Cafés, Shisha, and Arabic Classes - Life in Amman


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Middle East » Jordan » North » Amman
July 6th 2012
Published: July 9th 2012
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After a long week with very little sleep I've finally finished my first week of Arabic classes. The school and the classes are very much like I expected and I feel like I'm getting more and more comfortable with the language. I haven't been overwhelmed by the course so far at all but I am quite a bit behind everyone else in the class. I'm the only student in the A2 (Beginner 2) Arabic before that hasn't taken an Arabic course before so my vocabulary is not up to their level in Classical Arabic (MSA). The good thing is that Laila has been helping me with colloquial Arabic since March so I actually got bumped up a level in the spoken Arabic class. I think after the first 2 weeks I will have improved my vocabulary enough to feel more confident in the class, but I'm glad that I'm being challenged.



The school is on the first floor of a pretty large building right across from the main entrance of the University of Jordan so there's a huge student population in the area. There's another Arabic school on the 5th floor of our building where I've heard there are a lot of Americans but I've been trying to spend more time with locals instead so I can pick up Arabic faster.



Being bumped up into the next level of colloquial Arabic messed up my schedule a bit and now I have Classical Arabic from 8-11 and colloquial from 1-2. This leaves me about 2 hours in between classes and thats not a lot of time to go back home in between. Some of my classmates did meet a guy in the coffee shop in our building who offered to meet us everyday in the 2 hours between and help tutor us so that would be really useful for more exposure to the language, and I would get to know one of the locals.



The Classical Arabic course is definitely proving more difficult for me, because of how wildly different it is from the local dialect. The only exposure I've had to written Arabic is that I taught myself the alphabet a few years ago so all of my vocabulary when I started were words from colloquial Arabic, which can at times be very different form MSA. I think I'm picking up MSA pretty quickly though and I enjoy getting practice at reading and writing in Arabic script.



In life outside of school I've been meeting more of Laila's friends. Earlier this week we went to the mall for bubble tea with one group and walked around an area called Sweifieh, which had lots of food and shopping. There was one restaurant in particular that stood out to me called Lebnani Snacks, which had different counters to go to for different types of food, whatever you're in the mood for. We also went with a different group to an awesome cafe style place called Talet el Jabal in Jabal Amman where we had argeeleh (shisha/hookah) and food with a great view of Amman's buildings outside. The place was really nice inside with loungy couches, chairs, and a balcony you could sit out on while people chat and smoke around you. This place really lived up to my expectation of a Middle Eastern cafe.



Middle Eastern Cafe's are known for their shisha, hookah, argeeleh, whatever you want to call it, is everywhere in the Middle East. It's flavored tobacco smoked through a water pipe and it comes in many flavors/scents. It has become a part of everyday culture for most Arabs and is available in most restaurants and almost all cafes. It's recently made its way to the states and is becoming more and more popular, but usually for about $15-$20. Here you can get shisha almost anywhere for less than 4JD or $5.50. Sweeet!



Arabic pop music blared from our car's speakers as we left the cafe and cruised through Jabal Amman. I was glad I got to witness a lot of the street life and nightlife of Amman. We flew through Rainbow St. where I was last weekend for the concert and we ended up in Abdoun, a neighborhood in Amman, at a small shop called TLC, which sells all different flavors of popcorn. We bought some rainbow sugar coated popcorn mixed with caramel popcorn and walked the streets of Abdoun a bit before going home.



Last night was another late night out at a family friends house in downtown Amman. After having some delicious Arab snacks inside we went up on the roof of his building, which had a spectacular 360 degree view of Amman. We could see the flag (the highest flying flag in Jordan is in downtown Amman), the King Hussein Mosque, and the two towering skyscrapers that are being built. The view of the city at night was beautiful and we were up on the roof when all the mosques of Amman turned on their bright minaret lights, which dotted the entire city with little green lights as far as the eye could see.



Saturday we have plans for all of us (Laila's family and I) to go into downtown to see the sights of Amman. We're going to have knafeh, a Middle Eastern dessert pastry made with cheese and syrup, and we'll see the Citadel, the King Hussein Mosque, and the King Abdullah Mosque, just to name a few. We'll also be going to Jerash soon to see Tamer Hosni, a very famous Egyptian singer and actor, perform there at a festival.



Her dad also made his famous seafood for me this week, which tasted absolutely amazing! We had shrimp (one of my favorites) and three different types of fish, all cooked to perfection. One other thing I love about her mother's cooking is the rice! No lie - its on par with chinese rice and that's saying something because I'm part chinese. It was a nice family dinner with everyone getting together.



While on the topic of food, Laila's mom should be a professional cook. Everyday she makes me regret being injured because if I was working out and eating like I was before, I would run her kitchen out of business. She's made us all kinds of food so far - one called upside down, was one of my favorites. She cooked chicken in a pot and then cooked rice on top of it, then to get it out you flip it over "upside down", leaving the chicken on top of the rice.



I guess I'll write a bit about life in Amman as well since today marks a week that I've been here in Jordan. Amman is a fascinating mix of old and new, traditions and modernity, and Christianity and Islam. I've seen shepherds herding sheep through streets next to bulldozers and donkey riding Bedouins in rush hour traffic. The people here keep to their cultural traditions but people in west Amman have also embraced elements of the west like technology, entertainment including television series' and films, and even some more liberal political views.



Amman is divided into east and west sections, the west being much better off financially and with that comes more education and security. But I've felt very safe all over Amman, even at night, and haven't come in contact with any kind of hostility so far, not even hostile attitudes towards the states. One cab driver even started kissing my hands when I told him I was from America, saying over and over how much he loved the states. The stereotype in the west that all Arabs, or that all Muslims are violent "America haters" is just plain wrong. The generalization of any race or religion for the actions of some is bound to come up with inaccuracies in the judgement of a people or faith. There will always be two sides to any story, and the moment we neglect to acknowledge that fact, is the moment that we give in to false prejudices and accept ignorance. The media loves to push these kind of stereotypes and misrepresentations for their own political and financial agenda so it's important to discern what useful information the media offers, and which is the garbage that you can leave out for the local trash man.


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10th July 2012

What an experience and education
I'm glad you are getting the local experience. It sounds like your studies are going well. Gosh, the food looks fabulous. I hope Laila's mother has taught her all the family recipes. Try to find a way to go to Wadi Rum!

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