Another day shopping in Irbid, another awkward bus moment.
As soon as I get to the Valley bus station I run into Um Bashir and her sister. It’s getting dark, so I’m glad to see a woman I know. And Um Bashir is awesome about keeping our conversations at a level I can handle. I don’t know if this is how her conversations would normally go or if she’s keeping things simple for me, actually. Either way, I’m totally keeping up as we discuss what I bought (a pie pan, which they’ve never seen before), what they bought (spinach), the best way to cook the aforementioned spinach (with or without chopped goat), and the fact that women trying to get on the bus in the afternoon turn into crazy people and end up fighting in an utterly unladylike manner with one another.
An older gentleman has been loitering behind us at a respectful distance, but one which still permits his obvious eavesdropping. Finally he approaches Um Bashir and says, “She really speaks fantastic Arabic!”
Um Bashir beams with pride. “Of course she does! She teaches at the school where I work,” she adds, as if to explain my proficiency.
Glancing at me and then again addressing Um Bashir — it’s not like he’s been standing there for half an hour while I spoke Arabic, after all — the gentleman asks, “What does she teach?”
The three engage in a lively conversation about me and I’m mildly amused to note how well-versed Um Bashir is in the details of my personal history. I am reminded how much I love my Tea Ladies and am awash in affection and the happy success of my cultural adjustment when the gentleman asks, “Is it true she’s making a thousand dinar a month?”
*insert record-scratch noise here*
Um Bashir quickly sets to work righting this piece of misinformation, and for once I’m glad I’ve been relatively honest with her own too-personal questions about my finances. She explains and the gentleman looks exactly as dubious as most Jordanians do when I try to convince them I’m not filthy rich.
What is is about people in a small town? If they don’t know something, they seem to just make up a big, fat lie. This was true in my town in Mississippi and it’s extra true here. I think the bigness and fatness of the lies correlates to the general degree of boringness. You bored? Let’s make stuff up about someone we don’t really know!
But even now, it hits me. My outrage is real, but underneath that, deep underneath, is a sense of annoyed pride. I think I am going to have a nervous breakdown when my very existence is no longer important enough to cause total strangers to stop what they’re doing and talk about me. It’s tough to explain to people who haven’t been there; I think celebrities who punch out paparazzi may best understand.
The constant eyes on me are so suffocating. But what will I do when they stop watching?