Settling in to a semester in the Arab world

Elika Roohi / Sun Star Contributor
Feb. 21, 2012

Inside the King Abdullah mosque. Photo by Elika Roohi.

Earlier this week, I got an email from the guy who organizes all of the exchange students at the university I’m attending.  He told us that on Friday all of the high school students get their exam results back.  These results tell the students what college they can go to and what they can study at university.  It is typical for a large number of people to express their happiness at their results by shooting guns and machine guns into the air.  The email warned us to try to avoid these areas, as each year a handful of people are killed and injured as a result of the random shootings.

Assalaam walaykum!  I am now living and studying in Jordan’s capital city, Amman.  Being here is providing me with all the difference I craved from living abroad.  From the before dawn call to prayer to the texts I sometime receive that say “there are thousands of demonstrators gathering on the 4th circle.  There are no reports of clashes or any violence.  But it’s good to avoid that area today.”

The thousands of demonstrators gathered around the fourth circle ended up being public school teachers on strike demanding higher wages from the prime minister.  Even though King Abdullah II of Jordan is relatively well-liked, and Jordan is a tranquil ocean compared to the rocky seas that surround the country, there are a lot of people in this region of the world who are on edge.

To try to appease the protesters, the king sacked two prime ministers since the demonstrations began last January.  But as the Arab Spring has turned into an Arab Year and seemingly beyond, each week sees thousands of people gathering in front of the Syrian or Israeli embassies or at the mosque downtown to get their point across.

Meanwhile, I’ve been spending my days traveling back and forth to school on a yellow-and-turquoise school bus and maybe going out to a café for tea when the day is over.  The closest I’ve come to the protests and riots everyone thinks of when you say the words “Middle East” are on my Twitter feed or in discussions in class. There are a lot of people in Jordan who rally for change, but there are also moms of five or university students studying linguistics who are just trying to lead a normal life in Amman without getting mixed up in anything.

At the moment, I’m trying to learn the Arabic alphabet and study a map of Amman.  As a friend of mine and I discussed on Valentine’s Day when the teachers were protesting, it’s probably a good idea to know where things are before you throw yourself into the middle of them.

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