After Karak I was walking by a fruit stand where the proprietors invited me in for tea and fruit. A number of their friends came by to talk, including an older taxi driver. He tried to convince me to pay him to go south, but I refused over and over again. Finally, he decided to take me for free. I thought he was just offering a ride, but it soon became clear he was wanting companionship. What kind, I’m not sure.
The confusing thing about operating in Muslim cultures is that actions taken in the the U.S. (and in my subculture in particular) are just not proper or ok. For example, casually holding hands between genders just isn’t done (even between most lovers, really). Casual touch between males and females when they don’t know each other isn’t done (at least in the more conservative areas). And there are many other examples. So then what is crossing the line? How does someone like me who comes from a touch-positive culture know where to draw the line when I know someone is operating out of their own cultural constraints? When is it just a desire for companionship and when is it a come on?
I couldn’t tell with this guy, but I *did* know that I wasn’t looking for companionship with him (of any kind). And he was what I consider a pretty “high maintenance” ride–needing constant attention, constantly pushing the line (which again, is in a quite different place in this culture).
On the way to Tefila–the next large town–there were these hot springs. An AMAZING place of water and beauty in the midst of stark desert. He finally convinced me to go there (when it was clear that I could bathe alone). Unfortunately the hot springs themselves were free for Jordanians but not for me, but we went down into the stream and walked around barefoot, etc. He kept trying to lead me away off alone upstream. At first I followed him, not thinking anything of it. But then I realized that this was one of those things that just aren’t done–not because I was afraid of him, but because of the cultural norms. He never did anything that would have been improper in my culture–on some levels it was a welcome relief from the strictness of the culture I was operating in–but it was also uncomfortable because 1) I didn’t know his intentions, 2) I wasn’t interested, and 3) I knew he knew that what he was doing was improper.
Once he started rubbing mud on my hands (again, something innocuous in my culture but forbidden in theirs) I insisted in going back to where there were other people (whom I would have gladly sat down with–they offered us lunch and seemed quite different and interesting). He wasn’t trying anything–not at all–it just wasn’t what was supposed to happening. It’s hard to explain, and I had to think a lot about how to react–I believe in promoting a touch positive culture. At the same time I knew I didn’t have the language skills to navigate any kind of education or exploration. And on the last level, I honestly wasn’t interested in hanging with him that way. He remained high maintenance all the way to Tefila and I was quite relieved to get away from him (though again, he hadn’t really “done” anything).
Tefila wasn’t particularly appealing and it was late in the day–I was really willing I had been able to stop at the hot springs and sleep there. <sigh> It was so late, in fact, that I was having a hard time trying to figure out where to sleep. I figured my best option was to find someone with a big garden and ask them if I could sleep in it, as it didn’t seem like I was going to able to walk out of the city easily.
I finally walked by a large, beautiful garden and said to the guy watering it that it was beautiful. He, of course, immediately invited me in for tea with his family. Two of his daughters were engineers (there was an engineering university in Tefila). We spent a long time talking politics (his daughters knew some English). For my part, I told him how the media in the U.S. portrays Muslims and how it’s been creating problems among the general public. I was hoping that by letting folks know what “boots on the ground” experience, that I can do my small part to help break the media spell of Islamophobia. It was here again that I was told in no uncertain terms that Daesh (ISIS) is not Muslim and that the things they do are prohibited in Islam. I was also told (again) how wonderful King Abdullah II is–many, many of the people I talk to here really love him. He keeps the country safe and secure, allowing most of them to pursue their normal lives. When there’s trouble he deals with it with an iron hand.
It got super late and cold, and even though they had a super nice house, they never invited me in. I finally had to find a place to stay so I asked if I could stay in their garden. (I NEVER do this once a person has had the opportunity to invite me in and hasn’t…but it was so late and I’d chosen talking and learning from them over finding a place to stay.) They had a storage room I could sleep in, and I took them up on it (feeling like I was imposing). The daughters were excited for me to be there…I’m not so sure about the parents. But honestly, finding a place to sleep in the city at midnight just wasn’t going to work.
I needed to leave early in the morning as they were going to lock all their gates, so the morning found myself walking back into Tefila trying to find the road south. And true to prior experience, I barely made it 2 kilometers before I was invited in for tea–this time by someone running a bridal dress salon. I ended up hanging with her and her family most of the day, eating dinner with a different family who had invited me in while I was taking a break and walking around, and then leaving in the morning. This was a VERY conservative family. The conversation varied from them giving me lectures of how I shouldn’t have left my husband (partner) at home and how I should return to him right away to how loving King Abdullah is the same as loving the country and how it’s important to love him more than oneself and one’s children.
When the talk turned to the Israeli occupation, I spent time (as I often do) explaining how not all Jews are Israelis, and how not all Israelis support the occupation. The shorthand around here is to say Jews when they mean the Israelis and/or the Israeli army. I correct this as often as I can. Most people get this concept easily, but in this house the old mother just simply hated Jews. She was the first person I’d come up against for whom this was true, even after hours of conversation. I think she was happy to get me out of the house in the morning, as it had come out that I was Jew in conversation the night before. No one else in the family had a problem with it, but she, having suffered a lot at the hands of the occupation and having recently lost her spouse–I don’t think she had space to think beyond her standard lines of thinking.
In the morning I was hanging out with her daughter, Waffa, in her dress salon getting ready to go when the police turned up next door. Waffa had to leave to go to her other job, but before departing she mentioned that the police had never come here before and that she thought it must have something to do with me. I figured there was no way that could be true–I mean, why? I was later to find out (sort of).