Eid Al-Adha was October 24-28th. It is a Muslim holiday that celebrates the day Abraham was to sacrifice Ishmael. I have never been more excited about a Muslim holiday. Not because the streets of the Arab world would be flowing with the blood of sheep, but because it meant school was cancelled. And what does a study abroad student do when school is cancelled? Go to Istanbul, Turkey, of course.
Last weekend when I was in Madaba (for the Biblical Jordan trip), I purchased two barbies. These two barbies wear a full hijab. When I was a young girl, playing with my barbies was my favourite thing to do. I had at least a hundred of them and furniture for every room of their imaginary house. As I look back on it, I realize that I got a lot of my ideas of beauty and fashion from my barbies. I changed their outfits and played with their hair until they fell apart. Spending that much time playing “house” with the “perfect image of a woman” has to alter how we view beauty. Seeing these barbies in a full hijab made me stop and consider how different a girl’s view of beauty and fashion must be in this part of the world. How much different would we view a woman’s image if suddenly her body and hair (and sometimes her face) weren’t even part of the equation? Suddenly, the hijab doesn’t seem as oppressive, does it?
On my university’s campus, I can probably count on one hand the amount of girls I see not wearing a hijab. Before coming here, my feminist-side was absolutely horrified by the hijab. The idea of a society forcing women to cover themselves seemed like some sort of strange fairytale. Then I got hit with a dose of reality. Religion and culture here are inseparable. They are smothered together like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Knowing this fact alone explains so much. A hijab is a kind of ‘religious’ accessory here. Walking around campus this becomes abundantly clear. Girls match their scarves to their outfits so perfectly that I often look at my clothes and feel silly for not having colour-coordinated. Purple scarves to match their purses and shoes. Green scarves to match their jacket. White scarves to match their pants. That’s just how it is. Real life. Not some sort of oppressing factor, just woman living life and being fashion-forward. Suddenly, the hijab doesn’t seem as oppressive, does it?
The other day as I made my way to one of my classes, I heard a strangely familiar song.
American culture continues to sell ideas of what ‘beauty’ really is and how we should aim for it. This definition of beauty affects every aspect of our lives from movies and music to food and toys. There is no escaping it no matter what country or culture you run to. And this is oppressive. Yes, there are aspects of the hijab that are still oppressive, but it is not as clearly cut as I had first assumed. Being here has taught me an invaluable lesson. I must not be so quick to judge an aspect of someone’s culture simply because it is different. I thought I already knew this, but I’ve realized my heart wasn’t listening to my mind.
So, Reality Check: I have a lot to learn.
Sometimes, we teeter on the brink of uncertainty.
Felix Baumgartner knows this sensation better than anyone. Last night, the Austrian skydiver fell faster than the speed of sound from the astonishing height of 128,100 feet. I sat on the floor of my host family’s living room and watched history being made. As I watched, I couldn’t help but compare the two of us and our separate adventures.
In order to leave the atmosphere, he prepared himself. He perfected his skydiving techniques, said “see you later” to family and friends, and put on his special suit. He then sat in his balloon that would transport him up to the jump. I imagine the entire ride there was a tumbling and somersaulting of thoughts spinning through his head. As the miles passed, I’m sure the pressure built in and outside of him. I came out to watch right as the door to the balloon opened. My eyes were glued to the screen as he pulled himself out onto the ledge. The earth stretched out for rounded miles beneath him, while a canopy of dark space hovered above him. It was time. Mission control told him to unplug the oxygen and prepare to jump. Despite the helmet, you could tell there was a brief moment of hesitancy. But then, with sure hands, he unplugged it. He had nine minutes of oxygen remaining. There was no going back now. He pulled himself further out and we heard his labored breathing. The entire world held its breath and then – he fell.
From camera to camera, we watched as Felix fell miles and miles to earth. No longer was it his thoughts, it was his body tumbling and somersaulting through the heavens. Four minutes and 20 seconds he fell. What was only a short time must have felt like ages to him. A few thousand feet before the ground, he pulled his parachute and floated gracefully to the dusty, New Mexico land. Once safely on the earth, he knelt down and breathed in his moment of success. He is forever a changed man.
In order to leave home, I prepared myself. I reviewed my Arabic, packed my clothes, and hugged my family goodbye. I surrounded myself in a cocoon of the familiar as a safety suit. I boarded the airplane with nervous excitement and watched out the window as I left home behind. My thoughts were tumbling and somersaulting. What am I doing? Why am I leaving what is comfortable? Is this worth it? As the miles passed, my nervous excitement heightened as I sat in the pressurized cabin. After 12 hours of flying, we finally began to descend and I saw my new world under me. The desert stretched out for miles, with a canopy of hot sun and endless blue sky. I gathered up my carry-ons and walked down the aisle. It was time. No one told me to jump, but I knew that was the next step in this journey. There was a brief moment of hesitancy when I simply wanted to go back to my seat and head back home. But the oxygen was running out. There was no going back now. It was time to step off this brink of uncertainty. And so – I fell.
The fall has been terrifying and exhilarating. My body has been tumbling and somersaulting, and sometimes all I want is stability. However, the reality is, sometimes you just have to let yourself fall. Three and a half months I will fall. What is only a short time has already felt like ages. But, it is already passing more quickly than I realize, and it was watching Felix that reminded me I will never have these moments again. What was the scariest moment of his life, will be something he will willingly relive the rest of his life. I see now that it is time to enjoy the fall and pull the parachute to enjoy the view. As I look ahead, I want to end my journey like Felix Baumgartner. I want to breathe in that moment of success and know I am forever changed.
I am so grateful that sometimes we teeter on the brink of uncertainty. If we didn’t do so, we would never learn, change, grow. Thanks, Felix, for the inspiration. And thanks for giving me the chance to experience history in Amman.
Speaking of history….
On Saturday, our program took us on a day trip to see “Biblical Jordan.” It was a truly mind-blowing experience. First, we saw where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Followed by seeing Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the promised land. Finally, Madaba for lunch and the ruins of Herod’s Palace where John the Baptist was beheaded. Okay, honestly, I’ve always found these “landmarks” a little suspect considering the amount of time that has passed, among other things. However, once I was finally standing in each place, I realized I didn’t care anymore. I was close enough to the place that even the concept was overwhelming.
Standing on the bank of the Jordan River, gazing out at the promised land, watching sunset over the Dead Sea from palace ruins reminded me of the reality of where I live right now. I am in a crossroads geographically, historically, and politically. I am here at a fascinating time and I still get to enjoy the history of it. Yeah, it’s cool.
All this time I had imagined the Jordan as a huge river that pours into the Dead Sea. In reality, it’s little more than an over-sized stream. This was really interesting to witness as it meant that on the bank of one side was the Arab World and only a five yard swim separated it from the bank of Israel. The contrast of the two sides was stark. Tourists wearing outfits that would be completely haram (forbidden) were spotted on the one side, as well as large groups of people waiting to get baptized in the water. That same side had beautiful churches, flags, and cement steps leading into the water. The other side had a wooden shelter that stood above the water and a couple broken steps leading into the river. One side had huge groups of people singing and praying. The other side had silent observers. There was one likeness between the two, though. This was that both sides were highly militarized. If I had tried to make that five yard swim, I would have been told to turn back or shot if I had disobeyed. A peaceful river trapped between two conflicting worlds. It was heavy reminder that they are conflicting worlds stuck on the brink of uncertainty.
I’ve decided it’s time to take off the I-love-Jordan-all-the-time hat. I usually prefer that hat because writing about your feelings? Yeah, that’s tough stuff. However, I am feeling particularly brave today. So here you are: my unfiltered feelings.
Living in a new culture is hard, but studying in a new culture is even harder. I took Modern Standard Arabic class for two and a half years. I worked really hard at it and always got good grades. Can you imagine my shock when I landed in Jordan and no one understood a word I was saying? The dialect here is nothing like Modern Standard. After living here a month, I have now learned that Modern Standard is equivalent to Shakespearean English. I have no doubt my face would be a mirror of theirs if they said to me,
Let me set the scene.
EXT. CITY STREET – DAY
A girl (early 20s) walks down the street darting between cars, broken sidewalks, and oil spills. The background music is a chorus of jeers from the men who see her as they pass in their cars. She frequently glances over her shoulder at the traffic, her eyes searching anxiously for an available taxi. None are to be found. She sighs and continues walking.
(ENTER GOLD SUV) As the girl walks, the SUV passes her, the driver inside staring her down. He pulls off to the side and waits for her to walk past him. He passes her again in order to keep watching in a sick game of “visual leap frog.”
(ENTER WHITE UNMARKED CAR) The white car pulls over to the girl who is walking.
Man: You need taxi? Here, come in!
Girl (in horror): No. (WHITE CAR DRIVES AWAY)
The girl hesitates on the sidewalk, not wanting to walk further due to the SUV and not wanting to stand still and be seen by more drivers. She checks her outfit. The only skin showing on her body is her face, neck, and hands. With a confused look on her face, she looks again out at the street. Immediately, she spots a man hollering and blowing kisses at her.
Girl: I. Just. Want. A. Taxi.
This is daily life in Amman for me. It makes me feel objectified, devalued, and dirty. It makes me think of that Dove Soap commercial where the British lady goes, “I couldn’t rinse enough.” …I can’t rinse these memories away anywhere near enough. I came home so upset yesterday because I was just tired of it. I can’t understand why it just won’t stop. What blows my mind is that this, this cat-calling and creeping, is nothing compared to what men do to women in other countries of this region. And here I am complaining.
Between the language and men issues, I was feeling spent. Every comment from a man, every new word I was taught in colloquial made me feel a little smaller and a little more exhausted. I would fix a smile on and collapse on my bed at the end of the day. I needed a fresh start. I needed to get out of my mind’s desert wasteland of negativity.
And then — it rained.
I love rain. I live for rainy days. I’m not sure if it’s my semi-Seattle blood that runs through my veins, or simply something deeper that longs for what rain gives me. What does rain give me? Memories. I remember one afternoon when I was six, I sat on my porch in Portsmouth, Ohio and watched the rain fall down on our driveway. I loved watching the rain bounce off the pavement, because, to me, it looked like thousands of little ballet dancers prancing and leaping around a stage. As I grew older, I loved rain for the smell. That scent of freshness and earth. The noise of it hitting the leaves or a window pane. The idea of life being restored. Last night when it rained here, I was sure I had never been so happy in my life. God knew exactly what I needed right as I had hit my limit. I needed to be able to “rinse enough”. I needed to be able to water my “wasteland of negativity.” And He gave me that chance.
I have also realized that rain comes in many, many forms. People and places can even be my personal rain. A figurative rain shower: I was able to go to church the other night. It had been so long since I’d been able to go because of not knowing where to go and busyness with my program’s excursions. Let me tell you, it has never felt so good to go to church. They sang songs I was familiar with, the pastor was fun and interesting, and I got to sing the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic thanks to Dr. Wright. (She taught it to me back at Cedarville.) The service was all in Arabic, but there were headphones with a translation. The headphones didn’t really work, but I was actually able to keep up pretty well with what he was saying. I was thrilled. All in all, it was completely uplifting and I cannot wait to go again.
I realize that my post this week is not terribly positive or humorous, but I hope you can appreciate my honesty about living abroad. Sometimes adventures aren’t always fun. My dad, brother, and I hiked a mountain this past spring and it took a long, long time to get to the summit. It was frigid, we weren’t prepared, and I was sure we were never going to make it to the top. But we did. And the sight was magnificent, but you know what was the best part? Being able to say we had done it, because that meant we were strong enough to even conquer a mountain. So, that’s why I’m sticking this out. That view from the top is going to be magnificent, and gosh-darn-it, I am strong enough to conquer this mountain.
That’s all, folks.