When I lost my credit card in a crowded market last month, I initially felt panic. I frantically shuffled from vendor to vendor, retracing my steps to ask if anyone had seen it. Nobody had.
Yet, as I moved up and down the line of stalls, the crowd trailing behind me began to grow. A man who had been selling his paintings abandoned his post to walk alongside me and assist with my questioning. A woman selling artisan soaps probed me on my card’s last known whereabouts and a groundskeeper scoured the entrance for clues. Throughout this group investigation, each apologetic shrug was followed by an offer of some kind.
Complete strangers kindly offered me food, a ride, cash loans and even a warm bed. By the end of the day, several people had extended invitations for me to live with them temporarily, thinking I was truly desperate.
When I expressed surprise at this encounter to an Arabic teacher, she merely responded: “We’re Jordanians. We welcome everyone.”
Jordanian hospitality extends significantly beyond their willingness to provide room and board to a strange and potentially poor American girl; rather, it’s most evident in Jordan’s readiness to provide for millions of refugees and immigrants entering the country, even as their own resources are stretched thin.
Jordan’s willingness to accept refugees and immigrants with open arms is admirable, and it is a sentiment that we should see more of in the United States.
Even as potable water levels have dropped and unemployment has risen throughout the country, Jordan has continued to accept a steady stream of refugees and immigrants from Syria, Palestine and Iraq.
Jordan is one of the countries most affected by the Syria crisis, with the second highest share of refugees compared to its population in the world — 89 refugees for every 1,000 inhabitants. Jordan is home to 655,624 registered Syrian refugees, according to a December 2017 statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a number that has remained consistent over the past three years.
Meanwhile, the country has also welcomed close to 1 million Iraqi refugees since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and millions of Palestinians since the 1940s. Approximately 2.1 million Palestinians are registered as refugees, not including many Jordanians of Palestinian origin who have not registered as refugees with the UNRWA. As of 2014, around 370,000 Palestinians live in ten refugee camps.
While many of these displaced people reside in camps or specialized housing, Jordan has a strong track record of integrating immigrants into the population at large, treating them with compassion and respect: The government has provided educational opportunities as well as work permits to many registered refugees, allowing them to seek work and engage with the Jordanian economy.
Beyond governmental policy, Jordanians’ accepting attitude is also reflected in the way they appear to embrace other cultures and customs.
For instance, classic mezze lunch at any local restaurant here could start with kubbe from Lebanon and stuffed grape leaves from Syria, and end in sweet kunafeh from Palestine and chai from Iraq. In fact, most Jordanians I’ve met have quite proudly declared that there’s really only one dish served here that’s truly from Jordan: mansaaf, a rice dish with slow-cooked lamb and fermented yoghurt sauce.
Broadly, refugees and their traditions are welcomed and celebrated, often showcased as a point of successful cohesion and integration for Jordan and the Levant region.
Meanwhile, while different cultures are celebrated in many parts of the American culinary and artistic landscape, U.S. political discourse and policy do not reflect this same attitude of acceptance. Instead, some of the nation’s most powerful politicians openly promote xenophobia.
Most recently, harsh rhetoric against a group of migrants traveling north from Honduras towards the United States’ border with Mexico has permeated the news cycle, stirring fear and vitriolic sentiments targeted towards a group of vulnerable people.
I grew up believing — and being taught — that the United States is a nation of immigrants, that our very differences make us richer and all the more excellent. Yet, as the United States has continued to accept fewer refugees and migrants every year since the start of President Donald Trump’s administration, my belief in American acceptance is waning.
Living in Jordan has drawn a sharp contrast to America’s burgeoning isolationism, shattering the ideas I held about my home country’s composition and spirit. Here, I have seen genuine acceptance and celebration of diversity, in a way unfamiliar to many parts of the United States.
Americans often claim the moral high ground and espouse cultural superiority over many countries — particularly Muslim Arab states — with regards to tolerance and inclusivity. Yet, when it comes to embracing the migrants fleeing conflict zones in search of a better life, the United States could certainly take a page out of Jordan’s book.
Hannah Urtz is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Amman It appears online every other Thursday.