Monday, October 2, 2017

Nocturnal Animals Live Near Me

We are somewhere between two and three months in Amman, Jordan, and life is starting to assume a new, if syncopated, normal. The kids' existence is largely shaped by the demands of school. Mine is largely shaped by the demands of work. Elise's is perhaps the most without rigid form. This is the first time in nine years she has been without a child underfoot at home. She is in the midst of two large transitions: the transition from living in the U.S. to living in Jordan and the transition from having at least one child at home and to none. I would argue the second of the two is perhaps the more difficult. Unsurprisingly, she is busier than ever.

Though we have a car, gas is expensive and parking is scarce. It is still sometimes easier to take an Uber to where we want to go. Most days, I don't even have the motivation to want to try to maneuver our car out of our tiny parking space in our tiny parking garage. Most days, I come within a hair's-breadth of taking out at least two concrete columns. Elise takes Ubers to the fruit stand and grocery store. She tells me the Uber drivers are kind and forgiving of her rudimentary Arabic. Without fail, they ask where she is from. When she responds, "America", without fail they tell her, "You are welcome," and mean it. The response is one of many kindnesses bestowed upon us by the Jordanian people, but still gives us pauses, and makes us wonder if we just thanked them for something without remembering.

Elise says a common theme among Uber-drivers is their desire to make sure it is understood Islam is a peaceful religion. When you think about it from their perspective it is easy to understand. They are given a rare and unexpected opportunity to talk directly to an American, something that just fell in their lap by the providence that is Uber algorithms, literally being in the right place at the right time, perhaps never thinking they would ever meet or talk to a real-life American, perhaps talking to many Americans daily. Nevertheless, we think it is telling they take this one opportunity to ensure we understand Islam is peaceful.

On her last Uber ride, Elise told me the driver was especially earnest to communicate with her. Rather than keeping his eyes on the road or following directions in Google Maps, he was using his iPhone as a translator as he drove, eager to be understood. He would ask her a question in Arabic, then hand her his iPhone so she could read the translation.

He asked her several questions in this manner, a few about religion, a few about where she was from and what she was doing in Jordan.

Then, he handed her the iPhone. The words on the screen read, "Nocturnal animals live near me."

Elise paused and looked up, confused. She handed the phone back to the driver.

The driver took one look at the screen and burst into laughter. Elise couldn't help, but follow suit. They carried on like that for several minutes. I don't know if she ever figured out what he was trying to say; they soon arrived at their destination, eyes wet with tears of laughter. 

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