Full House, Amman: Settling in at the Haddads'

Wednesday, September 7, 2005 | Amman, Jordan

At left, host brother Laith (Arabic for "Little Lion"); at right, host brother Deeb (Arabic for "Wolf").
Amman is... well, as I wrote in my previous update I'm still trying to withhold judgment for a little while, but there’s no denying that this city is no Damascus. All the total craziness that made Syria interesting is lacking here in Amman—a city that basically just reminds me of a large American suburban area.

Jordanians seem to speak about as much English as in an American suburb, too, which is frustrating. That's certainly going to make learning Arabic more difficult. In Syria, you couldn't help but learn Arabic—it was absolutely necessary for daily life, but I'm not so optimistic about the prospects here.

Earlier this week I moved in with the family I will be living with all semester. Their name is Haddad, and they’re Christian, and live in a huge house with a maid. (A few days back, I called my friend Julian back in Damascus to tell him I missed him and everyone else there already, and made sure to ask him to reassure my Syrian Christian "host mom" Ra’ife that I am safe and sound and in good hands, living with a Christian family. These things matter here in the Middle East!)

* * *

My host father, Nabil Haddad, is a high-profile priest who runs the Coexistence Center and gives lectures all over the world on inter-religious dialogue and peace. Many of the house's rooms are decorated with pictures of him posing with Jordan's former King Hussein, current King Abdullah, or various foreign dignitaries, including Pope John Paul. His wife, Ikhlass, told me to call her "Mama" from Day 1. They have four kids: oldest brother Deeb, followed by older sister Deena, my new younger brother Laith (who's just a year or so younger than me), and the youngest, Eman, who's in high school. Deeb and Laith study at a technology university just near the University of Jordan, where I'm taking classes through my program.

Besides me, the Haddads have also taken in another American guy from my program, Hayden, with whom I'm sharing a room in the house's spacious basement, facing Deeb and Laith's room. The coordinator of our program informed Hayden and me that we're living with a "nice family" in a "nice neighborhood". Both seem true; we're in Marj el Hammam, a southern suburb closer to the airport than Amman proper. It's a long haul to the university.

The other member of the household is Sarah, the Indonesian maid that has been living and working at the Haddads' for about half a year now. I certainly don't come from a family that can afford a maid (or would ever want one anyway) so I'm finding it one of the stranger parts of my adjustment to living here. Sarah also communicates as much through hand gestures as through her pidgin Arabic, so we're still learning to talk to each other.

* * *

Not only does everyone here constantly speak English, but they also make fun of me when I speak Arabic—apparently I have a strong Syrian accent! Hmmm, not sure what to make of this.

The Haddads often insist on speaking English, to improve their own skills, which is annoying, but something I suspect this I can change gradually over time. I'm going to try just ignoring them when they speak English to me, and see who breaks first. Inshallah I'll make it work.

In my program, I've signed up for a few political science and sociology courses at the university, in addition to a full morning of intensive Arabic each weekday. I've been placed in the fifth of six levels in their program, and it seems like a good fit. Unfortunately I have to start with three weeks of colloquial Jordanian 'Ammiya (yuk) rather than classical Fus'ha Arabic. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully the Americans I've met through my program here will turn out to be cool. In any case I'm also looking into possibly playing soccer here at the university—that might take the edge off the boredom here!

After having it so good all summer in Syria, I suppose I wasn’t expecting this part of my Middle Eastern experience to be great. It couldn't last forever.

Birthday party in the Haddads' garden. Left to right: Carrie (the Haddads' American exchange student from last year, who's still around), birthday girl Eman, mother Ikhlass, father Nabil Haddad, myself, and big sister Deena.

For anyone who is curious, here are some of my photos from downtown Amman:

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