Two weeks ago we had a day off from classes prior to our trip to Petra. I wanted to take advantage of this. So, I along with two other students, contacted my friend Alawi, a shopkeeper that we had shared tea with various times. Alawi, along with his girlfriend Ashleigh, volunteered to take us on a trip through the Jordanian countryside to visit Salt, the former capital of Jordan, and the city of Mafraq, which is known for its large Syrian refugee numbers and for proximity to zaatari, Jordan’s largest Syrian refugee camp.
Our day began with a stop by a falafel shop near Alawi’s shop in Amman’s Balad. We also stopped by a small shop that sold fresh, stone-baked flat bread. When there, we were brought inside and asked to get a group photograph. The shopkeepers were obviously not used to tourists. They were very kind to us, we felt like celebraties.
After our breakfast, we headed to the bus station via taxi. We took a bus to Salt and arrived around 12pm. We walked through the scenic city, sat along a stone wall, talked with village children and admired the view.
We also visited a Greek Orthodox Church built in the mid 1600s and a beautiful Orthodox Church, among other things.
As we walked through the city, we listened to the loud Friday afternoon message at the mosque, I was taken aback by all the children playing and the friendly locals who wanted me to take photographs of them. I loved walking through the little residential areas and enjoyed looking at the multi-colored clothing that drifted through the wind as they were left to dry on the clothes lines. Salt was also filled with apricot trees which Alawi pretended to knock down strategically using a rock. We enjoyed those sweet fruits as we walked through the stone city.
After our time in Salt, we took yet another bus to Mafraq. From there we were able to see the Zaatari camp’s entrance. One young couple, who had three small children and an infant, sat among us on our bus and got off near the camp’s entrance. I watched them as they walked through the camp’s entrance. That made the situation all too real for me. Seeing the white tents as we drove away from Zaatari was a surreal experience.
While I head off to Jordan for its natural beauty and rich culture, many are forced to come to Jordan because they are fearing death. They were forced to leave their homes, their lives, their country and part of their identities behind them. Now they are each branded with the label “refugee” and have become a number and a statistic in a tragic situation. They wait in anticipation and hope to return to their now unrecognizable and destroyed homes. Their current “homes” are now dirt floors and flimsy white tents. Despite this, here I am, traveling, attending a university and leaving my home out of a desire, not a necessity. Seeing Mafraq’s state and the refugee family was a humbling experience. I hope that I am currently attaining skills in school that will help me to give a face to the statistics, spread awareness and somehow help with the refugee problems our world is facing.
While in Mafraq, our taxi driver brought us to his cousin’s shop where we shared mint tea. After our time in Mafraq, we began our trip back to Amman. Along the way, I joked that I wanted to try camel’s milk but the taxi driver took my pleas seriously. We stopped at a camel farm in the countryside along the way. The first farm we stopped at was run by a Syrian Bedouin refugee but it did not have any nursing camels. About ten minutes later, we stopped at another camel farm.
The second farm was much smaller and did happen to have a nursing camel. We ran out to the rural farm as the sun began to set. We then watched a baby camel drink its mother’s milk as a farm boy gently milked the camel, filling a small white bucket. The process was peaceful and the mother did not even seem to notice. The boy then filled water bottles with the warm milk. Feeling adventurous, I took a swig of the warm, freshly milked raw camel’s milk. It was creamy, warm and I was told good for health. It was an experience I will never forget.
During the remainder of our journey back to Amman in our small van, we clapped and sang and danced in our seats to fun, upbeat Arabic music. Upon our arrival to Amman, Alawi insisted we visit his family’s home. We first stopped by a supermarket where we picked up a large watermelon for his family. Upon our entrance to Alawi’s home we were greeted with hugs, kisses and so much love. We were brought to their parlor and brought kanafeh.
After the kanafeh and some funny conversations, the women brought out the freshly cut watermelon, in generous portions I might add. We then drank some mint tea. One of my favorite moments of the day was when Alwai’s younger sister helped her grandmother, who was in a bed in the living room, sip her tea. When the little, frail grandmother spoke, all were quiet and listed. The love and affection the family showed their elders was absolutely moving. I have never seen such a thing in America.
After the tea time, Alawi’s cousins brought out drums. We had a little mini dance party all together. Then the women disappeared into another room and signaled for Ashley, Ashleigh and I to follow them into the separate room. When I entered the room, Alawi’s sisters and cousins began to remove their hijabs and whip their hair around. We had a little private dance party. It was surreal and so much fun. They taught me how to dance in the traditional Arab way.
After our dance party, we went back to the living area and were offered coffee, at 10pm, but we could not say no as we understood that drinking coffee is a sign of hospitality in the Arab culture. After our coffee they invited us to return to their home for a traditional Iraqi dinner this upcoming week. I am excited to embark on yet another cultural adventure and to spend more time with such a loving and welcoming family.
I am so thankful for the small little spontaneous moments during my day trip to Salt and Mafraq and I look forward to more cultural experiences during the remainder of my time in Jordan.
Stay true, live justly and always travel on. Peace and love.