Only Time Will Tell

September 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

This blog is starting to exceed me — I was its author, creator, but now I’m nothing more than a helpless servant. I don’t know how I can follow up the popular Persian posts with anything meaningful about waiting for Amman, Jordan. Time is running out to ruminate on the eve of my departure, and the problem is such: I leave in a week, and I can’t say that I feel anything but quiet, distant apathy. I’m not excited, worried, anxious, emotional, nothing–I’ve been expecting this for months now, and I’ve found that with time, I mellow out and stop worrying, sometimes to the point of numbness. I simply expect this experience. But, you know, I’ve come to find that everything is about timing. We’re all born with a certain amount of time: some have the excruciating tragedy of no time at all, and death comes for them all too quickly before they’ve had the chance to work out the meaning for themselves, whereas others are spoiled rotten with oceans of moments, weeks, years–downright ages–of time. Everyone assures me, “Ah! You’ll have the time of your life!”, going so far as to warn, “You’re so young, this is your moment, don’t waste it,” and finally, “You’re going to the Middle East? Now? During the Arab Spring? What an amazing time; you’ll watch history unfold itself.” And while all of that is true, I can’t help but think that this isn’t my time, but rather this is the paramount moment for a place, a people, and this time I’m not traveling with the existential dreams of discovering myself, but rather the academic dreams of discovering another‘s identity. A place’s identity. You know, timing was one of the first things I could identify about Iran. It was a very wise seventh-grade history teacher (who was Persian, coincidentally), that told us “Our world is in its adolescence. We’re much younger than we may think.” But it seemed to me that Iran wasn’t. It was this place that had witnessed so many hallmarks of humanity so early, traits we would later call upon as the essence of our very beings: justice, freedom, civilization. Not to say that many other peoples didn’t contribute to the collective human identity, but this one just seemed so ahead of it’s time. And look at it now–condemned “backwards,” “archaic,” “stuck in the past”–it seems identity is all about timing.

I suppose I should introduce the next couple dozen of blog entries. I will be spending the fall semester of my junior year abroad, in Amman, Jordan, through Middlebury’s Schools Abroad in the Middle East. For those of you who haven’t heard, Middlebury’s program in Alexandria, Egypt was long considered the best study abroad program for college undergraduates to become fluent in Arabic, as written about in the New York Times. This semester there are about twenty-five of us, all American college students who have been studying Arabic for a minimum of two years. We’ll all be living in apartment buildings bordering the University campus, with an American roommate from our program, and Jordanian flatmates. We’ll take classes with the students in our program at the University of Jordan, and all our coursework will be in Arabic. The exciting part about traveling to Jordan is that we will learn Levantine Arabic, the colloquial Arabic spoken in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Israel/the Palestinian territories. For the past two years I’ve studied MSA, or Modern Standard Arabic, which is a very formal version of the Arabic language that is usually only used in writing and on news broadcasts. Each region of the Arabic-speaking world has its own amiyya, or colloquial Arabic: Egyptian, Tunisian, Moroccan, Iraqi, Gulf, ect. Oh! And we’ve all signed this piece of paper called The Language Pledge, in which we promise to only speak Arabic for the duration of our stay in Amman, save keeping in touch with family. By December 20th our program and our pledge end, and my parents have given me permission to travel around the Middle East after my program ends–so far I’m thinking Christmas in Jerusalem, visiting friends in the West Bank (hey Tamara…) and maybe New Year’s in Cairo. But who knows? It’s only September–I could be worlds away in December!

So I remember about this time before Iran, with a week left to go before boarding that plane, we were urged to write down our preconceptions, our questions, our pre-formed judgements that would be tested, changed and solidified oversees. So… Jordan. What do I want to do? I have three short months (September 10th to December 20th) in this country, and I know I should set some goals, or have some thoughts, or attempt to do some things instead of just being passive, so here goes. I want to have a conversation without identifying myself as min amreeka (“from America”) or as a foreign student studying Arabic. I must try Arabic coffee and tea in various coffeehouses, internet cafés and at the in somebody’s home. See the sites: hike Wadi Rum, visit Petra (at night!), swim in the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, see the Mandaba Map. See the inside of a Jordanian home. Pray, in a mosque. And finally, do more than just learn enough Levantine Arabic to show off, but I really want to be able to communicate. I want to have some confidence, some knowledge other than what I can get out of Lonely Planet’s Middle East Phrasebook. I want to make my professors–the people who fought for an Arabic major at Tufts so that their students could profess expertise in the Arabic language–proud. I really just want all this work, all this new knowledge that I’ve acquired over the last two years at school to be worth it. I want a return on my academic investment and the confidence that goes with making the right choices at the right time. Who knows what I’ll learn, what I’ll see–only time will tell!

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