On the first foot of immersion

As for my current semester, I’ve changed programs and am now in an immersion program for which I have a homestay with a Jordanian family, classes and excursions in only Arabic and a language pledge to converse only in Arabic (only mildly breaking that one currently). I’ve moved in with the family, an older couple with a 30 year old daughter living with them, as well as a son’s family in the house below us. The food has been great and the family is extremely kind and open, though I’m very used to a quiet room in a quiet apartment, broken only by the sound of background music, with a door and walls blocking out the invasion from the next room. This is my escape, typically, and the sound of raised voices breaks into the silence and tears me from any particular mental privacy I can manage, especially when I am sitting in the living room, staring at a broken TV trying to accomplish anything. The next most grating occurrence coincides with dinner, where hands and used spoons dig into communal bowls and meat is tossed onto my plate by hand while the family chatters with full mouths and pitched conversations over the weather. Sometimes, a glass of tequila in the evening and some loud Dylan make all the difference in the world. It’s helping the daily usage Arabic though. I have learned that no Arabs – Muslim, Christian, or other – should ever sing “Hotel California,” courtesy of a night at karaoke. Eh, I’ll write more about the family in another round, in sha allah.

We actually had over a foot of snow in a day and a half about two weeks ago, leading to three snow days… in a desert. Unlike Michigan, the world shuts down when the snow starts falling here, giving the locals plenty of time to partake of awkward snowball fights (no one knows how to throw, they just play soccer) and make rather deformed snowmen. There’s a joke that all snowmen are ‘neswanji’ (roughly: ‘womanizer / playa’) because they just hang out all day and stare at all the women going by and you never see snowwomen. If nothing else I got to put the youthful Michigander/baseball skills to good use again and score a few for the “American oppression of Arabs by superior technology.”
As though the snow wasn’t enough, every once in a while a new activity comes up which I certainly had not planned on, nor anticipated at any level as being likely during my tenure in Jordan. Last semester coaching little league was perhaps the most absurd; this semester I have completed a longer run than I have attempted at any point in my life. Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a 10-man relay race covering 242 km from the Dead Sea to Aqaba, on the Red Sea coast. At the time it seemed like one of those things to check-off the list of things-to-do-before-ya-die and I am glad I took the chance to do it. I got involved with the team back in December, so I had some time to train, but I am certainly not a distance runner and I have never been one. The team completed the race in 16hrs 51 min (5th place of 12) and I managed to complete my 24k, despite a wonderful reminder from my knees as to why I have never been a distance runner. There is a half-marathon in April; I will not be running in it.

On the academic front, my classes have proven challenging, but well worth the effort. In case I hadn’t mentioned before, I’m taking one class in MSA (official Arabic), one in colloquial Jordanian, a literature class and a business writing class. The literature class is certainly my favorite; we’re currently working through Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic) poetry, which focuses on drinking, gambling, traveling, revenge and unrequited love – great topics for any genre or period in my opinion.

After a semester of emails and tracking people down, I’ve finally been given quite an opportunity with UNESCO for the remainder of the semester. I’ve started a two-month internship working on translation of Iraqi World Heritage Site reports and developing an improved education program for locals who produce the reports in the region. For the first time my employment actually relates to something I’m immediately interested in, on a professional level. So far I’ve been looking at reports on two Babylonian sites in the country, Ashura and Samara, which are both on the list of locations which will hopefully be promoted to “World Heritage Site,” and these reports are somewhat pivotal in whether either of the locations will be made official – meaning a significant increase in funding for preservation and development for accessibility.

In something of a moment of discontinuity, I wrote this update while listening to Irish folk music, some of it even by Blackthorn. Such a moment certainly ought not be taken as my general aire, I was merely struck by the cognitive dissonance of the moment. Fear not, Realplayer will faithfully return to Arabic music soon enough.

There are plenty more stories and even a couple more examples of Dan being a dumbass and surviving, but I think those will have to wait for the moment.