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A Day at the Zoo.

May 20, 2012

Yesterday our enormous group — “The American Zoo” — went to the city Salt, about 20 miles northwest of Amman. It is a beautiful city of steep grades, and rooftops so close together in places, you can walk from one to the next. It’s a more conservative city than Amman, particularly compared to the area our “home base” is located in — Abdoun — which is swanky and somewhat Westernized.

Rooftops in Salt, Amman.

Because it’s more conservative, I was particularly sensitive to how we were being perceived in the eyes of the locals. I cringed as loud American voices rang out through the streets wherever we walked in our pack of 50, local men agog at the amount of skin and body exposed by the women passing.

When I lived in Kazakhstan for two years, I was integrated enough in the culture to know exactly what the local people were thinking when foreigners acted in a way that was disrespectful. They forgave it though, and nearly always pardoned the Americans because of this fact: they expected it from them. I would be a rich woman if I had only a dime for every time I heard something like this from a local: “It’s okay, they are American, so they can do what they like.” Last night, my host mother echoed this sentiment when I told her about our trip. I don’t think it’s difficult to imagine what the women in Salt might have thought of our crowd yesterday.

The thing is, even if it’s forgivable and expected, I don’t think any of my colleagues came here to be cute pandas or knuckle-dragging gorillas; I would expect and hope that we all came to be learners of a culture and to absorb the essence of life in a country that is so different from our home.

 

“Someone told me

It’s all happening at the zoo.

I do believe it,

I do believe it’s true.

What a gas! You gotta come and see

At the zoo,

At the zoo.”

 

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