The thought came to my mind this week: I have never experienced the change of seasons in any country other than the United States. In my 23 years, I’ve had the great privilege of traveling to many places. But I usually don’t stay abroad long enough to feel transitions. Wherever I go, I always leave before summer fades to fall, or in the midst of a mild winter.
It was the end of summer when I arrived in Amman at the end of August. It was hot, very hot. I slept with a thin sheet and kept the fan on all night. Within a few weeks, I could feel a change in the air. It was crisp, the barely perceptible chill of fall kissing my cheeks.
By mid-November my roommates and I were huddled under the heater in our living room, curling up in big sweaters and drinking tea to keep warm. The temperature outside is in the single digits, Celsius. I wear a woolen coat and boots every day. Winter has arrived.
There are a few holiday traditions that I miss from home, but we are doing our best to keep the spirit alive here in Amman.
One of my favorite things to do in the fall, back home in the Midwest, is to pick apples and drink fresh cider with crisp cinnamon-sugar donuts at the local orchard. Turns out apple cider mills are not a similarly popular phenomenon in Amman. I did, however, pick olives at Zay village, about an hour north of the capital.
It was the first time I saw olives on trees, before they end up in a jar, shiny and plump with brine. On the branch they look dull and almost purple. I made a few new friends that day, bonding over the simple task of plucking olives from the tree and plopping them in a big white bucket. The village host family prepared a pot of sweetened sage tea and freshly baked manaqish with olive oil from their orchard. We ate outside on a blanket, under the shade of an olive tree. It may not have been apple cider and donuts, but it felt like autumn to me.
In all honesty, I did not do much to celebrate Halloween. However, my roommate Miriam did cut out a few paper pumpkins and spiders, which she taped to the walls of our apartment. And we had scary-shaped gummy candies in our evening Arabic class.
As for Thanksgiving, the Fulbright Commission in Jordan organized a lovely dinner for us at their office. The feast included turkey and stuffing alongside fatat-makdous and fatayer. We even had a talent show, in which my very musically talented roommate Emily and her choir friends sang a Christmas carol in Arabic.
I am thankful that we had a space to share our gratitude for this year in Jordan, this special interlude in our lives. It has already meant so much to me. Although not every day is easy, it has been a blessing to spend this time exploring what Arabic might mean for my future, professionally and personally. I am thankful for the people I have met so far. I am thankful for the people who were already in my life and have been supporting me in this journey from afar.
And now we approach Christmas. Although my family does not celebrate the holiday in a religious sense, we have always decorated our home with a glorious pine tree and countless strings of twinkling lights. My roommates have been more than eager to adorn our apartment with a mini tree, ornaments, lights, stockings, and a Santa figurine. Our neighbors, the children from Syria, are delighted by this development. They have even started singing the Arabic Christmas carols that Emily has been practicing for her upcoming choir concert. It is all very charming.
As 2016 ends, I am closing out this chapter of my Fulbright experience and preparing for the next one. I just finished up my language courses at Qasid Institute. I developed what I hope will be lasting friendships with my classmates and teachers. I will officially begin my research in January. I am feeling much more confident in my Arabic proficiency, in navigating my surroundings, in identifying the things I need to make myself feel at home, in recognizing when I need to stretch my comfort zone.
Maybe the next change of seasons won’t be as exciting. I won’t have to wait months for snow to melt and flowers to emerge from frost, like I did back home in Detroit and Chicago. But I am excited for it nonetheless. Here’s to making the most of winter in Amman, so that I can greet the spring with a fresh perspective.
Note: Photo credit to the fabulous Huda Abdul-Aziz, photographer at Qasid Institute, for the images from Zay village.
[Originally published on Andrea in Amman blog, November 2016]