Christmas in Jordan

I spent Christmas 2007 in my small, dusty, and conservatively Islamic village. At 5:30 a.m., the imam's voice announced the call to prayer, and, unable to block out his readings from the Koran, I went for a morning walk. The five farmers I passed were harvesting the cauliflower plants, but didn't acknowledge me. On my way back to my house, I came to a roadblock of sheep and goats, who gave me a small treat by tinkling the bells around their necks, the closest thing to any Christmas jingle I would hear all day.
The whole day, my Muslim neighbors asked me why I wasn't in Amman or Madaba, celebrating Christmas with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers. Each time, the answer was the same: it wasn't that big of a deal to me. First, I'm atheist (but that's undercover information). Second, I hate traveling in the winter; you think wearing five layers, freezing your fingers and toes while inhaling that dude's cigarette smoke, and making four bus transfers over a 2 1/2 hour period just to get into Amman is fun? Think again.
Noon came around, and my neighbor invited me to lunch. She made maglooba, a delicious Jordanian dish that translates to "upside down." It's a pot layered with (from bottom to top) fried vegetables, chicken, and steamed rice swimming in homemade chicken broth and freshly-pressed olive oil. After half of the family took their post-lunch naps, it was my turn to be chef. I made brownies using her oven, and we all stuffed ourselves with chocolate heaven.
That evening, I tutored my (other) neighbor's two daughters, drank some tea, gave their Bedouin grandma a back massage, and explained, in Arabic, that "Holiday of Christians is a day of giving and opening presents that we put under the tree. Sometimes there are small gifts hidden in huge socks that hang over a fire. Papa Noel comes to every house and spreads happiness. The whole day, I'm always with my family and we eat very delicious Chinese food and go to the cinema after. But this year I can't be in America. So I am spending it with my Jordanian family here, and I am happy."

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