This is pretty cool, what is happening in our apartment right now.
Kara invited our landlord’s mother over for two reasons: to get to know her and talk about the country and its culture, and also to practice Arabic.
They’re on the couch with tea and biscuits in front of them. They’re talking about… oh right, I have no idea what they’re talking about now because my Arabic is at the level of a 2 year old.. If that. But Kara may as well be a local, it’s very impressive to watch.
Earlier we were talking about Palestine – a topic that comes up almost daily here – and I had my first feeling of guilt over the topic. This lovely woman is Palestinian, and she was telling us about her family’s story. They left their home in 1948, when Israel was established.
Her family is from Jaffa, which is a gorgeous, smaller city on the coast of Israel. I told her I had been there and that it’s beautiful, and then saw the look on her face. She hasn’t been there. She, like most of the 4.7 million Palestinians alive today, are unable to enter Israel and see their old homes. But I can go anytime I like, despite having never lived there. That’s why I felt guilty.
It’s just one of the injustices of the complicated situation. Please do not take this as a blanket anti-Israeli statement – it’s not – but I wanted to share that particular feeling and that particular moment with you. Nothing more.
But here is the story that relates to the title of this post:
It’s against the rules for men and women to kiss on university grounds. Guess how we found that out? Yeah, the campus security told us. Whoops.
Kara immediately felt guilty and reprimanded herself for not knowing better. I shrugged it off (like the culturally insensitive guy that I am) more easily, but we don’t kiss on campus anymore. This makes me sad.
For the record: we were’t making out or anything. It was just a good-bye peck – Kara was off to her class and I was off to nap in the library.
And because I’m a really slow learner, today I wore my shorts on the walk home from the running track at the uni. It was hot, I was sweaty and I didn’t want to get my jeans all gross. For the record: Kara said I should put some damn pants on.
Walking through campus with these shorts on resulted in groups of girls giggling, or looking at me with disgust, and guys doing double-takes or laughing. I didn’t feel judged, I felt like a sort of weird stranger, like an alien.
A lovely male student politely stopped us and asked if we had a moment to speak with him. He told me that my shorts were a little too short because the Uni is quite conservative, the girls are Muslim, and that I should wear longer shorts or pants. I can wear shorts on the track though, or while playing sport. He was incredibly nice, in fact we exchanged numbers and we’ll meet up and help each other with languages (we will help him with English and he’ll help us with Arabic!). It was a very gentle, but important, lesson about the culture here.
That is, some things are very different here. Spending most of my time with Westerners – in the classes and because that’s who I meet also in social situations – it’s easy to think Jordan is not so different to anywhere else. People dress differently – at Uni I’d say 90 or 95% of women wear a hijab – but they don’t seem to act so differently. Girls still giggle, guys still strut.
But there are very different boundaries.
Kara had a conversation with some girls our age and they were fascinated by our relationship. For them, boyfriends just aren’t a thing. For us, getting married without really knowing your partner isn’t a thing. In Australia, if we were married both our parents would freak out. Here, if we kissed and went on dates but weren’t married our parents would freak out. It’s the exact opposite. Each cultural system has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.
I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t change depending on who I am around. No matter where I am or who I’m with, I’m me. That’s not meant to be abrasive, I don’t try and bulldoze my way through life, but I do try to be open and honest about who I am and what I think with everyone. With empathy and respect this shouldn’t, I think, cause problems.
So I have a weird little conflict in my mind about wearing longer shorts. Obviously I will, and I feel stupid for not doing so in the first place. But it’s one of the few times where I will change something about myself against my own will to suit or please others. It’s SUCH a small thing, but I wonder what it would feel like to have to do this on many levels all at once? I’d hate it. I guess that’s what they call oppression.
I’m not saying people here who wear longer shorts or hijabs or whatever don’t want to. And to be completely honest I quite like not having cleavage all around me. I like the less sexualised environment. And I think if I grew up here and saw a Miley Cyrus music video I’d think the West is a morally corrupt cesspool of shit, too.
Anyway, that’s my stream-of-consciousness cultural observations related to clothing. Hope you liked it.
Because we don’t have any super relevant photos for this post, here are some pics of me and Kara facing off over coffee like Obama and Putin are doing over Ukraine. High stakes stuff, I say.