Categories: JordanMiddle East

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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! :)

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This post was last modified on December 10, 2016, 12:18 pm