Sunday, July 3, 2011

Olive trees, women, and me.

This last weekend reaffirmed to me that I know very little about the culture here. You get glimpses of true Jordanian/Muslim culture in Amman - the head scarves, the robes, the call to prayer, etc. But being around Americans all the time prevents one from truly experiencing Arab culture. My most recent mini-vacation was a great experience and one that I will never forget.

I received an invitation to go visit a member of the Peace Corps who is staying in a small village near Ajloun. Recognize that name? Yep, Ajloun is the place I visited about a month ago with the majestic castle atop a hill. We were to stay with the Peace Corps member (named Natalie) in a village called Ourjan. I went with Jini, Kinsi, and Amanda, and since we were visiting Natalie...yes...I was the only man spending the weekend with four women. Winning!

After the most frustrating taxi ride I've ever experienced and paying over triple what we should have paid for a short trip, we finally made it to the bus station. We boarded the "bus" (really a van) to Ajloun. From Ajloun we took a cab on tiny roads to Ourjan. It was like that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch, Sundance, and their woman arrive in Bolivia. Stepping off the bus, we stared at the nothingness before us as the sputter of the taxi faded into the distance. There was no way, I thought, that we would be connected with our American Peace Corps friend. I was proven wrong when Natalie came down the street with her red hair aglow and big smile.

The five of us (remember, I was the lone man in the group) chatted for an hour or so in Natalie's home. It was actually quite nice - so nice, in fact, that Natalie considers herself to be part of the Posh Corps rather than the Peace Corps. She made a 24 month commitment to work at a school for disabled children in Ourjan, and she'll be alone the entire time. What a commitment, and congrats to her for doing a big thing to change the world in a small way!

We had a dinner appointment with a family across the village, so we took off. Since the village was a lot more conservative than Amman, the women had a few rules to follow:
1. Speak quietly
2. Don't speak to men.
3. Keep heads down.
4. Wear clothing covering arms to wrists and legs to ankles.

Me, the man? I could do basically anything I wanted. Natalie suggested that I walk in the front of the pack and say hello to the villagers. It was interesting, and though I felt invincible, I didn't like it.

We had an excellent dinner with this great family. Since the people in the village do not use furniture, we sat/laid on these foam pads. They made mansef for us, though it was served with chicken rather than the traditional lamb. It is served on a big plate on the floor and we were welcome to go at it. I ate so much food quickly that my stomach did not let me forget it all night.

After dinner we went on top of their roof where they had a little hut made out of bamboo. The temperature was perfect, and we had a great view of the rest of the village and beyond. More family members showed up, including Abu Yousef - the top dawg in the family. He came in his traditional garb - robe, red-checkered scarf, etc.

The family was great, and it was so good to see a family in the comfort of their own home. Sometimes I get the wrong idea about the people here because I only see them in public. They are very hospitable...and funny! I never realized that Arab women could be so funny. Maybe because I'm not really supposed to talk to them in most situations.

The next day we walked to the downtown of the village, picked up some falafel, and made our way to a olive tree orchard. Olive trees are absolutely incredible. They have so much character - you can almost see the hardship they go through. And they feel so old. These are the girls I spent the weekend with walking up a hill lined with olive trees:

And another tree:

I was surprised that there was a Christian church in such a small village. Only about 6% of Jordanians are Christian.

As I contemplate my time here, I feel growth. Life has a way of taking us along without asking for our permission. I mean, Jordan? How did I end up here? I don't know if this was part of my calling or destiny, but here I am. I don't know the precise reason that life took me to Jordan, but this I know: I have done things, been places, and met people that have changed my life. This summer will be one that I never forget.

(The above paragraph was meant to be dramatic. I needed something to go along with this photo.)

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