Opinion

Discovering more than dirt

I rarely think ahead. I did not consider my options very much before I made the decision to go on the Jordan study abroad trip this summer, and I hardly thought about it at all before I hopped on the plane.

The fact that we would be doing 3 weeks of inglorious dirt-digging from five in the morning until noon every day never really sunk in for me until the first day of hand-cramping, back-sweating and ground-cursing.

I never grasped the fact that Petra is more than a single stone structure until I was walking, crawling and climbing through the gigantic city for nine straight hours.

I did not expect that the Jordanian Muslims we interacted with would be some of the most hospitable and warm people I have had the high privilege of meeting. In fact, I walked into the trip expecting the opposite.

I went on the trip knowing nearly none of my fellow travelers, and realized about a week after arriving that I had been missing out on some of the absolute best people John Brown University has to offer. I thought I was going to get course credit and experience. I came back with both of those things, plus friends.

I walked back on American soil with more ambivalence about the Middle East conflict because I saw the people behind the labels and that has a way of changing how you think.

I learned a lot about the historical Jesus, Muslims, Christians and Jews. I learned how these groups interact. I learned a lot about different cultural expectations while I was in the Levant, and I was surprised by how easily some of this new knowledge transferred over to my own context, to the larger world around me.

In Middle Eastern culture, one of the highest compliments you can pay a person is visiting them in their home.

So we did that, often. We visited our neighbors down the street. We made diwali. We swapped stories about our lives, we asked questions of each other, we listened and were listened to. We did the hard work of trying to understand, and so did they. And sometimes we were just there, present in silence. This was a gift to them.

I think in our own souls the same thing applies. We want to be “visited,” if not in a literal sense (which often is the case), at least in a metaphorical one.

We want people to enter our spheres, our homes, meet our people, see our cities. We want them to hear our stories, in the place we feel most comfortable.

I think it is still one of the highest compliments we can pay one another: that I would respect you enough, think of you as human enough, have high enough regard for you, to leave my own center of comfort and come into yours.

My trip to Jordan was an experience I will not soon forget, thanks to the people I met, the places I saw and the lessons I was taught.