Normal in a Foreign Country

The struggles and successes of integrated language learning.

By Alison Holt - Peace Corps Volunteer, Jordan (2012 - 2014)

I stopped eavesdropping on my friends today.

Tamara waited for the water to boil

and asked me to wash the tiny coffee cups

When I finished I brought them over

and she spooned the face into each one

then gently poured in the thick coffee

Presented with cups topped with caramel colored froth

Owham said, “the girls never want to work”

Myasar said “not every girl is the same”

I smiled and she asked, “Right, Alison?”

and I said “Right.”

I drifted off thinking about how much I will miss this

And when I get back to America how will I adapt?

How normal it is for me to understand ¾ of a conversation

to start my mornings with a few cups of Turkish coffee

to greet each passerby so formally

to forget words in English but remember them in Arabic

to only talk about women and men, weight, and food.

I never eavesdrop anymore because now I'm part of the conversation.


This poem was entered in the returned Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps poetry contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.

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