Every morning I get picked up by a tiny school-bus where my students cram in on top of each other. A 12-year-old girl with a hearing impairment is the appointed operator of the halfway-broken sliding door. She crouches next to me as I climb in next to my mudiera and lift an 8-year-old with autism onto my lap. We crane our necks back and stare out the window as the bus-driver (one of my landlord’s many sons) races around the twisting mountain roads. He pulls to a screeching halt in front of another house and we shift the children around us like tetris pieces to make room for another student to climb in and everyone shouts good morning. I spend the day running from classroom to classroom, working with whoever happens to need it the most at the time. The teachers are new and many of them are not used to working with students with special needs. They need help with lesson planning and classroom management and with understanding their students’ behavior. And they really, really want my help. So I’m jumping in- with the same energy and enthusiasm that I’m seeing from the people around me. I catch myself grinning as I sit on the floor teaching letters to a kindergartner or pushing a 9-year-old on the swings.
Every day after work I go upstairs for lunch and visit with whoever happens to be there at the time, playing with their children or helping them with their English homework. I live underneath the kingpins of the village- the former mayor and founder of the special education center where I work, his wife, and their thirteen adult sons and daughters, some of whom live in conjoined apartments and others who live with their husbands or wives in other parts of the village or in nearby cities. They cycle through the family compound with their husbands, wives, and children, and I still have yet to meet everyone in the family or to figure out who exactly lives where. I smile and kiss cheeks and memorize the names that I can, and I’m welcomed by everyone I meet. A few days ago I walked out to the street to take out the garbage and a little boy ran up to me in the dark, handed me a pomegranate, and ran away. These are the kinds of things that happen to me now.
We sit for hours drinking tea and eating fresh fruit from the grape vines and fig trees and most of all we talk. My village is filled with people who love to learn, and because my center is run by Abu Yassar and his children, the whole family is very invested in the work I’m doing here. They want to know what I think of special education in Jordan and how it compares to the U.S. They have question after question about my impressions of the center and my ideas for the students and teachers. And just as much as they love asking me questions they love making me a part of their lives. Last night we sat for hours on the roof picking the stems from a crop of raisins as the sun set over the mountains. They laughed as I stared out at the sun setting over the valley. It’s normal to them of course- this beauty all around them. But I’m the foreigner and so I sat there stunned as I have so many times before- the call to prayer echoing over the valley and the trees and the mountains red in the setting sun. You know it happens every night, they say laughing. It happens every night, and I’ll be here to see it for another year.