Ahlan wa Sahlan – welcome – was a common phase I heard throughout my trip to Al Ayoun. I was there as part of a volunteering team from Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK which had travelled to Jordan to embark on a pioneering experiment in ecotourism, rural development, and cross culture exchange (see video). Our team worked alongside a group of students from Yarmouk University to assist the development of Abraham’s Path in Jordan.
I began to realise the potential this venture has after looking at the Abraham Path website prior to travelling. There, I found that 3.5 billion people trace their history or faith back to Abraham through the monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Throughout my studies I have discovered that respect is crucial for true peace to be formulated, and that this requires disputing parties finding something in common or to relate to before any peace process can begin. Abraham can fulfil this essential component for peace building in the region, which made me want to get involved.
Before the trip, my knowledge of Jordan was limited to an idea that it is a quiet country located in a region that is often portrayed to be violent, conflictual and extreme. My experience in Jordan was in complete contrast to this view. I found the Jordanian people to be happy, friendly, and very hospitable. From the moment we met the Abraham Path Initiative staff at the airport we were show the kindness and warmth we would see throughout the trip. All approachable, knowledgeable, trusting, enthusiastic (and with a wonderful sense of humour!), their excitement to host us in their country was remarkable as we began our journey to a region that had never seen any group of foreign tourists before. The group itself was about as diverse as could be, made up of young people from almost the entire globe including the Arab world and the West, Christianity and Islam, America and Palestine, Pakistan and Lebanon, Europe and Asia. Such diversity created constructive dialogue, which challenged stereotypes and answered questions that might not have be answerable from within the limits of customary life.
Each day we travelled to a village – Baoun, Rasun or Orjan – to eat traditional meals with different families. On every occasion we were greeted with contagious smiles and overwhelming hospitality. Endless offerings of fresh fruit, often a family’s own produce, after an evening meal allowed for nights to linger with conversation blossoming, stories being shared, and friendships forming from mutual understanding and respect.
One highlight of my experience was when we visited a local school to help children learn English and play games such as football, rugby and cards. The high standard of English language they held at such an early age is a credit to their value of education and to their teachers. All the children seemed very mature and played games with a fair attitude, with no arguments or fighting in a wonderful sporting mentality.
Over our time all the volunteers recorded what we, did, saw, and heard, put all our findings together to contribute towards Al Ayoun’s first Cultural Festival. From this we created lots of positive media such newspaper articles, interviews on radio stations and a film documentary about the local culture, heritage and landscape that will promote economic prosperity through sustainable tourism in the future.
There have been many advantages from this experience of encountering different traditions and ways of being. Engaging and living with people from another culture allows for knowledge to be exchanged and learning to take place in a much deeper way. The ultimate success however, has been the chance to make friendships that will last a lifetime – which, I think you will agree, is what ‘The Path of the Friend’ is all about.
Steve McArdle is one of the student from Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK who joined the first international youth walk and cross cultural exchange on the Abraham’s Path in Jordan in June 2008.
To learn a great deal more about Abraham’s Path, visit their website.