It feels almost cliché to begin this journal with an entry focusing on hospitality since it is one of the most obvious qualities of the Bedouin, but being the recipient of this degree of welcoming is somewhat overwhelming. Upon arriving at Abu Mohammad’s home I was welcomed with a cup of coffee and the traditional “ahlan wa sahlan.” The saying is often translated simply as welcome, but it actually goes much deeper; the connotation is actually of someone being welcomed into the family. I was offered a seat in the guest room and asked some introductory questions. Soon men from the village began arriving and eventually the small room was filled with almost a dozen of us. I didn’t quite grasp until later that this gathering was a way of honoring me. Enormous trays of a special sweet dish made with layers of thin bread, golden raisins, and nuts were brought out. This was quickly followed by copious amounts of sweet mint tea. I’m certain my inability to communicate with any degree of eloquence makes me a less than interesting conversationalist, but the men have been tremendously gracious. It’s immediately clear to me that Abu Mohammad wants me to feel I’m a welcome and honored guest.

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With the exception of two visiting Qatari boys, I’ve spent most of the day with my host brother Mohammad and another young man from the village, Nawaf. My village, Kariya, is more than an hour from Mafraq and well over two from Amman. It’s located right on the Syrian border and is too small even to have a store. In theory, this village should be entirely self-sufficient, yet globalization seems to have changed the calculus in some ways. Unlike his father, who seems to be content working in the village, tending his small flock of goats and few chickens and the fields during much of the year, Mohammad travels to Amman each week to work as an emergency operator. The lack of economic activity in rural areas and the allure of a different sort of lifestyle often pull young people toward urban areas. What’s interesting is how Mohammad transitions between the two worlds. Though I haven’t seen him in Amman, I’m sure he has a group of friends and a somewhat different lifestyle there. Yet, every weekend he returns to Kariya and seems perfectly comfortable in this more relaxed and traditional setting.

Nawaf strikes me as a guy who feels very comfortable in his own culture. My conversation with him earlier focused mostly on Islam and I get the sense that he is quite pious. At one point he chastised Mohammad and got visibly upset when Mohammad unintentionally revealed the existence of a girlfriend in Amman. It’s often pointed out that the Bedouin have a very tight connection to the military here and this is accompanied by a deeply felt patriotism and love for the king. In a second conversation this evening, Nawaf and I discussed his service in the Jordanian Special Forces. Within a few weeks he’ll be deployed to Haiti, a place he’s been stationed before. In the course of our discussion I found Nawaf repeatedly said things that seemed blatantly racist to me, including a statement about having to go to Haiti to stop the “monkeys from killing each other.” I suppose I’m always a bit surprised when these sorts of thoughts come from people who have spent time in other cultures. I like to chalk most ethnocentrism and prejudice up to ignorance. As someone who has always been fascinated with other cultures and who spends a lot of time arguing for an increase in understanding of other people within my own country, Nawaf’s perspective reminds me that the beauty I find in other cultures doesn’t mean that the darker side of my own culture is unique to us. In fact, I’m unfortunately finding that one of the most obvious similarities between Americans and Jordanians is our tendency toward ethnocentrism. If attitudes are to change, it seems clear that work needs to be done by people within both societies to increase understanding and appreciation of other perspectives and traditions.

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