I’m sitting in my living room for the first time in a week. The drying rack by the window is weighed down with nearly all my clothes, one pair of pants is stained a little red from the bright sand at Wadi Rum. My roommate is mopping the floor of the kitchen, another is passed out, taking a nap in the back room. Yesterday when I got home I slept for three hours, woke up for dinner, and then passed back out until 11 am. I woke up this morning to text messages from my teacher. “انت جاهزة لساعات مكتب؟” Are you ready for office hours? Almost slept right through them. Luckily she was nice about me being five minutes late, and we went over my midterm from before break. It feels like forever ago.
On truck in Wadi Rum.
Last Wednesday we all had our midterms. I had the same feeling of surprise I always do when midterms roll around at school: how are we half way through already? My midterm was pretty short compared to some of the other classes’, just over an hour and a half. They all followed a similar format, a little reading comprehension, some multiple choice grammar questions, and a lot of recording yourself speak and answer questions on different topics. Everyone, from all the classes, spread out across the center finding their own corners to record their test answers. I sat on one of the couches around the corner from my classroom to answer for three minutes, “How do you get your house ready for a party?” A few friends walked by on the way to find their own quiet spots and gave me big smiles and thumbs up. “ممتاز عمل ميج” my friend Max whispered not so quietly. Amazing job Meg. I tried not to laugh, I wonder if my teacher could pick that up on the other end.
Walking back to the classroom after I finished my test, dodging everyone arrayed around the center, I thought about how quickly I’ve gotten to know these people. I know what class they’re in, I know where they’re from and what they’re majoring in, I know how long they’ve studied Arabic. And also for most of them, I know at least a little about what they’ve struggled with and how they’ve adjusted to their roommates. I know what they sound like when they’re ordering food at a restaurant or practicing Arabic with someone new. We’ve hung out late at night, exploring different spots around the city, and I’ve seen them early every morning, groggy eyed and reaching for the Nescafe right before class starts. We’ve discussed in detail all the quirks of the program, all the things that have been hard and all the things we’ve missed. I knew that was our last day in school for a week and I imagined what it would be like just a few weeks later, taking finals instead of midterms, and knowing we’d have to say goodbye. When we met the Jordanian neighbors for the first time back in June, one of them kept repeating “Tick tock, tick tock.” Our time in Jordan is short, I felt the clock speeding up.
Light in Wadi Rum at sunset.
After the test on Wednesday my class headed to the police station to renew the visas we had bought when we arrived at the airport in Jordan. It was a relatively simple, if slow moving process. On the way back we got caught in bad rush hour traffic and I swore I would never get a taxi in Amman between 3pm and 6pm again. Back at the CET center, Rawand’s class had been cooking all afternoon: Harak Osbao and Kofta. Still a little unsure about our Eid break plans, my roommate Moonesa and I bounced back and forth between the kitchen and Ahmed’s office. We had booked an AirBnB near Petra for a night for just $25 dollars and Moonesa was worried that we would get scammed or be in a dangerous situation. I was intent that we’d be fine. We went to Ahmed for advice. I showed him the AirBnB page, “Just $25!” I said. “Almost too good to be true.”
“Yes,” he said. “Too good to be true. I wouldn’t stay there.” I held out for a few more minutes but eventually came to my senses when Mazen also backed him up. We canceled the AirBnb and decided to just return to Amman for the night between our class trip and our Eid break vacation to Aqaba.
Climbed up some slightly treacherous rocks to get to this point.
The trip to the south had been postponed a few weeks ago during the Covid outbreak and last week really snuck up on me. I stayed out the night before to celebrate a friend’s birthday with some other people in the program and didn’t get home until late. The next morning started early. I woke up and hurriedly packed, throwing some clothes and sunscreen in a backpack. We were lucky enough to be joined by some of the Jiran and language partners, and everyone met in front of the building to get the bus. The drive was easy, four hours on a straight highway, desert on either side. We arrived in Wadi Rum in the early afternoon and switched from the buses to four-by-four trucks that looked about 20 years old. They were jerry-rigged with seats and overhangs to block the bright sun. About eight people to a truck, we zoomed out of town and over the sand, heading towards the camp site. At the camp we unloaded and spent the rest of the afternoon touring around to different sites around Wadi Rum.
After running up a sand dune in Wadi Rum.
The first was a small canyon cut out of a massive stone facade, inside of which we saw old drawings and writings hundreds of years old. Next stop was a sand dune. I tried to run up it and halfway there fell flat on my face, it felt like the hardest, steepest treadmill I’d ever been on. At the top of the dune were more rock formations offering a panoramic view of the desert on all sides. Off to one corner, I could still make out Wadi Rum Village, where we had left the bus and entered the desert. Our last stop was to watch the sunset. I climbed up the rocks, probably a little further than I should have, to a spot under an overhang where we gathered to take it all in. Even better than the western sky, where the sun dropped quickly below the massive horizon, was the view to the east, behind me. In the orange light, the white rocks turned pink, then purple, then blue as night set in. The desert was incredibly quiet, at the last moment as the sun dipped below the mountains everyone got loud, pointing, gesturing, making sure everyone else was watching, as if there were any way we could look away.
That night we ate dinner and watched the stars for hours. The next day we woke up early for breakfast and got back in the trucks, which took us back to the town, where we loaded into the bus. This drive was slightly bumpier. We got off the main road and wound through the mountains. Moonesa and I were sitting in the back row and laughed at all the sleeping heads, bobbing up and down and back and forth as the slightly oversized bus bumped down the road. We arrived in Petra right around noon and it was hot. I thought I was used to heat after a few humid, 90 degree summers back home in DC but something about Petra felt different. Maybe it was because we had all slept outside the previous night, but we lumbered off the bus slowly, clutching water bottles for dear life.
(Almost) the whole group in front of the Treasury in Petra.
After passing around tickets, the guard led us down through the steep canyon. We stopped at several spots where he pointed out different sites and what they were once used for, until he stopped, about 30 minutes in, and told us the wow moment was coming up. I don’t know why I didn’t believe him, but rounding the final corner, my friends and I audibly gasped. At first the treasury, which you see when you google Petra, looks like a green screen: a massive, ornate carved building built directly into the side of the canyon, hundreds of feet underground. We stopped for more history lessons and then the group dispersed, a few people hiking up into the hills and a few hiring camel rides. I wandered around with my friends for two hours before hiding in the shade with a lemon mint juice, one of my favorites here.
The walk back to the bus, uphill this way, was pretty brutal. I kept going with the thought of lunch in my mind. One roommate hurried ahead, anxious to get out of the sun, and another caved and hired a camel, then a horse, to get back up the hill. We’d been moving slowly and so were the last ones back on the bus. As soon as we sat down the bus pulled out and brought us to lunch, an amazing spread of chicken, rice, fattoush, hummus, and babaganoush. On the bus ride back to Amman that night I passed out in the back row and slept for four hours.
Maddie snorkeling off the back of a boat in Aqaba on Eid break.
The next day was the start of Eid break. I went to Aqaba, back in the south, for four nights with my roommates and some other friends. We had a great time, but were completely ecstatic to return to Swafiyeh. On the walk back from the bus we waved to Safeway and checked the progress on the villa undergoing renovation next door. I dropped my stuff in the living room and crashed on my bed. We keep the backroom dark, the shutter has been drawn since the very first day. After four days of 120 degree weather and bright sun in Aqaba, all I wanted was to lie in the dark and I fell asleep for three hours. When I woke up for dinner, my roommates were hanging out in the living room, planning what we’d make for dinner. I thought about the clock tick tocking away on my time in Jordan, but it was easy to ignore, as I enjoyed a quiet night in with my friends.