Directions to My House

In my village, we have one main street with no traffic lights or stop signs. It's called Main Street. Village life revolves around this street: drive northwards, and you'll pass a men's salon, a shop selling fresh goat's milk, yogurt, and butter, a gas tank shop, a used furniture store, two bakeries, the girls' school, a giant picture of King Abdullah, various shops selling rice, flour, milk, fruits, and vegetables, and, eventually, Syria. Heading south, Main Street leads to the Health Clinic, an empty store that claims to sell TVs but has no TVs, a house that sells concrete blocks (you never know when you may need some), the police station, and the infamous Sharea Baghdad, or Highway to Baghdad.
There are no addresses here; everyone knows everyone by name, not by house number. When asked where I live, I give the name of my neighbor and landlord. When filling out a village safety form for Peace Corps, I listed the address of the girls' school as "Main Street, across from the main mosque," the address of my home as "Main Street, between the chicken shop and Msubbeh's shop, the first house behind the black gate with green dots," and the address of the police station as "Main Street, in front of the second speed bump." There is no coordinate system like in Salt Lake City, no buildings that claim to lie on the intersection of 800 West and Martin Luther King Blvd.
When friends visit me, I tell them to get dropped off anywhere within my village and to ask the first person they see, "Wain sakin al-see-nee-ah?" "Where does the Chinese live?" None of my friends has ever spent more than thirty seconds lost; any of my Bedouin neighbors will lead Mindy's friend to the black gate with the green dots. I believe that maps hinder people from experiencing how hospitable a culture can be; my first month here, when I asked a Bedouin tending his sheep where I could buy a gas tank, he invited me in for tea with his wife, demanded that I eat lunch with his family, and taught me how to milk a goat. I don't even remember if he told me where the gas shop was, but his wife has become one of my best village friends. No Yellow Pages for me, thank you. I'll just ask around.

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