Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Salt water and Spontaneity

When I got to Jordan, I had a rough idea of goals I had for the summer. Some academic, some cultural, some personal, etc. One of them was to write at least two blog posts a week. See how well that's gone! The break from blogging hasn't been for lack of anything to say (it's the opposite) or even for lack of time. It seems like the more there is to write about, the harder it is to organize my thoughts. Sometimes writing is easy, sometimes it feels impossible, and I'm figuring out that it's hardest for me when things around me are changing very quickly -- it's almost silly to say out loud the things that are changing when they're so obvious. Culture shock is part of it. But road-trip shock is another part. I'm realizing I'd fallen in love with the freedom of four wheels on the freeway, sleeping in a different city every night, operating on my own schedule. I went virtually straight from that to living in a new country, constantly surrounded by people, and always, so it seems, on someone else's schedule. Not a bad thing, but different for sure.

With my lovely roommate on the way to Aqaba. Happy.
Goal-wise, one of the things I told myself when I got here is that I should say "yes" more. Be more spontaneous. Not always try to plan out my day in my head and refuse to do anything that doesn't fit with that plan. This is something that I'm challenging myself to do more of in general, but especially while I'm in Jordan. It's is hard for me to do, because it goes against the way I've lived most of my life. (Geez, how stupid does that sound now?) But I'm slowly getting better at it. Sometimes this means saying yes when my roommate asks me if I want to go up on the roof and have a cigarette hang out with friends and look out over the city lights as we listen to the call to prayer, even if I'd planned to study then. Sometimes it means hopping in a cab and riding 20 minutes to watch a soccer game at midnight, even though I'm tired and I don't even like soccer. And sometimes, like the weekend before last, it means saying yes when asked in the morning if I want to go to the Red Sea that night...

Cool view from our friends' roof
...and so I did. After class, my roommate Queeny and I met up with a group of five guys we barely knew and went to their apartment to hang out while they packed up for the trip. They have a ridiculously amazing view of Amman from their roof. Once we got some food, we hopped in a van and made the four-ish hour trip to Aqaba, a well-known resort town and port on the Red Sea. Between Amman and Aqaba, there's a border of sorts, a security checkpoint. Because one of the guys in our group was Syrian, we had to stop and wait while he got questioned. We had a Jordanian with us, so he didn't have too much of a hard time crossing the border--after a thorough examination of his passport and about fifteen minutes of questioning, we were back on the road. But apparently the process sometimes takes hours, and had our Jordanian friend not been with us, he might not have been allowed to cross at all. A weird reality check. Speaking of reality checks: as I was walking back to my apartment just now, my roommate and I were approached by two Syrian women with young children, begging for money. They showed us their passports as they explained that they are from Homs, and that their husbands are still in Syria so they are here on their own and they are very poor. Felt kind of horrible telling them I couldn't help them.

This guy was hanging out by the Red Sea 
Anyway, we got to Aqaba late at night and went to the beach the next day. A camel ride was definitely on the goals list, and it just so happens that I ran into one on the beach, and he agreed to give me a ride! Heh. I'm a shameless tourist, yes, but it was really cool and now it's out of my system. It was an afternoon of good food, good coffee, good conversation, and intolerable heat. The blazing sun wore us out, so we went back to the apartment to rest for a while and made a trip back to the beach after sunset once it had cooled off a bit. How to describe that night? One of those magical moments, better to just let it be. That said, it's pretty incredible to be lying on your back on a blanket on the beach, right across the Red Sea from Israel, under a sky full of brilliant stars, smoking shisha with new friends. (Our new Syrian friend was even reciting Arabic poetry -- if you know me, you know that listening to Arabic poetry might be one of my favorite things on the planet!) See? That doesn't capture the moment.
Beach at Aqaba at night

On the way back to our home away from home, we heard loud music and saw a big group of people dancing. A post-wedding celebration. So what else was there to do but turn around and stop to check it out? How's that for spontaneous? We asked if we could join the party, and we were immediately welcomed inside. Arab hospitality in action. Queeny and I were the only girls in the whole group, so we ended up in the middle of a circle of sweaty men who were grabbing our wrists and shoving us around, insisting on taking pictures with us, and inviting us to go home with them. They grabbed each of our guy friends and threw them up in the air, like we were at a rave or something. I think we were only there for 5 or 10 minutes, but it was so overstimulating that it seemed like forever. I loved it, and I'd never do it again.
The post-wedding party we crashed

The next day, we left Aqaba and headed back to Amman, stopping at the Dead Sea on the way. There are lots of fancy hotels there, and if you want to find a decent beach spot, you'll end up having to pay a bit of money. But it's more than worth it! It's such a funny feeling when you first step out into the water and lift your feet off the ground and just... float. As a childhood swimming lesson dropout, I was happy to be able to venture out into the "deep end" without worrying about doggy paddling and struggling just to keep my head above water. It's relaxing to effortlessly float on your back, close your eyes, and feel the sun on your face, but my favorite part was sitting up. It's like you're in a recliner or something. Just try to sink. You can't! You can even "stand" without touching the ground, you just have to be careful not to lean forward too much, or else you will flip forward and land on your face. The water has almost 35% salinity, and that doesn't feel very good if it gets in your eyes. Also, Dead Sea mud is full of minerals and is supposed to be really good for your skin. They sell the stuff at spas. It's much more authentic to wade out into the water and grab a big handful of it from the bottom of the sea. It really does make your skin so soft.
Sitting up in the Dead Sea!

Making concrete goals can be a great motivator, but it can also be a little dangerous. When I go back and read the goals I wrote down on day one and think about my progress on them, it's so easy for me to be discouraged because I'm convinced I'm not doing "enough" (But come on, when is anything really ever going to be enough!!) When I feel that way, there's the temptation to just quit. I'm not doing it well, so why am I even doing it? What's that quote? "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." I hate that quote. I mean, I guess maybe it helps some people, but I'm not one of those people. Maybe it's a little paradoxical, but I'm much more productive and happy when I tell myself "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." It sounds great in theory to say I don't want to do a half-assed job today because I'll do a perfect job tomorrow, but the problem is that tomorrow becomes today, and so on, and I end up not doing the thing at all.

So I wrote a crappy and disorganized blog post. So what? I wrote a blog post! Take that, goals list! 

1 comment:

  1. Hardly crappy and disorganized—this is lovely. "I loved it, and I'd never do it again" is a great phrase, something you'll say often after saying "yes" so much.

    I've been saying this a lot for almost 25 years, but I'll say it again—I'm so proud of you.