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Welcome To The Badia – Meet The Family.

May 26, 2012

*This blog was written on May 24, 2012

Our program set up a weekend with a Bedouin family in North Badia here in Jordan. We left at 9 a.m. and it took more than four hours to arrive at our host’s home in the village of Mukayfita, a place where when you’re here, you’re family. No, really — everyone is related.

Sam and I knew as soon as we got off the bus, we had landed with yet another silly family. Our host mother, Hiyat, is a 44-year old who looks much older than her years, with a cheerful brown, weathered face. She wears a flowing maroon thobe with tiny gold spots and her matching pointed head covering, a masap, framing her knome-like face. When we were dropped off by the big, yellow SIT bus, she immediately started yelling for someone at top volume (probably Wejdan) in Arabic as we followed her through a slanted metal gate and a dusty yard occupied by chickens, rooster, and sous, chicks.

Hiyat!

The house has three large, mostly spare, rooms — save some thin mats and pillows lining the outskirts of two of the three rooms. There is a small kitchen with a natural, dark stone floor and a stone staircase with chipping white and pink paint leading to the roof. We didn’t have much time or energy to explore though, and after a lunch of “upside-down,” or muqlebaneh, a traditional Palestinian dish of chicken, rice and other vegetables, Sam and I took a two-hour nap (this would become a familiar routine: drink, eat, sleep, repeat).

Our host sister Wejdan is a savior. Our pitiful Arabic would not be sufficient to understand Hiyat and her husband Basheer Abu Sultan without her translating. Wejdan recently graduated from the Jordan University of Technology and Science with a degree in laboratory medicine. She, like my host sister Sara in Amman, has not yet been able to find work in her field. Wejdan speaks English very well, and has been able to explain cultural issues, such as when it is appropriate to cover our hair, why we have to move to the other side of the room when men come in and that there is no meaning to the difference in color of men’s thobes (though Sam and I have not, and do not plan to, address the issue of where the toilet paper from the bathroom goes with — some things are better left unasked).

Wejdan and I walking.

The center of attention in this house is the grandson, Yamen, an adorable two-year old who quickly warmed up to Sam and I. Yamen is the son of Sultan — who lives next door in the same “compound” as our host parents and Wejdan. Family is the foundation of life here, and many live within yelling distance of one another (lucky for Hiyat). Sultan’s wife’s father lives next door, Hiyat’s brother lives across the street, another brother lives down the street, and on it goes. Hiyat has six brothers and four sisters, all whom live in Mukayfita. Their ages range from 55 to 27, which is why so many aunts and uncles of Wejdan and Sultan are so closer to them in age than their sister, Hiyat.

Wain Yamen? (Where’s Yamen)

Basheer Abu Sultan, our host father, is a delightful 62-year old man with a perpetual smile on his tanned, wrinkle-lined face. His cartoon-like grin spreads across his face whenever he speaks to us, revealing a set of yellowed, crooked teeth. In this culture of delicate cultural boundaries between women and men, you can never be sure how you will be treated or if a man will feel comfortable around you. But Abu Sultan immediately put us at ease, laughing at our Arabic and giving us an enthusiastic thumbs-up when his smattering of English phrases aren’t enough to convey what he’s trying to say.

Abu Sultan stares off into the distance.

The more time I spend in Jordan, I begin to realize how Muslims, particularly from this area of the world, have been somewhat demonized in the West. I also can’t help but feel a bit of guilt and shame of how ignorant I was in the past and what a simple view I had of life in the Middle East. The hospitality here is so wonderful and the people have been so kind to me; I wish everyone in America could have this experience and an opportunity to gain the understanding that is slowly coming for me.

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