“Yalla ya shabab!”, our teacher, Ustadha Salam called our attention with an enthusiastic, “Come on guys!” “Study time is over; we are going to eat!”
And with that, we abandoned our textbooks and notes for a surprise feast, wherein we were given a chance to taste the dishes that we saw in pictures, and savor the flavors that we were told about in our lesson. Our meal consisted of beans, hummus, baba ghanoush, salad, yogurt, falafels, pita, and tea. It seemed surprising to us that our teachers would take the time to do such a thing as to order a complete meal and serve it in class, but looking back on what baffled me weeks ago, it now seems customary. Food is an extremely important part of Jordanian culture and hospitality. Here, food is piled limitlessly on your plate: courses of pita, meat, and sides doused in olive oil. The food is delectable- no doubt, but they serve so much of it! It took a long time for my family to accept that I could only eat so much; in fact, they now compare my appetite to that of my two-year host brother, Hashem, and jokingly clap and cheer when I request seconds. The idea of feeding to express love reminds me so much of India. We even have a word for it: aagrah, literally meaning- to insist, which celebrates the act of force feeding one’s guests.
Parties. Oh, the parties. Well, last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend my first Jordanian party! When my mom said we were going to a neighbor’s place to celebrate the success of their daughter on a college paper, my expectation had been a very simple affair, consisting of some food and chatting. However, as we stepped into the building, we realized that the entire apartment was vibrating with the sound of loud party music in Arabic. The apartment living room was shaking with the rhythm of nearly thirty people in a small living room mixing traditional folk dance with catchy tunes. At first I was nervous and shy, but soon, it was hard not to join in with the fun. Things were truly wild, with cousins playing drums, someone carrying the celebrated girl on his shoulders, and an uncle dancing on the coffee table.
One of the most essential parts of Jordanian culture is family. Unlike back home, where extended family lives far away, and visits are only occasional, here, I get to see host cousins and aunts almost as often as my immediate family itself. Nearly everyday, we have family over for some reason or another: a meal, some errand, just a social call, or even to just take a nap. I am so lucky to have a lot of host cousins my age, with whom I have been able to talk and interact. It really gives me the perspective of teenage Jordanian girls, and I have been able to identify our similarities which cherishing our differences. What I find interesting is that every time I see my cousins, they greet me with hugs and enthusiasm, as if we had known eachother forever. They have always made me feel like I am truly part of the family with their welcoming attitude, and their ceaseless will to help me practice my Arabic and improve my skills.
Prior to my arrival in Jordan, I read about the country in blogs and travel guides. But nothing compares to the cultural experience that I have had in this past month. (Yes, yesterday officially marked the completion of a month living in Jordan). Food, relatives, and some partying. Jordan to me has been nothing but inclusion, friendliness, and hospitality. I have received so much love from the people in Jordan, and already I know I am going to miss it. In Arabic, they said “Bayti baytak”; my home is your home. Now, it’s more of an experience than something that I’ve read on paper.