Monday morning we flew from Cairo to Amman. We left at six in the morning, and before that we had to get ready, eat breakfast, and load our luggage on the bus. After fighting Egyptian and Jordanian customs and going on a short flight to Amman, and then fighting crazy baggage handlers who asked us (more like demanded—every five minutes!) for tips for loading our luggage onto the busses (which we had done at least 8 times before and were very good at doing ourselves, thank you! I refuse to tip people for doing a service I didn’t ask for and can do myself!), we were allowed to drop our luggage off at the hotel and then get back onto the bus to get shipped over to the University. After a short introduction to Jordan by the “special guest speaker” Kirk, who is here for a week to help us get “settled,” we were turned loose a couple of blocks away from the University, told to go and find several buildings on campus, and then find our own way home.
And not even in the Egyptian Arabic that we know and love—oh no, in the Jordanian Arabic, of which we know very few words. The dialects are similar in many ways, but different in the most critical. For example, when asking directions, it is nice to know direction words. However, these differences occur between the direction words especially! For example, in Egypt to say “go straight” they say “ala tool”—but in Jordan they say “dougry.” Can you see the similarities?
Neither can I.
The worst part was not being lost in the middle of Amman trying to speak a strange language, having just arrived three hours before—oh no, the worst part was that everyone spoke to me in English! I wanted to tell them, “I don’t care if I ever get back to my hotel! I don’t even know what street it is on! I just want you to speak to me in Arabic!” but I didn’t know that many words in Arabic.
All in all, it was a very overwhelming day.
Which brings me to my point (I guess I should be cautious in case my professors ever read this, but I am sure by now my opinions are not a hard to find commodity here in the Middle East):
Disorganization breeds discouragement, discontent, and depression. Did I mention a feeling of being overwhelmed?
Our classes do not start until Sunday (Friday is the Sabbath here) and so we have had a week of nothing except two placement exams and a couple of meetings. Other than that, the instruction is, “Get out there and…learn Arabic, or something!”
I do not learn by osmosis!
Anyway, “if I were in charge of the program,” it would be perhaps slightly more organized. Perhaps I would make sure I was sure of the meeting and testing times before telling the students. Perhaps I would give them the address of the church (the site of one of our meetings) before telling them, “It is between the third and fourth circle in Amman. No one in the neighborhood knows what it is. Just wander around until you find it. And don’t be late. And learn Arabic while you are at it.” Perhaps I would even provide them with a map of the city, or at least explain how the bus and/or money system works. Perhaps I would even give them the name of the street on which their hotel is!
But is such organization even possible in the Arab world?