Jordan Stole My Heart (And not Just because Petra)
I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world. -Mary Anne Radmacher
My life before google maps earned a "You Tried It" ribbon at best. Geography flew over my head in school and still schedules the occasional flight. Which probably has you doubting why you're reading this travel blog post about Jordan and the Middle East. Stick with me for a moment, I promise it will all make sense.
As a child in school, I remember filling in all 50 of the United States on a blank map and struggling to name (much less place) states in my own country; only to find out there is a whole world out there filled with things like The Lost City of Petra, that I knew nothing about.
I am also a child of a moment that really shifted the American narrative of the world: 9/11
This blog post, no matter how long cannot begin to discuss the complex dynamics that led to the current climate. And it is certainly not meant to be an excuse for my ignorance. All I can do is speak to my honest experience as a child of the times.
I can still remember coming downstairs thinking my dad was watching a movie. Where else could such devastation make sense in a child's worldview but in a Hollywood blockbuster (one that I probably was too young to see anyway). But what happened thereafter in the media was nothing short of a campaign of fear against the Middle East, and countries I could not even place on the map at the time.
And to much of the American public, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan stood guilty by association. A place my mom worried about me traveling to because of unnamed phantoms from the 24 hour news cycle.
A now "adult" version of myself still housed a deep desire to see this land steeped in so much history (my grandmother's purchase of every single Disney Aladdin movie saw to that).
One day I turned to a friend of mine who I had been traveling with for work.
"Do you want to do something crazy?"
I have asked that question a few times before in my life, one of them was to my sister, before I gave her less than 24 hour notice to pack and come with me to Alaska (more on that here).
I am either excellent at convincing the sense out of people or we have all had little to begin with because within hours we were on an overnight bus to Jordan and my stomach blustered with a cocktail of nerves and excitable butterflies. This story does follow the way most of my Disney education had taught, I did not fall in love with Jordan at first sight. I loved Jordan before I even met her.
In a crowded coffee shop that sat on the border, I fiddled with my red and white keffiyeh; sweating from either the heat or the nerves (there were plenty of both). My mind burned with recent horrors of legislation that banned human beings from muslim majority countries from entering the United States. And after being questioned in Mexico, as to how I could allow my nation's leaders to spew such vitriol; I already adopted the habit of telling people I was Canadian out of embarrassment (who doesn't love Canadians).
A man wearing a white thawb and red head scarf approached me (he had probably been audience to my struggle) and said, "let me help you, brother." He fitted and tied my keffiyeh and when he was satisfied, called over his companions and exclaimed, "now he looks Jordanian!" teaching me and leaving me with a final greeting: As-salamu alaykum. Which translates to peace be with you. Even the border control agent smiled upon seeing me and like an elder brother, made the final adjustments to my head scarf before deeming me ready.
Was this the Middle East that Americans were afraid to visit?
I continued to meet kind, happy and hospitable souls at every juncture. A shopkeeper named Awni used his connections to allow my friend and I to observe the spectacle of Petra By Night before the crowds, another took me to the best viewpoint of the iconic Treasury of Petra, and even took my favorite photo to date.
My trip to Jordan continued to steal things away from me.
Silently this proud band of bedouins stole my breath:
Robbed me of my ignorance.
And stole my heart.
But out of all that I saw, and out of all that I did; it was the interactions of such welcoming and such humanity that made my trip to Jordan what it was. I was shown so much kindness in a place so undeserving of the stigma placed on it by American media.
It only makes me wonder (with a touch of excitement) what else I've been just so wrong about and gives me hope that the world is not so dark a place after all.