As you all know, I’m on a new program at the Ali Baba International Center, learning classical and colloquial Arabic in one-on-one tutoring for six weeks. Today began week two, and I think the time has come to offer a review of the program offered by Ali Baba.
Ali Baba’s program, as I told the director of the center today in my first meeting with him, compares very favorably with CIEE’s program in the summer semester. I obviously can’t vouch for the fall semester, but I imagine it is quite different as Ali Baba only offers courses in Arabic and Islamic culture, as opposed to the arrangement CIEE has with the University of Jordan wherein students take classes from UJ professors (taught in English) in core subject areas, along with CIEE’s own professors for Arabic. In the summer, CIEE’s professors teach on the UJ campus and in the office. Ali Baba, of course, only teaches in their office.
This is not a bad thing. I’m actually quite happy I don’t have to go through the UJ’s gates every morning, because you can’t get through them without scanning your ID card and CIEE University of Jordan IDs are temporary and therefore don’t work, so the worker at the gate has to scan us all in. Which is a pain. And anyway, I needed a break from the UJ.
I have two teachers, Sanabel and Raya. They’re two very different, but at the same time similar people. Sanabel, my classical Arabic teacher, wears the hijaab and abbaya, but she definitely is a very open-minded Muslim that is eager and interested in Western culture (we had a long discussion about religion and politics the other day, since that’s my research area). I think she only has her bachelor’s degree, but she really knows her stuff–grammar is easy, vocabulary is easy, etc. because she’s such a great teacher. In addition to standard Arabic, which I’m learning from the worst Arabic textbook ever written (Al-Kitaab, which has a monopoly on the US market), I’m also learning media Arabic (Arabic used in the news). This is tremendously useful for me, and hopefully I’ll be able to read a newspaper by mid-September! In addition to this, we’re reading the Bible in Arabic for an out-of-textbook text.
Raya, on the other hand, is a very different kind of Muslim than the ones I’ve met here in general. For starters, she doesn’t cover her hair, and believes in dating, not just engagement then marriage. In short, she’s a very Western Muslim, and I really enjoy talking to her as a friend and a teacher (it helps that she’s 21). CIEE’s program taught me most of the colloquial vocabulary I need–things like food, parts of the body, greetings, and conjugating verbs. Instead, we talk in Arabic as much as possible for an hour on any subject. This will help me talk about subjects in depth, something I cannot do right now.
Ali Baba’s programs are nothing short of amazing–they have great teachers and great coursework to supplement the textbook. In addition, they have weekly evaluations of teachers and of students’ progress, which helps me as I’m not getting graded.
Second topic. On Wednesday, Ramadan begins for Muslims worldwide, and being a Christian in Jordan it is appropriate for me to at least observe Ramadan in public. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Muslim holy month, from sunrise to sunset Muslims cannot eat or drink anything, including smoking and water. It used to be required for all people to fast during Ramadan in Jordan, but Christians and non-Muslims have been exempted from this law (Muslims are legally required to fast). However, it is extremely disrespectful to drink water or eat in front of a Muslim during the day in Ramadan, so I will fast in public.
Except I have been told by numerous Muslim friends, from the liberal (Raya) to the conservative (random taxi drivers) what a great experience fasting Ramadan is. I think, if I can do it, I will fast the entire month of Ramadan. It is a cultural experience like no other in the Arab world, and it is something that will probably be good for me spiritually regardless of my being Christian and not Muslim. I’ll let you all know how it goes, but I am tentatively looking forward to it–eating is supposed to be a great activity at the end of the day as well.
That’s all for now. Ma’salema.