On my first day of trying to get to the Royal Botanic Garden administrative office (where I am working this summer), everything possible went wrong. In fact, the problems began a couple days before, when I realized that I had no clue where I was supposed to go. The program heads had given me an address instructing me to go to “Khalada King Abdallah street, Royal Center,” followed by a string of Arabic characters, where the number “168” in the middle was the only part I could read. Having received this on the first day, I disregarded any uncertainty, assuming I would learn enough about Amman over the next week to understand what the English description meant before needing to use it. During the first dinner with my host family, my host mom and sister asked my roommate and I where we would work. My roommate told them that she would be at the third circle, and they nodded and commented about how that isn’t too far away. When I told them “Khalada, King Abdallah Street, Royal Center,” they looked at me blankly. I gave them the paper with the address, and after looking over it and discussing it between themselves, they finally give a sigh of realization and nodded with understanding. I, however, was not feeling as confident about where I was meant to go as before, especially since these two native Ammanians had initial hesitations about the directions.
After three hours of Google Translate, teaching myself basic recognition of Arabic characters, and pouring over the map of Amman we were provided with (all during which my roommate was sleeping off her jetlag), I determined two things. First of all, the English translation was wrong, and I was meant to go to the neighborhood of Khalda (not Khalada) to King Abdullah II St (not King Abdallah Street, which also exists). Second of all, the address was of no use, since taxi drivers in Amman use landmarks as means of navigation, not street names. Therefore, my plan of attack for the next day was to use the King Hussein Mosque as a landmark that seemed close to where I was supposed to go, and to direct the driver from there.
Being that this was my first time navigating a taxi on my own in Jordan, I was simply overjoyed that the driver understood what I meant by “King Hussein Mosque,” and sat back and gazed out the window for the entire ride over. I realized too late that we had passed the circle at which I had meant for the taxi driver to go straight—the most telling sign was that we were driving through a gate, into the park, and up to the guest entrance for those who wanted to visit the mosque, something which I had not intended to happen whatsoever. In addition, when I tried to tell the taxi driver to turn around (accompanied by many erratic hand gestures pointing behind us), the driver just gave me a look and kept going. Not knowing how to say in Arabic but “yes,” “no,” and “hummus,” I just gave the driver the amount I owed him at that point (which I realized too late was 1.5 dinars too high, as I had forgotten to check if the driver had reset his meter), jumped out, and speed walked back out of the park.
Having the attached picture on my phone, I somewhat knew what direction I was meant to go in, and judged the distance from the entrance I was at to my workplace as a feasible stroll. Thus, I started heading on the walk parallel to the highway toward my work. Within a couple minutes, I was sweating and forming blisters. All I could see along the wall I was following was a group of suspicious teenage boys and the haphazardly planted trees that Jordanians like having in the middle of their sidewalks. After about 20 minutes of honks and “Welcome to Jordan!”s sounding from the cars passing by, I made it to the main section where my work would be. Once there, I realized that the buildings were in connected rows, where large shops on the bottom had names in big letters, but upper floors were label-free administrative offices—one of them presumably being the one I was looking for. I went from shop to shop, asking for the Royal Botanic Garden, and showing the paper to anyone who couldn’t speak English. Only once I walked into the restaurant under the office I needed did someone recognize the name, and pointed me up one floor. I arrived 45 minutes late, but at least I arrived. I was introduced to everyone, and promptly forgot all their names. I managed to lock myself in the bathroom twice, and had to leave three hours early (I stayed for a total of about two hours) because I forgot a converter for my charger.
Fortunately, this first day was not indicative of my subsequent navigation experiences in Amman in any way, especially the stoic driver. Since then, taxi drivers have wholeheartedly encompassed everything I have come to appreciate about Jordan: openness toward foreigners, passion for life, friends, and families, and the ability to navigate incredibly eccentric traffic. They have sung Arabic remixes of Pitbull songs with me, proposed, shown me their children’s best friends, bought me everything from water to cigarettes to sandwiches (I politely refused all three), and discussed the refugee situation. They have taught me more Arabic than I have learned from anyone else here, and have enthusiastically communicated with me in a hodge-podge of Arabic, English, French, Spanish, and once even German. Within the following week, I learned the layout of West Amman to the point that I no longer rely on tourist maps. Many days I don’t require English to direct drivers at all.
Additionally, my work has been an incredible experience. The coworkers are all welcoming and patient with my transition in the new culture. They explained all the local holidays to me, invited me to their pizza party, and even introduced me to the princess who founded RBG (!!!!). Fortunately, my turnout on my first day did not influence their opinion of me, and I have learned how to follow basic elements of Arabic conversations by just listening to their chatter. I have been able to fall into a relative rhythm of work and home that allowed a quick and smooth transition to life in Jordan, something which I was expecting to take much longer based on my first day.
Having come from a tricultural background, I was anticipating myself to experience minimal culture shock when arriving to Jordan. In fact, it still has not been that overwhelming, being that much of Jordan reminds of me of Europe, with the southern US’s disposition to being open and hospitable. Now, I have acclimated to the navigation of Amman very well. However, I remind myself of this day as a representation of the necessity to incorporate improvisation and flexibility as a part of any plans I make, since foresight can only take me so far, and I am in a new country after all.