Greetings and apologies to my faithful blog followers! I know all ten of you have been obsessively checking my blog every hour on the hour, hoping and waiting for news from the Eastern frontier. That’s probably not too difficult, though, since I’m sure my blog address occupies a prominent position on your browser’s favorites bar. Well, fret no longer, I found some time and got an Internet connection. My hopes are that you get a little taste of this largely indescribable experience I’m having in Jordan.
Just to fill you in: I spent my first two days in Amman, Jordan’s cosmopolitan capital of two million. I tried out my Arabic by asking for directions, buying food, and making very light conversation with cabbies. Pictures of King Abdullah II are in every shop and many buildings. The King enjoys overwhelming support from his people, and in my very light conversations I found that to be true indeed. Jordan is a country of six million of which about 50-75% are Palestinian in origin. Amman is heavily populated by Palestinians, and all groups seem to get along quite well on the surface. The call to prayer is faithfully sounded five times daily from the city’s numerous mosques.
After all eight of us BYU students arrived in Amman, three of us (Cyrus, James, and I) met up with Loren, the volunteer who’s laid the groundwork for us in the Badia. The four of us and our driver, a local Bedouin named Abu Faisal, made the hour long drive out to the Northeastern desert village of Salhiyya. This is my new home. It’s less than ten miles from the Syrian border and about fifteen minutes East of the nearest city, Mafraq. This is Bedouin country. Bedouin culture is not necessarily nomadic anymore, although many Bedouins still are. It is marked by very strong tribal and family associations, so much so that most men end up marrying their first cousins to keep wealth in the family. Many men have more than one wife and generally have many children. Women’s dress is very conservative here in keeping with strict Islam. Many people live in or at least own a bayt shar (a traditional tent).
The Badia is a world apart from Amman. Almost no one speaks English, and the Arabic they speak is Bedui, which has a different vocabulary and accent. When I try to speak, I say words and phrases that Egyptians and newscasters say, so I’m trying to learn some Bedui. We live in an apartment inside the building owned by the Non-Government Organization we work through. We have a hole in the bathroom floor, not a toilet. They aren’t modern, Western accommodations, but they work very well.
One of the several problems here in the Badia is that people do not know how to speak English and therefore are limited in the careers they can get into after completing school. An even bigger problem is that education in general is just not that important to the families out here. Many kids don’t pass the Tajihi (similar to a high school proficiency exam) and are therefore extremely limited in what jobs they can get. Unemployment is high, and productivity is low. I’ve started teaching English in one of the elementary schools operated by our NGO (the North Badia Development Cooperation Society) in the neighboring village of zumla. I’ve had a ton of fun with the little kids so far and hope to give them a good impression of English and English speakers. In a week, we plan to begin an English class for adults. The goal is not only to teach them English, but also to stress the importance of educating their children.
Although Loren has done a remarkable job of doing so already, us new guys have spent the first week forging relationships with the townspeople and organization leaders. That truly is the fundamental step in accomplishing anything in this culture. The people are extremely friendly and they love to see Americans learning their language and customs. It’s really a privilege for me to be here. One of the women in a nearby village established and operates a school for special needs children (there are many in the area because of the lack of genetic diversity). We met with her and will be helping her write proposals for more funding and resources. We may assist in getting dentists and doctors out to her center for a free health check-up day. Also, we’ll hopefully be helping another organization campaign for a female parliamentary candidate. She is the first woman from this district to run. Cyrus’ translation skills along with the proposal writing techniques James and I learned last semester will come in handy for all of this.
Well, now you’re at least filled in on what’s going on. We’ve done some fun things around here too. We go to the market at least once daily to buy food and we usually end up chatting with local friends for about an hour. Spending time with the locals helps me get a grasp of the culture better than anything else. James and I taught the village kids how to play Frisbee last night, and we’ve begun playing soccer with them in the vacant lot in front of the apartments. They love playing with us American guys despite how goofy we seem and how bad our Arabic is. As always, اللة يسلمكم.