"Bravery and the Power of Hospitality" by Jacqueline Howell
How does one put words to an experience that brought such insight into oneself? Jordan was everything I hoped it would be. In many ways, it showed me how I was wrong in viewing the region prior to going. I felt exposed and vulnerable time and time again as each new experience stripped me down, then built me up again. How my time in Jordan changed me can be summed up in my experience traveling to the old downtown of Amman, Wasat al-Balad. My first time in this section of town was quite overwhelming. There were people everywhere. Shouting about their goods, talking with friends and family, and calling from cars. Smells wafted over me from every direction from the smell of fresh fruits from nearby juice stands, sweet sugars from desert carts, fresh cut wood, tanned leather, and perfumes. There were colors of the whole rainbow and beyond from clothing, flags, cookware, building materials, and electronics. I was aware of the awe I was in, but was utterly unprepared for such an overwhelming amount of activity.
My friends and I only stayed for about 20 minutes before jumping into a taxi and heading back to our apartment. After arriving home, I was able to slowly comb through my memories of the many things I saw, and began to appreciate them in a way I was unable to in the moment. A few days later, we returned to Wasat al-Balad. Upon arriving, I realized I was no longer overwhelmed. We stopped by a fruit vendor after he called us over to try his squeezed juice. It was fresh and quite delicious with hints of four different fruits. Just down the block, we were beckoned by a souvenir vendor who enthusiastically escorted us inside to show us his many flags for sale. The salesman, at first, told us the flags would be 50 JD a piece and my heart sank, but after a few seconds, he chuckled and said, “I’m just kidding,” with a big smile, “5 JD each.” We all laughed and breathed sighs of relief together. After purchasing our flags, the salesman also gave us a few little additional souvenirs (a patch and some pins of the Jordan flag) for no extra cost. His hospitality surprised me since I'm so used to the frank customer service back home. He not only helped us get souvenirs, but also gave us a fun story to go along with them.
After leaving the shop, we walked down one of the main streets to swing by Habibas to enjoy some of the best kanafeh in all of Amman. It was sweet and practically melted in my mouth. As I sat there enjoying my dessert, I was impressed with how much more I had been able to take advantage of and what the area had to offer. The vendors were friendly, the smells varied but were enjoyable, and the noise that overwhelmed me the first time faded into the background. This was a mini version of my experience arriving in Amman the first time, overwhelming at first, but eventually I found my pattern and was able to put myself out there in a way that in my first week I was unable to do.
Jordan has such a variety of people to meet, places to visit, and things to do. I am saddened by how I was unable to experience it all. I am, however, extremely grateful for the things I was able to do. I met refugees from Palestine and Iraq who rebuilt their lives in Jordan and Jordanians who lamented over the economy, but also dreamed of visiting Germany someday. I visited both the vast desert of Wadi Rum and the blossoming wildflowers over green hills in northern Jordan. I tasted the best foods Jordan had to offer, from mansaf to makloubeh, all garnished with a level of hospitality that I hope to be able to channel in the future. All of these experiences happened because I was able to find a place of acceptance and comfort in this country so far from home.