Welcome to Jordan

Okay, so I’ve done some wallowing, and some venting, and a fair amount of glowering since I was evacuated from my site last month. It’s been a frustrating, scary time and thanks to everybody who’s hung in there while I produced some kind of depressing posts. But yesterday I had a moment that made me remember why all of this is worth it. So here’s what happened to me yesterday on the bus.

I’ve been wandering a lot these past few weeks, and this week I’m helping out with a friend’s Brain Camp in her village in the south of Jordan. It’s about a six hour trip total from the site where I’ve been staying to my friend’s village, so I was in for a long day. I got on the bus, found a window seat, crammed myself around my backpack and the seat jutting backward into my knees, and settled in to a solid iPod bus-daze. Just before we were about to leave a woman in niqab sat down next to me with her two-year-old son on her lap. He was about the age where a kid can only handle being in one body position/location for about three and a half minutes, so as soon as we’d pulled out of the station he had squirmed out of her lap and out on to the aisle of the bus. He spent the next hour or so roaming from seat to seat, touching peoples’ various limbs and bags with the perfect indiscretion of a toddler. Pretty soon he was being casually passed from lap to lap, and he ended up in the arms of the passenger in front of me, an older man dressed in traditional bedouin thobe who was perfectly content to bounce this stranger’s child up and down on his knee and feed him date cookies.

I’ve been watching this kind of thing happen for ten months now and I guess most of the time I’m used to it. To be honest, lately I’ve been in my own head so much I haven’t noticed much of anything at all. But right then I sat there awestruck by the community around me, these people who in 100 degree weather on a cramped, dirty bus will open their arms to a stranger’s child covered in cookie crumbs. I sat there on the bus as the olive orchards and mountainsides passed me by and stared at that old man and that little boy and I fell in love with this country all over again. I felt a tap on my arm and turned to find his mother pouring out a plastic cup of water from the liter she’d taken from her purse. She held it out to me and then I heard her murmur the words I knew she’d say, the ones I’ve heard hundreds, maybe thousands of times in the months that I’ve lived here: “Welcome to Jordan.”

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