Profile of an English Student

F: She was one of the older students in my class, around 45. She is a widow, but the death of her husband did anything but slow her down. She is smooth, self-assured, smart, a hard worker and a chain smoker. None of that shy, dainty, delicate demeanor that some girls here try to aim for. Nope, she is strong, confident and bold. When I visited her, I was in awe of her story and her current work. She is the president of the Mafraq branch of the Jordanian Women’s Union. The organization serves women by educating them in their rights before and within marriage and during a divorce. She helps women who are being abused by their spouse by giving them a safe place to go and get support. She explained that when a new woman comes for help, she begins by helping this woman see that she is valuable and that the abuse is not her fault nor what she deserves. She also introduces this woman to others who have been through similar situations so that she can see that she is not alone and that there is a way out. Then, she helps this woman learn a new trade, like how to work on computers, work in a beauty salon, or sew so that she can support herself. Sometimes she is able to find grants to help the woman rent her own apartment, separate from her husband.

Another aspect of her work is with young girls who are married off. Some girls here who come from very poor families are married off at a really young age, like 12 or 13, to a rich man for a specific price. These “marriages” aren’t meant to last long, the man usually comes from a country in the gulf only for a week or so, takes the girl for a week and then divorces her and leaves her. It is basically a form of sanctified pimping and sex trade. The marriage and divorce are not written up formally, only religiously, so, if the girl gets pregnant during this time, her baby technically has no nationality (because the nationality always comes through the father). She explained that in these cases, she helps by trying to get the correct papers so that the child can receive the correct nationality (a child without a nationality is without rights). They do this by trying to contact the father and getting him to admit that the child is his. If he refuses to admit it, they try to get him to swear on the Quran that the child is not his. F (who is Muslim) said, usually, in this case, he will finally admit the truth out of the fear of God. She explained that if the father can’t be contacted or will not tell the truth, the child is considered an orphan, even with a mother. She also helps these young girls to recognize their worth and learn professions so that they can depend on themselves and not get sucked into the cycle of these sex trade “marriages.”

As I listened to her, I just wanted to hug her and to tell her to keep on going strong! In a culture with so many injustices, especially against women, people like her are catalysts for change. She could take an honest look at her own culture and say with strength and confidence that it needs to change… then go and work towards that change.

She also told me a bit about her childhood. Her mother died when she was young and her father was a simple farmer. Because of the absence of her mother, she was always around her father, learning from him how to do “manly” things, like stand up for herself, speak her mind, and not back down. She said when she got married at 18, she wanted to go to college, but it was not accepted by her community. She insisted on studying anyway, all while raising her children, cooking, cleaning and taking care of her household. She finally graduated and received her bachelor’s degree. She also worked in politics and was a member of city counsel. Now she is running this much needed organization in Mafraq and training other woman to work alongside her.

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“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:6

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Stupid Things I Say While Learning Arabic

When learning a new language:

You know when you’ve been using a certain word with such confidence, but it never seems to get the response you’re expecting. They crease their brow, nod their head, but then give you that face that says, “I don’t know what you just said, but I’m just gonna nod so that we can move on with this conversation.” This happens to me quite often. The other day I asked a friend how to say, “provide” as in to say, “God provides for you.” He gave me the word, “يدعم” (Yeda3am)… I went and promptly forgot the word, but another, similar one came to fill its place. Shortly after, I was praying for a family in their home. I was trying to say, “God please provide everything for this family” but instead of using “يدعم” I used the word, “يتدمر” (Yetdamir), which means to destroy. So, here I was, with all sincerity, praying that God would destroy everything for this family. I open my eyes, look at the family and smile. Their faces are saying to me, “we’re smiling out of respect, but we don’t know what to make of your prayer” … their words do not match their faces, “God bless you, habibty, thank you for your kindness.” On my way home, I try running through my words in my head, trying to find the culprit… “يتدمر” … dang it. Hopefully they realize sometimes, I have no idea what I’m saying.

Another one of these instances was also in prayer. I never formally learned how to pray, but I just generally try to imitate other people’s forms and translate what I would be normally praying in English. Let me tell you, Arabic prayers sound so poetic and pretty… usually my own prayers are not so poetic, but for the sake of practicing the language, lets try out some of these pretty forms. “رب الارباب” (Rab al-Arbab) I heard quite often. (The meaning: “Lord of Lords”). When I tried it, I remembered the rhythm, but I inserted another word that I knew I had used before… “رب الارناب” (Rab al-Arnab) sounds right. After my prayer, I began to think… “Where did the “ن” (the “n”) come from? The word “رب” doesn’t have a “ن” in the root. Then it hit me…. I had prayed to Jesus, “Lord of the Rabbits.” Granted, He is Lord of Rabbits as well, being Lord of all creation and all.

Today in Arabic class, my teacher corrected me with a certain word I have been saying incorrectly for over 3 years. It was as simple as changing a “ح” to a “ع”. Now hopefully people will stop looking at me funny when I tell them I will be sending them a text on Whatsapp (before I had been telling them I will research them a text on Whatsapp). Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to hit a target, and my words are a handful of pebbles. I enthusiastically spray the pebbles in the general direction of the target, and hope at least a few of them hit it… with the help of a lot of exaggerated body language and smiles that say, “If I say something stupid… I at least don’t mean you any harm… please just understand me… please.”

Other times I’ll walk into a shop and ask for something, and the shop owner will give me this stupid, blank face. I’m like, “Come on, dang it! I know for a fact that I just said that correctly. You’re just making that face cause the second I walked in here, you got it into your head that anything coming out of my mouth will be complete gibberish.” I ask again and the shop owner will kinda start, as if coming out of a trance… but will still look as surprised as if an elephant began speaking Arabic to him. He will invariably then say, “Wow, your Arabic is so good!” I will scoff and think to myself, “Only because you expect all foreigners to not speak any Arabic at all.” But, I also smile to myself and only slightly let myself believe him. There are so many moments in learning a new language that you feel like a complete idiot and failure, you need to take the compliments, wherever you can get them, just to keep up the morale.

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Ants and “Lysol”

Two weeks ago we moved into a new house and it has been just one drama after another. Yesterday was no exception…

Gary’s story:

So, my nose doesn’t always work very well – I have to preface this story with that to save some face. Yesterday we had an unusually high number of ants scampering around our kitchen. We don’t have any bug killer, but we do have some cleaning chemicals which also work pretty well on small insects. I decided to use the almost empty Lysol bottle to spritz all of the ants. There was a fairly long line of them by this point. I noticed it didn’t smell like normal Lysol, but it didn’t dawn on me that the smell was really bad until I heard Sarah saying “Gary, that smells like lighter fluid!” Well, I had that “aha” moment and thought to myself, “That’s what the smell is!” It was only then that I realized I had just doused our kitchen in lighter fluid…

We ran out of the house because by then, the fumes were going to our heads. After letting it air out for about an hour, Gary went back and cleaned the kitchen with water and vinegar.

Also it turns out the bottle of Lysol wasn’t even Lysol, it was some other brand of air freshener and let me tell you the air was freshened with the very robust smell of lighter fluid. Why someone had put lighter fluid in an air freshener bottle is still beyond me.

Good news though, we didn’t burn anything down and the smell is all but gone… the ants are back though 😛

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Arabic Lesson with a Friend

Through the alley, up the stairs, I ring the door bell
It sounds like a song bird.
“Marhaba Habibti!”
We kiss, one, two, three, sneak in four times because I really love her.
She brings tea. She brings the fan.
The sheet hanging over the window flaps in the wind
Yellow sun pushes through, exposing the ever-present dust.

Sitting on the floor together
She is unveiled, no men in the room. Long, marble-black hair flowing down her back.
She told me she puts olive oil in it… I try it at home.
Cushions, carpet and tea on the floor. Otherwise empty, like all the rooms here.
People fill the refugee homes, not stuff
Except the kitchen…
Always waiting with tea, coffee and food to stuff the visitors, announced or unannounced.
Today we ate Uzi, a Syrian dish
Rice, peas, meat, peanuts and, as always, yogurt on the side.

We commence our lesson.
She asks, “What was your longest conflict with him?”
We had been talking about conflict resolution.
Why not be real?
“About this,” I said, “Coming to Jordan… I wanted to, but he didn’t”
“How did you resolve it?” She asked.

“It had to become less important to both of us… to compromise”
It had less to do with where we wanted to live and more to do with what we believe about God.
I felt God would love me more if I lived in Jordan and served people here.
He felt God might not provide if we left our work, our comfort and spent savings.
Lies.
Usually things tend to come back to Him.
We have His love and acceptance no matter where we live or what we do.
He will provide here or there.

Empty tea kettle sitting on the floor
Empty walls, dusty yellow from the setting sun.
I look at my friend and her sincere smile
I pray her life will be full despite the emptiness in her house.

We get up quietly to not wake her father
A tall, soft-spoken man in a dish-dash lying on a cushion in the living room.
“Wake up in goodness, my friend”
“And you are from its family.”

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Month in Jordan Update

What has been on my mind? We’ve been in Jordan just over a month now.

God, what is my prayer? I am afraid of missing out… I’m here for a short time… I want to meet people, practice Arabic, serve, help, encourage, love people, busy, busy, busy and yet I feel the knot in my stomach… the tell-tale sign that I am anxious about missing out, not doing enough.

God, help me slow down, help me breathe, help me trust your timing. Help me not see people as a means to an end, but as you see them, people worthy of relationship, friendship, time. You hold me in your hands, and you hold us in your hands, I do not understand a lot about you, but I trust that as I ask you to guide me, you will… and your guidance is good and you will not leave me.


In other news, I am now starting four regular weekly commitments. I will be teaching English class to a beginner class three days a week in the morning for two hours a day. This is an eight week session. I am also starting an exercise class for Syrian women on Monday evenings, and possibly other days if it goes well. I really hope it goes well, we will see, tomorrow will be the first one. I am meeting with a Syrian friend twice a week to work on Arabic (BTW, I absolutely love her and her family so much, they are wonderful!). And on Saturdays, I will help with a young girl’s program that helps teach girls conflict resolution, other useful interpersonal skills, and Bible passages through play.

Gary got a part time job with a friend’s new company in the US (thank God!), so he will be working on that 10 hours a week. He is also working on several computer programs that will benefit the administration at the Church. He is also studying Arabic with an Egyption friend, and might start formal classes soon.

Other than those commitments, we are both visiting Syrian families a few times a week and building relationships with them. That has been a lot of fun and often some very good food is involved :D.

For fun, we’ve been able to get together with other volunteers to play board games, basketball and we’re planning a few trips to nearby rivers for hiking. I have discovered that I like basketball if not played seriously (at all)… I am very good at fouling people and I tend to play it more like tackle football. I have not made a single basket, but I find my own measures for success in the game ;P Gary, on the other hand, is pretty good for a shorty 🙂

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Chicken Hearts

Yesterday Gary and I went to the Suq (the marketplace) to get some food to stock up for all the shops being closed for Eid Al-Adha. We got our fruits and vegetables at the different stands, then went to the chicken shop. There was a pile of chicken breasts, a pile of wings, a pile of legs and thighs, and finally a pile of organs. I can’t lie, I was super excited about the pile of organs. In Brasil, we grill chicken hearts and they are one of my all time favorite foods, but the last 5 years in the US it has been so hard to find chicken hearts. I’ll ask the butchers at all the supermarkets I go to if they have chicken hearts, but all I get is some really weird, judgy looks and a package of mixed chicken organs with maybe only five hearts.

So, the employee at the chicken shop asked what I wanted, and I told him I wanted around a quarter kilo of hearts. He looked kinda surprised, but he very kindly picked through the pile to pick out the hearts…

Best buy ever!! We grilled the hearts (and some legs and thighs for Gary) and it was AMAZING. I will definitely be going back to the shop for my next heart fix…. Muah ha ha ha 🙂

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I couldn’t even stop eating to take the picture XD So yummy!!

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PlayStation Disappointment

When I was around 8 years old, living in Jordan with my family, I remember being introduced to PlayStation for the first time. I was in class and I heard some classmates talking about playing in this play station. I was intrigued. I listened eagerly as they described it, imagining that the play station was a type of magical theme-park type land where kids could go and play. From what I understood, you could race cars (they even let eight-year-olds drive!), play with dinosaurs, explore different lands, jump really high and even fly. As I listened to their stories, I longed to go to this magical land, so I asked my classmates where the play station was, but I could never seem to get an answer that made any sense. A few kids mentioned it being at their house, but that didn’t make sense to me, “ The can’t have this magical land in their house… maybe they aren’t understanding my question?”

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One day, soon after this, I was invited over to play with Suzanna, a friend from school, at her home and I was informed by her mother that I could play on (“She must mean ‘in,’” I thought. For some reason, no one used the right preposition for this place, so I would just correct them in my head.) the play station. I was so excited to go to visit them because I was expecting they would take me to the play station… “maybe we would drive there from her house?” When I arrived at the house, I asked where the play station was, wondering how many long I should expect the car ride to be. I was amazed to hear that the play station was in right there in their house!!! As they led me into the house, I expected that they would open some door in the hallway and there would be an entire other world right there, kind of like Narnia. “They had a freaking portal to the play station in their house!?!?!” I thought. Instead, I was led into the living room, Suzanna sat on the ground in front of the television, turned it on and picked up some gadgets from the floor, one of which she gave to me.

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At this point I was highly confused, but to be polite, I didn’t ask any more about the play station. I figured maybe I had misunderstood and we weren’t actually going to the play station this instant. I also reasoned, “surely they didn’t mean the play station is at their house… I would be able to hear the kids playing through the walls if that were the case… and there is not enough room in this apartment.” I thought we might drive there later, “Her parents must be too busy to take us right now, so we just need to pass some time before we are able to go.” Oddly enough, Suzanna didn’t seem to disappointed about the delay in going to the play station. She seemed content to sit in front of the television and press buttons on the thing she called a “controller.” She tried to teach me what buttons to push and I politely pretended I was interested while trying to hide my disappointment about not being on our way to the play station.

As the hours passed and it became late, I felt my heart drop as I realized we weren’t going to have time to go to the play station today. Later, my parents came to pick me up and I thanked Suzanna and her parents. For a while after, at school, I would hear kids talking about the play station and I would try to get information on where it was and how to get there. In my head, I had become so certain that the play station was a very special place, so when the kids explained that they have one in their house and they play there every day after school, I was certain that they must be misunderstanding my question. How could I get them to understand that I was talking about the magical theme-park like play station that I had pictured in my head.

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After a while, I gave up on trying to figure out the puzzle and forgot about the play station. Several years later when I learned that a PlayStation was a gaming console but I didn’t even connect it to the magical land called the play station that I had believed in as a child. It took years after that for me to finally remember and realize I was the one who didn’t understand what they meant by PlayStation and that Suzanna’s family actually did deliver on their promise to take me to the PlayStation.

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Week 3 Jordan

We’ve been in Jordan now for a little over two weeks.

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Here are a few thoughts (please just keep in mind that Gary and my experiences here in Jordan are not universal in the Middle East. We are mainly around pretty poor and traditional Syrian refugees, so our experiences reflect that context.):

  • Language is hard, especially after barely practicing for the year after I graduated. I am looking forward to beginning classes with a personal tutor soon again. However, I am remembering and using quite a bit.

  • I have found it quite funny that mostly every woman I meet asks me the same question over and over, No baby?” Usually it goes like this:

    Them: “You’re married?”

    Me: “Yes”

    Them: “And you have children?”

    Me: “No”

    Them: “How long have you been married?”

    Me: “Two years”

    Them: (in a confused tone and in English, as if maybe I didn’t understand the question when asked in Arabic) “And no baby?”

    Me: “No, not yet”

    Them: (as if offering condolences) “God willing you will have one soon”

    Honestly this exchange doesn’t bother me, I just think it is amusing… especially now that I know to expect the follow up questions and the look of pity in their faces. I’ve had a few women suggest that I should go see a doctor. I just smiled and explained that we are waiting a few years… maybe in one or two years we will try to have a baby. At this explanation, I usually get a very confused silence… like, “what do I say now to this crazy foreigner?

  • Last time I was here, before I got married (I was engaged to Gary at the time), I had a different constant conversation with women I would meet. Most every time I told someone I was engaged to be married soon, the women would ask, “Do you love him?” At first this confused me, I would think, “Of course I love him, I wouldn’t marry him otherwise.” After learning more about the context I was in, I began to realize that they would ask because many of them did not get to choose who they married. I met several women who had married at very young ages, like 14 or 15, and they didn’t have a choice in the matter. After learning this, I began to ask the question back to them, “Did you love your husband when you married him?” Some would say, “No, not when I married him, but now I do.” Others simply said, “No” and didn’t give further information. Of course I met many others who explained their family would never force them into a marriage that they didn’t want and they would only marry who they choose. I hope and pray more and more women get to have this freedom.

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  • Gary had a funny interaction with one English student the other day. They were going through some prompt questions in the curriculum and one of the questions was, “Do you take your shoes off when entering your house?” Gary explained that he did here in Jordan, but he didn’t in the US. One student looked shocked and asked, “Are your shoes really that clean in America?” XD Gary said he might want to start removing shoes in the house in the US also… it really does keep the house a lot cleaner.

  • I am again reminded of how incredibly hospitable and generous Arabs are. After just being here a few weeks, we have already received so many invitations to have meals in people’s houses. We have feasted on the floors of refugee homes and eaten until we could burst. I was having tea and one home and I complemented the hibiscus tea, so, the hostess brought me her entire container of hibiscus for me to take home… not just a little sample, everything she had and the container. I tried very hard to refuse, but she insisted. I have learned that in a battle of offering to pay for something or trying to give food or a present, the Arab will always win. I have heard Americans who oppose the entrance of refugees into America argue that the refugees will just be a burden to society and depend on welfare. I have seen anything but in the time I have been here. They are hard working and generous, even when they have next to nothing to offer.

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Neighborhood Kids

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Olive tree and Mystery Fruit tree

Kids here in Jordan often play in the street without their parents nearby. The older ones take care of the younger ones. You can see their moms sometimes peek out the windows from their apartments. Yesterday, there were several kids gathered around the wall to our apartment, trying to pick the fruit from trees in our yard (I will call it mystery fruit, because I don’t know what it is yet). Two girls, ages 10 and 12 were the oldest of the pack, the smaller one pushing a stroller with a chubby baby brother and the other carrying her little sister. Sarah, the one pushing the stroller, age 10, assumed leadership of the group. Along with them were an assortment of around eight other siblings, friends and neighbors. When I first approached them, I could see apprehension in the older ones eyes, wondering if I would scold them for picking from the tree. Instead I welcomed them, asked their names and invited them in to have better access to the tree. The girls lifted the stroller through the gate and filled it up with the mystery fruit. I also let them get some grapes and pears from other trees in the garden (the house we are renting has several lovely fruit trees).

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The grape vines are full!

This evening, as Gary and I returned from church, we saw the group of kids waiting for us by our gate, stroller and all. In a polite and confidant voice, Sarah asked, “May I just have one word with you?” (In Arabic of course) I chuckled at the formality and maturity of the request coming from this skinny little ten year old girl. “We were wondering if we could exchange skills, we could teach you and your husband Arabic and you could teach us English. We have this rare opportunity now that we have foreigners living near us.” Her sincere brown eyes widened as she waited to see if I understood her request. The other kids all watched and remained silent so their little leader could speak. I told them we could practice speaking together whenever we come home after work. Sarah smiled with her cute little crooked teeth, chubby baby brother gurgled.

After chatting with them a bit, Gary and I told them goodnight and went inside. I remarked that I was expecting them to ask for more fruit when I saw them all waiting for us at our gate. I was impressed with their maturity and desire to learn English. We’ll plan on setting aside some time for the language exchange with the neighborhood kids that little Sarah proposed.

Edit: We found out that the Mystery Fruit is Ziziphus jujuba also called a Chinese, Korean or Indian date.

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Tiny Trash Truck!!

In Paris, after seeing the Eiffel Tower, I saw a tiny trash truck! It was sooo cute!! It’s shorter than Gary and I, and we’re pretty short. Anyways, I had to take a picture with it.

When in Paris… take a picture with the tiny trash truck.

 

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