Monday, August 19, 2013

Ahlan wa Sahlan

Today is the fifth full day of my school-year-long adventure at King's Academy. Having recovered from jetlag and finished the first whirlwind round of orientations, I finally feel like I have enough energy (and enough material) to begin chronicling my experiences in Jordan. So ahlan wa sahlan! That is, welcome; I don't know much Arabic yet but I do know that. Although I had to look it up to make sure.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the last five days have been utterly amazing. I am surrounded not only by stunning scenery, but by accomplished and inspiring people, and I already have the sense that this is not an institution that takes its mission lightly. Probably some specifics will help:

This is a little slice of King's Academy on a nice day, which is every day. The weather is flawlessly beautiful about 85% of the time: always sunny and clear skies, and except for the heat of the day (around 2-4pm), it's pleasantly warm, with a light and consistent desert breeze. At night the temperature dips down to Perfect, though I hear I may actually need a coat during the winter months. Which just sounds even better.

The building to the right in this picture is my building, Shafiq Jumean House. It's a smaller dorm that's currently unoccupied except for me and Joe Silvestri, the Dean of Admissions, and in fact it's going to stay unoccupied for the entire time I'm here. King's is an expanding school that aims to increase enrollment by 25 kids a year until they reach 600, but right now they're only at 475, so Jumean is empty until the school gets bigger. This means I basically have a building to myself; I already have big plans to make use of all the facilities that wouldn't get used otherwise (read: turn on all four dorm-bathroom showers at once).

I live by myself in a studio apartment. Here is most of it:

There's also a kitchen (in which I stood to take this picture), and a hallway with closet space that leads to the bathroom. And that's all. Most of the other Teaching Fellows live in doubles with about a thousand times more space than this, but I really don't need any more room, and I think the trade-off is worth it to get a whole apartment to myself. It's lonely occasionally, but getting to kick back after the long days we've been having feels like a real luxury. There's fast internet, a cutting-edge TV (see above), and my fridge came pre-stocked with all the essentials: eggs, milk, frozen lasagna, and an enormous jar of mulberry jam. Really, what more could I ask for?


So that's the basics. As for my day-to-day life, the past few days bear no resemblance to what my actual schedule will be like, but here's the gist. I highly doubt I'll get into such specifics of each day ever again, so savor these moments.

WEDNESDAY: arrival. Mona Sami, the impossibly friendly HR director, met me in the airport before I even got my visa, and took care of all the payments and logistics. Along with a few other new faculty members, we went out for dinner in Madaba, the suburb closest to King's, at a restaurant called Haret Jedoudna. Everyone calls it HJ and apparently it's all the teachers' favorite; given that I've already been twice, I'm inclined to believe them. The food at HJ has come to be very familiar, because it's the same at most restaurants: plates on plates of mezze, usually including bread, grape leaves, hummus and other similar spreads, and once you're ridiculously full, a huge plate of grilled chicken, lamb, and kebab (which is more or less meatloaf). Suffice it to say our stomachs are well cared-for.

THURSDAY: a free day. Lunch in the staff dining hall and a tour courtesy of the Dean of Faculty, John Leistler, who is an institution around here and kind of reminds me of Cam from Modern Family. This is taking too long so I'm going to put the orientation all together.

A packed weekend of meetings, trips, and incredible meals. This weekend was less about Learning To Teach and more about Getting Our Shit Together: shopping for groceries and apartment essentials; getting our electronics figured out; and sightseeing around the region. Our first day was the biggest trip, up north to Jerash, which is allegedly the most complete Greco-Roman ruin in the world or something like that. Here's the stage of the theater:

And me in front of what I believe to be the Temple of Artemis:

On Saturday we hit Amman for a few of the city's highlights:
- Rainbow Street, the hippest part of town, where I revisited a cafe that the Whiffs went to last year
- Hashem, the famous falafel restaurant, which deserves its renown
- Habibah, a dessert place that makes knafe/kunafa/however you want to spell it. This is the best dessert I have ever had. Picture melted mozzarella cheese topped with a crispy, sweet, oily corn flour dough, with a few crushed pistachios on top. I understand that that is probably hard to picture. But trust me, it was incredible.
- Hamudeh, the bootleg (sshhh) DVD store. I bought season 1 of the West Wing and Breaking Bad, and Fear and Loathing, and Snatch, for 9 JDs (about $12). Score.

And yesterday we bussed up to Mt. Nebo, where Moses looked across into the Promised Land and breathed his last breath. Pretty wild to stand up there and think about how important this dusty patch of desert has been in world history and how much ink has been spilled, and blood shed, on its behalf. More on the politics in a later post, I imagine; I've learned a whole lot already and there's plenty more to come.


Finally to the present. Today the full faculty orientation began, so I got to meet most of the rest of my department and start thinking about the actual teaching part of the job. As far as the people and the academics, I'll just mention my department head, Mariam Attar, who said the following thing to me regarding my department of Ethics, Philosophy, and Religion:

"Our department is like a little family, and you can think of me as a colleague - or if you want, habibi, as a mom!"

So that's going to be great.

I'm realizing that all that stuff I said about the people and the institution didn't make it into most of the above novel, and I'm feeling like this post is dragging on forever. Good thing the people and the institution aren't going anywhere. You'll hear plenty about them in the months to come.

I'm going to try to update this at least weekly, though it's hard to say how much I'll be able to do with the hectic schedule I'm about to take on. Either way, thanks for reading, and don't hesitate to comment if there are particular things you want to know. So far the thing I like most about this blog is that it saves me from having to write separate emails to everyone who wants to know what I'm doing here, so tell me what you want to know and I will happily oblige.

It feels right now as if I'm still standing on the edge of the precipice, and I won't really take the plunge until the students arrive next week. There's so much more to come in this year of teaching and learning, but if these early days are any indication, I've found myself somewhere very special and I have an awful lot to look forward to. Talk soon!


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