My travel grant funds were allocated toward hiking in the Al Rayan Valley in Ajloun, Jordan. As a history major, this region interested me because it has origins dating back to the first civilizations on earth. The hike was led through the Masar Initiative which is a tourism group that focuses on encouraging diversity and inclusion through communication within their hikes. This personalized form of community tourism meant I was one of the only foreigners, allowing me to personally interact with Jordanians aside from my host family.
I arrived at the University of Jordan where we left from in Amman and drove roughly two and half hours toward the northern mountains. Upon arriving near the drop off point, our bus was too long to make one of the steep turns in the village so we began our hike a little earlier than expected. After gaining the courage to speak to other individuals that attended the hike alone, I was able to practice my Arabic and converse with local Jordanians. This was about a month into the program and the first opportunity I had to actually speak to locals on my own which was such a valuable experience. We discussed culture, education, fashion, travel and other topics of interest, attempting to hear as many perspectives as I could. Half way through the hike, we stopped at a peak and boiled traditional Jordanian tea. As we all sat down to snack, everyone was offering their food to one another, as is common in Jordanian culture. Upon reaching the end of the hike, we arrived at one of the guides homes who treated us to one of the national meals of Jordan, mansaf.
Along the hike our guide was discussing the historical significance of the region. We were informed the region is known for being a biblical Yabesh of Gilead and the birth place of Prophet Elijah in 900 B.C. Many of the locals speak of the prominence of ancient Olive trees that have endured for centuries and have a particular significance as a symbol of Palestine. The valley is also known for its mention in the 1994 Jordanian Israeli Peace Treaty stating that Israel could maintain use of the waters of the Jordan River from the Yarmouk to the Wadi Al Yabis, which is another name for the Al Rayan Valley.
Not only was I able to experience one of Jordans many infamous historical sites, but more importantly I was able to interact with Jordanians in a natural setting who were patient with my Arabic and genuinely interested in conversing. My senior thesis is focusing on the expressions of Palestinian identity within Jordan, the idea for which was sparked by this trip. After talking with so many Jordanians about their Palestinian roots, I decided I wanted to further research this dual identity. Both this rare enlightening experience and my inspiration for further research would not have been possible without the generous donation of the Hallenbeck family.