NO PLACE LIKE HOME

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.

Sort of.

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.”

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9 thoughts on “NO PLACE LIKE HOME

  1. hey there, I am new to your blogs but I am loving it so far!
    I am a Jordanian girl living in Amman and yes I am bisexual lol dont be surprised u might not know it but there’s quite a big LGBT community in Jordan, not out of the closet though but we do exist! eh anyway when u come to Amman holla at me maybe we’ll go for a small ride to show u the town and have a couple of drinks!
    p,s I am a corporate Travel manager so I know where all the good places at 😉

    Take Care
    Daniya H,

    • Hi Dania! Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. It’s nice to know that there’s a strong LGBT community in Jordan. I hope to see more acceptance of LGBT people in this country. It’s too bad those in the closet don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to come out. And thanks for offering to show me around Amman! I might just take you up on that the next time I visit.

  2. Hi;
    I am glad you are getting more comfortable; and more accustomed to Jordan; please allow me to disagree with you on your view of women as a sub-human class in our country; you can’t be more mistaken.. I understand; since you live in Aqaba; you have been exposed to their traditions; i.e. Fisherman/bedwin originated population; which might be a bit oppressive to women; but ALL cultures from this background is so wherever they are; there is no lack of ambition or chances; just because our political system is Royal.. so are a lot of other countries; it gives a stability to Jordan; it is the most politically stable country in the region..

    Women can study whatever they want; work in whatever field they want; marry whomever they want; and befriend whomever they want; no one oppresses women and force them into a certain life style; just because extramarital sexual relations are not acceptable; does not mean women are oppressed; this is on both genders; and once upon a time this was a world wide thing..

    Yes; some men can be overboard with rudeness; Taxi drivers everywhere are known for that; not just at home.. and a lot of women are not covered in Jordan; it is not unusual or unheard of; as there is at least 30% or more Jordanian Christians in the population; you don’t hear about rape crimes; do you? even if men were rude they won’t act on it; so don’t worry; they are rude to any woman that smiles regardless of a veil.

    About having four wives; yes; it is allowed; but is also well regulated and conditioned; and is VERY rarely followed; not any man can just take four wives regardless.. and the first wife always have a say in it ; most men marry only one; and the rest might marry two.. three or four is very rare..

    You might want to spend some time in Amman and other cities to see the variation; Aqaba is not representative for the culture in Jordan; look; I am Jordanian; I love my country; I am proud of it; we have Internationally recognized and awarded universities; top quality education; one of the best health care system in the world; recognized by the WHO; where 85% of the population is covered with governmental health insurance; the rest covered by private companies; 0% illiterates; extremely low crime rate; non-existent single moms / dumped babies/ Minor pregnancies; sharp political awareness.. there are more important things than being able to be a president.. like not worrying on your daughter’s safety when she hits her teens.. like feeling well taken care of by the government; that you matter; and that you are not judged.

    I am talking from my personal life; I was born and raised in the south; strict environment; yet I have a degree in clinical pharmacy; I worked night shifts in ICU; I drive as I like; I rent cars; I take cabs; I was never harassed; or attacked when I take a cab home at 3:00am; I wear Hijab and Jilbab; and was not stopped from working in a hospital due to my beliefs like in the US; where I was denied access to a residency program because of my Hijab.. I travel alone; I am working in KSA; living alone; and no one forbade me from doing that.. and I was barely 24 when I left.. I am 26 now and I don’t feel that my life was controlled or that I missed on anything.. I am grateful for the way I was raised; to hold to my beliefs while at the same time I am free to think; work; and be liberal as I please.
    I apologize for talking this much.. I just feel that I have to clear the picture here.

    • Hi Balsam,

      Firstly, please do not apologize for writing a lengthy response. I so appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and respond with such insightful comments.

      I think you’re right that the word sub-human is not accurate when describing the treatment of women. As a matter of fact, I will change it because it’s not the right word. I do think there is oppression of women here in some ways, but like you said it tends to be among certain portions of the population. I also think that what oppresses one woman sets another one free and vice versa. Some of us crave more order, some of us less. To some degree, it’s boils down to perspective.

      And I absolutely agree that there are more important things in life than becoming president. I certainly wouldn’t want that job. My point though had more to do with a mindset that comes when you grow up believing you can be anything and do anything you want, even become president. It does something to a person. It makes one believe anything is possible.

      But I have some questions for you! Obviously, I’m experiencing my life here from a western point of view so it’s so great to hear about these things from a Jordanian perspective.

      1) How is life in KSA different from Jordan, especially for women?

      2) Do you drive in KSA? You mentioned that you drive alone but I was unclear if you meant that you drove in Jordan alone, or if you also drive solo in Saudi.

      3) Have you ever traveled to the US and if so, what were your impressions of life there?

      Thanks!

      • Glad it didn’t bother you ^_^
        To answer your inquiries:
        1- It is VERY different; I feel like I am on Mars ^_^ ; see; even though it is an Arabic Muslim country; the traditions and nature of life is very different; women here are not expected to do a thing; mind you; it is not that they are denied; no; but everything is done by men; a husband; a maid or a driver; almost every family here have a maid (Male or female) and a driver; and they are to do day to day things; like shopping; fixing things (a light bulb.. loose screw.. etc); women are to luxuriate in houses; pools.. spas..and whatnot.. Us foreign women mostly came here to work; but the housewives (Saudis) mostly don’t even though they have degrees; MSc; MD; and such.. they just don’t bother.. I really find that weird.. of course this does not apply to ALL Saudis; but it is pronounced in the society.. See; KSA is a wealthy country; provides very well for its people; and is not that expensive; in fact; it is cheaper than Jordan; what is very strange for me is this segregation thing; everything; and I mean EVERYTHING have a male side and a female side; can be a bit annoying when you need to interact with the male side (For me for instance I am in a University and I need daily interaction) it just complicates things; on the other hand; I am never stuck in a waiting line; cause most female branches of things are almost empty.. Amazing in the Bank.. it takes less than 10 min to deposit or withdraw.. I opened an account AND had my ATM card in less than 15min.. another thing is that there are resorts; parks; hotels and malls that are for women exclusively; and they are just superb.. extravagant even.. bear in mind women can still use the Male’s sections as well.. I don’t really support this in all situations; but sometimes it is handy and quiet.. it is just a weird concept for me.. you can say I experienced a cultural shock;and still am a bit.. Would I like to stay here long; Nope; not at all.. I am more comfortable at home; where I can carry 10 grocery bags without people thinking I am an alien.

        2-Driving: No; KSA is the only country who considers Women driving illegal; not even my international license is acknowledged; that was back home. Still there have been strong feminine movements lately to overcome that law. Hope it gets overturned while I am still here.. I miss driving; they have beautiful streets; though HORRIBLE drivers; if you think it is bad in Jordan; wait til you come here my dear *evil smile*

        3- Yes; to take my FPGEE and NAPLEX exams; I didn’t stay long; just a week; I can’t really judge the life; but to be honest; I felt uncomfortable the way a covered Muslim like myself ( Not my face mind you; a hijab and a jilbab; colored not black) is treated in the airport or looked at by people like I am some kind of insane terrorist who will blow them up any second.. there is a prejudice and some kind of stereotyping/religious discrimination; I was also denied access to a clinical residency program ; for which I took the exams; since they don’t allow Hijab with the uniform.. it is simply unfair to be forced to choose between the education I worked so hard to get; and my beliefs and religion.. It left a raw spot in me..
        A lot of people think arabs or Muslims hate America or Americans; we don’t; we disagree with the political stands; the people have nothing to do with that; not the country itself either; still; we are hated back or at least feared.. you won’t find a True Muslim who would tell you 9/11 was a good thing; we all consider it a horrible attack; a mutilation for what Islam represents; what our Arabic values represents; see; even in war; Islam says ” Do not harm a child; a woman or a man not fighting back; and do not cut a tree or cause destruction” ; let alone the “No-war” status then.. I won’t discuss politics here; it is just the way the US policy treats us is a bit patronizing and downright insulting; and when we disagree we are punished.. US is not our guardian; and should not act as if it was.. please don’t take it personally; as I said I have nothing against Americans; my very best friend is from LA; it is just a politics thing.

        Hope I answered your questions; please feel free to ask as you please!

  3. Wow, Balsam, thank you for your reply! It was so interesting to read your account of about in KSA. It sounds like it’s very different from Jordan indeed. I prefer the liberalness of Jordan for sure. I mean, I like a bit of chivalry from men (opening doors and helping me carry heavy things sometimes) but I love being able to drive myself places and doing things for myself.

    I’m so disheartened by the ignorance displayed by my fellow countrymen during your trip the US. It angers me when people lump muslims together with terrorist groups because they are absolutely NOT the same thing. There are extremists all over the world that subscribe to various religions (even though they are not truly following their religion if they harm others). But I believe most people are inherently good. I can only hope that my experiences in Jordan will help enlighten others to the fact that this country is full of loving, smart, peaceful people.

    It’s nice to know you are still able to separate the people from the government. While I’m a proud American, I readily admit to the flaws in my country. I don’t always agree with US foreign policy and some of the people there are uneducated and prejudice toward anyone they perceive to be “different.”

    Balsam, thank you so much for taking the time to engage in this dialogue with me. I hope you continue to follow my blog and please keep me posted on your adventures as well! Perhaps one day I’ll see you here in Jordan.

    Marjie

  4. I found it amusing how Balsam was all over you because you wrote about some aspects of Jordanian society you didn’t like, and at the first chance she had to describe life in KSA she was quick to emphasizes‏ how she finds it weird that the women in KSA don’t work and there’s segregation everywhere and that it complicates things etc., and how the situation in Jordan is not like that at all.

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