Taboo: Making Friendships with the Opposite Sex in Irbid

First, I will clear up some cultural misconceptions on the relationship between men and women in the Middle East.  For instance, it’s forbidden to hit a woman in any kind of manner according to the Islamic religion.  It is also forbidden by faith to kill.  However, according to Tribal Law until recently there have been rare cases when honor killings can be carried out in an attempt to “retain family honor.”  There is no doubt that women are not treated up to “our standards” in the West, however, I think it is important for people to consider that “our standards” are just the cultural norms in America and is not the same across the entire globe.  But, I believe that the sexual regression from strictly following the Islamic religion (and making it illegal to have sex before marriage) can influence this segregation of sexes.  Often I found young Jordanian men clueless on how to socialize with women because of the segregation.  I believe outlawing sex before marriage has severe psychological impacts on the population of Jordanian society.  Sex is a natural act of life, but in Jordan people aspire to become married and then have sex frequently.  Therefore, making honest friendships with people of the opposite sex in Jordan can be quite the challenge.  I should reiterate that I was living in a very conservative Muslim city.  The conclusions I make can only be acquainted with the city of Irbid.

Not until the last two months of my program in Irbid was I able to make female Jordanian friends.  One day my friends Nate, BJ, and I decided to teach many of our male Jordanian roommates at Yarmouk University how to play Frisbee.  The young men were very intrigued by this foreign game.  It was slightly difficult to explain how to throw the Frisbee exactly in Arabic therefore we acted it in a slow, dramatic fashion.  One day a group of female Jordanian students seemed very curious by this game.  My friend Fuad said to the girls “yella, ma fe mshkla” (meaning “let’s go, no problem”).  When these girls joined us to play Frisbee I realized just how amazing this was.  Guys and girls would never think of playing a sport together in Irbid and here are these young ladies who defy this cultural norm.  Defying cultural norms is not very common in Irbid.  The group of girls named Hadeel, Asaala, Aseel, and Sara began to play Frisbee with us every Thursday and Sunday.  After a few weeks I became close with this group of girls.  I began to see these girls about four times a week and would walk around campus with them, eat at restaurants, and receive extra help in Arabic as well.  Not only did these ladies become great friends it also was the main catalyst for my rapid improvement in Arabic because these women did not speak any English.  A casual relationship between a man and woman in Irbid is very difficult because of the cultural values and the laws.  I feel very honored to have made friends with these girls because of the harassment they and I dealt with when we were together in public.  I wasn’t sure if the other Jordanian students were jealous, immature, or etc. but we would constantly have to ignore verbal harassment from “shababs” (young guys) on campus.  I continue to stay in contact with these girls and hopefully will meet up with them in the future either in America or Jordan.Image

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2 thoughts on “Taboo: Making Friendships with the Opposite Sex in Irbid

  1. I’m curious, Rich. We’ve come to think that women are far more respected in the West than in a place like Jordan. You almost hint here that that idiom is a myth. I know legally women are given a full range of freedoms in the West, but culturally, are women more respected in the West?

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