A moment at maghrib: “Peeling Oranges” series

In the spring of 2012, when I first lived in Amman, I started a series on my blog called “Peeling Oranges.” It was a place where I hoped to publish short vignettes or poem-like reflections on moments throughout my days where I experience “Divine-human mingling,” as spiritual writer Fr. Anthony Oelrich calls it.  Now, as I begin my nine-month experience living again in the country which bears my name, I plan to continue this series. The following is my first entry in this new phase of “Peeling Oranges.” I’ve decided that this short piece—instead of a Q&A piece explaining why I’m here and what I’m doing—is more appropriate for my first blog post back in Jordan. I hope starting from a place of prayer can not only set the tone for my blog this time around, but also help my readers understand the way in which I’m trying to view my experience here.

You can access previous posts in the series by searching “peeling oranges” or by reading the initial entry, which explains the series’ title.

August 29, 2013

I sit on the balcony of my new, second-story apartment, swirling pita bread in a slimy, gritty mixture of olive oil and za’atar. It’s my favorite time of day here, right before maghrib, and my neighborhood in Jabal al-Hussein echoes with the shrieks and laughs of children. In the pink night of evening, boys scuffle in the street playing soccer, an old man in a gray robe shuffles down the street with his cane, and women in long dresses walk home with groceries.

Just below my flat, a young mother walks slowly, her fingers squeezed tight around the hand of her young daughter, who stumbles along in a purple dress, learning to walk. Back and forth they go in front of my building, which I soon discover I share with them. I shout down a quick introduction to my new neighbors, and little Amira smiles up at me from Zainab’s arms. Continuing their stroll, Zeyneb whispers and repeats new words like “sky” and “building” as Amira points to them.

After days of worry, exhaustion, and doubt that Amman could ever again feel like home, this fleeting moment—one I didn’t expect—brought me calm and peace. It made me remember two passages from my prayer book that I had read shortly before:

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient.” James 5: 7-9

“At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Antiphon)

There, at my favorite time of day, was my Friend. Not only sitting next to me on the empty balcony, but laughing in the street and pointing a chubby finger toward the heavens.

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.


On Friday, I said I’d be posting two more reflections on 9/11 this weekend, one yesterday and one today.  But nothing was posted last night, and it’s likely nothing will be posted today.   I wrote a lot yesterday, didn’t finish, and didn’t finish a lot of important homework.   I’ve got to deal with this homework before I finish up yesterday’s post and start on today’s.  So it might be a few days down the road before they’re up.  They won’t be so timely, but I think they’ll still be quite relevant.

Thoughts from My Teacher

Here is a great op-ed written by John Esposito, one of my former professors at Georgetown.

John Esposito

His piece addresses the wide-spread and unnecessary backlash against the planned Cordoba House, an Islamic and interfaith community center that is to be built blocks from Ground Zero.  Esposito’s views to me seem like common sense, but sadly, there are many in the U.S who still adhere to the fear of Islam that is so destructive to our supposedly tolerant and democratic society.