At the airport. The line to check into the Royal Jordanian flight is long. Many families, little kids and babies, moms and dads and grandmothers. I hear Arabic all around me, various dialects– shaami, khaleeji, masri. I understand a lot of it. This fills me with excitement and hope. I feel relief that not all my Arabic has been lost during the past two years of graduate school. I feel eager to fill in the gaps of my understanding. I wonder what brings these people to Jordan, or what brought them to New York.
The butterflies kick in, fluttering in my stomach. It’s finally starting to kick in that I am leaving home for a year. That I will be living in Amman. That I will be conducting an independent research project, and that I won’t be enrolled in school. Am I really doing this? The man at the counter hands me my boarding pass. I am really doing this.
Right before security, families and friends and partners gather to bid farewell to their loved ones. This is the hardest goodbye. One last hug, one last wave. I remind myself that it’s not forever, this departure. That it is really more of a “see you soon.” The feeling is bittersweet. I hold this feeling close as I walk to the gate.
On the plane, I take my seat next to a kind young couple. They are from Jordan. We chat briefly in Arabic, they tell me I’ll enjoy it in Amman, that I should see Lebanon one day. I say a little prayer at take off, a habit that I picked up after my grandmother passed away. I feel like it would make her happy to know that I am trying to chat with the big guy up there in the sky sometimes. Maybe it would even make her happy to hear that I am going to Jordan. I open my book once we are safely in the air. These days I am reading Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodsoon.
Dinner is served shortly after the flight takes off. It’s not bad, and I devour it. Chicken in a soy-based sauce, baby bok choy and carrots. I chat with the lady of the young couple duo over dinner. Amicable small talk: The weather, things to see in Jordan, family. Languages, in-flight movies. I mentioned I enjoy Bollywood films, and she joked that I would only need to watch one or two of those to fill the entire ten and a half hours before landing. I laugh, this is true. I eventually nod off to sleep.
I wake up at 4 am, east coast time, with five hours of the flight remaining. I write a little, work on my research proposal. By 6 am my brain is asking for coffee. Luckily, the folks in the row in front of me feel the same way too. The steward brings us little paper cups filled with coffee and cream. “It’s not Starbucks, but it will do,” my neighbor says. I laugh again at the good humor of my co-passengers.
First the cabin lights come on, and then the windows open to reveal the brilliant sun. How is it already 8 am? In the light we eat our breakfast of croissants and buns with jam and butter. A baby in the row in front of me keeps turning to peek at me through the peephole between seats. She sticks her hand out to me, offers a packet of strawberry jam, takes it back, smiles.
An hour passes in conversation, in zipping up bags and preparing for landing. It is no longer 9 am, as we have entered a new time zone. We land in Amman at 5 pm local time. I look out the window and see Queen Alia International Airport surrounded by an overwhelming wash of sandy hues. I say one more goodbye, this time to my new friends from the plane ride.
[Originally published on Andrea in Amman blog, August 2016]