Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jordan, Part 1

As I must have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I bought my first Arabic learning text in December 2000. After several thwarted attempts (I’ll write about those sometime), I began earnest Arabic study as a Critical Language Scholar in Jordan in 2007. This post will showcase the emails I drafted back then, along with some reflection on how much has changed for me and my relationship with Islam, the Arab world, and the MENA region.

Sunday 17 June 2007, 15h 23min 49s

We finally left the airport around 7pm and it's now 10.21 pm. I am in an apartment at the American Center for Oriental Research with 4 other women. They are all super nice. I saw white pepper trees for the first time ever. Everything is amazing. There is currently something (a cat maybe?) mewling outside the window. I also hear some nice Middle Eastern music in the distance. It's pleasantly cool and dark.

Anyhow, I'll write more later, I just wanted you all to know I'm safe and I can't wait for my friend Andy to come down from Damascus.

Nicki or Pop-please let my mom know I'm safe.

Monday 17 June 2007, 6h 56min 28s

It’s 1.30 pm and we’ve just finished our in-country orientation here at our residence at ACOR. We arrived last night at about 8 to the American Center for Oriental Research and I was in bed by midnight. I share an apartment with 4 other women, and 2 of us share a bedroom (the other 3 are in the 2nd bedroom). We have a kitchen, bathroom and living room with comfortable, serviceable furniture. I’ll take pictures and send them shortly.

The temperature inside our apartment stays comfortable and despite the dry heat, there is a fair amount of gentle breeze that keeps things livable. We had the pleasure of a security presentation from the US Embassy and there is an armed Jordanian guard outside. We are assured that the area is quite safe.

Our classes begin Wednesday, and the university can be seen across a busy highway from the balcony at ACOR. The ACOR residence is built into a hill, so even though my room is on the 6th floor, it’s only 2 flights above the entrance level where the guard is posted (at the expense and insistence of Jordanian authorities). It’s also up a nice little hill, assuring that on the daily treks to and from the university, I will be exerting myself. We also live within walking distance of souq sultan, the nearest market where there are stores and things to buy essentials. Dinner is provided, and we are told that our cook (with 46 years of experience cooking for Americans) prepares decidedly Western meals, which is disappointing. I will therefore seek out Jordanian food as much as possible for lunch, which I’ll be taking mostly near the university, as we have class Sunday through Thursday from 9 am till 3 pm.

About the residence: despite the building being commissioned and purchased by the US, the plumbing is decidedly Jordanian. As such, we have been instructed several times to put our “hygienic paper” in the “covered rubbish bins” adjacent to our nice, clean Western toilet. What fun! We are told that the cleaning crew will empty these receptacles once a week, but 5 women produce who-knows-how-much paper waste in the Western excretory ritual, so I imagine it will be likely that intermittent self-emptying may be necessary. [This comment amuses me, as just last week in Cairo, I arrived late to my conference in time to hear the speaker refer to how obsessed westerners are with excrement. So true].

We’ve also been invited to a 4th of July celebration hosted by the US Embassy specifically for under 35s quasi in our honor featuring the theme of “Future Jordanian Leaders.” It’s a tremendous privilege and I am very much looking forward to it. Also, we’ve been issued fabulous, brand-new text books with dvds, and we will have access to both optional and mandatory tutoring throughout each school week. I’ve seen from the bus window from the airport Burger King, Popeyes, several McDonalds and other American delights.

Lunch is in 7 minutes and I’m hungry, so I’ll close here. More updates to come!

OH wait, I almost forgot to mention: the 4am call to prayer. Magical it is to be awoken to the blaring chanting that starts at one mosque and starts again at about 5-minute intervals at each of the different neighborhood mosques.

Tuesday 19 June 2007, 10h 50min 42s

[personal message to Andy, studying beginning Arabic in Damascus]

As usual, loved the update. Ah personal space issues. I'll write later in more detail, but I am super proud to have navigated to and from the supermarket in the taxi-using my sparse vocab (Tla'a al ali-the name of my neighborhood, left and right which I've forgotten already, I suck).

Wednesday 20 June 2007, 12h 01min 05s

Today, Wednesday, we had our first day of class (Finally!). There are 7 other Americans with me. We have 2 hours of Jordanian colloquial Arabic and then 3 hours of Modern Standard Arabic.

But before I get into that, Monday I attended a viewing at the 13th annual Franco Arab Film Festival-which required my first taxi ride. Luckily one of the 3 of us who went is in the intermediate class, and she took control of telling our driver the destination. The movie, Making Of, was Tunisian and was the dramatization of the birth of a terrorist/suicide bomber. Artistically it was pretty bad (ugh, especially the mangled title), but interesting nonetheless as the first Tunisian move I’ve ever seen. Even though the taxi had to turn around twice, we did manage to get home.

Tuesday we toured the university, which is huge. There are 35000 Jordanian students and about 1500 foreign students (including other Arabs). Most of the women cover their heads and no one wears a backpack or sunglasses. It is very hot and I have no idea how they can bear it fully covered in black, some of them even wearing gloves. On the tour I fell down and bruised my behind and my left forearm on some slippery stairs behind the library. I now have a huge bruise on my arm. [ah the first of many clumsy encounters with slippery Middle Eastern surfaces].

After the tour of the language center and the university, I went with 2 of my roommates to find the “upscale” grocery store in Amman. Empowered by the successful taxi rides, I made sure I knew the words for right and left and off we went. The grocery store was huge, clean, stocked with myriad international items (including soy milk) and air conditioned. I also experienced a Jordanian KFC—we were starving and there was no other food around—it was like an upscale café complete with plasma screens, upholstered chairs and funky Arab music. We even got extra fries for promising to return.

Three of us went back to Al Hussein Cultural Center for the last showing at the film festival—WWW: What a Wonderful World—a Moroccan movie about an assassin that falls for a policewoman. It was awesome-except for the ending. Anyhow, I am now a pro at Amman taxi rides. It costs about 3 bucks to travel to a destination about 35 minutes away. Shocking!

During the short break, I finally had a shawarma-tasty spiced chicken in flat bread with onion. After class, some of went to the bookstore and impressed (NOT) the clerk with our new vocab. Marhaba, keef halak? Ma salaama! There was a children’s book called “Pussy in Boots” featuring Lord Kalem and young Samir-we got a good laugh at the Arabization of a western classic.

Amman is hot and hilly. There are hills everywhere (and stairs). When we get back into our apartment, we all promptly remove our pants, long-sleeved shirts and garments and don tank tops and shorts. I anticipate losing weight here rather easily, unless I get so lazy that I just pay the 45 cents it costs to get a taxi up the steep hill from the university to ACOR. [I gained weight that summer…HAH!] It will only get hotter before the summer is over. Fortunately the ACOR residence is well situated into a hill, so cool breezes and shade keep us cool indoors.

Monday, December 27, 2010

12 months, 12 languages

Dedicated to Mary, who asked, “If you had 12 months to travel to 12 places to learn 12 languages, where would you go and what would you learn? And why? (Obviously the reasons can be whimsical and ridiculous if you like!)”

Well, I think that ordering this list would require detailed strategery based on festivals/holidays, weather conditions and other considerations, so in no particular order:

1. Turkish in Turkey…with a host family, perhaps eastern Turkey, where folks are more ‘country’ than ‘city.’
Reason: Mary certainly encouraged this one, but likewise having lived in Germany (and wanting to live there again) with its Turkish population means lots of ways to use it.

2. Farsi in Iran…maybe in Shiraz, which admittedly I know nothing about except that the grapes that make the wine I love so much are the type grown there.
Reason: Googoosh would be enough of a reason; however, at this point in my Arabic learning, I have come across a few movies in Farsi (The Stoning of Soraya M., Divorce Iranian Style, Prostitution: Behind the Veil) and I am jazzed about the cognates I hear.

3. Mongolian in Mongolia
Reason: the camels…seriously. The two-humped camels (which are the camels—the one-humpers are dromedaries) are just too awesome—the eyelashes, the fur…I saw L'histoire du chameau qui pleure on a date back in 2004 and while the movie didn’t really do it for me, I just loved those camels.

4. Russian in Russia…maybe eastern Russia? Someplace rural, but not in winter!
Reason: after studying with a bunch of folks from the former CIS, it just sounds awesome! Bring me moose and squirrel. Also, I love Тату (that’s t.A.T.u. in the Roman alphabet)…I just can’t help it.

5. Portuguese in Brazil or Angola
Reason: in general Brazil seems awesome, and I love Bonde do Rolê, even though a Brazilian buddy of mine thinks they’re crap, but the real reason is a painting I saw in the Tate Modern of São Paulo by Anselm Kiefer called Lilith. I was visiting the UK on a shoestring during a short break from my Fulbright year in Germany. At the time (April 2003) the Tate had free tours of a different floor of the museum depending on the day. That tour allowed me to see the painting and appreciate it. I have a troglodytic approach to modern art—like sommelier and classical music—I am WAY too lazy to invest time in knowing what is supposed to be good. Instead I rely on my most superficial senses to guide me. Tastes good? Good. Sounds good? Good. Looks good? Good. Most modern art is just too emperor’s new clothes-ey to me, but this piece, I love.

6. Spanish in Dominican Republic
Reason: My friend Alaina, a Spanish linguist, told me that across mother tongue accents in Spanish, Dominican enjoyed the least prestige; that is why I’d like to learn Dominican Spanish.

7. Kiswahili in Tanzania
Reason: Kiswahili sounds awesome and has Arabic cognates and is spoken in Oman. Totally awesome.

8. Basque in Basque country
Reason: Alaina the Spanish linguist told me that euskal herritarrak (that’s natives of the Basque in Basque) shared DNA that was unique from the DNA of surrounding native peoples, making them…space aliens? I hope so.

9. Korean in Busan
Reason: The Korean writing system was commissioned, and thus the only intentionally devised modern system. That’s pretty awesome. Other writing systems evolved over time in more informal ways. Not to mention, the food is awesome.

10. Welsh in Wales
Reason: All those words without vowels! What awesomeness. Also, I understand Welsh men are excellent lovers, though the gingers don’t usually do it for me.

11. Polish in Łódź
Reason: Łódź is prounounced ‘woge’ (rhymes with Limoges) and Przeworski like Shevorski…reason enough for me.

12. Kirundi in Burundi
Reason: I volunteered with the IRC in Baltimore during the summer of 2004 and interacted a lot with a newly-settled family from Burundi.

Runners up: Hassaniya Arabic in Mauritania, Dutch in Suriname (or Flemish in Belgium), and Xhosa in South Africa

News and Notes: perhaps the final blog post of 2010...

I returned yesterday from a 2-week vacation in Cairo that featured a lot of relaxation and entertainment, but also a bit of work (conference attendance and Arabic conversation). I got in bed just after 3 AM Maryland time after 48 hours of being awake. The Delta flight home was as comfortable as 2nd class gets--surplus breakfast sandwiches, friendly flight attendant Ronen, and a 2-seat row to myself for the 13-hour flight that only lasted 12. Anyhow, none of that is interesting. The coming year has much in store, and this blog will continue to revisit events from 2010 while carpe-ing the diem during 2011, as I catch up on writing and enjoy new experiences.

Some upcoming entries:

I got word a few days ago that my university, Old Dominion, has chosen me to present my Morocco field research via a 3' x 4' poster at the 5th annual Virginia Council of Graduate Schools Graduate Student Research Forum on Thursday, 3 February at the Library of Virginia. I will write about that event.

I want to post some items about conferences where I presented or attended this past year--a conference on misrecognition in Bristol, England, WOCMES in Barcelona, the EuroMeSCo annual conference also in Barcelona, and feminist alternatives in Cairo.

I have some musings on what 'Muslim' means, and how US Americans recognize, identify, or otherwise 'know' what 'Muslim' is.

My most recent trip to the Arab world, from 12 December to 25 December 2010, has also produced a wealth of insights, currently only available in the form of unorganized scribblings across slips of paper and already fading memories.

All this and more, inshallah, to come!