Things I won’t forget (“Peeling Oranges” final installment)

As I finish up my writing about Jordan and Palestine, I’d like to share some final snapshots.


My host mom, who walks by my room and says a cheerful “Keefik ya Jordan?” after a long day at work. 

My baby sister, who sits on my lap, pressing the tops of my fingernails and squeezing the skin between my thumb and forefinger.

My nine-year-old brother, who spins a Frisbee in the street, mumbling songs from Glee in broken English.

My twenty-year-old sister, who throws her head back in a hoarse laugh, and slapping her leg.

My sixteen-year-old sister, who kicks her feet as she shows us her new dakbeh dance moves.

A nine-year-old neighbor boy, who shyly says “marhaba” as the white blossoms of a cherry tree fall into his black hair.

An Iraqi tweenage refugee, who invites me to play basketball, her icy blue eyes growing wide on her creamy face that reminds me of an upturned almond, shaved of its skin.

Our cab driver Samir in Bethlehem, who insists on showing us Aida refugee camp, the separation wall, and the famous graffiti that’s sprayed on it.

Our tour guide ‘Eisa (Jesus) at the Nativity church in Bethlehem, who explains every detail of the church, and shares with us his frightening childhood memories of the 1967 war.

Our favorite Armenian shopkeeper Maro in Jerusalem, who tells us about her daughter in America while selling us hand-embroidered crafts from West Bank cities at a discounted price.

Our fellow travelers from our hostel in Jerusalem (a Yankee, a Scot, an Aussie, and a Kiwi), who make me realize that I need no reason or justification to travel and see the world. 


Clouds sweep over the golden Dome of the Rock, the orange rooftops, and the green Mount of Olives—all visible from a church bell tower in Jerusalem’s center.

Flocks of birds dipping and turning between the boxy, cement hills of Amman in the pinkness of twilight.

The viridian, rock-studded hills of north Jordan, which seem to shift and overlap as our bus flies down the slopes.


Spoonfuls of sugar and sage leaves in boiling black tea.

Spinach-laden broth poured over steaming, soft rice. 

Olive oil and zaatar (a thyme and sesame seed mixture) stuffed between the folds of warm pita.

Lemon and mint blended together in a cold glass.

Crispy falafel and yogurt-covered cucumbers in a sesame-bread sandwich.



City-Dwelling Shepherds: Thoughts Upon Leaving Jordan

No wonder we find metaphors about shepherds and sheep all throughout the Bible—here, in Jordan and the Holy Land, they are abundant.  Just drive a bit outside Amman and you’ll see little boys cleaning their sheep in the river or an old man guiding his flock across the highway. 

So it seemed quite appropriate with the Gospel reading at my last Mass at my English-language parish here spoke of the “good shepherd,” about the way God walks with us, and even carries us through life. 

As I reflect on my time in Jordan and those I’ve met and come to love here, I realize that shepherds are even more plentiful than what I’ve seen in the Jordanian countryside.  They are in my home and my university, in cabs and cafés.  They have carried me during the last four months.

In the way that shepherds make a home for their flock in places that may be far away and new, my friends and family here have done the same for me.  

When I was in Bethlehem recently, I bought a carved, wooden statue of Jesus carrying a small lamb.  I was drawn to it because of the way in which it captured the way God has been with me throughout my time in Jordan—through those the shepherds who have sheltered me, feed me, and simply given me room to play and grow in this new place. 

As I make my way back to the States, that statue will help me remember the shepherds I’ve met here, and the home that they will always provide for me here, whenever I return.

Hassan Al-Deeyafeh (“Peeling Oranges” Series)

The green, stone-strewn hills beckoned us out of the city and welcomed us into their fields, bursting with yellow flowers and fed by a gushing stream.  As two friends and I descended into the valley, passing homes and shops, children waved hello while washing their goats, and men took long strides to catch up with my friend, David, shaking his hand as they exchanged phrases like, “Go in peace” and “God be with you.”

Wadi As-seer (Seer Valley)

Walking along the road, I glanced down at a home nestled into the hill.

Marhaba!” I said a woman sitting on the patio and holding her small son.

Waving, she said, “tafaddili.” Gesturing toward her home below, she was inviting us inside.

After exchanging glances, we decided that our trip to the ancient Jewish castle in the valley could wait and accepted the invitation.  For the next hour, we talked in broken colloquial Arabic with this woman and her family who treated us like their own children, even though we were strangers.

Under the shade of a grape tree bursting with new, green buds, we sipped gritty coffee and clear tea. While the family leaned against the wall of the house, we sat in plastic chairs, our glasses resting on shiny wooden tables brought outside from the living room onto the patio.

The branches of the grape tree split the sunlight into shards that stretched across the faces of our hosts—Reema, Muhammad, Rami, Abdullah, Aseel, and Ahmed—and I willed my mind to remember every feature of their faces, and more importantly, their small gestures that spoke of infinite kindness.

I won’t forget the mother Reema, who pleaded with us to stay for lunch, and the way her gray hijab fell down around her shoulders as she stuck her head out of the kitchen door to toss out trash.

And Muhammad, the quiet father, his eyes crinkling from the sunlight as he offered us fresh mint to suck on.

And Rami, the eldest son wearing a tight pink shirt and a baseball hat, who served us our drinks and told us about the annoyances of his electrical engineering program at the Hashimite University.

And Abdullah, the nine-year-old busy-body who stood tip-toe on tree branches to pluck fuzzy, green unripe almonds for us to eat.

And Aseel, the shy seven-year-old who bounced a blue marble against the stone floor, and tied a green scarf around her own legs, playing a pretend prisoner game.

And the baby Ahmad, who sat burrowed in his mother’s arms, stuffing his hands into a glass of coffee and smearing the grime all over his face.

After we eventually waved goodbye and continued on our way, I realized that this is why I’d come to Jordan: to experience and learn from hassan al-deeyafeh, the “hospitality” that makes the Arab world such a beautiful place.   It’s the principle that a stranger can’t walk through your town without being offered a place to sit, drink, and eat.  Other petty obligations can wait, because people and relationships are most important.

Throughout my time here, I’ve experienced this hospitality countless times: when my cab driver went from car to car to break my 20JD bill, so I could get the proper change; when my host brother placed a bouquet of wildflowers next to my bed before I woke up one morning; and when shopkeepers truly care about how I’m doing, and insist that I take a trinket from their store as a gift.

If there is one story I can bring back to the States, it’s this one.  If there is one thing I want Americans to know about this country I now call home, it is hassan al-deeyafeh.

And if there is one thing that I hope to bring home and adopt in my own life, it’s hospitality.  As the Catholic theologian Louis Massignon often talked about, we all must adopt the hospitality that is so present in the Arab world, because it exemplifies the way Jesus wanted us to treat our neighbors, enemies, and even strangers.

“Let brotherly love continue. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2