That’s what everyone in Jordan seems to say when they meet foreigners, especially if those foreigners are traveling independently and have children. Our trip has got me thinking about hospitality — what it means, how to accept it, how to extend it. (Is this a cliche? The “hospitable Arab culture” post?).
Our first stop was Kings Academy (www.kingsacademy.edu.jo), a boarding school made up of around 70% Jordanian students and the rest largely Middle Eastern. King Abdullah attended Deerfield and decided that his country needed a similar educational establishment; Kings Academy is in its 5th year. John Austin, our friend and former colleague from St. Andrew’s, is now the Headmaster.
So Kings Academy is Middle Eastern hospitality plus boarding school warmth — an amazing, almost overwhelming combination. We were met at the border crossing in a car stocked with water and juices; housed in gorgeous rooms in the on-campus guest house; and given the run of the Headmasters’ house (Hannah and Margaret especially enjoyed the Austin/Matouk family’s collection of Berenstein Bear books, Calico Critters and Barbies) and the whole campus. Kings staff set us up with a Jordanian SIM card and a rental car. Terence was booked with a full day of visiting Religion, Ethics and Philosophy classes and meeting with teachers. We enjoyed dinners with John and Monica in their home and at a delicious restaurant in Madaba, and they took us to the top of Mount Nebo (in a dust storm….very cool to see, though it limited the views). And I was also given lots of free time and space, especially lovely since I wasn’t 100% healthy. Grace and generosity, from every single person we encountered.
Of course, to receive this hospitality I had to move beyond my own knee jerk Puritan resistance: “I don’t want to be a burden. We shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves. That’s too much, too generous.”
This whole lovely experience made me appraise and question myself as a hostess. I am pretty laissez faire and tend to assume that my guests want free run of the kitchen, the book shelves and the back yard, to know what time dinner is and then fundamentally to be left alone. I have always tried to keep it simple and easy on both sides. I guess this is culturally appropriate, but I am starting to see things differently as my innate self-sufficiency breaks down. I’m learning how to be hosted, to be welcomed. This is food for thought as we prepare for visitors to Jerusalem later this year.