The Long Trek to the Jordanian Supermarket

by - 6:00 PM


My first day in Jordan was endless. I barely got out of Israel because my passport refused to be scanned at the border. I'd spent ages just waiting outside the bus, not knowing why we weren't making our way to Jordan's capital Amman yet. Eventually, when my tour group reached Amman and visited its citadel, I fell in love with the country anyway, thanks to some amazing street art and a visit to the King Abdullah I Mosque. We rushed through a souq, then left for our hotel in Madaba. By the time we arrived at our hotel, I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was sit on my bed with some snacks and watch YouTube videos. There was only one problem: I had no snacks. In fact, I had no food at all...

I literally stared at a hotel room wall for a couple of minutes while I went over my options. I could eat something in the hotel restaurant, but didn't want to spend my money on yet another overpriced kebab. I'd seen a corner store, but I'd also seen the middle-aged men sitting in front of it, staring at me through the bus windows with looks that gave me the chills. Besides, I'd been ripped off more than once in Israeli corner stores; these stores don't like the concept of price tags, so the store owner tells you a price and there's nothing you can do about it.
After a few minutes of staring at that not very interesting wall and dreading a visit to the corner store, I pulled out my phone and did a quick search for 'supermarket Madaba'. More than half of them were shady corner store and then, when I was about to give up, I spotted a Carrefour. I cried out in surprise when I saw the name of a European supermarket chain pop up on my screen. The thought of actual price tags made me unbelievably happy. I checked my route to the supermarket and left immediately. I left my hijab and longsleeved shirt in my suitcase. I thought I wouldn't need those for a twenty-minute walk.

The first thing I noticed when I started walking was how deserted that part of town was. I didn't see any other tourists and very few locals. But the locals I did see found me very interesting. Heads turned wherever I went, especially around the corner store I'd seen earlier that day. I picked up my pace right away. I'm not a slow walker at all, in fact, friends usually complain that I'm always in a hurry to get anywhere, but that day I walked so fast that most people wouldn't even try keeping up with me. I wasn't quite racewalking, but came close to it.
Before I'd reached the end of the street, at least three locals had yelled at me: "Welcome to Jordan!" Kind of sweet, but also kind of scary considering one guy actually stopped his car to welcome me to his country. I did everything I could to stop myself from panicking and tried to walk even faster.

I still felt like an escaped zoo animal when I reached Maadaba Al-Gharbi Street, where the supermarket was. I was extremely tense. So far, Madaba had made me feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable. I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt so unsafe. It didn't get better as I started walking down Maadaba Al-Gharbi. It was a big street, two lanes going in both directions, a wide sidewalk. I'd hoped that'd make me feel better, that being among people would make me feel a little safer. But as it turned out, being among people only led to more creepy stares and "Welcome to Jordan!" Men kept staring at me in ways that sent chills down my spine. I wished I'd taken my hijab...

Every step I took made me feel worse. There seemed to come no end to the fifteen-minute walk to the supermarket. In my mind, I heard all the warnings about Muslim countries from friends and family. I hated that they seemed to be right. I did not want to reinforce the negative stereotypes surrounding 'dangerous' Muslim men. But as cars slowed down so the people inside could look at me, shout something in Arabic or just give me the creepiest stares, I just felt incredibly dumb for not listening to me loved ones.

At long last, I saw the Carrefour logo and I almost sprinted through the doors. I finally relaxed as I looked at all the fresh fruits, the meat, the cookies. It looked so familiar, so safe. It made me oddly happy to see price tags, to buy fresh fruit and chocolate, and to meet friendly Jordanians. These people did not shout or stare at me, but helped me at check-out when I struggled with the unfamiliar dinar coins. This made me feel much more welcome than shouts of "Welcome to Jordan!". When I left the supermarket, I felt much better about my visit to Jordan and Madaba. People still stared, but I ignored them. My way back to the hotel was almost relaxed now. I even stopped to buy strawberries from a stall by the side of the road. I couldn't quite forget how scary my first experiences with locals had been, but I also kept reminding myself of the friendly people at the supermarket. I decided that, in the end, I'd like Jordan just fine.

Three days later, after visiting Petra and Wadi Rum, we returned to Madaba. My first thought was of how unsafe I had felt there the first time, how my walk to the supermarket had almost proved all negative stereotypes of Muslim men right. Then our tour guide told me something interesting: Madaba is a city with a big Christian majority. By far the most people I'd encounter there would be Christians. I laughed when I heard that. The only time I'd felt unsafe in Jordan had been in a Christian city. It only goes to show that this cliche is true: don't judge a book by its cover. Or in this case: don't judge a people by their assumed religion.

x Envy

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