It’s hard to believe I’m writing these words, this post. This week has come much sooner than anticipated. But, nonetheless it is here. And with a deep and felt sadness for the immediate losses—but a building excitement for all that lies ahead—our family is preparing to leave Jordan in eight, short days.
For the past five years, Hubby has been in process to become an American diplomat with the US Foreign Service. It has been a dream of his since college, and the journey to fulfill it has been long and sometimes challenging. Studying, tests, interviews, background checks, call lists. A lot of work, a lot of waiting. And then, POOF! Just like that, he’s summoned for his initial training in Washington DC and our family has three weeks to pack up the last decade of our lives, say goodbye to loved ones and a beloved land, and prepare to restart life on US soil and, soon, unknown locations overseas… during a worldwide pandemic.
*Insert jazz hands*
On September 1st, it would have been eleven years that we’ve lived in Jordan and Palestine. Thirteen for Hubby. We were just fresh-faced babes when we arrived in Amman together, twenty-three and twenty-four years old. It was exactly one month after our wedding day, and we stepped onto the hard-packed, sandy ground fully accessorized with rose-colored glasses and a fragrant romanticism, thinking we would change the world. But we had no idea what would await us in the following eleven years. We knew almost nothing of pain, suffering, poverty, war, loss, or the grit it takes to bear the load that comes from such real hardship. The emotional perseverance it requires to stand, shoulder to shoulder, with those who hurt in ways my mind could not have imagined before seeing them with my own eyes, feeling them with my own heart.
Our first seven years overseas were directly focused on aid and relief work with refugees. We partnered with NGOs in both Palestine and northern Jordan, participating in sustained relief efforts and community development projects alongside local Palestinians, and then helping with emergency response given to Syrians as they crossed the Jordanian border from their war-torn homeland. We regularly worked sixty-hour weeks, listening to horrific stories of war and occupation, trying to do what we could—with the funds raised by our NGOs and partnerships with local community leaders—to ease the immediate burdens of thousands of traumatized refugees.
It didn’t take long to realize, in either situation, that Hubby and I were not the people with answers. No education, no training, no dream, no vision, no handout, no project, no promise of a better tomorrow could, in and of itself, make the world a better place. Make the hurt and injustice and fear any less of a reality for the people we now lived among. And we realized that just because we sat with the hurting day after day, and heard their stories and were as close to them and their situations as we could be, we still couldn’t understand. We still were not them. And their stories still were not ours. This new, felt pain—the desire to do something to fix the world and all its problems but realizing it’s not actually all ours to fix—is a burden we have borne and will continue to bear. It is something we are not looking to find relief from—rather, it is one of the greatest truths we take away from this last eleven years. That more than the world needs people of privilege to fix or do or rescue, it needs us to really and truly “be”—to wholeheartedly “be.” To listen, to learn, to accept, to soak-in, to empathize, to join, to promise to sit in the middle of the pain and the unfair and the injustice with those actually experiencing it. To let those suffering tell us what they need and when they need it and how they want it packaged. To be still, quiet, ready, and committed to togetherness. (I think about these deep lessons we are still learning, and I find them incredibly pertinent and relevant to the political and social climate we, as Americans, face in this moment of our country’s history.)
Hubby has spent the last four years getting his master’s degree and consulting with various groups and organizations on the topics of culture, language, religion, and interfaith dialogue. It has been wonderfully life-giving work that has only fueled his fire to participate in the creation, implementation, and communication of US foreign policy abroad. At the same time, I have furthered my work as a freelance writer and editor and, most recently, made great strides writing my first book—a memoir covering a five-year stint of our life abroad.
And now, with enough stories to fill an encyclopedia and enough kids to fill a school bus (or make a sports team or orchestra or theater troupe—yes, we’ve heard them all), we are gearing up for all the hard goodbyes that accompany this transition to a longed-for future. Jordan has been our family home—the only place we’ve lived as a married couple, the only place we’ve raised our children. Hubby and I became grown-ups in this land. We lost five babies here, we conceived five more—two of whom took their first breaths outside the womb in Jordan. My oldest son calls himself “Jordanian,” says his king is “Malak Abdullah al-Thani,” and claims both English and Arabic as his languages. His ultimate dream is to have a playdate with King Abdullah or the Crowned Prince Hussein.
“You don’t understand mom, because you’re American. But I’m Jordanian.”
I will miss the little and the big. The incredible friendships and community we have cultivated and loved these past eleven years. The friends on whose shoulders I cried with each lost baby. The people who squeezed my hands and jumped up and down with me, screaming in excitement when I found out I was having three babies at one time. The Westerners and Americans who felt like “home” when I was drowning in a sea of language and unknown cultural norms. My Jordanian, Palestinian, and Syrian sisters who taught me how to bend and stretch and deepen my understanding of connection with others, no matter where you’re from or how you were raised. The hordes of young shabab—teenage and college-aged dudes—who love my husband and have filled my home with laughter and eaten all my food. The dust cyclones that danced outside my kitchen window as I washed dishes after a long day of house visits with refugees barely hanging on to life, hope, and faith. The herds of camels and sheep and goats that grazed on straw, garbage, and scant desert brush along the perimeters of every house I’ve ever lived in in the Middle East. The psychedelic bursts of red, pink, purple, and orange bougainvillea sprawling over crumbling cement walls and climbing up white, sandstone villas. My early morning stroller walks with my youngest babe, waving hello each day to the man who walks his German Shepherd and wears rubber gloves and picks up carelessly-tossed-aside garbage outside his well-kept home. Looking down at my feet and trying not to snicker as I walk by “Saddam G”—another man I pass daily who happens to look exactly like Saddam Hussein and wears metallic aviator glasses, a backwards ball cap, and long, chunky gold chains. (Hence my lovingly-given but very-unspoken nickname.) I’ll miss the call to prayer that fills the air of anywhere in Jordan five times each day—a sound that signals feelings of home to me. The gas trucks that drive up and down neighborhood streets, blasting an instrumental, mega-phone version of J. Lo’s “Get on the Floor” to announce their presence and goods. The fresh grapes, lemons, cherries, apricots, plums, and more plucked from my own little desert oasis of a backyard. Plates piled high with traditional Arab meat dishes from my generous neighbor. Small tins filled with sugar-dusted date cookies for the Eid holiday… from every neighbor.
And so, so much more.
I am continually amazed by the strength, resilience, and adaptability of this small country. As much as I will miss it, as much as my heart would be happy to live in Jordan the remainder of my life, I am filled with hope and joy concerning all that is to come. About the unexpected love and life and adventure that awaits our family.
Jordan, you forever have our hearts. Please keep us in yours.
Until next time, Ana