My Jordanian Journey - A Semester Spent in the Middle East

by: Jessica Banninga

Greetings Redeemerites! I’ve had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Jordan for the semester on the Middle East Studies Program through Best Semester. Being immersed in a different culture, language, and religion has been a fantastic experience. We have been taking courses on conflict and change in Israel/Palestine, Islamic thought and practice, and people and cultures, as well as learning Arabic (shoutout to Khaled!). We’ve visited the old Roman citadel and amphitheatre in Amman, as well as the old Roman city in Jerash. We visited Madaba and saw many ancient mosaics, explored Mt. Nebo ( the place from which Moses saw the Holy Land), and dipped our toes in the Jordan River at the baptism site of Jesus. This past Saturday we visited Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world (featured in Indiana Jones)!

On February 14, we left for our two week trip to Israel/Palestine. We listened to no less than thirty speakers and visited historical sites such as The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Garden Tomb, The Mount of Olives, The Garden of Gethsemane, The Old City of Jerusalem, The Wailing Wall, The Dome of the Rock, The Church of the Nativity, and The Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee. We were also able to stay with both Jewish and Palestinian families. The trip was an amazing opportunity to see so many biblical sites, as well as hear a wide variety of perspectives on the area’s ongoing conflict.

I came away from this experience with a heavy heart for the people of the land, and a deep sadness at seeing the conflict being played out daily in the lives of everyone we met. I want to urge everyone back home to learn more about the history of the Israel/Palestine situation and to try and understand the multiple narratives of the issue while not picking sides. Both communities have suffered terrible mistreatment and, as a result, have deep pain and trauma. It is our job as Christians to promote peace and justice, working towards healing and reconciliation in this troubled land.

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Another aspect of this semester that has deeply impacted me is our experience of Arab culture. Arab hospitality is like no other. As soon as you visit someone, they will serve you tea and treat and greet you like family. Just the other day, our group was invited to our travel agent’s family home, where we were treated to Mansef, a traditional Jordanian dish which consists of rice, lamb, yogurt sauce, and nuts. The twist is, you can only eat it with your hands, sitting on the floor. Needless to say, things got a little messy! After dinner, we were invited out to the patio for a campfire, tea, coffee, and traditional Arab music, consisting of a pipe-like instrument that looked somewhat like a clarinet. At the end of the night, they declared that we were adopted into their tribe! In the Middle East, tribes and family are everything. Being a part of a tribe offers protection and connections, as well as honour and value.

Diving deep into the religion of Islam has been fascinating. There were so many misunderstandings and misconceptions that I had before coming here that have been completely shattered. We have listened to so many great speakers that have given me a deeper understanding of Islam, as well as raising more questions! Reading the Quran with biblical references has been so interesting to see similarities between our two faiths. I would encourage you all to seek out opportunities to meet and talk with Muslims — I bet you will come away with a new understanding of who they are and what they believe.

In less than a week, we will once again be travelling, this time to Morocco and Egypt, Inshallah (God willing)! On this trip, we will learn about and compare Arab culture in North Africa to that of the Levant — traditionally the geographical area of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan. I’m looking forward to seeing the pyramids in Egypt and practicing some French in Morocco! In closing, all I can say is that if you’re thinking about studying abroad, DO IT. It is a life changing experience you should refuse to deny!

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