I landed in Seattle. The US of A! Out the window the familiar trees and houses were almost surreal in their familiarity. It had been 5 months since I was in an English speaking country. I called an Uber. Mohamed answered my call. Mohamed was Uzbek, had settled first in Florida, but then road tripped it out to Seattle some years ago to be with new family. He loved the area. I wasn’t so sure.
“Uber is illegal in Amman” I offered. This was very interesting to Mohamed, who spoke what I consider the perfect level of English: good enough to communicate all that matters, but rough enough that a compliment on his level of accomplishment is appreciated. I complimented an Englishwoman on her language skills once and it didn’t go over well. I explained to Mohamed about how passengers must sit up front for Uber in Amman, so that cops won’t suspect anything. And just to be sure, especially when going to the airport, the driver and passenger get their names and stories straight: “My friend Ahmad is giving me a ride!”
Mohamed loved it. What a thing! Seattle does not force Uber drivers and passengers to become so closely acquainted. Which is a shame, because it is way easier to do in Seattle. Sometimes all we can manage in Amman is a mimed sign of handcuffs to express the gravity, and an exchange of names.
Mohamed dropped me off at the downtown ferry terminal (Unlike Mohamed, the first thing I want to do when I arrive in Seattle is leave). Drunk on my ability to speak fluently to anyone I met I found myself talking to a simple homeless woman with few teeth. Say what you will about her mental facilities, but she knew my German Paprika flavored potato chips were the bomb. And she kept coming back for more.
“Those are good. Where do you get those?”
Every time she came back for more chips she asked which line was for the Bremerton ferry, and if that was where the casino was. I was continuously helpful about where the line for the Bremerton ferry was (the big sign saying “Bremerton” made it easy), but I remain to this day ignorant on the matter of the casino.
Seattle. You are lovely from the water.
Later, in San Jose, the tech Mecca, I got an Uber from Akshay. Akshay had English skills that were too good to compliment. But the same old ice-breaker works for anyone in San Jose:
“Where you from?”
“I am Persian”.
I suspect this was something of a dodge. Maybe every Iranian self identifies as Persian. But then again, maybe sometimes Akshay manages to avoid talking about Iran with Americans this way, and gets to talk about Disney’s Aladdin or something instead.
(Fun fact: Not a popular movie in the middle east. Not sure if its the lyric “Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face", or the empowered female character who bucks tradition. Porque no los dos?)
Akshay was not as happy with San Jose as Mohamed was with Seattle. Lonely. He won the green card lottery and had been in the area for 16 months. When you count the months things aren't going well. His masters in engineering had not been transferred yet, and he found his retail day job less than fulfilling. He seemed genuinely touched when I reached my hand around for a shake after the ride. In the middle east you shake hands. You just do, ok? You might hate the guy but you are going to shake hands.
I completed my pilgrimage to San Jose and was back in Seattle to catch my return flight to Amman. I hired an Uber ride to the airport, and Fayz answered my request. Fayz is Somali, 14 years in Seattle. He was fleeing war, and got really lucky. Somalia collapsed completely back then, and with no actual country to back up their passports, no one would accept them. No one but Syria that is, a country with a long connection to Somalia. Syria stood by their friends in their time of need. So before the chance to come to America opened up, Fayz was headed to beautiful, prosperous, stable Syria. Needless to say, Fayz dodged a bullet there.
Fayz loves Seattle and when I offered my reservations he was having none of it. He spoke of the situation back home. He has friends in Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. There were people from each place seeking refugee status in the other places.
“Can you imagine?” Fayz turns to look at me, “fleeing to Somalia?”.
On the radio TLC urged us not to chase waterfalls.
Anyway, Fayz is right. No privilege greater than wanting to leave Seattle. Still, I smiled as the city got smaller out of the airplane window.