6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip

I felt scared in Jordan only once. On a walk with two of my roommates from our apartment to a local restaurant, a white mustang started following us. The tinted windows rolled down and compliments poured out. My roommate suggested that we skip dinner at the restaurant, as we might not be able to get back to our apartment without them following us home.

Instead, we decided to walk to our school where one of our professors could help us get somewhere safely. As we approached the busy main street, the people in the car realized that they would not be able to follow us further. Before they sped off, one young man shouted, “We will wait for you!”

I felt angry, exposed, humiliated, and frightened all at once. But before we could even make it to the school, another car drove up unexpectedly–this time driven by the son of one of our professors. He offered us all a ride to the restaurant and even paid for our meals.

I wish now that I had spent time preparing for the connectedness and security I would feel in Jordan so that I could fully appreciate it.

On the ride back to the apartment he explained that they probably hadn’t meant to scare us and most definitely were not going to be waiting at the corner of our street. By the time he dropped us off at the door, we felt just as safe as we had back home.

What I remembered most about that experience was not the harassment (which was NOT okay, regardless of the men’s intention), but rather the unprecedented and sincere generosity that we received. So much of my travel preparations had focused on making sure I would be safe in Jordan, where I assumed I would feel vulnerable.

I wish now that I had spent time preparing for the connectedness and security I would feel in Jordan so that I could fully appreciate it. With that, here are six things I wish I would have known before traveling to Jordan:

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip

1. How to cook

Depending on where you stay and your level of proficiency in Arabic, authentic cuisine can be hard to come by or intimidating to seek out. Take this as an opportunity to learn how to cook Mediterranean food straight from the source! You will save a considerable amount of money by cooking for yourself and have fun practicing your Arabic in the process.

More importantly, by having the tools and skills necessary to prepare a home cooked meal, you will have the opportunity to engage in the most important part of Jordanian culture: hospitality. Nothing can prepare you for the compassion and generosity that you will experience as a guest in a Jordanian home. Trust me, you will want to give more than a “shukran” in return.

2. How NOT to take a picture

No matter where you are, you should always ask before taking a photo of person or their property, but this is especially important when traveling in a predominantly Muslim country. It is forbidden for some Muslim women to have their picture taken whether they are in hijab or not. It is tempting to take a picture of every new and novel thing you see, but keep in mind that what seems strange or funny to you might be an important part of someone’s life.

That donkey you just snapped a photo of might be your neighbor’s transportation. How would you feel if a stranger started taking pictures of your car? Studies have actually shown that it is harder to retain the important details of an experience when you are looking at the world through a viewfinder. If you want to get the full experience while traveling, put down the camera every once in a while.

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip
Asking before taking a photo is essential.

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip

3. How to navigate public transportation

As a tourist or student abroad, it is best to travel in groups with at least one male. However, that does not mean that you cannot safely enjoy your independence in Jordan away from your peers or host family. The best way to accomplish this is by using public transportation such as buses and vans.

Cabs are expensive and can only take you within a limited area. Further, you are in a more vulnerable position alone in the backseat of a cab than in a crowded bus. The most empowering and engaging experience of my entire trip was taking a bus from Amman to Irbid to visit my friend’s family.

I had neither a phone nor a map, just an English-Arabic dictionary and the directions that my friend provided, written on a piece of paper. At the bus station, I sat next to a young woman close to my age and introduced myself. I showed her my friend’s carefully written instructions and it just so happened that she was going the same way.

Just like that, I was no longer traveling alone. With a smartphone or a map (or really good directions) and someone to meet you at point ‘b’, you have everything you need to explore Jordan safely “on your own.”

4. How to get personal

Certain conversation topics that qualify as “personal” or “intimate” in Western culture are less taboo among acquaintances in Arab culture. That doesn’t mean that you have to answer questions that make you uncomfortable, but it does allow you to connect more deeply with the people you meet. Learn how to talk about yourself in Arabic. Even very simple phrases can give people insight into your values.

It is very common in Arab culture to talk about the most recent or significant deaths in the family. As soon as you become aware that someone has died, you respond with “allah-yar-humah” (God rest her soul), “allah-yar-humoh” (God rest his soul), or “allah-yar-hamhum” (God rest their souls). From that point on, whenever that person is mentioned in the conversation, you should interject with the correct form of “allahyarhumah.”

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip
Deva in Jordan /

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip

5. How to dance

Street performers frequent many tourist sites such as Jerash and Um-Qais. Where there is music and open space, Debka is sure to follow. It is just as fun to participate in the dance as it is to watch the pros in action. If you plan to stay in Wadi Rum (which you must do while in Jordan), you will definitely want to learn a few basic steps.

At night, the tourist camps turn into desert dance clubs complete with lights and a D.J. For dancing of all kinds, Amman  has several night clubs that you will want to check out. Many of these clubs cater to American and European patrons, but that does not mean they aren’t popular with locals. Going out is a great way to make friends and see parts of the city you might not have ever known existed.

6. How to be different

Anywhere you go, there will be people you can trust and people that you cannot trust. It is no more or less difficult to discern these two types of people abroad than it is at home. Most people will be curious about and not threatened by your differences. My pale skin, red hair, and American clothes attracted a lot of unwanted attention, but it also served as an ice-breaker for some incredible conversations.

You will more than likely, at some point in your trip, make a mistake in your speech or decorum and more than likely someone will laugh. But don’t let that keep you from talking with as many people as possible.

The perspective you gain from international travel does not come simply by seeing more of the world, but rather, by seeing yourself through the eyes of others.

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip
Most people are curious rather than threatened by difference

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Jordan Trip

Related Reading

Travel Jordan: Jordanian Culture, Customs and Cuisine

Have you traveled to Jordan? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you! Tips for Women Travelers in Jordan

About Deva Kellam

Deva KellamDeva Kellam is a graduating senior at the University of North Texas, majoring in English with minors in International Studies and Arabic. In the fall, she will begin a doctoral program in Rhetoric, specializing in human rights and apartheid rhetorics.

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