Amman, Jordan, shop selling traditional Arab headcovers.
It doesn’t seem possible, but my Jordanian friend insists that he is now married.
I look carefully into Awad’s dark eyes, magnified by the thick lenses of his black framed glasses, to see if he’s joking, but I only see his sincerity and joy.
I am astonished because exactly one week ago, when I left my Arab hosts’ home to tour nearby Syria, Awad did not know anyone to date, much less marry. How did so much happen so fast? Gushing with newfound love, he explains in rather rough English that just after I left, he and his neighbor, Abdul-Fatah, went down to the local market where he caught sight of a girl so captivating, that even from a distance, he was compelled to find out who she was and where she and her family lived.
Following Jordanian custom, he and Abdul-Fatah made an appointment the next day to visit her family. The two hour visit involved polite conversation over demitasse cups filled with pungent black coffee, while the prospective spouses sat at opposite ends of the visiting room, glancing cautiously at each other, trying to envision a life together, mere hours after their first encounter.
Three more home visits and a successful dowry negotiation sealed the deal, and the happy couple was promptly married.
My look of surprise does not dampen Awad’s enthusiasm for the magic that has changed his life.
“She is the most wonderful woman, and beautiful woman, ever. I love her so much. I am so happy.”
She is not with him just now, so I have to settle for a small black-and-white photo of a dark-haired, unsmiling, somewhat plain girl. Suppressing my lingering sense of bewilderment, I congratulate Awad on his good fortune.
When I step back to assess the extraordinary situation I find myself in, I almost have to pinch myself to be sure this is all really happening: I’m living with an Arab family who has taken me, a complete stranger, into their humble home, and remarkably they have refused any payment despite their modest means. My expressions of gratitude are always met with the same reply.
“No thanks for duty.”
I am here in the Kingdom of Jordan as a result of a previous conversation in Egypt: “It’s a cheap flight from Cairo, the country is safe and there’s lots to see there.” With no more planning than that, I booked my flight, boarded the plane and a couple of hours later I found myself strolling through downtown Amman.
I needed to find the post office, and to my surprise, a local man responded to my inquiry by taking me there. Thus I met Ibrahim, Awad’s uncle and family patriarch, who invited me to stay in his home in As Salt, a small, ancient town tucked among rocky hills a half hour from Amman. I was wary of his proposal until three different officials reassured me that his gesture reflects Jordanian traditional hospitality towards guests.
Although I’ve been traveling for about three months, it seems like a lifetime since I left behind my accounting job in Iran, and the Iranian Revolution, and set out on an unplanned journey through the Middle East. I had no idea what to expect, but the magic of being on the road, totally carefree and open to possibilities, has worked wonders on my spirit. That elusive, but addictive feeling of exhilaration has gripped me during unexpected moments of discovery in the cave dwellings in Turkey and the mystical Egyptian temples that my mother has talked about since I was a child. But by a stroke of luck I have found my favorite place of all, Jordan.
I am sitting in my bedroom, recalling the beaches, deserts, ancient ruins and unbelievably generous people I’ve encountered here, when Awad breaks my reverie to invite me, for the umpteenth time this week, to a meal with some relatives. Each day I feel surprised, and a bit embarrassed, to be the recipient of so much attention and hospitality.
Eventually the time comes, after a month that exceeded all expectations, when I am ready to move on. I feel spiritually and physically recharged. Never before or since have I felt like such an honored guest. The magic of the road, like Awad’s marriage, fills me with the aliveness that I have been looking for.
Jordan safe to visit in 2013-14? For advice from travelers, check out this Trip Advisor forum.