Saturday, August 18, 2012

everything I learned about living in Jordan

...abbreviated. Recently, I've gotten a lot of questions from people moving to Jordan. Hope this answers a few of them!

1. Where should I live?

Here is Amman (or, at least, the best map I've found of it).  Most Jordan-based expats live here, because most Arabic programs, aid organizations, and businesses are based in the capitol.

West Amman, courtesy  these guys.

If you plan to move to Amman for the first time, I'd consider these neighborhoods:

  • Jabal Amman (1st- 3rd circles). Nearly every guidebook and NYT travel piece extols Rainbow Street, on 1st Circle. Home to nice cafes, shops, and restaurants. Lively and walk-able; the walk from 3rd to 1st circle is maybe 15 minutes. I've run near 3rd, but haven't tried running closer to 2nd/1st, and doubt I'd find it comfortable. Expats are present, as is English, especially on Rainbow.
  • Shmeisani. More liberal-leaning residential neighborhood. Taxis can be a pain, but this neighborhood is a bit closer to Qasid, University of Jordan, and the higher circles. I've run here. Again home to a number of expats, and English is present but not as ubiquitous as on Rainbow.
  • Jabal Al Webdeih. My favorite place. A few less-strategically-critical embassies are here, as is the French Cultural Center. Walk-able, though a bit removed from the much of the city; taxis out to the higher circles can get pricey. That said, it's close to downtown and a 20-30min walk from 1st Circle. I've run here. English is avoidable...unless you run into one your many expat neighbors.
  • Abdoun. Home to the American Embassy and many affluent Ammanis. Big malls, Western chains, and removed from the activity of downtown and the lower circles. Girls can get away with running here. Reasonably-priced apartments are rarer but present. A lot of English.

All of the above are home to some reasonably-priced apartments (I'd aim to pay somewhere between 120JD-250JD, before utilities, for a furnished apartment with roommates.) Other neighborhoods I've lived in and/or visited:

  • Tel Al 'Ali & Duhayat Al Rashid. Near the University of Jordan and Qasid. Prices tend to be better. If you're near Queen Alia Street (more commonly referred to as "sharia jaamia"), you'll be able to access the micro-buses, which are a cheap and safe way to travel the length of sharia jaamia. I'd never run here, and, as a woman, don't feel comfortable walking here at night. 
  • Jabal Hussein. A largely-Palestinian residential neighborhood with decidedly fewer expats. Reasonable housing, though I've heard that it can be tough for guys to find apartments here (women are perceived as less threatening). I'd never run here and don't feel comfortable walking around alone at night.
  • Swefeih:  From my experience, much like Abdoun, though a bit more out-of-the-way. Unless you plan to work near the higher circles, in which case this could be great.
  • East Amman: Ok, more than one neighborhood. Much of East Amman is not on the map above. Generally speaking, this is a less-affluent area of Amman, with much less English and much fewer expats.

Outside of Amman, everything's cheaper. One-bedroom apartments are often under 90JD. 

2. How can I find a place to live?

If you're looking for an apartment,

  • Browse A great source. Turnover can be pretty fast. 
  • Walk around the neighborhood you're interested in. You'll see phone numbers posted in windows advertising شقة مفروشة (shukka mafrusha, a furnished appartment) or  شقة غير مفروشة (shukka ghayer mafrusha, an unfurnished appartment). Call the number; you can usually schedule a viewing that day.

All-female student dorms are located around University of Jordan. They can be considerably cheaper than apartments, but often come with curfews. Walk around the main gate of UJ and ask for a سكن طلاب (sakan tulab, student dorm). Pop in when you find one to inquire about prices and vacancies.

Some people like ACOR housing though I think it's pretty exorbitant. Others try homestays, but, unless you're in a study abroad program, you really have to connect with a family on your own to make that happen. 

3. I want to learn Arabic. How do I learn Arabic. 

Being in an Arabic-speaking country is no ticket to fluency. You can navigate Amman fairly easily without using a word of Arabic. Outside of classes, make an effort to practice Arabic--even if friends/taxi drivers/random passersby consistently respond in English.

Programs that people like: 

  • Qasid has great fusHa and classical tracks. I've heard mixed reviews of its amiyya (though I have mixed feelings about teaching amiyya in a classroom setting in the first place...)
  • Ali Baba was the first place where I took classes. Flexible dates though much pricer. Great teaching.
  • The French Cultural Center has excellent evening amiyya courses. It's located just off of Paris Circle; there are quite a few signs and an armed guard outside. If you can find evidence of the French Cultural Center online, you are a better person than me.
  • The Kelsey Program. Ok, I don't actually know anyone who's done this, but word is it's good. Though you do have to sign a piece of paper confirming that Jesus is your personal lord and savior.

Tutors are available through most of the programs I mentioned above, though you can find excellent and affordable (5-15 JD/hour) tutors if you ask around. Fulbright has a list. Make a friend and ask to see it.

Language partners are a free (and often culturally-enriching) way of practicing Arabic. A number of friends met up with language partners at cafes: they'd talk in English for a half-hour, and Arabic for the other half. Or something like that. My blonde, female roommate got approached to be a language partner nearly every day she stepped foot on the UJ campus, but others can find partners too. Just ask around.

Just talk to people. Really. Do it. Even if you sound like a fool. You can study verb charts anywhere in the world; don't pass up the opportunity to try out your new verbs in actual conversations.

3. How do I pay for it?

I don't know. Here are some thoughts:

I worked before I moved, and picked up odd jobs in Amman when possible. Most Arabic scholarships I found required significant advance planning and current student status. Qasid offers some financial help, though it's limited and the criteria are vague. Some friends taught English. Athletes had luck coaching. Generally speaking, you get bonus points for being a college grad from the West. Be social, express interest in working, and you'll be surprised what opportunities present themselves.

4. What should I wear?

Guys: Wear pants.

Girls: It depends upon where you're walking. You'll feel most comfortable with your legs and shoulders covered. Short-sleeves are ok in Amman, though no low necklines. Looser clothing is better (though, full disclosure, I wore skinny jeans).

Sidenote on street harassment: It can be shocking and tough to get used to. Women, unless you wear a niqab, street harassment is pretty much unavoidable. Walk around with friends until you can differentiate between everyday harassment and threatening harassment. If a car follows you, snap a picture of its licence plate and call 911. Or mime doing so--this can work too. If a guy follows you, and there are other people around, make a scene. Ask why he's following you. People on the street will take your side.  Know that street harassment gets easier to navigate over time.

5. How do I get an internship/job/volunteer position/something else to do?

Talk to people. Most of my opportunities came through my friends, before anyone had a chance to look at my resume. Calling is better than emailing, and knocking on a door is better than calling. Jordan's a small country, so there are fewer degrees of separation between everyone. Make friends! If they can't help you, they will know people who can.

6. Religion.

Email me with any questions.

That's it for now. Happy travels!

p.s. I'm keeping this (moderately) open-source. Friends, please feel free to correct/add to any of the above.