I arrived in Jordan on Sunday to spend 9 months living and studying in Amman. With a friend, Duncan, we decided to go and volunteer as WWOOFers with a family for a few weeks prior to the start of our academic course. For the muggles who are unaware of WWOOFing, it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It is an exchange between the host and the volunteer, where in return for up to 6 hours work a day for 6 days a week you get free food and accommodation. That’s the basic idea, but the experience and work differ wherever you go.
My first impression of a typical Jordanian home was not as I imagined. Walking into the sitting room and seeing an ornate painting of the Last Supper hanging prominently next to a crucifix. So this is a Christian family, my keen observation skills told me.
During the first few days, our host Samir (a multiple degree holder in all things micro-biology) has welcomed us into his family and their home in Zarqa (north of Amman). We have been treated with huge plates of cinnamon-spiced rice with chicken, fresh figs, aromatic coffee and the like.
After retiring from lab research work abroad, dr. Samir returned to focus on organic farming and spend more time with mushrooms. He will energetically express his hatred of pesticides at the slightest provocation. As well as his alternative method to keep away the pesky bugs: a cocktail of garlic and onion sprayed over the crops every 10 days for 3 months. Tough work but he insists the taste doesn’t stick around in the fruit. Still, it could be the first evidence of a cross-over between the anti-vampire and the anti-pesticide leagues.
My preconceptions of urban Jordan being fairly westernised was confirmed on arrival to Samir’s house. Along with his sons Karim and bagpipe-playing Rami we played Halo 2 and Fifa until our eyes dried up. Interspersed with Samir insistently telling his sons to teach us the required vocab. We then able to have a complete, immersive-arabic-gaming-experience. Useful arabic phrases like, ‘grenade’, explosion’, ’he’s smashed to pieces’, and ‘welcome aboard the banter bus’ have come in handy although I might refrain from using them in public.
My first working day was spent on his land in the mountains near Aljoun, north of Amman. We cleared out stones and rubble from the UN-emblazoned tent, which Duncan had put up the day before. And I completely failed to make water boil on the solar kettle contraption (a pot hanging from a tripod above a shiny satellite dish), because I was unaware of the fact that the sun moves across the sky and doesn’t stay still. So we came back from marking out the grape vines in the field, to a luke-warm cup of tea. The sun’s focal point taunting me somewhere in the distance. And an Englishman’s pride severely dented.
Sitting beneath a tree, cold tea in hand Samir taught us Jordanian football chants and a bizarre folk song. The Samir School of Arabic believes the optimum method to learn pronunciation is shouting recently acquired words from the top of a mountain. So this is what we did for an hour or so, feeling at first stupid then eventually becoming oblivious whilst Samir and Rami fell about laughing behind us, egging us on.
We finished the day, watching a tense arabic drama dealing with the issue of arranged marriages. Oh wait, no, I meant we watched Top Gear with arabic subtitles.
Tomorrow we are off to the second farm, somewhere south in the dessert to spend a few days plotting ground for Alfalfa. No doubt there will be a wandering english-speaking camel with his own wifi router.