Disclaimer: My attempts at deep rumination here in this post have been rushed as time, though a social construct, waits for no man as lazy as myself. I therefore apologise in advance for the following stream-of-consciousness type bunch of garbled text.
Jordan is a hodgepodge of cultures, ethnicities, closely-related dialects, and cuisines. The reason I mention the former sentence is because it can also be said of my home country, Pakistan. The way people hear someone’s last name and gather a rough estimate of their family tree from it, how dialect differences have to be clarified in our language classes, and how eating a meal down the street from one’s own home brings a host of different flavours to one’s mouth all remind me of Pakistan. I wanted to use this blog post to just ruminate on the afore mentioned hodgepodge as someone from a country that can be described similarly.
What makes Jordan distinct from Pakistan in terms of being a mixture of cultures is that these cultures haven’t really been given time to mix; they’ve just been tossed together particularly in terms of how recently some of the large ethnic/identity groups of the country have moved into the region, and how they all converge in Amman. Pakistan consists of the major provinces Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh, that is, without getting into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Kashmir, or Gilgit Baltistan. Each of these is dominated by a particular ethnic group; Punjabis in Punjab, Sindhis in Sindh, and so on. In Jordan however, I’ve seen what it would’ve been like if all of these ethnic groups had been tossed into one city and without the decades of national assimilation that they have today. Palestinian flags are almost as common as Jordanian ones here in Amman, and Syrians are quickly becoming a third major group in the country. The interviews I’ve seen, articles I’ve read, and conversations I’ve had with the newcomers to Jordan all indicate that in terms of identity, the refugees are as confused as anyone trying to figure them out. Some people who just moved here say Amman is their new home, while others who have been here for years are looking for the slightest chance to return home, wherever that may be. Some have a strong belief and trust in the power of the king and the government, while others display sentiments that the Arab Spring rose up on. In Pakistan, it’s all Pakistanis; a homogenous bunch of green flags and distrust for the government.
Moving away from the bigger picture, Jordan has also been interesting to observe as a Canada-born, Pakistan raised, Punjab-residing Urdu speaker with refugee grandparents from India and Afghan ancestry. My host-mother here is of Palestinian descent, while my host-father is Jordanian, and every one of their three sons lives in the United States. Seeing their interactions with a family friend of Syrian descent, for instance, was fairly interesting. He spent some parts of the evening decrying U.S intervention in Syria while ‘dad’ tried to explain all of the U.S money that goes into keeping Jordan afloat. I’ve noted moments when people comment on each other’s dialect, slight differences in demeanour, and even openly discussed how weird some stuff families of their ethnicity do. I was invited to my boss’ daughter’s birthday and, as she and her friends are between the ages of four and six, the parents of the children also attended the birthday. I was lucky enough to sit at a fairly diverse table which put in relief what I have been noticing to a slight extent this whole time; in Jordan the differences in language and demeanour are small oddities and points of discussion whereas back home they define the borders to national provinces. Here, differences are like little quirks to a person’s personality, whereas back home it defines another as ‘the other’. It is shocking to realise that I never knew ethnicity didn’t HAVE to be slightly polarising, and that cultural differences didn’t HAVE to result in some degree of separation from the now unfamiliar other.
It’s probably not as fantastic as I make it out to be. I’m sure there’s some Syrian kid being bullied in his middle school for saying certain words differently but, thus far, I think Jordan has taught me a lot more about me, and my relationship with my ethnicities and home, than I thought it would. My definition of open-mindedness changes every day, and that’s quite fitting when I think about it.