Thursday, March 30, 2006

Jill Carroll's release

Samer and I were ecstatic this morning upon hearing of Jill Carroll's release. I first read about it on Natasha's blog and found myself struggling all morning to refrain from crying for joy in public, most notably in front of all the moms at the pre-school drop-off. Later on, I was rocking out on the cross trainer at the gym and saw Natasha, cute as ever, talking about it on CNN (sorry, Natasha, I know you're all grown up but I still think of you as a young'un.)

I don't know Jill (although I think those of us following her story through Natasha's blog kind of feel like we do) but I've found that my response to her capture and release has been extremely visceral. Perhaps too close to home. And while I feel kind of weird going into a very personal tangent in relation to Jill's extraordinary story, I realize that I feel a kinship of sorts to her just based on what I've heard about the manner in which she chose to live in the Arab World.

There are very few foreigners I know who have taken the trouble to learn the language, truly immersed themselves in their surroundings and used the knowledge they gleaned of life there to engage themselves as activists, of sorts. People like that are truly special and, in my mind, represent what it's all about to take on life in a foreign land.

I've written quite a bit about belonging and how that becomes a lens from which one views everything when choosing to make a life in a country and culture not your own. At least, that's how I've always experienced it. I continually wanted to believe that I "fit in" enough when I lived in Jordan--and perhaps I did--but still I was constantly nagged with the perception that I would never stop being considered a foreigner, no matter if I spent the entire rest of my life there.

I've often noticed that when in Jordan, I often attempt to legitimize myself to some extent, by saying things like, "Oh yes, I'm American, but my husband's Jordanian" or making sure to speak Arabic and not appear to be like all those other expats in town--particularly after Bush II was truly voted in this last time. The idea that I had been living in Amman for 7 years and every time I opened my mouth and spoke Arabic (a routine occurrence) someone would ask me at least five questions about just why that was, was endearing but a constant reminder of my oddness. Like them, but not like them. Perhaps it's not that big of a deal, but for me living like this day in and day out for years made questioning my belonging a very central theme.

And so maybe that's why I pored over information about Jill. The same way I did when Margaret Hassan, who I greatly admired, was kidnapped and later killed in Iraq. They're people like me, I suppose. Just trying to fit in and carry their load. Their stories put a spotlight on that question that's always in the back of my mind when I'm in Jordan: does making a home in the Middle East, learning the language and loving the people really matter or make a difference?

Not that I would ever in a million years fear for my life in Jordan. My questioning, however, is also very much tied to raising my son here in the present-day United States. I've heard all the talk that's been going down since the Dubai Ports deal has given anyone and everyone, it seems, a license to be as racist as they never thought they could be in public. And while I truly believe that Ismael's life in going to be much richer as a result of the two worlds he belongs to, I feel a tinge of remorse that perhaps one day he will struggle with his sense of belonging in just the way I do.

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