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(epic) girl time.

December 30, 2010

Part two of the last post. Actually, I started writing it as a P.S., but then it turned into…this.

I had a particularly crazy day Tuesday, which helped to cement all this business about neighbors in my mind…first, I got semi-forced to take a little neighbor girl shopping via her persistently showing up at my door and basically telling me we had plans. We trekked to the balad and “window-shopped,” so to speak. I made it clear that I didn’t really have any money with me–because I was overdue a bank trip–and therefore couldn’t and wouldn’t play the rich foreigner with her. It was lame that I had to be suspicious of her motives at first, but hayk, that’s the way it is when you’re a single ajnabiyya. You have to be careful, because people do generally assume you have loads of money hidden somewhere. Anyway, we ended up having a lovely time, even though I got the sense everyone who saw us assumed I was her nanny/housemaid (they are mostly Filipina or Sri Lankan, but a lot of people can’t tell the difference between South/Southeast and East Asian). Digression: You know, it was only like an hour and a half of being looked at like that–usually people assume I’m a “student” because of the way I dress/walk etc, even if they can’t figure out my origins–and it still felt totally demoralizing. I could feel the frustration and defensiveness steaming up inside me, and it just made me think: I can’t imagine what it’s like to live like that 24/7. To live in a society where words like “Filipina” and “Sri Lankan” are used as insults, where people look at you and see dirt. Or worse, they don’t see you at all. It is heartbreaking and crazy-making.

Anyway. When we got back, I visited her upstairs neighbors for a bit, a family of three sisters who live alone with their Iraqi grandmother (the two families are close, and often I walk into one of their apartments and find girls from both homes there). Somehow, that morphed into my visiting their old neighbors way down the hill…and staying there for over two hours. I was exhausted by the end, because the visit had basically been a rapid-fire grilling of my opinions on everything from language learning to the moral and cultural differences between America and Jordan. It was hilarious–the women/girls would keep scolding each other for speaking too quickly for me to understand, and then someone would respond, “No, this is good for her, it helps her learn!” Or “No, she totally gets it, she answered the question, didn’t she?” Or “Shush, it’s my turn to talk!” Holy moly. Seriously, these ladies talked so fast I only understood about 60% of what they were saying, so the fact that I managed to  stay an active participant in the conversation felt like a major accomplishment. But when it finally came time to go and they did the whole, “This house is your house, come anytime” deal and it felt totally sincere [See? Radical hospitality], I really did leave that place feeling loved and welcomed.

Our conversation was also all kinds of enlightening, because it revealed some big ideological differences due to different generations, national backgrounds (Iraqi vs. Jordanian vs. Palestinian), and neighborhoods. There was one terrifying moment when someone asked me what I thought was better, my native world of casual dating and immodest clothing or the stricter society over here (they themselves were divided). The room went silent while everyone waited for my answer, and I stammered something about freedom with limits that seemed to please everyone well enough. But we did end up having a good nuanced conversation about the diversity of American society. Translation: No, my life does not remotely resemble an episode of 90210 [which one girl kept bringing up as evidence during the discussion]. Really? Really.

But! Despite my brain being totally fried by that point, my night still wasn’t over. The girls decided they wanted to go out to get something sweet before returning home, so I somehow ended up on a taxi journey with them to the swanky side of town, where we ordered hot chocolate to go and walked around the well-lit streets lined with fancy shops. Before we left, they got a bunch of shwarmas to share in the cab on the way back, and I tried not to fall asleep while I was eating. It was a totally unexpected but kind of awesome afternoon/evening/night.

Oh, but the story does not end there. The last two days, the younger girls have stopped by my house as soon as school let out just to ask me when I’d be free to hang out with them, and could I please say hello to their friends (who were giggling shyly on the street below)? I had to let them know that after this week, I will a.) be living in a new apartment up the hill, and b.) probably not be at home quite so often. Their response? “Tell us when you’re moving, and we will get our dad to help you!” Oh man.

And: they dragged me out of the house yet again tonight for a collective hangout that involved visiting with Family A, getting an Arabic grammar lesson from one of the girls, and trying to convince the toddler boy to like me…and then running up with them to Apartment B where we played “sraa7a aw jraa’a” (truth or dare…I didn’t even know they have that game here) and the younger girls tried to convince me to introduce them to my little brother once I let it slip that he was 18, apparently an eligible age for them (young teens). I just pointed out that he doesn’t speak any Arabic. That seemed to stump them a bit, but they’re pretty persistent…watch out, Elliott…

you can't really read the sign, but there is a PAPA JOHN'S on the left...!

sisters

They’re doing a great job of teaching me to let down my guard a little and open myself up to these unexpected relationships. My goal now is to learn how to be most/best loving towards them. You know, lift them up and encourage them and just generally be a good influence rather than a passive observer of their lives, which carry their own private hardships that I’m just starting to glimpse as we spend time together…

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel P permalink
    December 31, 2010 2:20 am

    show them a picture of elliott. they will be smitten

  2. Dad permalink
    January 1, 2011 5:01 am

    I feel for you…It’s crazy, isn’t it? People are so funny and cute and delightful!
    It reminds me of old days when I first came to the States. Then, people used
    to ask me where I’m from. It usually went like this: Are you a Chinese? When I say
    “No,” then they go, “Japanese?” I say, “No, I’m Korean.” Then they would often
    have this puzzled look on their face as if they haven’t heard where Korea was.
    But Filipino, or Sri Lankan? Ha ha… But they are so sweet and innocent, aren’t they?
    It is New Year’s Eve tonight. Mom and the boys went to church for New Year’s Eve service but I decided to stay home and get some rest before a hectic weekend with
    New Year’s service tomorrow and Sunday day after tomorrow. It’s quiet right now.
    And perhaps because it is so quiet, I feel like I’m spending a special moment with my daughter. We went out to eat last night and today for lunch. Mom’s taking this week off from her clinic for some well deserved rest. So, we are acting like we are on vacation by eating out a lot. ^^ We tried two new restaurants: one in Bethesda and one in Rockville, both new in town. They were very good. I can’t wait to take you there when you come back. You will enjoy them a lot. Oh, we also went to this new Irish restaurant in Rockville, too and we all agreed that you would enjoy it a lot. I hope you don’t miss home too much. It sounds like you are having fun over there and that’s a good news. I hope you will have a fabulous year this year. God’s going to bless you in a special way. I just know it. Happy New Year! I miss you!
    Love,
    Dad

    • January 5, 2011 8:18 pm

      Noo don’t eat too much good food without me. 😀 But seriously, your outlook on things is rather inspirational. I’m not sure my first instinct is to consider all these people who look down on me because they misjudge my ethnic background “sweet and innocent!” Haha. Miss you!

  3. Elliott permalink
    January 5, 2011 6:09 pm

    omg, no. no more girls from random countries I don’t live in trying to get with me.

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