It is half past midnight and I am sitting in my favorite cafe in first circle finishing up an overdue blog post. The music shuffles between soft Arabic music and covers of random American songs, and the whift of Turkish coffee programs another three hours of energy into my body. My best friend is blowing up my phone to come outside so we can start our night. I close my laptop and say goodbye to the waiters I have grown close with, and the graphic walls that have witnessed many tears, laughters, and creations. The best part about late-night blogging is the adventures that start afterwards: the shawerma runs, the chai karak stops, and the blasting of disco Turkish and Arabic music as we ride through all of the circles that make up the great city of Amman.
Or at least I wish.
It has been three weeks since I have returned to the States, and having to reflect on being back is something I hoped to procrastinate for as long as possible. I am currently sitting at a Starbucks on 35th and State Street in Chicago, as I try and talk myself into a state of satisfaction. Amman spoiled me with their intricate and unique cafes, and this cookie cutter coffee shop is far from an environment that induces writing creativity.
Reverse culture shock hit me the second I got through customs in O’hare airport and not a single person came to help me as I struggled to load three overweight luggages onto a cart. Sixteen hours before I was at Queen Alia International Airport, where no Jordanian man let me lay a finger on any of my heavy bags. Chivalry definitely fought against the perpetuating stereotype of women treatment in the Middle East. Coming out of baggage claim, the first thing I see is my mom waiting nervously for me, and immediately, the waterworks hit. But these tears weren’t just because I was happy to see my mom after nine months, there was something unnerving that vibe against me. Feeling like a stranger in a city you grew up in, to this day, is hard to explain to anyone who asks. Going home to a place that no longer feels like home was not something I was able to put into words as I cried the whole ride home while my mom wondered why I was so unhappy to be back.
I felt terrible to have my very excited mom question how I could be sad after being away from her for nine months, but there was no dictionary in the world that had the word bank to string together the confusion and tangled up emotions I was feeling. I spent months creating a new life and a new home for myself. I wasn’t just studying abroad anymore, I was living abroad. It was hard to close this chapter of my life, but it was even harder to say goodbye to everyone and everything I was leaving behind: my host family, my teachers and staff, the owner of the mini market next to my house, my doormen and his cute family, the coffee stand I went to every morning, and most importantly, my best friend Laith. Jordan witnessed a lot of growth from me, and I am thankful for each and every person I met along this journey that taught me love and strength.
I don’t want to get into a long spiel about the deteriorating capitalistic lifestyle we lead in America, but I miss the simplistic way of life that I lived in Jordan. There is nothing better than knowing that purchases I made from mini markets or small shops downtown went to supporting a local family and a local business. A sight that hit me the hardest was seeing the vast homeless population in Chicago again. People sleeping on the streets, begging for a meal, is not something you see in Jordan. Arab culture has a very strong sense of community that leaves little to no room for one to be without a pack. Jordanians are very hospitable people: always welcoming others and making sure, very thoroughly, that no one is hungry in the slightest bit. It is disheartening to come back to a place where the economy is much better, but the value of life is seen as much less.
One thing I will say I am happy to see again is public transportation. Jordan is still working on an effective method of public transportation, but it is a difficult topic to juggle with when taxis provide a good income for a significant percentage of Jordanian families.
It is hard to compare two things where they don’t compare, and even though I have begun to adjust to being back in the States, Jordan will always hold a big place in my heart. Now, as most students do when they return from abroad, I am looking for ways to go back. I have two more years left of undergrad, and after that, I plan to return to the Middle East; whether I am advancing my Arabic studies again, teaching English, or doing research, the journey does not end here.