Posts Tagged ‘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.
Note: this was written on May 12, about the first night in Amman.
On the first night in Jordan, many of the people on the trip turned to me and asked where they should go. “We need to all go out!” many of them insisted. Last year, a similarly eager group went out on the first night in the hotel, and I stayed behind. I didn’t regret it then, and I still don’t; the trek across the Atlantic, and then some, is exhausting. There will be plenty more nights to enjoy, I thought last year, and I was right. It was the same situation. So, I agreed to a walk around our part of town, not more than 20 minutes from the hotel. Rainbow Street- the tourist trap in downtown Amman that would, I knew, become their favorite destination- was out of the question for me. After the previous day of travel, I was exhausted. So, a simple walk was what I thought we agreed upon.
15 minutes after dinner, we all reconvened in the lobby of the Imperial Palace Hotel. As we ventured up the sidewalk along the main road, the group seemed to have grown. By the time we were crossing the street, it seemed to me that at least 35 of our 47 stood around me. A few moments later, I heard someone utter Rainbow Street. It was my friend Joe, the other guy that came on this trip to Jordan last year. He was talking about jumping in cabs and venturing downtown. As soon as I heard that, I knew where I would be going: back to the hotel for a quiet night.
Once I crossed the street, I heard someone shout my name. I also heard one of the girls shouting “America!” I didn’t turned around, not even a look back over my shoulder. I turned the nearest corner and went for a stroll as I originally intended. The air felt cool, fresh on my face, and each breeze brought along with it the scent of jasmine flowers. When I close my eyes, I could swear that I’m at home, where I grew up with my grandfather’s jasmine plant in the basement. Or even in Kofinou, Cyprus, where my grandparents have a jasmine plant just outside the front door.
But then I open my eyes, and I can see I’m in not in New York or in Cyprus, but in Amman. A place, I thought, where I might one day have a home. Just then, at the moment the thought appeared in my mind, I saw a for sale sign. The house looked a bit out of my price range, but it was a funny coincidence. There was a jasmine vine in the front yard too. It all felt so familiar to me, and it felt so right to be standing there, on Al-Ri’asah Street, on a cool night in Amman.
Familiar, yet different. The street felt right under my feet. The hotel felt strangely like a home base in this city. It was like I never left, but things were different. Little things. There were photos now hanging at each landing of the stairwell, photos of various tourist attractions and historical sites in Jordan. The hallways had new plants scattered throughout. Things change, but they stay the same. The first floor landing was still used as a staging area, it seemed, with a ladder and mop plopped in front of the doorway. The lobby was still lit by a gorgeous, Christmas tree shaped golden chandelier that spanned all six floors of the hotel.
I made my way up to my hotel room. I’m ready for this adventure to really begin, and to meet my new host family in a few days’ time. Goodnight for now.
People say that you only get one chance at a first impression. A year ago, at this time, I was blown away by the city of Amman and the Jordanian people, who welcomed me with open arms into their country, their lives, their homes. In just two weeks’ time, Amman- and the entire Jordanian nation, for that matter- exceeded all of my wildest dreams. Now that I am back, I think my first impressions were accurate. I love it here, and I love that I had the opportunity to return here.
I had the privilege and honor of traveling with and working alongside a fantastic group of reporters who have become dear friends of mine since our journey to Jordan and Turkey ended in June of last year. Michele, Erin, Erin, Hanna, Ally, Fernanda, Emily, Rob, Ryan, Val, Catherine, Lauryn, Joe, Morgan, Kaileigh, Jessica, Katie, Charles and I developed a strong bond that means so much to me, still, to this day. I actually find myself yearning for their company, insight, and support this time around. It’s a strange feeling, to be back here in this amazing city, without them. They were such an intrinsic and central part of my experience last year that it’s almost incomplete without them here. But, alas, you never step in the same river twice, as Heraclitus of Ephesus once said. I’m excited about the adventure on the horizon, and I hope that the coming five weeks will prove as invaluable and worthwhile as last year.
This year, I came back to Jordan with a dose of hesitation. I applied to the program, way back in October of 2011, because it was life changing last year. I learned more about myself and my own limitations as a journalist, and more importantly, as a person. I was pushed to my limits, and beyond, forced to challenge myself and all I had learned to that point. My writing style developed more over the course of five weeks in Jordan and Turkey than it had over three years of “traditional” college courses. Carlene Hempel, a Northeastern professor with whom I have taken three courses, also played a big part in my decision to return on another journey to the Middle East. She has always pushed me, but not in an intimidating way. She’s been doing this for many years, and I am always eager to continue to learn from her. When I interviewed with her, in November I think, I remember her saying something along the lines of, “Aren’t you sick of me yet?” I’m not. I was always told by my mother to pick teachers’ brains, and learn as much from them as possible, no matter how mean or difficult they are. I came back to Jordan not only because I loved the experience, but also because I feel I still have more to learn about working as an international reporter in the Middle East.
On another, sort of related note, yesterday was Mother’s Day back in the good old U.S. of A. I miss my mother dearly, and always strive to continue to make her proud. I miss you, mom, and I love you. I always will.
And now, I’ll sign off with a quote that I love:
“You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world.” -William Hazlitt
And how about one more, for good measure:
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” -Lao-Tzu
Being back in New York, I know I’m home. It just feels right, you know? It feels natural. Not to say easy, but rather comfortable. I didn’t feel at home in Boston, I was never comfortable there, and it didn’t help that I spent the better part of four years bouncing in and out of residence halls.
I don’t want to be misunderstood; I am incredibly happy with the education at Northeastern, and that I wound up in Boston for my undergraduate studies. However, I will be clear on one point: I have zero to no love for the city of Boston as a place to live. People are rude, life’s expensive, and it’s a fake city. (Take that with as many grains of salt as you would like, as this is all coming from a New Yorker.)
In two days time, I will arrive in Amman, again, almost a year to the day from my first visit. I’ve spent just over two weeks of my life in Amman, and about four years in Boston, but can say that Amman felt like a more natural fit for me. Maybe that’s just a first impression, and five weeks this time around will leave me feeling otherwise. I don’t think that will happen, but people always (used to?) say, “Never judge a book by its cover.” (I question whether or not the phrase is still in use, because I haven’t heard it since middle school.) You might say two weeks in a city is that kind of an experience; I got to experience all of the best Jordan had to offer. Maybe you’d consider two weeks an insignificant amount of time to “live” somewhere. Maybe last time I was just a visitor. This time, though, I will throw myself wholeheartedly into this country, the host family experience and the culture. I take off tomorrow.