I am in the midst of itineration; making may way around parts of the United States visiting communities to share my experience from Jordan and Palestine. I have been back in the country for a little over a month, and between Christmas celebrations, reunions, and reacquainting myself with the West, I have started to find time to understand what my time in the Middle East meant, and how to move on and forward to what comes next.
It is often difficult to figure out where to begin sharing about my time in the Middle East. One question that I am often presented with is How was your trip? There are a variety of ways to answer this, often sharing a story or two. However I tend to move towards explaining that it was more than a trip, it was my life. It had all the ups and downs, excitements and disappointments that one could expect in life wherever you live.
In processing my time away, I have been pulled towards one story as it encompasses many of the dynamics through my experience. It is not an extravagant story, except for the excess of food but that is merely an aspect of social interaction in the Middle East. Nothing eventful happened; it was just an afternoon that did an okay job in putting some of the complexities of the world into reality.
Last April, I was getting ready to meet with some of my friends. The winter rains were finished, and it was time to settle into the sun and blue skies were going to be the daily weather until October. One warm and windy Friday afternoon, two of my Jordanian friends and one of my American friends, drove out of Amman into the Northern countryside for a barbeque. One of the friends’ families was in the process of building a house out of the city so they could move just far enough from the bustle to get some peace and quiet, yet still be in close contact to friends and family.
The day did not entail anything out of the ordinary, and there were few of the typical cross cultural stories that you may expect to hear when asking about someone’s time in another part of the world. We ate chicken and rice, and drank too much coffee. We sat and talked, discussing dynamics about Jordan and the United States. We compared our religions, Christianity and Islam, and how the play into our lives and communities. We practiced our Arabic and English, joking about the same Internet videos and photos that show up on our Facebook feeds even though we come from different worlds. We took turns playing music, turning it up because we could. As the sun began to set, we packed up the picnic and made our way back to Amman continuing to talk and laugh about whatever came to mind.
Memories of this afternoon hold a high value in my mind, and in my experience. Maybe because it is a representation of so many of my times in the Middle East. Maybe because it was because it was a cherished time with some good friends, the types of friends that you begin to miss months before you leave them. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of this afternoon in the face of global politics and perceptions of the ‘other’. Maybe it was the weather, and the thawing life that comings with the spring. Most likely it was all of this.
When I share about my experience in Jordan and Palestine, memories of a beautiful day, wholesome friends, and delicious food are in my mind. The amount of tragedy in the world can break you, leaving you confused on what to do, how to move on, and where to go forward. But thinking back on that afternoon, and the many like it, I know there is still a lot of life in the world. And there is plenty of hope and power to protect and nurture it as we figure out how to move forward.
Nathaniel Bailey serves as a Global Mission Intern with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem/Orthodox Initiative (OI) in Jordan. He serves as Assistant for Refugee Response and Communications. His appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Churches Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.