Caris Boegl, ‘18, writes from a hotel in Denver, Colorado,where she is completing two weeks of quarantine after having to hastily evacuate Jordan.
From Jewell to Jordan
My time at William Jewell College ended in 2018 with a flurry of essays and comprehensive exams. I crossed the stage with a blurry sense of gratitude, exhaustion, relief and love for friends and faculty. The following autumn I began my MA in Arab Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. I took my seat at the orientation table alongside a former British government official, Naval officers, a journalist from Brazil, two Syrian refugees, anthropologists and a Cambridge graduate. Most of them were fluent in Arabic before entering our program. As I sat in daily Arabic classes and studied diplomacy, it occurred to me that I was the only student who had never been to the Middle East. I prayed for the opportunity. Three opportunities arose: a FLAS Fellowship which covered my Spring tuition, a Critical Language Scholarship to Oman, and a Boren National Security Fellowship to Jordan.
Discussing these options with my advisors, I accepted all three. I postponed the second year of my Master’s degree in favor of a gap year. Last summer I hopped on a plane to the desert city of Ibri, Oman. I lived there for nine weeks immersed in Arabic. After a two week interlude in the United States, I moved to Jordan for 10 months. My language plan included Arabic coursework at a language institute in Amman. But this experience was more than linguistic. It was about exposure to culture and new people: tutoring refugees, chats with – or marriage proposals from – taxi drivers, going to the Friday market, hiking in Wadi Mujib, picnicking by the Jordan Valley, shivering in front of my heater in winter, tasting delicious foods, singing Arabic songs and harvesting olives.
In mid-March everything came to a sudden halt. In my mildly traumatic evacuation, a series of coincidences occurred. I view them as miracles, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.
For weeks in February and March, I felt a nagging and inexplicable urge to leave Jordan early, though COVID-19 had only affected one person in Jordan. My sense seemed irrational. Late one Thursday night, I decided to return to the States. Within the same hour, I received an urgent email from my fellowship: “Evacuate as soon as possible.” I started packing and cobbling together plans to say goodbye to friends. Some asked me a piercing question, “You will come back to us soon, won’t you?” My eyes welled with tears and I focused my attention on securing a safe travel plan.
On Saturday, the situation intensified. The Jordanian government announced the closure of Amman’s only airport with two days’ notice. This sent me into crushingly intense hours of trying to find a flight amidst a surge in demand. Hour after hour passed with no success. Around midnight, one friend comforted me as I physically shook from stress. I felt dependent on others and God’s intervention. At 1:45 a.m.,, after six hours of searching and calling the embassy, I found a flight to D.C. through Abu Dhabi with a 16-hour layover.
The next morning, after minimal sleep, I vacated my apartment and rode to the airport. It felt surreal. How could I leave so suddenly? I refused to let my mind wander, saving my strength for my 30-hour trip. An airline clerk – realizing I spoke Arabic – pardoned my overweight suitcase, and I gave away two masks to fellow travelers. Oddly, my twin sister’s friend happened to be in Abu Dhabi at the same time as my layover. She booked me a hotel so I could rest for 16 hours outside of the crowded airport. Refreshed, I returned to board a 14-hour flight to Washington Dulles Airport. On the plane, an elderly Nepali couple encouraged me and shared their hand sanitizer. I alternated between sleep, food and music. A comforting thought washed over me: You’re going to be alright.
Before arriving to a major D.C. airport, I fastened my mask tighter in anticipation of five hour lines at customs. Multiple people had warned me about the health risks of transiting U.S. airports during the pandemic. However, I found Dulles empty. I walked along the corridors to my departure gate alone, wondering if I needed a mask. Security guards remarked to one another how odd it was that the airport was empty. On my third flight, I prayed for sleep. I had a row of seats to myself. I sprawled out, surrendering to the exhaustion of 30 hours of travel. After landing, a Jewell friend happened to be in Denver. She picked me up and drove me to a hotel. Unfortunately, I could not return to my family immediately due to health concerns. I had minimal savings because my fellowship had not released my final stipend. Worry overtook me. But, subsequently, my program offered to pay for my isolation-period hotel room for 13 nights.
As I sit in isolation and write, it occurs to me that solitude is not terrible. It allows us to hear our souls. Perhaps my exit was a series of coincidences. To my eyes of faith, the events were the careful orchestration of a deliverer who lovingly foresaw, before I ever could have, the intense hours of my evacuation. Although I transited four international airports and likely came in contact with a thousand people, I have no symptoms for COVID-19. My evacuation was perfectly timed. Days after I left, Jordan imposed a military-enforced curfew. A siren sounded, and residents were instructed not to leave their homes under penalty of arrest. Over a thousand people were arrested under this policy. My mind often wanders to Jordan. Will its health infrastructure be able to support a country with many refugees? How will my friends who relied on daily wages eat? I do not have the answers for them or for myself. Because my program ended abruptly, I have no income nor preset plan for the next four months. But my confidence is in the one who brought me safely this far.
In closure, I will share a few encouragements in these hours of uncertainty. It is beautiful to receive others’ genuine offers to help. It is healthy to embrace humility. It is good to recognize the sovereign one both in moments of fragility and in comfort. As a recipient of extravagant generosity, I hope to give back as well. Please reach out if you need a word of encouragement or practical help. We are, after all, Jewell family.