The Odd Girl Out

Inti tehki arabi quais [you speak Arabic well]–they say in their satirical Arab voice.  One of the first impressions I have about Jordan is challenge of being a non-Muslim, non-Arabic speaking female.  Daily life entails hoping in taxis, ordering at cafes, and bartering in the market.  In all scenarios I am asked—in Arab-English—where I am from and why I’m in Jordan.  Granted the less I have to talk the more they are convinced I am Jordanian, but most of the time—at least for the next month while I am here—I am the odd girl out.

For women in Jordan there are certain social norms that are never broken, but vary from woman to woman based on her religion and families’ liberalness or conservative perspective.  I have had the opportunity to experience both ends of the spectrum.

First there is my host sister, Shayma, or as I like to call her the Arab version of Beyounce.  She is 18-years-old and has decided not to wear the hijab although her mother does.  If you saw Shayma in the US you would assume she was American, but then she speaks perfect Jordanian Arabic.  She comes from a very liberal family.  Shayma also tells me about her boyfriend—who she went out with on a date for Valentines’ Day—they have been together for three months.  Her mother has met her boyfriend and loves him.  For a girl like Shayma going out for her is easy because although she does not wear a hijab, her identity is visible when she speaks Arabic.

On the other hand there is Es’raa, my mentor at University of Jordan, a shy and intelligent girl.  Es’raa wears the hijab because she honors the traditions of Islam.  She is studying physics and is on scholarship to the university.  Es’raa’s identity is not only visible through wearing the hijab, but also speaking Arabic.

Unfortunately—as a first timer to Jordan—it is difficult for me to blend in. The only thing I have going for me is that I can pass for an Arab woman, but then once I start haggling with someone at the market or trying not to get ripped off by a taxi driver, it becomes obvious I am not from here.  Interacting with strangers—especially men—is more difficult as I often feel like I am being taken advantage of.

Even at the University of Jordan I feel out of place.  Walking through campus to the bookstore the other day, I was swarmed by a sea of brightly colored hijabs and I was the only girl without my head covered walking out of campus.  Granted there are others like me around, but to know that I am a minority makes me realize how girls wearing hijabs at my home university can feel alienated by simply not dressing the same way.

Another common social norm in Jordan, for local and foreign women, is a lack of chivalry in men.  The culture of Jordan does not permit much woman to men interaction, and therefore it translates to men either ignoring women completely or seeing women as underneath them.  I don’t mean to say they suppress women but simply, they tend to not show equal respect to women as their male counterparts.  For example, walking on a sidewalk on a street with busy traffic, I am forced to walk in the street while the man passes by on the sidewalk.  Another example, in a group of males and females the waiter or taxi driver will often talk to the guys instead of the girls in the group because it is not a social norm.

As a caveat for this post: This is my first week in Jordan; my opinion about the male to female interaction could be completely wrong.  By the end of my time in Jordan my opinion may change based off of how well I know the language.

I also realize none of the topics have really touched on the use of social media yet, but I feel that in order to understand how social media plays a role, I must first understand the culture and the women I am trying to write about.

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