It wasn’t until I’d finished packing up my bedroom that she knocked on my door. She had some trouble getting through the hallway, which was now almost completely blocked with the wastebaskets, grocery bags, laundry tubs and suitcases I’d commandeered for packing vessels. I hadn’t had time to find boxes. Om Yazzim stood there in the doorway of my bedroom, staring at the empty walls, the bare farsha, and the open doors of cabinets that now held nothing but dust. Then, wordlessly, she held out her arms to me- a gesture I hadn’t seen from a Jordanian in the ten months I’d lived here. I was leaving and she wanted to hug me goodbye.
Peace Corps has ten core expectations for volunteers, and when I swore in to serve in Jordan eight months ago, I agreed to hold myself to those standards. The one most often on my mind lately is number three: “Serve where Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.” I’m not a martyr, and I didn’t come to Jordan to complain. I expected the kind of hardship Peace Corps told me to be prepared for: to be cold, hungry, sick, confused, harassed, and degraded, and I expected to meet those challenges “with the flexibility needed for effective service.” I expected hardship during my service. I just didn’t expect hardship that would break my heart.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to the kids at my center or the teachers, and I didn’t make it over to any of my neighbors’ houses either. When Peace Corps told me I needed to move permanently from my site, I had one day to pack everything and leave. Of course I’m planning to visit as soon as I can, but there’s something startling and strange to think about going back as a visitor to the house that was once my home and the school where I once worked. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, and I’m sure that when Peace Corps does find me a new site, it will become my home too. But for now I can’t shake the look on Om Yazzim’s face as she helped me pile my belongings into the truck- it was the exhausted look of a mother who’s said goodbye too many times. She kept coming out with more things to give me- pots and pans, farshas, pillows and several blankets; she insisted that it might be cold where I was going. Then, when everything was in the truck (half of it hers ten minutes before), she kissed my cheeks the way we do in Ramtha- once to the right and three times to the left. Then she stood in the driveway, the tears rolling down her face, and waved to me until I was gone.
I’m going to go somewhere else now, somewhere where the Arabic will be a little different, the cooking a little off, where undoubtedly there will be a new pattern for how to kiss people hello and goodbye. And I’ll learn it all, because I’m going where Peace Corps asks me to go. I care about my work and I love Jordan too much to give up now. But no matter how much I learn to love my new village, I will always remember the home I had in Ramtha and the family I still have there. And when I see Om Yazzim and her family, my students and teachers, and my neighbors again, I will kiss them once on the right and three times on the left- because I am from Ramtha and I will never forget.