I am sitting in a plastic chair on a concrete floor covered in sunlight. Today is one of those strange spring days, clear and bright one minute and gray and cold the next. It’s the kind of weather that pulls the rug out from under your feet. The sunlight, when it comes, is as immobilizing as hope. I sit here in the late afternoon warmth, surrounded by women at least 40 years older than I. We are the sole operators of the neighborhood corner-store, known by all as the “dukan”- an establishment that deals mainly in chips, candy, soda, gum, and on a good day eggs and clothespins.
I’m here because I was walking home and they demanded that I sit. This happens regularly in Jordan- among strangers, friends, and family alike. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live in the states if neighbors, grocery store clerks and bus drivers all felt equally comfortable inviting a stranger in for tea. And if the strangers said yes.
We eat cookies and gossip and wave to everyone who walks by. Eventually another member of the club passes by, a hadja with the traditional face tattoos and a heavy embroidered scarf wrapped around her head. My landlady throws out the order- “Taali agrode ma na, tali hone” (“Come sit with us, come here.”) The hadja grumbles, “Lo esh?” (“Why?”) But she’s already through the door. I try to give her my chair but she slaps me on the ass and sits on a crate instead. She is at least 75 years old.
I have an English lesson to teach, grant forms to submit, and laundry to do, but I have no problem sitting here for an hour with these women. This is something I have learned to do, to recognize a good moment when I see it. Maybe it’s because every day here is so filled with extremes- one minute I feel so discouraged or angry I might scream; then a beaming five year old with Down’s Syndrome takes me by the hand and leads me to the playground to push her down the slide. These are the moments that I live for and I think it’s the contrast that really makes me really stop and take notice. To wonder at the goodness, to throw my head back and grin.
The four o’clock call to prayer echos through the streets and I ask my neighbor how her week has been. “Shu akhbarik?” I ask- “What’s the news?” “Hamdilulah,” she says, “Praise God.” She’s my favorite neighbor- always grinning at me and forcing me into her house for cookies when I walk by. A few months ago her husband died unexpectedly of cancer. I visited her a few days before his death and I saw her kiss the top of his head as she walked past his bed. She stayed in the house for 40 days of mourning after his death, but now that spring has come she is out under the blue sky with the rest of us. She turns to me and says, “Alei birda bayeesh.”- “Whoever is content will live.”
We turn our faces up to the sun.