The secret to learning the gorgeously intricate and fascinating language of the Middle East lies within its own speakers–i.e. if you make Jordanian friends, you’re bound to learn a word or two.
It may require picking them up from the airport on Labor Day weekend then inviting them over to someone’s house to hang out. And then you may have to get out of your comfort zone by trying an Xbox Kinect dancing sort of game whereby you’re flailing your arms in front of your new friends. But hey, when they’re fourth year medical students with only a month-long rotation at your hospital–you dance in ways you haven’t before.
But, really, Jordanian dancing is a blast. After too many rounds of pre-programmed moves, we shut off the Xbox inviting them to teach us a step or two. Our little iPhone speakers blasted a strange, mystical tune as the girls turned their hips and the guys, both arms extended, flipped their wrists. We were moving. A circle formed then my feet fell into a grapevine and soon none of us really knew what to call our progression of belly dancing to cupid shuffle to wobble. But we did know that forever friends had just entered into our lives merely a couple hours after meeting them. Our dance, our marHaba of sorts.
An unfolding of cultures simply continued over great food. Despite the lunches and a big weekend BBQ, we’d never simply made a dinner together. One day, my culinary curiosity peaked–would they teach me how to make a decent Jordanian meal?!
Yalla, yalla! or let’s get going meant a grocery run before the day’s end. With her mother’s recipe in hand, my friend showed me how to pester the owners of a Middle Eastern market in Arabic as well as buy baklava and humus. Everything was set. By five the next day, we were chopping, pan-searing… and setting off the fire alarm not once, not twice, but three times! But our perseverance marked by ringing ears and tired hands made for hungry and happy hearts.
With those two, there wasn’t a time where I ever feel like saying etrekni bihali. In fact, I only picked up the phrase for leave me alone when they were sharing Arabic pick-up lines. Then my Chinese friend wanted to hear our tongues trip over his language. So with all these foreign words flying around, the French side of me came out. So there we sat, late late Friday night, launching verbs and nouns at one another, laughing at our attempts to woo the other. I stumbled over thousand year old phrases. He butchered the ever so quiet yet not so silent H’s. They staged and recorded our Arabic exchange. Oh the endless amusement of listening to faintly recognizable flirtation drowned in foreign accents!
We completed our melting pot effect at two Mexican restaurants. One gives salsa lessons on Saturday nights! All different sorts of people come to step up, step together, step back. We added in a bit of Jordanian dance and eventually started a train going all around and around and around until we called it a night.
Then a couple days later, we found ourselves at a different restaurant for a goodbye dinner of tacos and salsa–the diced tomatoes kind. For their final day and her first US birthday, we gathered every possible Reese’s topping and squished them onto a chocolate round. Delish. But closing time came too soon and we begrudgingly shuffled into a dimly lit parking lot exchanging goodbyes, crossing our fingers for a future reunion.
Because it isn’t everyday that we learn Arabic. (Something not quite in the medical curriculum.) And to find such spectacular friends tends to be an even rarer occurrence. If I had the chance to eat lots of chocolate or discuss the Syrian conflict or consider the Islamic worldview or dance into the night with anyone else, who is to say it wouldn’t have been half so wonderful as with these two? It was as if we’d been separated by language and two or three gigantic bodies of water all this time. It was as simple as living abroad and out loud while open armed. And for the month’s lessons of Arabic and so much more, I say shukran with all my heart.