sweet arrival, ahla wa sahla

This evening marks the fourth full day I have spent in Amman. Putting words to the feeling of arrival is a challenge. Arrival is a steep cliff on a learning curve, where streets and faces and grocery stores are unfamiliar, but contain within them the promise of eventual familiarity. It is the delicate tightrope balance between pushing yourself to do new things and allowing yourself the comforts of home. It is both exciting and mundane, with tasks such as shopping for electrical outlet adapters bumping up against moments of discovery and first introductions.

Arrival is giving in to jet-lag induced wakefulness at 4:30 am, and finding a golden blue sunrise outside your balcony window. It is making yourself a cup of coffee using the french press you stubbornly packed from home, and the coffee beans from Grand Rapids that your dear friend sent you off with. It is listening to Fairouz while getting ready for the first full day in a new city to start.

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I had a bit of anxiety about landing in Amman and finding my apartment and meeting my colleagues and starting a year of my life here. Thankfully, those worries were quickly resolved, and I already feel a little silly for having felt them in the first place. Navigating the airport was not so difficult. Yes, I stumbled a bit with my words at the currency exchange and visa counter, tired and nervous about how my Arabic would sound. Yet I still made it to baggage claim, retrieved my suitcases, found a cellular provider and purchased a new SIM card, and located the driver that Fulbright coordinated to pick up new arrivals.

When I finally arrived at my apartment door, my lovely roommates met me with hugs and help carrying my bags in. The neighbors across the hall, a supremely kind Syrian family full of jubilant children, came outside their door to greet me. Ahla wa sahla! And soon after our landlord stopped by with his family to make sure that we felt comfortable and everything was taken care of in the apartment. I truly feel well supported and lucky to have such kind people facilitating my transition to Amman. Ahla wa sahla. May you feel at ease, may you feel as though you are among family. Ahlan bik.

Orientation has been a rush of information and people. The staff at the Fulbright Commission, a wonderful team of Jordanians and American expats, has been extremely generous with their advice and hospitality. Yesterday night was particularly memorable. They held a dinner in honor of our newly arrived Fulbright cohort, and invited guests from outside of the Commission. We all showed up in our finest business casual clothing, more or less ready to mingle. Or, at the very least, ready to enjoy a meal under the glowing lights of the restaurant terrance.

I chatted with archaeology professors, Jordanian and otherwise, about the civilizational remnants they are digging up from the ancient ruins of Jarash. I met diplomats working on cultural and linguistic exchange programs. I somehow got a head start on my research and talked to someone about their experience seeking employment after graduating from college in Jordan, and someone else with knowledge of the public vocational training system. I ate too much good food and relished the cool evening air, humid and thick with the smell of jasmine.

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When my roommates and I arrived from dinner, our neighbors invited us for an impromptu evening cup of tea. It was sweet as honey. We sat for a while, chatting and laughing and throwing phrases back and forth, English to Arabic, Arabic to English. Sitting between six girls and a little boy and their mother, my roommate found a small white flower in my hair. It was jasmine from a sprawling shrub along the walk home. It smelled as sweet as the tea we sipped.

[Originally published on Andrea in Amman blog, September 2016]

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