Okay, everything I thought about people in the Middle East was wrong. When I told people I was joining the Peace Corps in Jordan I mostly got two reactions: “Oh my god, you are so brave.” and “But you’re a woman!” Turns out neither my bravery or my womanhood are being tested here, which is a relief. But I’ll admit, I was really scared when I got my invitation to Jordan. The main messages we get about the Middle East in the U.S. paint a picture of violence, oppression, and rigid gender roles, and even though I knew that Jordan was a pretty safe country and that most of what I’d heard was probably exaggerated, I was scared. But I was way off. Last week I moved in with my host family and oh my god, they are so much nicer than any other people I have ever met. It’s insane. They feed me and offer me tea constantly, they compliment my crazy frumpy Jordanian clothing, they want to know everything about me and my family and all of my friends, and they never want me to leave! And all of this for someone a) they just met and b) who can’t communicate anything more than “Thank you” and “Al Hamdilulah” (praise God)!
EXAMPLE TIME! The second night at my homestay we went to visit one of my host sisters and she promptly baked me a cake and gave me the following gifts: one of her shirts, a new purse, pictures of her and all of her children (which she tore out of the photo album in front of me), and a can of deodorant (that one was weird, but so nice!). Yesterday night another one of my host sisters and a couple of the brothers sat down with me and straight up taught me all of the words for all of the objects in the living room. They also decided that the notecards I’d made for the alphabet were insufficient, and proceeded to make me a new set with pictures of all of the words that started with each respective letter. Sometime maybe I’ll post pictures of them…they’re a work of art. And everyone is so concerned for me and my personal safety! They always want to know where I’m going and when I’ll be back, and I think they’re pretty much scheduling the family meals around my class schedule. They also gave me the biggest room in the house to sleep in, which has the only real bed. My host sister is now sleeping on a couple farshas (kind of like mattress pads?) on the floor of the living room.
And the childen! They’re everywhere, and every time I think I’ve met all of them more come out of the woodwork! All of the families live in homes that they built around the mom’s house, so the kids just wander freely from house to house and climb all over and build farsha forts and eat things and play in the mud. It’s basically every kid’s dream, and I’m loving hanging out with them. They’re also really intent on teaching me Arabic, which is great because I’m pretty much on the same level as the 2 year olds. We do a lot of counting to 10 together and practicing our letters…when we get it right all the uncles and aunts clap.
Anyway, my host family is everything I ever could have hoped for and I’m really really happy to be hanging out with them for the next couple months. I can’t imagine a better way to learn about this culture, and I basically never want to leave. Al Hamdilulah!