26 Hours in Heaven and Hell

My yoga instructor always leads class with this blessing:

May all of the wicked return to good
May all who are good obtain true peace
May all who are peaceful be free from bonds
May all who are free set others free.

Blessings upon all the people on earth
May all the world’s rulers uphold what is right
May only good fortune befall everyone
May all the world’s creatures obtain happiness.

May the rain fall when the earth is thirsty
May all the storehouses be filled with grain
May everyone here be free from harm
May all who are good be free from fear.

May everyone know a life of joy
May everyone know a life of health
May everyone soon be released from pain
May everyone see only good in this world.

May everyone overcome all their woes
May everyone realize all their desires
May everyone see only good in this world
May everyone everywhere be glad.

May our mother and father be blessed
Blessings upon every creature on earth
May our works flourish and aid everyone
And long may our eyes see the sun.

6:00 pm

I am warm. Covered with a blanket, I lie horizontally and attempt to quiet my body as I activate my mind in an exercise called yoga nidra. It’s an hour-long guided meditation, the goal of which is to be physically still and detached while actively visualizing and reflecting internally. For an entire hour, I get to take my physical needs completely for granted, literally losing awareness altogether of my body. I emerge from the studio feeling grounded and refreshed, my priorities clarified and my mind settled. This is my little slice of heaven at the end of the day, a calming influence on my sometimes-stressful days here.

8:00 pm

I return home. We remark on how there’s too much food in the fridge and we should probably get rid of some of it. Self-consciously we back-pedal, acknowledging that this is a ridiculous thing to be saying. (I recall my father’s reminder not to waste the food on my plate: “There are starving children in Africa!” “But Daddy, we can’t send them this food!”) So-called “first-world problems” are funny when you’re removed from real suffering, but seem less comical when you come face to face with it. I go to sleep, my biggest concern that my internet has temporarily stopped working and I won’t be able to check my email until the next morning.

9:00 am the next day

We go on a Starbucks run, because a morning without caffeine seems unimaginable to us. We gas up and drive an hour and a half north to Zaatari, by the Syrian border. We are on our way to the camp that is housing thousands of Syrians fleeing their homes. As I sip my latte along the bumpy road, I don’t know how to prepare myself for the hell I’m about to witness.

11:00 am

We arrive at Zaatari camp. Of the estimated 350,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, about 80,000 are residents of Zaatari, making it by far the largest of all the camps taking in those escaping the unending violence across the border. In the fall of last year, nightly arrivals were less than a thousand, but since January they have risen to 1500, to 2500, and now almost 3000 people every single night. The camp’s maximum capacity of 120,000 will shortly be exhausted.

tents from the car

We head for the area that houses various NGO “offices,” which are really just small, barren, pre-fab trailers. Our driver stays with our vehicle because he’s worried about vandalism and theft if he leaves it. While we wait for a meeting, we talk to a woman who arrived at 4am this morning and is still in the process of being registered, more than seven hours later. I smile at a woman with a small baby nestled into her chest and she smiles back. The stories that baby will have to tell her kids…

precarious

precarious

We are in a fenced-in area, beyond which is another fence, onto which a hoards of people are clinging. A few of the smallest children are sobbing, but most of the people in the group are just staring, pressed against the chain-link diamonds. Men sit on the ground, their backs against the fence, smoking and staring straight ahead. They have all apparently arrived last night.

We are told this is the registration line. This gaggle of people has nowhere to sit, no shelter from the elements. It is a nice day–sunny and in the 50s–but hours under the hot Jordanian sun is quite unpleasant, and even worse is Jordan in the rain. (It rained and snowed for days and days in January, washing out thousands of tents and leaving thousands with no shelter at all from the freezing winter.)

rows and rows

rows and rows

We drive around the camp to get a better sense of the space. An aid worker describes this tent city as “the wild wild west.” By this he means there is very little security or order. The Jordanian police stationed at Zaatari are mostly at the perimeter, unable to prevent rampant theft, organized crime, prostitution, and frequent stone throwing at aid workers. The residents are mostly left to fend for themselves.

We see laundry hanging on lines connecting the thousands of white tents. Recently one tent burned down, and a 13-year-old boy died inside. The emergency response cannot easily navigate among the tents, which residents strategically move to be closer to the sole distribution point in the camp, complicating the rudimentary system of roads and tragically making the tent city almost impossible to navigate, especially in a big ambulance.

one of thousands

one of thousands

The aid worker points out the corrugated metal shops that are springing up, where produce and cigarettes and candy are being sold. This semblance of normalcy is at once hopeful and distressing because of the permanency these shops indicate. Someone in the car suggests it’ll be six months tops before they start building for real. My mind flashes to images of Palestinian refugee “camps” where, after over decades and generations, tents have transformed into concrete cities, large ghettos that are quite permanent. With no end in sight for the violence inside Syria, the prospect of permanent buildings taking root here, too, seems inevitable.

progress?

Little kids play in the dirt, staying close to their families’ tents. Their laughter and smiles contrasts the steeled look I’m sure is on my face.

2:00 pm

We arrive back in Amman, our Starbucks cups now empty and rolling around the bottom of the SUV. I discover some Lindt chocolate that someone has left at my desk. I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel guilty. I have a few hours at the office before yoga class. I struggle to make the mental transition from a lack of even bare-bones necessities to this self-indulgent, flighty practice of reflection and detachment.

8:00 pm

I am warm. Again, covered with a blanket for shavasana, I lie on a mat in a room full of strangers but feel safe. I attain some level of peace, if not fleetingly. But I can’t reconcile my unimaginable privilege with the unbearably heartbreaking reality of Zaatari. I get to lie here and be much more concerned with the Maslovian concepts of self-transcendence and self-actualization than of my physiological or security needs. The idea of awareness that pervades the practice of yoga is now ironic to me: the residents of Zaatari are nothing if not aware of their situation. And my recent enlightenment is making me feel anything but settled.

We say our last oms and head out into the night.

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On Irony, American Hipsters, and Thrifting in Jordan

Every Thursday night, down the hill from my neighborhood in Amman, enterprising young men set up rows upon rows of used sweaters, trousers, shoes, blankets, rugs, random tables of household goods, and carts of fresh(ish) produce. To do this, they commandeer a massive paved area that is used as a bus terminal and parking lot the rest of the week. The clothes they sell throughout Thursday night into Friday are mostly American or European, many of which I’ve heard were originally donations and have been intercepted so they could be sold. (That’s clearly a topic for more discussion and scrutiny. A different day, perhaps.)

This is the Friday market, or suq Abdali.

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On select Friday mornings I’ve stopped around the corner to get coffee in a paper cup and wandered down the hill to Abdali to see what deals I could find. Most of the time it’s a wildly unsuccessful endeavor, me left with nothing to show but my exhaustion from trying to avoid being squeezed against other people’s bodies as I wind my way through the too-tight spaces that separate clothing racks. And my brain is usually drained from bargaining and trying to avoid the come-ons from the men I’m potentially looking to buy from.

But it’s the discoveries (and the deals!) that make all of this worth it. Among the 90s-style neon colorblocked windbreakers and pilly old turtlenecks, I’ve found some gems.* Boots for $20 that I wear almost every day, thick long $4 sweaters perfect for layering in Amman’s confusing winter climate, and $5 woven rugs my roommate and I bought to cover our cold tiled floors.

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Recent discussions of hipster culture and irony in American discourse have gotten me thinking about the irony of buying second-hand clothing.

An article published last fall in the New York Times critical of ironic “hipster culture” (whatever that really is) prompted a lot of backlash, mostly from self-identified hipsters. While the definition of hipsterdom is inherently a bit elusive and inherently fleeting**, one of the main aspects of it is a subversion of norms, or doing things “ironically.” A big part of this is repurposing, reusing, or thrifting clothes, bags, and household items. This is subversive in a number of ways — it means turns away from the capitalist paradigm of spending too much money on new goods, ensures a distinct or unique style, and has created its own mode of dress that is, by fashion norms (let’s be honest), ugly. Ironically, of course. That’s the point.

(See “Hipster Playlist” and “Hipster Thanksgiving” for examples and amusing irony. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s song “Thrift Shop” also reflects these sentiments — and has a hilarious video. Macklemore is a white rapper who supports gay marriage, a refreshingly delightful embodiment of subverting cultural norms…)

All of this has gotten me thinking about why exactly thrifting is ironic. More precisely, when is it ironic? And for whom? Americans (myself included) who find deals by buying used clothing at Goodwill or Buffalo Exchange and call it “ironic” can do so because they could afford to pay more for their clothes. When they can’t afford anything new or more expensive, it is no longer ironic. In other words, there is class privilege in calling thrifting ironic because it involves a choice.***

My experience buying used clothes at Abdali is calling into question how I think about the relationship between and among people, and between people and their possessions. In the states, at least among my demographic, we are proud of paying less for a vintage bag or dress when the value we place on it is higher than what we actually pay. If I tell my American friends how much I paid for my Abdali boots, I get a positive response.

But with Jordanians, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. In Jordan (allow me to generalize here), spending money is more of an explicit demonstration of status. My female co-workers fawn over my clothes and then don’t know how to react when I tell them I bought my sweater used for 2 dinars. To me, it’s an incredible deal. But I’m a conundrum to these women. I don’t fit neatly into their paradigm of class — they see a dissonant relationship between me and the clothes I buy at Abdali. They know I’m American (and consequently place me in a certain socioeconomic bracket), but associate shopping at Abdali with a lower class. To them, the fact that I spent less money is negative because I could have afforded to buy something new. The point is, the irony doesn’t translate.

The exception to the rule in Jordan might be the teenagers that hang around my neighborhood dressed in black hoodies and ripped or studded jeans. The “look” they are going for is clearly not one of a privileged class status, but their perfect English and co-mingling of sexes indicate otherwise. They are the “hipsters” in Amman, simply because they can afford to be.

This article from NPR complicates the class dynamic of the hipster trend, claiming that the current economic climate also contributes to the popularity of a more bohemian lifestyle — that we’re thrifting out of necessity and not because it’s “cool.” But the ironic factor is  inherently tied to class privilege that is perhaps then justified or explained by the economy. I’m still processing how to draw these lines. The cultural/class identity markers involved are proving fascinating to me, and I’m trying to keep working through how this all fits into the conversation about hipster culture.

* While I know people who would consider these neon windbreakers to be gems, I don’t! Next time I’ll take a picture…they’re pretty fantastic. (Ironically, of course.)

** The term “hipster” is a bit ironic in and of itself — its trendiness inherently undermines its subversive character…Meta-irony?

*** Obviously there is a big segment of the American population that doesn’t shop at thrift stores, and choose to show status through (in my opinion) tacky, expensive designer bags and shoes. And, of course, there are a lot of Americans who only buy used clothing because they can’t afford anything else. These aren’t the people I’m writing about.

Making the Latitudes and Longitudes

The visceral experiences I have in Jordan keep illustrating the gap between my life here and that of my friends elsewhere. I can’t send home the taste of fatteh and labneh and za’atar and mana’ish from the cafe up the street, or the wisps of argileh smoke that float through the lazy afternoons to find your nose as you wander my neighborhood. It’s hard to communicate the hot tears I fought to hold back when one of my students told me he was shot three times in the chest 6 months ago at a protest in Ramallah. And my words can’t do justice to the bright smiles I glimpse during sun salutations — marhaba ash-shams! — while I’m teaching women at Gaza camp.

pink evening light

I want to share those moments of my days in Amman with people who aren’t here. I want to send the smell when it rains and the pink light at dusk back to New York and San Francisco and Philly and DC and Vermont and Ohio. I want to dispatch the cozy spots tucked into the tiered hills of this strange city. And I want to ignore the distance that limits my understanding of your worlds, your moments.

Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”

We are blessed with a deeper understanding of self by occupying such a spacious earth. And we are cursed by the distance we create upon choosing to live far away from our familiar. In terms of maintaining relationships, to what degree are we subject to the time and place we occupy?

Our worlds get bigger so we naturally grow and change to fill that space. New friends and experiences layer over our former selves, redefining how we live and think. We inevitably create a life where we are. We conform to the time and space we occupy. And, inevitably, we are subject to that context. We fill up our days with new routines, favorite cafes, and new friends.

remains of mint tea

remains of mint tea

The transient nature of being 20-something amplifies the difficulty of distance in that we choose not being settled for too long. We are eager to experience novelty and challenge ourselves, which more often than not means living which creates an elastic social network that is constantly in flux. We quickly become a a plane ticket away instead of a walk.

Different time zones and work schedules have complicated the easy relationships that were more of a given in college and prior, when our spheres were smaller — when we didn’t know any better than to be content where we were.

wrote this summer about how borders often feel false or contrived, and that distance can sometimes be more of a physical than mental obstacle. While the space between my life in Amman and the lives of my friends and family feels very real, plane tickets and awkwardly-timed Skype dates seem like less of a barrier to preserving closeness with those who are far away.

tucked into the hills

tucked into the hills

While it is difficult not to be able to share all the gems of our current setting, it is satisfying to evolve beyond our past to create that new present, to come across our previously unknown pleasures. It is sad to miss the far off moments that define our counterparts’ days, but acknowledging that everyone’s worlds become bigger as time goes on brings release — an acceptance of the unbounded potential of each of our lives.

So we maintain our worlds from a distance. Friendships evolve to fit our current rhythms. Neil Gaiman writes, “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” And we take our faraway friends with us too.

You Can’t Get There From Here

Four years ago I experienced a traumatic day and a half that will forever distinguish the person I am now from my childhood. I write about it now because it has crept back to the front of my mind. I am living less than 30 miles from a place that I am not permitted to travel to, and it feels appropriate to write about why in this setting.

so close, yet…

At age 19, traveling alone from Cairo to Tel Aviv, I was interrogated for a period of 11 hours in Ben Gurion Airport and denied permission to enter Israel. I was fingerprinted, had my picture taken, and after 30 hours spent locked in a detention facility in the airport, I was put on a plane to New York.

To give a little context, after studying Arabic for two years I wanted to spend some time in an Arabic speaking place. I went to Palestine in the summer of 2008 to live with a host family, take Arabic classes, and intern at a news agency where I did reporting and translation. While studying Arabic was my initial motivation to go, I inevitably became immersed in the political reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Always an outsider, I tried to understand my place there, a blonde American who embarrassingly had just recently learned the difference between Palestinians and Israelis in a Middle East history class the semester before. I acknowledged that my temporary experience of the Israeli occupation of Palestine was superficial by comparison to the perpetual trauma of Palestinians themselves, in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in the diaspora.

My introduction to the Arab world incidentally came through this lens, and my study of Arabic will forever be linked to the six weeks I spent in Bethlehem. What still sticks with me today from that fleeting summer is the unimaginable passion that I found in people to work (nonviolently) for their basic rights in the face of blatant injustice.

I remember a visual disconnect upon seeing 6 Israeli tanks and 40 armed soldiers facing a disproportionately small group of protestors sitting on the ground with their Palestinian flags and signs. I remember the children at that demonstration carrying a flag and chanting in English, “The wall is not good!” (Even they understood that it’s English speakers who need to hear that message more clearly…)

I remember my host mother, already in her 70s, making sure I knew all the Arabic vocabulary words in the kitchen, spending hours over a simmering burner making fig preserves, and teasing me for “becoming fat from all the bread.”

These snippets are a sample of what I never got to fully process when my time in Palestine was abruptly cut short.

that evasive visa (2 years later…)

I was immediately pulled aside once I got to the customs counter in Tel Aviv when I arrived just before 5:00 am. El Al security in the Cairo airport had given me a thorough run-down of questions and emptied my backpack multiple times. The security agent took away all of my disposable cameras as a “security risk.” I think my passport had already been flagged before the plane landed in Israel — I fit the profile of a typical western activist aiming to bear witness to the occupation in Palestine.

Running on no sleep when I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, I fumbled through questions about my grandparents’ names at that caught me off guard, and was immediately pulled back to a waiting room where I waited with mostly Arab Americans, Turkish tourists, and a smattering of other individual travelers. On and off for the next eleven hours, I was called into smaller offices to be questioned about what I was planning to do in Israel, whom I knew, and why I had gone to Cairo. I would wait sometimes for hours and then they would call me in to answer the same questions from a different security agent, twisting their words slightly so it sounded like a different question. My nerves were on fire, my heart a palpitating mess.

One of them turned the computer monitor to me to try to get me to log into my email. I think I said something about how it was private and they moved on, but they clearly took note. They took my dead cell phone, charged it, and looked through my contacts, call register, and text messages (one read: “rock against the settlers!”) before returning it to me. I was allowed to go to the bathroom around the corner only if I had a guard as my escort. About 6 hours into being questioned I was brought a sandwich and a coke, the sight of which made me sick. It meant they were nowhere near done with me. I couldn’t eat or drink.

After many tedious sessions of invasive on and off questioning I told the officers I was no longer comfortable answering their convoluted questions about the elderly couple that was my host family in Bethlehem. The response was, “If you won’t cooperate with us, we’ll have to assume you’re associated with terrorists and we won’t let you back into Israel.” The absurdity of the statement initially provoked a laugh, followed by disbelief. “Are you serious?” I asked. “My government gives you billions of dollars every year.”

They were quite serious.

I was taken to another room to be fingerprinted. I stood in front of a blank background while they captured probably the worst moment of my life on camera.

I texted home in the states to let them know I had been denied entry to Israel and I would call back with flight information, assuming it would just be a couple hours until I was put on the next flight to New York.

I was put in a van with another American who had been denied a visa, not told where we were going. (I still don’t know what his story was.) We ended up at another building, still within the airport compound. I was brought to a room and told to grab what we needed for a shower and leave the rest of our stuff. (In my case it was the half-empty backpack I had travelled to Cairo with.) I was not allowed my phone, a pen, or a book — just a change of clothes and a toothbrush. Confused, and still thinking I would be brought to a gate in the airport soon, I obliged and was led upstairs, not knowing that I would be locked in a room upstairs for another day and a half.

At some point during this second phase of what all feels like a dream in my memory, it became clear that I was scheduled for a flight four days later. I had no way to contact anyone, left in the room with my terrified thoughts and the five other women with whom I shared it.

My family in Vermont eventually located me, after many frantic phone calls with our senators and state department employees. I was allowed to speak with them, and clarified with the agents at the detention facility that I could leave sooner if my family bought a new ticket. They just didn’t want to foot the bill. (I think the Israelis had switched my original return ticket back a few weeks as cheaply as possible, and this had meant four days after I was denied entry, instead of a few hours.) This meant I was on a flight that left at midnight the second day, 30 hours after arriving at the detention facility.

The vignettes that seem trivial to me as I reduce them to words remain vivid in my memory.

The sinking feeling in my gut after hearing the door shut behind me being shown into a room and realizing that there was no handle on the inside.

The utter boredom of lying on the plastic mattress on my top bunk, looking up at the ceiling and feeling completely powerless.

The angry tears that flew down my face when a female soldier laughed maniacally in my face through the tiny window on the door, yelling at me in Hebrew when I knocked on the glass.

The three Philippina domestic workers who were being deported after overstaying their visas holding me as I sobbed on their bunk while we all waited for our flights out of Israel.

The relief I felt with my passport back in my hands after being escorted up the steps to the plane and to my seat literally minutes before it was set to take off. (And the uncomfortable 13 hour flight back, me in a kufiyyeh surrounded by Israelis, wondering what could have possible happened.)

The poetic catharsis of meeting the Palestinian-American customs agent who greeted me when finally I landed in New York.

I was forced to acknowledge my vulnerability as an individual in a very concentrated way in the aftermath of those two days. Realizing that processing the experience was not happening at the university I transferred to a few weeks after returning from Israel, I decided to take 6 months off from school. That decision made me feel like a failure at the time but was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

This was not a gradual “coming of age” experience. My whole core and sense of self was rocked by losing control over my surroundings, the limits to my innocence illustrated all too bluntly.

As I floated the other day in the Dead Sea, looking over at the all too familiar landscape of Israel and Palestine, Bethlehem–and unavoidably Ben Gurion Airport–resurfaced in my immediate consciousness.

it’s right there.

I never wrote about those awful 41 hours because I had a hard time finding the words to do my emotions justice. I am still processing how I feel about it, and how it drastically altered my worldview and my personal sense of self.

On one hand I didn’t know how to express how profoundly changed I was on a personal level. On the other, I didn’t want to feign ignorance of the fact that humiliation and trauma far beyond my isolated experience is a daily reality of the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

Time has distanced me from the events of those two days, and at the same time they remain very close to my heart. But I write now because of how incredibly common stories like this are, but are often untold or unheard. (Like this one, which is all too reminiscent of my own experience.)

While for the time being I’m unable to go back to Palestine, coming to Jordan this year feels right, as full-circle as it could be.

Introducing Amman

I am writing from a cafe in Amman, where I will live for the better part of a year. While the summer in Morocco was a bit like a surreal vacation from my life, during which my ability to speak Arabic improved immensely, moving here feels real. I had a fleeting 5-day visit to the US which was all a bit cathartic. I got to see some of the most important people in my life — both a great way to launch into a new chapter and a sad reminder of how far away I’d be from all of them.

Fishers Island, NY: the happiest of happy places

I’m starting to feel more comfortable here, and embracing some of the hilarious differences that separate this city from my familiar. Amman is quite westernized, albeit with certain twists. Right now instead of the typical indie background music I’d become accustomed to in coffee houses in the states, I’m currently writing to an anachronistic string of fleetingly popular American gems — namely “Stars are Blind” by Paris Hilton, followed directly by “She Bangs” by Ricky Martin. (I hope there are others who can appreciate this…)

Settling in to a new city, whether in a familiar country or not, is bound to be disorienting. I like to tell myself that moving so far from what I know might make it in some ways mentally easier for me to accept how hard it is, since of course it’s hard to pick up and start over somewhere–especially somewhere thousands of miles from familiar people and places. There are some things, like the fact that this hilly city is probably the most unfriendly to pedestrians that I’ve ever experienced, that mean I have to give up walking for taxis a lot more than I’d like. (And make time to work out a lot more than I’m used to!)

View of Amman from Darat al-Funun, Jebel Weibdeh

That said, I feel incredibly blessed right now — my post grad worries right now are much more abstract and existential than material. I have a great apartment (with a lovely roommate!), low rent, a part time job that pays a full time salary (which I have yet to begin), minimal student loans, and an amazing network of people back home who care about me. I live in an adorable neighborhood called Jebel Weibdeh with cafes, art galleries, multiple types of restaurants (Armenian, Lebanese, Turkish, etc), and the biggest open air flea market I have ever seen on Fridays, all within 5-10 minutes walking distance of my building. I’m also in a place where I can practice this language I’ve been studying since I was 17, a fact that I’m trying not to take for granted.

Paris Circle, Jebel Weibdeh

One of the most disorienting things might be to have something you’ve envisioned materialize in ways you’ve actually pictured. I idealized coming to Jordan and in a lot of ways it’s coming together in ways I expected. Ironically, I began applying to come to Jordan a full year before arriving — now that I’m here I’m trying to suppress the urge to plan that far in advance for the next thing. Instead of having to think so far ahead, right now I have the incredible gift of being able to live a little more  presently, and allowing myself to live through my experiences rather than planning how they will go. I’m trying to internalize that.

Someone during the Fulbright orientation reminded us to keep in mind the following as we adjust to living here: “People are more important than time.” This was mentioned during the cultural part of our orientation, which I was quite wary of, because let’s face it — it’s hard to talk about “culture” without entertaining some serious generalizations…While the “people are more important than time” mantra could be employed to explain the stereotypical “Arab time” or seeming lack of logistical organization, it’s actually an incredibly universal idea that is somehow so easy to take for granted in the states, and implies a necessarily more present understanding of how we spend our time. Of course people are more important than time.

Borders

The other day I sat in the Atlantic surf at a beach* outside of Tangier, smelling the same seaweed that I grew up breathing in every summer in the Long Island Sound.

I have been struggling a bit with the way we typically define boundaries between the familiar and the unfamiliar – I think these borders are more flexible in reality than they are in our imagination. Perhaps the beach is a very pure example of this in its essential composition: salt water, sand, and waves reproduce that same familiar environment, regardless of the physical space we occupy.

Of course the actual distance we are from other places creates psychological distance, and the food, language, and certain cultural norms vary from place to place. That said, I think we tend to greatly exaggerate difference when the physical space is unfamiliar or physically far away from more familiar settings. This makes us feel farther away than we really are, because we take for granted all of the comforting things we can find in a new place.

I wonder if I had moved to California instead of Morocco would I be as “far away” from home as I am right now.  They are both thousands of miles away from northern New England so something else clearly distinguishes living abroad from living domestically, but part of me is rejecting that distinction. To complicate this more, I strangely feel closer to far away friends right now than I did when I was in DC.

A lot of my questions about how we define borders stem from a desire to live where I am; I want to be a resident. I don’t want to perpetually be a “tourist” or a “traveler,” but I also acknowledge and embrace my role as a foreigner, freed perhaps from specific expectations that bind locals.

On an overnight train late last Sunday night returning from Marrakech, I realized I was excited to go home. It was a typical sentiment to have after a fun weekend excursion, but the home I was ready to go back to was Tangier. It was reassuring to recognize that my definitions of “home” are somewhat relative and can be quite fluid.

As I plan to spend a few days on the other side of the Atlantic in a week before heading to Jordan, I am comforted by the fact that I will always have my home in Vermont where my family is, but am excited to create a new home in Jordan, and in the places I find myself after that.

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Morocco’s beaches offer a little something extra.

* Yes, I am in an intensive language program, but somehow still manage to make it to the beach at least once a week…I’m a firm believer in spending as much time by water as possible.

Beginnings

For the sake of starting this blog with some clarity, I’m writing to document my reflections on life after college, which happens to currently be taking place abroad. After a somewhat non-traditional  5 years in and out of my undergrad, I finished school this year. I’m currently finishing up an 8-week Arabic scholarship program in Morocco, and will begin teaching English on a Fulbright in Jordan this September. I am hoping to use this blog to speak to the universalities that come out of my experiences.

I don’t want this to be about my cultural realizations about the Arab world…there are a ton of blogs out there that do just that and they ignore the wealth and diversity of people and cultures in Arabic-speaking countries. As such, I can only talk about my own observations, thoughts, and wonderings.

Being abroad right now feels less like of a typical study abroad experience and more of an official launching into the “real world.” There is something quite temporary about studying in another country — you are expected to come home after a summer, a semester, or a year. And while I don’t know my plans after next June, I see the current year as a beginning. It’s not something I’m going to come back from, as though I were a boomerang or a yo-yo, but the first step on what I’m certain will be (I hope, for the sake of keeping things interesting) quite non-linear.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with friends lately about the typical quarter life crisis issues:

Won’t the next step we take determine the rest of our lives? (And how terrifying is that?!) How do we create a life around the things that make us happy (while earning enough to assuage Sallie Mae)? How do we even identify the things that will make us happy? Where do we want to be? And with whom?

More specific questions come to mind as I’m wondering from abroad:

Am I missing out on some early 20s rite of passage by not having a 9-5 job? By being far away from family and close friends? By not going to happy hours? By not having sad but true drunken stories worthy of Thought Catalog? Etc etc…

Perhaps I am avoiding the typical transition to a narrowly defined “adulthood,” but right now I am quite happy to be living outside of the norms being lived out by my counterparts in the states. I’ve switched my iPhone for texting with T9 word (remember that?) and Starbucks lattes in paper cups for tea in glasses that require sitting in exchange for caffeination. I’ve had to slow down a bit since coming to Morocco, and anticipate the same being true in Jordan. This has allowed (or forced) a lot more reflection and self-awareness than was possible (or comfortable) when I was in college in DC. Maybe that is contributing to my motivation for starting this blog in the first place. I don’t expect it to be interesting for everyone to read, but for those of you who want to, I hope you enjoy!