Last night I was the American I try not to be: Loud and obnoxious.
Last night was also one of the best nights of my life.
As my time comes to an end in this country, I’ve been trying to spend as much time with the people I’ve grown so close to. With a little over two weeks left until my flight home, my classmates/friends and I decided to have a night at Rosa’s on Rainbow Street with Thai food and a few laughs.
We headed to meet Muhammet, our Turkish classmate, around 6pm last night to finish some food shopping for the Pad Thai that Chef Junior would be making for us that night.
Ustadha Sarah, one of our instructors at the institute we attend, was very excited to learn that we would be spending an evening with Muhammet, as we would be forced to speak Arabic in order to include him since he only speaks Turkish and almost no English.
I think last night was the most Arabic I’ve spoken in a given day since coming to Jordan and it was a great experience for all of us.
Once we met up with Muhammet, we grabbed a taxi. Little did we know that it would be one of the most…unique…taxi rides we would have.
The only way to describe our taxi driver last night was “majnoon” or “crazy.” We even told him he was crazy and he took it as a lovely compliment.
At first, when getting into the cab, he thought there were only three of us so he charged us a night price of 3JD or 1JD a person. However, when two more of us squeezed into the back, he smiled surprisingly and said “Whaaaa? Five?? Oh no.”
Taxi drivers are always a little skeptical fitting five people in their cars as they can get pulled over if seen by the cops. However, he laughed it off, agreed to his number of passengers and we were on our way.
As most Jordanians do, he weaved in and out of traffic and maintained a speed of probably 70mph down the road throughout the trip. On one road some cars kept honking next to us and he tried to race them. Both he and the driver/passengers in the car next to us thought it was hilarious; meanwhile the rest of us were slightly fearing for our lives. Muhammet didn’t seem bothered by it and continued showing the driver Turkish singers while the driver drove without even looking at the road.
He cranked up the music on his stereo and would press the gas to the beat of the song, making all of us bounce back and forth. Any time a song mentioned the word “habibi” (as they usually do) I would sing along, which he seemed to enjoy as he laughed and turned the volume up to sing to, as well.
While everyone else in the car was ready to get out as soon as the ride started, I thought it was one of the best taxi rides I’ve had.
His car was a party that I didn’t want to end.
We finally made it to Rainbow Street alive in and one piece and we made our way to Rosa’s house. Tiziana and Asmeret, our classmates that double as nuns, would be joining us just a few minutes after we arrived.
Junior, Luyi and I made our way to the kitchen to prepare the meal for the night, as us Asians are expected to do. Meanwhile, Jack, Tiziana, Asmeret, Rosa and Muhammet made themselves comfortable in the living room as they got the fireplace going.
As Junior, Luyi and I were cooking, I was glad to hear out in the living room that everyone else was including Mohammet in the conversation as they all tried to utilize as much Arabic as we’ve learned the past couple of months to learn more about him.
It’s interesting to think that just two months ago I thought Mohammet was probably the most irritating person on the face of the Earth, but it’s amazing how things change once you really get to know someone.
In the course of an evening, all in Arabic (and some Turkish that he taught me), I learned about his family, his friends, his schooling and that he is what’s called a hafith or hafiz, someone who has completely memorized the Qur’an—all 114 surahs (chapters), over 6,000 verses and almost 80,000 words. He says it took him two years, from age six to eight, to memorize and his father helped him learn, while many who memorize the Qur’an are sent to Islamic schools to learn it. He even showed us a video of him reciting in a masjid or mosque, giving Friday prayer.
One becomes a hafiz through practice and tests. These tests are oral, asking the person either to recite a full surah or continue a surah after a random verse is given. A reciter has no idea where they will be asked to begin (as the Qur’an is not placed in front of them) and must be able to recite it perfectly.
Becoming a hafiz is highly respectable and there are competitions around the world for testing memory and recitation of the Qur’an, with children as young as six coming to compete to prove their skills. Many who memorize the Qur’an come from non-Arab countries without understanding or even speaking Arabic, like Muhammet. I’ll leave a link to a documentary on hafiz competitions that I watched in a course I took back home earlier this year on Islam and the Middle East.
In all, I learned a lot about Muhammet and I really think differently of him now but definitely in a positive way. I even have to commend him on eating the Pad Thai we made last night as he typically sticks with the Turkish food he can find around the city. Also as of last night, he has the nickname of Muhammet Kebab.
We spent the night eating, laughing, speaking at one point six different languages to each other (Arabic, English, Turkish, Spanish, French and Italian) and singing obnoxious Lebanese songs that caused me to lose my voice.
I think last night just reassured me that coming here was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and the people I’ve met have changed my life forever.