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Mids Share Stories from Semester in Jordan

Posted on: February 04, 2013 08:00 EST by the International Programs Office

On one of their first Saturdays in Jordan, four midshipmen studying abroad in Amman went for a walk through the city. Here, they share their experiences:

We had explored our neighborhood on the western side of the city and found three burger joints, two Mexican restaurants, a Papa John’s, a Pizza Hut, and even Jordan’s first Starbucks. After a few weeks of settling into the more modern and affluent section of the city, we felt it was time to explore something a little more traditional.

As we walked lower and lower into one of Amman’s many valleys, it was obvious that East Amman would be different. Fewer of the signs had English, and most of the women were not wearing Western clothing. There were lots of stores with pirated DVDs, alleys with shwarma stands, antique shops, and John Cena shirts, among many other cheap souvenirs.

Midshipman 1st Class Dustin Longhenry spotted an unusual minaret in the distance and we chose that mosque as our destination. Instead of consulting any maps, we wandered in its general direction, at one point coming across Roman ruins in the middle of a bustling shopping area. Other than a plaque stating that they were from the second century, there was no other information.

After leaving the main commercial street of East Amman, we came across a residential area where it was clear very few Westerners ever visited. When people saw us, they would look confused and begin to shout English phrases. “Welcome to Jordan” and “What’s your name?” were among the most popular greetings.

At one point a car drove up with a man, two women in hijabs and robes, and two kids inside.

The driver rolled down his window and asked, “Where are you headed? Do you need help? Are you okay?”

We explained our quest to reach the mosque ahead and discovered that the man was in Jordan visiting family but actually lives in New Jersey.

When Midshipman 1st Class Emma Quinn mentioned she also lives in New Jersey, the driver instantly hopped out of the car, leaving it and his family in the middle of the street, and shook everyone’s hands. He introduced us to his son and gave us his phone number, insisting we come have tea at his house. After driving away, he looped around twice more to make sure we were headed in the right direction toward the mosque.

This was just one of many examples of Arab hospitality that we experienced.

Quinn remembers laughing when she first heard about such traditions in a middle school course on world cultures.

“It just seemed absurd that anyone would invite complete strangers to tea and insist on sitting and talking with them for hours,” she said.

But time and again, Jordanians went out of their way to make us feel at ease. Once, in a crowded restaurant where the menu featured complicated Arabic and no English, the manager rushed over to translate it on the spot. Another weekend, the midshipmen went on a hike and picnic with one of the city’s “walking clubs.” Quinn recalls that after hours of barbecuing kebabs, singing, hiking, and smoking hookah, it felt like she had known the members of the walking club much longer than a day.

Some of what is described as “Arab hospitality” by Westerners is a stereotype or at least more complicated than we assume. For instance, one of our professors told us that even though a Jordanian might offer their belongings as a gift out of tradition, they may not want to actually part with their possession. In fact, they would expect the guest to decline - a part of the ritual that might be lost on outsiders.

We also found that this sense of hospitality may not always be applied equally outside of the home or other personal settings. Whereas a guest’s comfort may be paramount, being a Western woman on the street provokes blatant stares and honks.

On a personal level, that kind of hospitality did exist, and when it did, we found that was one of the best parts of our experience in Jordan.

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