Being Expelled From My Jordanian Host Family

The notes that lurk at the end of the daily passages in the journal I kept during my sophomore-year semester as a Young American Abroad (Y.A.A.) in Amman, Jordan, read like the numerical ravings of a conspiracy theorist who’s absolutely convinced that he will find some “disparity” in the “data.” “Cab to downtown: 1.50 dinars. Falafel: 0.65. Water: 0.30. Total: 2.45.”

Things were not going so terribly at that point: I had been in Jordan for about a month, and had since fallen into a general rhythm regarding my travel route across the city. I’d created positive vibes with my fellow Y.A.A.’s, improved my Arabic to the point where I could have rudimentary conversations with cab drivers, and had a pleasant, if rather food-centric relationship with my exceedingly hospitable Jordanian host family (though, from my experience, most Arab families are exceedingly hospitable).

Which is why it came as such an unpleasant shock to me when, meticulous hoarder that I am, I did find a disparity in the data, as presented to me by my wallet. I added a new section to my journal, “Unaccounted for,” to which increasing sums of money were added daily. Day by day, bits of my weekly stipend were going missing; I always had less than I remembered. Gradually, over a few weeks, I came to the conclusion that someone in my host family was methodically stealing nominal amounts of cash from my wallet either when I was sleeping or when I went to take a shower. All told, it was probably twenty or thirty dinars, about thirty bucks, but it was the principle of the thing that got to me.

The family was of Palestinian background, the portion of the Jordanian population that the other half fears will rise up and displace the monarchy. Palestinian in the sense of the “Palestinian” rapper with an Arabic name who had come to our hyperconscious liberal college campus in Indiana last fall and invigorated our own Palestinian students by rattling off a list of Middle Eastern foods—“DO YOU REMEMBER THE KHOUMOS & THE FALAFEL & THE TAHINE & THE MUSAKHAN?!”­ (this was the extent of his Arabic.)

When enough was enough, I decided that in order to forestall conflict I would wrap a slip of paper around the money in my wallet bearing the warning: “Stop stealing my money – [heart] Simon.” I would count funds pre- and post-shower.

Went to take a shower. Upon my return: 1.50 missing, warning slip in place, ignored. I grew rather angry.

I remember sitting in my room that morning in February, girding myself for the confrontation with my host family. I was listening to Black Flag, and as Henry Rollins sang about “jealous cowards” and “society’s arms of control,” I scrawled the following note into my journal: “Waiting in the preproom for the suspect to lumber into the living room so I can confront him indirectly, in the presence of his mother.”

Retrospectively, I’m sure there were other, more reasonable courses of action.

But I was furious and indignant—at nineteen, there’s no match for that—and I had a mission: I was out to protect the wallets of future Y.A.A.’s. This injustice had to stop!

Seething, I marched into the living room, journal in hand. Mama Faridah was sitting on the couch, watching the latest hundred thousand protesters gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo. The eldest son, Ahmad (built like and with the hirsute hide of a gorilla) was ensconced in his usual chair, coffee and cigarette butts arrayed around him, warming his hands with the space heater. At 24, he was the de facto male leader of the household because Daddy was away, a guy I figured would probably never leave the maternal nest. He was also my prime suspect (mostly because I didn’t like him).

“Look,” I said, holding out my journal, full of tiny print that most native English speakers can’t make out, as if presenting evidence. “We’re given a certain amount of money each week, to pay for taxis and lunches. And I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that I’ve been missing money, a little bit each day.” Followed by my final, unequivocal sentence: “And I know someone is taking it.”

All at once, every ounce of goodwill I’d built up over the past month—via American chocolates, second helpings, general pleasantness and genuine curiosity about their culture and language—evaporated into thin air.

“Go and pack your bags,” the gorilla-son said.

“I—”

“Go and pack your fucking bags!”

The day before, I’d been advised by a Jordanian that if I confronted the thief in front of his family, he would feel tremendous shame for bringing disgrace to the family and the thefts would cease. This strategy backfired completely. In seconds, both Mama Faridah and Ahmad were shouting at me—how dare I accuse them; “We’re rich, our bellies are full, why would we steal from you?” “20 dinar? We would give you 20 dinar!” etc.—switching into Arabic when they couldn’t express the extent of their outrage in English.

I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, let alone make a case for myself. It was a contest of volume that I wasn’t crazy enough to try and win. I tried to remain levelheaded. “I have an issue, and I’m just trying to talk to you about it.”

“You’ve done enough talking! GO!”

In Arab society, the family is the be-all end-all, and by leveling my ridiculous accusations I was accusing not only one person in the family, but each and every one of them, the entire goddamn house. It was their duty, therefore, to respond in kind, to protect their reputation. Insults are taken collectively. They arose together in honorable rage to shout me down.

Ayib! Ayib!” Mama Faridah cried—in English, “Shame! Shame!”—the word with which women respond when men grope them inappropriately on the street. On top of it all, I’d molested my host mother.

“Get your bags before I kill you,” the gorilla-son said. Bits of ash from his cigarette dropped onto the carpet. I hoped fleetingly that the house would burn down.

“I’m trying, just let me call Bruce.” Bruce was the benevolent director of my college’s little program in this country.

“Call your Bruce! Call the embassy! Call your president!”

I went into the bedroom, stared at the wall, and started cramming stuff into my suitcases. I did not call the embassy. I did not call the president. Instead, I called my Bruce, weepy-like, and told him to come and get me.

As I packed up my suitcases, like a grotesque parade or some sort of brutal sketch comedy routine, the members of the family who hadn’t been present during the initial confrontation crashed into the bedroom one by one (three sons, one daughter, one mother) to shout at me some more, in Arabic (which I couldn’t understand) and English (ditto, mostly).

Even sweet-tempered Amjad, summoning all of the honor-rage possible in her mushy nineteen-year-old frame, burst through the door to shout: “YOU FUCKING JEWISH, YOU STEAL OUR LAND AND THEN YOU ACCUSE US—!!

Gorilla-son returned and tried to attack me, but he was restrained by his slightly less irrational mother (he did successfully nail me with a shoe, though).

At long last, Bruce arrived, and my now ex-host family backed off. I heard soft rumblings from the echo-ey front room used exclusively for prayer and hosting guests as they discussed me and my accusations. Meanwhile, I had a tear-stained conversation with Isa, the Indonesian maid, who had watched sadly from the kitchen as the whole ridiculous scene unfolded:

“Crazy [plural],” she said, shaking her head.

“The world is crazy,” I said, referring specifically to this one Jordanian family, my Arabic only approximating my thoughts.

“No,” she replied. “Not all of the world. All of Jordan.”

Given the state of things at that point, I was hard-pressed to disagree. (Later, I learned that of all the students this family had hosted, Isa liked me the best, because I made my bed and folded my clothes. A minor triumph.)

Bruce gave me pep talk in the bedroom (“You didn’t bring up the embassy, did you?”) and convinced me not to go out swinging. “They mentioned a lawyer,” Bruce said, “but that’s because it’s what they see on American TV.” They also see a lot of Nicholas Cage on TV. I’ve seen six of his movies since I’ve been here.

Lugging my two suitcases and a black plastic bag that held my still-drying laundry, trailing my gracious program director, I made my way out of the house. “Sorry,” I muttered to the assembled family, at Bruce’s advisory, not very convincingly.

“TAKE YOUR SORRY TO THE… eh…” The word escaped Ahmad.

Within a few hours all of the siblings had de-friended me on Facebook. I thought this was hilarious.

Sequestered in the hotel where I spent the next four days while Bruce scrambled to find me a new host family, I decided in my time of need to put aside my bootlegged copy of True Blood (thanks Rhea & Kelly) and write to sagacious Henry Rollins for guidance. I composed a lengthy email that explained my situation in great detail. The subject line read: “Ravings from A Student Studying Abroad/Fan Letter.”

And, to my amazement, three days later he responded. “Obviously mom was covering for someone,” he wrote, “perhaps it was her. The violence of the reaction is quite a tell. I hope you get another dwelling. I admire the chances you are taking to expand your horizons, that’s the real stuff.”

I thought to myself: Hell yeah, Henry Rollins, and then went out into the thick of the Arab Spring to find myself a new home. TC mark

image – Rich Bowen

More From Thought Catalog

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    wow, I felt infuriated for you!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=707272007 Alex Thayer

      yeah, fuck those guys!

  • http://twitter.com/jkymarsh J. Ky Marsh

    This is great. Thanks for writing it.

  • Guest

    greetings from a Palestinian in Jordan ,apologies for the crazy family

  • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

    Cool article and interesting experience. And no mention of Sex and the City! 

    I’ll look for your stuff again. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    I know this is entirely due to my parents being from the Chinese Filipino bourgeois but my immediate assumption was that Isa was taking your money, lollllll.

    For the record, I know maids don’t steal your shit and my parents (who are actually quite liberal) would be equally ashamed of me for accusing the most defenseless person in the entire story. Once my grandma accused her maid of stealing A BAR OF SOAP. My guess is that over time it simply disintegrated… but I digress…

    • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

      Wait wtf at the same time I should not feel ashamed of myself for
      jumping to the conclusion that the thief is the poorest person in the
      entire house. Maids are practically paid in crumbs and often go through
      the most ridiculous psychological abuse on top of all that. I will stick
      to my assumption that Isa was rummaging through your shit and while it
      is not in good form for her to steal she probably needs it a helluva lot
      more than you or your ex-host family.

      But don’t tell her employers. I fear for the consequences…

  • Guest

    LOL… this was a hilarious yet cringeworthy read at the same time, being half Arab myself. So sorry to hear; I certainly hope you had better experiences while there to outweigh this incident? Maybe not haha.

  • A-M

    I’m about to do a year in China for university where I’ll be living with a family… it should be okay though. A mother and a father and a 2 year old child, and they seem very sweet over skype.

    • S.H.

      Aw, I hope you have a great time!

  • http://profiles.google.com/katiebk12 Katie Bennett

    That’s so crazy. I spent three months last summer in Jordan and absolutely loved it. Sucks that they kicked you out, though.  

  • kaylee

    I’m an exchange student in Germany right now. this is a cool article, and funny, but it sucks about your host family and their insanity. 

    “TAKE YOUR SORRY TO THE… eh…” – hahaha, I’ve had so many of these moments myself when [attempting] to speak German, and when other people have done it to me when they speak English. Lol. so great

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

    Loved this.

  • Marielle

    This was excellent

  • CarmenOhio

    America Rules!!

    • Face

      Totally! No one would ever steal your money here.

  • Guest

    The words were exhausting–someone get this piece an editor–but I did feel empathy for you.

  • G.

    what

  • michael kramer

    holy shit, rollins wrote back.

  • Sophia

    i was so angry for you throughout the entire article. good for you for standing your own.

  • Marie Antoinette

    That sucks, at least it got resolved and you didn’t lose too much. On my exchange I had my own room (with a lock and key, which I could not imagine living without). Then when I started to travel, I stayed with families of my friends and my mom, being the neurotic ex-soviet that she is, told me to always carry money in a bag around my neck, take it with me when I go to shower, and even sleep with it, strapped to my chest.  That was a bit extreme, but I suggest the same for anyone who is unsure of their living arrangements.

  • Marie Antoinette

    That sucks, at least it got resolved and you didn’t lose too much. On my exchange I had my own room (with a lock and key, which I could not imagine living without). Then when I started to travel, I stayed with families of my friends and my mom, being the neurotic ex-soviet that she is, told me to always carry money in a bag around my neck, take it with me when I go to shower, and even sleep with it, strapped to my chest.  That was a bit extreme, but I suggest the same for anyone who is unsure of their living arrangements.

  • Mashka

    That sucks, man. You definitely handled it in the best way possible though. If nothing else you have this really crazy story to tell/remember.

    Good for you for not letting it ruin your experience though and for pushing forward. You seem like a really awesome person. 

  • jukie

    good story

  • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

    Helluva xenophobic, borderline-racist, wound-licking “article”, you clueless, self-righteous American twit.  And re:  Henry’s idiotic “The violence of the reaction is quite a tell”:  no, it isn’t. Maybe they were deeply offended and your attempt to gauge the reaction by American standards is pathetic?

    “Hilarious” that they de-friended you? Why? You call them thieves in their own homes and expect them to have so little self-respect that they’d “lol” your next vacuous FB post?

    In the name of c. thirty fucking dollars you bought 1,000 bucks of ill-will. Genius.

    And how the fuck *do* you know it wasn’t the maid? Because you wanted to bang her?

    In any case: only a low-functioning sufferer from autism would have handled it the way you did… whether or not your fellow Ugly (idiot) Americans want to high-five you.

    Please. Stay. Home. In. Po. dunk.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1234020191 Krystle Colleen Brown

       …holy shit

    • Ugly Wound-Licking Xenophobe

      I think it’s pretty clear that the whole point of this “article” was that I wanted to bang the maid.

      I’m glad that your soul has been purged.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        Sure, Hick. Whatever you say.

    • TO

      Stealing money is offensive in any culture.

      I’m a died in the wool liberal, but I just can’t imagine how it must be to feel like you have be offended at every perceived infraction of political correctness. Most of the time, you’re way off base or just overreacting.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        Because you, too, are a tone-deaf consumerist fuckhead, you don’t get the problem with this article… or understand why Americans are hated all over the world.

      • Jleekdk

        Feisty commenter on TC ALERT ALERT

      • TO

        “This comment was flagged for review.”
        This makes me really want to read what you had to write.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        The comment was:

        ·        
        “Because you, too, are a tone-deaf consumerist
        fuckhead, you don’t get the problem with this article… or understand why
        Americans are hated all over the world.”

        And censorship is  the last refuge of the crypto-fascist dumbfuck.

      • TO

        “And censorship is the last refuge of the crypto-fascist dumbfuck.”

        Agreed.

        “or understand why
        Americans are hated all over the world.”

        It’s not fair to say Americans are hated all over the world. That’s reducing people in other countries to caricatures of foreign people, which I’m suuuure you wouldn’t want to do. When I went to Morocco (to help at a school for the deaf, among other things), the reception we had, even in the city, was genial.  

        Even if you want to make a big sweeping statement about foreign views towards the US (which you shouldn’t, you xenophobe!), it should be that things have changed since the election of Obama.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        “Even if you want to make a big sweeping statement about foreign views towards the US (which you shouldn’t, you xenophobe!), it should be that things have changed since the election of Obama.”

        Hey, cool! A time-traveler from 2008! Welcome to our Era! But, uh… I’ve got some bad news for you, I’m afraid…

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        “It’s not fair to say Americans are hated all over the world. That’s
        reducing people in other countries to caricatures of foreign people…”

        Well, no, your grasp of set-theory is a little shaky, there; you’d be correct if I’d stated that “ALL ‘FOREIGNERS’ all over the world…” and so on. But I didn’t.

        Also: btw: for future reference, please consider the etymology of the word you all (well, you and Carmenohio) persist in misusing: “xeno” + “phobia”. Neither part of that word covers 1) my harsh criticisms of my Fatherland or 2) “generalizations” about the rest of the world.

      • TO

        So let’s see, how the hell are you not a “tone-deaf consumerist”? Unless you make all your clothes and food yourself, I think we probably lead fairly similar lifestyles.

    • CarmenOhio

      Strange that you would call him a xenophobe then end one of your paragraphs with an irrationally-based attack at all Americans.  You’re a hypocrite.  Sorry if that came off as hypocritophobic.  Go troll somewhere else, child.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        I qualified the statement, you quasi-literate dipshit, but I wouldn’t expect you to grasp the distinction. And you have no idea how amusing it is to have a 30-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter and be called a “child” by someone who’s undoubtedly younger than half of the books in my library.  Also, I rather doubt the possibility that you understand the definition of the word “xenophobe”;  your comment would indicate that you don’t.

      • CarmenOhio

        No, you didn’t actually qualify it.  To qualify it you would have had to say that any American who high-fived the author was an “Ugly (idiot) American”.   However, you did not so you fail once again.  Also, I do not care how many years you have spent on this planet.  Once you stop acting like a child you will stop being treated as one.  Finally, my comment clearly indicates that I do understand the definition of “xenophobe”.  You have “do” and “do not” mixed up. 

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        A) the qualifier was “Ugly American”; do you understand the traditional meaning of the term? It doesn’t mean “any and all Americans”; it refers to a specific type of American behavior (either toward, or while traveling, “Abroad”)
        B) When I’m being harshly critical of another American, this equals “Xenophobia” in what way, exactly… ?  Can’t wait to see how you torture logic, with imbecilic finesse,  in your response to that question, kid!

      • CarmenOhio

        Seeing wikipedia used as a source is my key to take the high road.  Farewell, person I will never meet.  

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        See ya, semi-literate, wannabe-pedant!

      • Ijustgoyouknow

        Eat shit motherfucker. 

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        Ouch! Oscar Wilde, I presume!

  • Mother Theresa

    Actually, I don’t believe your story. I lived in Jordan for 10 years. I have a very good understanding of Jordanian culture. You deeply offended them by telling them they’re thieves. I have so many questions. 1- why didn’t you just take your wallet/money with you whenever you left the room? 2-why confront them over such a small amount? 3- how do you know it wasn’t the maid? 4- Did a Jordanian really advise you to confront them? Because he was trying to get you kicked out. No Jordanian would advise you to confront people for supposedly stealing money, especially that little of an amount. It’s an uber polite beat around the bush culture. Confrontation is not necessarily advised. 5- They could afford a maid, but had to steal 30 bucks from you?

     In their minds, they fed you, they housed you, they opened up to you, and you called them thieves and liars. Of course they’d kick you out. Also, you find it hilarious they defriended you? Why? Are Jordanians funny for using Facebook? A western-tool? I’m not sure I understand why that was so funny. Oh God, almost forgot. You lived in Jordan and called Hummus, khomos? REALLY? I mean, really? Wow. I sure hope to God this is some 40 year old American pretending to be a Syrian lesbian on Facebook to get some reaction, somewhere.

    • Ugly Wound-Licking Xenophobe

      1. As I wrote, it was the principle of the thing rather than the money itself. I was mad.
      2. Because I wanted it to stop, and it had not. After confronting them, I left, and it did.
      3. I don’t.
      4. Yes. A nice man, but I don’t think he fully grasped the situation.
      5. Apparently.
      6 [implied]. “Hilarious” because of the almost immediate reaction in the realm of online social media. It’s funny to see how quickly people go to Facebook to respond.
      7 [implied]. I was imitating the dialect of the Chicago-born Palestinian rapper who came to our school. He really loved using the khaf sound, and did it whenever possible. When engaging a crowd full of hipsters via microphone, the “kh” sound comes out so much better than the legitimately-more-difficult-to-pronounce-in-Arabic “H” sound.
      8 [implied]. Really.
      9 [implied]. Yes, really.
      10 [implied]. I think it would be far more interesting to embody a Saudi lesbian, don’t you?

      • Jennifer

        Honestly, I’m not sure why you even wrote this story. What was the goal? I don’t think StAugustine is far off when he called you a xenophobic, borderline-racist, wound-licking clueless guy. What was the point of this article? Did you have to write about it to Henry Rollins? Wouldn’t writing about the tragedies of the world be a better thing to do? Did you have to mention they’re Jordanian of Palestinian origin? You didn’t say *one* good word about the country, the family or the program. I feel there was a point you’re trying to make that I would think of as racist. Maybe you didn’t think you were, but your writing has definitely exposed this. You should dig deep and figure out what your issues were. Do you think that if you confronted an American college student, who happened to be your roommate about stealing your money, that they would have reacted any differently? Your article bothers me because so many Americans go abroad, spend a couple of months/years somewhere and assume they know everything. I can cite several things wrong about your assessment of Jordanian culture. You are no better than those who come here, go back home and tell of tales of how immoral and selfish Americans are. You have a responsibility to yourself and to your readers, and you have failed.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        “1. As I wrote, it was the principle of the thing rather than the money itself. I was mad.”

        High-minded stuff! However, you also wrote:

        “I decided in my time of need to put aside my bootlegged copy of True Blood (thanks Rhea & Kelly)…”

        So, someone taking “about thirty bucks” from you is a serious enough ethical transgression to inspire you to confront/offend your host family over it… but your use of a “bootlegged copy” of a commercial product (and how could this possibly be the only “bootleg”, or illegal
        download,  that you’ve ever used?) is quite alright, because…?

        Double-standard much? Or is just that good old “American Exceptionalism” at work?

      • Ugly Wound-Licking Xenophobe

        Oh dear.

      • TO

        you disgust me.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        oh fuck I am grieving! Will I be able to sleep tonight? (cut to: close-up of a painting by Edvard Munch)

  • Rationality

    You are insane for thinking they stole the money!

  • Rationality

    You are insane for thinking they stole the money!

  • Thinkbeforeyouwrite

    Don’t you think the food you were stuffing your face with every days cost them a whole lot more than $30 bucks?! The only person who needed that $30 was the maid. They were entirely within their right to kick a free loader like yourself out. What a weak understanding of the world. 

    • Ugly Wound-Licking Xenophobe

      They were paid ~15JD’s per day to host me.

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        It obviously wasn’t enough.

    • Anonymous

      Um… the knowledge that someone is going through your stuff and stealing from you, NO MATTER HOW MUCH IT’S WORTH, is troubling, and when you’re staying in a foreign country you feel especially vulnerable privacy-wise. Stealing any amount of anything from someone is fucked up! Is it okay if I steal a dollar from you every day, anonymous troll? It’s just a dollar. 

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        Dude, the points are A) no proof it was the family and not the maid B) he handled the situation like an idiot C) the article is full of ignorant, ugly, Xenophobic bullshit masquerading as comedy

blog comments powered by Disqus