Badia. Where to begin?
To start off… my experience was nothing like I had planned it to be. Whatsoever. I also think it’s safe to say, that I was probably one of the most excited students for this excursion and even more excited when I learned that the family I was staying with lived right on the border of Syria.
Oh hey, Syria.
Sure, we would experience some weird foods and had a hole for a toilet, but I had roughed it for a month at wilderness sleep away camp, with no bathrooms at times – I could deal with this. And sure, maybe there would be some extra restrictions for the women, like only staying in a certain room of the house or always wearing a hijab…but I could deal with that too, as long as I was learning more about the culture.
When I thought of the word “bedouin” a few scenes came to mind. I thought of a relatively small house, made of mud and bricks, perched in front of a gorgeous background of the desert. I thought of two quiet parents with welcoming smiles. Seven children, ranging in ages, fighting for our attention. I thought of a simple lifestyle. The boys playing “football”outside while the women huddled in one of the rooms, sipping tea and telling stories. Maybe a herd of sheep in the distance, a blazing bonfire at dusk, a broom sweeping the dirt floor.
I thought of a few sleepless nights under the starry night sky. Colorful laundry hanging from clotheslines on the roof. The family’s prized camel, if I was lucky.
I shouldn’t have made so many assumptions.
We started of the day early, all anxiously sitting on the large yellow bus, waiting to hear which names were called when we pulled up to each house. Some houses were bigger than expected, some tinier, paired with a tent made of patched cloth. Families stood outside waving to their newcomers while excited children jumped around. Eryn and I were one of the last groups to get dropped off. We pulled up to the tiny gray house and I could already feel a twinge of discontent. It was quiet, no one waited outside for our arrival. The bus honked its horn and an old man dressed in a white robe and a Jordanian scarf wrapped around his head walked outside with a confused look on his face.
“Maybe this is the wrong house,” I thought.
It wasn’t. While the man talked to the coordinator, we were gestured to the front door where a short plump woman gave us a smile from the crack in the door and hurried us inside. The house was small, made up of three rooms and a bathroom. We were directed to the corner of the living room, a room lined with dingy golden pillows that stood out against the gray concrete wall. In the opposite corner, a television glowed with Cartoon Network in Arabic and a small boy probably around the age of 6 stared in our direction. We sat and waited for our new home-stay parents to come back inside.
My hands were sweating. The man and woman came back inside and tried to speak to us. They obviously didn’t know a word of English. My knowledge of a few common Arabic words would only last me a minute, if that. How on earth were we going to last three days like this? The father sat unamused, obviously not fond of our presence, while the mother went to fetch us some tea.
After several failed attempts of communicating, we stopped talking and I stared off at the television in the corner. I could feel the blood rushing out of my face. She tried to ask us something again. I had no idea what she was saying. Then the boy whispered something in her ear. “Lunch?” she asked with a smile. Aywa. Yes. I was starving. She runs off to the kitchen.
“Why did I sign up for this again?” I question.
At this point, I had to pee so badly my stomach was cramping. It would have been bad timing though, having to search through my bag for my roll of toilet paper in front of the whole family. She walked in with a platter of food. The first ounce of relief since we had arrived. Shukran. Thank you.
Rice, peas and potatoes in some type of sauce. I ate it with a smile even though I didn’t like the taste. I tried to like her. She was nice and at least she was trying. The man continued to ignore us. Once we finished, the wife showed us the remaining two rooms and the bathroom. Thank God. I felt nauseous.
Before walking into the bathroom, it’s customary in bedouin homes to put on special rubber slippers before entering. I slipped on the shoes and walked inside to inspect the whole in the ground. “This sucks and I don’t know how to do this,” I thought. On the way out, I accidentally knocked a nearby pitcher of water over, getting my rubber slipper wet. Shit. I walked outside to find the woman waiting to use the bathroom. She saw that my shoe was wet and quickly went for another pair. “Great, she thinks I peed on her shoes,” I thought. “Thanks for opening your home to me! Here’s some urine covered slippers!”
Rookie mistake. I tried to recover.
Time passed. We sat in the same spot till we heard a honk from outside. A glimmer of hope – maybe it was the bus coming back for us. Instead two men walked inside the room and sat down near the man of the house. They smoked and spoke loudly, obviously talking about us, as they gestured in our direction and used the word “amreeki” American. I fixated my eyes on my notebook while Eryn read an assignment. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes but I pushed them away. This was just uncomfortable.
“Hallo Miss,” one of the men said to me. “Hello,” I respond. We exchanged some small information. I told them I was from New York, since that’s the only state they’re familiar with.
They went on talking and I heard the words “Iraq” and “America” thrown around.
“Americans are ok. American government, no, bad,” he explained to me.
Not sure if this statement was supposed to comfort me.
Later that night Eryn and I met the man’s older son who lives next door. He took us to look at sheep in the field and then brought us back to his house to drink tea and meet his wife and children. It was awkward, but we were grateful for any break from the closed walls of our new home. Afterwards we walked back, ate dinner and got ready for bed. I was exhausted, so although we were sleeping on the ground, in the same room as the mother and son, I fell asleep quickly.
The Holiday Inn
The next morning I woke up to a nudge against my shoulder and a gentle brush against my face. For just a second, I felt as if I was home in American, cuddled in my bed, my mom brushing the hair out of my eyes and telling me it’s time to get up. I slowly opened my eyes and registered the fact that the boy had just caressed my cheek with his dirty feet. Ew, disgusting. I quickly turned over and fell back to sleep. Vigorously scrubbing my face with babies wipes once I finally got up.
The day went by slowly. It certainly wasn’t as uncomfortable as the first, the family was being nice, but it was still not the experience I had truly hoped for. Eryn and I tried to sit outside for most of the morning and read to avoid sitting in the dark of the house.
For lunch we ate a traditional dish called mansaf, which is rice and chicken (or lamb) covered in some kind of sour milk sauce and scooped up with khubis. (pita bread) It was surprisingly very good.
That afternoon was when our time in the Badia finally started to turn around. Luckily for us, two of our classmates, Joe and Josh, were living only a 10-minute walk away, so when they visited us with their home-stay father, I couldn’t help but feel a slight sense of relief. After an hour of drinking tea, sharing our current experience and watching some television, we were invited back to their home to meet the rest of their family. We happily agreed.
Upon our arrival, Eryn and I were quickly swept away from our classmates and taken into a room filled with women. “Finally, the experience I was waiting for,” I thought. “How could so many women fit into one room?” Eleven gorgeous women, of all ages, sat around the small room and excitedly greeted us as they presented us with sweets and small cups of coffee.
Are you married? Do you have children? New York is beautiful. I love Brad Pitt.
Despite the language barrier, we somehow made conversation and gossiped. No, I wasn’t married. No, I didn’t have children… even though I accidentally told my home-stay parents I did. Yes, New York is very beautiful. And I guess I love Brad Pitt too.
The room grew silent as a shadow appeared in the front door. “GRANDFATHER,” one of the girls exclaimed. “YOU MEET GRANDFATHER!” Excitement in the room grew. A small woman with a wrinkly tattooed face walked in smiling, showing off her front golden tooth that matched perfectly to the gold ring that pierced her nose. Grandmother had arrived. She began cracking jokes before she could even sit down.
Once everyone settled down, one of the women, originally from Saudi Arabia, asked if we would like to try on her hijab. Uhhh…Yes, please! They all clapped and laughed as the woman quickly handed over her abaya (the black dress they wear over their clothing), fixed my hijab and tied her niqad around my head, only exposing my eyes. A funny site indeed, but a gesture that I was extremely grateful for. They don’t let just anyone try on their clothes. Once again, I was feeling like the cool kid.
That’s me, rockin’ the hijab and niqad. Don’t I look pretty?
After many cups of coffee and fruit juice, and even more laughs, we all sat outside on the porch enjoying the sunset while the women took turns showing me literally every photo on their phones. I ooohed and ahhhhed as they showed me pictures of their trips to Mecca and detailed shots of wedding dresses and eye makeup. By the end of the night, I felt like I had been accepted into their culture. If I actually lived there, in the middle-of-no-where, Jordan, maybe we would all actually be good friends.
After endless amounts of thank yous and goodbyes, we walked back home, enjoying the night’s sky and admiring fireworks in the far off distance. We did it, we survived two days.
A happy camper, walking home after “girls night out”
My luck couldn’t have lasted too long. I woke up the next morning to our home-stay mother standing above me with a slightly creepy smile on her face. “Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo,” she said. “Uhh.. hi. Marhaba,” I said as I wiped my groggy eyes. My hands stung. I inspected them, noticing my fingers and wrists laced with bug bites. Wonderful.
After a simple breakfast and peeing in a hole against my will, we decided to play some ball with the little boy and watch the sheep while we waited for the bus to arrive. Eryn and I even convinced the family to let us hold their baby goat. Highlight of Badia, obviously.
“Ok, I’m ready to leave…right now,” I said. Eryn agreed. We patiently sat on the porch staring out into the distance and waited for time to pass. That’s when I saw it. The big yellow bus. Driving towards us from the left horizon. “YES,” I exclaimed. Eryn and I both started jumping up and down, dancing and waving while the bus driver drew closer and closer, honking his horn all the way. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Castaway, when Tom Hanks gets rescued by the boat. What would we do if the bus never found us?
We ran inside and grabbed our bags. “BUS,” we said, pointing to the front yard. “Shukran shukran shukran,” we repeated as we headed for the door.
“A’fwan, Ma’essalameh,” they said in return with a wave. You’re welcome. Goodbye.
I never thought I’d be so happy to be back on that bus.
So overall, my trip to the Badia wasn’t that great. Especially compared to some of the other student’s experience. But in the end, we were still grateful to the family that opened their home to us and some of the memories we received while there. Another lesson learned, another experience earned.
GOOD RIDDANCE, BADIA.