Well, another week has come and gone, believe it or not. This week had a lot of the same ol’-same ol’ type stuff – school, homework, speaking, etc. – but there were a couple of note-worthy things as well. It was brought to my attention by Dil this week in class that we only have two more weeks of class here in Amman. Two weeks of class, a week of tests and then it’s off to Israel for the last two weeks or so of the semester. Didn’t we just get here? How has most of the semester already passed us by?
Monday night we participated in a service project at the chapel. The senior missionary couple who live at the chapel spend most of their time doing humanitarian work in the refugee camps around here and were putting together hygiene kits for Syrian refugee kids at one of the camps. What we did was mostly just rolling up and packaging blankets for the kits, but it was a lot of fun getting together and doing that. While it still feels too early for this kind of thing to me, Christmas music was playing while we were packing the blankets and I think that did have something of a cheering affect of the activity.
The biggest event from this week though was Wednesday night. As I’m sure you are all at least vaguely aware, the World Cup will be taking place next year in Brazil. Which means qualifier games are going on right now. The Jordanian national team has never qualified for the World Cup before. Right after we got here, Jordan played and beat Uzbekistan (I think), which put them closer to making it into the World Cup than they’ve ever been before (this is a big, big deal. Jordanians, like most of the world outside the States, take their soccer very, very seriously). However, before actually qualifying for the World Cup Jordan had to face one last opponent and the luck of the draw had it that said opponent should be Uruguay. This was a fairly big disappointment for Jordanians because the Uruguay national team is really good. Like somewhere among the top ten in the world. But getting to play them to qualify for the World Cup is still a bigger deal than anything Jordanians have ever experienced. Ever. So the first of the two matches between the teams was this Wednesday here in Jordan. And wouldn’t you know it, but the Amman International Stadium just so happens to be a 10 or so minute walk from my apartment (it’s located inside this huge sports complex known as Sports City, which is also where I happen to go to the gym most mornings). Did I mention that the price of tickets to this game started at 3JD (that’s maybe $5)? How many opportunities do you get to attend a World Cup qualifier match, much less in a foreign country, much less for dirt cheap prices? Oh, you know I was all over that.
It turned out to be a bit more involved than initial considerations would indicate. First of all, within hours of going on sale every ticket was sold out. I guess that’s to be expected for the biggest game that has ever taken place in Jordan. So, ever since we got back from Petra I’ve had a new speaking partner at Qasid, a guy named Abdullah. So at the beginning of the week I was talking to him and he asked if I was planning on going to the game. I told him of course I wanted to go, but wasn’t sure how to get a ticket. “No problem,” he told me. “This is what you have to do. Go over to Sports City. Go in the first gate. You know the parking lot there? There will be an old, blue pickup truck. There’s a guy sitting in the truck. Go up to him and say hello. He’ll say hello back. Ask him about tickets. He’ll say, ‘Tickets? What tickets? What are you talking about?’ Tell him a friend told you he has tickets. Then he’ll ask you how many you want. Tell him how many you want. He’ll probably try to charge you extra because you’re American, but you should be able to get a ticket for ten to twenty JD.” I promise I’m not making any of this up. It made me laugh so hard, because that is SO Jordanian. But ya know what? That is exactly how my roommates and I got tickets.
So the other complication was there were a few girls in the program who also wanted to go to the match. That in itself is of course not a complication. But, as you may know, Arab culture sometimes takes a somewhat different view of women, particularly Western women, than Westerners tend to. Dil told us that he wouldn’t prohibit the girls from going, though he did strongly discourage it. Apparently last year on this program a couple girls went to an international soccer match and encountered some… problems. Like, they were assaulted by shabab (young Arab men). So Dil told us that if girls were going to go to the match there had to be at least two guys escorting each one of them. As I already mentioned, this was going to be the biggest game played in Jordan and no one, even our Jordanian teachers, really knew what to expect about how crazy things might get at the stadium. When my teacher, Fadi, found out some of the girls were going with us his reaction went something along the lines of, “Uhhhhhh….I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
But go we did. I think all in all there were between 15 and 20 students from my program who got tickets to the match, including three girls. The match started at 6:00pm but we got there around 3:00pm. It was pretty crazy. Everything around Sports City was crammed full of people. And there were police EVERYWHERE. All along the road to the stadium there were guys selling Jordanian flags, shemaghs, bandannas, face paint, etc. Before heading over we organized ourselves into teams with certain guys assigned to look out for certain girls and we basically just made human shields around each of them to push our way through the crowds. Right at the entrance to the stadium this one guy was just handing out these paper top-hat type things with the Jordanian flag colors on it. Once we were inside the stadium I seriously felt like we were celebrities at a huge party. There was music blasting and everyone was cheering and dancing and chanting slogans (remember, this was three hours before the start of the match) and when they saw this group of American kids walking by wearing Jordan colors everyone would go crazy, cheering even louder, screaming and waving their arms at us. It was so crazy, but also kind of hilarious.
So yeah, we sat down with all the Jordanians and joined in chanting slogans and clapping our hands for the three hours until the game started. The most popular chant is the title of this post, which translates to “The people want our lord/master Abu Hussein” (aka King Abdullah). It was actually kind of cool, one half of the stadium would yell out the first part (“The people want!”) and then the other half of the stadium would respond with the second half (“our lord Abu Hussein!”). They had several slogans and songs like that, which they kept up, nearly uninterrupted, until the start of the game. One of the Jordanian guys sitting near me actually gave me a shemagh, which was pretty dang cool since I’d been planning on buying one before I leave anyway. Just another evidence of the generosity of Jordanians.
Maybe this is gonna sound weird, but the time before the start of the match was kind of more fun than the game itself. Once things got under way it quickly became apparent that the Jordanian team was pretty seriously outmatched by the Uruguayans. The score at half-time was 2-0 with Jordan behind, but the Uruguayan team didn’t seem like they’d even been trying all that hard. Half-time was still fun though. We pulled out some of the food we’d brought with us and so did the Jordanians around us and we enjoyed chatting with them and sharing food with one another. Seriously, such good times. We decided it would be safer to leave before the end of the game in smaller groups (again with the guys making human shields around the girls). I was in one of the last groups to leave, getting close to 80 minutes into the match, and as we were walking out the Uruguayans scored their fourth goal. The final score ended up being 5-0. Kind of painful to watch, but still an unforgettable experience.
It had been while leaving the stadium last year that bad stuff happened so we were extra on our guard, and extra protective of the girls, and we all got everyone home without any problems. Life is good.
I’m still doing my martial arts classes with the kids at that one center. I went last Saturday and again yesterday. Kids are crazy and hilarious and a lot of fun. I’m glad I get the chance to be here and to do the things I’m doing.
A couple weeks ago I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting today in the Arabic branch. Thankfully, today I made no mistakes with mixing up generosity and urine. There were a number of American visitors in the branch today, a couple here from the church’s humanitarian services department (I think. Something like that anyway) and a handful of doctors and nurses here doing clinics to teach Jordanian doctors how to do neonatal resuscitation. Why were they at the Arabic branch instead of the English one? I sure couldn’t tell ya. But because they were there right after I started speaking the branch president tugged on my elbow and asked me to do my own interpreting. That was a first. I did interpreting for other people plenty of times in Spanish on my mission, but I’ve never had to give a talk in one language and then repeat exactly what I’d just said in another language. I kept forgetting that I needed to stop and repeat myself in English. It was quite an experience. It was also gratifying in the sense that it helped me realize that I actually have made a good amount of progress with my language. It’s so hard to mark progress in yourself with language learning (or really anything I suppose) while it’s happening, but on reflecting on my talk today I realize that I couldn’t have spoken about the things I did, with the fluency with which I spoke, a couple months ago when I first got here. So that’s something I’m really grateful for.
Well folks, that’s about it for this week. Hope this next one is great for all of you!