It’s crazy to think that I’m leaving this place I’ve called home for the past 6 months within the month… Which is what has led me to writing this post. This entry just flowed out of the heart. No edits. No censorship. No pictures. It took me a while to decide whether or not I wanted to write this or not, for most of it is very introspective stuff. But sometimes it helps to write it out.
**Also the blog’s gotten over 5,500 views thus far! I would’ve never believed it if you told me that back when I started not so long ago…**
As humans, we have an extraordinary sense of emotional identity and response to what we consider our “home”. The majority of us go through at some point or another “identity crisis” of where we consider our individual “home”. Arguably the most common occurrence of this phenomenon is when a couple gets married and buys a house, therein creating a new “home environment” that overshadows the original home that they grew up in. But this experience can also be undergone when a student who has lived at home his or her entire life, and goes off a new “home” for college. These new homes that we situate ourselves in take the place of our original homes, but you never really let go of your first home; your roots. That’s why we always go back: for breaks, for weekends, we always go back “home” whether it’s for the friends and family we left behind or for the feeling of being “home”.
For being a 20 year old college student I’ve had a relatively large amount of “homes”, and places where I have loved ones. Growing up in Pinole, moving to Orinda for high school, and then going to Claremont McKenna in Southern California, I’ve had quite a few “home”-like environments. But none of my previous experiences could have prepared me for what I’m experiencing now. I’ve been in the Middle East for 6 months as of today. Before I get into the effects that Jordan in particular has had on me, I feel as if I must first describe the effects Jerusalem on me.
My direct bloodline is from the holy land, a city that borders the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. In fact you can see the old city walls no more than 200 meters from the house my grandfather owned, and the house my mother was born in. So If you're talking technicalities, Jerusalem is home. If you've been paying any attention to the 'news' for the past say... 65 years (technically 95 years of current struggle, more if you want to go back to the time of the crusades, and that's STILL not the beginning), you'll know that the Jerusalem is hotly contested land. Christians claim they should own the land. Muslims claim they do own the land. And facts on the ground show that Jews own the land.
I don't care who you ask, whether it’s the most orthodoxed Jew, any Arab whether Christian or Muslim, or an American ex-pat working and living there, Jerusalem does not feel like home. To anyone. Sure some people feel safer than others, but no one feels 'comfortable' living there. I met an American from Chicago who has been teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for the past 11 years and he said that Jerusalem made Chicago –which for starters isn’t the safest place- look “like an preschool” school in comparison in terms of safety. Everyone is tense, the air is heavy with hatred, there are teenage Israeli's holding machine guns at every corner, and no one is happy with the situation. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians. So although Jerusalem is theoretically my true ancestral home, there are technicalities that make it... Difficult. That all being said, Jerusalem is still to this day my favorite city in the entire world. Hands down. Easily, I've been to Dubai, the most advanced city in the world, Istanbul, the most culturally rich city in the world, Washington DC, the most powerful city in the world, and Jerusalem, the most sought-after city in the world, and Jerusalem has had the biggest impact on me.
Now to Jordan. Jordan is where my mother grew up and is where a lot of my relatives now live, and where -by the time I am done here- I have lived for 7 months. Ergo, I have obvious ties to this country as well. And to fully explain my response to this country, it only makes sense to do so in two parts; when I'm with other Americans and when I'm without other Americans.
Over the summer and during select instances this semester, I passed as a local Jordanian. It took approximately the first month or so for me to freshen up my Arabic well enough for people not to know I was a foreigner when I opened my mouth and for me to recognize some of the cultural norms, but after that I was set. I could fully fit in, and in my interactions people would treat me the same way they treated any other Jordanian. I sometimes would still bring a cousin or a friend when I wanted to go bargain down a price for something, but I really felt at home. When I went on my trips to the Emirates, Istanbul, and Oman when I longed to go home, I would long for Jordan. Not once have I felt “overwhelmed” by this country the same way some of my American friends from my program have. Not once.
And then the Americans came. Don't get me wrong, I was very excited to meet the people I was going to be studying with for the next 4 months, and to date I have made friends that I know deep down I will never forget. However in terms of that whole "fitting in" concept, everything changed. Whenever I go anywhere with my American friends, we get a lot of stares. Most of them are staring because of the obvious foreigners walking around, particularly if I'm walking with females. But I can't shake the feeling that some of the stares are actually at me, and that their eyes are staring at me asking me "how did this [Jordanian] guy befriend all these foreigners?" Arguably my favorite aspect of Jordan is the people and how genuinely friendly they are and how far out of their way they go to help you. I have fallen in love with the Jordanian people. But now, whenever I'm walking with Americans, it's hard to tell whether the Jordanians are being friendly to get to know me, or being friendly to get to know the Americans that I'm with.
This shift of prospective has made me question who I am as a person. My entire life I have been the “American-Arab”. Living in Orinda and Claremont and enrolling in predominantly Caucasian institutions has presented me with situations where my upbringing, or my responses to certain situations or topics due to my culture, or even the color of my skin have merited people to see me in a “foreign’ light, whether consciously or subconsciously. It can be anything from not drinking at parties to not liking hotdogs, from my reactions of certain news stories to not eating pork… Wherein I acquire the adjective of an “Arab-American”.
Being in this part of the world has, for the first time in my entire life, presented me with situations where people consider me an “American-Arab” rather than an “Arab-American”. Several times throughout this semester there have been situations where I will be sitting with a Jordanian or a group of Jordanians and I’ll not understand a reference of something, or not understand certain slang words, or do something culturally insensitive, or I won’t know a cultural dance, or food, or slogan at a soccer game. And EVERY time this happens, the Jordanians that I’m with get a look on their face that I can’t quite describe. It’s a mix of confusion and disgust, but what it is mainly is disappointment. I’m just another one of those Arabs who somehow found a way into the “promised land” of America and have forgotten my roots. And every time I see this face that they make, it kills me a little inside. I try to explain to them that the reason I came to Jordan was TO UNDERSTAND my roots and that I was born in America and that I couldn’t have “forgotten” since I never really knew them. But their minds are already set: I’m a traitor.
These reactions from both the Americans and the Jordanians have led me to a situation many would call: “an identity crisis” of sorts. Although I am much more American than I am Arab on the inside, on the outside some would say I look more Arab. I’ve yet to come to terms with this, and am still trying to make up my mind on how I should perceive myself; let alone ask that others perceive me. 2 situations this week have helped push me to a general decision.
The first of these two incidences was at a brunch with a group of my American friends in my program. Seeing as the program has begun to wind down (finals next week….) we have had several “debriefing” activities of our experiences here in Jordan. During these activities and during this brunch in particular, many of my friends feel as though they have been here long enough to make blanket statements of Jordanians and Jordanian culture. Don’t get me wrong, I do the same thing. The reason I bring up this incidence is because I felt myself defending the Jordanian culture. Although I didn’t say anything allowed, in my mind I was almost agitated that they were saying these things about “my people”. My people? That’s the part that shocked me the most and is the reason I bring this up. The same way I would defend my people in America if a Jordanian told me that all Americans wear cowboy hats and ride horses, I found myself defending Jordanians.
The second of the two eye-opening experiences that happened to me this week happened to me today. Long story short (I haven’t written about this in my blog yet because we’re not done filming) I got asked to be an actor in a film here in Jordan. It’s kinda crazy, it’s an Austrian produced film, headed by a Spanish director, set in Afghanistan, being filmed in Jordan, with a bunch of American actors and actresses. Try to imagine how many languages were flying around on the set today…. But I digress. When the cast manager was trying to split the group of minor-roll actors between Jordanians and Americans, she put me in the group of Jordanians. As though I was Jordanian. To be honest I was offended. I spoke up -in English of course-, and told her that she told me she wanted me playing an American role. Because I am American. She switched me to the other group and in the end it wasn’t a big deal, but this sequence of events started me thinking about how people perceive me.
These are the thoughts going through my mind with less than a month left in this country and left than a month left until I get back to the states. I hope these thoughts resolve themselves before then….