Peace Corps in Jordan: Exchanging Control for Understanding
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.