When I was sixteen, I spent six weeks in Amman, Jordan, to study Arabic. Coming from Chicago’s northern suburbs, Amman was unlike anything I’d ever imagined. The buildings spread across the city like cardboard boxes – low, square, and various shades of tan. The increasingly familiar Arabic script was scrawled in every shop’s window, tacked up beside the doorways. I lived in a three story house, filled with all sorts of members of an extended family. In total, there were about twenty people in my host family, and I fell in love with each and every one of them.
For me, Jordan is bunch of moments, smashed up into one big pile of amazing. Jordan was the day that my taxi driver, in a particularly bad traffic jam, lent his lighter out to four other drivers in the space of one block. It was the nights I spent on the patio with a Syrian grandmother, as she taught me to say “Nice body, what’s your name?” in Arabic slang. It was the time we decided to walk as far as we could into the desert, with no phones, no water, and a setting sun. It was the time we lit a firecracker chain down the side of the road for the first night of Ramadan, and got chased back to our house by a particularly crabby neighbor. It was the time my teacher showed up a full hour late to school because she operated on “Jordan time.” It was the time a man yelled “Welcome to Egypt” out his car window at me. It was the time we stared at the stars above us as the sound of an oud wafted out from across the sand. It was the tears shed at 2:30 in the morning when we left it all behind.
Amman consumed me, like only Amman could. The call to prayer still echoes in the back of my mind sometimes, over a year later. On the rare occasion that pita finds its way to my suburban home, I often crumple to a pile on the kitchen floor, hugging that bread to my chest. I’m positive that pita has a pocket to fit all my memories inside. I miss my host family like none other, and my Arabic textbook is a prized possession.
When trying to describe what my trip to Jordan meant to me, I feel like I’m playing darts, but can’t even hit the board. Yet, as a good language student, I know that often the words of others are more suitable than our own, and so I leave you with the words of Haila Lalaby – words that I’ve found to be true since returning to the States: “Jordan pumps through the blood, but America stays in the mouth.”
(Diana Grote went to Jordan on a National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship to study Arabic for the summer of 2011. NSLI-Y offers full scholarships to high school students to study critical languages for either a summer or a school year. They currently have programs in Turkey, Taiwan, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, China, Russia, India, South Korea, and Tajikistan. This year’s application has just been released; you can find the application and more information about the program at nsliforyouth.org. You can find Diana’s travel and study abroad blog at bordersareimaginaryboundaries.blogspot.com)