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Notes from Abroad: Fatima in Jordan
Notes from Abroad is a new feature on the Off-Campus Programs website, in which we highlight small snippets of a student’s experience. This week’s feature is from Fatima Hooda ’16, a Neuroscience major currently studying abroad in Amman, Jordan as part of the SIT Jordan: Modernization and Social Change program.
As part of my program, I spent a weekend living with a Bedouin* family in a rural village of Jordan called Um Ar-Rasas. While I didn’t get the chance to spend too much time there, living in the Badia** was pivotal in helping me understand nuances in the culture, health care, and lifestyle a bit better between rural and urban Jordan.
The following is a list of unique aspects I would like to share and/or things that stood out to me about living with my Bedouin family:
• My Bedouin host mom lives in a one-story house, which has a living room by the entrance (for male guests), another living room (for female guests and men within the family), three other rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a backyard. Thus, gatherings are segregated.
- My host family in Amman is mostly mixed with everyone. Sometimes the men will smoke together in one room, but men and women spending time as a family together is not a segregated experience.
• While getting a tour of the premises, I was surprised to stumble upon a camel in the backyard, along with chickens and goats.
• Shoes are not worn in the house. This is a common Bedouin custom. Because people pray and eat on the floor, the house is considered a sacred space; thus, you avoid bringing in dirt by not wearing shoes.
- I did not find this custom with my host family in Amman, who is also a Muslim family. In Amman, slippers are constantly worn around the house.
• A common tribal value is having big families. My Bedouin family is HUGE! My host mom who is an elderly woman (probably in her 70s?) has 12 children!
-My host mom in Amman, also an elderly woman (probably in her 70s? as well), has 9 children! I’m not sure if being of Palestinian origin, being Jordanian, or being from an older generation attributes to the high number of children. According to statistics, the average family in Jordan has 3-4 kids. I have found families to be big in Amman, but even bigger in the Badia.*** You’ll find children everywhere, especially in the Badia; I kid you not. (No pun intended.)
• On weekends****, especially on Friday, the family gets together. During my stay, I was able to meet some of my host mother’s children, their children, and their children. That’s 4 generations!
-My host family in Amman entertains guests very frequently. I’m surprised if I don’t find relatives over when I come home from SIT. We have family over almost everyday at my host mom’s house, especially weekends.
• Unlike my family in Amman, my Bedouin family does not use chairs or couches. It’s pretty customary to sit on the cushions on the floor.
• My Bedouin family eats from a communal plate. Everyone sits around a huge plate and eats from said plate.
-My host family in Amman does not do this too frequently. On special occasions, the men in my family will eat mansef or biryani (they actually call it “biryani” too, although it’s a bit different than what an Indo-Pak person would normally call “biryani”) with their hands from the same plate. I don’t know how common this is among other families in Amman, but this is what I observed in my family.
• While eating, I noticed that my Bedouin family sat with one leg to their stomach, which is a very traditional, Bedouin custom. It is considered sunnah***** and helps you avoid overeating.
• I drank boiled camel milk, which many Bedouins claim boosts your immunity and is especially helpful in curing cancer, but that claim is scientifically unfounded. It tasted normal, but, ironically, caused me to fall sick.
• Just like my family in Amman, my Bedouin family also had phones, T.V.s, etc. I noticed that everybody enjoyed watching T.V., the women loved being on their phones (I didn’t really get to interact much with the men, as Bedouin women don’t seem to do so either), and the children loved to watch T.V. or play games on their parents’ phones.
• Very surprisingly, my Bedouin family loved Bollywood! It was interesting to realize how small the world really is in that a rural, Bedouin family in Jordan watched the same Hindi channels my parents and I watch in Chicago! We watched a couple scenes of Fashion starring Priyanka Chopra. The kids, especially, loved Hindi songs!
• In our family outing that week, we went to some random grassland (not owned by the family) to pull grass (food) for the camel. Vanessa, our host mom, her daughter Abeer, Abeer’s husband, Abeer’s four children, and I were all squeezed into a small 4-door car (That’s 9 people if you lost count!). I was concerned whether we were trespassing on someone’s land, but it seemed that pulling grass from a random grassland was normal for the family. I asked them about my concern and I was reassured it was not a problem. That moment was, surprisingly, very poignant for me, as I realized how my thoughts fell into a complete social construct. It was refreshing to be visually reminded that this Earth was meant for everyone equally and analyze how many people have lost this concept on so many levels – from carving out personal land to carving out countries. It is painful to know that humankind continues to engage in useless bloodshed for such a social construct- for “their territorial rights” and the power that comes with it.
My experience in the Badia was short, but well worth it. I am grateful that I received the opportunity to learn about customs that have been passed down through many centuries, reconnect with nature, and analyze differences between urban and rural Jordan.
I would especially like to thank LFC’s Off-Campus Office for supporting me throughout the process and the Gilman Foundation and Ruth Smith Scholarship for granting me scholarships and helping me make the most out of my trip abroad. Please feel free to reach out to me regarding studying abroad (or anything else) and I will do my best to help out!
* Bedouin: “Bedouin” refers to an Arab ethno-cultural group residing in Arabian/Syrian Deserts. Fun Fact: Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born into the Quraysh Bedouin tribe.
** Badia: Refers to the desertous, rural area of Jordan.
*** Please note my experience is not too extensive or comprehensive. It is merely what I observed.
**** Weekends are Friday and Saturday in Jordan (and a lot of Muslim countries), since Friday is designated for Juma’h prayers.
*****Sunnah: Refers to the Prophet’s (PBUH) life practices, viewed highly by Muslims