Amman, Jordan — Dabka music spilled out the windows of his Jeep and permeated the dark and empty desert before us. With the exception of a perfectly timed “aywah” thrown out here and there in between musical riffs, we were silent.
We were the stark contrast of noise, machine and light that night blazing through the silently powerful desert of Wadi Rum. To foreign eyes such as my own it would seem as if our route up to that point had been aimless, but he had an intrinsic sense of direction along with 27 years of experience navigating these sands.
Where I am normally a bubbly and inquisitive individual, I have since developed a sense of humbled quiet belonging when I am with my Bedouin friends. I feel comfortable, respected and valued but also understand there is strength in simply listening. So when my sense of comfort starts to shake, and I am tempted to question his doing I bite my tongue like a child and swallow my uncertainty.
I am but a guest in this land.
Without warning Ahmad brought the Jeep to a stop, silenced the music and switched off the lights. He calmly looked though at our dark surroundings, and I nervously scratched my head. We were most literally in the middle of nowhere. “Are we lost?” I asked impatiently. His eyes did not divorce the scenery before us when he answered, “Sometimes you need to turn off the lights in order to see more clear.” He explained to me how he memorized every mountain in this desert and even in the night he could pinpoint his location simply by looking at their silhouettes against the stars.
We resumed driving shortly thereafter and sure enough we made it to our destination with no problems. I never question his doings anymore.
Another incidence in which my expectations were blown out of the water was when I needed a simple haircut. I lifted the haphazardly strung towel cloaking the entrance of the salon and found four generations of women ensconced in the drama of a Turkish soap opera. I just wanted to get my haircut and get home as soon as possible.
As I started to explain, in the best Arabic I could muster, that I wanted a simple trim one woman detached from her beloved program and with a stone cold face threw a towel around my neck and started attacking my blonde mane with a brush before I could even finish my explanation.
We sat in silence for the first ten minutes awkwardly exchanging glances and uncomfortable smiles as the women pretending to focus on the television and smoked argilah. I half expected the situation remain awkward and quiet. After all I was a random American girl with odd Arabic in a small family-owned salon in a quiet neighborhood of Amman, what could we possibly have in common?
I can tell you that by the time I walked out of that salon my experience had not been short or quiet.
Things do not always proceed as we expect and by the end of my visit to the salon I received an authenticate invitation to the family’s home to taste “the best mansaf in Jordan,” three phone numbers and of course a marriage proposal from the whole family to marry her brother who is “a good Muslim, an excellent chef and has great morals.”
By the end of the whole ordeal everyone had a giant smile plastered on their face and my barber even ended up cutting more than five times the length of hair I requested.
One does not simply walk into a salon in Jordan and expect to receive just a haircut.
I have found expectations to be my greatest enemy since moving to the Middle East. After many thwarted attempts at salvaging my sense of normal I accept the unexpected. Whether it be with Bedouins in the desert, taking my seat on a bus or simply walking into a hair salon I remind myself, “come what may.”
I am learning to let go of my need for control, my desire to feel in an American defined comfort and understanding.
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.