Perceptions of the Middle East: First Days in Jordan
Take a deep breath and inhale the words of welcome, arid climate, enchanting melodies exuding from every mosque, warmth from those around, and enlightening History of the nation Jordan. My name is Enrico Abadesco. I am a Senior and Undergraduate at the University Of Washington on track to complete BA in civil engineering. I have been blessed with an opportunity to join Dr. Heidi Gough, a professor here in the Civil and Environmental Department, and seven other students on study aboard program that will be held at the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST) within Irbid, Jordan. Dr. Muna, a professor at the JUST, has been working with Dr. Heidi to create a program focused on everything water. We will cover topics such as water and wastewater treatment to water resources and recharge and issues involving water consumption across the nation. During our stay, we will compare our current water system in Washington State with Jordan’s. Christina, another student from the UW, will cover the more academic analysis over our stay. Her blog is as follows: http://seattletojordan.blogspot.com. To balance out her amazing blog, I’ve chosen to write about social and cultural exchange.
I must admit, my educational background of this nation rich with change as well as beautiful cultural history wasn’t very broad. I knew an introductory amount about the thousands of years of influences on Jordan. A bit from the Bronze Age and its copper mining to the Nabataea and Petra, Romans and Jaresh, Christianity and churches to the prevalence of Islam today. I’ve also read about the history of Jordan’s constitutional monarchy and King Abdullah II. I knew of these things, but nothing that was thorough or anything on a cultural basis. Everything cultural was based off western media and its perception of the Middle East, which has a bad tendency to group all of the Middle East together as one culture. Thus, through this experience I hope to understand a bit more of this historically and worldly rich nation.
That being said, I truly believe cultural exchange is just as important as the academic exchange. This cultural understanding helps our world’s progression just as much as our findings in water resource and management. One thing I’ve read about Jordan that stood out to me, is that the nation is proud of its richest resource, people. Jordan is home to many refugees from surrounding areas, and with this diversity they do well to coexist. It has only been a few days, but as time has passed I find this to be very prevalent within Jordanian culture.
Joe Ellingson, another student from UW, and myself experienced this welcoming aspect on our first day in Amman, Jordan. We arrived late Saturday night by taxi. The journey through the highways allowed for us to take in the vast, but dense infrastructure of Amman. The packed stone buildings that lit up and lined the hillsides looked as if stars filled the Capitol. To me we were traveling in a different world, a world that I’ve only seen in movies and news flashes. The driver was extremely nice, though he spoke very little English. He understood us enough to take us to our hotel. Once at the hotel, we greeted the front desk with a tired by cheery, “Salam.” To our disappointment we arrived to only find out our reservations were for the wrong days. Regardless, the manager help arrange a room at another local hotel. It was only a few hours into our stay, and everyone we encountered was respectful and very much helpful. This friendliness really radiated from the people.
To reassert this appreciation that Jordanians have for people and cultural interaction, I want to share with you a story about a man named Ali. We ran into Ali while trying to buy a notebook for our upcoming lectures. He spoke English very well, and helped us find what we needed. He proceeded to ask where we were from, and what we were here for. We told him about our program, and was very appreciative of the efforts made by the University Of Washington and Jordan University of Science and Technology. He invited us for tea behind his store, and shared with us stories of his life and nation, and lessons in Arabic. He expressed his disappointment in how his nation was perceived, and of how proud his people are of the peace that Jordan holds. We talked for a few hours while taking sips of tea. Ali expressed his family’s proud ownership of the bookstore for over 50 years, his aspirations to study in Italy, and even displayed his fluency in Italian along with English. He would get up once in awhile to help customers that would arrive, while proceeding to share more of his life growing up in Jordan. Our encounters with the customers consisted of our feeble attempts at pronouncing, “Marhaba” and “Salam.” Despite our lack of Arabic, we were always greeted with a smile. Some of the more important stories told were those that pertained to Islam. He was very open in telling us about his religion and the things he believed. Soon the stores amongst Al Hashimi were closing down. We decided to call it a night. We exchanged contact information and took so photos to later be shared. Ali was a good friend we hope to keep in contact with in Jordan and after we head home to Seattle.
It is through these encounters with people of Jordan, like Ali, that we can try to understand Jordan through a social and cultural aspect. When we were lost or needed help, people were willing to help us. We may have only seen a small part of what Jordan may be, but it is with this small portion that displays Jordan’s pride in their diversity and culture. I enjoyed sharing stories with Ali, and I hope to learn more from the people we will run into.
All in all, this part of the world should not be perceived as it is back home. It is full of wonderful people who love, live and struggle just like us. It is with this willingness to share culture and our own stories as people that our first couple of days in Amman comes to an end.