Sunday, March 13, 2016

Rekindling an Old Flame

Sunset over Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2007

The light from my headlamp threw the shadow of a lurking lizard onto the wall and made him 100 times larger than his actual size. His silhouette bobbed up and down and chirped loudly, trying to attract the lady lizard who was hiding in the dark. Though I couldn't see the female, I knew that he'd find her eventually and some lizard mischief would go down that night. I was all too familiar with this reptilian dance; I'd listen and watch every night as I went to sleep.

It was 2003 and I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Yap, Micronesia.

Before wireless Internet, there was lizard sex and the reading of books.

I was sick of partaking in the observation of the former, so I wrote a letter to my father requesting the latter.

When my dad asked me what I'd like to read, I suggested that he send me Queen Noor of Jordan's book, Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life. I had been reading a lot about Middle Eastern politics while I was in Peace Corps; I wanted to move to the region after my service and learn more about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. I did not yet know much about Jordan, but understood the country played an important diplomatic role in the region, so I chose to read a book that would further educate me about the complexity of the place.

As it was, I first fell in love with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as I huddled under my mosquito net trying to ignore a plethora of lizards reproducing in my midst. Stories of Queen Noor and King Hussein speeding through the deserts of Wadi Rum on the back of a Harley pleasantly distracted me from all of the chirping.

Not only did I admire the royal couple's relationship, but I also respected their politics. King Hussein was a great diplomat, bringing together countries in conflict, and building trust in the region. At the same time, Queen Noor was working on women's rights, education, and environmental policy within Jordan.

Politics aside, I became obsessed with Queen Noor's love story, American-girl-turned-Arab-Queen, and thought there was a slight chance that I could emulate her. Maybe if I played my cards right I could become a Queen too? Hey, I was lonely on a lizard and mosquito infested Pacific Island and I had no boyfriend.

For many years after I left that island of lizards behind, I still dreamt of Jordan.

It wasn't until graduate school that I finally had the opportunity to travel there. At that point I was volunteering with Global Majority a non-profit that promotes peace through non-violent conflict resolution. The organization was planning an international course focusing on conflict in that region; it would be held at United Nations University in Amman, Jordan.

Come summer, I found myself sipping mint tea and eating hummus with friends at "Matam Hashem," King Abdullah's favorite restaurant in downtown Amman. We were all attending Global Majority's seminar together, Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, one Iranian, one Kurd, Americans, Europeans, and Asians. During the day we simulated peace negotiations for the region (even in our simulations there were pre-conditions!); at night we danced, ate, and became friends.

From Amman, I traveled to Israel, then the West Bank, Palestine. Though the summer of 2007 was a volatile one for the region, Fatah and Hamas were locked in a civil war in Gaza, my heart opened to this land; I felt at home there in the beautifully terrifying twisting volatility.

I'd return again in 2008 as a trainer for the same seminar. In 2010 I'd take a break from a teaching fellowship in Afghanistan to visit friends and spend Christmas in Jerusalem.

It is difficult to explain, but each time I set foot in this region, I feel like I am cliff-jumping. If you know me, you understand that is a good thing. My heart rate increases, my senses heighten, and my mind opens to all that I will learn. My soul sings desert songs and I am never the same.

Every. Single. Time. I fall in love with the place over and over again.

And so, as fate has it, I will get another chance to rekindle my love for Jordan.

This time, I will be returning not as a selfish dreamer thinking I may become a queen, or as a wide-eyed student unaware of the complexity of the place, but as a teacher, attempting to contribute some small thing to a country I have loved most of my adult life.

On the same Department of State Fellowship that brought me to Afghanistan, I will head to Jordan in September 2016. I will be living in Amman and working with the Hashemite Fund for Development of the Jordan Badia for a year, traveling around the country training teachers. I'll also work on coordinating a three-state English Language Teacher's conference for educators in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.

In addition to working with teachers from the region, I hope to work with the Syrian refugee population. With hundreds of thousands of refugees who have moved to the country, I hope that there is some small way I can help them, and the Jordanians, deal with the crisis.

And I will not be alone. Larry will be with me, learning, taking photos, working on his own projects, and trying to figure out how to be useful in this gorgeously complex place.

The final detail I needed to iron out before accepting the position was this; As I finished my interview with the American Embassy in Jordan, I asked:

"Is it okay if I take a leave of absence from the project for 10 days in October?"

The project manager asked me why.

I told her, "There is an athletic event I have been training for, for three years entire complete, so it is important that I not miss it."

Guess what the manager said?

"Do it."

And so I will.

For the next six months, as I set my sights on Jordan, I will continue to train my little heart out for that one event I will do in Bellbrook, Ohio in October. I'll study Arabic tirelessly, contact all of my friends in the region, and do my best to understand the situation in the Badia, the country, and the camps. I'll head to Jordan with a full heart, strong body, and with determination to do what needs to be done, and to learn all that I can along the way.

Guess where we are moving?!


At 3:18 PM , Blogger Judy Haney said...

Congratulations, Jaala! But what about the dog?

At 4:35 PM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Thank Judy! Arya will be with her "other" parent, here in Cali. She'll be waiting for me when I return.

At 9:01 PM , Blogger Carrey Ramey said...

Safe travels to the both of you. Looking forward to beautiful photos. Living dreams that many will never know...


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