A first time visitor in the Middle East arrives with so many questions. I was curious about authentic handicrafts in Jordan, the food, and especially the women. On a Friday night in the Amman Souk, there were a few women in traditional dress with mingling with foreigners and compatriots dressed in Western styles. They were shopping in small groups or relaxing with their families. While traveling through the country, I met women working in shops and businesses; in homes and tents. They were always in motion, tending to children, cooking, teaching or creating something. Women are that way no matter what country I wander through!
We walked to have coffee in a Bedouin village from the Feynan Eco Lodge. The father first roasted and hand-ground beans then brewed a thick drink over a low stone fire. Taking time from her busy day, the mother mixed a traditional Kohl and then smudged my eyes. It’s believed that Kohl helps to protect the eyes from bright sun or eye ailments. I saw many men as well as women wearing it.
Our questions were patiently translated as the wife began making a traditional flatbread. You can see more of her process in the video below.
Queen Mother Noor, an American who married King Hussein, has had an enchanted life. That didn’t prevent her from working hard to alleviate poverty and ignorance in her adopted country. She established many projects including the Noor Al Hussein Foundation in 1979. It supports traditional arts, education, health, and women’s entrepreneurship. A foundation established by the Queen Consort, Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, also supports development and the arts. While I’m sure the handicrafts of Jordan produced by the Jordan River Foundation may be found across the country, I only saw them in an Amman airport shop.
Madaba is a popular Christian village that overflows with tourists. The floor, columns, and frames in the central church are embedded with historical mosaics. Nearby, a large craft market employs many women who painstakingly create traditional mosaics based on ancient designs. I watched women with steady hands paint ceramics, while others worked as salespeople and cashiers. Many were in modern dress.
In the northern village of Um Qais, the entrepreneur Muna Haddad, Managing director of Baraka Destinations, talked about her work. Baraka works with village men and women to promote agrotourism, ecotourism, and sustainability. They foster businesses featuring basketry, bread-making and cooking skills as well as olive oil production and beekeeping. I loved spending an afternoon learning how to make stuffed eggplant and traditional bread.
While keeping their traditional values, the women of Jordan have new ways to pursue their skills and handicrafts in Jordan. As the future unfolds, the young women of Jordan have even more ways to support themselves.
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