AMMAN, JORDAN —
I remember when I was 10 and my daddy would come into my room and tell me bedtime stories about fictional adventures he had with Indiana Jones. He would think up these elaborately wild tales of treacherous hiking through jungles and fighting off animal antagonists using sling shots and handmade spears until I slipped into my own dreams of wanderlust for the night.
In return for fighting off my childhood insomnia with his Indiana Jones stories, I was asked to scratch my dad’s hands while he spun his stories. What sounds like an odd request, was actually understandable given that my dad had to work unthinkably hard to provide for us which resulted in well-worn hands. Where they lacked aesthetic appeal my father’s hands made up for it by character, outlined with every scar and rough patch from his endless adventures and hard work.
I blinked, or so it felt, and found myself piled under camel scented blankets some 12 years later examining the hands of a Bedouin man in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan.
“I know my hands are hard, but I need them to be for work,” explained Ahmad.
I smiled at him through the moonlight and remembered my father’s well-worn hands. “I understand.” After a few solid minutes of star gazing and swatting at mosquitos, Ahmad broke the silence with an all too reminiscent bedtime story which lulled me into a peaceful and childlike sleep.
I remember posting a photo of me holding my dad’s hand during his last days in the hospital. A friend of mine commented, saying my hands held a remarkable resemblance to that of my father’s, a concept I had never considered previously.
I always have that comment in the back of my head and whenever I take a moment to look at my hands I now see my father’s. Along the same vein, I have started to pay particular attention to hands of people I meet. I imagine what memories that person might have of their parents’ hands.
I wonder if the Syrian man handing me my morning cup of Turkish coffee recalls his mother’s hands tying his shoes for him as a child. I am tempted to ask one of the many Palestinian refugees who sit on the street corner every morning for the truck to pick them up for the day’s work what memory comes to mind when his mother’s hands are mentioned.
While on the way to visit a friend in the desert, I recently found myself chatting it up in Arabic with a taxi driver from southern Jordan. It was nightfall when we started our journey and I could only make out his aged brown hands gripping the steering wheel as we sailed down the desert highway.
After forty minutes of expected conversation which detailed his grievances with tourists, the King and love for Islam our conversation shifted to something more personal.
In the most sincere and precise Arabic I could muster I explained to him that at that very moment of watching his hands on the steering wheel I was reminded of home; of the late night drives I would take with my father listening to him ramble on about his latest political qualms as I watched his hands skillfully drive us safely to our destination.
Silence fell over our conversation following my sentimental announcement to my chauffeur. I thought maybe I had spoken too boldly or too personally with the man, and I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. After a few minutes the man finally brought himself to speak, “Your words make me think of my daughter, and remind me that even two strangers like ourselves have more in common than what is visible on the outside. Thank you.”
It goes without saying that I miss my father, but his memory never leaves me — even on my wild adventures in the Middle East. Sometimes seven thousand miles from home and conversations with complete strangers is just enough distance to bring me back to what is familiar.
My hands are tanned now from days spent under the sun at a beach next to the Red Sea. My hands are riddled with a half a dozen mosquito bites from nights spent sleeping in the desert of Wadi Rum. My right hand has calluses from writing Arabic for hours every day, and my left holds a permanent scar from burning it on a lamp many Christmases ago.
My hands remind me of where I came from, where I have been and what I am capable of.
Brooke Lake is an international and arabic studies major. She studied abroad in Meknes, Morocco and currently studies abroad in Jordan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org