Visiting the villages in Jordan

Elika Roohi/Sun Star Contributor
March 27, 2012

Learning how to make bread from a woman from Ghor on MArch 15, 2012. Photo by Elika Roohi

The Dead Sea is known for being so salty that nothing can survive in it, but the community of villages surrounding the Dead Sea is far from lifeless.  I went to visit the village of Ghor, a part of the Dead Sea community, on Friday, March 16.  Ghor is breathtakingly beautiful in a way I’m not used to, being from Alaska.  In this area of Jordan, the Dead Sea is a constantly visible bright blue, and the brown hills and desert colors surrounding it are broken up every so often with a tomato field or a group of tents.

There is a big difference between Amman and the rest of Jordan.  First of all, the residents of Amman are largely ethnically foreign. More than 90 percent of the population of Amman is Palestinian, and much of the other ten percent are immigrants from other Arab countries and around the world.  The true Bedouin Jordanians are outside the large cities, living in the smaller, poorer villages.

The villages surrounding the Dead Sea experience a level of poverty that’s hard to explain to those who have never seen it.  The Jordanians there tend to be viewed as poor, backward villagers, and experience some prejudice for being darker-skinned than Arabs living in other parts of the country.

The NGO that organized our visit to Ghor, the Zikra Initiative, works to bridge the gap of understanding and economic stature between the villagers and those who live in the cities.  They engage in a type of tourism called “cultural tourism” where foreigners and Jordanians can go visit the village and work alongside the villagers, experiencing what their life is like firsthand.

The first thing we did on our visit to Ghor was go out into the tomato fields, and pick the last of the season’s tomatoes.  American exchange students, people born and raised in Amman and those native to Ghor worked side-by-side filling their wooden crates with tomatoes.  After we picked more than enough tomatoes to make qalayet bandoora, a tomato and onion dish eaten with bread, we went to a tent on top of a windy hill where we learned how to toss dough for bread, make kohol eyeliner, weave baskets, peel tomatoes for qalayet bandoora, grind grain for bread and weave together dried banana peels to make beautiful bracelets.

All the while, we were sitting side-by-side with young kids, students our own age, and older men and women from Ghor. We were communicating, using a mix of Arabic and English.  This is what the Zikra Initiative aims to do. At the end of the day, there were a mix of Jordanians and Americans sitting on the floor of this tent in Ghor sharing the qalayat bandoora and bread we all made together.

After the meal was over, someone started playing the flute, and someone started drumming.  And before you know it, we were all standing up dancing and laughing together.

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