You got somewhere better to be?

I don’t think I ever met someone who wasn’t trying to get out of Jordan, or had not lived outside of Jordan before.

The country of Jordan is beautiful, a shelter in the storm that is the Middle East. It has everything, a massive, modern city, a quiet countryside, rich historical sites, and plenty of Nutella-themed desserts. Jordanian people are hailed as some of the most welcoming in the world. At first, I thought maybe this was simply an Arab attribute, and in someways, I still think it is. At the very least, Jordanian hospitality was easy to recognize.

Ahalan wa Sahlan (Welcome) is a phrase any visitor to Jordan will hear about 100,000,003 times. As soon as you tell a Jordanian where you are from, they will “ahlan wa sahlan” you…and then they will continue to repeat the phrase throughout your conversation.

Taxi drivers say it. Grandmothers say it when you ask them for directions. Security guards say it when you ask them to take your phone and tell your Uber driver how to find you outside of City Mall. Grocery store owners say it when they hand you your change. Shabab (young men) say it when you walk down the street.
*This is another kind of welcoming, not exactly the kind any girl desires; but it can be amusing, especially when you turn around in the middle of Rainbow Street, look them in the eyes, open your arms wide and shout back “Yes, I am welcome in Jordan!” in Arabic.

What can I say? It was my last week in Amman, I felt I had nothing to lose.

Many of the humanitarians that I met with in Jordan cited this welcoming spirit as for why Jordan has continuously taken in refugees, especially Syrian refugees.

First it was the Palestine refugees, then the Iraqis, then the Syrians, along with scattered groups of Sudanese and Somalian refugees. The state of Jordan seems to always say, “Ahlan wa Sahlan.” The Jordanian humanitarians acted as if receiving these vast numbers of people was a simple choice, and the decision was made based upon this culture of hospitality. In the early days of the Syrian crisis, when there were no UN-built camps, Jordanians near the Northern borders took Syrians into their own homes. Similar to when Palestinians were first driven from their land in 1948, many believed the Syrians would be able to return after a week or two once things settled down.

It has been nearly 8 years.

And now Jordan is struggling to maintain its welcome amidst failing infrastructure, one of the worst water scarcities in the world, and the increasing discontent of its residents.

There were quite a few protests while I was in Amman. I would receive a notification of the time, place, and reason for the protest via a study abroad safety app Wofford made us sign up for. Since it is difficult to avoid the main thoroughfares of Amman (the 8 circles, look ’em up), I typically found myself in a taxi or Uber, driving by the protests…or at least what were supposed to be the protests. The main protests I heard about were a teachers’ strike, along with calls for better economic opportunities, more democracy, and more respect of human rights. I never actually saw the protests; instead I saw armored vehicles and police officers who arrived before the protesters could. Now, don’t go thinking Jordan is some oppressive regime, because it is not. But, this is just one of the stark differences between a monarchy and a democracy. In the US, protests are celebrated and fairly normal; that is not the case here.

I have had 4 Arabic classes, with four different teachers, three in Amman and one in the US, that all revolved around immigration and the reasons for immigrating. To say immigration and seeking asylum are important topics in the Middle East would be an understatement. Jordan is a country where 1 in 4 of its citizens are of Palestinian descent. It is currently home to 1.4 million registered Syrian refugees.

It is the safe haven everyone wants to get out of.

Most of my friends in Jordan, whether young Syrian refugees, Jordanian men who went to college in the US or Canada, young Jordanians with masters’ degrees, successful dentists, doctors, and entrepreneurs, mothers of marrying-age men, Sudanese refugees, or my many taxi and Uber drivers; all were hoping to immigrate. The reasons were always employment and freedom, and the opportunities that would arise from those two.

This is why I say I never met anyone who was not trying to get out of Jordan. Most everyone I spoke to would say they were trying to get a visa to study or work in another country, or they were encouraging their children to do so. Many of the fathers and husbands of the host families I interacted with were working in Saudi Arabia or the US because they could not find good jobs in Jordan.

Two friends told me they wanted to leave because they saw no future in Amman for themselves and their families. As Syrian women, they could not work in their specialized fields since the government has only approved a few sectors to employ Syrians. Both hold non-skilled jobs in Amman, and are grateful for them, since this is a rare occurrence. Still, their eyes are ahead, hoping for opportunities to leave Jordan and seek a better life elsewhere.

Sadly, other countries are not as “ahlan wa sahlan” as Jordan. Still, the grass seems, and in many ways is, greener on the other side, wherever that side may be. For right now, it seems Jordan will continue to struggle and its residents will continue to look for somewhere better to be.

Take care Wofford,

Kendall

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