the fourth cup of tea

After spending a few weeks in Pakistan, I went to Jordan for the rest of the summer to study Arabic. It was another place with lots of great stories, but sadly not as much tea as I would have hoped for.

While I was in Jordan, I did one thing that I doubt I could have ever done here in the United States. I dyed my hair!

It doesn’t really sound like a big deal, but just keep in mind that my parents are very culturally conservative. I mean my dad still gets mad at me whenever he sees me wearing a bracelet. I was also nervous about whether it was aloud in Islam. I did research and asked around, but the only thing that people said was that dying your hair black was not allowed. And since my hair was already black, I could only go lighter.

Anyways, I was in Jordan and far away from my parents so I figured, “why not?” So the first week I was in Jordan I found a salon and got it done. I initially had gotten it done silver, and because my hair is black, I had to lighten it three times before I could get it as light as I wanted. I went through a lot of pain that day, and it was all in vain really because the silver ended up fading like three days later.

So, I spent my summer, during Ramadan in the Middle East, with beach blonde hair and a black beard. In hindsight, it might not have been the greatest idea.

I got a lot of interesting reactions from people seeing my hair. All of my fellow classmates thought it looked really good, but my teachers all hated it. Some people gave me weird looks in the street, some people stopped me to compliment me. I was even catcalled a few times, by both girls and guys.

The most interesting interactions I had were at the local mosque. Like I mentioned earlier, my hair was blonde for the entire holy month of Ramadan. And I went to the mosque every night for Taraweh prayer. One of those nights as I was leaving the mosque, this older man stopped me and I thought I was going to be scolded for my hair. But instead he put his arm on my shoulder, smiled at me and began to speak. I was still pretty raw in my Arabic skills so I only got some of what he was saying, but he was telling me how he saw me at the mosque every night, and that I seemed like a great kid. Then, he laughed and said he had no problem with my hair, but just for curiosity’s sake he wanted to know why I did it.

The Grand Hussein Mosque in downtown Amman. Not the mosque from the story, but I did pray here pretty often.

My Arabic skills were pretty terrible, so to his entire spiel, I just asked him if he liked the way it looked. To which he replied, “حلو” (I guess in this context it means handsome? Arabic is a hard language…).

Another time I walked into a mosque to pray Asr, the afternoon prayer. I walked into the prayer area and saw another person walk in at the same time. We made eye contact and without saying a single word we both knew we wanted to pray together. So we met in the center, and I signaled for him to lead, and instead of doing the usual argument about who leads the prayer, he just physically pushed me into the position to lead the prayer.

So I led the prayer, and after I had finished I turned around and saw at least ten people behind me. And the thing that shocked me was that they made eye contact with me, smiled, shook my hand and then left. That was it. Again it doesn’t seem like anything of importance, but you have to understand that one time as a kid I got yelled at just for wearing shorts to the mosque. And that was in America.

I would have never thought that the Middle East would be the place where I would find such an open Muslim community, but I’m really glad that it turned out that way. I don’t think I’ll ever do that to my hair again, but it did end up being a really interesting experience for me.

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