By the end of December– a full month before my flight to Amman, Jordan– YouTube was suggesting that I watch “How to Dabke” (Arab folk dance) and a video walkthrough of making Knafeh (Levantine pastry). An advertisement on Facebook prompted me to sign up for traveler’s insurance which, it assured me, works “great for the Middle East!”
Google Chrome had figured out my itinerary. Of course, I hadn’t exactly made it difficult. Facebook and Netflix were stubbornly lodged in the display of most-visited tabs shown whenever I open a new browser window, but the Jordan Times, BBC Arabic, and Google Maps had joined them. My search history included such gems as “Culture of Jordan” and “Are harissa sauce and harissa cake related?” (but actually, one is hot chili pepper paste and the other sweet semolina cake… what in the world do they have in common?) I had watched videos of Jordanian dancing, Jordanian pop stars, and Jordanian comedy. I’d zoomed in on Google maps satellite view until I got the closest, grainiest view of Amman available, and read through every entry by previous Gilman scholars in Jordan (thanks for the advice, guys).
It’s easy to chalk up my mildly obsessive internet research to nerves, but I don’t think that’s quite it; after all, I didn’t feel nervous. I was confident I would be in a good program, surrounded by wonderful people. I was downright eager to improve my Arabic fluency (which, despite a few semester of previous study, falls somewhere between “mediocre” and “passable”). So why was I looking up the total land area of Jordan (34,495 mi2)? The average hours of sunlight per day (almost 10)? The national flower (black iris)?
Do me a favor: tell me where you’re living next semester. Go on. Picture it. Tell me, will you need warm clothing in March, or will it be sunny and mild? What will you eat for breakfast? How will you get to school– bus, taxi, drive, walk? What will you do for fun, to fill your nights and weekends?
You probably know all of that. I don’t.
I don’t know if I’ll be taking a taxi to school… if I will, I don’t know how much it will cost, or how I’ll hail one, or how to talk to the driver, or even what currency I’ll be paying in! Well, okay, I do know the currency, but that’s only because I’ve visited the Wikipedia article for the Jordanian Dinar a time or two. Or ten.
And that, I think is the reason for learning about the history of Queen Rania, looking at articles about Jordan’s decision to recently reinstate the death penalty, and learning how kadaif noodles are made. Everything– from my daily commute to their judicial system– is new and completely unknown. I still don’t know where my residence will be; I’m going to get on a plane in a little over a week, and fly to a country I’ve never seen on a continent I’ve never visited, and show up without a clue where I’ll be sleeping that night. Or how I’ll get coffee the next morning, which, let’s face it, is probably higher priority.
I am so incredibly-indescribably-amazingly-exorbitantly excited. Incredidescribablamazibitantly excited. See? I had to make a new adverb, because I didn’t have one to sufficiently convey how excited I am. I can’t wait to meet other students, to learn about the city, to have terribly awkward attempts at conversation in Arabic (scratch “passable,” my Arabic skills are definitely more “mediocre”), to try knafeh in real life. I’m incredidescribablamazibitantly excited for the whole semester, even though I have no idea what’s waiting for me beyond the airport.
What I do know: the national bird is the Sinai Rosefinch; the national football team (soccer, my American friends) is called Al-Nashaamaa (“the Chivalrous”); a qirsh and piastre are equal and both 1/100 of a dinar. And I know that this semester is going to be amazing beyond belief.
And so, armed with these facts, these few small certainties, I feel better facing all of the grand uncertainties awaiting me… except for not knowing how harissa sauce and harissa cake are related; that one’s really annoying me. Seriously, anybody have a clue? Even Google didn’t know.