Summaq, sitting rooms, and shisha

As I prepared for my time in Jordan, one of my biggest concerns was what my host experience would be like. So many students cite living with their host families as the most rewarding part of their study abroad experience, whereas some have horror stories that would knock your socks off. SIT tends to keep things pretty under wraps until you arrive in your study abroad location, so my nerves were about as high as they could get. I am happy to write that after three months with my host family, I have had a wonderful experience and cultivated relationships that will certainly last for a long-time after I leave Jordan.

Right now, I live with two women. We will refer to them for privacy purposes as Sarah and Kelly. Sarah is 35, and technically my host-sister. Given our age difference, I like to refer to her as my host-Mom. Sarah’s mother, Kelly, is the matriarch of our little family and the sweetest lady. Sarah works 6 days a week as a pharmacist at a leading pharmaceutical company in Jordan, and Kelly stays at home with me every day. Most women in Jordan, especially in Amman, do not work, and are stay-at-home mothers. Because Sarah is an only child and unmarried, she provides for the family.

Every study abroad program operates differently, but SIT Jordan guarantees breakfast and dinner with the homestay, a weekly stipend for lunch and transportation costs, as well as a weekly laundry service, good lighting, Wi-Fi, and a private bedroom. Students are even guaranteed a private bathroom or a bathroom shared exclusively with members of the same gender. I have all of the above, and share my bathroom with Kelly.

The majority of housing in Jordan is apartment buildings, especially in the city. I live on the fourth floor of a nice apartment building in a neighborhood called Umm Al Summaq, located 25 minutes away from our school. Two of the largest malls in Jordan are within walking distance of my apartment, and major fruit stands and a convenience store are a five minute stroll away. All apartment buildings are equipped with a small elevator and the roof is usually accessible by stairs.

When I imagined living in Jordan, I had a very western and stereotypical understanding of the Middle East. I imagined tents, run-down buildings with questionable electricity and water, rodents, and eating on the floor. Living in Jordan is nothing like what I expected, and I’d like to show you what life has been like for me the last three months in my homestay.

This is my bathroom. Much like you would find in Europe, all bathrooms are equipped with some form of bidet. Mine has both! It’s common for toilets in Jordan to lack toilet seats, so make sure you peak at where you’re placing your bum before using the bathroom. My bathroom is larger with lots of storage for my shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and other belongings. Our maid cleans it once a week, which is hardly necessary because it stays fairly spotless.

All families have different preferences when it comes to water usage. In Jordan, water is delivered every week in a fixed amount. This week the water delivery was late, so we’re saving water right now by not showering, running the dishwasher, or doing laundry. We’re a stinky bunch for the time being 🙂 Normally, my host family lets me shower for as long as I would like. In my apartment, however, water must always be heated before a shower in the water heater. So, you need to plan about an hour ahead of time if you want your shower to be warm. Water pressure is dependent on the house, but almost all houses have low pressure to decrease the amount of water used. I shower every other day, and try to keep my showers between 1-5 minutes, turning the water off when I am shampooing or don’t need it.

Most apartments in Jordan don’t have air conditioning, and as I was preparing for my time in Jordan I was nervous about being able to sleep and function in the heat. Thankfully, Jordanian engineers have had the temperature thing figured out for a long time, and keep the air cool by having lots of windows and making all of the buildings out of adobe (sun-dried mud) which traps cold air, and reflects heat. Dryers are uncommon in Jordan, so all clothes are hung from racks on balconies or in the home. We hang ours on our porch, pictured above. This porch is also where my host mom Kelly feeds the street cats every night, chucking raw chicken off the balcony to twenty different cats. I got to do it once–it was an honor indeed (not to mention really fun).

This is the kitchen in my host house. It has everything my house in the U.S. has, with its own Jordanian variations. The biggest difference is that you cannot drink water in Jordan, and so every home has either a water cooler of drinking water or a filter. We have a filter and get our drinking water out of a separate sink. Another notable difference is that all stoves in Jordan are gas. These are important because gas stoves are used to heat shisha (hookah) charcoal and pita bread by placing the charcoal or bread directly on the flame.

Whether you are in rural Jordan in a low-income household or in the wealthiest neighborhood in Amman, every apartment will have a designated sitting room for guests. Most sitting rooms have luxurious furniture fit for royalty, and is the nicest room in the whole house. In my apartment, we only ever use the sitting room if we have company over or it is a special occasion.

This is our main living room. My older host mom Kelly spends all day in this room watching Arab dramas and caring for the cats. Pictured are Ziko and Bella, two out of the three of our host cats. I am allergic to cats and originally requested a homestay without them. Even though I have to pop allergy pills more frequently than I would like, I am glad I chose to be in a homestay with cats. On housing surveys prior to studying abroad, we were asked if we were okay with having cats and smoking in our homestays. I neglected both. After having to switch home stay families during my first week, I was so glad I got Sarah and Kelly, even though they have three cats and smoke. Smoking, hookah, and cats are all huge parts of Jordanian culture, and I would have missed out on a lot of immersion had I been without them. If you’re visiting or studying abroad any time soon, I recommend immersing yourself in these kinds of small cultural norms– they will enrich your experience greatly, even if you always smell faintly of cigarette smoke 🙂

Last, but certainly not least, is my bedroom. My haven. My safe space. Having a private and quiet space to retreat at the end of the day has been a luxury. I get great air flow and lighting through my windows, and have lots of closet space for all of my belongings. My emerald green loveseat is my favorite spot in the entire house, and I have spent many late nights doing homework and watching Gilmore Girls on that spot.

Overall, my homestay experience has been wonderful. During my first week, I had a homestay placement that didn’t work out, and SIT Jordan moved me within 24 hours without question. I’m excited for my last month with my home stay, and will miss it dearly come December 19th.

Published by leahcooper

Class of 2022 Global Studies and Spanish Double Major SIT Amman, Jordan

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