Yesterday, I accidentally made eye contact and smiled while I said “shukran” (“thank you”) to the guy at the grocery store when he finished weighing my plastic bags of produce. Basic friendliness, an admirable habit—you would assume. In New Jersey, friendliness towards store employees might be a pleasant surprise for the employee; as a female interacting with a male in Amman, it is essentially hardcore flirting. I’ll do my best not to make that mistake again.
My first week in Jordan, I have been given a good taste of what it is to be a stranger. Sleeping in a new apartment and meeting new people is one thing. It is another thing to walk down the street and hear people speaking and shouting words that I don’t understand. It is quite another thing to take a surreal drive up to the Syrian border to try to catch a glimpse of the 80,000-person refugee camp, and to imagine how different these people’s sense of security and stability must be from mine. Waking up at four in the morning as the Islamic call to prayer travels from a nearby mosque into the quiet darkness of my bedroom, catches me off guard for a moment. Realizing that the man who sets the Turkish coffee and cardamom cake on my table at the coffee shop, and the woman covered from head to toe who passes me as I walk up the several flights of stairs to my apartment, and the janitor who cleans the bathrooms at AAJ all have a fundamentally different view of the world than I do, is humbling. I thought that my perspective on life was fairly broad. Now I am beginning to realize just how small my view of the world really is. So much of what I encounter every day in this new land is entirely unfamiliar.
I am working at Alliance Academy Jordan (AAJ) as an English support teacher in the 2nd through 5th grade English classes. This past week I spent meeting many of the elementary teachers and students (“Mikaela is such a hard name to pronounce and remember!” “Alright Njood, try learning FIFTY or so new names in a week and see who has the harder job here!”) and beginning to learn my role and responsibilities. Normally, I don’t find myself feeling emotionally inclined towards people very quickly—but the teachers are beautiful and warm and welcoming, and the children (even when they get upset over an assignment and call me bad names—in Arabic, so I don’t know the difference, although they face the consequences) have already secured a significant spot in the deepening well of all my affections.
All of this experience (over the grand course of a week), while eye-opening and wonderful and exciting, has also been intimidating and overwhelming. It has reminded me that just as I am currently so hopelessly set-apart, an alien in the middle of this culture where I now live, I am also set-apart from this world where I dwell, because I am saved by the redeeming blood and brought to eternal life by the righteousness of Christ.
Lord, I would not be a citizen where Jesus was an alien. His pierced hand has loosened the cords that once bound me soul to earth, and now I find myself a stranger in the land. My speech seems to these pagans among whom I dwell a strange tongue; my manners are singular, and my actions are outlandish. A prince would be more at home in the ghetto than I could ever be in the haunts of sinners. But here is the sweetness of my circumstance: I am a stranger with You. You are my fellow-sufferer, my fellow-pilgrim. Oh, what a joy to wander in such blessed company!
Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (March 16)
The taste of being a stranger is unfamiliar, but sweet, as I identify more with my Savior, who sojourned in a world that did not know Him, though He made it and holds it together. I pray that my view of Christ in all of His glory would grow bigger and bigger; that even as I come to interact with and understand this culture more and more, I would also grow increasingly aware of my strangeness, my status as a foreigner in this land and every land that I inhabit before I reach the place that has been prepared for me by Christ Himself. But with Christ, and to Christ, I am not a stranger—in fact, I am more of a stranger to myself than I am to Him (“Before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether!”). To wander with Jesus is to be thoroughly known and loved, in whatever strange land I dwell.
And speaking of new tastes, no complaints here about the hummus, falafel, and shawarma.