It was my last week in Amman, Jordan and the thickest sandstorm I’d ever seen blotted out the sun and cast eerie shadows across the rocky desert outside my office window at the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Swiveling back around to my desk I caught the eye of Osama who was laughing at my wonderment. “You’ve been here more than four months and this is still exciting for you?” he teased, his face crinkling into a toothy grin. “Tabaan! Of course!” I replied in perfect arabeezi, the English-Arabic hybrid that keeps new Arabic speakers afloat in a fast-paced and complex world of grammar rules and grumpy taxi drivers. “Well, with such good weather, why would you ever want to leave?” Osama noted in perfect Jordanian sarcasm, glancing sideways towards my desk riddled with empty mugs of sugary tea.
The truth was, I didn’t.
The American staff I worked with this past summer at the U.S. embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe have a term for this general type of situation. They call it “going native,” referring to when an ex-pat remains long enough in a foreign post that they become attached, and begin to view life through the lens of a local. It was a term within the embassy community that was generally used to invite negative criticism upon the individual it referenced, and remains a term that I envision causes my fellow social justice colleagues to cringe at its utterance.
But the reality behind living abroad successfully, in the sense that one experiences a truly diverse and enriching exchange of ideas and cultures, is dependent upon the very ability of an individual to strip away his or her own biases, categorical lenses, and comfort zones.
And it was hard at first! I found it difficult to understand the different hierarchy of values that influenced Jordanian life on a daily basis. I originally became frustrated with the pressures life in Jordan placed on my usual freedom of dress, limitation of movement, curfews, familial obligations, and behavioral expectations. I found myself wanting to fight the differences, being indignant that I was being compelled to change so drastically in order to integrate into the society in which I found myself. Then, I woke up a month into my program and realized that just “getting through” my time abroad wasn’t enough for me. I reset my outlook.
I learned to love Jordan. I came to appreciate the call to prayer that echoed from every hill five times a day. With hard work and classes at the University of Jordan, I became comfortable communicating in basic Arabic. I began to reference King Abdullah II in conversation about as often as President Obama. I looked forward to sleepovers at my friend Majd’s house where we would talk about God, politics, feminism, and Palestine. I began to find falafel and hummus a normal type of breakfast food. I drank my tea like an Arab, strong and with three extra scoops of sugar. I argued with taxi drivers, and bartered in the souqs. I embraced the flexibility of time. I learned how to dance the dabka, but never quite mastered the incredible grace of belly dancing. My host family actually provided me a real home. There were people I met that changed my life.
So, no, I didn’t want to leave Jordan, and I told Osama so.
He merely listened with a twinkle in his eye. After a moment he responded, “Inshallah, you will return”
“Inshallah,” I nodded, sighing, as more sand whipped against the window.
**”Inshallah” = God willing