My father was born and raised in Jordan. After years of desire, he moved to the U.S. in search of a new kind of life. He found my mother and settled in Kansas City, Kansas. I’ve lived in the pancake state my entire life, unwilling to acknowledge my ethnicity and afraid of the characteristics that made me different. Eventually, something changed, and I had a great desire to know where I came from.
This past summer, for the first time, my parents took my brother and me to Jordan to meet our family and explore our heritage. While there are aspects of the trip I didn’t like, Jordan was an unbelievable trip packed with rich, cultural experiences. For the first time in my life, things made sense.
We hear a lot of negative things about the Middle East. I want to focus on the good things I experienced in Jordan — because rarely are they discussed. These are a few things I learned during my trip.
When the sun sets, the city rises
When I landed in Amman, Jordan, it was 2 a.m. The first sound I heard as I shuffled off the plane was flowing water from the fountains that peppered the airport, followed by the soft voices of a bustling building. The country was wide awake.
I sat quietly in the back of my uncle’s car, astounded by the lack of lanes on the highway and mesmerized by the tropical air and shining lights. I’d never seen a city so lit up at that time of night.
Since the afternoon sun is very hot in the Middle East, the busiest times of the day aren’t during the day at all. When the sun sets, the city rises. The rowdy streets of Amman are dressed in strips of LED lights and perfumed with the scent of fresh shawarma and sweet figs.
It is a stone city
My father calls the buildings in Jordan “boxes” because of their uniform nature. They are made of stone and stand strong as curly locks of jasmine crawl up their sides. The region is hilly and sprinkled with hundreds of olive trees and pale, airy sand. The sky seemed thinner than it did back home — like if you followed the horizon far enough, you’d find the end of the world (but really, you’d find the Dead Sea).
This country is beautiful in ways that other places are not. While old, it possesses a mystical kind of charm.
Tea is better when it is scalding hot and soaked with maramia
The hot weather seemed extremely incompatible with scalding tea, especially since I typically woke up in a pond of sweat. But after a few days, the thought of hot, freshly brewed tea with maramia (sage) made my mouth water.
There are no individuals in Jordan, only family and friends
In the West, we live primarily solitary lives. Though some of us find a tribe, we have developed a concept of individuality that has echoed through our ancestors and settled its paws on us — the “me” generation.
In much of the Middle East — as well as other parts of the world — people look not for individualism but for collectivism. Family takes on a new meaning in Jordan. Whether this is for better or for worse is not the point. Rather, the point is the idea that a person is not just a person. They are a sister or a brother or a father or a mother. They are a lover or an enemy. They are defined not only by who they are but also by who they interact with and how.
The women are powerful
We have all heard the age-old mantra that women in the Middle East are oppressed and helpless. We’ve heard the horror stories — and all of this rings true. But it is not true in all places. Jordan is one of the most westernized countries in the region. The women there are powerful. When these women speak, they are heard. Sometimes, they are feared. I had never seen fear in my father’s eyes until my jida (grandmother) snapped at him to take his feet off the furniture. Of course, conditions for women can always be improved.
The desert is not hot, barren or desolate
The Wadi Rum is the one of the most otherworldly places on this planet. We arrived there on my birthday after four hours of driving through what seemed to be nothing. After a few turns, we found ourselves in the midst of sand dunes and rock structures that suffocated the sky. Smiling camels walked aimlessly through the dunes, guided by the Bedouin, a nomadic group that has inhabited the country for centuries. The desert is not unbearably hot, and there are plenty of Bedouin groups who set up tents and host guests throughout the year.
That night, we walked out to the middle of the desert, far away from any light pollution. We sat in the airy sand and stared at the sky. The spine of the milky way stretched from right to left.
Life is better lived slowly and with lots of laughter
One of the most contrasting elements in Jordan is the ease with which life is lived there. Days are usually easygoing, without fear or panic. That is not to say there aren’t terrible, traumatic things that happen there — there are. But the Jordanian people choose to take their normal routines slower and more relaxed than those in the West.
These people find ways to laugh in every conversation they have. They are happy with what they have. The entire time I was there, I didn’t meet a Jordanian who didn’t smile or joke for the majority of a conversation. I realized where my father got his energy and — generally speaking — happiness from. Not every moment is a good moment, but in Jordan, the good moments are celebrated to the absolute fullest and with total love and excitement for the present.
The Jordanian people will treat you as though they have known you their whole lives
I smiled quite a bit during my time in this country. Not only had I discovered my roots and engrossed myself in a culture which had grown too far from me, but I spent the time with people who knew how to be happy, kind and truly empathic. The people in this country are anything but cold. The Jordanian people will greet you with smiles and laughter and plenty of tea.
Julie Freijat is sophomore in journalism and mass communication. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.