Lots to Learn

Reblogged from Carrie M., Spring 2016 MESPer from Bethel College, IN

It’s 5:07pm, and I am sitting in the garden outside our apartment reflecting on the day, the call of prayer echoing over Amman in a way that can both demand attention and calm a spirit.

It’s been almost ten days since I flew in to my new home for the semester. Because our last week was orientation week (aka information overload), it feels like it has been more like three weeks! Just in our first week, we have already experienced a tour of Amman, a visit to the Citadel and the Roman amphitheater, our first Arabic class, a rundown of the culture here, and our first day at our service projects. Mine happens to be at Desert Rose, a workshop where I will be volunteering with two other girls in my program each Tuesday to work alongside underprivileged women.  They sell and market wood carvings, crafts, jewelry, kitchenware, and all sorts of handmade art pieces from local olive wood—so beautiful! Because one of the employees is deaf, the women can communicate in both Arabic and Arabic Sign Language! Even though you think that it would be worse to learn two languages at once, learning the sign to an Arabic word actually helps me solidify the memory of what the word is. I am so so so happy that I got placed there!

Upon my first couple days of arrival, I noticed the routine, little happenings that already I hardly think twice about. On the first day, we noticed what sounded like an ice-cream truck at least five times driving around our neighborhood, Shmeisani. My roommates and I would have flagged it down looking like giddy elementary girls if Dr. Doug (our professor/house parent/program director) hadn’t informed us that it was actually the natural gas companies making their rounds selling canisters of gas. (Such a downer). Another sound is the birds, which sticks out to me only because back home in Michigan, the birds have been pretty much quieted for the winter. But even now in the dusk they are chattering, jumping between branches in the olive and palm trees. I have already learned that a car’s honk does not have the rude connotation that it does in America—it is a whole different language here. Different variations of a honk could mean “hello,” “I’m right behind you,” “watch out, I’m driving down this street” (which as a pedestrian, I’ve learned to respond to), or even “thank you.” And with road signs, speed limits, personal boundaries and signals considered nearly irrelevant by Jordanians, I have witnessed a few “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?” honks too. Crazy driving would be an understatement, but somehow it all works out!

Although I have never had any urge to live in a city, Amman is an exception. One big distinction has something to do with the rhythm that it holds, unlike any Western city I have ever stayed in. But it’s not just the rhythm, but what the rhythm is based around that differentiates it from the West. Amman like other Middle East cities and communities revolve around their religion as opposed to business for their time. The city wakes up early to the first call to prayer (the fajr) just after the 5 o’clock hour. Throughout the day, the call to prayer signals a slight lull in the city bustle as Muslims pause soon after for prayer. Their day of rest is on Friday, which means that for us, we (like the rest of Amman) will treat Sunday as a work day, usually having a full class day.

Even though there is much structure for the city as a collective, there is also much more give than I am used to. Jordanians have a completely different concept of time than I am used to. For example, you would normally be considered as on time to any event if you showed up a half hour after it “began.” (Anyone who knows me is probably thinking that I should have been born in this culture!)

What is still amazing me, and I am sure will continue to amaze me, is how it’s not just the schedule that revolves around religion, but most noticeably the Arabic language. A common greeting here is assalamu alaikom, meaning “peace be upon you.” When asked how you are, or when talking in a tone of thankfulness, most Jordanians will say el halmdulellah, meaning “praise God!” A response to goodbye is allah ma’ak, “may God be with you.”

One of the first phrases we learned (and the one I can pick out most often) is inshallah—“God willing”. If I were naïve enough to try to place a defining phrase about the way of life here after being here for a mere ten days (which I guess I must be), it would be this one. It creates this sort of space between people and their tasks they must complete, people they must see, and places they must go; and this space, there is room for God to work within His will.

And largely because they have this allowance in their schedules, I am quickly learning that Jordanians are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met! They will drop whatever they are doing to help you or to welcome you. Probably the first time I really realized this is when one of my roommates, Donna, and I went to a Christian church where a friend of her friend’s mom goes. (Any connection is to your advantage here!) Mohna met us part way to pick us up, hugging us both. She translated the Arabic songs and part of the message until the actual translator showed up. She then insisted that we grab coffee after the service and meet some of her friends (where I met a lady who just moved here from Kalamazoo! So crazy!). Mohna asked us afterwards, “So what all are we going to do today?” smiling at us.

We came back to our apartment amazed at how kind she was to us, and learned that our experience was not uncommon at all! Some of the girls in my apartment asked a lady for directions, and she insisted on driving them personally to where they needed to go—not an uncommon thing here. After practicing our broken Arabic (our really, really broken Arabic) on a café owner, he told us (in a sort of amused and excited way) to ask him anything in Arabic that we wanted. He then continued to talk with us, give us a fifty percent discount on our coffee and cake, and give us extra pastries just because we made a connection with him—not an uncommon thing! It is such a new experience to witness the level of hospitality here, and people’s willingness to make our group feel welcome.

Just before I decided to blog, I was going through my Bible to clean out old church programs that I had accumulated over the past couple years. As I was thinking to myself, why do I ever keep these?, I pulled out one from when I visited Kern Road Mennonite back in Mishawaka. I saw some of my cursivey-print handwriting scrawled on one of the pages and it read this: “Resist the temptation to live life with only people that are similar to you. Embrace the diversity of the Body of Christ and in humanity.” I don’t remember the sermon that from that Sunday, but it was such an encouragement to be reminded of this now, as I am tip-toeing my way into the world of the Middle East, learning from a people so different than I. Even from our first Jordanian speaker this morning, I feel I have gained so much! And so, inshallah, I will continue to learn about things and be challenged in ways that I do not expect to.

Check out Carrie’s Blog here

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