Like a home by Lena Al Abbasi

As the plane headed to Rome was taking off, I cast one last look at the sparkling lights of Amman fading within the clouds. A bit by bit the night snatched off the very last glitter of those lights as the plane snatched me out of Amman. And a big part of myself, my beloved ones, my future, all of that was left behind.

Although Amman  is not my birthplace, I still call it a home. That city lined up my being for the past eight years as those lights lined up its streets. In those eight years I can say I learned all that really matters in life, and formed most of my opinions and thoughts on the world; I learned about the real essence of Islam, my religion, which I consider the purpose of my being.

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This scene of the plane taking off takes me back to a similar night eight years ago when I was leaving Baghdad, my actual birthplace. Ironically, I don’t remember having intense feelings towards leaving “the 2003, after war Baghdad”; even to a twelve year old it was obvious that it wasn’t a decent place to live anymore. The color red shaded the news, the sound of bombs were more familiar to your ears than your own voice. Water, electricity and gas were luxuries we can’t consider anymore. Tragedy visited every house one way or another. I still recall the bitter taste of an unknown fate of our neighbor who never came home. “Where is my son, khala?” we all knew the answer, but who could ever respond? People were going mad with everything that was happening and anyone who wanted to keep their sanity had to leave. We gathered ourselves; my parents, my two siblings and I. And Amman, Jordan, which is right across the western borders of Iraq, was our destination.

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Amman is a heterogeneous city in the nationalities, ethnicities and religions of its people. As the whole area surrounding Jordan has been an area of wars and political conflicts, not only Iraqis like me, but most Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and Egyptians, just like we did, chose Amman to be their temporary refuge. And besides Arabs, other nationalities came to study Islamic sciences and Arabic from all over Asia and Europe. In addition to all the Circassians, Chechens, Armenians from worldwide countries. This had an obvious impact on all aspects of the Jordanian culture. Each culture added its own unique spice to the recipe and Amman flourished with Iraqi restaurants, Syrian dessert shops and Egyptian eatery workers.

All This had also made the relatively small Amman a very crowded city in its population. And with its social-oriented people and their tendency to gather and share, Amman became a weaved network of relationships where everyone knows everyone somehow; there was always a surprising list of mutual friends between you and that “new” friend you’re adding on Facebook! And this made Amman a juicy environment for drama and gossip. And especially when it’s your turn to be the subject of gossip, the more people you knew, the more you’ll wish you didn’t. And my philosophy of “minding my own business”, thankfully, spared me many times from being the “juice”.

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Alhasani, Ali. 2014. Https://www.facebook.com/streetphotographerali, Amman.

As you walk down its narrow streets, in most parts of the city, vintage four story building complexes would line up separated by small family-owned markets every few blocks, giving the city a smudge of coziness. Almost wherever you live, it doesn’t take you more than a five minutes’ walk to get to the store, buy those eggs or bread you just found out you need for breakfast, or simply some candy bars and snacks for your unplanned friends’ visit. Unlike here in Houston, it was never hard to get around without a car.

One thing I won’t miss is transportation. Cars in Amman are very expensive and the process of parking is a stir; you would keep going round and round to find a place to park your car, because parking lots are “not applicable”. And usually you have to take a taxi. In Amman, the process of finding a taxi teaches you patience, as the time you’ll wait for a taxi may extend from one minute to forty-five in average; persuasion, as the taxi driver may not like to go to the destination you want for his own reasons; and self-control, for the various situations you’ll face in traffic. You just have to be prepared for the worst and accept within yourself the fact that the process won’t be easy!

One of the things an outside visitor would definitely notice in Amman is how religion is interrelated with almost all aspects of the individual’s life. Religion is one of the main and most important bonds among the society. The two main religions in Amman would be Islam and Christianity, with the Muslims being the majority. Religious ceremonies like the month of Ramadan, for example, when Muslims would fast from food and drinks from sun dawn till sunset, and devote themselves to spiritual reading of the Qur’an and prayers, would make all Muslims unite as they are all experiencing the same hunger, thirst and the inclination for spiritual purification. It would also narrow the gap between the wealthy and those who are in need, and encourage the wealthy to give. Looking back now, I realized how beautiful it was to sit together as a family, waiting to eat the exact same time on one table. One other element that life in Houston had  taken away with all the “flexible” work schedules we have. On the other hand, Christians would also avoid eating or drinking in public and having major feasts during daytime in respect and unity with their Muslim friends and neighbors. Muslims would also exchange text messages with their Christian friends every Christmas, and all together, celebrate the New Year.

When it comes to gender relationships in an Arabic society with a Muslim majority like the one in Amman, you would notice how females wear the Hijab. They cover their hair and their bodies as a symbol of purity, virtue and modesty. And besides to it being a religious obligation, they believe that they should be treated with respect and dealt with based on their intellectual rather than their physical beauty. We would also notice the focus on regulations that governs a relationship between a male and a female in the society. Many people here in Texas find it extremely strange that I don’t shake hands with men while where I’m from, it’s rude and disrespectful to ask to shake a lady’s hand. The Sanctity of relationships between males and females is highly considered. Therefore, terms like single moms, mutual custody, and children who don’t know their fathers are ones that do not exist in that community. A home is created through a legally married couple who willingly decides to create and raise a family.

It had been seven months now since I had left Amman. And on last Wednesday, the forth of February, I heard the news. It was all over Facebook; a Jordanian pilot was brutally killed by a terrorist counter culture called “ISIS”. He was burned alive; inflaming the fury of Jordanians, and inviting in further calamities. The video was removed from YouTube few hours after it was published for how brutal it was. The terror is stretching its legs, leaving me to wonder if my beloved Amman is more similar to Baghdad than I thought, if it’s going to face the same fate, and become another Baghdad, to which I can never return.

Lena Al abbasi, born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1994, and lived there until the age of twelve. Since an early age, she showed interest in reading and passion to writing. In 2006, she moved to Amman, Jordan three years after the United States attacked and left her journals and her passion behind. In Amman She was an honor student in from high school, and graduated in 2012. For two years, she majored in pharmacy before moving to Texas, United States to start over. Now she’s majoring in biotechnology and aiming towards an M.D after.

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Like a home by Lena Al Abbasi

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