Maharba (Hello) from Jordan!

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About to set sail on an Alaskan cruise!

“Live your life!  Live your life, have your adventures.  Just do it! …but you must also be careful and save your money so you don’t have to worry about later.  Be smart about it, but remember that what you do at 30 is not what you will do at 35, and what you do when you are 35 is not what you will do when you are 40.”

I met Lynn at a welcome party for Andrew and me.  She is a lovely woman who is small in stature, but tremendous in enthusiasm and personality.  Her silver cropped hair and blue framed glasses liken her in my imagination to a wise and friendly owl who is saying, “I did life right, and I want you to do it right, too!  Be happy!”

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Hiking in Boulder, Colorado (Sept 2018)

It just so happened that I approached her and Andrew discussing the home leave holiday he and I had recently concluded.  He was telling her about our hopping around the United States to visit family and friends and to have some much-needed adventure after the limited activity afforded to us in Liberia.  

Lynn apparently trained as a professional ballerina when she was younger, and has the grace and poise to show for it.  Now, she is a 63-year-old foreign service officer who is looking forward to retirement soon. “And then you’re going to take it easy?” I asked her.

“Well, no. That’s when a new adventure will begin…because my husband and I have saved our money and we have plans for what we want to do.  Plan carefully, but enjoy life! Some people don’t take their home leave because they don’t want to spend the money, but it is so important to take that time.”

And she’s right.  Especially after our tour in Liberia where Andrew worked for three years and I joined for the final year, taking the time to have some adventures was important for our physical health (we had both gained a bit of weight and started experiencing bothersome aches and pains from a sedentary lifestyle) and mental health (biking, hiking, and running are key to our stress relief and personal reflection).  

Since departing post, I have come to realize that the most difficult part of living in Monrovia (for me, and many others, I assume) is the fact that I felt caged.  Visualize a healthy cheetah–who would otherwise be stalking and sprinting across the African savanna–pacing back and forth in a cell, behind bars in a zoo. How difficult to watch such a thing, right?  That poor creature is being kept from doing all the things that it was “built” to do!

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Mountain hiking in Ketchikan, Alaska

As an athlete, as an individual with great energy and ambition, and as a woman who needs to feel the rush of physical challenge, the severe lack of opportunity for activity did take its toll on me.  My husband’s nature demands these things even more, and while he did find ways to settle for shorter (but sometimes dangerous) bike rides and runs on the streets of Monrovia, I respect his resilience in persevering through the hardship of being denied his outlets for the most part.

For these reasons, our home leave — which took us to Atlanta, GA; Denver, CO; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and an Alaskan cruise — was “just what the doctor ordered,” as they say.  At each location, we enjoyed 40-mile bike rides and hikes that took us 10k feet up to the tops of mountains. Andrew, being the superhero he is, climbed 14,200 feet to the peak of Mt. Evans near Denver, CO on his bike.  These are the things we were “built” to do, and they felt incredible!

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Our first ride together as a married couple! 40 miles Denver, CO.

After six weeks of moving preparations and adventuring, it was time to fly to our new home in Amman, Jordan.  

We have been here for about two weeks, and we already feel very at home and happy here.

Our apartment is lovely with huge windows throughout the place.  The sun rises in the bedroom window and sets on the other side of the building where our kitchen is.  In the evenings while we are preparing dinner, I like to open the window and listen to the call to prayer.

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Rooftop view from our home in Amman, Jordan

The weather here is pleasant, especially for being a landlocked country in the desert!  Daytime temperatures have been around mid-80’s to low 90’s, but the air is relatively dry.  Yes, we still get a little sweaty when we make the 20-minute walk to the market, but that’s mostly because the sun is so hot.  Many days, the sun feels just as intense as it did in Liberia. I need to be sure to use my daily sunblock on my face (once it arrives with our household goods).

Regarding lifestyle, the variety of everything here is already a little overwhelming.  It is not yet familiar to me, and it is quite like being in the United States. For instance, there are smaller grocery stores that have six aisles in them and stock food and household essentials; but then there are stores that are similar to Super Target that include a huge variety of groceries and an equally vast area of household goods.  There are also more traditional shopping districts where the streets are tightly packed with cars on both sides, and individual shops which specialize in a particular good.

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Coffee, nuts, tea, and spices all in one place!
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Sweet treats and beautiful Jordanian boxes at Ruken Sham Sweets
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Spices at the local Safeway (yes, a Safeway!)

Last week, my neighbor took me for a drive in one of these areas called Sweifieh.  She showed me her favorite coffee, spice, and nut shop (yes, all three products in one place!); a great falafel shop; a produce stand chock-a-block full of colorful, fragrant, seasonal fruits and vegetables (the biggest figs I have ever seen!); and a pastry shop that makes the yummiest treat with phyllo dough, pistachios, and honey.

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From Ruken Sham Sweets in Sweifieh

Being new to post includes many logistics and “to-do” lists.  The first week was difficult emotionally because I, as the trailing spouse, did not arrive at post with any work.  So, my days were spent taking care of household chores, managing setup tasks, and finding my way around the neighborhood.  I felt envious that Andrew got to meet so many people and learn so much about the embassy and the area while I was at home with very little to do that felt fulfilling.  I started to stress about not having a job–both for monetary reasons and emotional-wellness reasons. Also, when he came home in the evenings and was unable to connect with me out of sheer exhaustion from the day’s obligations and activities, I felt slightly neglected.

Being a trailing spouse is difficult for someone like me who needs her own goals, her own activities, her own achievements.  I am a nurturer through and through: I live to support, encourage, and love others. However, I am also very ambitious (and slightly competitive), so I need my own “things” apart from my husband’s.  He knows this and is equally supportive of me.

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How difficult it is, though, to consider someone else’s worries and frustrations when we ourselves are feeling overwhelmed.  So, as difficult as it is to admit vulnerability, I communicated my feelings and worries to Andrew. I am very lucky to be married to a man who is willing to take the time to understand and adapt or find a compromise to my needs.  He and I are a team, and as we find our way as newlyweds, we often face situations we have not yet experienced together.  When we do, we figure out what works best in that situation for both of us, and then we have a plan for the next time that event happens.  Experiencing this true partnership has been enlightening, challenging, and exhilarating. And now, being at a post that is so family-friendly and seems to attract other couples who have a strong partnership, I look forward to learning from their examples even more about how to slay at coupledom in this lifestyle!

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In the meantime, I am finding my own “things.”  I started Arabic lessons — something I intended to do from the time we learned that we would be coming to Jordan.  Similar to how there are many dialects of Spanish that are specific to countries or regions, there are dialects of Arabic, too.  Jordanians speak Levantine Arabic.  And just like formal Spanish (from Spain) is what is typically taught in schools, there is the formal Modern Standard Arabic that is often learned as a second language for those who are native Arabic speakers (of their respective dialect).

Since I am not a native Arabic speaker and will be leaving Jordan in 2-4 years, I will be learning mostly Modern Standard Arabic so that I may transfer it to other Arabic-speaking countries as Andrew and I travel and work around the world.

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Afnan, one of my three tutors. She is patient and encouraging!

Thus far, I have learned basic greetings and farewells, pronouns, and noun conjugations.  Today was the third day of my lessons and I started learning the written alphabet!  I learn for an hour a day with a tutor, and then I am supposed to study for at least two hours per day on my own to practice what I have learned.  One of my tutors, Afnan (see photo above) told that my pronunciation is wonderful, that I am very smart, and that I will learn Arabic quickly.  Inshallah! 🙂

Other than my daily Arabic practice, I am also feverishly researching and applying for jobs.  The U.S. mission in Amman is one of the largest in the world, and there are hundreds of individuals like me who are highly qualified and looking for work.  So, while there is meaningful and fulfilling work in Jordan, it can be quite competitive for those of us who aren’t foreign service officers. Like I told Andrew, however, I won’t be content to sit on the sidelines of our life here when I was promised that I would live out my dreams! 🙂  I am determined to find work that allows me to put my skills to use in order to help others and improve upon someone’s life or experiences. If I’m not doing this on a regular basis, I am not living my best life.

 

 

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From the rooftop bar at Cantaloupe

While I wait for that opportunity to come, we have plenty of adventuring to do.  This past weekend, our friend Courtney organized an evening of cocktails, the sunset, and falafel.  She took us to a beautiful rooftop bar called Cantaloupe for drinks and then on a meandering and intriguing walk through a much older section of town as we made our way to the famous Hashem Restaurant where we ate our fill of falafel (my favorite!), hummus, and moutabal with fresh-baked shrak (flatbread) as the vehicle for it all.  (See link above for photos of foods.)  Washing it all down with hot tea infused with fresh sprigs of mint was a treat, too.

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The walk back up the hill to where we started the evening was a welcome activity since we all ate more than we probably should have.  Who could resist, though? The walk also afforded us the opportunity to pop into Souk Jara, an annual summertime bazaar for local crafts which we were lucky to catch in its last night of the season.  I look forward to next year when I feel more acculturated and am further along in my Arabic to be able to do a bit of shopping there!

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A view of Amman spread over the hills

Overall, Andrew and I are happy to be here.  At times, it feels overwhelming to be new and unfamiliar.  For instance, learning to navigate the streets and traffic while driving will take some time.  Even small differences like the work week being Sunday-Thursday is taking some getting used to.  But everyone has been kind and very welcoming thus far, and frequently hear from expats and locals alike that we are going to love it here.

Hopefully, in my next blog update, I’ll be able to write about some adventures and have pictures to share!  We are planning a bike ride for next weekend!

For now, I better get back to my Arabic studies.

Bashufkom!
(See you all!)

2 thoughts on “Maharba (Hello) from Jordan!”

  1. Bobbie, it sounds like you’re going to have quite the adventure in Amman! I’m looking forward to blog updates and (hopefully) visiting! Xoxo

    Like

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