I did some shopping today at the local souq, for juice glasses and a notebook, fruits and vegetables, and a plug converter (which I failed to find). As Yvonne and Alice and I were walking up, up, up and down, down, down the steep hill behind ACOR to get to the souq, I was reminded of something I thought a lot about in Peace Corps Pre-Service Training, which is that living in Jordan is a constant exercise in the art of anticipation:
- Where should I step on and off the high, uneven sidewalks that I will expose the least amount of leg beneath my skirt?
- Should I keep my long sleeve ‘abaia next to me in case someone knocks on my door while I’m in this tanktop?
- If I purchase food here, where will I eat it so that I’m not eating in the street?
- What’s the most efficient order in which to buy these supplies so that I walk (and therefore sweat) the least?
- I must be sure to have that drink of water before I leave the shop, because I can’t drink it in the street!
In some ways there’s less of the art of anticipation this time. I’m in Amman, where the rules are not as strict. I’m potentially only here for two months, so I don’t really need to think so far into the future as last time. And perhaps most significant of all, I’m here for myself this time, not to do for others, which makes it far less necessary to be more Arab than the Arabs, because this time I’m not asking anyone to trust me with the security and honor of their children.
Nevertheless, the imperative to be not only respectful of the culture but to hold myself to local standards of propriety is deeply ingrained in me. I don’t know whether to blame it on Rotary or Peace Corps or Fakhria’s influence on the way my mother thinks about the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world. In any case, I have this strong feeling that I am an ambassador of my country, that everything I wear and do reflects on how people see America and Americans. I know that Jordanians have an extraordinary and admirable ability to distinguish between individual Americans, American pop culture and American politics, and I know that most Jordanians don’t paint all Americans with the same brush, be it good or bad. Still, I can’t help myself from thinking about … anticipating what impact my dress, actions and words might have on others’ perception of America and Americans.
Worse, I can’t seem to stop myself from judging others in this group of students by my own extremely and perhaps even unreasonably high standards. I’m trying very hard not to offer my opinion unless asked first, but it’s a struggle.