The media has a way to make things seem a lot worse than they really are. This happens on many levels and it happens all over the world. People are obsessed with bad news. It is quite astonishing how unscrupulous the news networks can be, making people feel as if they know everything about a faraway land or situation just by showing a twenty-second clip of violence while tossing in a couple frightening and fear-mongering talking points. Why is it that people want to see those clips? Why is it we scan through the channels looking to see the craziest, most horrible bits of news? We should be reporting on the millions of good and hope-filled stories that happen everyday instead of looking for the one clip that will make an entire nation look bad on account of a fraction of the population.
I had thought about this many times in the past but things weren’t made especially clear to me on this subject until my travels brought me to Jordan for the first time. It was March of 2011 and the Middle East was going through a major turning point in history. The masses had finally come out to say that they were tired of the old and hungry for some change. With uprisings going on in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Syria and other demonstrations happening in a number of other countries in the region including Jordan, I certainly had a few butterflies crossing the border into Aqaba from southern Israel.
I’ll certainly admit that my ignorance and lack of knowledge on the region were responsible for my preconceived notions mixed with the small doses of trepidation I was feeling as I entered Jordan. I suppose part of those emotions emanated from my Jewish-American background and my silly, nonsensical idea that if that information were somehow leaked, my welcome would have been less convivial than otherwise. Boy was I wrong.
From the moment we stepped across the border it was all smiles from the Jordanians who welcomed us with open arms and greeted us as if we were family returning home from a long trip. Any predetermined perception I carried with me about the people of the Middle East was immediately vanquished from my mind. Right from the start the hospitality was almost overwhelming, with complete strangers offering to buy us tea and wanting to sit down to lunch with us.
Our first Sunday in Jordan happened to be Mother’s Day and we were invited by a new friend named Maria to join her and her family as they celebrated and cooked together at her place of business, Beit Sitti, a cooking school in Amman that is popular with both locals and tourists alike. We expected a decent amount of people to show up but honestly had no idea what was actually in store. Guests started to arrive around seven that evening and before we knew it, dozens of members of the Haddad family showed up. Not only were they all thrilled to have us as guests, each and every single person there went out of their way to come and talk to us, asking questions about our time in Jordan and our plans for the future. I was truly enchanted by the whole experience. As the men and children cooked for the mothers who sat back and relaxed, I bonded with quite a few Palestinians who were there and had some very civil discourse in regards to the situation in the Middle East and Jordan’s relationship with Israel (it is important to know that calling it Israel instead of Palestine while in Jordan may lead to somewhat annoyed responses). It was beyond educational for me to hear some different perspectives regarding the issues at hand. Growing up in the States and growing up Jewish (before abandoning religion during my adolescence) you tend to hear only one side of the story.
It wasn’t only the Haddad family that treated me in a warm and loving fashion. There were numerous instances where the Jordanian hospitality nearly swept me off my feet. After a small piece of plastic snapped on one of our cameras’ Rhode microphones, we sought assistance in a random camera shop we found in Amman. All we needed was a small plastic slide so the microphone could stay attached to the camera. The man in the shop inspected the piece through his thick reading glasses, making his magnified eyeballs look like painted dinner plates. He paced around his small shop looking in drawers and cabinets, searching through boxes and rummaging beneath the counter. He found a box containing a light attachment for a camera that had a similar base and began taking apart the device. The piece didn’t fit but the man was far from discouraged. He began shaving the piece of plastic with a box-cutter and continued fiddling around with his tools and our camera. After putting forth a valiant effort he pulled off his glasses and shrugged his shoulders with a somewhat defeated expression on his face and apologized that he couldn’t get it to fit. We assured him it was okay and that we were beyond grateful for his time and efforts. As Mehdy pulled out some Jordanian dinar to pay for the light attachment, the man smiled and refused the money saying that it was his pleasure to help. He then said something that we had heard countless times from other people thus far… Welcome to Jordan.
The perpetual compassion and cordiality never got old and I can’t tell you how nice it felt to have complete strangers offer to buy tea or extend dinner invitations to their homes. At one point I was snacking on the delicious love-handle creating and cavity-generating delicacy kanafeh on the street in Amman when I started speaking with a man in a suit who was enjoying the same snack. He seemed to be somewhat of a big shot and asked a lot of questions about our trip and the show. As soon I spooned the last bit of sugary goodness into my mouth he offered to take us out to lunch. In addition to the fact that we had just stuffed our faces with a plateful of diabetic kryptonite, we had fallen behind in our production schedule so we graciously declined his offer and bid him adieu.
I could go on and on about similar stories from my short stint in Jordan. It’s commonplace there. The people of Jordan make it a point to make their guests not only feel at home while visiting the Kingdom, but to also make them feel like royalty.