Postcard from Abroad: بلدي الأردن Jordan, My Country
By Natalie Peck, Contributing Writer
“Welcome to Jordan!” This phrase has been repeated to me at least once a week over the last two months since moving to Amman, Jordan and I know I’ll hear it until I leave. Sometimes, it’s spoken in an Uber on my drive back to my homestay while I’m clutching the headrest due to the wild driving that makes New York drivers seem tame. Sometimes, it’s in my host family’s living room as I meet another new extended family member. Every time, without failure, it’s delivered with a giant smile.
At the beginning of the program, I walked out of orientation thinking to myself, “what did I get myself into…” I definitely experienced culture shock, and combined with the cold weather of Amman’s winter, it created a sense of uncertainty. However, Jordanians are known for their generosity, and soon enough, I felt at ease. The anxiety about living with a host family for three and half months was relieved when I was welcomed into the arms of a family that has done nothing but treat me as if I was a direct extension of their family, a child, and a sister.
I’m still getting used to my local friends constantly insisting to pay for my coffee, Henna tattoos, or for adventures we are always getting into impulsively on random nights after “Iftar.” One night, a few students and I were drinking tea at a cafe and walked up to a group that looked our age. Now, having become good friends, they allow us to ask questions about the intricacies of their lives and culture.
The concept of independence is different here. Typically, I would be confident to hop on any bus in a European city because I’ve been able to communicate enough in those languages to get by. Here, I know very little Arabic and rely heavily on my local friends to translate and handle any possible challenges, which I am not used to, but that’s the fun in it! You’d be surprised at how many Jordanians speak English, better than my Arabic half of the time!
The beauty here is also unique. Gone is the lush greenery that I see in my hometown, or Gettysburg for that matter, and in comes the incredibly beautiful desert colors. Every time I experience a new region of Jordan, whether it’s the Dead Sea, Ajloun Forest, or Wadi Rum, I’m met with a new sensation that fully intoxicates my brain. A month ago, I was sitting with my cohort on top of a rocky hill with a lone, scraggly tree on top. We had just hiked up, and chose various patches of rock or grass to silently perch on. We watched the sunset, while looking towards Palestine/Israel, and listened to the “Adhan,” the call to prayer. The palette of colors and sounds set me so at peace that it will forever be ingrained in my brain.
I will admit, the culture is unique with a different value system, but my major prepared me for this and how to integrate. While every day here, I learn, see, or do something new, there are still elements that I miss like going for a drive with friends, or not having to pay for water at every restaurant or cafe. But being in this water-poor country, I no longer take for granted how lucky we are in the U.S. for the abundance of water.
In two month’s time, I’ll be sitting on a plane heading back to the East Coast. I’ll be having zait and zaatar “olive oil and spices” withdrawals, missing my host family’s killer tea that I had every single day, and missing some of my best friends. My henna tattoo of the outline of Jordan may have faded, but the memories I’ve made here never will and inshallah, or “God willing,” I will return again!
This article originally appeared on page 19 of the April 2023 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.