What’s in a name?: Jordan goes to Jordan

Written January 23, 2012

Today is my first full day in Amman, Jordan.  During my four months studying abroad here, my blog will continue to serve as a place where I post stories and reflections, which will no doubt be enhanced by my new location, activities, and acquaintances.

I think it’s appropriate to begin this post by talking about my name, and how funny it is that I’m studying in Jordan.  The humor regarding my first name is obvious, but my last name is funny to people, too.  Denari is related to “dinar,” the name of the currency in Jordan.  My last name is a type of currency used by the Romans, whose empire stretched into the area that is now Jordan.

Already, it’s been funny introducing myself to other American students and the staff in my program.  Most of them have the same reactions: “Oh!” with a short chuckle, and an occasional “That’s funny.”  I then tell about my last name, which generally elicits a smiling shaking of the head.  I can’t wait until I start meeting ordinary Jordanians, who I hope will be pleasantly surprised. It would be like a foreigner coming to the U.S. with the name America Dollar.

You might be wondering what Jordan is like and why I decided to study abroad here—no, not because of my name—and I hope to answer some of your questions in this post. 

Where is Jordan?

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is located in the heart of the Middle East, which makes regional travel quite easy.

Jordan is the apricot colored country.

As you can see, Jordan is bordered by Israel, the occupied West Bank, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

What language do Jordanians speak?  Do you understand it? 

Jordanians speak Arabic, which I’ve studied for two-and-a-half years at Georgetown.  However, Arabic as a spoken language is very diverse, which makes my answer a bit more complicated.

I have studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is used in the news and other formal settings.  Jordanians don’t use MSA in everyday life, but rather a dialect that is specific to the region.  For example, person from Morocco could not understand the Jordanian dialect.  However, both a Moroccan and a Jordanian can understand MSA.

In Jordan, I will continue my study of MSA, and will also take a class on the Jordanian dialect so I can speak with ordinary folks.  If I were to get into a cab and speak in MSA, it would sound overly proper, sort of like if an English speaker started talking like Shakespeare.

I can’t understand much spoken language yet, but thanks to a bit of colloquial study I did last summer, I comprehend a bit more than most of the American students here.

What does the Arabic language look and sound like?

To English speakers, Arabic may sound like a harsh language—I also thought it sounded harsh before I started studying it.  But I’ve grown to find Arabic very beautiful and passionate.

The Arabic script is also very beautiful and is written kind of like cursive.  The text below, written in one of many Arabic script styles, is the Lord’s Prayer, which I hope to have memorized soon.

"Our Father, who art in heaven..."

Where are you living?

I’m living in Amman, the capital, with a host family.  Until I move into their home on the 25rth, I’m staying in a hotel with others in my program. My host family is Christian, and the children range in age from 20 to 2.  I’m looking to forward to having both peers and young children to spend time with.

Where are you studying?  What classes will you take?

I will be studying at the University of Jordan, the largest university in Jordan.  However, instead of directly matriculating into the university, I’ll be taking classes through CIEE, an organization that operates several study abroad programs all over the world.  My classes—two Arabic classes and two courses in English about regional culture, history, politics, etc.—will be with other American students.

Once you get settled, what will your everyday life be like there?

Friends who have studied abroad here say that, in some ways, my everyday schedule will be similar to my high school one.  I’ll get to school by 8a.m. and spend most of the day in class or in and around campus.  After school I may go to the gym or to volunteer with a Jesuit organization in Amman.  On the weekends, I’ll spend time with my host family, explore the city, and travel outside Amman.

Are you planning to travel in the region?

Yes. Because of Jordan’s central location, I hope to travel to Israel and the West Bank, Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt.  I’m also planning to travel within Jordan through CIEE trips and on my own.  Some notable sights include Petra, Aqaba, the Dead Sea, old Crusader castles, and ruins of the Roman Empire.

What is Jordan like? Is it safe? 

Amman has very little violent crime.  I like to tell people that I’ll act in Jordan the way I do in the D.C. or Indianapolis.  In the U.S., just like in Amman, I don’t walk alone at night or put myself in danger by becoming intoxicated.

In the Arab world in general, white women, especially blondes, get harassed by some local men.  It’s normally not more than getting yelled or whistled after, and if I dress appropriately and wear my hair up, I shouldn’t have too many problems.

Comparing Jordan to the rest of the region, Jordan is a politically stable and hasn’t experienced much of the upheaval associated with the Arab Spring.  That is likely due to the country’s relative economic prosperity and political freedoms.  (Relative is a key word in that sentence.  Many Jordanians are poor, and democracy is nonexistent–the monarchy has ultimate control over the parliament.)  However, there are protests and people calling for political change and reform (which I in many ways support).  We are not allowed to attend protests, which is unfortunate but probably a wise rule.

What do you wear? Do you have to cover your hair?

I wear clothes very similar to the ones I wear at home.  Amman is very cold and rainy in the winter, so I have sweaters and long sleeved shirts and jeans.  In the spring and summer, I will wear blouses or t-shirts with cardigans with long pants or capris.  The highs will only be in the 80s when I leave, so the weather won’t be unbearably warm.

The norms here don’t require me to wear a headscarf.  Most women do, but many don’t.  In Jordan, many women have adopted Western forms of dress.  Often, women wearing a headscarf dress in Western styles.  Hijab doesn’t always equal traditional dress.

What is the religion in Jordan 

Jordan is 95% Muslim and close to 5% Christian, and thus the country is clearly shaped by its strong Islamic tradition.  The workweek spans Sunday through Thursday, leaving Friday (the holy day) and Saturday off.  Christians practice freely under law shaped by Islam.

Why is Jordan called Jordan?

Jordan is bordered on the west by the Jordan River.  The country used to be called Trans Jordan because it was across the Jordan from Palestine.  I’m excited to travel to the Jordan River on our program’s “Sites of Biblical Jordan” day trip, when we’ll visit the spot where John baptized Jesus.

Why did you decide to study abroad in Jordan?

I’ve wanted to study in Jordan for a long time.  When I still was intent on a career in foreign journalism, it made the most sense in terms of the location and dialect.  At that time, the most news worthy places in the Arab world were Iraq and Palestine, and conscious that I might one day immerse myself in one of those regions, studying in the country that’s smack dab between them made sense.  Jordan’s history has been greatly shaped by the influxes of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, meaning I could learn about the political and historical situations in those countries without even being there.  Also, wanting to be a journalist who didn’t rely on an interpreter, I knew that learning spoken Arabic was crucial.  The Jordanian dialect would help me learn colloquial Palestinian later, since both are quite close.

However, both my own interests and the political situation in the Arab world has changed.  I no longer anticipate a career as a foreign correspondent, and thanks to the Arab Spring, the entire Arab world needs foreign journalists to cover its changing landscape.  Despite that my old reasons for coming to Jordan are no longer valid, I still chose to come here—why?

Most importantly, to have the opportunity to live with a host family.  To me, studying abroad is about true immersion, living how locals do, and I think that can be done best by living with ordinary people.  The other programs Georgetown offered me—in Egypt, Morocco, and Qatar—couldn’t provide me with a home stay.

A few other reasons:

-Jordan is centrally located in the region, and that makes travel easy
-its dialect is pretty and similar to MSA than other dialects
-it has a deep and diverse cultural history
-Amman is a bustling city but not too overwhelming for a first time in the Middle East

And, coming to Jordan simply felt right.  If I think more about it, maybe my name actually did have something to do with it.  Names are more than just words that identify us to others.  They point to the core, the spirit, of the thing they name.  By sharing names, the country of Jordan and I share something.  What that is, I’m not yet sure.

When I was young, I used to get little bookmarks with my name on them, with an explanation of my name’s meaning.  I was always a bit disappointed, because the cards usually said, “from the river” (the Jordan river, of course.)  It seemed a bit boring.

But now, when I think about it, that definition—“from the river”—makes a lot of sense.  Even before coming to Jordan, I was pulled by something about this place that seemed familiar, even though I’d never visited.   Maybe I’m drawn to Jordan because I’m somehow from here, because somehow it feels like home.

(I miss everyone back at my other two homes–Georgetown and Indianapolis. If you have more questions, please ask!)  

3 Replies to “What’s in a name?: Jordan goes to Jordan”

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