I officially had my first incredibly frustrating but ultimately rewarding "adventure" in Amman yesterday. I had to visit the Arab Medical Center (or, rather, a building close to it) in the Fifth Circle. Getting there was easy. It's behind the only two five-star hotels in Amman, and very well-known. The problem is that it is located in one of the most commercial, uninhabited districts in the city. I was naive enough to believe I could catch a taxi back without a hitch, no problem. Problem. Since the area is so busy, taxis don't stop. All the people standing around were waiting for people to pick them up - people they knew.
When I finally managed to snag a taxi off the busy main road, he refused to take me where I needed to go. For 40 minutes I wandered around the hospital and the gigantic Sheraton hotel, watching taxis fly by. When I finally felt exhausted and on the verge of tears, I swallowed my pride and mustered all the Arabic I knew to ask the information desk at the hospital where I could get a taxi. The information worker directed me to the parking guards at the Sheraton. "They will get you taxi," he said.
Across from the hospital were three men sitting under an umbrella. Whenever a car would approach the hotel, they would stop it, check in its trunk, and if everything was all clear they would push aside a very scary looking tire-puncture-thing to allow the car to pass (this precaution probably began after a series of hotel bombings in 2005). I assume they took turns at this because two of them seemed to be lounging under the umbrella, while a third wielded a clipboard and checked car trunks under the mid-day Amman sun.
I asked them, in Arabic, where I could get a taxi to my home. The working man smiled and said, in Arabic, "I will get a taxi for you, it may take about five minutes."
I secluded myself to the side of the road, near the two sitting twenty-somethings under the umbrella. Our conversation, mostly in Arabic, went as follows:
"How long have you been in Jordan?"
"One week? And you speak Arabic?"
"How did you learn it?"
"In college, in America."
"So, are you Arab, or American?"
"But I've only studying Modern Standard Arabic so far. I don't know much spoken Arabic."
Another long pause.
"So, you know Arabic grammar?"
"Yes, I do."
"With the case endings [strange markers used to indicate parts of speech and their cases, the equivalent of which does not exist in English and which are never used in spoken Arabic]?"
"Yes, of course."
He thought for a bit.
"The boy ate the [some Arabic food I didn't recognize]."
"Say it with the case endings. The boy ate the...apple."
"The boy...ate...the apple."
At this the working man had come back to the umbrella. He smiled and said, "That's right!"
The three men sort of shrugged and pondered the idea that this little American girl was in their country, speaking their language. They did flag down a taxi for me, and were able to convince the driver to take me home. I didn't really understand why that was such a difficult proposition, but then, taxi drivers here operate on a different level of rationality. I think.
That was the first time I'd ever seen real pride in the Arabic language. Usually, if you try to speak Arabic here, you will get a response in Arabic and then a sigh and then a response in English. But these men seemed to be legitimately impressed by the fact that I had taken the time to learn their language, and to learn it thoroughly. As with most foreign languages, I had learned more technical aspects of Arabic than they had ever learned or would remember. I couldn't ask my host family if they had any Scotch tape, but at least I could impress hotel workers enough to get myself a taxi. Arabic success numero uno.