The more remote and untraveled a place I visit, the more I find myself defined- by others and increasingly by myself- by a sense of location. Jordan, in absolute terms, is neither, particularly since Petra's recent designation as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, but neither is it exactly Paris or a beach in Goa. Jordan seems to draw an older, more sedate crowd. You can spot the occasional twenty-something European hefting his backpack from a taxi, sure, but nobody has ever accused this country of being wild and crazy. Jordan is safe, in other words, from students drunkenly belting out their national anthems in the streets.
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah. My point was that, as a 22-year old American girl traveling alone, I'm about as far from Jordan's typical tourist demographic as it's possible to get and as a result, almost everybody I meet seems immensely curious about why I'm here and the circumstances that led up to it. I'm still trying to come up with an appropriately succinct answer. My working model, for now, is to say that I was teaching English in Korea, then ended up in Turkey, where I found a job in Palestine... and Jordan is just my current waypoint.
When I say this to Americans, they say "PALESTINE?!" Jamal had a different answer.
"Uh..." I said, somewhat taken aback. "You know, South Korea."
"Even worse! Were you not scared?"
"...no? We're talking about the same Korea, right? Seoul? Busan?"
Jamal was horrified. He explained that in Korea, they eat people, and told me a long story about Egyptian construction workers who had been disappearing one by one over a period of some months, until the truth came out that the Korean supervisors had been stealing them away for dinner and sealing up their bones in the cement walls. "Nobody cared, of course, because they were Arab. But Korea is danger. You know what they eat in Korea? From the sky, everything except airplane. From the sea, everything except ships. From the land, everything except car. You see, no exception for humans."
Is this made more or less amusing by the fact that someone, somewhere, is probably claiming the same thing about Middle Easterners? I can't decide. Ahhh, cross-cultural understanding. And so the world turns.
From there, the conversation devolved, somehow, into an equally politically incorrect discussion of racial slurs. "I know what white people call black people. I know that white people say 'camel' for Arabs [note: we do?], but what do black people call white people to be mean? I know there is a word, but I don't remember." Again, this from Jamal.
"Cracker, I guess?" I offered.
"Cracker, yes!" Jamal noted this down on a scrap of paper, for future reference. So, on a scale from one to ten, how bad of a start is this to my English-teaching career in the Middle East?
Enough of that. I went to the bazaar yesterday, which was conveniently located in the bus lot directly in front of my hotel. Apparently it runs all day each Friday, full of clothes and shoes and vegetables. I went at midday- good timing, as it turned out, because the crowds were all at the mosque for morning prayers and that meant less pushing and jostling for me as I searched for location-appropriate work clothes for Palestine.
As a native English speaker, I got the same joy from browsing through the shirt racks as a Chinese person must feel if they loiter outside a tattoo parlor and giggle silently to themselves while reading things like "fish yum curtain" off the arms of customers. I tried to picture a young Muslim girl, decorously scarved, wearing a sweater with a Jagermeister logo, or maybe a middle-aged housewife purchasing the "MySpace is for slags" shirt to wear under her dress. HA! Where do they get these things, anyway? (A genuine question; a few had Salvation Army or Value Village tags still on them... so, what, do they go to North America and buy in bulk? That can hardly be a sound business plan when they're selling everything for the equivalent of a dollar and a half).
It was good to spend the day outside, in any case. Every time I mention to Jabar that I'm going to get something to eat or whatever, he puts up his hands and says, "oh no no no! I will tell the boy to get! You stay here!"
"The boy" is a blanket term for any of his four sons- the two older ones, around 17 and 19, who help out at reception, or in the evenings after school,the 9 year old or the 11 year old, both unbelievably adorable and unless something goes very wrong, on their way to becoming devestating charmers in ten years or so. They've given me a new name: Car ("sayyara" in Arabic), and every time I see little Muhammad, he starts shouting "vrroooom!" abd kicking his legs in some frantic, bizarre approximation of working the pedals. God help us all when this boy is old enough to drive.