Today (Friday) I went back to the Batshons (the first family I was living with) for lunch. Since Friday is the day off its treated like a Sunday at home. Big long lunch with family and friends. It was good to go back and see them, I could tell my Arabic had improved, if only a little. We had a large meal following the same rules of serving I had come to expect: Lunch “starts” at 2, meaning cucumbers (actually a desert cousin of the cucumber) carrots and mixed nuts are served while people sit and chat. Then closer to two thirty or three the food comes out. There is usually a vegetable salad, lots of olives, bread, a huge plate of rice and two meat dishes. What normally happens is only half the food gets eaten, but even so I feel like I’m going to burst and it doesn’t help that you basically have to fight them to stop them from refilling your plate. Then after lunch the table is turned into a card table, the cards come out and they start playing. While playing cards we are served Turkish coffee and then fruit. The fruit is delicious, super juicy and refreshing, the down side is I’m usually already so full I cant really enjoy it. After the fruit sometimes comes something sweet. Today it was Kanafeh, which is sort of liked cooked cheese with honey and pistachios, its super heavy. The duration of the “lunch” is usually until six thirty or seven, probably longer if I wasn’t about to fall asleep from food coma. Something I wanted to mention though that were interesting topics of conversation were first: Prom, I was asked what the word Prom comes from and then they preceded to tell me all the stereotypes they had of it (similar to ones in the US but with a different skew because of the cultural differences) the other topic was religion. They started talking about how the Christians in the middle east were no longer having enough children while the Muslims are having larger and larger families. Somehow that turned into a story from the bible and as they tried to explain which character they were talking about they asked what Church I am part of because here the churches with different foreign affiliates do Mass or whatever in different languages so the people have different names, well…. I didn’t really have an answer to what church I go. That left them a little confused, then they asked me about when I get married what Church I would do it in. One person tried to explain to the others that I’ll just get married in a courtroom (doesn’t sound to romantic) but as I tried to correct her I started to think about it myself. I personally am looking forward to an outside wedding, but the denomination of anything involved in the ceremony had never crossed my mind. Luckily I didn’t say outside, that may have counted as blasphemy (I’m kidding). But as they discussed this and asked about my parents religion and churches and all that, I finally slid past it with the, “well I was baptized,”  and that at least got a Hamdillah (thanks be to god), so I wasn’t a heathen, they liked me again.  Then they proceeded to talk about the sin of America and how we don’t go to church, and we don’t have it in school. Someone said they the reason was because Churches in the US are expensive to become members in (shows how much I know about church).

Although I’m kind of kidding and I know that my not being part of church would have little effect on how they treated me, they are great people and this is only a minor detail, and if your from the West you are seen as a Christian no matter what your belief, But the reason I bring this up is because it was the first encounter I had with an experience that I had thought about. I knew coming into this that religion is a topic that will continuously come up and having a not so deep knowledge of religion or even personal experience with it, I had tried to prepare myself.  What I’ve come to understand is that the issue is one of culture, the differences in how we view our lives and our community. Although this is not true for all of the US (not even close) there is a large portion in which religion no longer plays a factor in community. It is not an issue what religion you are, it doesn’t change your habits, your speech, your activities, your job, where you live, it has no true effect on your person or identity, religion is not a factor. But here in the Middle East, and I would naively say ALL of the middle east, religion is a HUGE factor. It does determine your habits, your speech, your activities, your job, where you live, your place in life, your relationship with others, its on your passport, your ID card, your resume. Religion here is right near the core of ones identity, religion is a community, a support system in a place with a shoddy foundation. Religion is what holds communities and families together, yet it also breaks them apart.  The clash in cultures between how I view my self and community and how they do is at its core a difference in belief about identity. It is nearly impossible for them to comprehend that I would not know which church I belong to, let alone not even go. For them that is like being homeless, like saying that I was born without parents or brothers or sisters, isolated.  Religion here is everything, the family I am with is Orthodox (Greek) Christian, they live in a Christian neighbor hood, their children go to Christian schools, their friends and employers and employees are Christian, they go to workout and swim and relax at a Christian club. Religion is not just what higher power you believe in, religion is life. Understanding this is the key to seeing how we misinterpret each other and our views of how others live. So for me, and for a lot of others in this part of the world and in others that are similar, it is either choose one and pretend or face the confusion and misjudgments. I am more for the latter. 

Oh and just to mention, learning Arabic is kind of like a joke sometimes. Usually in languages we kid about meaning one thing and saying another, in Arabic you really do. Two examples from class are one a kid mispronounced the end of the word for nationality and ended up saying Gender or sex. Another is when a kid meant to say paragraphs but he said Camel. It really happens…


4 thoughts on “Friday

  1. I still have to read your post of July 9th but I had to comment. I too was not raised with religion, but to marry John in a Greek Orthodox church we needed proof I was at least baptised a christian. I also would have opted for the outdoor wedding but it meant the world to Johnthat he have a Greek wedding- so we did! Grandma says choose what is important to you and recognize what is important to others. I would have LIKED and outdoor wedding but to John is was IMPORTANT to havea Greek wedding. So I – who am not particularly religious in ANY way agreed (happily) to a Greek wedding. You never know what will happen for you Hunter. I love you. Off to read your July 9th post……

  2. Hunter, whats up dude, if you get this ill probably be out of Amman, im the dude you met on the airplane,hope you are having a good time sofar,dont know if whati told you lived up to what it was supposed to be, but email me sometimes, enjoy Amman.

  3. Sounds like you’re already learning a lot over there; I can only imagine how amazing the experience is. You probably couldn’t have picked a better part of the world to gain such a wide global perspective on the issues you’re uncovering. Keep having fun! Your blog is very entertaining.

  4. I’m Jewish by birth and culture, but Agnostic by practice. It would be very hard for me to live there, as I would probably tend to argue with everyone. I believe religion is at the core of most violence between nations and an excuse for not taking responsibility for independent thought and beliefs for many. It sounds like you’re learning a lot, and that your experience with different cultures while on exchange has really come in handy. Thanks for keeping us so well informed and engaged in your process.

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