comparisons

one of the other “newbies” (new teachers at my new school) spent four years living and teaching in Kuwait and i just finished two years of teaching in Jordan in June, so we have had several conversations about how delighted we are to now be living outside of the Middle East. but this post isn’t about danger, or religion, or politics- what you might assume would be the reasons for that delight- instead it’s about economy, and opportunity, and culture.

besides the superficialities of dress and food and architecture, i am experiencing the unbelievably vast difference in just how it feels to be in Argentina- instead of in Jordan. it is much easier for me to just exist here. i don’t get stared at while walking down the street or when shopping in a grocery store or [ostensibly] when driving a car. it’s not obvious for people looking at me that i am a foreigner (Argentinians are frequently of Italian heritage; they look more European than “Hispanic”, so i sort of look something like them). it doesn’t feel uncomfortable to be out in public as a single woman, or as a woman with short hair. i can’t overstate the sense of relief. yes, when i speak spanish it is immediately obvious i’m not from here, and i do get asked where i’m from, but it feels more that the asking comes from mild curiosity instead of the more aggressive (and sometimes uncomfortable) fascination.

also, on being back in an urban setting: i spent ten years post college living in Cambridge and Somerville: amazing cities, part of Greater Boston, where there are at least twenty venues offering live music on any given night, restaurants representing every spot on the globe, green leafy neighborhoods, bike lanes, well-kept sidewalks, tons of cafes, street festivals, public art and reasons to be out and interacting. by these standards, Amman falls far short. as far as i’m aware, there are no public libraries in Jordan. there are very few neighborhoods where it is comfortable and safe to walk around and where there are things to walk to. the handful of venues for music mostly offer DJ dance nights or bland jordanian rock bands. local live music is rare. public transportation is ridiculously poorly organized and almost inaccessible to a non-local. restaurant options are limited. i understand that many of these inadequacies are due to the economic realities of Jordan, its resources and location and history. however, i can’t help but feel they are also symptomatic of a wider difference in values. perhaps it’s that in Jordan, your family and your extended relations are of so much prime importance, it doesn’t make sense to invest in the community beyond them. maybe it’s that Jordanians feel their social needs are met within families and neighborhoods, and their cultural needs are met by these as well. or maybe that’s all just bunk and the main difference is money– the government’s and the individual’s — and the implicit ability– or inability– to spend it on pleasures instead of necessities (living here in Argentina, i feel like socialism results in pleasures becoming necessities…). to be sure, i am living in a bubble of privilege, making more money than many people in both countries, and i have a stable profession and steady income, a social network within the country and also one outside of it. i am also an urban enthusiast and not everyone desires all that i do in a city; still, i felt that all those smaller daily deficits in Jordan resulted in a huge dip in my overall quality of life. i moved to Argentina, specifically to Buenos Aires, to remedy this.

I already find so much here to be delightful: the fact there’s a fresh produce store around the corner from my flat; that i can walk to two different train lines and spend less than $1 taking the train to school or to downtown BA; that every street has sidewalks and everyone is out using them; that i’ve walked past live music every night i’ve been here, all at different places; that people are out in the parks, kids playing on playgrounds and people walking dogs; the trees are big, the wine is cheap (and quite excellent), there are countless places to eat and interesting people to eat out with. my apartment is really lovely and it’s across from a tall stone church, covered with ivy, and kitty-corner to a plaza, with a crafts market on Sundays, a public fountain, a kids’ playground and dog waste bags for people to clean up after their pets. this is not a perfect place- nowhere on Earth is- it has a huge amount of political corruption, a sad and very recent history of military dictatorship, very serious economic concerns and questions about gender and class and development. still, i am really happy to be here.

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