I arrived in chilly Amman three days ago after a 30-hour, three-plane journey from warm Canberra, dressed in a t-shirt which attracted many curious looks at the airport. As I bought a bottle of water from Starbucks in the arrivals hall, the guy who took my money asked me where my jacket was in exactly the same voice my mum would use.
The next day I was wide awake at 4:30am and it was the first time in as long as I can remember that I had nothing to do, nowhere to be, and no two-and-a-half-year-old alarm clock about to run into my bedroom as the sun came up. So I lay in bed for a few hours and read a book, only getting up every now and again to make another coffee or tea. It was bliss. After doing a few hours of work in the late morning (okay, I lied about having nothing to do), I caught an Uber out to a shopping mall for a few supplies, and on the Uber ride home I had my first real attempt at a conversation in Arabic. The Palestinian driver was a good sport, speaking slowly and choosing simple language I would more likely understand. It was quite liberating to force myself to say things out loud I knew were grammatically incorrect, or that drew on clumsy vocab, as long as I was able to communicate my meaning.
I spent the past couple of days mostly taking it easy, working to tame the jetlag, exploring the streets, finalising a bit of other work, and settling into the little apartment I will call home for the next four months. Starbucks guy will be relieved to know I’ve been sleeping under three blankets. It has been nice just pottering around but as day one of school approached I was definitely getting restless and anxious to start what I came here to do.
I arrived at the language centre at 9am this morning for my placement test along with five other new students. We were a mixed crew: I was joined by students from Britain, America, the Netherlands, South Korea and Italy. The test took over an hour and included a reading and writing component which got progressively harder as you moved through the paper, and an oral test at the end. Even though I knew it wasn’t a test test — that it was formative rather than summative — I couldn’t help but feel nervous. I managed okay, though, and I don’t think Mohanned would be too disappointed in me.
While the test papers were analysed, the director of the Arabic course gave an orientation presentation, and then we were split off into four different ability streams based on our results. I went with the Italian student to join a Swedish student in another classroom where we met our teacher for the next month. In four weeks we will be assessed again and re-streamed as necessary.
My teacher walked into the classroom and started speaking Arabic with no pleasantries or warning in English, but she got it perfectly right: her vocab choice was just challenging enough without being overwhelming, as was the speed she talked. And I had to talk back. No mucking around, no time to overthink it — just talk and make mistakes and learn from them. It was great.
It was only a quick lesson today because the placement test and orientation had taken up three of the four hours so we stuck to getting-to-know-you topics, but even in just 60 minutes I felt challenged and motivated, and I left the room filled with anticipation and the good, productive kind of nervousness.
The language school offers all of its new students a tour of the city on their first day so five of us enthusiastically signed up. Our first stop was the famous Hashem Restaurant where we recharged our brains with falafel, hummus, mutabal, chips, bread and hot tea.
I remember eating here nearly seven (!) years ago when I backpacked through Jordan for a week or so.
And of course we checked out the Roman theatre which was teeming with visitors despite the frosty wind.
Tonight, back at the apartment, I’ve done my homework and am hoping I can smash out a proper night of non-jetlagged sleep in preparation for tomorrow when it’s game on proper for learning.