When it comes to visiting a foreign country, it will always be the case that you will see and experience the local culture and traditions. Even if one tries to stay in familiarity of their own culture and comfort, they will experience a different culture even if the smallest bit. It while also be the case that they will miss out on great experiences and to broaden their own horizons. The fact is to experience and see any form of cultural engagement requires one to leave their own comfort zone and explore what the country has. As in the case for me, I would like to write about just one of many experiences that I had with Jordanian culture. It is not one that is major or significant but one that I felt that showed briefly a look into a different culture and lifestyle that makes up Jordan. This is my trip to find a traditional Arab robe in the city of Mafraq.
To give context I have been trying to find a thawb,a traditional Arab robe for men, during the majority of trip since I believed that it would be a great souvenir to bring back home. Unfortunately, I had no luck in finding a store that sells those types of robes during most of trip and we had one day left in Jordan before we left for Israel. There was business that our professor had to take care of in the city of Mafraq and that would be the last chance for me to search for that type of robe, so of too Mafraq with a small group I went.
On our way to the city, there are three things to note about Jordanian culture on our drive on the highway. The first is the Jordanian way of driving. They take rules of driving to be more like suggestions than the law. There was a more chaotic way of driving for them as some would drive in both lanes, pass cars in either lane, have whole families fit into small cars, and other reckless ways of driving. Yet it also seemed to be a safe way of driving surprisingly. It was a give and take approach where each driver made sure that they gave the appropriate space and respect towards other drivers. During the whole trip, there seemed to be no accidents at all, though I’m sure it happens since we saw more than once some very beat up cars. The second is the way that they use speedbumps. In short, they are placed randomly on roads, supposedly where someone was hit by a car (although I have my doubts on that). One can imagine how that can be frustrating for drivers, especially since there are some on the highways. But Jordanians have taken upon themselves to help drivers see the speedbumps more easily by placing rocks and cinderblocks next to them. The third cultural aspect was the many shops and houses that were all along the highway to Mafraq. From minimarkets to clothing stores to houses nearby or on top, business and spending time among friends took place in all of them with people walking next to the highway and parking cars randomly in front of the stores.
As we entered the city of Mafraq, we quickly found the type of store that sold thawbs. As we entered, we noticed that the back of the wall had bundles of different clothes in various colors of blue, brown, gray, and black. With the very little amount of Arabic we spoke and the very little amount of English the shop owners spoke, we started to figure out what we wanted. As it turned out the shop owners would measure you and then create a tailored robe that would fit you perfectly, having it ready that very day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or the money on hand to so. But the shop owner had pre-made robes for us at a reduced price. After we figured out the pricing and size for the robe that I picked out, one of the shop owners offered us coffee free of charge as we wait for the robe that I picked out to be hemmed. I was very taken back since that is something that doesn’t happen in the United States. We were given free coffee and allowed to stay in the shop as long as we needed. It is part of the broader concept of Jordanian hospitality towards strangers making them feel comfortable and welcomed. There were many examples of where I experienced this with my stay in Jordan. One was when we were in the city of Madaba where we visited a shop owner who was the friend of our professor, Professor Darrell Rohl. When we entered the shop he brought out chairs, told us to seat down, and made tea for us so we could talk together, saying that we don’t have to buy anything at all unless if we wanted to. What is tied into this sense of hospitality is also one of taking time slower and deliberately, using that time to instead for talking with family and friends. It is just a different way of viewing interactions with others, where the value is one placed on time spent with others without the need to rush to the next location.
After we purchased what we needed from that shop, we walked around Mafraq to the other shops of the different. All along the streets where various shops and stores from clothing to small restaurants. They were filled with people moving from one location to another, talking with friends, and negotiating prices. It was very different to what you would experience in many of the shopping malls in the United States.
While the trip to Mafraq was one that was neither grand nor very extraordinary, it was one that showed a brief glimpse into what some aspects of Jordanian culture looked like, how they were different to what we are familiar with in the United States, but also how they are similar in some ways as well.