I’ve been clearing out my e-mail. I think subconsciously its my way of making this new continent mundane and a bit less intimidating…
I found the mail that brought me home from my life in the Middle East. Dated February 2010, my dad wrote ‘the news is not good but its not exactly bad’. He writes optimistically, even cheerfully, about cancer being a good excuse for early retirement and a more peaceful life.
I read his words and flooded the keyboard with tears. I remember reading those lines for the first time vividly. They still pull at me even after the pain of all that came after. I remember feeling so frightened but laughing and loving him for trying to make awful sound ok. That was so entirely my dad.
Then I travelled back further through my inbox to find a bounceback on a mail I’d sent from a life now long left behind, written nearly 4 years ago to the day.
It was strange to revisit myself, to find this me in that, to see a sort of continuity stretching out from before this time of such turmoil and change.
So for once, I thought I’d do something different and just share a little of me before all of this:
I feel comfortable in Amman – it is becoming second nature to me to give directions to cabs in bad Arabic, to distinguish the honks I should be offended by from the ones that are just telling me they’re on the road too, to expect a blue sky every day, even to cart water bottles up my many many stairs!
Work is good, challenging but mildly crazy. On the best days I feel that I am doing something no one else would if I wasn’t here, on the worst I feel like I’m running in circles like a poorly multi-lingual headless chicken in a bizarre incomprehensible arena sport.
Some moments humble me entirely – sitting with a family who have waited years for the chance to get their desperately sick child out of Iraq only to be told that there is nothing that can be done, hearing people say that they’re fine even though I can see the tears in their eyes as they tell me about the deaths of their loved ones. Those moments help me to put my grumbles about UHT milk and men giving me a hard time into perspective.
In many ways Jordan is breathtakingly beautiful, the majestic roll of the desert mountains (me thinking ‘dude, I’m not sure I’d follow Moses through that no matter what he said we were walking towards’), bright splashes of green and the strange salty crust around the dead sea, the excitement in people’s faces when rain falls after months and months of hot dry sun.
I have some wonderful friends here: A my housemate who instinctively buys chocolate when I need it to be in the fridge when I get home, S my lovely colleague who yells at people in Arabic when everything I’ve tried fails and helps to make me laugh at it all when that fails too, my neighbour M who lets me sleep on her bed when I’m locked out and lends me kitchen stuff when I invite more people than I have plates for. I am so grateful for them all.
In a new place you start your friendships from scratch… you are not known, not held by years of memory and that is simultaneously kind of scary and kind of freeing.
Here I’ve found parts of myself I never knew I had… I’m shocked to find that I’m the person who asks all and sundry to come home to my flat so I can feed them something with the 2 things I have in the fridge, that I can badger with the best of them, that I can keep going and stay calm even when I want to explode/throw things/cry/ throw a soft toy or all of the above. I guess it is always good to find you can learn something new about yourself.
Sitting on a rock I didn’t think I could climb in Wadi Rum and watching the sun set into the rosy sand
Managing to turn a sexual health clinic into a temporary cardiac assessment centre for little kids in less than 24 hours
Cooking for 14 people without poisoning any of them!
A colleague yelling at me in front of everyone else just so that he could look like a tough guy
Electrocuting myself because of dodgy wiring
Talking to the people who we just can’t help and desperately wanting to help
Explaining to my mucho macho Arab colleague why his Canadian friends laughed when he said he couldn’t go swimming without his bikini
Slipping in water so that I greeted a Jordanian guest on all fours… he clearly thought it was a weird British custom!
At least my cooking has now improved and I rarely say a hello doggy style. Now that is what I call personal development!