!مرحبا (marhaba—hi!) I’ve been in Amman for almost a month now: wow, is time moving fast! (If only my Arabic skills were moving at the same rate—learning vocabulary is taking me forever.) My amazing host family has played a huge role in making my experience so far such a positive one. Their hospitality and kindness are always on display, and they genuinely care about helping me experience the best parts of Jordan.
The minutes before I met my host family were some of the most nerve-wracking moments I’ve ever experienced. SIT students had been living in a hotel and going to orientation meetings for five days, and on the last day of the orientation our host families came to pick us up. All the students were waiting in a classroom, and every few minutes the staff would walk in and call a single name. That student would collect their bags and leave while the rest of us clapped and cheered.
As the number of students in the room dwindled, the cheering became quieter, and it became easier to question every life decision that brought me to Amman to live in a stranger’s house. What if my family never wanted to hang out with me? What if I accidentally said something offensive in Arabic? Would they hate me?
Fortunately, this was not the case at all! My family made me feel at home from the moment I met them. My host mom immediately told me that she would treat me exactly the same as she treats her own daughter.
I am a little shy, so I was worried that I would find it hard to connect with my host family and that I would spend all my time at home in my room. My host parents did not let that happen! While they never forced me to spend time with them, they made it clear that I am always welcome to join them, and I felt very comfortable around them almost from the moment we met. Hospitality is a huge part of Middle Eastern culture, and I get to experience it firsthand through my host family.
The weather was cold in my first few weeks here, and most Jordanian homes do not have central heat, which gave me added incentive to hang out with my family in the living room next to the heater every night! We spent our time in fuzzy pajamas, sipping mint tea and watching Turkish dramas on television.
SIT guarantees that every homestay student will have a private bedroom and a bathroom that is either private or only shared with members of the same gender. My room at my homestay has a shower and sink inside of the room that only I use, in addition to a separate bathroom that is mostly private (occasionally I share it if my family has guests over).
I love my little room; it looks out over the street, which gives me a great view of the stray cats my host mom feeds. It has a space heater if I need it, although normally I prefer to sit in the living room when it’s cold.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
about his enemies
my client knows not a thing.
And I can assure you,
were he to encounter
the entire crew
of the aircraft carrier Enterprise,
he’d serve them eggs
fresh from the bag.
Ali, Taha Muhammad. “Abd el-Hadi Fights a Superpower.” Translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin, So What, Copper Canyon Press, 2006.
Okay, sooooo…. the food here is amazing. Like seriously, sometimes I put food into my mouth and I can’t even believe that it tastes so good.
My host mom is a wonderful cook and makes sure that I try all of the typical Jordanian foods. My favorite so far is mlokhia (ملوخية), a green related to okra that tastes a little like spinach. Maqluba (مقلوبة), a dish with rice and chicken flipped upside down, and baba ghanouj (بابا غنوج), a dip made from eggplant, are also both delicious.
We usually eat the largest meal of the day around 5:00 when I get back from class. It usually includes one or two main dishes, labneh (yogurt), salaata (salad), and pita bread. In the morning I eat a lighter breakfast before I leave for class. Normally it includes tea, pita bread with olive oil and zaatar, dates, and/or cake.
In the night, we drink a lot of tea to stay warm and eat cake or other snacks. Sometimes we also drink Turkish coffee, a very sweet and strong coffee flavored with cardamom.
I was overjoyed when I found out that my family has a cat. Basbousa is adorable! And wacky! And incredibly fluffy!
I’ve met plenty of street cats in Amman who are much friendlier than Basbousa—Basbousa knows she has special privileges, and she is either playful or utterly indifferent as the mood strikes her. My family says that she’s majnooneh: crazy.
I cannot stress enough how important my host family has been to my experience here in Jordan. When I am unsure about safety, I check with them. When I want to learn more Arabic vocab, I ask my host dad. If I need clarification about cultural practices that confuse me, I talk to my host mom. I love going shopping with my host parents and trying to pick out the numbers when my host mom is haggling. When I go out with my friends from SIT, we stand out as group of foreigners; with my host family, it is easier to be a fly on the wall observer.
I have to get back to studying Arabic now—until next time, مع السلامة (goodbye)!