A Visit to an Arab Home
Today I went down to my new friends’ home in a village called Hesban, south of Amman (and just north of Madaba). First of all, let me tell you about these friends. This was the girl I met one of the first days here who became my instant friend and we decided to meet every day to practice Arabic and English. I have since become good friends with her and her sister and talk with them for several hours every day at the university. They had been wanting me to come and visit them in their home so I asked my friend Nikki to come with me and, not knowing what to expect, we got on a bus, hoped it would take us to Madaba, and set off on our journey.
After forgetting to get off in Hesban and riding all the way to Madaba, I called my friend Sawsan to tell her that we had arrived, but when she found out we were in Madaba she told me, “That is about half an hour from Hesban!”
However, consistent with Arab hospitality, she and her father drove to Madaba and picked us up and took us to their home (even though I said we could get a taxi or a bus if she would give us directions). Now, I know that their family is not a catalyst for the entire Jordanian family culture, but they are a very traditional Arab family, so I will try to give you all a peek into Jordanian family life through describing this family.
They are quite rich and live in a “villa” on the top of a hill overlooking the town of Hesban. From their house we could see most of the town, and they pointed out to me where their relatives lived—which turned out to be about half of the town! (This is quite normal in smaller towns.) Their house was surrounded by fields of olive trees, fruit trees, and other delectable things…and I think they said they have sheep and goat too.
The first room into which Nikki and I were invited was the “salon,” whose American equivalent is something like the living room. This is the room where guests are invited to sit and visit, and most guests never see more of the house than that—only if they are quite good family friends. As stated before, the Ma-Sha’allahs (isn’t that a perfect last name?) are quite wealthy, so their salon was beautiful, with blue chairs, blue carpet, blue dipped chandeliers, and even blue lights to match.
After sitting in the salon for about ten minutes and looking out on their extended family’s houses, we were invited back for “breakfast.” Unfortunately, since we arrived at 11, I hadn’t realized that they would feed us so soon and I had eaten breakfast at the hotel, which was a big mistake.
The “breakfast” spread was quite enormous, with a “buffet-style” of hummus, olives, jam, falafel, olive oil, zatar, and a couple of other things with large pita-like things to dip in all of the different “dips.” And of course, normal Arab hospitality is such that if your guest stops eating for more than one minute, you must offer them more. I know how to refuse more, but I don’t know how to waste what I have in the way of an enormous piece of bread to dip in tens of dips. Needless to say, I left that meal very full. (An interesting side note—the mother is a very good cook and made almost everything in the meal—the jam was homemade (with fruit from their garden), the zatar spice was homemade, the olives were grown in their garden, and she had made the olive oil and falafel also. They apologized that the hummus was not homemade but that they had purchased it from the store. I was quite impressed.)
“Breakfast” was back in the “family room” area, which was also richly decorated. We ate from communal dishes, which means that we all had our own bread but we dipped it out of shared bowls that sat in the middle of the table. We ate breakfast with four of the sisters and the mother (they have seven children—five daughters, with the oldest one married and pregnant with her first child, the second oldest (24) engaged, and the other three ages 20, 19, and 12, and two sons, both high school/junior high age—and they all live at home except the married daughter, which is also very normal in the Arab world), and the whole time we were eating the conversation was lively, with Nikki and I trying to eat and converse in Arabic at the same time.
A side note about Arab women in the home—my friends belong to a devout Muslim family, and they are always wearing hijabs and wearing the traditional long overcoat-like-dress thing (I don’t know how to describe it and will have to take a picture sometime) out in public, but in the home they take their hijabs off as long as there are not strange men in the home (strange meaning anyone not directly related to them or their parents). Again, they are completely covered down to their wrists and ankles in public but in the home, anything goes, and I was shocked at first when I saw them skimpy clothing they were wearing. But, this is just in the home, and when their sister’s husband came over, they covered themselves fully again.
(sorry, this post is turning boring fast. I will have to finish when I am in a more exciting mood)
(Ok, I think I realized why this post is becoming boring. It is because I am trying to fit too much information into one blog entry. I like blog entries to be short and sweet and to the point—the point being humor. So, I will see what I can do to remedy this error.)
After breakfast and a few hours (really) of me “pretending” that I understand Arabic and throwing in a few phrases now and then, the girls thought it would be fun to dress me up like an Arab. The result? I have realized that I will probably never be able to fold a hijab right—they require way too many pins for me to be comfortable! After trying several colors, they finally decided the leopard one was best for me, and then we paraded around the house (feeling like an idiot) while everyone commented once again that I look like Nancy Ajram (an Egyptian singer who had plastic surgery to enlarge her cheeks) but with slightly smaller cheeks.
Other highlights from the day? The father tried to convert me to Islam and quoted several verses from the Quran to me, couldn’t believe that I don’t drink coffee or tea because there is no proof that they are bad for you (he kept bringing up the “proof” that pork is bad for you, and because of that it is forbidden in Islam—but did I bring up the fact that there is no “proof” for girls to cover their hair in public? Is hair bad for you? But again, as a guest in their home and country, I just told him in my broken Arabic that we do have a living prophet on the earth today who talks to God and he told us that we should not drink coffee or tea. I said as much as I could without crossing the “proselyting” line—which line-crossing is strictly forbidden in the Middle East), got tempted several times to drink “Arab” coffee, even though I explained that it was forbidden in my religion, and spoke Arabic for about 8 hours. And, I almost died eating a ridiculous amount of mansaf (the national Jordanian food--watch for a post about this later).