August 27, 1999
As you can see, it’s been a while since I had time to write, and I haven’t written in my paper diary at all, so this will have to do for that purpose too! Fortunately I know Dad will archive every word I email, probably also on paper, so it will work nicely. And now I will try to answer your questions about my daily life.
It actually feels really busy, although now that I’m thinking about writing it down, it doesn’t sound really busy. Maybe it’s that everything moves so slowly that time itself seems to go faster. We have class every morning and then go home for lunch, the biggest meal of the day. I take a nap or read every afternoon between 1 and 3. Then we usually have class again until 5:30 or so, or we do something else as a class-group. Yesterday we took a field trip to everybody’s house in turn, in theory in order to practice our Arabic in social settings. Practically speaking this meant our teacher Samira doing most of the talking while we ingested, in total, 3 cups of coffee, 2 of tea, and 10 plates of grapes. This afternoon instead of class we went to the local country club and had cokes and asked about their pool and if women were ever allowed (answer: Mondays).
In the evenings we just hang out around the house. Sometimes we sit in the basement with the various women who show up for sewing projects; sometimes we all sit upstairs watching bizarre soap operas on Jordanian TV. Occasionally I will try to study. In the later evening we usually go visit somebody — sometimes I even know who that person is! — and in the very later evening, around 9 or 10, we’ll have a small meal. This can range from a simple sandwich of older bread and butter to galaya, tomatoes fried in olive oil with onion and green pepper until they turn into a kind of mush, eaten with bread and goat cheese.
See? It doesn’t sound like a very busy day, but since every minute involves cultural and linguitic effort, it feels busy nonetheless.
Three days ago I got to go to a wedding. I don’t have a clue whose wedding it was. Um Shakur told me to wear my black concert outfit and leave my hair down. Then we drove to Madaba and sat in a house full of women (the men were all in the courtyard) and drank cokes and ate cake. Before we left we peeked into a room absolutely packed with dancing women and an uncomfortable-looking bride on a huge chair like a throne. The night after, we went back to the same house, and I had to wear a different outfit (Um Shakur says I only have one nice outfit and the second one, my denim dress, is insufficiently dressy, but we had to make do). This time there were fewer women and the bride was wearing a proper wedding dress and still looking miserable. Eventually her parents and grandparents came in and the videographer taped them standing together looking miserable, and then her new husband came and put her in a decorated car. Everybody loaded onto buses but Um Shakur said there wasn’t room for all of us, so we went shoe shopping instead.
I have these moments when I kind of step back from all of this, like an intellectual out-of-body experience, and think: I bet this would make more sense if I spoke the language better. But I don’t, so I just roll with it.
The very, very exciting news is that yesterday the family let me eat both meals with them in the main sitting room instead of putting me in the formal visitors’ room by myself. I know they’re trying to be nice, but I really appreciate not being segregated.
I also bought myself a thing called a Vape. It’s a shoddy plastic disk that looks sort of like a donut, except where there should be a hole there’s a flat metal plate. You buy these noxious little pads and insert them so they sit on the metal plate, and then you plug the donut in. The instructions say to leave the room with the doors and windows shut for 15 minutes and then come in and unplug it and magically the room will remain bug-free overnight. I’m skeptical and strongly suspect that whatever this is is carcinogenic, but at this point I’m desperate and will try anything. The Peace Corps nurse says there’s one person like me every year who’s just extra-delicious to the local bugs and seems hyperreactive to them. So glad to be exceptional in that way, let me tell you. Meanwhile Um Shakur seems to almost be taking it personally and reminds me multiple times a day that nobody else in her house is being eaten alive. She gets especially touchy if any of her visitors remark on the bites all over my arms, so when there are visitors, I wear a long-sleeved shirt to avoid that conversation altogether.
The big excitement this coming week will be a visit to a J2 somewhere at that person’s working site. I’m not sure about the timing and logistics yet so I don’t know when I’ll be back online, but I’ll let you know as soon as I can.