Starting the day off right


Sami Mirza

Sami Mirza’s apartment.

I ran to class today.
No, not the frantic 100-meter mad dash from your dorm because you missed your alarm, or the semi-jog when you’re halfway across campus and might be late but are not sure yet. I’m talking a 10-kilometer cruise from Jabal Amman to the CIEE Study Center near the University of Jordan, dodging traffic and breathing dirty exhaust up and down hills.
I embarked on this fit of insanity because of a scheduling conflict with my normal Monday evening workout with Running Amman, a group that runs three times a week in various parts of the city. To make up for the 10 km I would have done with them, I decided that a run would fit nicely into my morning schedule.
As I was running, I thought about the shoddy draft I originally had planned for this column, an attempt to examine how so many of the things I took for granted at Allegheny — internet, plentiful water, easy access to food — were complicated in Amman by barriers of language and anxiety. It was a good idea, but like a lot of good ideas, it suffered from poor execution.
As the kilometers wore away under my feet, though, I saw this run as emblematic of my experience here in Amman. I cut my teeth running through mostly flat suburbia, racing through parks and cornfields. At Allegheny and in Virginia, I took on two-lane country roads, bereft of traffic and full of fresh air. Very often, I’d just pick a direction, run for a while, then turn back.
Amman could not be more different. The urban environment is full of secondhand smoke and the exhaust from cars older than I am. No route is a straight line: every road twists and turns and GPS is often a must.
And the hills. Oh, the hills.
The city was originally built on seven hills, and today spans over more than 20. Flat space is really only found at the peaks — intra-city travel is typically a process of descending one hill and climbing another.
My run was no different, though the hill up to the study center was excruciatingly gentle. You’d think that a small incline would be no big deal: it’s only a little bit of an added vertical climb. But over four, five, six kilometers, it adds up. For a runner used to relatively flat ground, broken by steep, dramatic Appalachian hills, it’s a fresh challenge.
I also ran, for only the second or third time, with a pack on my back. A modern education requires modern equipment: a phone, power converter, notebooks, ramen. I left my laptop and other heavy accessories at the center, but even still I had a couple of pounds on my back. It made me feel, for the first time, that running was not just a form of difficult cardio but a versatile form of travel.
Running, for me, has always been to race. It’s how I got into the sport in the first place: running for my high school cross country team. With this competitive mindset comes expectations — even with my racing days long gone — that I should push myself every day, to focus on getting the most out of every workout.
Today, my focus was on getting to the study center, distracting my mind and letting me just … run for the first time in a while.
All of these combined to an unforgettable experience: darting in between traffic, climbing the incline of the westbound side of Shari’a Jamaiah, slipping past food carts and other pedestrians. It was a proper adventure, seeing new places and doing a familiar activity in a totally unfamiliar style. It was, as the kids say, a “core memory.”
We often associate defining moments in our lives with big changes: proposals, graduations, funerals. But with my run, I found a defining moment in the mundane, a memory that will stay with me as a fresh adventure I thoroughly enjoyed. This curiosity and joy at even the smallest things is the spark that drives so much of studying abroad, and can make even a semi-boring commute a grand adventure.