Week 3: The River


I’m leaned up against a wall. It’s made of rough sandstone. Irregular bits and pebbles jut out. Houses here are made of similar materials. The hill left from me has many. Late afternoons, it has an amber glow. The wall is warm to the touch. Days often hit triple digit temperatures here. Sunlit areas can be blindingly bright. That’s why I hug the wall’s shadow. The contrast at the border is extreme.

I’m standing on the sidewalk. My office is behind me, uphill. It looms five stories above. A river of traffic lies in front. Fifty feet across, it’s incredibly busy. It splits in half to the right. It merges into one road leftward.

A small store is to the left. It offers cigarettes and not much more. A solitary Pepsi drink refrigerator stands outside. Its blue light provides some refreshing contrast. A layer of dust covers the fridge. It’s the same color as the walls. The sandstone tint is seemingly inescapable. The dust gets in your mouth too. Thirst is exacerbated by this dust. It’s Ramadan now, so no public drinking. You’ll get thrown in jail for punishment.

The store walls host some graffiti. Red and black Arabic was sprayed on. The shopkeeper stops sweeping the sidewalk. He yells at an employee to come. The subordinate brings a water bucket over. They start scrubbing the letters off together.

The Royal Palace is directly in front. Six uniformed soldiers patrol back and forth. Many more are in the guard building. It doesn’t appear to be air-conditioned. However, that still beats the direct sun. Every so often, an armored car appears. It’s waved through security and continues driving. One wonders if the guards are ornamental. The palace itself is usually empty anyways.

Yellow and white taxis flood the streets. Maybe one in a hundred is vacant. Faded blue and black trucks sputter along. The flow of cars is incredibly variable. An intersection to the left controls all. Traffic here moves in two-minute cycles. Two minutes of madness – two of silence. During traffic lulls, people cross the road. Bags in hand, they scamper through. It’s like a real-life Frogger. Except in Frogger, there are lanes.

Cars here don’t believe in cruising. They liberally apply both gas and brakes. Speed limits are goals to achieve. The quickest to surpass them wins. Cars bob and weave through traffic. Back home, driving could be relaxing. I sense little of that relaxation here. It’s near impossible to drive on autopilot. Avoiding car crashes requires constant situational awareness. And yet, almost everyone seems distracted.

Taxi drivers yammer into headsets, swerving around. People bury hands into glove compartments. Their eyes often follow moments after. They must REALLY need that one document. At least people don’t text and drive. The pedestrians are even more plugged in. Several people have walked by already. Almost all of them were calling someone. Otherwise, they had little in common. Some were essentially clothed in rags. Others were dressed to the nines. Their Samsungs and Nokias bind them together. Their phones are their Jordanian ID.

The street marinades in a smell cocktail. Gasoline fumes form the base notes. Most cars are older, less efficient. Their tailpipes belch out visible soot. The air is choked with engine exhaust. Back home, I associated gasoline with freedom. It embodied the agency to do whatever. To go wherever, to have free will. It meant driving along I-35 completely carefree. Here, it smells like standstill traffic. It smells of honking horns, screeching tires. It reeks of road rage and recklessness.

Yesterday, throngs of people were smoking here. Their tobacco smoke cut through the air. Today, as Ramadan starts, daytime smoking stops. A man irritably taps his foot nearby. I can’t help but think it’s withdrawal. He finished an entire pack yesterday. I can see him eyeing the store. There’s only four more hours until sunset. And with that sunset, comes freedom.

Refuse is strewn all over the road. Funny, since there are multiple visible dumpsters. The familiar smell of trash permeates everywhere. But, something smells different today. It’s like trash, but ten times stronger. Unfortunately, the smell is all too familiar. Stray cats are everywhere in Amman. When they die, no one buries them. They lie in the sun, completely exposed. Swarms of flies buzz around the carcasses. I start walking downtown to get away. This is too much right now.

Finally, I see an empty cab ahead. I jump, wave, even lean into traffic. Nothing gets the driver’s attention. I yell, hoping that he’ll hear something. No dice. The street here is just too loud. Tires squeal as teenagers race ancient Toyotas. Tires squeal as threadbare ones lose traction. Tires squeal as trucks swerve, avoiding deaths. Passing buses emit earsplitting roars. I’m drowning in an ocean of noise.

Suddenly, an invasive species enters this ocean. I can distinctly hear Fetty Wap. His voice mixes adds to the mixture. Of the noises of the streets. Of a thousand conversations, all at once. Of the Quran readings on public radio stations. It’s not the Lexus and the Olive Tree anymore. Nowadays, it’s the Fetty and the Quran station. The iPhone and the 1980s Toyota. The whole world and Amman.

– Bobby


Week 3: Reflections and a Rushed Synopsis

32 minutes ago, I chose to ignore the following phone message from the person nice enough to be taking responsibility for these blog posts: “pls send me blog posts sometime in the next hour or so.” I must therefore ask, dear reader, that you forgive the shoddiness of my writing at this time. Next time you read one of my blog posts I promise that it will be terrible due to my inherent laziness rather than due to its being written in a rushed manner. On to my ruminations on Duke Engage Jordan thus far.

I am going to start with what I have struggled with. Here in Jordan, I rarely speak my native language, am always worried about getting lost somewhere in this maze of identical buildings, and sleep in the same room as a stranger. Basically it’s been like O-week all over except this time I am surrounded by fairly self-confident Jordanians instead of insecure first-years, the buildings are beige rectangles instead of glass boxes, I don’t know the language, and my new roommate also shares a bed with me. Oftentimes I am homesick, uncomfortable, and anxious. Due to the aggravation of my usually mild sleeping disorder, I am also often exhausted. In addition, I am now fasting as the month of Ramadan has come about.

The bit that is supposed to come next is how I am dealing with all of these issues. The answer is not very well. I’m working on it though and just this morning managed a full two hours of sleep. The question then becomes why am I still around if I’m having all of these issues? I actually do have the answer to this one. It’s the answer to why I’m still a Duke student despite facing similar issues there; the pros make one forget all about the cons.

My homestay family is kind and always willing to help. My workplace, made up of a fantastic group of individuals, gives me responsibilities I would never have trusted myself with, but I haven’t failed yet and have learnt so much from it. The personal interactions I have here are so genuine and for every rude, abrasive, or dislikeable character in this city there are a hundred kind, genuine, amicable ones. Duke’s community partner here in Amman, SIT, interacts with us primarily through five people. I feel completely comfortable going to four of those five with any issues I have, and that’s because the fifth, Muhammad, doesn’t speak much English and his job is locking up the SIT centre after eight. He doesn’t do much student counselling but I’ve learnt that he’s still great to have a laugh with. I’d change his name for this blog post but seriously his name is Muhammad; you aren’t gonna be able to track him down from that in a Muslim majority nation. There’s also the food. Allow me to remind you, dear reader, that, as a person from the subcontinent Columbus was looking for because of its spices when he stumbled upon North America, a semester of Marketplace food was quite difficult. I occasionally stuck a spoonful of mustard into my mouth just to wake my taste buds up. Here, however, I cannot remember having had a bad meal, or even a lacklustre one, except for the time I mistook yogurt for a sandwich condiment. Oh and, finally, I guess my cohort is nice too.

To conclude, it hasn’t been easy but it has been a great experience. It isn’t all perfect, but I have time to figure out the parts that aren’t. Not too much time though; we’re already a third of the way done.

On the next blog post; actual insights on the community rather than garbled nonsense.


Week 3: Looking Back

Now that we’re about a third of the way in, I wanted to take a second to reflect on what it has been like so far. I was in the car with my host mom last night, we were driving through the city which was full of lights and smells and sounds and the bustle of people preparing for Ramadan, and she asked, “What’s the worst part about Amman?” I was truly stumped. Obviously I’ve had good days and less good days, days when I’ve wished that I could go home to my own bed and my own food and my dog, and days when I haven’t wanted to get out of bed and deal with the stress of having to find a taxi and then communicate with the driver in my ~10 words of Arabic, but could I genuinely categorize anything that I’d seen or felt or experienced as the worst? Absolutely not.

Adjusting to the work climate here has been a little bit difficult, because it is so slowly paced, relaxed, and friendly compared to the US work environments that I’ve been in before and observed. There have been times that I’ve felt a little frustrated because I haven’t really felt like I had a direction for my work, but those times have easily been remedied by sitting down with the director of the Fund and getting clarification on my assignment and on what ideas he likes, doesn’t like, thinks are feasible, and thinks I should pursue further. Work is definitely not the worst.

My host family has been nothing but kind and supportive, spending as much time with me as they are able and ensuring that we are always fed and happy and have the things we need to get by. Their home is beautiful, their neighborhood now feels like my own, and everything is good. Still nothing that I could categorize as the worst.

Our activities at SIT, the people that run our program, our Arabic lessons, lectures, and trips out into other parts of the country also have been only positive. I’ve learned a lot, often in unexpected places, and the casual conversations that I’ve had with people who live in Jordan through these events have undoubtedly been some of my greatest experiences and most inspiring moments. Still, nothing bad.

And even the little things that could be annoying but are really okay: the excessive traffic might raise the cost of my taxi, but lets me see more of the city and observe more of my surroundings. The excessive heat really has no upside, but according to snapchats from my Mom I couldn’t escape it at home either, so it can’t be the worst part about this place. I was truly stumped by my host mom’s question, though I thought about it for quite a while.

While not everything has been the best ever, which is inevitable because I’m living a real life in a foreign-to-me city, nothing has come close to being the worst. Which is why I’m still so looking forward to the next ~6 weeks (only 6 more weeks?!) in this wonderful city.


Downtown Amman, Late Afternoon

– Helena

Week 2: Settling In

This week I’m going to try and balance a discussion of goings-on at work with what I hope is a little insight into my experiences with Jordanian culture. On that note, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that it’s sometimes hard to separate the two, particularly when one is talking about the reasons that culture and traditions are the way they are. More on that weird meta-concept in the next blog piece.

On the work side, this week was exciting precisely because I had the chance to sit down and work. Unlike last week where I was relegated to the confines of the Meridien Hotel, I was able to settle down this week in the office and start to set my bearings moving forward. The office itself is quite nice and occupies the third floor of a slowly-degrading office building right off of the second circle. Past the wood paneled board-room and ceramic tile Fresca on the wall, it really isn’t too much different than any other office.

Where differences do start to become apparent, however, is the employees and the ways that they interact with one another. Unlike my previous internship experiences, it became increasingly apparent to me from the beginning that the work culture here is radically different than anything I was accustomed to in the US. By this, I mean a number of things. First off, there seems to be a relative relaxation here that would be almost unheard of in an American business setting. Although I myself show up at 8 am, most of my colleagues will leisurely make their way into the office ay 8:30 and sip tea until 9 am. Let me be clear, however, in stating that I don’t mean to be critical in the slightest when it comes to the work culture. Past the billowing puffs of smoke that relegate the office climate to a perpetual haze, I’ve found the geniality of the people and general productivity of the goings-on to be really welcoming.

From the beginning, though, I can tell that I’m perpetually a step behind. More so than the typical intern in a professional setting who is always racing to catch up, I find myself in a constant jog to understand and execute in any way that could somehow be useful. Part of this, I think, is due to the apparent language barrier that exists between me and my coworkers. Though I do speak a decent amount of Arabic, I am nowhere near the level of fluency that I would need to operate effectively in an office setting. I certainly lack the technical vocabulary, let alone the listening skills, to follow along effectively enough in a meeting to be of any use.

This, in turn, I feel is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it means that I am driven to learn—and learn quickly—all the vocabulary that I might possibly need to survive. On the other hand, it means that I miss out on any conversation that isn’t deliberately directed towards me. In turn, this takes one of my most effective weapons as an intern out of my arsenal. If I’m not able to contribute to conversations I overhear, and if I’m not able to pick apart third-party conversations to find something useful to do, there’s not much that I can do outside of what is directly delegated to me.

None of that is to say that what is delegated to me is by any means menial or uninteresting. In fact, the work that I have accomplished over the course of this week has been quite engaging and—I hope—useful. (By now, you can probably tell that my entire life here is a constant travail towards fulfilling some self-righteous notion of what it means to be “useful.”). The range of projects I’ve completed here have ranged from a macro-analysis of the problems facing the Jordanian economy to data analysis of SME survey responses to said problems. Additionally, I was able to help craft a memo/brochure to send to other Business Organizations in the MENA region on how to maximize their environmental efficiency within their own office. We also went a step further by providing a framework that they could present to their constituent business on how to craft effective and comprehensive energy-saving, pro-environment programs.

On the domestic side, things really couldn’t be going better. Our homestay family is delightful and our accommodations are homely. Though our ‘father’s’ smoking means that I can’t really find much respite from the smog that clogs the office hallways, he more than makes up for it with his wry sense of humor and kind demeanor. In interacting with my family, I feel like my Arabic is improving dramatically. Perhaps because the stakes aren’t so high as they are in the office or because the relationships are more relaxed, I feel like my family is highly accommodating to my desire to improve my language skills.

They’re also just a blast to hang out with. When we are able to drag our host brother Nayaf out of his room and away from his incessant studying (it’s time for finals), we’ll go together to the fifa bar (an arcade specially designed just for FIFA- or its European equivalent, PES) for a rousing re-enactment of El Classico before scarfing down some juicy shawarma. When we are unable to get him out of the room, we’re also easily content playing a high-stakes game of Jenga with our household champion, the redoubtable (and less-than-four-feet-tall) Ghazal. Speaking of soccer (fütbol), one of our best experiences thus far has been the chance to visit a café and watch the UEFA champion’s league final between Real and Atletico Madrid. Jordanians take their sport seriously, and it was thrill to be among people who took the game more seriously than any American ever took the super bowl.

At that café, as with anywhere else in this town, the food has been spectacular. Whether it be succulent shawarma or sour mint lemonade, our food experience has been replete with food savory and sweet at every turn. To that extent, some of my favorite restaurants have included the famous Shawarma Reem, the locally-sourced and vegetarian Shams-el-Balad, and the succulent Kanafeh from Habibah sweets. I would be remiss, however, to forego mentioning the variety of food available at home. Among the various stir-fried vegetables and overflowing bowls of falafel stands Mansaf, the centerpiece of any self-respecting Jordanian spread. Comprised of lamb soaked in lamb’s milk atop rice and seasoned liberally with cilantro, almonds, and spices, it’s a sight to behold. Stay tuned for more food related adventures.

– Aateeb

Week 2: Hair

It is remarkable how coming to a new place can entirely change how one perceives everyday or commonplace occurrences, behaviors, and all other aspects of life that we never think twice about. In this first post I would like to comb through an often mundane topic, hair. I never thought I would ever be intrigued in a public place when seeing a woman’s hair. But, here I am, actively noticing those who choose to wear a hijab, niqab, or other covering versus the women who do not. Jordan has a fairly mixed population in this regard, where although a majority of women it seems wear some kind of covering, there is a significant number of women who do not. As a westerner, and long inculcated into the ideology that religiosity is contrary to modernity, assumed that this meant that this society was fairly modern. While, to some extent, this is true this was not a narrative conducive to immersing myself and better understanding Jordan and its people.

In my work at the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University, I am doing research on EU foreign policy and women in the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa). Something that I came across that has truly intrigued me and informed my experience is the newly growing movement of Islamic feminism. It is a movement that reads the Quran without the patriarchal or misogynistic interpretations that have allowed the Quran to be seen as justifying the oppression of women. Their interpretation sees the Quran as actively promoting the idea of gender equality and women’s rights. Many people in the west, and myself for a long time, saw the hijab as another manifestation of that oppression. This is a dangerous idea to believe, because it denies these women ownership of their religion and their selves and makes westerners believe some kind of enlightened group that knows how to better secure the rights of women than these women themselves do. Women in Jordan do still suffer and do not have the same rights as men, but the fact that some choose to cover their hair has nothing to do with it.

I was speaking with one of my host sisters, 12 year old Sewar, who does not yet wear a covering. I was asking her whether she wants to wear one or not and she simply smiled and shrugged at me, telling me that she’ll figure it out when she has to. My host family is certainly religious but she does not feel forced, it is up to her and how she feels about her religion. Her hair is hers to cover.

– Ben

Week 1: SME Conference

This past week, I was able to participate in the second annual conference for the promotion of domestic SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) at the Meridien Hotel in downtown Amman. This conference represented the culmination of a year’s worth of cooperative work between the Jordan Chamber of Industry and the Confederation of Danish Industry. Consequently, attendees of the conference included local Jordanian SMEs, local government officials, and international business consultants/advisors.

Given that over 96 percent of Jordanian businesses would fall into the SME category (meaning that they employ less than 500 employees), the importance of maximizing the potential of this business sector is paramount to any long-term plan of promoting Jordanian exports and market welfare. For this reason, the theme of the conference focused on the establishment of stronger bilateral relations between the Jordanian private and public sectors. Despite the fact that they comprise such a large proportion of the Jordanian GDP and employment, the nature of many of these businesses makes it so that they are difficult to regulate and consequently provide legal protections for. Additionally, because so many of these SMEs are so tightly connected to their proprietors, there is little legal difference between the finances of the owner and those of the company—something that is crucial in limiting individual financial liability and promoting a more entrepreneurial spirit among SMEs.

With the ultimate goal of strengthening these legal protections and promoting a friendlier economic environment for these businesses, the conference hosted speakers who spoke to the need to promote better dialogue between regulatory ministries and SMEs. These included advisors from Canada, the United States, and Germany. Though each extolled different benefits of a strong SME sector, all emphasized the need to establish private trust in the public sector through the creation of equitable tax policies and the elimination of state corruption.

Also of particular note was the repeated and stated need for a greater entrepreneurial spirit among younger Jordanians as a means of combatting youth unemployment as well as regional security. Youth unemployment in Jordan, despite the fact that 97 percent of the youth population is literate with a high college graduation rate, is estimated to be above 25%. With recent estimates also suggesting that over 35.8 percent of the population is under the age of 15, the need to combat escalating youth unemployment is paramount. One potential solution to this problem would be a concerted effort to promote a stronger entrepreneurial spirit amongst young Jordanian college graduates—whereby instead of simply looking to find well-paid and prior-established (and rapidly dwindling) jobs, college graduates would be more comfortable striking out on their own to establish new businesses and ventures. Should such a long-term cultural shift occur, it would have widespread benefits both for the reduction of youth unemployment en masse as well as reducing the potential for youth radicalization among the heretofore disenfranchised.

Such a concerted effort, as some speakers suggested, would include better legal protections for SMEs in the event of bankruptcy, more responsive public officials through better public-private dialogue, and smarter loan practices among Jordan’s many established traditional banks through a renewed focus on venture capital. Although certainly not a silver bullet for the many long-term problems facing Jordanian SMEs, this certainly holds some promise.

– Aateeb

Week 1: CBO Celebration

One workweek down and I’ve made it through many language, cultural, and directional barriers. I’m working at the Jordan River Foundation, which is an enormously successful non-profit NGO headquartered in Amman. JRF is primarily focused on child safety and community empowerment, and has created numerous programs in Jordan to address these issues. With the increased influx of Syrian refugees, the programs have become so much more vital. Let me tell you about what I learned on my second day at work.

I met up with my boss, and she said I could tag along to a CBO (community based organization) celebration happening in East Amman. JRF uses community mobilizers and staff to help institute these incredible community programs through the Makani project. When I arrived, I sat and watched over a hundred children cheering as Jordanian, Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian and Circassian groups performed traditional dances. I was given the camera for a bit, and logically went on a mission to make kids smile. There was so much happiness in this tiny park–my job was easy.

The different cultures each set up booths with traditional art, food, games and more from their home countries. The goal is to bring all these immigrants, refugees and Jordanians together in order to strengthen the community and empower the people. This was strikingly relevant to some problems in the US, and I was incredibly impressed that this community had been able to tackle an issue that we tend to ignore. They now have a greater priority of improving the community, and that priority has a prerequisite of acceptance.

Overall, I don’t think I’ve ever smiled that much in a 3-hour period. A few days later, I tagged along on a trip to Karak (south of Amman) to check up on a center JRF created. The building had three rooms that were used to teach Arabic, English and Math to Syrian refugees and poor Jordanians. I learned that the public school system is overwhelmed and has little room for all of the Jordanian children, let alone the increasing refugee population. But the kids so badly want to learn, want to make their teachers and parents proud. I have to tell myself that the efforts of NGOs and local governments will make this a possibility.

I’m absurdly lucky to be able to see first hand what I’ve read about in the news. While I sit in the office doing research and reading proposals, the kids put everything into perspective. Here’s what I’m learning: Happiness knows no language, love knows no religion, respect knows no borders. Jordan is an incredible country, in more ways than just its culture and beauty. Jordanians have embraced their neighbors in an incredible turbulent political time for the Middle East. This is easy to say, but it’s difficult to comprehend how much time, effort and resources are expended to help those in need. And this help is being offered to other nations while Jordanians are still suffering from poverty and unemployment.

I’m looking forward to working on proposals to institute and fund additional projects and facilities for JRF. The need for psychosocial support and child protection is extreme, especially in refugee populations. For the 54 days I have left here, I’m letting my priorities be challenged and changed. Here’s to doing my little part to help the people here, and letting everyone I meet teach me about the world.

– Lindsey

Day 1: Navigation and Amman

On my first day of trying to get to the Royal Botanic Garden administrative office (where I am working this summer), everything possible went wrong. In fact, the problems began a couple days before, when I realized that I had no clue where I was supposed to go. The program heads had given me an address instructing me to go to “Khalada King Abdallah street, Royal Center,” followed by a string of Arabic characters, where the number “168” in the middle was the only part I could read. Having received this on the first day, I disregarded any uncertainty, assuming I would learn enough about Amman over the next week to understand what the English description meant before needing to use it. During the first dinner with my host family, my host mom and sister asked my roommate and I where we would work. My roommate told them that she would be at the third circle, and they nodded and commented about how that isn’t too far away. When I told them “Khalada, King Abdallah Street, Royal Center,” they looked at me blankly. I gave them the paper with the address, and after looking over it and discussing it between themselves, they finally give a sigh of realization and nodded with understanding. I, however, was not feeling as confident about where I was meant to go as before, especially since these two native Ammanians had initial hesitations about the directions.

After three hours of Google Translate, teaching myself basic recognition of Arabic characters, and pouring over the map of Amman we were provided with (all during which my roommate was sleeping off her jetlag), I determined two things. First of all, the English translation was wrong, and I was meant to go to the neighborhood of Khalda (not Khalada) to King Abdullah II St (not King Abdallah Street, which also exists). Second of all, the address was of no use, since taxi drivers in Amman use landmarks as means of navigation, not street names. Therefore, my plan of attack for the next day was to use the King Hussein Mosque as a landmark that seemed close to where I was supposed to go, and to direct the driver from there.

Being that this was my first time navigating a taxi on my own in Jordan, I was simply overjoyed that the driver understood what I meant by “King Hussein Mosque,” and sat back and gazed out the window for the entire ride over. I realized too late that we had passed the circle at which I had meant for the taxi driver to go straight—the most telling sign was that we were driving through a gate, into the park, and up to the guest entrance for those who wanted to visit the mosque, something which I had not intended to happen whatsoever. In addition, when I tried to tell the taxi driver to turn around (accompanied by many erratic hand gestures pointing behind us), the driver just gave me a look and kept going. Not knowing how to say  in Arabic but “yes,” “no,” and “hummus,” I just gave the driver the amount I owed him at that point (which I realized too late was 1.5 dinars too high, as I had forgotten to check if the driver had reset his meter), jumped out, and speed walked back out of the park.

julia blog

Having the attached picture on my phone, I somewhat knew what direction I was meant to go in, and judged the distance from the entrance I was at to my workplace as a feasible stroll. Thus, I started heading on the walk parallel to the highway toward my work. Within a couple minutes, I was sweating and forming blisters. All I could see along the wall I was following was a group of suspicious teenage boys and the haphazardly planted trees that Jordanians like having in the middle of their sidewalks. After about 20 minutes of honks and “Welcome to Jordan!”s sounding from the cars passing by, I made it to the main section where my work would be. Once there, I realized that the buildings were in connected rows, where large shops on the bottom had names in big letters, but upper floors were label-free administrative offices—one of them presumably being the one I was looking for. I went from shop to shop, asking for the Royal Botanic Garden, and showing the paper to anyone who couldn’t speak English. Only once I walked into the restaurant under the office I needed did someone recognize the name, and pointed me up one floor. I arrived 45 minutes late, but at least I arrived. I was introduced to everyone, and promptly forgot all their names. I managed to lock myself in the bathroom twice, and had to leave three hours early (I stayed for a total of about two hours) because I forgot a converter for my charger.

Fortunately, this first day was not indicative of my subsequent navigation experiences in Amman in any way, especially the stoic driver. Since then, taxi drivers have wholeheartedly encompassed everything I have come to appreciate about Jordan: openness toward foreigners, passion for life, friends, and families, and the ability to navigate incredibly eccentric traffic. They have sung Arabic remixes of Pitbull songs with me, proposed, shown me their children’s best friends, bought me everything from water to cigarettes to sandwiches (I politely refused all three), and discussed the refugee situation. They have taught me more Arabic than I have learned from anyone else here, and have enthusiastically communicated with me in a hodge-podge of Arabic, English, French, Spanish, and once even German. Within the following week, I learned the layout of West Amman to the point that I no longer rely on tourist maps. Many days I don’t require English to direct drivers at all.

Additionally, my work has been an incredible experience. The coworkers are all welcoming and patient with my transition in the new culture. They explained all the local holidays to me, invited me to their pizza party, and even introduced me to the princess who founded RBG (!!!!). Fortunately, my turnout on my first day did not influence their opinion of me, and I have learned how to follow basic elements of Arabic conversations by just listening to their chatter. I have been able to fall into a relative rhythm of work and home that allowed a quick and smooth transition to life in Jordan, something which I was expecting to take much longer based on my first day.

Having come from a tricultural background, I was anticipating myself to experience minimal culture shock when arriving to Jordan. In fact, it still has not been that overwhelming, being that much of Jordan reminds of me of Europe, with the southern US’s disposition to being open and hospitable. Now, I have acclimated to the navigation of Amman very well. However, I remind myself of this day as a representation of the necessity to incorporate improvisation and flexibility as a part of any plans I make, since foresight can only take me so far, and I am in a new country after all.

– Julia