Two Years Older, But Mostly the Same

al-Mshairfeh, Jerash, Jordan

Though almost nothing has changed outwardly about al-Mshairfeh except a few new houses and some new furniture sets, time has passed, and two years is a long time in the life of a four or five year old. I hardly expected Zayuuda and Hadeel and especially Saddeen to remember me after I’d been gone two years. I was wrong.

Zayd (aka Zayuuda):
Born about a month before I arrived in al-Mshairfeh, I used to tell people that Zayuuda was my favorite Jordanian, because he didn’t speak more Arabic than I did, though by the time he was two and I left, that was becoming a difficult claim to make. I expected his brother Khalid, who is two years older and used to call me “khaala” (auntie), to remember me, but not Zayuuda. But when I walked into the living room of my friend Wijdan, who lives five doors down from Zayuuda and is no relation whatsoever to him, one of the first faces I saw was Zayuuda’s, and he jumped right up and said, “It’s Maryah!” He attached himself to my side and would hardly be parted from me for the whole 24 hours I was in the village.

When I left Jordan, Hadeel was Wijdan’s youngest daughter at three years old, but about a week ago, on my birthday, Hadeel became a big sister. When I lived in al-Mshairfeh, I had a standard issue Peace Corps whistle, in case I ever got in trouble, and Hadeel adored my whistle. Every time I visited Wijdan, Hadeel would beg me for my whistle, and when I needed it back before I left her house, she would make me promise to give it to her when I left Jordan. And I did, though she was only three and I was pretty certain she would either break it or lose it within a matter of months. I hadn’t been at Wijdan’s house long when a whistle blasted in my ear, the same whistle, with the Peace Corps logo still barely visible on its side. Wijdan reported that Hadeel had a very secure hiding place for her whistle, and would take it out to blow it, and then put it right back where it would be safe, and she never let anyone else use it.

She was born in the middle of Ramadan of my first year in al-Mshairfeh, which would have been October 2004, and was only a year and a half when I left Jordan. I’m not sure that Saddeen actually remembered me, but she certainly knew who I was. Like all the other families I photographed in the village, her family had very carefully guarded those pictures like precious gems, and clearly these pictures had been taken out at intervals and shown to Saddeen, because she knew exactly who I was and where I had lived, and she stuck to me almost as tightly as Zayuuda did.

The only little kid who didn’t remember me was Ali and Rania’s son Saif, who was, after all, only 9 months old when I left!

Other Updates:
The headmistress’s oldest Safaa’ graduated from al-Balqaa’ University with a Bachelors in Computer Information Systems yesterday.
The headmistress’s oldest son Alaa passed his Tawjihi exams with high marks, and has just returned from his second year studying medicine in Ukraine.
The headmistress’s second daughter Ala’ passed her Tawjihi with even higher marks the next year, and is studying math at Yarmouk University.
Fatima and Muhammad’s eldest Alia, “the sheikh” Radwan’s third son Mahmoud, and Wijdan’s eldest Ghadeer are all on pins and needles awaiting the results of their recent Tawjihi exams.
Anis got so tall and looks so adult that I was sure he was Osama, who also grew several inches taller. Sadly, Anis had a bicycle accident a month ago that broke his jaw in three places, and is in the middle of a long recovery.
Umm SaleH, the grandmother, passed away in February 2006, and Abu SaleH, the grandfather, recently remarried a well-liked middle-aged woman named Latifa.
The headmistress’s husband recently got a Masters in something military in Pakistan.
Uncles Khalid and Ahmed, brothers of the headmistress and Fatima, got married in a double ceremony, which I think was last summer.

And the most visible change: The school across the street has a beautiful new, two-story building which is now a girls’ school through the 10th grade, and the old building remains as a boys’ school through the 8th grade.

I’m looking forward to going back for mensef when they’re ready to celebrate Ala”s return from the Ukraine.

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