Sorokanich: Valentines found abroad, despite holiday not existing in Jordan

I’ve been in Irbid, Jordan for three weeks now, but I haven’t lost all of my Americanisms yet. It’s Feb. 12, and you know what that means – it’s almost Valentine’s Day.

Your valentine doesn’t have to be your soul mate or the person you want to marry. I think anyone who brightens up your day, even without knowing it, can be your valentine.

With this mentality, there is an abundance of valentines given every day — even here in Jordan, where Valentine’s Day doesn’t technically exist.

For instance, there’s the man who owns the fruit and vegetable stand across the street who takes time to teach me the names of all of the produce. “What’s this?” he always asks when I hand him my bags of fruit and veggies at the register. One by one, he holds up my purchases and I tell him the names in Arabic.

“Good,” he says when I get it right. “See? Arabic is not so hard.”

When I don’t know the word, he says it slowly and then patiently helps me repeat it correctly back to him. His quizzes have taught me a lot of new words, but more importantly, he has made me feel welcome during my first few days in this foreign city. That’s worthy of valentine status, if you ask me.

Then there’s my archaeology professor and her graduate student, Muhammad, who took the class to downtown Irbid last week. A student mentioned going shopping during class, and the next thing we knew, there was a trip planned for the following day.

My professor unhesitatingly offered to drive us in her car, and treated seven of us to the “best falafel in Irbid.” Muhammad then escorted us around town, watching us like a mother hen to make sure nobody got lost along the way. He patiently translated prices and bargained with store owners for us. He and my professor were exceedingly generous in taking time out of their lives to take us on this trip. Who doesn’t want a generous valentine like that?

My Arabic teacher is also a wonderful valentine. Her persistence and kindness are constant sources of encouragement in the classroom.

“You are very smart,” she reassures us in Arabic. “You are wonderful students, and you make me happy to be here.”

Even when we don’t remember the vocabulary or understand her explanations, she continues to be motivational and enthusiastic with her teaching. She’s my valentine because she believes in my abilities, even when I have doubts.

My 21-year-old language partner is patient beyond her years. She continues to smile, even when I ask her to speak slower. She gently — and frequently — corrects my bad grammar, and makes an effort to ensure I always understand what she says. Though communicating is a struggle, our time together flies by with laughter and her willingness to forgive my limited language skills. If you ask me, anyone that understanding is well-deserving of my love.

The point I’m trying to make here is that your valentine doesn’t have to be someone who gives you flowers or candy. They can be someone who gives you joy, knowledge, patience or laughter. They can just be someone who makes you smile.

Yes, you might be single.

Yes, Valentine’s Day might be perpetuated by the greeting card industry.

But you know what? It’s never bad to take the time to acknowledge the people who make your life a little brighter and a little happier.

So, to my Jordanian valentines, my American readers and everybody else in between:

“Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Lara Sorokanich is a sophomore Middle Eastern studies and magazine journalism major. Her adventures take place in Irbid, Jordan, where she’s hoping to improve her limited skills in Arabic. Her abroad column appears every Tuesday. Contact her at lsorokan@syr.edu.


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