From the hotel to the host family, and home
Note: this post was begun on Tuesday, May 15. It has since been edited to include more detail, and another blog draft that has been sitting idle was ultimately integrated into this post.
Last year, I was welcomed into the home of Mama Munira, Albert, Danny and nana, a lovely Christian family that resides in Shmaissani, a neighborhood of Amman. Ryan and I lived with them for just two weeks before we departed for Istanbul to complete the second half of the program. I still remember the day we were picked up from SIT like it was yesterday.
Yesterday, the group checked out of the Imperial Palace Hotel and was aboard the big yellow bus by 9 a.m. I had a Skype interview for a co-op position at Newsday at 7 a.m., and I had trouble falling asleep after a night of laughter and nargeela (read: hookah, shisha, argeela, hubbly bubbly, etc.) poolside that ended around 1a.m.
So, in true Anthony fashion, I convinced myself that staying up until my interview would be a good idea. (It wasn’t a good idea.) I was left in the hotel lobby with two other hookah pipes and a table full of empty plates, glasses and bottles. Every time a waiter came by to pick up another tray full, I tried to give him the “this isn’t my mess” look. After watching him go to and from the kitchen a handful of times, it was a little after 3 a.m. and I was in the middle of a reading assignment.
My eyelids felt as though they weighed a million pounds, each, and my stomach was making noises that are usually heard when walking through creaky old haunted houses. Next time the waiter came strolling through the lobby, I called him over and ordered a cheeseburger. Unlike staying up all night, ordering food was an excellent idea. I was already in too deep into the night- err, morning?- to give in to sleep.
A few more hours
passed crawled by, I made some limited progress on the reading, and it was almost time for my interview with Newsday. At some point, Melissa joined me in the lobby and began clicking away on her laptop. After we had some breakfast from the hotel buffet, she shared some words of encouragement before my interview and I ran up to my room to brush my teeth and shower to wake myself up- or rather, freshen up. At 7 a.m., Eileen Holliday of Newsday called on Skype. I answered, obviously, and we chatted for about a half an hour, maybe more. Who has an honest sense of time at that hour, especially after not sleeping a wink AND being jet lagged? Not I. (Disclaimer: I never have a good sense of time. Ask anyone who knows me, especially my brother or any of my cousins. Or my father, if you want a more impassioned response.) The interview went very well, and I immediately shut my laptop and loaded my luggage onto the bus.
Samantha and I boarded the bus, and we were the first two of the group to do so. All of the curtains were pulled shut. Near darkness. It was wonderful. I passed out on her shoulder while she read, but I think she eventually gave in to sleep too. Some time later- remember what I said about me and time- everyone began to hop on the bus and claim seats, and I woke up to the sound of screeching and chatter, mostly from the back of the bus. Dammit, I thought, the bus had been so nice and quiet. Alas, our busy day would begin eventually, and I could only blame myself for being this tired. But hey, I had a job offer to show for it.
We drove to SIT, where everyone unloaded their bags from the bus and lined them up against the exterior wall, along the windows.
Hours later, host families began to arrive at SIT to pick up students in pairs. Slowly but surely, the room emptied as people were called out to meet their families. Within 20 minutes, Matt and I were called out. We filtered out of the classroom into the main, larger classroom at the front of SIT, and there stood Carlene, Dema. Between them was a man wearing a blue and read plaid shirt, blue jeans, and a navy blue baseball cap with a smile under his graying mustache. His name is Mohammed, and he has been my host father here in Amman since Matt and I met him, two weeks ago today. “Nice to meet you,” he said, as he shook both of our hands. I noticed there was a strange, southern-American accent beneath his Jordanian accent. (I later learned that he spent six years living in North Carolina, where two of his brothers live with their families. It all made sense, now.)
We followed him outside, gathered our bags, and loaded up a silver mini van. We were carpooling with Sam and Joey, two of the Arabic students. We later learned that Sam and Joey live with our host mother’s brother and his family. (We’re all host cousins!) I nodded off more than a few times during the ride through Amman, so I couldn’t really tell you what was discussed. I felt bad- what a terrible first impression I must have made, falling asleep like that. But I was dead-tired and couldn’t help it. Each time I woke up, I saw everyone else in the car chuckling. Even Mohammed, from the front seat. Oh well.
When I woke up, the third time, we were slowly rolling to a stop on a narrow street. Matt and I, apparently, had arrived home. We shuffled out of the car, grabbed our bags out of the trunk, and bid farewell to Sam and Joey. Mohammed led us through a narrow black iron gate and up two flights of stairs. We entered the apartment and were directed into a living room to the right of the entrance. It was a formal seating area filled with golden light coming in through the curtains. The couches and carpet were all different shades of brown. We took our seats, me on the couch and Matt across from me on a cushioned chair. Mohammed sat across from Matt, on the other chair.
We all began chatting and got to know each other a bit. Then, an adorable little blond boy with eyes that looked like milk chocolate chips appeared in the doorway. Mohammed called to him in Arabic, and a slight smile appeared on his face as he wondered into the room and toward his grandpa. (His name is Ahmed, and he is too cute. The son of Mohammed’s daughter, Rozenn, who lives in a nearby apartment.) He glared, first at Matthew then at me. I opened up my suitcase and gave Mohammed the salt water taffy that I brought from Boston. (I know, a lame gift. But, in my defense, I also bought two Boston mugs. Then I forgot them on the flight from London to Amman. I can be such a space cadet sometimes.) Matthew gave Mohammed the book about Oregon that he brought, and Mohammed flipped through the book before placing it on the coffee table.
He opened up the taffy, and handed a piece to Matt and myself, as well as Ahmed. This boy is so funny; he takes a bite out of his piece, then holds it up to Matt’s mouth, and then walks over to me. Kids in America could learn a thing or two about sharing from him. I wish I could bring him back with me. Then our host mother, Ruwada, came into the room, and Matt and I stood to shake her hand. She didn’t (and still doesn’t, duh) speak much English, a few words here and there, but communication is seamless, and she’s a very sweet lady. Plus, I’m often around both her and my host father at the same time, and Mohammed is good about translating for Matt and I, which is helpful. (Living in North Carolina was a good thing, I guess. I could never live down there. Ever.) Mama walked back into the kitchen, which is just across the way from where we sat. The apartment was filled, from the moment we entered, with an aroma that turned my stomach all sorts of sideways, in the best way. I was starving.
After we sat and chatted a bit more, mama shouted in Arabic from the kitchen, Mohammed slapped his knees as he rose up out of his chair, and he said, “Let’s eat lunch, boys.”
I was back home, in Amman. It’s a different house than last year, and I’m surrounded by new people. But it’s home.