A weekend event in Jordan
Noted on September 20, 2010 by Giustina Pelosi in
By Elizabeth Cassidy: Oregon State University student interning with Ruwwad in Jordan.
I spent the past weekend at my friend Heba's house in Irbid, in northern Jordan. Her family humbled me with their hospitality and their attention to my comfort and needs. I have never been so well taken-care of in my life. An example: Heba's mom stayed up until 1 am rolling rice and spices into grape leaves for my lunch the next day (after having spent at least five hours preparing my dinner that night). Heba's dad spent two hours Friday morning driving around the greater Irbid area looking for the big bread for breakfast, because regular pita bread wouldn't do. When this was accomplished, he spent another hour tracking down the right size cousa and eggplants so his wife could begin preparations for my lunch. All this on the one day he gets off a week. And that was just the beginning of their hospitality. All I have to say is, if you want to know what it means to serve a guest, make friends with an Arabic family.
I'm also discovering a vast respect for the Arabic language. What we take several words to say, they accomplish in one. Case in point, my new favorite word: rawwah, to go home. At the end of the workday as I'm packing up my things, my friend Noura asks me, "Bitrawwah?" And I say, "Ah, barawwah!" I'm going home. Another good one: inbasatd; to have fun. One word. So efficient, yet so expressive. Nizil: to go down. Itghadda: to eat lunch (and it3asha, to eat dinner). Itghadeet! Inbasadtt! Barawwah! (I ate lunch! I had fun! I'm going home!) Beautiful.
I've settled into life at Ruwwad; a lot of my time is now spent in an office, but I still get to go talk to people on occasion. Two days ago I talked with a local woman who is considered a healer, Um Ashraf. She deals mostly with fertility issues, but she also dispenses shots for diabetes and other issues. People bring her their insulin from the doctors and she injects them. She also gives herbal remedies and treats most issues with massage (Your child has a sore throat? Treat him by massaging his wrists with oil). Her interesting blend of traditional Western medicine, superstition, and good knowledge of herbal remedies is fascinating. She learned everything she knows about herbs from her mother and gained the insulin-dispensing knowledge from her mother-in-law, who had diabetes and needed her help with injections. She treats hyperactive children by reading them the Quran and gives men with low sperm count a good scare, in order to jump start their production rates. She says people generally come to her when the doctor hasn't helped. Most of her customers (for everything but the insulin shots) are women, who come with not only their own problems, but also with those of their husbands and children. She is highly respected in the community, and she doesn't charge for her services. She says her reward for sharing her healing knowledge will come from God and not from money she could make. She has been sharing her knowledge with me, writing down her herbal remedies and having someone translate them into English for me.
Um Ashraf would like to pass her healing knowledge on to one of her daughters, but none of them are interested in learning. She doesn't know what the community will do when she is no longer around, but assumes by then someone else will have stepped up to fill her place. As they say here, insha'allah - if God wills it, someone will step up.
I've now spoken to a doctor, an herbalist, a dozen women, and fifty or so college-aged students. What I've found is that the diseases affecting Jebal Natheif are those of poverty: anemia because they can't afford to eat meat and don't know where else to get iron, diabetes due to a lifetime of eating rice and bread without having space to exercise (and for women, it's not culturally appropriate even to walk up and down the street unless you're going somewhere), lung and stomach problems due to an unclean environment, teeth problems and eye problems. I've also found that people are very aware of the problems in their community, but they have not been able to find workable solutions.