On Arabic hospitality (and kisses)

Photo by Valentina Ruiz Leotaud

Jordanian-style picnic.

Marhaba! Hello! Nice to meet you!” we hear wherever we set foot on.

Despite the fact that Clea, Hala, and I are reporting on a very serious issue, this trip to Jordan has been filled with smiles.

One of the main reasons behind such a pleasant experience are the people we’ve come across in this journalistic path. Most of them are open to share their stories with us and, beyond that, they really try to make us feel at home regardless of the resources at their disposal.

From the simple -although delicious- cup of tea they offer us as we enter homes, offices, or any kind of gathering, to the fact that they give us specific directions or even sometimes a ride so we don’t get scammed by taxi drivers, the people we’ve encountered have really showed us what Arabic hospitality is all about.

Their attitude has allowed us to break that air of bureaucratic transaction that many interviews in ‘the West’ end up having. That is, the typical “I give you 20 minutes, you ask questions, I answer and we don’t see each other ever again.”

We’ve been allowed to enter people’s private spaces, to mingle with them, and to break some cultural barriers. They’ve also broken some cultural barriers when it comes to approaching us. Take, for example, the first encounter we had with Amira, one of the characters in our story who was so excited to meet with us after months of long-distance exchanges, that her reaction not only brought smiles but genuine laughter.

[STARTS IN ARABIC BUT CONTINUES IN ENGLISH]

This kind of interaction definitely reminds me of home. I felt like this the first time I came to Amman and now I’ve been able to confirm that my initial impressions were accurate. Despite the fact that Jordan is almost 10,600 Km. away from Venezuela, that both countries’ political and religious systems are not alike, and that social norms are tight in the former and loose in the latter, people’s warmth welcoming, generosity, and sincere concern for your well-being are almost the same here and there.

These are collectivist societies, where you are pushed to share [thoughts, food, feelings], to mingle, to get in real contact with people, and to face problems with optimism. You just know you are always going to have the heartfelt support  of your community.

One kiss on the right cheek, three on the left. That’s how I say goodbye for now, in the Jordanian way [that’s three more kisses than in Venezuela]. maʿ al-salāmah!

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