The Only Way is Amman
Since my last post the air and world has become slightly cooler due to a peculiar mix of global warming, winter and grammar.
I have also grown one year older too, well done me. And here’s some edible proof:
Some recent topics we have covered in class include: grammar, Arab women’s rights, grammar, key figures in Arab literature, nitty-gritty grammar, The Thousand and One Nights and some level 5 extra special blood-curdling grammar.
So far my routine has been as follows: it begins on a thursday afternoon when we receive the schedule for the following week with all the required homework drills. The race then begins to tick off as many as possible before the beginning of the week (sunday). This gives me just enough time to learn the endless pages of vocab and come to terms with how much I don’t understand this week’s grammar point.
Friday is then the opportunity for a lie in, being the first day of the weekend here. Not being a particularly pious man you will find me in bed, whilst all my flatmates (2 muslims and a mormon) are at their respective places of worship. If the mood grabs me, I will venture out to the local mosque in time for the end of Friday Prayers to buy vegetables before the crowds flood out. I might look at some grammar explanations to take the edge of the afternoon, sometimes I even read and understand them. Arabic superman comics certainly help to consolidate my knowledge. The pictures mostly.
Saturday: must…tick…off…every…drill…. says my inner-monologue as it gets to about 4 pm. I always know when its time to go and have a lie down. It tends to be after a particularly gruelling listening/reading exercise when I find myself googling ‘the history and workings of google translate’. Something to do with levers and switches in the UN’s deep sea language vaults. I shake my fist at language teachers worldwide and go and get a kebab.
Sunday: get a bus to meet my classmate Helena before getting a joint taxi to the Jordan Language Academy for a 2 hours of Farsi (from 8-10). It’s just us two and our teacher, the leather-jacketed dr. Ayman a historian and former Jordanian embassy official in Tehran. A man after my own heart, he despises the teaching of grammar, preferring to pace up and down in front of the white board asking us our views on anything from the Magna Carta to Hyde Park.
Taxi back to Qasid Arabic Institute, quick falafel sandwhich and then straight into Arabic tuition with our teachers Basma (which means smiley, and she is) and Intesar (which means Victoria, and she isn’t). This lasts from 11-2.30 with 30-45 minutes break for lunch (typically another falafel sandwhich).
Class is finished by 2.30. Bus up the road passed the university of Jordan for a 2 hour ahmiyaa (spoken Arabic) class from 4-6, by which time i have normally had enough of the world and want nothing more than a cheap and delicious Yemeni dish from the place across the street with plastic bags for table cloths.
Then it’s pretty much the same deal for the rest of the week (Farsi just on sundays and tuesday mornings). I would currently liken myself to a shisha-smelling falafel dipped in coffee rolling on a floor covered with pages of Arabic laughing like a maniac.
At some moments, on the brink of madness at my sheer love of studying I will go for a run with Duncan (remember him? he’s great!). Amman is about as pedestrian friendly as the moon, despite the obvious similarities in colour and dustiness. Pavements are constructed more for the comfort of the trees sprouting through them than for humans. We are frequently honked at by cars or more recently heckled by female students, but that was probably due to Duncan’s insistence on wearing a fluorescent running vest, shin-pads, sweat-bands, scrum-cap and a captains armband.
To the matter of the trials and tribulations of language. Some days go by perfectly, understanding teachers, taxi drivers, falafel salesmen, friends and whatnot. Others it feels as though I have just woken up in China without remembering how I got there.
The trouble with Arabic is the difference between the standard/written language and the spoken dialects. We will spend several hours discussing varied topics in class, using expressions and stringing ideas together. But then you step from the classroom to the outside world, a harsh place with different phrases, words and pronunciation. Frustrating to say the least.
Arabic is a famously varied language. If you were ever daring enough to open a dictionary you would see why another meaning for qamoos (dictionary) is ocean. The main point being that it is not structured alphabetically by meaning, rather by a vast and specific ‘root’ based system.
It has been said that by someone, somewhere that every Arabic word means itself, its opposite or a camel.
Learning the spoken language is something that must be done on the mean streets. Outside of class the main method I employ is ‘shebabbing’ (shebab is Arabic for lads/young men). Shebabbing isn’t merely a state of being, rather it’s a way of life. A way of life, that is, which mainly involves smoking shisha. In the advanced circles of shebbabing the blood actually becomes four parts coal one part lemon-and-mint flavoured tobacco. And if you have the right wossta (connections) you can even go shebabbing on tour.
That said, my preferred, personal method of shebabbing consists of eating kanafa (delicious sweet and cheesy dessert) with a friend, Ali. I desist from telling other shebabs this, for I fear it may not actually be considered within the true smoke-filled boundaries of shebabbing. (shebabs don’t read blogs, it’s impossible through the haze).
Shebabbing aside, I have recently been a privileged audience to a taxi driver quoting thousand-year old poetry as a distraction from the afternoon traffic jams. Nodding along in blissful ignorance at the supposed beauty of metaphor and verse. One day maybe. But then in another i mis-pronounced the word for ‘uni-fresher’ (senafor), so that I apparently had been been enthusiastically and repeatedly telling the driver that I am a really, really small man. I was laughed out of the cab.
At the time of my last entry we had just got through the mid-term exams and presentations (i did mine on Tim Mackintosh-Smith who lives and writes near an ancient donkey-market in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, something of a hero). Now I am in the last few weeks of my first term at Qasid, with 2 more chapters until we complete the text book, exams to prepare for and the final presentation to panic over.