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won’t you be my neighbor?

December 29, 2010

Technically, Christmas is over, right? So why doesn’t it feel over…? Probably because I’m still in the thick of Eid visits–similar to what happens during Eid a-Fitr for my Muslim neighbors, but  because I’m living and interacting a lot with the Christian community here, Christmas (and also Easter) is when this all goes down. So basically, it’s been a marathon of neighbor-friend-acquaintance visits with a pretty set routine: enter, greet women with kisses and men with handshakes, “kul 3am wa entu bkhair” – “wa enti bkhair” all around, comment on how beautiful the Christmas tree/Nativity scene is (in Jordan, the Nativity scene–mughara, literally “cave”–is set up around the base of the tree, often as a pretty little cave made of painted brown paper), accept tiny cup of Arabic coffee and whatever sweets are on hand, chat for a while, take piece of chocolate that is offered when visit is over, say goodbye. The visits can be as short as fifteen minutes or as long as over an hour, depending on how well you know someone and how busy they are.

The thing I love best about the whole thing is how embedded in my community it makes me feel, even if I’m not, really. You don’t have to be super-close to someone to stop by unannounced to make an Eid visit, and it’s more or less expected that you’ll visit your neighbors, at the very least, so it gives me a good excuse to get to know people a little better, or even meet them for the first time. It’s also a nice chance to show my face at homes where I’ve  put off visiting because of busyness, or because I don’t remember where the house is (um let’s all pretend this is a rare occurrence), or because I feel awkward about it for whatever reason.

I can’t pretend there aren’t major drawbacks to living with this sense of belonging and community at home….ahem propensity to gossip, nonexistent privacy, and questionable sense of boundaries. Oh, do I have stories. Like how my neighbors always know what time I’ve come home the night before, and I can’t really let myself have any late nights out without raising some red flags. Or how this woman once kidnapped me on the street to help her find her friend’s house [yeah what? she definitely picked the wrong person for that job], and when we finally arrived and I was forced inside for a little while, it turned out that the residents already knew all about me–where I live, what I do here, the whole nine yards. Even though I’d never met them before. Freaky. Or how my one pharmacist friend thought nothing of casually mentioning to another mutual pal that I’d stopped by her workplace the day before…and then proceeding to list everything I bought there. Good thing it just turned out to be shampoo and toothpaste–I can imagine several ways that could have gone more awkwardly.

But hey. I’ve also learned more about what it means to be a neighbor here than any other place I’ve lived. Faced with radical hospitality, I’ve been forced to reevaluate what I consider to be the limits of my generosity. Faced with the chatty insular world of my neighborhood, I’ve been forced to redraw (erase?!) the lines of my “personal space.” Faced with the frustrating sense that I’m being taken advantage of by some of my more wily neighbors, I’ve been forced to release my pride and rethink my priorities–what’s more important to me, being “in the right,” or being an example of love? It turns out being sacrificial/humble/charitable is a LOT harder than it sounds! (No duh, right). When it all comes down to it, living here is one big lesson in welcoming the stranger, being generous with my time and energy, and prioritizing relationships…a lesson I’m slowly and painfully and magically learning with each new day.

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