This summer, I had the opportunity to live in Amman, Jordan and study Arabic through the Council on International Educational Exchange. I have been working toward a Middle East studies certificate throughout my time at UW, and I always knew that I wanted to experience the culture of the Middle East and travel to the region. While in Jordan, I lived with a Muslim host family and experienced many new traditions and ways of living.
I arrived in Jordan during the holy month of Ramadan, when observing Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and focus on prayer and reflection. The month ends in a holiday called Eid al Fitr, which includes several days off from work or school for most people, and is a time to visit family, travel, and celebrate. Experiencing Ramadan for a week and a half at the beginning of my time in Jordan taught me a lot about Islamic culture, but a few things in particular stood out to me:
1) The best time of day is approximately 7:37 pm, when the man on the Ramadan TV channel starts to sing, which means “it’s time to eat”. And while I was hungry because I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch 7 hours earlier, my host family was hungry because they hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours, since about 3am. This time of night is known as iftar, or the breaking of the fast. Families sit down and eat a large meal, that may include soup, salad, rice, meat or chicken, juice, hummus, bread, and more.
2) Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is closed during the day in Ramadan. All the restaurants, coffee shops, stores, and malls, much to the frustration of my American friends and I, were only open at night. This was because after sunset, the fast had been broken and people typically did everything that would normally take place during the day.
3) Muslims in Amman love to stay up all night and party, socialize, eat, and get together with family. I specifically remember asking my host mom one night during Ramadan if she wanted us home early or if we had a set curfew, because my friends and I were planning on going to a night market in Amman. “Mish mooshkila (no problem), it is Ramadan” she said. At night, people will often be out shopping until the early hours of the morning. Kids don’t have a bedtime, and everyone is happy with full bellies.
One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced during my stay in Jordan was living in a society that so highly valued faith, whether it be Islam or Christianity, and placed this, along with the family unit, above all else. I think living in the United States, we are very used to an individualistic attitude where everybody’s main concern is themselves and their career or personal life goals. I greatly valued the challenge of being immersed in a culture entirely different from my own, and loved the opportunity to experience such differences. This also gave me the chance to learn about Islam as well as the Arab world, and develop a deeper understanding of faiths outside my own.