We moved to Jordan about a year ago. It took me a month or two, though, to realize that our city, Amman, was named after the Old Testament tribe of the Ammonites. Many of our neighbors and colleagues, native Jordanians, are the modern day descendents of that tribe. Today, however, the Ammonites share their land. It is a land shared by Bedouins and city-dwellers, Arabs and foreigners, Christians and Muslims.
Like any land, Jordan has its difficulties. Good people and bad people live side by side. The divide between rich and poor is visible. Prices rise more quickly than pay raises, so people have been affected by the economic downturn, and demonstrate for social change. Some like the government as it is; others want it changed. Some work hard to make a difference; others wait, hoping that a difference will be made for them. Jordan also faces some troubles unique to itself. It worries about the sustainability of its water supply over the coming decades, and is ardently striving to improve its educational system as a long terms solution to economic and social growth and sustainability, which suffers, in part, due to the laidback nature of the society. In short, the country, and its individuals live a normal life with work and recreation, friends and family, and their own share of worries.
But Jordan also has its own piece of heaven: peace and stability. Jordan has been known for several decades as the peace maker, or peace keeper, in the Middle East. The peace goes deeper than the political balance maintained, and the peace agreements reached. It stems from the heart of the country. In Jordan, muezzins and Church bells peal side by side.
In the evening, I hear the call of the muezzin a few blocks to the left of our apartment, often followed by the sound of local Catholic Church bells floating up from the valley to the right. It’s common to find Churches and mosques on the same block, just as it’s common to find Christians and Muslims living and working harmoniously in the same neighborhoods and shopping from the same stores. The Jordanians, whether Christian or Muslim, worship openly and without fear. They have different sub-cultures and different lives, but they share their Jordanian identity and their security in their country. Children run and play freely and safely in the streets. Palestinians, as well as other nationalities, freely voice their opinions and questions in the classroom or social forum, willing to discuss issues. People talk to each other on the streets, and aren’t afraid to let strangers touch or hold their babies. These little things reflect a deeper value: the people here have retained their trust in humanity. They haven’t abused each other or been abused. All of us trust our family and friends. The people here trust strangers too. They trust people they have never met before, and they trust the foreigners who come to their land. They trust people of their own religion and people of different religions, people of their own political beliefs, and people with varying opinions. They aren’t blind to the differences, but they seem to have an inherent belief in the basic goodness of man, and they have cultivated these values within their culture.
It took me a while to realize these things. When I arrived, I was quick to criticize poor service from the internet provider and appliance company. I was quick to notice the number of people loafing on the streets, and think that they should work more actively to make their country what they want it to be. I was quick to think that they have a lot to learn from other countries and cultures. Perhaps they do. But since then, I have realized that other cultures also have a lot to learn from them. Perhaps we can teach them efficiency, a good work ethic, and how to improve infrastructure and systems. But how much good can a nation do with its money and infrastructure when it has lost its soul? Jordan has kept its soul, and shows it to those who have time to see it. There may be time for infrastructure and systems to improve in the future, but, as can be seen in other nations, the competition that accompanies “advancement” often jeopardizes the values in the culture. If a choice here has to be made, I hope Jordan chooses its soul. In the meantime, every time I walk out and hear the quiet stillness of the streets before the evening hubbub begins, or listen to the muezzin and bells sounding out at the same time, I thank God for all he has given us here in Jordan, for allowing us to experience its peace and harmony, and I look forward to the other pieces of heaven God will show us in different lands and people throughout our life journey.