My first Arabic teacher is back in Jordan for a brief visit to her family, and we went out to dinner tonight. When I came to Jordan with Peace Corps, Jennifer was my Language and Culture Coordinator (LCF). She spent 5 hours 4 days a week teaching Arabic to me, Naureen, Audra and Jeremy (and a couple other trainees who left early). She also lived with us in the village of Ma’in, right next door to me. It was the first time she’d lived outside of Amman, and it was as much a culture shock for her as it was for us. Even though she, a Jordanian Christian, was living with Jordanian Christians in a village that had traditionally always been Christian, it was like another country. (I’ve always said that Amman isn’t Jordan, it may as well be Eastern Europe minus the vodka!) Jennifer and I spent many evenings working through our culture shock together, and we stayed in touch throughout the rest of my Peace Corps Volunteer service.
Little did any of us know at the time, but Peace Corps Trainee Josh had a serious case of love at first sight of Jennifer, and not long after we became full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers, he started getting to know Jennifer a little better. He was very discreet, and it was months before anyone but Josie knew anything about it! But once the secret was out, things moved fast. They were together as much as possible, and we started referring to them by just one name: Joshifer. By the end of my Peace Corps service, they were married, and on their way to a new life in Kansas City, Missouri.I kept telling Jennifer she was the bravest person I knew. Not only was she getting married and embarking on a new life a deux, but she was leaving all her family and friends behind and moving to America, too! She knew it would be hard, she told me tonight, and she’d thought she was prepared. But when I went to their American wedding reception in Missouri later that summer, it was clear that it was harder than expected. The sounds at night were different, she was struggling to find a job, she didn’t have any friends except her sister-in-law to keep her company while Josh was at work…. Having grown up with bars on her windows like everyone in Jordan, she didn’t feel safe in her home in America. It was a much greater challenge than she expected.
Three years later, she’s quite well acclimated to the States. She and Josh are now living in Washington, DC, which is a city full of Arabs and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, including many of our fellow Volunteers from Jordan. Jennifer has old friends and new ones, a fascinating job as a media analyst, and a husband she adores and who adores her. But it’s been 3 years since she’s seen her family and friends, longer than she expected, and that has started to take it’s toll on her now.
It was fun, too, to compare notes on how Jordan had changed since we left it three years ago. She confirmed what I had only suspected (not being particularly familiar with Amman in my Peace Corps days), that women were generally far more conservatively dressed – more hijab and niqab than ever. She had noticed in Cozmo grocery store a phenomenon I became very familiar with at the Modern American School, children who spoke English with a heavy Arab accent, but hardly spoke Arabic at all, most likely because they’d been raised, not by their parents, but by their Filipina or Indonesian or Sri Lankan maids (of which Jennifer says there are a lot more than she’s used to seeing). We compared our impressions of Jebel Webdeh, too. I know that neighborhood as the trendy place for young expats – students and young professionals – to live and hang out, but Jennifer knows it as the very Arab neighborhood where she grew up.
It’s so nice to see her back in Jordan! I only wish she could stay longer….