I can’t remember a specific moment or time or event or occasion where I became a feminist. I don’t recall a singular point where it all suddenly clicked and I decided where I stood in terms of women’s rights and equality. It was just one of those things that happened ever so slowly over an extremely long period of time. Or maybe it was a standard period of time. Maybe it wasn’t as long as I remember. Or maybe there aren’t clear boundaries to the time it takes to grow into someone different.
My family and I were walking out of church one day and a parishioner approached us. I’m not going to point out the fact that he was both white and male because that’s the default and you’ve already assumed that. Somehow, he and my mother got to the topic of education and he turns to my sister and I and says, “You have two strikes against you: you’re female and you’re Black; So you’re going to have to work that much harder.” I remember walking home ruminating on that sentence. In all honesty, it made me sad to think about. I don’t want to have to work harder. I always forget about this encounter until I have to reach back and think about my interaction with not only feminism but also myself. It’s just one of those things that sticks out in my memory.
In high school I travelled a lot. I always found myself either in the Middle East or with a group of Middle Eastern students. In the airports, the group of us would always run into difficulties getting through the lines. One of us was always being held up for questioning—primarily the ones of us of Arab descent. Even years later, when I travel alone, my passport filled with “concerning” visas would grant me the occasional detainment. I thought with these experiences, I could relate to my friends. I thought I finally understood what their lives were like. Like: Hey, let’s all discuss this microaggression that we all share. But I quickly learned that this small annoyance was nothing like their lives. I listened to my friends lament the struggles of being Arab in a post 9/11 America, and it made me so angry. I heard them rattle off a series of horrible names they were constantly being called. I watched them cry when they retold harrowing stories about getting harassed for wearing hijaab. I wanted to do something to combat these images. I just had to learn more about the region so I could remind the naysayers that people are just people with actual feelings. People don’t want negative stereotypes projected on to them. People would prefer not to have a tiny group of individuals be the representative for every single human with a similar complexion. In all honesty, immersing myself in the difficulties of another marginalized identity, gave me the freedom to ignore my own.
I went to high school with a girl named Nora. I later learned that her name was Nora and not “The Girl With Two Moms” as everyone called her. She cut her hair and became president of the Gay Straight Alliance and suddenly everyone started calling her names that were less matter-of-fact. In all honesty, I aspired to be as strong as she was but didn’t understand why she needed to be strong. I never felt revolutionary in standing up for her even though it unfortunately was.
Kath Weston mentions in an article entitled “Theory Theory Who’s Got The Theory” that we theorize all the time whether we think about it or not. I realized that I believe in equality far before feminism was something I understood. However, I theorized something along the lines of “people shouldn’t be so mean” and “even though we are all the same, I don’t think we’re all treated as such.” And in doing some street theorizing, I was able to navigate my way into more socially conscious circles, whether I truly grasped what that meant or not.
As with anyone, any aspect of my identity works together with all the aspects of my identity and shape what I know and believe and theorize. I appreciate that my identity as a feminist is not something that I can find a clear beginning for. Much like being a woman or a African or Hard of Hearing or the countless other attributes of myself, it was something that was always there but never had a name for. It was something that was so intrinsically part of me that finding the term “feminism” felt like finally picking out and trying on the right sized shoes.
So it’s official: my Oral Proficiency Interview in Arabic is in exactly 3 days. If you don’t know what an OPI is, imagine someone speaking at you in rapid-fire Arabic (or any language of your choice) and having to come up with grammatically pristine responses in a native-speaker amount of time. At the end, you get rated with one of 10 qualitative scores based on your performance anywhere from Novice Low to Superior. Naturally, the higher up your competency is, the more time it takes to move from level to level.
Now I’m hoping to achieve a score that’s somewhere between 1 and 2 levels above where I’m *guessing* that I am right now. Is this impossible? Maybe not. I’m sure I know more than I think I do but my struggles typically come from the fact that I’m not a very chatty person in any language. If someone asks me to describe my house I’d probably stall for half a minute or so and eventually say “It’s like small-ish I guess idk we live on a hill.” If I were to say that in Arabic, that really just that I don’t have a good command of the language when in reality, I just don’t ever really think about descriptors for something so normalised to me.
So how do I plan on cramming for the OPI you ask? Well I’m lucky because I’ve taken it twice before once in Arabic and once in Persian so I have an idea of the kind of questions that are asked and the format of it already. I plan on formulating lengthy, grammatically correct answers for the questions I already have an idea that they might ask. Granted all of these questions would be at the Novice Level which I’m most definitely not in, but I don’t want to be asked a question like “tell me about yourself” and reply with a 4 word answer because I don’t know what points I am linguistically able to cover.
Secondly, I’m watching A LOT of TV. I’m sure it’s far too late in the game for me to think I’m going to get drastically better as a result of passive listening but it’s the first time in a while where I don’t have a million and one things to do so I’m excited to be able to kick back, relax, and watch Fairly Odd Parents dubbed into Arabic for hours on end. While the focus of the OPI is on how well I am able to speaking, I also need to be able to understand the examiner’s questions in order to answer them. Related to my show of choice: I absolutely love watching children’s programs because a) they’re more likely to be Modern Standard Arabic, b) they don’t use overladen jargon or too-specific cultural references (especially shows that are dubbed), c) they’re typically shorter than your average show (Phineas and Ferb episodes are only 10 minutes!) which is good for a host of reasons one being that you’re not burned out halfway through the episode, d) and lastly, they’re just fun.
But overall, I’m preparing for this OPI by making sure I am hearing and speaking as much Arabic as possible in the days leading up to it. It’s not a competition and whatever OPI score I achieve does not particularly matter because I know that I have the rest of my life to get better which is one of the greatest parts of language learning.
Cabs are the best way to get around the Amman, especially if you’re not as familiar with the bus routes or schedules. Relative to prices back in Boston, cabs here are an absolute steal. I could get from one corner of the city to the opposite one for something like $4.50JOD which is about $6.35USD. At home, I think I could get from my driveway to the next driveway for $6.35. On a GOOD day. Nevertheless, here are some *major keys* for getting cabs like a true Jordanian:
- Patience is key. Waiting for cabs can take anywhere between 15 seconds and 15 minutes. Don’t be discouraged if it seems like a bunch of empty cabs are driving on by: sometimes cabbies are just done for the day and going home. You could also download Careem. It’s more expensive but useful for when you’re trying to navigate at an odd hour.
- The word “aadad” is key. It means meter and it’s a good word to know. Look for the meter as you get in the taxi. Drivers sometime try to be slick and tuck it between the chairs where you can’t see it and tell you the final reading is more than it really is. If he doesn’t turn the meter on or he tells you it doesn’t work, feel free to get out. Cabs are a dime a dozen, trust.
- Speaking of trust, trust is key. You may get into cabs where your driver is texting his habib, changing the radio station, rolling down his window, driving stick, and still somehow doing 80 and weaving in and out of pedestrians and other vehicles. These guys are pros. Their cars are their income so they wouldn’t do anything to put their vehicles (or their passengers) in danger.
- Planning your travel outside of rush hour is key. You’re gonna be overcharged during rush hour. Most of the time, it’s not worth the hour+ wait for it to clear up and for cabs to start using the meter again. if you’re broke like me, you’d learn that 9km is a stone’s throw…walk it. (Just kidding, you just have to accept it.) Secondly, Amman traffic is on its own level. If you can avoid the “zahme,” please do. If you can’t, yikes.
This is Part III in my series about thriving in Jordan. Check out my other posts as well!
- Don’t fill up on bread. Drink and appetizers will be out momentarily. This is a pretty standard rule for any country, honestly.
- Don’t fill up on appetizers, even if they look like a full meal. Look around, if you’re the only person going to town on the baba ghanoush and mutabbal, I think it’s safe to say there’s more food coming out.
- Don’t fill up on the entree, because dessert and tea are a must.
- Desserts are sweet. Sweeter than sweet. So sweet, that you can probably skimp out on the sugar in your tea. I promise you won’t need it.
- Try everything, especially if you don’t know what it is.
- Related to that: Learn how to say, “I’m allergic to soy and pistachios” before you chow down. Eating in Jordan is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable event, not a hospital trip.
- If you don’t know how to pour tea without is spilling everywhere, enlist help, I implore you. Don’t be that guy.
- Feel free to just c h i l l. There’s no need to rush through your meal. Chat with your pals and enjoy being there. Get arguileh if you’re into that.
- The garcon will be by with the check. They understand that that is part of their job. There is genuinely no need to yell, “THE CHECK? THE CHECK PLEASE. GARCON, THE CHECK” over and over again.*
*This may or may not be from personal experience.