“Don’t worry…we don’t understand what we’re saying half the time, either!” “Wow, Arabic is an even more difficult language than I’d thought!” (Smiling slyly) “Oh, yes.” One of my new student friends and I had this exchange after I’d been standing for a while with a group of students who were engaged in a lively debate. (Many have excellent English and they often switched into it to welcome me.) I’m pretty sure she was kidding, but it was a sweet way to include me, and a great example of Jordanian humor. We’ve rarely been among students who have laughed so much together.
“My parents named me ______! It’s not even a Jordanian name! I googled it and it means Feeding Chicken in Persian. What were they thinking?” This young man lamented his name as he introduced himself to me. Many of the students proudly shared that their names have meanings like Light, Beauty, Joy, and Strength. I doubt his parents had hens in mind when they named him, but in a country where names matter a lot, his was a bit of a disappointment, to him most of all. It didn’t seem to be stopping him from dreaming big dreams for his future and going for it with an entrepreneurial zeal that marked so many of the students we met.
“Oh, you are from the United States! I went there a few years ago with our Track and Field national team while in high school. Everyone asked if we lived in tents and rode around on camels.” Ouch, this one made me wince. Amman is a very modern city, and in fact quite a car-oriented culture. The royal family has created an Automobile Museum which tells the story of their family and country through some of the cars and motorcycles they have driven over the past eighty or so years. The irony today of course is that while only a few Bedouins in Southern Jordan still live in tents, thousands of Syrian refugees are now living here in them, enduring a particularly cold winter, as this article describes.
“I feel like a unicorn every time he says that here—like he’s saying I’m an animal everyone agrees does not exist.” “Yes, but we see you right here in front of us, and now we know that you do exist, and we are interested. We want to know more. Tell us how you were called into ministry.” The first line here was me (Lisa), after Rich had made a point of saying that his wife is an ordained minister. He has done all the teaching in the student ministry and churches here in Jordan, where women are very rarely in any church leadership roles beyond ministry to children and other women. I’ve appreciated how often he has wanted to work that into the conversation, but I never know how it will be received, given that it simply isn’t part of the church culture here. I suspect that many at the church think that I am simply in error or disobedience. So it was refreshing at the student conference to have students ask questions like the young woman here did. It made me feel that I was serving as a witness to what is possible for the women here, even though I did not formally teach or preach.