Walk Jordan, Clean Orjan

or, Was She Just Speaking Arabic?

Orjan, Ajlun, Jordan

Two days ago, I was in a terrible quandry. I had paid my money to go with my supervisor Nina on an overnight trip to Dana Nature Preserve with the Friends Of Archaeology and Heritage (FOAH); it’s a trip I was really excited about, because it’s complicated to get to Dana without having your own car and camping gear. Then I found out that Walking Jordan was going to the Orjan Soap House, which I’ve been wanting to see since Tareef’s trip to Wadi Feynan Eco Lodge, and even moreso after reading in the Jordan Times last Friday about the new Calligraphy Centre and the Orjan Soap House. So I wavered between pleased and disappointed when the FOAH trip was cancelled, and I was able to go on the Ajlun hike with Walk Jordan. I even talked Jad into going along and taking fabulous pictures (even if I tried to make him think it was his idea…)!

From Orjan Soap House

I’ve been to Orjan before. My friend Betsy was a Peace Corps Volunteer there, and I went and visited her one weekend. I have very fond memories of the visit. We were invited to dinner at her colleague’s house, a geography teacher from the Haddad family, where I had the best, moistest, most tender chicken of my Peace Corps days. We also visited her neighbor, and I distinctly remember her daughter, who was mentally and/or emotionally handicapped and is usually terrified of strangers, but came right into the sitting room and sat down beside me almost as soon as I arrived. (Perhaps, as Karla did years ago, she took one look at me and thought, Now, there’s someone who won’t reject me!) Her brother absolutely adored Betsy, and brought us the geography book Betsy had brought him from America to show us what he had learned.

From Orjan Soap House

On this trip, we started at the Orjan Soap House, which has a gorgeous collection of olive oil soaps made from all local products. Then Dr. Ramzi handed out black plastic trashbags and plastic gloves, and we set off down the trail. We filled at least two dozen trash bags with bottles, tissues, potato chip bags and other trash, and that was just what was lying right along the roadside! It’s a terrible shame, really. Orjan is a beautiful little valley, full of figs, plums, apples, almonds, and fat, gnarled olive trees known locally as “Roman olives,” dating back to Byzantine days and before. When my students in the village asked me, as they often did, “Is Jordan beautiful?” I would say wholeheartedly yes. But when my students would finish their potato chips and throw the bag on the ground, I would say, “How is Jordan beautiful when the whole country is one big trash can?” It was amazing to find that, even after we had collected all that trash, we stopped to rest under an enormous old tree, and when we got up to go to lunch in local homes, members of our own group left soda cans and candy wrappers right there on the ground behind them. Oh, Jordan! Sometimes you frustrate me!

From Orjan Soap House

Where are you from?

About half the people on this trip were old friends from Tareef – Bassem, Ahmed and his kids, Salah, Rasha, Moayad and Taymour whose photos I’m constantly stealing, Nara who will soon be my roommate, etc – but there were also many people I’d never seen before. There was a predictable mix of English and Arabic, however, and I was no exception. Jad is, by his own admission, selfishly determined to practice his English with me, and I understand the urge to take advantage of a native speaking friend … plus, it’s just easier for me. Rasha would walk past us and, as usual, look me right in the eye and demand, “3arabi! 3arabi! [Arabic! Arabic!]” which never fails to delight me. And, as usual, I got the chance to eavesdrop on plenty of Arabic conversations, which is a treat for me, as I am usually surrounded by English. And several people got the story, from me or one of my Tareef friends, of how I had come to Jordan, how I’d acquired my Arabic, and what I’m doing here now. One such explanation was particularly fun:

I was making arrangements with Nara to come and see the apartment before she moves in on the 1st, and because she’d been insisting all day on speaking Arabic and not English (and her Arabic is amazingly improved since we first met!), I also spoke to her in Arabic. And as we were making our arrangements, I heard a voice behind my shoulder say (in Arabic), “Is she speaking Arabic?”
I smiled as Rasha replied for me, “Of course! She speaks Arabic very well!”
“But, she speaks English, so I thought-“
Now I interjected, with a grin to soften the sarcasm, “So everyone who speaks English doesn’t speak Arabic?”
“No, but your accent…. Where are you from?”
And before I could respond, Jad jumped in. “She’s from Bleela! She’s a real Jordanian! Her mother’s American, right, Maryah? But she’s Jordanian.” And for a few minutes, this poor guy at my shoulder couldn’t figure out whether to believe Jad or not. I just grinned, wondering where this would go. After all, Jad hadn’t said anything untrue about my parentage; it was merely misleading. (When I was in Egypt, I did manage to convince some people that my father was Jordanian and I was a native speaker of Arabic, so I wondered if it would work in Jordan proper.)
But Rasha took pity on the poor guy and explained that I was not Jordanian at all, I’d just lived here for awhile.

From Orjan Soap House

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