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The Stinging of the Sea

by - 6:39 AM


Jordan is like the Dead Sea; It appears to be rather plain and simple, but when you delve in and explore what it has to offer, you experience things that are sometimes painful and uncomfortable, but in the end are rewarding and worth the experience. Upon coming to Jordan, I didn’t have any expectations for how much I would enjoy it, be comfortable in it, or be able to adapt to its environment. From the surface, Jordan appeared to be simple, boring, and too homogenous for the kind of adventurous study abroad experience I was looking for in the Middle East, yet I have come to learn that quite the opposite is true. 
When you first enter the salty water of the Dead Sea, it stings and is uncomfortable, but once you allow yourself to let go of the discomfort, one is able to float and enjoy the experience, similar that of the Jordanian culture. One of the most difficult things that I have had to learn to adjust to in Jordan is the stigma that is attached to being a foreigner, especially being a woman. Woman are perceived as easy, and I feel that there is a huge lack of respect given towards foreign women. Even if you are dressed conservatively, and try to behave as a Jordanian woman would (looking down, avoiding eye contact, and hiding your emotions in public), you will still receive constant cat calls, animal noises, and other disrespectful behavior. It’s degrading, exhausting, and some days extremely frustrating. Now that I have learned to except the reality and not take their actions personally, I am able to ignore the initial discomfort, let go, and float.
The Dead Sea connects two regions which are vastly different in language, culture, and values. The same can be said about Jordan, which appears homogenous but in reality homes bedouins, countryside people, city people, Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, and other minorities. All speak varying dialects of Arabic, and live greatly different lives influenced by history, tradition, and culture. While they may be connected by geographic borders and close proximity, there are clear divisions and discriminations between these groups, just like the regions surrounding the Dead Sea.
The hot, thick Dead Sea mud at first seems dirty and smothering, but upon staying on your body, becomes somewhat of a comfort blanket, and once washed off reveals a new layer of skin that you didn’t know existed. I never realized how attached I was to Jordan and Arab culture until I went to Israel over Eid break. Being Jewish, and having lived in Israel for five months, I have always considered Israel my second home, and Israelis my people. When I went back, I was confused as to how I felt more comfortable speaking Arabic than I did Hebrew, and felt an instant connection when I saw and interacted with Arabs. I faced an internal struggle, and clash of identities. I had the realization that Arabic is now my comfort blanket, revealing a new part of myself that I didn’t know existed. 
While the discomfort doesn’t disappear, and you still feel the stinging of the sea every time you encounter a new experience, you learn to adapt and accept things how they are. You are left with an experience that constantly challenges your Western beliefs and values, is often frustrating and incomprehensible, yet some how makes its way into your heart, and will always remain there. 

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