Walking through the market in Aqaba, my senses were on overload. The booming call to prayer was accompanied by the friendly chatter of shop owners and passersby. The bold smell of cardamom danced around my nose, but with it came the fragrant aromas of citrus, coffee, and even smoked meats. And the colors…I couldn’t get over the vibrant blues, purples, and reds of the various spices piled high in plastic bowls and large bags.
Reluctant to leave, but aware that I was being called away, I returned the packet of spices I had been inspecting. There just wasn’t time to buy it and add it to my already bursting bag of purchases. All of a sudden, a hand grabbed at my wrist! Heart pounding, I was completely startled. I turned, nervous that I would be reprimanded for returning an item I had already touched. Instead, I was greeted with caring eyes and a warm smile. Fadel Al-Baba, the manager of the spice shop, opened my hand and placed the packet of gorgeous purple sumac into my palm, saying, “This is a gift for you, my friend.” When I tried to pay him, he shook his head and ushered me away.
Hospitality, generosity, and humanity. Over and over, Jordan was revealed as a place of hospitality, generosity, and humanity. During a campfire dinner in Wadi Rum, a member of our group was admiring a rug, exclaiming his excitement over finding the “perfect” one. Later, when the bedouin gave him the beautiful woven piece, Dave tried to pay for it. The response was simple and beautiful, “if you pay me, it is no longer a gift.”
It took me completely by surprise, how truly unselfish the people of Jordan are. They are generous with their goods, but also with their time and attention. Coming from a world where people hold up a finger (take your pick of which one) to indicate what they are doing is more important, it is refreshing and inspiring to experience a world where the human interaction is the most important. Every person I encountered was present to me, to my questions, to the conversation we were having. When I was discussing this with a veteran traveler of Jordan, she said “Everyone has their own story, their own experience of the beauty and generosity of Jordan.”
I had the opportunity to go to Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, the site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and the Trinity revealed itself. I know. Take a second to let that sink in. It’s been a month and I’m still processing it. I was able to sit and pray with my feet in the Jordan River. (Feet, and then some…Do you see the mud on my pants? I sort of sank and almost fell in when I missed the last step.)
While at the baptismal site, Rustom Mkhjian, the Assistant Director of the Baptism Site Commission, briefed us on the history of the Site, as well as the importance of the site. During our briefing, he explained that when archaeologists first started excavations, they had to remove mines to ensure the safety of visitors. Now, “instead of tens of thousands of mines, we have hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. This is the site where true human bridges are built.”
Human bridges. These words have resonated with me. The connections, the unity.
In a region ripped apart by war, the people of Jordan connect. “In Jordan, Christians and Muslims live like a mosaic…Jordan tries its best to unite and make a better world.”
What a difference this hospitality and openness makes! As I look at the beautiful, deep purple bag of sumac, contemplating my next recipe, my hope, my prayer, is that I can take the heart of generosity I witnessed in Jordan, and bring it back to my daily life. I want to be a builder of bridges.