questions of identity

it’s been a while since i publicly self-reflected- blogging about working & living in Jordan has gotten more complex in its impact as i connect more socially here. and of course, increasing social connections cause me self-reflection; this is the topic most on my mind in the last month: identity.

of course living in a foreign country highlights one’s identity. outside of your home environment, your ability to navigate- oh yes, physically, but more importantly, socially and culturally-  is severely limited or even absent. the ways in which you would react to something back home-  to a joke, an idea, a new situation- are called into question. should you laugh at that kind of joke? should you respond with disgust to that idea? is it safe to react in that way to that situation?

i feel like there’s probably a psychology term for all of this….

last night, when i was hopelessly lost in Amman, i couldn’t read the signs (90% are solely in Arabic), find the roads on the map, or stop to ask for directions, speaking only about 15 words of Arabic. (I can ask ‘where’ but i don’t know the words for ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘east’, ‘west’, etc., so i can ask but not receive). i could have called a friend to ask for directions, but i’d need a landmark that we both recognized, and they would have to know how to guide me home from there. google maps is not very effective in a city where the road names are often not posted or used, and there are countless pathways to travel. i was driving in a city with constant speeding, sudden overpasses and interchanges (often unsigned), low consideration for traffic lanes, super-busy late-night traffic, and near-constant concrete barriers (hard to make a U-turn). it’s also freaking huge.

but, you know, you’re only as screwed as you think you are. after 90 mins of driving around lost (in literal [large] circles, and then accidentally to a suburb, then back) i did stop to ask for directions, and although i received a lot of curious/judgmental looks (men by a produce stand at 11 at night), i did get some help. i did eventually make it home.

culturally, i have found challenging:  1) continuous denouncements of Israel 2) boldly general statements about America 3) repetitively disappointing food 4) unquestioned homophobia 5) strict gender norms 6) lack of decent cocktails.

(the last one is a little less significant, but only a little)

all of these have made me realize I am not in Kansas (Cambridge) anymore.

which is why it’s so refreshing to identify where i *can* connect. tomorrow i’m going to a concert in Amman that is being hosted/sponsored by a company which creates and posts animated political satire, circulating them on social media. they received a lot of recognition for satires about Mubarak, Qadaffi, etc. – on which it is beyond important to hear from an Arab perspective. i read up on the company just to figure out where in the city the venue is, and now i’m even more interested to meet people and see places that are in support of them. other connections/happy recognitions: the organic farmer’s market at Wild Jordan; the nascent film scene; the criticism of the popular media. most meaningful is that, thanks to big-hearted and thoughtful friends from back home, i am meeting and becoming friends with some amazingly lovely, intellectual, creative people here. nothing makes you feel at home more than friends; and i would say good conversations are the most fulfilling part of that.

i am realizing:  how much irony and satire are a default mode of interaction for certain East Coast educated Americans; how much i value the arts (visual, musical, gastronomical); how much engaging socially can remedy all kinds of hurts.

it’s ok here, guys. occasionally i need a hug. but it’s fun to be learning.


2 thoughts on “questions of identity

  1. Sociologists try to describe cultural dislocation in the iceberg model. The image is symbolic of how much more there is to trying to adapt to a foreign culture than most immigrants realize beforehand. The most deeply submerged part = values, perceptions, assumptions, etc. that are most intimately woven into one’s identity and most difficult to even imagine another way of being.


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