Peace Corps in Jordan: Exchanging Control for Understanding

Peace Corps in Jordan: Exchanging Control for Understanding

pink pangea foreign correspondent Approximately two weeks ago, I arrived in Jordan as a Peace Corps Trainee, oversized bags and suitcases weighing down my body and a sea of emotions and thoughts weighing on my mind. All I knew then was that I was embarking on a journey that would change my life.

My experience so far has been positive, not to say there have not been rough days. Currently, I reside with my host family in Ma’iin, a rural village about an hour away from Amman. The views are beautiful: rolling hills, sheep grazing in fields, olive trees, and the most spectacular sun sets. The people are friendly and welcoming, always inviting us volunteers over for as much tea and coffee as we can drink and encouraging us to practice speaking Arabic. The community itself is close-knit, everyone watching out for each other. Although I love being here, adjusting to life here has been a challenge and remains a challenge. I am still learning my boundaries as both a woman and a foreigner, which boundaries are elastic and which are not, as are my fellow female volunteers.

I chose to give up control in some areas of my life, with the hope of achieving a greater understanding of the culture and society in which I will be living for the next 27 months.

Living in Boston, I had complete freedom of mobility. I wore what I wanted to wear, ate what I wanted to eat, exercised outside without thinking twice, socialized with whom I wanted to socialize, and never put much thought into my daily routine. Since arriving in Jordan, I have had to adjust in all of the aforementioned areas. Everyday, I wear loose pants or a loose skirt, a loose and long blouse, a long-sleeved undershirt or a cardigan, a scarf to cover my neck, and my hair needs to always be tied back. I rarely eat vegetables anymore. It is not socially acceptable for women to exercise in public. It is not socially acceptable to speak with men on the street. I am always cautious of what I do and say because I know I am being viewed as a representative of America. I want to adhere to the societal norms because I want to show the people in my community that I respect their culture. I chose to give up control in some areas of my life, with the hope of achieving a greater understanding of the culture and society in which I will be living for the next 27 months.

So, why did I join the Peace Corps? Why did I give up my amazing job in a fantastic city to live in the middle of the Middle East as a volunteer? I have been asked these questions countless times by people I know and love and the answer is really quite simple: I am doing this because this is important to me. Everything the Peace Corps stands for is important to me, especially within the context of the Middle East. Now more than ever it is important that Americans and Arabs work to understand each other and their respective cultures. Do I expect to save the world? Absolutely not, but I do hope to try to dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding both Americans and Arabs. The “us vs. them” attitude is toxic and works to dehumanize unfamiliar cultures, as history has shown numerous times. I do not expect to achieve world peace, but I do hope to foster an interest in understanding unfamiliar cultures, rather than dismissing them under a cloud of stereotypes.

I will live in Ma’iin for the next two months, after which I will be sworn in as an official volunteer and will be relocated to a different region in Jordan. The next two months will be challenging as I continue to adjust and try to understand this fascinating culture.

About Toby Cox

Toby CoxToby Cox is a Virginia native who is currently in Jordan as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

3 thoughts on “Peace Corps in Jordan: Exchanging Control for Understanding

  1. Avatar
    Gina Gamal
    November 17, 2014

    Good luck! It will get soo much better after PST. I was a J2 volunteer and finished my service in 2000. It was tough at times but the overall experience was fanstastic and I fondly look back at my time in Peace Corps. I just had a girls weekend with some other J2 volunteers over Labor Day weekend (you will create an unusually close bond with your fellow volunteers) and was visited by my Jordanian boss last year at my home in Chicago! Take it day by day and rejoice in the cultural differences (and burn off frustration in Amman and al-Quds!). Best of Luck!

  2. Avatar
    November 17, 2014

    I’m working on my Peace Corps Jordan memoir (I was a J7), and I’ve been writing this week about my PST in Ma’iin and learning what I called “the art of anticipation,” which was a lot about mastering the details I took for granted in America and Europe – what I wore, where and how I walked, who I spoke to or made eye contact with, etc. It was a big adjustment, but it paid off for me in big ways, and allowed me to make positive change, however small, for at least a few people. You can do it, too! You’re already off to a good start.

  3. Anna Cabe
    Anna Cabe
    November 5, 2014

    Good luck! I first came to Indonesia, another Muslim if culturally different country, through the Fulbright Program. It was a massive adjustment to my city’s cultural mores (I still screw up!), so I hope you forgive yourself for any lapses. 🙂

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