Throughout my childhood, I wanted to live with a nomadic people, learning new languages and cultures, seeing the world. I wanted to be Sacagawea, Laura Ingalls, Shabanu, daughter of the Cholistan Desert…. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I made a close Jordanian friend who wanted exactly the same. I don’t think it worked out how either of us imagined.
Certainly, when I opened my mouth to speak Arabic, I didn’t sound like any ajnabiyya [foreigner] most Jordanians had ever met. My monthly trip to the Peace Corps office in the capital city Amman was like Davey Crockett going to DC. He could wear a suit and tails to the White House and claim the title Congressman, but he still had his East Tennessee twang. I looked like an American, dressed like an Arab Christian with terrible fashion sense, spoke with a strong Bedouin drawl. I loved that look on a cab driver’s face when he said, “When you first got in, I thought you were ajnabiyya,” and I would say, “W-allahi—By God, I am!” I relished the confusion, dancing back and forth across the line between ajnabiyya and bint al-bedu—daughter of the Bedouin, Maryah al-Harahsheh.
When I would say that name to almost any Jordanian, and they would say, wide-eyed, “Ah, yes! The real Bedouin!” The reality was more complicated, the barrier slippery but crucial between who was and wasn’t Bedouin.
The story of our complex friendship is told in the Summer 2017 issue of The Matador Review. Read it here.