Food. Life. Travel

July 8: Lessons in Jordan

“First lesson in Jordan is to adapt to the culture.” These are the first words I hear as we settle ourselves into the car. Wael our temporary liaison addresses the group of us in the car. He is only here for a few days to ensure that our group of ten transitions easily into the correct Arabic classes before jetting off to his next destination. He is enthusiastic and readily takes on the role of speaking to us in bits and pieces of Arabic, followed by an immediate translation.

The heat of Amman has already enclosed itself around me. I feel its warmth soaking into my black long-sleeved shirt through the car’s window, but the A/C eases the heat with its cool breeze. It has been some time since I have sat in a car with an A/C and already it brings back memories of the UAE.

We begin to maneuver our way out of the car park, Wael continues to speak enthusiastically over the loud shabi music blaring from the radios. “The second lesson is to play music. This is folk music!” he continues to clap away blissfully as our driver begins to pull out of the parking space. However, as is the way with life, our journey starts with a small bump. The driver of the second van with the other half of the students has lost his parking validation ticket. Our driver is hastily speaking to the other driver asking him to continue searching for the ticket or to go seek a parking attendant. We are at a standstill as we wait for the second van to find their ticket, or at least an employee of the car park. Of course, this is wishful thinking. In the Arab world, there are fifteen people ready to help you when you least need it but in your moment of need (i.e. losing your parking ticket), everyone is on a qhawa (coffee)and cigarette break.

Staying true to the very first lesson of Wael, our driver calls back his friend and lets him know the plan. The second van will immediately follow behind us to get through the parking barrier on the same ticket. In Jordan, you must adapt to the culture – and circumstance. Our driver puts his ticket through and begins to drive slowly through the open barricade. I hold my breath in anticipation as the other van follows directly after us. I whisper a quick prayer. They make it through. A cheer spreads through the van and Wael yells “Yalla 3atiya musica!” Play the music. After all, that is the second lesson to learn in Jordan.

The third lesson is one of great juxtaposition. Driving in Amman is nothing like driving in Canada. In Canada, there are spacious lanes, consistent if not expected use of turn signals, shoulder checks, and proper pedestrian pathways. To the contrary, driving practices in Amman are anthesis to Canada. Cars weave their way in and out of traffic, speeding up to take a car over or to take an exit at the last minute. Drivers abruptly change lanes without any warning, blissfully unaware of how close they were to causing an accident. There is an abundance of traffic circles with what looks like cars coming headway in your direction, yet everyone seems to know their way. If this isn’t chaotic enough, throw in pedestrians! Pathways are haphazard in Amman. As a pedestrian, you concede to the rules of the road and to Allah. After all, Allahu 3alim. Only God’s knows. Still, the common theme here is patience – or rather the lack thereof.

Sabr is only a lesson selectively applied in the Arab world. You’ll find it least when driving. Although Islam is the dominant religion, every Muslim driver throw’s the lesson of God out the window when it comes to driving. Honking is a novel form of communication. It is used to express emotions such as “Hurry up!”

“The light is green you hamar (donkey). Go! Go! Go!”

“Are you trying to get in my lane? Think again.”

“You don’t want me in your lane? Think again.”

“Let me in your lane.”

“I am coming into this lane no matter what, whatever happens, is in God’s hands now.”

And finally my least favourite “Let me honk at any object with two legs and appears to be female. Because obviously, this is the most effective and efficient way to get their attention and show them that I am a class A gentleman.” God the least of their worries when they engage in this irritating and foolish behaviour.

Adaptation, music and (lack of) patience. Three key lessons I have learned on my first day. However, it is only just the beginning. I imagine there are a lot more lessons to be learnt. After all, life is just a chapter book filled with lessons.

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