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ajnabiyya

October 9, 2010

On my way home today, I smiled briefly at a family hanging out in front of their house by the top of the stairs. I saw the father turn to his kids and say something, and I continued along, half-convinced he was telling them to laugh at the sweaty foreigner. So I stopped in my tracks when I heard two adorable little voices yell, “Hello!”

Being an obvious ajnabiyya (foreigner) here has its difficulties, and one of them is the fact that every time someone shouts “Hello” or “Welcome to Jordan” at me, I have to decide how to react. Ignore? Respond? Smile and move on? All depends on circumstance (okay, mainly age and gender). But when I turned and saw two little girls with their faces pressed against the front gate, I backtracked and approached them. “Hello! How are you?” I said in Arabic. “What are your names?” After they told me, their father–who was sitting yards behind them in a chair by the door–murmured something out of my earshot. The girls nodded and turned back to me. “How are you?!” they asked in bright, careful English. I laughed. “Fine, thank you! How are you?” They just stared at me blankly, grinning, so I thought I’d hit the limit of their English knowledge. But their father coached them again from the background. I didn’t hear what he said, but– “What’s your name?!” the girls cried in unison.

I love it when people here say my name. It’s not the easiest for them to say, but it’s not beyond the range of the Arabic language either, so it usually just comes out in a lilting accent. And listening to these girls repeat my name, testing to see how it felt on their tongues, made me break out into a grin. We shared a quick conversation (back to Arabic): I asked them how old they were, their baby brother’s name, and how they liked school, and they asked me if I went to school too. Yes, I said, I study Arabic, and I teach English. An English teacher! the older one echoed with wide eyes, looking at me like I was something way cooler than I am. I wanted to hug her. When we bid each other goodbye, I tossed a little wave in their father’s direction to thank him for encouraging his girls to talk to me. As cute as they were, I probably wouldn’t have lingered if he hadn’t nudged them forward.

In fact, just walking around in public can turn into such a second-guessing chore for me: thoughtless gestures like smiling and saying hello to strangers become carefully weighed decisions. Do I keep my eyes up or down as I step off the sidewalk to avoid a crowd of men? Do I greet the shopkeeper, or just nod and smile? I wasn’t even sure if I was “allowed” to wave at the dad like that, but I did anyway. If I committed a faux pas, I figured he’d let it slide–I’m an ajnabiyya, after all.

In other news, yesterday afternoon I explored Souk Jara with some friends. It’s a cute little market full of lovely jewelry and overpriced smoothies, open only on summer Fridays (“summer,” for the purposes of the market, ends next week). I saw the full gamut of clothing choices among the women there–women in full black abayas, teenagers in neat hijabs and tight t-shirts, foreigners in long tops with their hair swinging free. Everyone making the local dress code their own. It was fun just to sit and chat and people watch and catch a much-needed breath in the autumn sunshine. A glimpse of what I saw:

this was the first of three superman shirts we saw.

an artistic stuffed animal display. no really. go taxidermy.

P.S. There was thunder/lightning/rain today! Whoa.

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