Saturday, May 5, 2012

The return to Jordan

Driving from traffic circle to traffic circle, wandering around the University of Jordan, and traversing the traffic of downtown Amman, it seemed like I had never left. I studied abroad in Jordan two years ago, but it felt like just yesterday as I ate Shawarma Reem at the Second Circle or dipped bread into hummus with meat at Seveen, right outside the university's north gate.

Ever since I move to Egypt nearly a year ago (!), I've been meaning to get to Jordan. I still keep in touch with my host family and a couple Jordanian friends, so when a holiday celebrating the liberation of Sinai made it easy to travel to Amman for five days last week, I was really excited. But when I called my host mother to tell her I was coming, I found out some very sad news: Suleiman, my host father, had died in late March, just a week before my call. He was 79, and his illness had come about very suddenly.

So I traveled to Amman with excitement but a heavy heart. When I arrived at my host family's doorstep, an unfamiliar face answered my knocking. Their current host student, an American college student from Minnesota, told me that my host mother was in the hospital, and I'm pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. Turns out she was just having minor eye surgery, ilhamdulillah. Instead, I said hello to a large chunk of their extended family, who lives in apartments in the same, small building. It was awesome: The little kids recognized me, one of them still had a stuffed camel I brought him two years ago after a trip to Egypt, and my ability to communicate with the family had improved significantly since my Arabic and cultural knowledge have grown so much.

When my host mother returned from the hospital two days later, we sat and talked for hours and hours, and I came back the next day for a long lunch with the entire family. Delicious food defined my entire study-abroad experience, and devouring chicken and rice with my host family brought back a flood of memories -- specifically the one where I would lay in a fetal position on my bed, stuffed and content, unable to move. Still, it was painful to see my host mother so sad; she lost her best friend, someone with whom she did absolutely everything every day.

Otherwise, Jordan was pretty much the same. I spent a lot of time with a couple Jordanian friends my age, which was a lot of fun and way better than chatting on Facebook or Skype. I also noticed a lot more photos of Prince Hussein, the king's 17 year-old son and the crown prince. This time around, I talked politics nonstop with Jordanians and expats alike, a welcome change from my benign existence two years ago, when I was less schooled in how to navigate touchy subjects like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I learned way more about Jordan's political scene during this visit since I was writing an article for The National on the country's reform efforts. Now, that's not necessarily the most thrilling subject matter, so it was quite convenient that the prime minister resigned shortly before my deadline. My story suddenly became more interesting -- or at least I think so -- and you can read it here.

I also wrote a piece for Fikra Forum, a bilingual blog by The Washington Institute. Read that article in English or Arabic, the latter version translated professionally.

And before I go, thanks to Tara for letting me stay at her place! It was a palace. You could flush the toilet paper. Another welcome change from my last stay in the city of hills.

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