A Travellerspoint blog

A Woman in Jordan

By Lis

View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

Jordan was our first foray into the misunderstood Middle East. Many people imagine scenes from their nightly news broadcast, as there is currently much turmoil in the neighbouring countries. Jordan is a safe country to visit, with political and economic stability. It is a small country, with enough sites to keep a tourist busy for a few weeks. We based ourselves out of the capital, Amman, for the first few days, and took day trips organized through our guesthouse. From Amman we visited Jerash, an ancient Roman settlement, Medaba, with a Greek Orthodox community, the famous Dead Sea, where you float with ease, and Mount Nebo, where Moses saw his promised land. In Amman we had the best (and cheapest!) falafel and hummus. Next we took the scenic route to Wadi Musa, to visit the colossal ruins of Petra. The cost of the ticket, the temperature at midday, plus the size of the site, encourages visitors to spread their visit over several days. After that, we spent the night in the red-sand dessert of Wadi Rum, where images of Lawrence of Arabia are easily conjured, and awoke in a Bedouin tent on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. Aqaba was our last stop, which had record high temperatures, but was the perfect location to snorkel in the Red Sea. Best of all, the people of Jordan are some of the friendliest we’ve met, and they will literally yell at you down an alleyway, “Welcome to Jordan!” It is also inexpensive, though the limited public transit system meant that the private transportation we opted for increased our daily budget substantially.

In Jordan, walking among ladies in burqas and veils, I started to give more thought to what it means to be a woman in this world. I felt it was really important for me to know and follow the norms of Jordan in terms of proper behaviour for a woman. While Western women in Jordan sit somewhere in between male and female status, I tried to err on the conservative side. All this meant was that I wore clothing that covered my shoulders, chest, and legs, I did not touch any men (i.e. no handshakes unless they initiated it), and I let Toby take the lead. I felt that, after observing these norms, I earned respect from the men (and women) that we met, and I was representing Canadian women well. It was not uncommon to see a Western woman, sitting in the front seat of a taxi (not okay), showing her shoulders and legs, talking in a loud voice, visibly upset or annoyed. I couldn’t help wondering what impression that woman was leaving on Jordan, and vice versa. Perhaps these ladies think that they are making a statement about the freedom afforded to women in the West. I fear that their message will be lost while the locals assume the worst about the ladies’ characters, perhaps drawing conclusions about all Western women. I am not suggesting that I prefer or condone the gender roles in Middle Eastern societies; merely that I found a way to live comfortably in this one.

So, in honour of my stay in Jordan, something a little different from me: a poem :)

How to be a Woman

I learned how to be
A woman in the West.
My mother, my role model, said to me,
“You are strong and you are smart.
You can be whatever you want to be.”

I learned how to be
A woman in the West.
The media, my role model, said to me,
“You are strong and you are smart.
But you also need to be beautiful.
Your presentation at work will go well, but maybe you should paint your nails?
Pay more for haircuts and drycleaning, but get paid less than a man.
Your father will give you away at your wedding, just stand there and look like a princess.
You can’t have a job and a family without missing out on both.
Still single? No kids? What’s wrong with you?"

I learned how to be
A woman in the Middle East.
Ushered through the restaurant to the family section.
“Let me choose where to sit!” I screamed silently inside.
But the family section was full of smiles instead of stares
And it quickly became my choice.

I learned how to be
A woman in the Middle East.
Questions to my husband instead of to me.
“I can speak for myself!” I screamed silently inside.
But my husband knows all the answers
And instead of feeling insignificant, I felt like a VIP.

I learned how to be
A woman in the Middle East.
Long sleeves and pants, other women in niqab and hijab.
“Don’t tell me what to wear!” I screamed silently inside.
But they looked past me or into my eyes.
My beauty was not determining my worth.

Images flash on the news: those poor women, they live such a different life.
Images flash on the Hollywood screen: those poor women, they aren’t valued as equal.
Who is repressed? Who is free?
I’m still learning how to be
A woman.


Posted by Lis.L 03:46 Archived in Jordan

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What a beautiful poem with a thought-provoking message. We, as women, are all still learning how to be ourselves while experiencing pressure from others, whether it be the media, the government or well-intentioned loved ones.

by Betty Couch

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