Where exactly is Jordan? Is it safe? How are women living there? What is an expat life like? These are the questions that came to me when my husband told me the possibility of relocating to Jordan. Once I arrived to Jordan, most of my worries were gone.
What I found is: Jordan is a beautiful and historical country, where some vulnerable groups, as well as women and refugees, are striving for better lives.
In this article, I’ll talk about 1) Its beauty; 2) Amman as a safe and international city; 3) How refugees have formed the country; 4) How Jordanian women are progressing; 5) Jordanian children and their family life; and 6) How and why inflated prices across Jordan affect the poor and possibly the next generation through its tax system.
1. Jordan is a beautiful country with rich history and diversified nature.
This country has well-preserved biblical places such as Mount Nebo, where Moses is said to have first seen the promised land as described in Old Testament, and the eastern site of Jordan River, where the baptism of Jesus Christ took place. There are also many archeological sites, such as the ancient cities of Petra and Jerash. Located across Mediterranean Climate Zone and the desert of Arab Peninsula, Jordan has diverse nature, ranging from deserts, Dead Sea, to forests in northern Jordan.
2. Amman is a safe and international city.
Amman is one of the safest capital cities in Middle East, where locals and expatriates create unique dynamics. There are a number of multinational companies, international organizations, and NGOs based in Amman, which is why this city is quite international with a lot of expatriates from all over the world. Some expat entrepreneurs started creative businesses and generate jobs to locals. Also, there are always cultural, social, or philanthropic events filled with locals and expats.
3. Refugees have significantly contributed and brought unique cultural values to Jordan.
Big presence of refugee origins
Jordan has accepted refugees since the middle of the 20th century, and Jordanian citizens of refugee origin comprise the majority of the Jordanian population. Most of those refugees were originally from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, or Syria, and they have significantly contributed to the country’s economy, and add unique values. Some former refugees are quite successful, such as billionaire CEOs, entrepreneurs, business persons, physicians, and engineers.
Cultural values brought by former refugees are amazing. I often see Palestinian- or Syrian- style fashion or crafts. Palestine embroidery is considered to be most sophisticated in the Arab world. So Palestine-inspired embroidery products are sold in many traditional design stores. Syrians probably make the best Arabic sweets, and many Syrians have opened pastry stores and they are popular among locals.
Challenges the refugees are facing
Yet, many refugees are currently facing big challenges settling in this country or elsewhere. Although Jordan has a friendly climate to refugees, the scale of refugee arrivals following Syrian Refugee Crisis and their needs were so unprecedented. Unfortunately, the Jordanian economy does not have enough capacity to accept and assist all of them. The unemployment is significant even among Jordanians. Therefore, many refugees remain jobless and stay in refugee camps. Some local entrepreneurs hire skilled refugees to create jobs for them.
4. Jordanian women are progressing and willing to work outside the home.
Jordan is one of the most progressive Arab countries for women. There is no legal requirement for women to cover their head here, while some women choose to wear hijab (or burqa, although less common) by their religious views.
Who Jordanian women are
Jordanian women – and Arab women in general – are friendly, cheerful, talkative, and caring to others. They like gorgeous fashion and make-up. They love to get together with friends or family members and enjoy chatting at café, restaurants, or their houses. Wedding is a huge (if not the biggest) life event for them. Typically, wedding receptions are spectacular with many guests, where brides are dressed like Hollywood actresses.
Education and work
It is encouraging that nowadays more women are highly educated and willing to work after having children, although men are still dominating the workplace. Nearly 100 percent of girls attend primary schools, and more girls than boys pursue higher education. Yet, the majority of work places has been more favorable to men so far. More men even with less education have job, leaving many educated women unemployed or underemployed. However, modern Jordanian women’s value about work and live balance has changed. Today, majority of Jordanian women want to continue to work after getting married and having children, according to a UNDP report.
The visionary Queen
Jordanian Queen Rania is a visionary figure, presenting a role model to Jordanian women. She has inspired not only women in this country but also women in Middle East with her assertiveness. She is also known to be an active advocate for disadvantaged women and children all over the world, showing her empathy and speaking up for them. I hope that the intelligent and internationally well-recognized queen will further energize women in this country and continue to beat the stereotype about Arab women.
5. Shower of affection and strong family ties shape Jordanian children.
Big families and affection everywhere
Jordanian children typically have big families with parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and many cousins. Jordanian families prefer to stay with families for weekends and important holidays such as Eid or Christmas. Kids grow with a lot of affection from parents, other family members, teachers, and strangers everywhere. Whenever I bring my children to public space, people kindly talk to them and offer candies.
Children and education
Jordanian parents are eager to give good education to their children, like parents everywhere else. The country has invested a lot to education, so its education and literacy rates are good relative to the countries in the region. At the same time, the enthusiasm towards education often results in overload of homework for young children, which many parents complain about because too much homework deprives children of their precious childhood and family time.
English vs Arabic
Many families (especially upper-middle or high-income families) have their children speak English more than Arabic. Arabic is one of the most difficult languages in the world, while English is much easier and there are many resources to learn English (including YouTube, books, TV, and movies). Consequently, many children are not eager to learn Arabic as their mother tongue. My son’s Arabic teacher lamented over such situations, and she always has to push kids to speak Arabic.
Despite stereotypes from outside of Arab, Arab moms are usually quite strong and the center of the family. So are Jordanian moms. Jordanian mothers provide unlimited affection to children and thrive.
6. High prices hit the vulnerable, and the reform is on its way.
While Jordan is a middle-income country, its high price levels make almost everybody’s lives so tough. The middle- and low-income households are especially hit hard. Goods and services in supermarkets or malls are pretty expensive, even compared to those in Washington DC, where I lived before. As a result, ordinary people go to downtown souq (markets), while rich Jordanian typically shop at luxurious malls and supermarkets. I personally like to go to downtown souq, because this is where we can see authentic Jordanian life.
Tax system is one factor behind high prices
Why are prices so expensive? The country’s tax system is one of the reasons. In Jordan, taxation burden is more tilted to the poor rather than the rich, relatively. Over 60 percent of government revenue comes from taxation on sale goods, which is currently a 16 percent value-added tax. The poor consume nearly all their income, which means that the Jordanian government has to rely on the poor people to collect tax revenue, with less room to progressively tax the rich. The Jordanian government is planning to reform the country’s tax system to relieve burden on the poor by taxing more on the high-income households and corporates.
Repaying the debt today or in the future
Jordanian parents are facing a tough choice on whether to pay the country’s debt burden today or to have their children pay for it. This country has high outstanding debt, so it needs to collect tax to repay the debt. Otherwise, the next generation will be highly indebted and has to repay the debt and interest.
In sum, Jordan is a beautiful country and has attracted so many people with its history, culture, nature, and beyond. I’m very happy to be in Jordan, and will write more about this country in my blog.