I apologize for not getting on here sooner, but the closer I get to the finish line, the busier I become! I wanted to take a little time out to blog about a typical day in Irbid, Jordan, and today seemed to be a good day to talk about.
Today I woke up a little bit before 8AM and walked the block to the learning center before class started at 8:30. Our first class this morning was Speaking, led by the lovely and very funny Alla, who happens to be a wonderful 29 year old Irbid native who speaks only a little bit of English here and there, which makes class oh so much fun! Actually, the class is completely taught in Arabic, so there’s not really a huge problem, but when we don’t understand the Arabic word or want to express something with vocabulary we don’t know, it can get to be a little tricky. Nevertheless, we plowed through our speaking topic this morning: Parenting Tips. Not that any of us know anything about parenting (and Alla isn’t even married!), but we each prepared a short 1-2 minute speech in Arabic. Previous topics have included a story from religion, marriage, and current events. Class ended 50 minutes later, with only half of the class having time to speak (we’ve gotten much better than we used to be; it used to take only one class to get through a topic and now it takes two!), and took our ten minute break.
Next we had Reading with Ahmed, whose English is much better than Alla’s. He knows how to recite the Qur’an (like the way that it is supposed to be sung–in Arabic it is called “tajweed”), and he’s done it for us a couple times. It’s beautiful! And he’ll read to us from our textbook, and even without a real tune, his voice has a great melody and rhythm. This morning we were finishing reading a text from our book about when Middle Eastern countries gained their independence (last night we had to read it and answer the questions in the book about it for homework). Ahmed usually goes through the text almost line-by-line and word-by-word so that the students will understand the meaning very well. He also usually doesn’t end class on time, but today he did because…
Today we had a special speaker! At 10:20AM we normally have our hour-long lunch break, but instead we were ushered upstairs (into the AC!) to hear our third and final special guest speak. Thankfully, these lectures are in English (hooray!), but are always given by educated Jordanians (whose native language is Arabic). Today our guest speaker was Rana Husseini, a reporter for the Jordanian Times newspaper and author of the book Murder in the Name of Honor. So what do you think the topic was today, boys and girls? Honor killings! Not the most fun subject to talk about, but necessary. I gleaned a couple facts from her lecture:
(1) There are 20 reported cases of women murdered per year in the name of honor in Jordan (the population of Jordan is 6 million).
(2) The United Nations Population Fund estimated in 2000 that there are 5,000 honor killings worldwide per year, although experts would argue that the numbers are higher.
(3) 1 in 3 women in the world will be subjected to some form of violence in her lifetime, and the numbers are growing.
(4) Abortion is illegal in Jordan, except in the case of medical reasons. This is because of Islam (although there is a school of thought in Islam that abortion is okay, Jordan does not follow this particular school of thought).
(5) Activists in Jordan (and around the world) are aiming to end the term “honor killings” and call them “so-called honor killings” or “femicide” or any other term that discredits the murder as having anything to do with honor.
Normally, we have only 1 hour for a lunch break, but when we have a guest speaker, we get an hour and a half. Half an hour for the lecture, half an hour for questions, and half an hour to munch on some free food! So instead of starting the next class at 11:30, today we started at noon.
Hala is probably my class’ least favorite teacher. She teaches our Writing class, which we only have twice a week (most classes we have at least four times a week, and reading we have 6 times a week!). Our homework for her is, of course, writing (as in: let me just go write 150-200 words in Arabic on a coherent subject real quick… yeah… it’s rather difficult). Class usually consists of us writing sentences on the board and correcting our classmates’ mistakes. It’s not all that fun, but probably a necessary class.
After our ten minute break, we started the last class of the day: Listening! Alla teaches us listening as well. This class consists of watching BBC News in Arabic and trying to figure out what they’re saying! It’s more difficult than any listening I’ve had previously, as these are native speakers speaking quickly whereas the listening on the textbook DVDs are very slow (comparatively). We get a vocabulary list for each news story, and have to answer questions about the listening and fill in the blanks for what they are saying (which is even more difficult, as sometimes you can’t separate one word from the next so distinguishing what sounds go in the blank let alone the actual word is very difficult!!).
After class let out today at 1:50PM (usually it lets out at 1:20), my friend and I went to the sweets shop outside Yarmouk University’s West Gate to get some kanafeh. Click the link for the wikipedia page on kanafeh for reference. After browsing a couple of shops on the way there and back looking for some scarves to bring home as gifts, we wandered our way back into campus. I dropped off my books in my apartment and headed to our favorite grocery store (more like mini mart): Meka, which is right across the street from the South gate (and thus right across the street from our apartments). I grabbed a pack of water bottles (6 bottles, each containing 1.5 liters) and a “7 UP Free”, chatted with the cashier (who by now knows that the Americans coming to buy water from him every day are from our program and enjoys exchanging pleasantries with us when we check out), and headed back home to take off some clothes and sit underneath the ceiling fan and try to concentrate on homework.
Tonight my friend and I are planning to go to Mango, a wonderfully cute little purple restaurant with a mix of Middle Eastern and European food (especially European sweets!) whose clientele is of the female majority. Dinner there should be 5JD or less, depending on what we order and if we want desert or not. If you’re a real cheap-stake here, you could get dinner for 2JD or less (but then again, it might not be the healthiest food you can put in your stomach). At 9PM tonight, some of us will make our way down to the university pool and swim for an hour. The pool is open on Sunday and Tuesdays for men and Monday and Wednesdays for women, and they keep it open for an extra hour so that the Americans can swim by themselves (without all of the women and children that will be in the pool from 8-9PM tonight). Then I’ll come home to shower and Skype back to the US before I go to bed, and get up in the morning and have class all over again!
Only tomorrow I’ll have grammar instead of writing, which will be fun! Medhat is a native Jordanian, but he has been teaching at NYU for many years now, so he speaks fluent English and can teach grammar to us in English. I’m convinced that if anyone tried to teach me Arabic grammar in Arabic I would be completely lost and never learn anything! Medhat is a very amusing guy with a little bit of an abrasive teaching style, but as long as you don’t take it personally, it’s hilarious. I’ll leave you with a couple of his quotes: “You don’t understand what I’m saying? I’m speaking Arabic! This is Arabic, not Chinese!!” and on the subject of numbers (which are very difficult to grasp in Arabic: the numbers all have different rules from 1-2 then 3-10 then 11-99 then 100-9,000… it’s so confusing) “They make it easy for you! There are rules, it’s not like it’s hard!”