Written by current MESPer Elizabeth Byrd (Eastern University, Pensylvania)
My service project is with one of the coolest businesses/organizations that I have had the chance to work with. You can check them out here:https://www.holylanddesigns.com/. They reach out to men and women who are “physically challenged and underprivileged in the Holy Land”. All of the women I have interacted with are sweet and more than willing to make sure that I am well-fed and that I learn all about Jordan and Arabic that I can possibly manage to remember! The first week we were cataloging olive wood jewelry pieces. The next we were able to be on the floor with the women, tying ribbons and tags to wooden ornaments, and indulging in two tea breaks! I know that I will continue to enjoy going back each week!
This week I was also invited into the landlord’s apartment with his niece. I met the niece in the stairwell. She had a plate of food that she insisted that I try. I asked her a question about whether it was sweet or savory. She didn’t know how to answer so she said, “Come with me. I’ll ask my uncle!” As soon as our landlord opened the door, he insisted that we come in and eat. I felt like I was in a position where I could not refuse. The niece made me a plate of the dish and she gave me some soup, while our landlord invited me to sit down. The niece began speaking in Arabic, but our landlord insisted that she speak English — “to practice”. I am sure that he said that so that I would feel comfortable and so I could understand what was being said. She asked me about where I live. I tried to explain that there are a lot of squirrels where I am from but her uncle had to explain in Arabic what squirrels are. It never occurred to me that she would not be familiar with squirrels! Looking back, I realize that Jordan is in the desert and it makes sense that there aren’t many squirrels here. I saw that the TV was tuned into what appeared to be a news station. I asked our landlord if he was watching the news and he proceeded to tell me about what was happening in Turkey and about the dust storm. He seemed excited and willing to explain to me what was happening in his region of the world so that I could better understand the politics and the history. This was my first big dose of the famous “Jordanian hospitality” that was directed at me and not because our whole group of 20 Westerners were invited somewhere.
I love life in Jordan and the hospitality that goes along with it. I also love the opportunity that MESP provides to partake in service projects. These projects help to get cultural experience and feel like you are helping out in the community.