In November, I heard in passing about a program that brings college students to Lebanon to teach English to Palestinian refugees. In February, I applied and was accepted to partake in it. I booked my flight to Beirut. I received good news from the Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP). Everything seemed perfect. Then throughout June, I was holding my breath as news came out of Lebanon. Having been in tune with Arab politics for years, I knew well that the media sensationalizes its events and figured everything would be fine. “Ça va,” as the Francophone Lebanese are known to say. Nonetheless, I woke up one June morning to a flood of iPhone notifications. I read “cancelled” here and “how are you feeling?” there. Before opening any of those messages, I rushed for my Gmail account and found the dreaded letter from LEAP explaining that, due to the political climate, the program was cancelled, only a few days before it was set to begin.
It was my sister’s birthday, so I had to suck it up and go to lunch, which was at a posh Brazilian steakhouse in Chicago’s West suburbs. Seeing as I had no appetite, my presence there was a fantastic waste of money. All I wanted to do was sit on my laptop and figure out what to do next and maybe wallow in some self-pity. I was heartbroken. That day I learned that heartbreak comes in many forms. I was looking forward to an experience. I had dreamt and imagined what it would be like, and now it would never be realized. It broke up with me before I could even give myself to it.
To make matters more [financially] complicated, I had invested in it and invested others in it as well. What was I going to tell the amazing SIGP counselors? To top it off, it seemed my flight could not be cancelled no matter how hard I tried. As I fought in vain with airline companies on the phone, I received a message from a friend, Sara, who is a bit of a saint, telling me that she’s been working in Amman, Jordan for a couple of months already, that it is full of non-profit opportunities (Amman is bustling with refugees) and that there is room in her family’s place for me.
Boom. Amman? My parents are from Amman. I’ve been to Amman. I have relatives in Amman. In fact, I’m overdue for a trip to Amman anyway! As my summer Facebook photo album later came to be titled, “Beirut is a heartbreaker, but we’ll always have Amman.” I kept the booking to Lebanon since the involved parties gave me no choice in the matter anyway, and I added another booking: Beirut to Amman. As if things were meant to be, it all came together perfectly, and SIGP remained so patient and helpful along the way. My aunt in Amman told me, “ahla w sahla, and bring a dress because there’s a wedding reception coming up.” Off to Amman I went, dress in hand.
When I arrived, I got to know several organizations and quickly settled down with Save the Children – Jordan. I ended up doing much more than working. No two days were ever the same: Arabic rock concerts, Ramadan iftars, reconnecting with family, weird cab rides, Rainbow Street, weekend trips with Americans in Jordan studying Arabic, meeting up with other Arab Americans visiting for the summer, rooftop chill sessions and studio jam sessions, café hopping, thinking about how I might want to return to the motherland in a permanent kind of way, feeling mad at my parents for identity issues that I cannot even begin to explain here, arguing with cashiers at tourist spots about how they better charge me the Jordanian price even though I don’t have the ID on hand, seeing Palestine’s mountains from across the Dead Sea and aching to roam them, being so busy and not understanding how or when I became so busy… This has been my life in Amman, if I can do it justice with a list.
Thinking back on the summer, I wonder what will become of me when this experience and I go our separate ways. When will I come back, and to what will I return? What projects will my friendly co-workers at Save the Children take on next and with refugees from where? They ask me, “Will we see you next summer?” I shrug. Inshallah.
Serene Darwish ’15 is a rising junior studying Economics, Statistics and Spanish at Northwestern. She has spent her summer living abroad in Amman, Jordan and interning in the non-profit sector.
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