We’ve been living in Aqaba now for 8 months (minus the month we were in the States for winter break). And you know what? Aqaba feels like home.
I know I said in my last post that it was nice to be home in the States in December. But it’s funny. When we were in Pasadena, it felt like a familiar place but not necessarily like home. Maybe it’s because we have a renter in our house and we didn’t actually go “home.” Instead, we crashed on the couches of family and friends. While I’m still so grateful for the generosity of said family and friends, it was nice to finally get back home. To Aqaba.
The thing about expat life is that the concept of home becomes more abstract. It’s not just a particular house or city. It’s…many things. Pasadena is where our house is. The U.S. is our country of origin. But where is home? Where can we walk around naked? Where is the coziest bed? Where do we feel totally comfortable to be exactly who we are, warts and all? Right now, the answer is Aqaba. In our little pre-furnished apartment in Tala Bay.
There are still many things about this place that feel completely foreign. When I drive around, I often think to myself, “How the f*ck did I wind up here?” It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that it’s so….different. So unexpected. In other words, the novelty has yet to entirely wear off. I don’t know if it ever will.
I do know that my daughter has developed a taste for labaneh sandwiches (labaneh on pita sprinkled with za’atar) and she can count to ten in Arabic. She says the word “finished” when she’s eaten enough of a meal, but she also says (and understands) the word “halas” (which means “enough” in Arabic). She knows the story of Ali Baba as well as Goodnight Moon. And the red and white checked headscarves are not foreign to her. They probably never will be.
This isn’t to say I love everything about this place. I don’t. There are some ways women are treated that I don’t especially like. Cab drivers won’t allow us to sit in the front of the cab and if they do allow it, it’s usually because they want to hit on you. Some of the men here assume because I’m not covered I must be “easy” or quite possibly a hooker. Nevermind the wedding ring on my finger, or the husband sitting next to me, or the baby on my hip.
There’s this one guy at our vegetable market, for example, who always asks me where my husband is and tries to caress my hand when I hand him the cabbages I want bagged (the cabbage, not me). I always tell him in a firm tone that my husband is at work and then I turn to Abby and engage her in conversation. It’s all very routine but I wish he would just knock it off. Even if I were single and looking to score, he stands ZERO chance. I mean zero. I’d rather make it with a cabbage.
The other thing I dislike is the general lack of responsibility. In the US, every child grows up with the idea that he or she could one day become president. This isn’t to say that every child aspires to be the leader of the free world (or should aspire to for that matter), but any person born on American soil (this includes Obama, for all of you birther wackos reading my blog) has the legal right to be president. I believe that does something to a person. It makes one believe anything is possible. As Americans, we are responsible for ourselves, our society, our government because we create it rather than it being created for us. It isn’t always perfect. In fact, our society is rather flawed. But the system itself allows us to create our destiny, to take responsibility, to take action. Theoretically.
In this region, there are kingdoms. Kings are born into their roles. They’re not voted in by the majority. They’re born and presto! They’re kings. It’s actually a little more complicated than that. It actually involves family and royal courts and behind-the-scenes manipulation. My point is that in a kingdom, different rules apply. And I wonder what that does to a person. How does that change a person’s feeling of responsibility to contribute? I don’t know because I grew up in a democracy.
Americans are descended from a long line of pioneers willing to suffer for a better life. Generally speaking, we’re a country of innovative, inspired, and enterprising people. There are plenty of good-for-nothing a-holes lazing about all over the US of course, but there’s a can-do spirit that’s an inherent part of American culture. And it’s specifically American. I don’t often see it here in Jordan. The people here are very kind but I don’t always see the same work ethic that I see in the US. That’s not to say Jordanian people don’t work hard; some work themselves to the bone. But there seems to be a much more laid-back attitude here because family is the priority for most people, rather than work. In the States, people have a tendency to live for their jobs. It’s important to strike a good balance, I think. Maybe the US and Jordan could learn from each other.
And then of course there’s the whole smoking thing that I’ve mentioned before. Not crazy about that. And also the batshit drivers. As my friend, KW says, “There are no rules in the desert.” This could not be a more apt phrase when describing the way Jordanians drive. No. Rules. At. All.
But I wonder, when we finally do move back to the US and this place is no longer “home”, will I miss it? Will I miss the desert air or the daily camel sightings? What about the smell of shawerma wafting out of the sandwich stalls or the strange little nut shops or the odd assortment of goods we find in the local Safeway? Will I miss seeing Israel and Egypt from my backyard? Will I miss hearing call to prayer, or seeing women wearing hijab? I wonder if a part of me will always long for Aqaba.
I do know this. Living here has changed my worldview. When we were in the States over winter break, we stopped by an outlet mall outside Tucson and we saw a muslim family kneeling in prayer in the mall parking lot. I found it to be a comforting sight. Before moving to Jordan, I either would have been a little intimidated by seeing something like that or I would have ignored it. But after living in Jordan, I was able to view muslims kneeling in prayer with compassion. In fact, it reminded of “home.”