At the young age of 18, I embarked on a journey to Amman, Jordan to study Arabic. Although I was in a very serious relationship (too serious, actually), I was ready to set off on my first international adventure. Looking back, I was subconsciously running away from my toxic relationship, but we’ll come back to that later. Jordan is a beautiful country with vibrant culture, amazing food and gracious hospitality.
In Amman, I lived with a homestay family. They spoke maybe 3 or 4 words of English and although I knew some Arabic, I was scared to use it. This made for a very tense household and I didn’t feel like their homestay child, more or less an unwelcome guest or just a pain in the ass. There were many instances of miscommunication and even times when this miscommunication was cause for a scolding in incomprehensible Arabic. I’m not quite sure why I was so scared to just tryand speak Arabic with my Jordanian family, but it was a hard lesson I quickly learned. As a ‘wannabe linguist’, I now look for any opportunity to speak another language, whether it be ordering my food in Spanish at the local Mexican digs of Arizona- Sonora or chatting up the Middle Eastern woman standing in line at the grocery store. I’ve learned that the smallest of actions go a very long way when it comes to language.
Living in Jordan was hard. As the youngest in my class, I was perceived as ignorant or careless. Maybe I was, but I felt like an outsider amongst my peers who were the only other Americans and native-English speakers in my day-to-day life as a foreign student. My platinum blonde highlights stuck out like a sore thumb in a crowd of hijabs and dark hair. I was the only student who didn’t live with another American roommate because there were an uneven number of students. I was the odd number. To top it all off, my boyfriend back home had been cheating on me and contacting me almost daily to remind me that it was my fault for our downfall. I was alone.
If 18 isn’t already a hard-enough age to be, try living in a Middle Eastern country with minimal local vocabulary, facing sexual harassment every day, and being the social outcast in your group. It was a major eye-opening experience for me and somehow, I still came out of it with a deep passion and drive for understanding language, culture and what brings us all together as humans. Love. Peace. Salaam.
Between the constant anxiety of being a foreign female in a patriarchal society, my toxic ex-boyfriend and the social situation that I faced with my fellow American students; achieving inner peace was overrun by inner chaos. I still searched for it. I went to the gym every day. I have always found sanity in exercise, so I did that. Yet, I still hurt. I still walked the streets of Amman with a deep bitterness with each man who tss-ss-ss’ed at me. (Apparently it’s called catcalling for a reason, I’m not a damn kitten!)
One day, I tore the Tiffany & Co. diamond necklace off my neck from my ex and tossed it off a balcony. I thought of the day he bought it for me. He was drunk (per usual) and brought it to me when I was working as a Hostess. He was so drunk, he almost got me fired as he tried to romantically bestow the present to me while I was seating some guests. As I tossed it off the balcony onto the scanty roof below, I imagined the day a child playing on the roof or maybe a working laborer would come across it. What an amazing surprise! In that moment, I felt peace.
Jordan is surreal to me now. Almost a distant wonderland. I yearn to return someday to recover the forgotten memories and redeem myself for being so young and naïve. After growing up some and seeing other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, I have come to realize a few things I’d like to share with any woman who decides to visit Jordan.
First, Catcalling is inevitable; don’t get upset, angry or scared. Usually, it is harmless flirting by young boys who have nothing better to do but sit around in the streets looking at tourists. Secondly, be careful in taxis! Taxis are the most common form of transportation, but they have a bad reputation for ripping people off and harassing women. As soon as you tell the chauffeur your destination, ensure that he turns the meter on. Many times taxi drivers will try and give you a fixed rate that can be 10x the actual price! Be stern and if he refuses, get out quickly. As a woman, you should never sit in the front seat with the driver. Always sit in the back.
Although my experience tells a tale of heartbreak and harassment, I continuously reminded myself what my mother always says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” As I had wrote in my journal while in Jordan, “I have stopped and closed my eyes and just inhaled the moment, took pictures with my eyes while everyone else was taking selfies, praying with so much gratitude for every cool thing I come across or the people I am surrounded by, some good, some bad, but nonetheless a learning experience of my true character.” If you look outside yourself, you will find beauty in every place you travel to.