Aleck overlooking an incredible sunset in Amman
While Voices From Abroad took a little trip of its own, it’s returned with a top-notch contribution from a Midd student now back on campus, who spent his fall semester studying in Jordan, and wrote this piece while abroad. Aleck Silva-Pinto ’16, is a junior joint political science and Arabic major from Potomac, Maryland, a former member of the track team, and a proud contributor to middbeat. Aleck has always had an interest in the Middle East, and decided to study in Amman, Jordan because the Levant has always fascinated him more than any other part of the Arab World. After studying at the University of Jordan, where he enrolled in classes including Politics of the Middle East, Translation, Modern Standard Arabic, and Colloquial Arabic, and living with a family in Amman, Aleck can confidently say he hopes to one day move back and live in Jordan. So, without further adieu, check out Aleck’s artistically crafted exploration of Jordanian culture through a unique focus on maids in Amman. And, of course, if you’ve recently studied abroad or plan to in the future, please consider submitting a reflection on your experiences to middbeat’s Voices From Abroad (absolutely any form of writing is encouraged)!
America is on fire and I am lying in my bed. Rather, our major cities simmer while Amman remains relatively quiet. It is ironic to be in the most caustic part of the world and feel safer than I should. At least the collective attention of young people in the states, so often divided by the constant stimulation we receive from the Internet, seems to finally be focused on one issue that is important and germane. Meanwhile, nothing is happening here in the cradle of war. I feel spurned; I want to be back so I can argue and fret and ply my poor debate skills against those of my under-qualified and overly persistent peers. Instead, I am treated to the altruistic rhetoric of cab drivers day in and day out,
“Muslim or Christian?”
“I don’t know, Christian?”
“Well, it doesn’t matter, we’re all brothers!”
To be fair, I do appreciate this sentiment. It makes me feel included and has the added benefit of directing our conversation away from any talk of American politics. But, like any public-spirited outlook, it is not airtight.
Every once in a while I come home and see an extra car in my host family’s driveway, which means my host siblings are stopping by for a visit. This also means I will inevitably run into my host sibling’s maid. She is always sitting on a tiny Fisher-Price chair, eating her meal atop an even tinier table of the same brand. In fact, the table is so low that, no matter how far back she tucks her feet underneath her chair, the table is still propped up by her knees. She compensates by gingerly pinching the close end of her plate so as to avoid a catastrophic crash and an all too early end to her meal. We generally exchange the same greeting, some hi’s or hello’s (she doesn’t speak any Arabic), then I head inside. Our interactions have never been anything more than pleasantries. Her interactions with my host family are markedly different. My host mom, who has always been very gentle with me, utilizes the little English she knows to berate the maid. Instead of our hi’s and hello’s I hear lots of “out!” “no!” and “clean this!” Furthermore, my two host nieces seem to be the sole responsibility of the maid despite their parents being in the same house. She dotes on them exclusively in English while they act like the spoiled wastes of space they seem to be. Hair-pulling, food-throwing, screaming wastes of space. Miraculously, the maid maintains her poise. Part of me wants to just watch her all day; she is so incredibly delicate in the way she deals with both those misbehaved children and their irate parents.
Most days are far more tranquil in the house. I generally pass the time by trying to read the sports section of Amman’s primary newspaper, Al Rai (The Opinion). I choose the sports section because, when I inevitably fail to draw anything of worth from an hour of effort, I can look at the pictures! The haircuts in the Jordanian Football League are something else. Also, I am drawn to an advertisement that appears in the section every day. The header reads “Malaysians! Philippines! Sri Lankans!” The ad goes on to promise the lowest rates and best services that can be offered. The ad interests me because it summarizes a sentiment that seems to be accepted as fact here: foreign workers are items to be bought; services to be had. One of my professors in particular seems to share this sentiment. In a recent class, she explained to us that she had picked a Senagalese maid because she was Muslim, which is best for her children, and she doesn’t take any time off, making her services much cheaper. Furthermore, she addresses the conversation as light fare. As a class we were naturally taken aback
I should say that I do not claim to be an expert of the lives of foreign maids in Jordan. This country bears the burden of millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and still manages to maintain the highest level of security and democracy in the Levant. However, the plight of foreign workers is a glaring exemption from Jordan’s activist lexicon, dominated mostly by Palestine and Israel. Women from Southeast Asia are treated as a commodity, an upgrade for those who can afford it. This essay is also not meant to be a scathing review of Jordanian individuals or their lack of moral integrity but rather to examine an unjust behavior that has become an inherent part of society here.