First days anywhere are weird. My first day of 8th grade I ran into a pole. My first day with a driver’s license I drove the wrong direction down a one way street and sat in the intersection for a complete chorus of “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” before I realized what was happening. Last summer I threw up on my first day of work. So it’s no surprise that the first day at my center was…uncomfortable? confusing? overwhelming? But I didn’t throw up, so I guess it could have been worse.
The day started with a funeral. Everyone arrived at the center, kids went to their classrooms, we drank tea, and so far everything seemed normal. And then all at once all the teachers got up from the table where we were sitting, grabbed their purses and phones, and yelled “yela!” (it means “let’s go.”) I’ve gotten used to the fact that when people say “yela” in Jordan, I have to drop everything and go with them. Most of the time I don’t know where we’re going, but I’ve gotten used to that too. So we all left the center, walked across the street, and were ushered into a house by the 9 year old standing out in front. We walked into someone’s (I still don’t know whose) living room, took off our shoes, and then proceeded to shake hands and kiss everyone in the room. It was a big room, and all four walls were lined with farshas, and all of the farshas were filled with women.There was about a 6 foot space that was empty, so after the kisses were done all 7 of us squeezed in there. Then we drank Arabic coffee (it tastes like cardamom!) and ate dates and sat in respectful silence for about 25 minutes, after which all of my crew stood up, said “yela!,” shook hands with everyone again, and left.
The kids were waiting for us when we got back. While we were gone they had been eating chips and cookies, getting into fights, falling asleep, and wetting themselves, and I was the only one who was surprised. After some personal hygiene and more tea the teachers and kids gradually divided themselves into classrooms, with some kids still kind of roaming, and I roamed too. I’m supposed to be spending the first month just observing, but that got pretty monotonous after about an hour, so I gave it up and got down on the floor to play with the kids. I also broke up 4 fights, changed the pants of two different children, repaired a backpack, and wiped more noses and opened more chip bags than I can remember. At some point in the day the teachers all shouted “yela!” again, and we all went into the mudier’s office for a meeting.
The bus driver had apparently taken a bag of dates from the funeral (or it was a gift?), so we drank tea and ate those and stood around while everyone talked about how cold it is. I’ve had to work pretty hard to adjust to the accent here in Ramtha (they add a lot of b’s and ch’s to everything), but after a month I’ve gotten a lot better at understanding people. The problem is that understanding someone in a conversation is different from trying to follow what 10 different people are saying when they’re talking over each other. So I lost track of things (still not sure what the meeting was even about), and during the whole thing one of the kids wandered in- a little girl with Down’s Syndrome who I’d met earlier. The office is pretty small and seating is limited, so all 10 of us were crowded in a circle around the mudier’s desk, and this kid somehow kind of wedged herself into the middle of that circle. I gave her a handful of dates and even though a couple of teachers told her to leave, no one seemed particularly bothered that she was there. So she stayed, and just kind of bumped around from person to person while the meeting went on. Every time she found herself in front of someone new she would hold her hands out to them, tilt her head a little to the side, and just stare at them in this sweet wide-eyed way, just taking it in. After awhile I gave up trying to understand what everyone was saying and just sat watching this kid, and wondering if she and I didn’t look about the same to the 9 other people standing around us. And I think even if I spend the next 2 years wandering from one place to the next, confused as shit, I’d like to do it just like her, with my arms out and my eyes wide open.