After a summer break of some two months, Passages Home is back!
During these months, I traveled to Jordan and to Palestine. Access to wifi was slow, border crossings were frustrating, and the general mood of the people was wistful for better times. Still, the weather was transcendent, the reunions with friends from decades past affirming, and the return to spoken Arabic restorative.
The day after my arrival in Amman, we set out to the Ghor, the Jordan Valley, known for the fertility of its soil, the warmth of its winters, and its proximity to sites of religious significance.
It was late afternoon when we got there, and immediately began our meanderings–in the distance, the strange whiteness of the Dead Sea, on our skin the stinging warmth of the setting sun, and all around us this beautiful tree whose name we did not know. No one seemed to have an answer for us. We were about to leave the area when we happened on a small group of workers at a building site. We asked, they did not know. Then, one of the men asked a couple of other men working a few meters away if they knew what the name of the tree was. One of them stepped forward a bit awkwardly, feeling his way almost.
“It’s called jamila,” he said. Jamila is Arabic for beautiful.
I noticed that one of his eyes had a white film over it, which suggested that he was blind in at least one eye. “It is beautiful, indeed,” we said. “Yes,” he said. The men all agreed it was beautiful. It may have been that the name that we were given was made up on the spur of the moment, improvised. It didn’t matter really, though I did feel a little foolish hunting down a name, trying hard to fix abundance to a word. Any word would not have done justice, so why not jamila?