allowed to really explore. Things were different. I felt comfortable, if not confident. Stares from passerby averaged 4 seconds rather than 14, and we found a donkey on the road (Note: Donkeys on the road eating from trash cans, according to our resident director, is not a thing that happens often in Jordan. Thanks for pulling out all the stops Amman.) Life was good.
My time at ACOR was an introduction, a nice to meet you Jordan. I will miss the family dinners, the dusty books, and the painted sunsets. Standing on the compound roof, watching the light fade, feeling the air cool, listening to the call to prayer echo through six million ears, I was ready for the next step: my host family adventure. It was nice to finally meet you Jordan. Now, I would like to know you.