Right after I arrived in Jordan, my host dad told me a story about some travelling he had done while visiting a friend in an unsafe area.
“My friend had five locks on his door,” he said. “Five locks! He was afraid to be outside after dark. We could hear gunshots outside. He was afraid for his life. Living like that cannot really be called living.”
My dad wasn’t describing Amman, where we live. He wasn’t even talking about traveling through other locations in the Middle East known for being unsafe. No, he was describing his trip to Chicago, Illinois. The irony in this conversation struck me: while I was at home, everyone was worried about my safety in Amman, but in Jordan, I was being told that Chicago, U.S.A., just a few hours from my school, was the place I should really be afraid of.
I’ve been thinking about this conversation recently, because it feels like whenever I open U.S. news, there are articles about yet another mass shooting or act of gun violence. Before I came to Jordan I was worried about if I would be safe here. Would I be targeted for harassment because I am a woman? Would Jordan be drawn into one of the many conflicts raging in its neighboring countries, or be victim to an act of terrorism?
But now that I’ve been here for two months, I feel a lot safer here than I do at home. Part of this is due to my American privilege; a huge part of Jordan’s budget comes from American funding, so it is in Jordan’s best interest to take extremely good care of American citizens in its borders.
Beyond the politics of safety, Jordanian culture also supports security. I did not realize the way that gun violence permeates U.S. culture until I lived here and realized that it is not normal for news of yet another mass shooting to be a regular occurrence. There have been over 130 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year. In Jordan? Zero.
This is not to say that Jordan is perfect or that it has no safety issues. There are adaptations I made when living here to make sure that I am safe; for example, when I need to drive somewhere I try to carpool with friends, and if I am going by myself, I make sure to take an Uber instead of a yellow taxi so that my location will be tracked. There are certain political subjects (e.g. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or criticisms of Jordan’s monarchy) that I would not speak loudly about in public. It is also important to understand cultural norms: it can be seen as a sign of flirtation for a woman to smile at a man, so when I’m walking on the street I normally avoid making eye contact to make sure that I don’t put myself in an uncomfortable situation.
I don’t want this post to sound naive; I understand that safety issues exist everywhere, and Jordan is no exception. But Jordan’s culture of hospitality is such that if I need help, I have always felt confident relying on complete strangers. And I think that is what makes me feel the safest here: I have never felt like I have to rely only on myself when I feel unsafe. I can always call my host mom, or get a friend to stay on the phone with me, or walk into the nearest shop and tell the cashier that I need help.
I guess the point of this post is—don’t let U.S. (mis)perceptions and stereotypes of a region determine where you go. Do your research and learn what the culture is actually like. You might be pleasantly surprised.
He says: No hero dies revered in the second
scene. I will wait for the rest. Maybe I would
revise one of the acts. And maybe I would mend
what the iron has done to my brothers
Darwish, Mahmoud. “I Have a Seat in the Abandoned Theater.” Translated by Fady Joudah. The Butterfly’s Burden, Copper Canyon Press, 2008.