Jordan

Acts of Kindness in Jordan

58 Comments 15 February 2011

shwarma

Bonding over Shwarma

Expect to be questioned when you go to Jordan.
Of course you will be questioned by your friends and family as to why you would go to the Middle East, but you will most definitely be questioned by the locals when you arrive in Jordan. You will stand out as you walk down the streets, people may even stop and stare, and then the first question you will hear is, “Where are you from?”
You will answer them, and the next you’ll hear this:

“Ahhh…Welcome, welcome to Jordan.”

Jordan surprised me in many ways, but the most surprising thing was the generosity, kindness, and openness of the people. It started with the family I lived with but it continued to every person I met.

Tabacco and Tea Friendship

Bus Stops

The first time I took the bus on my own was an exercise in kindness. The local bus system is not designed for tourists, or any people who can’t really read Arabic for that matter. There is some sort of prescribed route to the bus, but there are no specific bus stops. You simply stand by the side of the road and flag it down as if you were hailing a cab; a big yellow speeding cab full of people. This sounds quite easy – right? However each bus looks the same and has some sort of sign written on it in Arabic regarding it’s final destination. If you don’t read Arabic, you have no idea which bus to try to flag down. I was trying to get home after dark and had no idea which bus to get on. I walked up to an older gentleman who was standing on the road looking as if he may be waiting for a bus. I asked him if the bus to Fuheis stopped here and he said yes.

His next question was predictable, “Where are you from?” We went through the whole standard exchange of information and that was it; we were now the best of friends in a few short sentences. However, I was not only his friend, but I was his personal obligation. It was dark, and it had started to rain, yet he stood with me for 25 minutes passing up the bus he needed multiple times in order to ensure I was put on the correct bus. Buses came and went and he asked each one if they were going towards Fuheis in vain, and each time he reassured me and continued waiting with me. Finally, we had a “Yes”, and he put me on the correct bus and made sure that the young man taking the money knew exactly where he should take me.

The bus kindness was frequent. After being asked the question of where I was from and getting my standard welcome from strangers, I had people frequently pay for my bus fares, and I even had a person ride with me all the way from another city to just make sure I made the transfer correctly and got home safely.

It didn’t stop at the bus, it was everywhere.

Pot Luck

Chicken with Strangers

I went walking around the town of Fuheis one day to pick up some fruit and I walked by a falafel and chicken stand. I stopped to watch the man swiftly slice up a roasted chicken and prepare a feast for some lucky patrons, and before I knew it someone was handing me a can of Coke and asking me to sit down and join them in their lunch. In most other countries I would have kindly passed on the offer, but in Jordan I hesitated for a slight moment, thought about the situation, said “Thank you” as I smiled, accepted the Coke, and sat down. The group of young men ordered more food for me and we talked in choppy charade English for an hour and ate lunch. The owner of the shop joined in and brought us tea with a big smile. After lunch was finished, I asked in vain if I could ‘chip in’ but I knew the answer; they would never let a foreigner pay. I thanked them profusely, left, and went home. No one tried to get anything more from me, no one tried to hit on me; it was an actual genuine casual lunch between new friends.

Tea Time

As I walked around the charming town of Salt I stopped and looked at the tobacco store and the man started a conversation with me in his broken English. Soon I found myself sitting in the store, learning how to roll cigarettes, and conversing with many people. They all normally wanted to know about my life, and of course what I thought of Jordan. They made me tea and had me taste sweets. I sat in the tobacco shop for 40 minutes simply socializing.

I was in a compact residential area taking photos of the sunset and a woman was parking her car. As she got out of the car our eyes met and we exchanged greetings; she was clearly coming home from work carrying a briefcase. She started to go up the stairs and I continued shooting; then she came back to me and asked me if I was from Germany. I explained to her my origins were German but that I was American. She continued to ask what kind of camera do I was carrying. She said she used to have a camera like mine, but it was stolen. I thought the conversation was done there as there was a long silence as I nodded in empathetic understanding to her news of a stolen camera. Then she asked, “Would you like to come and have tea in my house?” I looked at the soft, diffused sunset light and weighed out the pros and cons of missing the pictures vs. a unique cultural interaction. This was an easy decision – cultural interaction! I went with her to her home, she introduced me to her brother and the three of us sat for 45 minutes having tea and talking about our lives, politics, and travel. This was completely normal in Jordan

Uniquely Jordan

These acts of kindness came from men, women, teenagers, Christian, Muslim, Egyptian, Jordanian, poor and rich. The most incredible thing about all of these interactions was there was no ulterior motive. Not once was I asked to buy anything, pay for my share, asked to hire people as a guide, or hire their cousin as a guide; it was completely selfless and utterly genuine. I think that was the most surprising fact about the people of Jordan.

Tea Time in Salt

Maybe this sounds normal to those of you who don’t travel internationally; however for those of you who do travel internationally, hopefully you can see how unique this is. In most countries as a solo female traveler I have to put up my guard warding off advances from local men, firmly telling people I don’t want to buy things, and in some places actually have to blatantly ignore the barrage of people trying to get my attention for their financial gain. It has made me a hardened traveler and it is the thing I dislike the most about travel. I don’t want to be the mean person who ignores others. But the fact is that in most every country I’ve gone to, I’m not seen as a interesting traveler who may be cool to interact and exchange cultures, but instead I’m seen as a walking dollar bill. That process of being seen as an object and not a person gets tiring when you travel as often as I do…really tiring. This is why Jordan was a breath of fresh air for me. I can safely say that it was the most genuinely generous country I’ve been to – from random shopkeepers on the street, to business workers, to the family I lived with. Jordan built up my trust in people again.

A good demonstration of what Jordan is all about is a story I was heard retold often. Jordanians were proud of this story – very proud. While I was in Jordan, it appears the whole Middle East disrupted in turmoil – Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. This unrest also bubbled up in Jordan, however during the demonstrations in Jordan against the government, police handed out juice boxes and blankets to the demonstrators. Granted – I’m not naïve enough to believe that this is always the case, but I loved how people recounted the story numerous times to me; they were proud of their generosity in Jordan.

Then there was the kindness of my host family and specifically Etidal – who could be my sister – but took care of me like a mother. Cooking, cleaning, laundry…She was a full time act of kindness.

Pay it Forward

Etidal and me

All of this unexpected kindness got me thinking, what if we all started asking ‘the question’ – that’s right – all you New Yorkers, Chicagoans, DCers, San Franciscans, and Nebraskans – what if you saw someone who was visiting your city or needed help and asked them where they were from and then welcomed them (genuinely) to your city and helped them? What if you simply let down your guard and invited them in for coffee and gave them help? It’s an interesting thought; one that we should all think about. I for one intend to take a lesson from Jordan.

What countries have you been to where you were overwhelmed with kindness from complete strangers?

Consider an act of kindness for our Mongol Rally

Your Comments

58 Comments so far

  1. Audrey says:

    Really loved reading this and all the different examples of true hospitality and kindness, especially from a part of the world that many people back home think is dangerous and violent. We had similar experiences traveling through Central Asia. People offering to share their lunch with us in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, families inviting us into yurts for tea in Kyrgyzstan and just kindness and curiosity all around.

    Thanks for sharing this. Hope to be able to experience a bit of this for ourselves in Jordan sometime soon!

  2. It’s humbling to be treated with such respect and generosity like this. I can relate to a few of your stories from past experiences and I also believe that genuine hospitality is hugely uplifting.

    I’m sure people would be hugely startled if they asked you for directions in NYC and you escorted them to their destination (unfortunately it would even be suspicious).

    On a side note: I’ve never been to Jordan, but when I was in Egypt, I met a few Jordanians who informed me that they have the best shawarmas in the Arab world!

  3. islandmomma says:

    This post brought a lump to my throat. I wish it could be published and read on the evening news every night, so that people could understand that the Middle East/Muslim countries aren’t always the violent or secretive places they usually see on the news.

    That said, you shouldn’t dismiss your own country either. Travelling solo in NC and in NY state I met with much kindness, and I have to note that when I was with American friends it perhaps wasn’t quite the same. But to those of us who have travelled in the US, as foreigners, your hospitality is well known.

  4. Stacy says:

    Morocco! I was lost in Fez and a local girl approached me and asked where I was going. She took me several “blocks” out of her way to find the correct bus stop and then waited with me to make sure I got on the right one…I tried to give her some money as a tip (I’m a “harden” traveler as well and just assumed she was doing it for a tip) but she politely refused.

    I also met another Moroccan girl on the train to Meknes and she invited me home to have lunch with her family and I would have been invited to stay overnight with them but her mom wasn’t feeling well. So, they drove around finding a hotel for me and negoitiated the price.

  5. Webjet.com says:

    I think so many people, and women especially, are turned off by solo travel because of the safety/unfriendliness aspect. Your shared experiences of the contrary will no doubt inspire so many to let their guard down and go!

  6. Sarah says:

    that’s how it was when I visited Israel for the first time, I was a novelty for them and I was invited everywhere by perfect strangers. My experience in Jordan was mixed, most of the time it was as friendly as you described but other times the mood changed when they found out where I was from.

    • Sherry says:

      When were you there? Did you stick to the tourists areas? I’m surprised as my American heritage didn’t seem to matter one bit in my month there! People did love to talk politics though.

    • Yazan says:

      Dear Sarah First Of all ITS MOST WELCOMED FOR ANY ONE to vist Jordan from every where

  7. Ali says:

    As a Jordanian reading this makes me very happy, i’m very glad you had this wonderful experience! Tourists are always welcomed in our country and our homes are yours.

  8. Theodora says:

    Travelling with my son, we’re often on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers. And I believe you can find kindness wherever you go…

    My own experiences of travelling the mid-East were different from yours, though I never visited Jordan, and hope to soon. So thank you for sharing this perspective.

    • Sherry says:

      Quite frankly my travels in the Middle East were also different until I arrived in Jordan. In fact – I vowed never to go back to Egypt I disliked it so much. But it was amazing to me what a complete opposite experience and culture Jordan was. So – give it another try in Jordan – you will be delighted!

      • Theodora says:

        I’ve heard from my aunt that Syria is very similar. Think we’re going to give both a go next year, depending on the political situation, of course.

        Mauritania, also, is another mid-East country where you do not get the hassle from men that you might elsewhere, though you do need to cover hair etc.

        • Sherry says:

          I missed Syria on this trip – but it gives me a reason to get back to the ME. I’ve also heard great things about Syria!

  9. Ahhhh…I love this post. It makes me feel so good and is THE reason i travel and travel alone. These meetings and interactions are priceless. I have met warm people everywhere and strangers that invited me for meals or drinks, but there is something truly special about the area you are in.
    I felt it too when i was in Jordan…a very laid back, sincere friendliness. And i was overwhelmed by it in Turkey. In Istanbul my entire experience was unique thanks to strangers. I could go on and on (and i seem to be!), but it is wonderful!

    In Chicago…I love helping strangers! I am the smiling dork that goes up to people holding maps and offer my help. I used to also give free tours as a Chicago Greeter. Hmm…maybe i’ll get back to that.
    Thanks Sherry! So happy for your time there!!
    Lisa

  10. Such a coincidence that just a few days ago I had my own “Pay It Forward” moment:

    http://tinyurl.com/4pxqwbm

    That’s what travel does – teaches you the Travel Trinity: Awareness, Empathy, and Compassion.

    I was only grateful that I could be there to help a fellow travel wandelust the way so many kind strangers in the world have helped me.

  11. Jon says:

    Great post Sherry.

    Living in Jordan, I can completely confirm your experience. Just yesterday I took my cable box to get fixed. Not knowing where to go, I asked a stranger for help. He took me to a shop, told them what I needed and waited there with me, making sure they took good care of me. In the end I walked out with a fixed cable box (for free!), and a new friend. He gave me his number and said to visit him any time.

    Thanks for sharing all your experiences from Jordan!

    Jon

  12. Stacie says:

    It’s all true. My experiences were the same! Jordanians are truly the most kind, hospitable people!

  13. Akel Biltaji says:

    As a former Minister of Tourism & Antiquities, Former Chairman of the Jordan Tourism Board, Advisor to His Majesty King Abdullah II and currently as a Senator and Chairman of the Toruism and Heritage Committee in the House, I am touched and wish that each and every Jordanian could get a chance to read your blog or at least have the Jordan Tourism Board use some extracts of your article and the comments. A big thank you.

    • Sherry says:

      Mr. Biltaji – thanks for your comments – I feel honored that you stopped by my website! I really have traveled and lived throughout the world and Jordan really made an impact on me. I had a wonderful month in Jordan and hope to go back again one day!

  14. Cam says:

    Glad you felt the Jordanian hospitality! We absolutely loved our time in Jordan. People often ask us which countries are our favourite and Jordan is always top 3, and’s its all because of the people. Though the region is volatile, we’ve never felt safer and always felt respected.

  15. Yahya Al-Khashman says:

    Hey Sherry, i just wanted to thank you to write such sweet words about my beloved country jordan, and my hometown As-Sallt. u were and will always be most welcomed anytime here in Jordan. as it was our pleasure and honour to have you satisfied in Jordan, hope to see you here in Jordan soon.

    Cheers!

  16. J Suleiman says:

    As a 9-yr resident of Jordan, posts like this make me remember why I am raising my four children here! Thank you for this refreshing insight into what is ‘right’ with this country. We who live here tend to have our own laundry lists of what needs to change, but hospitality and the genuine kindnesses that one can find here are not on these lists. :)
    Happy travels and please come back soon.
    (Ahlan wa sahlan, always)

  17. Mark H says:

    I think such kindness happens the more you get off the beaten path. I think your natural character must contribute a lot too. I can recall tremendous signs of generosity in Switzerland (remote valley), Nepal (rarely used trekking route), Vietnam (in 1991 before many tourists visited), Algeria (during Ramadan so no food but a great chat), Zimbabwe (invite to a tennis club among other things) and other central and northern African nations. I think it far less likely to happen on the beaten tourist paths than where tourists are a bit of a novelty and also more likely in parts of thr world where welcoming guests is more cultural.

    • Sherry says:

      Mark – I do agree – there is an element of your personal character as well as the areas you choose to go. I really dislike going to tourist areas and try to seek out the less traveled countries. But even if I am in a popular tourist destination – I love to get off the beaten path…take local transport, etc. That’s where you’ll normally make the most genuine connections – and that was certainly the case in Jordan – but I also felt that even on the tourist trail the Jordanians were still very truthful and generous.

  18. Craig says:

    I have traveled to Jordan several times in the past ten years, the last time in 2009 with my then 5-year-old son. I think I have lived virtually every experience you wrote here! Truly a very hospitable country.

    I was even treated very well by police and other drivers after minor fender benders- neither my fault, though even if they were, I think they would have tried their best to make me believe otherwise.

    Thank you for sharing!

  19. Dana A says:

    I’m a Jordanian who has lived in the US for 15+ years. While living in Chicago, I was on the “EL” coming back from O’Hare when I saw a Japanese couple that were obviously new to Chi Town. I asked them if they needed help, helped them get to where they needed, gave them my phone number and asked them to call me if they needed anything else. Next day, I got a call, I helped them find an apartment, etc. and became really good friends. I guess once a Jordanian, always a Jordanian, no matter where you are or how long you’ve been away! Glad you had a wonderful experience in Jordan!

  20. Proud Jordanian says:

    Reading this post makes me proud to be Jordanian. I have lived in many countries but there is no place on Earth like Jordan, the heritage the trust between fellow citizens and relaxed atmosphere makes it a beautiful place to live in. I am so happy that you had this amazing experience here and hope to see you soon back in Jordan. Slowly and steadily we will change the western world’s perspective of us and hopefully will all see what a wonderful and peaceful place this is.

  21. bernie says:

    Thaks for your observations…I’m going to Jordan in April and I trust/hope I will have similar experiences.

  22. deza says:

    Hi Sherry,

    I’m travelling to Jordan alone this weekend. I am an expat working in Dubai and trips to nearby Mid-East countries is a weekend getaway for some of us. And am not surprised with kindness you were refering to coz most Jordanians I know are typically friendly. Great pictures and love your post.

    Going back to your question, Turkey is also home to some of the friendliest people. Anywhere you go, the locals are very friendly to the tourists. All I have most of the time is a map and most people doesn’t speak English very well. But they are very helpful in showing you the nearest resto and how to go to your next destination. Would even go as far as accompanying you to your next train stop.

  23. Anil says:

    I felt something similar in northern Iraq – and actually it was a bit jarring to have nobody try to overcharge or mislead me while there. As you know when traveling so much, you develop a guard against all kinds of things but it’s the best feeling to know that most people are kind and helpful.

    One of my favorites posts of yours I’ve ever read btw, great one :)

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks Anil! It has been so nice to let down my ‘travel’ guard in the Jordan and Lebanon so far…totally refreshing!

  24. Renee says:

    What an inspiring post! I love it!

  25. Alison says:

    Wow! What fantastic generosity and what a great world we would live in if we all acted like this. I’m definitely going to remember this the next time I see people looking bewilderedly at a map in Grand Place :)

  26. Céline Berthelot says:

    Mrs,
    What an interesting article, especially for a solo traveler.
    As I am diabetic, I always prepare a trip very carefully. Do you think that in case of emergency, it would be easy to find someone who speak English or French ? Do you have any suggestions regarding medical facility ?
    Thank you for sharing,
    Céline

    • Sherry says:

      Celine, yes there are plenty of people in Jordan who speak English. It’s a mandatory part of their school curriculum. And people are so helpful that if you were in need, I’m sure you’d have plenty of people who would be able to help you. Hope that eases some of your concerns.

  27. Sophie says:

    For me, it was also Jordan (although it’s been more than 20 years since I was there). More recently, I had a lovely time with a very generous family in Bahrain who just asked me in from the street – http://www.sophiesworld.net/kindness-of-strangers-bahrain/

    From the comments above, it seems these unexpected acts of generosity and kindness often in the Middle East. Interesting, no?

  28. Rosaline says:

    Wow. What a great post. You were spot on about Middle East hospitality. I went to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon in 2010. I can’t remember the number of times we heard ‘where are you from’, ‘join us for tea’, and ‘no problem, we’ll take you there’. The people were unbelievably helpful and friendly. Anyway, if you thought the Jordanians were friendly, the Syrians leave them in their dust! I have travelled to MANY countries and the Syrians, by far, are the most hospitable and friendly I’ve come across. Looking forward to reading more posts.

  29. Peg says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your incredible experiences in Jordan. One of the main reasons I travel is for the connection with people and the sense of community. I will definitely be adding Jordan to the top of my list of places to visit. I’m touched by the openness and kindness of the people you met.

  30. Nomadic Matt says:

    Amazing article. I can see why it was shared so much! Great stuff!

  31. Donna Hull says:

    What a wonderful post, Sherry. You really captured the generous spirit of the Jordanians. And your inspiring challenge is one we should all follow.

  32. Meg says:

    Sherry, great post. I was struck in reading it by the realization that my experiences of the deepest connections when traveling have been when I am doing so alone…and when my need has been the deepest for a sense of belonging or help or the “transmission line.” When I allow myself to be the most vulnerable is often when I can best access the generosity that is out there…when on the road or at home. I think in particular of being in Malta at a time when my mom was critically ill and how much TLC I received, whether people knew of my circumstances or not. I think people sense when others are receptive to an invitation such as the one you had for tea. At the same time, there are places or times when it is prudent to be careful and travel helps me hone my instincts in that regard. And I loved your honesty about the dilemna of capturing the light…or experiencing a cultural interaction, even if that dilemna was just a nano-second. So many choices! Thanks for sharing! Meg

  33. A Jordanian Visitor says:

    WOw thats a nice article, I am a Jordanian who lived in the US for few years and other east Asian countries for couple of months, I did not expect that the way we live in Jordan would have this impression on you.

    While my travelling I noticed that people dont expect someone to offer them food or share with them his/her stuff., however in Jordan it is considered rude not to do so ,, and you have to offer several times. Also in Jordan you might notice in front of the cashier that the customers start talking with each other before they pay the bill; usually we try to pay on behalf of each other or at least to pretend that we are planning to do so.

    Although I know its not part of others cultures I am still doing it even when I am in another country.

    I guess the reason behind that lies in being Arabic, we used to study how Hatim AlTai’e used to welcome his guests even sometimes over his food shortage, and we used to study at the elementary school that your are not really Muslim if you sleep with full stomachs while your neighbor is hungry and also Islam teaches us to have part of our yearly charity for “Aber Alsabeel” = the poor traveler. Also ancient Arabic houses have a room for guests, and some of them is open for guests, they can use it any time.

    I really welcome you all to Jordan and hope that you will enjoy it and love it,but please note that there are always the bad guys everywhere so dont think you are in the paradise,

    p.s if you liked jordan today you would have been in love with the old middle east and Levant countries ( Jordan Palestine , Syria and Lebanon) when there was no effect of the globalization and the media cause change people…

  34. A Jordanian Visitor says:

    by the way I did not notice that we use where you’re from .. thats funny :)
    Arab people like to know the origin, and they are proud to tell you where their decent are originally from, and some of them have family tree that goes literary for hundreds of years, authenticated..

  35. Jordan is a very special generous country. I adore the Jordanians and my very best friend is Sharif Jamil Nasser, who I have known forever (from aged 8 at Summer Fields and Harrow school).
    Remember to be genuinly grateful. There is nowhere in the world quite like Jordan.

  36. Sabina says:

    I found the people of Jordan to be really very friendly, as you did. While I was walking around the streets my first morning in Amman, I experienced much of what you did – with people smiling, asking where I’m from, etc. They were so low key and welcoming. I could easily go back for more!

  37. Ahmed Akour says:

    I’m Jordanian , living in Lebanon .. I dropped some tears reading your post .. I’m really glad that u felt this way in Jordan and please come back later .. and I think I’m done with Lebanon .. somehow its just like you said in the other part everyone wants to sell me something and everyone wants to take money from me in anyway possible ..don’t forget TAXI TAXI TAXI ..

  38. Linda Brown says:

    Thank you for your post. I have wanted to visit Jordan ever since reading Queen Noor’s book, “Leap of Faith”. This book is a must read for anyone visiting Jordan or any country in the Middle East. Your post confirms Queen Noor’s depiction of the Jordanian people and culture.

  39. Neversabrina says:

    Hi Sherry -

    I’m getting ready to head off to Jordan at the end of the month. This is my second visit (I traveled there last year around the same time) and I too fell in love with the wonderful people of Jordan. Their warmth, kindness and generosity touched my heart time and again. Traveling alone as a female tourist can be taxing at times but in Jordan I felt respected and cared for…very much loking forward to this second trip. Thanks for a great blog!

  40. I am glad that u enjoyed your visit in Jordan, i also visited Israel and the people there are more kind and generous thanks for your story for now am more confident that i will find generous people on my visit this Dec!

  41. I really love reading stories like this. The true acts of kindness and humility that often go unnoticed. It’s nice to see Jordan painted with a new brush that often works so hard to tarnish it. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  42. Cameron Landels says:

    I have recently moved to Jordan from the UK. The people here are some of the nicest and friendliest I have ever met. Jordanians are so kind and welcoming. I am proud to be here on my gap year, discovering this beautiful country.


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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