A year ago at 2am I stepped off the plane with a crowd of strangers in business casual who would become my co-workers, my confidants, my comiserators, and my closest friends. We drove from the Queen Alia Airport in a bus completely covered in gold fringe, velvet hearts and flowers, and photos of King Abdullah II. Back then that seemed strange. I remember craning my neck out the window to make out the shapes of houses and tents and cars in the darkness. I saw families crowded around fires, giant neon-lit gas stations, men smoking hookah on the side of the road, and at one point, a fully armed tank. I’ve spent the past year wandering this strange and beautiful land and I’ve become something new in the process.
These days I am a bus-monitor, an artist, a therapist, a camp counselor, an environmental educator, an English teacher, a builder of playgrounds, a dreamer of project after project after project. I am vastly unqualified for most of the work that I do here and that’s something I’ve grown startlingly comfortable with. These days when anyone asks me for anything I say yes out of reflex and trust that my lack of experience will be balanced out by endless enthusiasm and the ability to Google what I don’t know. I have, of course, failed or been shot down many, many times. There have been plenty of occasions when I’ve tried and failed, when my assumptions have been proven wrong, when I’ve looked around me and wondered how in the world I ended up in this strange little village in the middle of a desert. There are moments every day when I know for certain that I will never understand this place completely. But living in Jordan has only increased my willingness to accept what I don’t know, to say yes, to offer what I can and to be glad for what I am given.
I learned from the start that I have to trust the people around me. How can I live any other way, with all these mysteries around me every day? Why did school start an hour late today? Why do all the falafel shops close at night during Ramadan? Why do we leave cats in the garbage cans and hand-feed the pigeons? Why did my bus driver bring me pistachio ice cream at 7:30am this morning? Why is everyone so obsessed with John Cena and Titanic? And of course, whenever I am invited anywhere- Where are going and who will we see and when will we get back? Most of the time no one has an answer for me. A year ago this was a problem, but lately I’m okay with it. The difference isn’t that I’ve gotten better at Arabic or that I know more about the culture or that I’ve built stronger relationships with the people around me (although I’m happy to say that all of those things are true). The difference is that at some point during the past year I stopped needing an answer. These days I put on my shoes and grab my bag and get in the car- because I’ll find out where we’re going when we get there.
So happy one year anniversary to all my fellow J15 volunteers. Here’s a photo montage so we can all get sentimental.