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Destinations, Middle East

Enough is enough

February 26, 2009 • By

I missed the bus to Amman and stayed another night in Petra.  In typical style, I couldn’t relax and enjoy a day off. I switched hotels, watched a glorious sunset and bathed Turkish style.  Looking back, I likely put myself into a horrible a situation but it worked out fine.

Another “friend” at my hotel felt bad that I missed the bus and offered to take me to Little Petra and show me the sunset.  A few people had spoken highly of Little Petra’s amazing views so I decided on another adventure.  I will spare you the details of our entire conversation but rest assure I’m learning a great deal.  I’ve now confirmed my story from the other day.  The 21-year-old university student was indeed killed by her brothers in the name of honor(it was in the paper).  My further conversations with locals reveal that outside of Amman, life is quite different.  Men(boys) cannot even be seen talking to any woman who is not an immediate relative.  They fear for their lives but many tempt fate and “date” in secret.  I fully admit I am obsessed with their way of life.

This young man who I watched the sunset with is 30-years-old, a law school graduate and still lives with his family.  In order to marry, he needs to own a home and present 10,000JD to the bride’s family, which is approximately $14,000USD.  Let me paint you a picture of the courting process here in Jordan (less prevalent in Amman).  A boy/man may work with a woman, she may be a friend of a sister or he may simply see her (covered) on the street.  He will then go to his father and say I would like to marry this woman.  The father contacts this woman’s father and asks for a meeting.  Both families will assemble all the men including the father, grandfather, uncles and brothers and spend an afternoon drinking coffee and smoking at the woman’s house.  At which point, the father of the man/boy will ask the father of the woman if she will agree to marry.  No women are involved.  Years ago, the father consented for the daughter.  Today, the daughter can tell her father, “no I do not wish to marry the man” or the families might not take to each other.  If the daughter says yes, then the women from both families meet.  This is more or less a “check out” session.  Is she pretty?  Is she suitable etc?  The courts in Jordan conduct the marriage ceremony and a party ensues.  In other words, there is no dating.  It’s a step above arranged marriages but not by much.

After my friend and I watched the sunset, I started to get a bit “ut-o.”  He told me stories of Saudi women calling him up to their room while the husband was off playing.  Remember women cannot socialize with men so they are forced to remain in the hotel room.  These women invented problems with the Internet or bathroom etc. and then forced themselves on him.   He described a situation where a woman demanded to be touched and another where a woman wanted to be told she was attractive.  I asked whether or not he reported any of these cases and he said no way.  It’s ok because the women would not tell their husbands and women do not lie to men here.  Unbelievable!  This is coming from a man who took himself to the doctor after a French tourist touched him in his private area fully clothed.  He thought he contracted AIDS.

I find Jordanian men desperate to spend time with foreign women since it’s forbidden here.  I’m shocked this pertains to local women and not foreigners but I guess we know more about sex than they do anyway.  He did tell me he doesn’t even try to secretly date because he fears for his life.  Astounded, I started to ask questions and he began whispering which scared me so I changed the subject.

Finally, we arrived at a Turkish bath with 15 other tourists.  It was a total blast however, my “friend” started making me feel very uncomfortable asking me about my boyfriend (I lied) and if we ever touched each other.  I knew I was safe with a place full of tourists but I gather the men here are so curious they corner foreigners whenever possible.  In full disclosure, there were several people in the steam room wearing bikinis(the men in speedos except my local guy in long shorts).  The minute he tried massaging my lower back(I had pulled it carrying my backpack), I jumped up and delcared I was leaving.  He said the look in my eyes scared him.  Damn straight!  Even the French women sitting next to me, thought something happened I moved so fast.  It was completely innocent but I was not about to be this man’s segue into the exploration of the female body.  What’s to stop his brothers from killing me?  He repeated over and over, “nothing happened just touch back,  just touch back.  It ok if we touch.”  I can only imagine how taboo virginity must be here.

As we needed to arrange meeting earlier, the young man had my cell number.  A huge mistake on my part.  In the course of 24 hours, he texted me no less than 15 times telling me he loved me and his heart (spelled herdt) was breaking.  I finally texted back that he was costing me $2.00 a minute and that my boyfriend would be very angry if he did not leave me alone.  I’m a cold-hearted bitch.  Bottom line…do not talk to Muslim boys if you are a foreigner.  They do not understand the ways of our world.

To give you a bit more perspective on the plight of men and women here,  I sorted out a few things with my English speaking driver.  He is 42 and has three daughters and one son.  Currently, two daughters attend Jordanian University in Amman.  One daughter studies mathematics and the other psychology.  The daughterslive in an all girls housing unit where they cannot leave before 7 am and must be back by 7 pm.  The only men they can see or speak to on the phone is immediate family(brothers, father etc).  When these girls graduate, they must return to their father even though Petra may not be ideal for either of their careers.  This man’s big hope is that his daughers will both be teachers.  I prodded him on his feelings of women working.  He said it’s ok for them to work until they marry, then they must stay home with the children.  After my drop dead silence, he said,”our country different than yours.”  You can say that again.

Destinations, Middle East

Two Sides of Jordan

February 24, 2009 • By

In some of the countries I visited, it’s hard to get the real story regarding the population, the economy, education and religion.  Below I have given you an overview of Jordan today and also one person’s story of everyday life.  It is impossible for me to confirm the facts in this man’s story so please keep that in mind.

The First Side

Jordan is known as the land of smiles.  There are approximately 6 million people living in Jordan where Arabs make up the majority of the population.  The only mentionable minorities are the Circassians and the Armenians which account from 1-5 percent.  Jordanians are Sunni Muslims similar to Egyptians but Shiites do form a small minority.  The Christians living in Jordan belong in most part to the Greek Orthodox Church.  As Jordan’s location is key to stability in the Middle East, many war victims from Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq find refuge here (making up roughly 1 million).

According to Wikipedia, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with representative government. The reigning monarch is the head of state, the chief executive and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The king exercises his executive authority through the prime ministers and the Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The cabinet, meanwhile, is responsible before the elected House of Deputies which, along with the House of Notables (Senate), constitutes the legislative branch of the government. The judicial branch is an independent branch of the government.

Jordan appears to be a rich country in comparison to the places I stayed in Africa.  Most people maintain jobs and the currency/economy is stable.  Jordanians are educated and most learn English and French.  The rural(desert) and urban areas are immaculate and the people talk openly about family life.  While some of the ethnic groups live in the desert, Jordan’s population centers around the cities of Amman, Aqaba, Irbid, Jaresh and Madaba (Dead Sea).  Many of the shop owners I met served in the army alongside American soldiers and have great respect for the United States.  Here I feel welcome and quite safe.  Most of the population works in real estate or tourism and also textiles.  The United States is one of Jordan’s largest importers of textiles.  While Jordan possesses oil reserves, they import much of their resources from Iraq.  It’s my understanding Jordan works hard at maintaining peace for it’s people.  This often comes with a price.  Neighboring countries and their conflicts often force Jordan’s hand but for now the country is at peace with Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The Second Side

While watching the sunset from my hotel balcony(overlooking Petra), I started conversing with one of the bartenders who I convinced to take multiple pictures of me at sunset.  Incidentally, it was a magnificent, blazing red sunset.   One mocha latte and two Quick hot chocolates later, our idle chitchat turned into a deep discussion where I was literally on the edge of my seat in suspense.  He would not disclose his age but I am guessing he is in his late 40s.  His first wife bore him three boys and after 7 years of marriage they decided to go their separate ways.  In his exact words, ” she wanted to separate and I was ok with it.”  They are not divorced.  Similar to other countries in this region, he maintained custody of the boys.  He then lived with his mother and children for four years before he said he needed to find a wife to “take care of my sons, to take care of me and to take care of the home.”

He talked in great detail about his mother.  She is 70-years-old (and he says very old and tired).  One of three wives,  she bore 12 sons and 3 daughters.  The youngest is 20-years-old and still living in the “big house” as he called it.  I thought this house must be huge to have that many kids in it.  The daughters still care for the mother bringing over food etc. but the “big house” is located next store to this man’s home.  Whenever the family gathers, which I guessed to be  weekly, the children and grandchildren come from near and far to be with the mother.  The father died 12 years ago but he didn’t seem like he was in the picture anyway.  When the mother visits other sons in Amman or Aqaba the family here misses her so much they beg for her to return home.  Her visits away often last two weeks.  One son has a 1.5 year old daughter and apparently grandma is very taken by this child so she likes to stay in Amman.

When it came time to remarry, this man had a difficult time.  You see dating is forbidden in Jordan.  Men and women cannot even meet for coffee.  This is a drastic difference to Egypt where couples openly dated.  In Jordan, people have to meet/date in secret.  His story goes like this….his sister living in Aqaba knew a girl who lived with her family in the house behind the sister.  The sister asked her brother to visit Aqaba to arrange a secret meeting.  He literally sneaked into a house to have coffee with this woman.  After just one hour, my friend said to this woman if you agree, we marry.  It’s my understanding there might have been one additional phone call between the two but nothing more.  It  seems very medieval to me.  He went on to describe how the sister then had to intermediate with the family to arrange for the marriage.  Apparently, the family disapproved of the union.

Married for 7 years, they have two children: a girl and a boy for a total of 5 (first wife).  He says he wished for a daugher and now that she arrived he is done.  (He clearly makes the decisions).  My friend simply raved about his 4-year-old daughter and the importance of family.  He spoke openly about education and it bothered him that he cannot obtain quality high-paying jobs.  Educating his children is paramount but he relies on the government funded education.  Private education would cost anywhere from 25-100JD and he only makes 300JD = $425 USD a month.  The government only charges 2JD for the children to attend school including books but if the books are returned damaged, parents must pay 15JD.  A hefty fee for some.

On his salary, he  supports a family of 5 children and one wife.  I gathered he paid off the first wife at some point.  In addition to working as a bartender the last 17 years, he also creates stone carvings.  He sells his artwork to the local shops in town and as far away as Amman.  The day or two he gets off from work each week he spends strictly with his children.  The only problem occurs when the days do not coincide with a Friday or Saturday(Arab weekend), which breaks his heart.  He spoke affectionately about all of his children and how he takes them out and plays with them.  The oldest son, 17, doesn’t want to hang with dad but as my friend said, ” the children here in Jordan do not leave home until they are married so I am responsible for him.”  I wouldn’t mind having a look at this man’s home, workshop and garden.  It seems to represent a slice of Jordanian life.  He invited me and my mother(who he thinks should definitely visit Jordan) to a family dinner next time I am in town.

Lastly, he told me a story about dating Jordanian style.  He had nothing to gain by telling me and I had nothing to lose by listening but I’m still hoping this is not an everyday occurrence.

A young woman attending university in Amman loved a man and told him she wanted to marry.  The man said if you love me, we will meet and sleep together.  The woman said ok I will do whatever you say.  This woman arranged for her girlfriends to lie to her brothers.  The girls would say they too were traveling to Aqaba (5 hours).  Instead, she was going alone to meet this boy.  The brothers called each of the girlfriends who all said yes they were taking a trip to Aqaba.  In Jordan, brothers are the caretakers and the keepers of the sisters.  They have great control.  It’s scary.  This woman goes to Ababa and meets at this pre-determined location and they have sex.  The man then says, “if you love me, you will have sex with my friend too or I will tell your brothers.”  Essentially, the woman is raped by 1-2  men.  A few months later, the woman finds out she is pregnant.  The brothers force the man to marry their sister.  This is very dishonorable to the family.  Everyone knows the story.  After 6 months, the “father/husband” says he doesn’t want to be married anymore and the brothers says ok.  The brothers then meet their sister for coffee.  They behead her pregnant.  Afterward,  the brothers call the police and admit they killed their sister.  The guilty brother served 7 years.

I struggle with believing this but I’ve heard many stories about men feeling dishonored and beheading women.  In fact,  a man living just outside Buffalo, NY beheaded his wife after she asked for a divorce only a month ago.  They were Pakistani-American.  Who knows?

I missed the bus to Amman.  It must have been the lively conversation.  I’m seeing Little Petra today and going to a sunset BBQ. Off to Amman tomorrow on the 7 am bus.