Friday, June 22, 2012
22 June: An evening with a Jordanian family
22 June Sabbath Day in Amman. We were VERY NEARLY on time for church services in this morning. Aside from one near-fit by Yumi, all went well and we all enjoyed our various meetings and experiences at church. Emi's nursery class is run by a Filipina woman by the name of Jean--and looks very fun. I is held in the "sunroom" of the converted villa and is loaded with light and toys. Yumi's class has about five kids, ages 3-6. Her lesson today had something to do with choosing to be happy (or sad). Hmmmm...hope she took this to heart. The other lessons for the adults focused in having a change of heart (from a hard/angry one to one full of charity) and viewing trials as opportunities for growth. Very uplifting, and thanks to the fact that Aya is so cute, she was adopted by others (primarily the young BYU students visiting for Arabic studies), leaving me to learn and ponder. Very appreciated. We have not yet quite figured out how to send our Sabbath Day here. At home, we typically spend time with family and friends outside of the usual entertainment activities. We avoid patronizing restaurants and other venues that require its employees to work. This is challenging when on "vacation" and do not have your own kitchen. Of course, we can eat the bread, honey, and fruit we keep on hand in the hotel and I hope we start doing that instead of going out to eat. We WILL still want to continue to have outings. Holing up in our hotel room all afternoon and evening after church does not sound enjoyable. Thus, when we left church today, we headed downtown for lunch at Al Quds (Jerusalem) Restaurant. More less uneventful (and tasty--veggies, rice, hummus, pita) but we are always torn between the idea that we should somehow force our children to sit at their chairs through the entire meal and NOT wander thru the restaurant...and the idea that children are just not ABLE to have restaurant manners ALL the time. I am and will be conflicted about this until our last meal here...because we are not going to stop eating out but our girls are going to want to get up and wander after no more than 10 minutes at a table. This evening: We had the kind of experience for which I came to Jordan this summer. A real "Jamila" moment, or as close as Jamila, mother of three, can have. Last Friday, the taxi driver that took us to church was an extremely friendly man. They usually are, but this man immediately invited us to visit him and his family at his home. Such invitations were near daily events in my previous travels but have been rare (this was the first in three weeks) this time around. Maybe something about have three children, two of which resemble waring tom cats half the time, flailing around in the back of the taxi puts most drivers off. This man truly seemed in ernest and gave me his card. The card indicated that this man--Abu Mustafa--has a farm, producing eggs and honey. I thought the girls might really enjoy a chance to visit a farm and so I called him several days later. I learned that his farm is far out of town, near the famous fortress of Karak (a very cool place, by the way), too far to visit in an afternoon. But he invited us to his family's home the following Friday (today) and we accepted gratefully. Our first chance this summer to visit Jordanians in their home and provide our girls the opportunity to see how differently people can live. Abu Mustafa generously picked us up and took him out to his home in the eastern (poor) suburbs of Amman. When I say "poor," he (and his neighbors) live much grander than people with whom I have stayed in India and Africa. Not to say there are not truly impoverished people in Jordan but it is a fairly well-off country with functioning social services. Abu Mustafa is, however, much poorer than the inhabitants of the neighborhood surrounding our hotel. We actually went to the apartment of his son and family--about a 25 minute drive from our hotel. Their apartment building is typical of nearly all the buildings of Amman: a white stone structure 3-4 floors tall. We climbed up to about the third floor and found his son Amr, daughter-in-law Riham, and wife Amiira. Three kisses on the cheek among the women: left cheek, right cheek, right again. Shoes off. Introductions of the adults and the five children (three belonging to Amr and Riham). Nate goes off to the "diwan," the room coved in cushions upon which the men lounge and smoke. He does not emerge the entire two hours we are there, and when he does, he reeks of smoke. The kids are sent to play in a room off the entryway--evidently the play area. This family of three kids have about 6 toys in this small, uncarpeted room. Yumi and Emi play with the toys--and the kids--happily enough. Yumi realizes immediately that no one speaks English and she kicks into Arabic mode! It is awesome to behold; she simply starts communicating exclusively in Arabic, even to us! She even loudly announces to Amiira that she is hungry and to Abu Mustafa that "smoking is bad for the body." All in Arabic. Amazing! I sit down in the narrow room that connects the entryway to the diwan which is lined in very typical Middle Eastern couches. I cannot describe what I mean by that but I have been in hundreds of homes across the Middle East and the furniture is very similar. It is not particularly exotic or "eastern" looking but it does not look American. It does not look American in the way European furniture does not look American. It just looks...different. Obviously, I should have a picture. I chat with Amiira and Riham for nearly two hours. Very enjoyable. They are very friendly and patient with my eccentric Arabic, and speak slowly so I can understand them. We have only minor interruptions; my girls seem to be entertaining themselves pretty well but I can tell that they aren't playing in the same way they would be playing with old friends. They all do a little running around, playing chase, but aren't actually collaborating together with their games like they would with old friends. Later, Nate and I agree that even if these kids all spoke the same language they might still not bond immediately or play seamlessly. All things considered, they do well together. Yumi complains a little that they aren't playing with her (after which I see the obedient 4yr old Jordanian daughter leading Yumi around by the hand--surely at the command of her mother) and Emi gets her hair pulled by two yr-old Mohammad who is apparently a real terror (hair pulling aside, he could have fooled me). Aya crawls between the playroom at one end and the diwan at the other, getting sweatier and sweatier in the un-air conditioned apartment. Prior to coming, I had asked Abu Mustafa not to go to any trouble on our behalf. I hoped he would know this meant to not prepare a meal. I wasn't certain our girls would eat what they prepared and do not want to suffer the embarrassment of rejection of generously prepared food. I also told him that our girls go to bed early and that we should plan on going back to our hotel by 6pm, giving us enough time to eat and get them to bed. I said these two things to him knowing full well that 1) they would insist on us eating and 2) they would expect us to stay for hours (and eat said meal at around 8pm) but I knew I would need to be firm on at lest the second point and I figured I had best be upfront from the beginning. While this may be my first time in a Jordanian home with children, it is by no means my first time ever and I know what to expect. I am glad I explained our "special needs" (to have our children in bed by the unheard of hour of 7:30 or 8:00pm....Riham puts her kids to bed around 11pm or midnight). While they grumble a little ("at least stay until 8:30pm!!") they have been forewarned and give in easily. The tricky part, then, is explaining why we need to leave as early as 6pm. The real answer is "so I can feed the kids dinner because they are starving" but naturally I cannot say that without our hosts insisting we eat with them. Happy as I am to accept (even with the risk of ungrateful daughters refusing offered food), I know full well that they don't plan on eating until at least 8pm. They may not even have the meal in mind started. Oh, those of you who have stayed with local people while traveling abroad should well understand my dilemma! Well, we end up eating the remains of what clearly was their lunch but was a delicious platter of chicken, rice, potatoes and eggplant, put down on the table in front of me and the girls and a spoon issued to each of us. Nate is served his own plate in the diwan. No one else eats as they have clearly eaten (lunch) not long before we arrived at 4:30pm. I've been in this kind of culturally awkward situation before but cannot afford to refuse as I have three ravenous children on my hands and no other chance to feed them within another hour in sight. So I accept their food and we eat up. I am glad I brought a box of baklava for our hosts to make up for our culturally inappropriate early dinner and departure. While eating I chat with Riham. She is 21 with a 6 year-old son. She married Amr, her cousin (literally, her maternal uncle's son), at age 15. She quit school after the seventh grade. None of this surprises me--it is very typical. By 6:30pm my girls are wilting and even our hosts can see that we were not joking--out girls were done. Abu Mustafa and Nate emerged from the diwan and, after much cheek kissing and promises of another gathering soon, we left. The ride back was unenjoyable with all three girls vying for space on my lap, grabbing hair, and generally falling apart. I finally did the unthinkable and passed Emi up to the front seat to sit on Nate's nap in the front seat. Just the thought of this makes me ill but I was at my whit's end. I had to let Aya just wander around the backseat while I tried to keep Yumi from going into a fit. I stroked her back with my right hand while I held onto the handle of the door with my left to keep Aya from opening it. Thank you if you re cringing in sympathy over this situation. I almost cannot believe it myself. Nate and I agree, however, that incredibly unsafe automobile situations aside, we are glad the family had this experience. Poor Nate had to take one for he team, buried as he was in the diwan with smoke, the television, and relatively uncommunicative Abu Mustafa and Amr. I, however, got to chat with two very nice Jordanian ladies and the girls really had a unique experience. Once again, I am especially pleased to see how, in this setting, Yumi realized she had a tool (Arabic) and she used it. It is 10:44pm. It has taken me an hour to write this. I hope you have enjoyed it. I write this to the sound of drums; the owner of the hotel (we were told) is hosting a party tonight in the courtyard. The usually empty space is full of festive low couches, musicians, hookas (water pipes) and a fountain. The only way I could pry Yumi away from this scene that met us when we returned from Abu Mutafa's house was to assure her that it would be a boring party. That was before the drumming and dancing started.