Traveling to Jordan to study Arabic has been two years in the planning stages for me. I finished my checklist before it was time to go, and then waiting stressed out both my partner and me. 

That anticipation lured my brain into the future. We’re not having this conversation for its own merits – it’s one of “the last ones” before I go. So that conversation has to be perfect, savored, and in a way it’s objectified. Too much anticipation disconnects you from reality, thinking about how you’ll look back on the present or planning out the memories you’ll make before you’re anywhere near them. 

Flight crew repeated, "Austrian Airlines never serves pork," during breakfast sandwich distribution.

Flight crew (yes, dressed like this) repeated, “Austrian Airlines never serves pork,” during breakfast sandwich distribution. CC-BY-SA Austrian Airlines on flickr.

Circumstances conspired to keep me (figuratively) grounded though. For days prior to my flight I stayed up at night talking, plus my body refused to sleep during my 11 hours in the air. I increasingly lost the brainpower to think ahead. I hadn’t planned out what I would say to my partner at the airport, so I hadn’t steeled myself not to cry. In security, I needed a distraction from heartache and chose people-watching over more verbal activities. When the very professional Austrian Airline stewards brought me my breakfast sandwich, my brain contented itself with eating it. When we arrived a little late in Vienna, I was on autopilot to my next gate. On the next plane I read my guidebook, and just couldn’t wonder about how the visa process would go, or whether my school would really send a driver, or if my hostel reservation would be honored, or where I would get dinner. But when the time for each of those things happened, I followed the plan I had laid out for myself.

I made it and everything has been smooth, if a little abrupt after all that anticipation. Suddenly I’m here, and I’m speaking Arabic with the school driver – maybe I should be taking pictures out the window, or I should have studied more Jordanian colloquial particularities, yikes! But I’m not, and I didn’t. Whatever I’m saying now will have to be good enough, because I didn’t script it earlier and I can’t edit it later.

…Though I’ll probably rough sketch an itinerary when I wake up from my nap. 

One thought on “Anticipation

  1. Robert Cathey

    Laura, So great to read your new blog from Amman. Your first post reminded me of the anxiety I felt before embarking for Beirut in September 2010. I was flying to live with people I had never met on the same street where Ben Weir was kidnapped during the Lebanese civil war. I had met Mary Mikhael once, but knew almost no Arabic. When I landed in Beirut’s international airport, I didn’t know I was in a part of the city controlled by Hezbullah. NEST had sent a cab driver to pick me up who spoke French & Arabic, but no Enlgish. When we took off in his cab, I wasn’t sure I was with the right driver! The heat and humidity in the city was stiffling. When I arrived at NEST, I was met by a Syrian doorman who spoke no English. He got me into my big 3-room apartment, which was stiffling. There was one loud fan to cool things off, no AC. But someone from NEST had left me a plate of cucumbers, flat bread, and bottled water in the small fridge. And there was somekind of Lebanese sandwichs. I didn’t sleep much the first night. The next morning I had olives, flat bread, and jam for breakfast with very strong tea in NEST’s cafeteria. Then I met George Sabra for the first time. He seemed very shy and a a little curious why I came to NEST although we had been corresponding by email for months. I wondered if he was wondering if I was a spy from McCormick or the CIA. Over time we grew to enjoy and appreciate each other. But that first meeting was rather awkward. George seemed to wonder for the first two weeks if I was going to jump ship and return to Chicago. Fortunately, Mary Mikhael was like having a wonderful Big Sister to welcome, and orient me. Her hospitality was overwhelming and she put me at ease immediately. So did the NEST staff and one of the faculty from Holland. The students were wonderful, full of questions, helpful, thoughtful, and taught me to laugh at all the strange things involved in living in Beirut. Esp. one Orthodox student from Baghdad who had learned to speak English from US Army occupation forces, and who knew how to make up jokes in English. The very first weekend he offered to take me to a place where you could swim in the sea off the coast of Beirut (which is very heavily polluted!). The first two weeks were full of anxiety for everyone since the President of Iran was in town meeting with Hezbullah and Lebanese politicians. IDF jets were flying low over our part of the city 2 or 3 times per day and one of my students had flash backs to the July 2006 war. Somehow I survived the first two hot, humid weeks. George Sabra helped find a wonderful multi-cultural congregation that worshipped in English. Mary M. took me with a team from the World Council of Churches for a wonderful tour of Lebanese churches destroyed in the civil war and rebuilt afterwards. I learned how to make iced tea in my apartment. And I found a wonderful Berlitz school where I began to learn Arabic from a Lebanese Muslim teacher who was very classy, funny, and made me laugh at myself many times. Later I learned from one of the American Lutherans at NEST who had lived in Saudi Arabia for ten years that when you move to a new culture, it takes your body and brain about 6 – 8 weeks to adjust. If you can survive those first few weeks of disorientation, strange food tastes, upset stomach, jet lag, lack of sleep, anxiety about the soldiers down in your street every day, and the initial awkwardness of making new friends and finding ‘helpers,’ then you can live for years in a new culture.
    We love you and I am carrying my Jerusalem cross (that Mel Gibson’s cab driver gave me in Bethlehem) with me every day you are gone. Salam, Dad


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