A normal summer for me throughout high school and college never involved long, lazy days at the beach or weekend trips to the Appalachian Mountains. For years now, summer vacations were spent abroad with a group of American students to study and live in a foreign culture. But the summer of 2012, I decided to veer off my beaten track to experience something on my own. I chose teaching abroad in Jordan with GeoVisions because I thought I would be able to challenge myself professionally, physically, and mentally. I was looking for the best volunteer programs I could find and ended up going to Jordan to teach English to the all-male, all Bedouin employees at Feynan Ecolodge, as well as take a break from my technology filled world to live off the grid for a while. I truly had no idea what I was getting into, and when I was driving down the dirt road in the hottest sun I had ever experienced to the far off Feynan Ecolodge in Wadi Dana, Jordan…
I knew this teaching abroad experience was way farther off the beaten track than I had ever anticipated.
Of course, the experience turned out to be everything I could have asked for. Wadi Dana was simply beautiful. I felt so alive there. Everything was down to earth, wholesome, and real. The employees at the lodge, all of whom were local Bedouins, were something else. By that I mean each one was incredibly friendly and wanted to talk to me and understand who I was. All of them came from a long lineage of Bedouin ancestry, and had so many interesting stories. They were constantly asking me if I wanted to come to this tent for dinner, that tent for tea, on this day go goat herding, another day do a sunrise hike. I loved it.
Excerpt from Holly’s journal:
June 20, 2012
Today Alli invited me to his house to have lunch with his family and to teach English to his sisters, Aisha, Khadija, and Zeinab. I met his mom, Um Fatimah, and his dad, Abu Khaleel. I’m not sure what to even say about the Bedouin people. They live such a simple life, but the way they think about things and the way they feel is so different. It’s as if you took soy milk, fresh berries, and granola, mixed them together and gave these foods feelings. Their actions and thoughts are so fresh, unclouded, sweet, genuine, and natural. They care about the smallest things, and make you rethink what’s important in your life. Their time is devoted to family, especially the women who are constantly at home. Family is everything, which I expected, but I see it in a different way now. It’s not that they are forced to stay there, or that home is all they know, rather it’s a pride thing. They are proud of the land they live on, the goats they have, the hair tents they have made. It was incredible to eat with them today. Although I did use my left hand once, forgetting that is haram. The girls seemed to loosen up with me when we went to another wives’ tent (Abu Khaleel has three wives). I tried teaching them English, though they seemed more interested in teaching me Arabic. Tomorrow I will go back to their tent to teach English for an hour, but then I have to come back to the lodge to teach a few boys English at 11. It’s interesting because in order to teach the girls, I must go to their tents. But the boys, most of whom are younger and a lot less mature, are able to come to the lodge and sit in my classroom. They are taught these gender roles at such a young age.
Teaching abroad was something new for me. What I found to be most difficult was not the English aspect, but gaining respect from this group of students, most of whom were adult men. It’s unusual for any girl to have authority over a group of men, especially in this conservative and gender-concerned community. Even so, I found that I was able to be authoritative yet respectful to their culture, all the while emphasizing this great opportunity they had to learn English. Though it was incredibly challenging at times, teaching English presented a unique chance for them to ask me questions openly, and for me to learn as well. I think this trip offered me something completely different from my previous trips. I felt I was giving something back to these people who were giving me so much.
Instead of taking from them, learning their language, eating their food, living their culture, I was now giving back on one of the best volunteer abroad programs available.
I was giving them a part of me, my language, my customs, my knowledge of the world, and that felt so good. In fact, the country of Jordan and the Bedouin people have so deeply impacted and inspired me that I will be returning to Amman this fall for a semester study abroad.
[person name="Holly Ratcliffe" title="" picture="" pic_link="" linktarget="_self" pic_style="none" pic_style_color="" pic_bordersize="0" pic_bordercolor="" social_icon_boxed="" social_icon_boxed_radius="4px" social_icon_colors="" social_icon_boxed_colors="" social_icon_tooltip="" email="" facebook="" twitter="" instagram="" dribbble="" google="" linkedin="" blogger="http://hollyratcliffe.blogspot.com/"rel="nofollow" tumblr="" reddit="" yahoo="" deviantart="" vimeo="" youtube="" rss="" pinterest="" digg="" flickr="" forrst="" myspace="" skype="" paypal="" dropbox="" soundcloud="" vk="" class="" id=""]Holly Ratcliffe is a senior at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She will graduate in May with a major in International Development and Sustainability. She is from Northern New Jersey.[/person]