A Little Vignette…Smiles, and the Nature of Memory

I find it hard to describe the way my memories often work — I remember experiences as if a single Polaroid photo was taken of each event. Sometimes, mini vignettes play out and conversations echo around the central snapshot memory; rarely the whole event, instead brief and often times quite inconsequential moments.

My earliest childhood memories standout in this fashion and already snapshots of memories from my trip to Jordan this past May are bubbling to the surface as snippets. These people may never remember my name and face in ten years, but these are pieces of the memories I take with me. Not all of my memories. No,  certainly not all. But instead a few moments that made a brief impression, they created enough of an impact to come back and make me smile all over again.


Coffee in Amman, Jordan

A young man shows me how he makes his street-side coffee in Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan, a capital city churning with activity, hemorrhaging with people, and pulsating with an open curiosity throughout the nearly uniform off-white and cream sandstone brick buildings. The Western woman is still a bit of a novelty on the streets of Amman and stopping to catch a photo of a busy street-side coffee spot yielded hilarity. Far from the innocuous “take a surreptitious photo and move on” mentality I had planned, rapid and friendly Arabic exploded onto the street as I slowed with my camera pointed toward something intriguing.

This oh-so-young coffee barista was prodded into action with a playful admonition from a Jordanian man perched against a car nearby; Ali, my guide translated the interchange between the two men: “quick, make a cup of coffee so she can take a photo!”

Although no one was buying a drink at that moment, our diffident and goofy barista worked in slow-motion to make a cup of coffee so I could document the entire process (unprompted by me, mind you!). Everyone in the nearby vicinity was entertained and my only regret is that I don’t speak a lick of Arabic and thus lost out on the comments and observations from anyone nearby; our scene induced giggling and smiling from on-lookers and I hammed it up for them, documenting the tiny coffee nuances, as well as the big grins.


Rasun tent camp, Jordan

A friendly man in the mountains near Rasun invite us to tour his property and share some tea in Jordan.

The restless and rapid friendliness of Amman (it is a capital city after all) transitioned into a slower pace outside of Ajloun, a wooded and forested region in the north. The green and verdancy came as an abrupt jolt as I passively watched the endless miles of stretching desert give way to a rolling hills and crisper, cooler air.

Smiles waited for me high on a hilltop in Rasoun at the Tourist Tent Camp; the setting is remote and quiet, with views of nearby Syrian mountains and Palestine, alongside a new cultural lesson to take away for the day. I shared a tea with Zuher, the owner of the mountainside tent camp before some sweet moments with his lovely daughters; they were completely intrigued by us as foreigners. The eldest daughter, shy but beseeching, she so desperately wanted her father to continue prodding her to practice her English with us and the cute dimple when she fully faced us, no longer pushing herself into her father’s leg for security, and shared her age and name was so very, very sweet.


Dinner in Rasun, Jordan

A family dinner in Rasun, Jordan.

Cooking dinner with a family in nearby Rasun just hours later yielded more giggling, smiling girls, eager to handhold and be held. I miss my niece and nephews something fierce when I’m on the road, changing destinations and they’re back home, losing teeth and growing up. So the time with these children, a brief window into their lives and interactions intrigues me—I compare experiences, attitudes, and that ever-so-present smile. Even the shyest children around the world will reward the patient and attentive with a smile.

I bounced between playing with the children running through the house and kitchen-time with the women of the house as we cooked dinner. Just us women cooked and shared, we were  sequestered away from the men who sat outside swapping stories around the garden fountain. These moments stand out as some of the quieter moments of gentle cultural exchange. A cutting board, knife and some quick gestures communicated enough to prepare the dinner with the mother and daughter duo. I’m not an adept cook in any country, so Jordan was no exception and my blunders in cutting (I mean really, is anyone fantastic at mincing?!) created the universally understood chuckle as I grinned and did my best.


Bedouin in Feyan, Jordan

Abu Abdullah was quite the character as he taught us how to make traditional cardamom coffee in his tent near the Feynan Ecolodge in Wadi Feynan, Jordan.

I gripped the small glass cup delicately on the rim to avoid a burn and one sip of tea was enough to shoot my eyebrows to my forehead as my eyes widened in surprise. I contemplated the cultural differences indicated by our palates as I comfortably settled further into a brightly colored woven blanket, feet crossed Indian-style and a cup of steaming hot, super-sweet Bedouin tea in my hand. The Bedouin are such an intriguing culture; so different from my own. Without packaged sweets accessible in their diet, traditional Bedouin tea is served piping hot right from the fire and with a boat-load of sugar.

As the sugar seeped down my throat, I glanced up and noticed Abu Abdullah studying our group with what can only be called a mischievous grin. I cautiously continued sipping my tea and watched as he prepared the beans for our lesson on how to make traditional Bedouin coffee. The women nearby, watched avidly at my every gesture, but not in an “holy cow I’m under the microscope” way, but rather a with a curiosity and keen interest I reciprocated mere minutes later when I learned to make jameed, a thick goat’s milk yogurt.


smiling camel in Wadi Feynan camp in Jordan

Even the camels smile in Jordan! The camels at the eco-camp in Wadi Feynan are treated by the bedouin like cherished members of the community. The owner of these happy camels had a deep bond with the animals and he took delight in introducing us to his animals, and then carefully selecting which camels we would ride for our sunrise camel ride.

The sunrise was magnificent, and it remains one of my most lasting memories of traveling Jordan. But coupled with that are memories of hugging baby camels and learning about how the bedouin integrate the camels into so many parts of their daily lives.


Jordan driver and guide

Ali and Rami waiting patiently at sunset as Jodi and I snap millions of photos of the sun on the desert mountains!

There’s no single moment to pin down for Ali and Rami, my guide and driver for the ten days I spent in Jordan as the guest of the Jordan Tourism Board. The entire ten days  are soaked with laughter in my memories; my laughter, their laughter, all of us in fits and stitches as we drove the stretches of desert highway.

My friend and I are full of shenanigans when we travel together and Jordan was no exception. I didn’t expect, however, that Ali and Rami would embrace our senses of humor and take us through not only the historic sites and serious discussions about Jordan, but the lighter side of friendly banter as we toured and explored.

In short, we met as strangers and parted as friends.

These are snippets of other people’s lives that stuck with me; I enjoyed their company for mere minutes in some cases, and yet the imprint of the interactions sit on my memory.  I always wish that I could travel back to a moment in time; I don’t want to just revisit Jordan…but instead I have an emotional attachment to the experience I had.

And if I go back it will be different. Good different, bad different…that’s all here nor there. It’s just always different. This is the case with nearly every country, every time I make new friends and spend time exploring and enjoying I know that if and when I return the world will have shifted.  I feel this way about Jordan, Nepal, and Thailand. And Laos, where I had a wacky happenstance run-in with Laura, a college-years friend, just one day into my six weeks backpacking around Southeast Asia; though unplanned, we spent six weeks exploring Laos and Cambodia together and I loved both countries so much, but with her anecdotes and presence also in those snapshot memories.

I love these random moments that pop into my head months and years after I leave a country—these are the ones most prevalent right now and I’ve been collecting the snapshot images from my brain for weeks. I’m intrigued to ponder what may stir to the surface a year from now, and even ten years.

Tell me, have you had any moments and snapshots of memories percolate to the surface months and years later? Would love to hear your thoughts below! :)

(Please refresh the page if you can’t see the slideshow below!)


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15 Responses to A Little Vignette…Smiles, and the Nature of Memory

  1. Joshua Johnson July 27, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    Wonderful photos! I read this post today, http://matadornetwork.com/notebook/the-way-place-holds-memory/ , right before I saw yours and the two go hand in hand.

  2. Butterflydiary July 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Memory is the aspect of travel I work on, on a daily basis. I think in pictures and vignettes and colors and people need to come to life before my eyes (in my mind’s eye, at any rate). Blogging and capturing photos helps because it helps cement these images. Love the photos!

  3. Mike Sowden July 22, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    I always find a terrible poignancy in memories that good. There’s a dangerous call in them – an urge to go back and try to recapture that memory, to cross the same river twice. I’m just back from Austria for the second time in my life, and the first time was such a poweful and pivotal moment for me that it was difficult to avoid comparing the second trip to it, to find my revisist an anticlimax, a letdown. There’s the danger of good travel memories….

    And the answer is simple. Embrace the difference and dig for the novelty in every situation. And embrace the people, too. (Figuratively. Or hey, literally too – although in my case, a 39 year old man hugging random people in the street, well, that’s certainly a way to have a *memorable* holiday as I take the full tour of local law enforecement facilities).

    In terms of memories bobbing to the surface…I grew up in Cyprus, and certaion smells or tastes – kalamari, olive oil, the smell of hot pita bread, the tang of sea salt, really really fresh tomatoes – they transport me, putting me in shorts and sending me running barefoot over hot sand, my blond curls (don’t laugh) covering my eyes, until I fell over. (Even back then, I fell over a lot).

    I returned to Cyprus in 2006. It was next-to-nothing like how I remembered it. And yet, I instantly felt at home. Sometimes the heart remembers better than the mind does.

    • Anonymous July 23, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      Love the last line you wrote “sometimes the hear remembers better than the
      mind” –so lovely and well stated. I have found this true over and over
      again in my life, where my memories and reality don’t quite match up…a lot
      of times I find myself attributing it to the eyes of a child, where more
      things are wonderous because in my memories of childhood I wasn’t jaded yet,
      hadn’t seen other places with the same palm tree-lined beaches, instead it
      was a shining moment of uniquity (made that word up). :) Thanks for
      weighing in Mike!

  4. Sidvic July 21, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    i love reading travel blogs.  as someone who hasn’t done a lot of traveling, it’s like picking up a great novel.  But i can relate on the few times I have traveled, my memories are tied strongly to a smell or a sound.  My most prevalent percolating memory is the sound of an electric fan cutting through hot, heavy air.  It reminds me of the Philippines and the wonderful people i met.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Anonymous July 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      Thanks Sidvic! Your image of the fan evokes my own memories of Asia too –
      the think humidity, an almost dripping wet blanket of heat as the fan slices
      through, pushing the warm air. Such a wonderfully evocative way to remember
      the Philippines. Cheers and thanks for stopping in and sharing your memory!

  5. Andi Perullo July 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    Such great people shots!  People really make the place, huh?

    • Anonymous July 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

      They really do make the difference if you can find some great conversations!

  6. Amy and Jarrad July 19, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    What a lovely set of photos!  Looks like you had an amazing time!

    • Anonymous July 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

      It was a real highlight for me to travel there this year! So glad I went!
      Thanks for popping in :)

  7. Maria Falvey July 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    Great memory shapshots!

  8. Darmabum July 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    I can’t strictly remember if I brushed my teeth this morning . . . but I have a very definite memory of Saruja making home made peanut butter for me in Madurai before heading off to Kodaikanal . . . and that was 29 years ago.  

    I started my international travel 32 years ago, and have very definite memories of that first trip – an exploratory raft trip to Peru, a river un-run and untried.  I remember looking at the map of the area of that Peruvian river in the spring of 1979, at a friend’s house in California . . . and remember that the area we were headed was white . . . not a feature on it, in short, unmapped.  Literally, terra incognita.

    At least ten extended international journeys have followed that first one.  China, Tibet, Indonesia, India (five times, almost three years there), Pakistan, Bali, Iceland, Europe – a number of times, those along with many epic trips within the USofA . . . solo sea kayaking in Alaska . . . numerous extended boat cruises in the Sea of Cortez . . . ten times rowing my raft through the Grand Canyon . . . memories on top of memories on top of . . . 

    Many come back to me without seeking them, they do, it seems, seek me.  Some are reconstituted by some smell or glint of light off of a window . . . some by sound . . . I welcome them each time, delighted that they remember me.

    • Anonymous July 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

      I really love how you phrased that at the end, about the memories seeking
      you and remembering you–what a lovely way to think about it rather than the
      inverse. It wonderful how sometimes the slightest smell, or the way the
      light is falling through the window can transport our memories right
      directly back to some place so far back in time. Like you, I often forget
      the mundane details of my current week, but then will have the most vivid
      memories of something from years ago!

      Thanks for sharing your memories and stories; always intrigued to see how
      other people remember events and travels as time passes :)

  9. Stephanie - The Travel Chica July 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Love these photos of the people you shared special moments with.  One of the best parts of travel.

    • Anonymous July 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

      Thanks Stephanie! I agree, it’s those quick interactions you didn’t even
      seek out that often become so memorable :)

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