Day One on Shaara Al-Akshabayn
After 48 hours and 3 countries in transit, my group made it to our apartment: a four-bedroom dwelling on Al-Akshabayn Street in Amman, Jordan. Made available by the Qasid Institute, our host institution, the apartment is like many others in our neighborhood, the Seventh Circle. Within the space, I and my five roommates have all of our creature comforts at our disposal: including primary usage of the English language. As I closed the door behind me and walked to Qasid for orientation, however, the interplay between the English and Arabic languages proved both fascinating and challenging.
A Day in the Life
9:00 AM: Musclehouse Gym
Since my best friend somehow convinced me to run a Tough Mudder with her next month, finding a gym was at the top of my to-do list. The first one I tried, Sports City, was closed for the day, as we forgot that Friday is hailed as the Sabbath. Next, we went to Musclehouse, a 15-minute walk from our apartments. With Google Translate out in front of us, we managed to each buy a month’s membership— due more to the owner, Mohammed’s, English skills than our broken Arabic. A bit embarrassed, I began my workout. With an hour to formulate my next sentence, I was able to successfully ask afterwards about his opening hours, which filled my lil heart with pride.
10:30 AM: Haboob Market
On the way home from the gym, we went into a local market for some quick groceries. Going in blind— aka without a list— proved to be a mistake, but it wasn’t hard to find what we needed. In my case, this included bread and peanut butter. The peanut butter was one of the items that most interested me; not because I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but because it was labeled as “USA PEANUT BUTTER” in all caps, using our English alphabet rather than Arabic lettering.
7:30 PM: Iftar
Iftar is one of the most overwhelming and amazing parts of life in Jordan during Ramadan. During the holy month of Ramadan, which began the day we arrived, Muslims in Jordan observe a fast during daylight hours, eating for the first time at sundown each day during a feast called Iftar. During our first Iftar, our tables were laden with appetizers, including an abundance of pita. For me, just the appetizers was enough. However, that didn’t stop anyone from digging into the main course; I chose mensef, a meal of lamb and rice. Of course, dessert was not neglected either.
Although the food is obviously the main attraction of Iftar, our limited interactions with the servers was interesting as well. We were able to choose from two dishes for our main course, each of which was described to us in English. It seemed to me that the majority of the Jordanian staff found it easier to speak to us in English than navigate our limited Arabic knowledge; amongst students, most of the Arabic used consisted of a simple “shukran” (thank you).
Ultimately, I was struck by the breadth of English usage in Amman— something I shouldn’t be surprised by, considering it’s Jordan’s capital city. The majority of storefronts are marked with both Arabic and English lettering, and we were able to use a blend of English and Arabic to interact with locals. However, I found us to rely in part on Jordanian knowledge of English rather than our knowledge of Arabic, an observation that upset me. However, I hope that with time and study, speaking will come more naturally rather than requiring previous thought.