by Stephanie Altwassi
A challenge to overcome, and indeed a personal source of frustration of living where I do, is the misconception by some that the women of Petra are oppressed and unhappy. But here’s the truth, the women of Petra are no different from women all over the world. There are women who are excelling and living out their dreams, whilst others are yet to realise their potential. Just like women everywhere they are all leaving their unique stamp on the world and are filled with a warmth and strength that is nothing less than admirable.
If you walk through our town it is easy to jump to conclusions as the market place is predominately the guys domain . So it isn’t a big surprise that visitors often ask us, where are all the women? I asked the same when I first arrived, especially visiting as a tourist. Your journey and interaction with locals will take you to hotels, coffee shops and restaurants – it is rare to find women in the tourism field but that does not mean they are not contributing and making a difference to our community. Here is I what I have learnt – just because the paths some of the women choose here are seen as traditional it doesn’t make their contribution any less relevant or integral to this town functioning. Beyond the hustle and bustle of the hectic market place the women of Petra are busy being wonderful mothers and wives, running schools, they are nurses, doctors, dentists, engineers and much more.
Since I first arrived in Jordan the women of Petra have, and continue to play a huge role in my life. They have helped me develop and discover parts of who I am and who I strive to be. They are part of my journey as I am part of theirs.
Life here is different, that is for sure. But different doesn’t automatically make it wrong as we as humans tend to equate. Once I began to realise and celebrate this, I saw there was so much we could learn from each other. When I stop and think about all the wonderful women of Petra I hope they know how grateful I am to them. Their acceptance, their humor and their warmth gave me a feeling of normality when I first moved here, when everything else was so new and outside my comfort zone.
Baraah is a physiotherapist, she worked previously at Zataari Refugee Camp before returning to Petra to work at a nearby hospital.
One thing is for sure, you don’t go through much alone here – you belong to a community and people gather in good times to celebrate and rally in bad times to support each other. I have seen women close to me go through some very hard times, and whilst the sadness sometimes lingers in their eyes, each day they wake up and smile a little more. They endure battles I cannot imagine facing and they do so with faith in their hearts that they will get through it. I am grateful that I have seen their best moments too with many celebrations for occasions such as weddings, graduations, births and new homes.
Today on International Womens Day I am asking you to open your hearts and minds, ignore the stereotypical media portrayal of women in the Middle East and come and meet them for yourself. When you come and visit our town we invite you to meet the wonderful women of Petra. Come and drink coffee, eat cake, talk, laugh and learn from each other and you will realise that although you might not speak a common language that you really aren’t that different after all. From myself and the team at A Piece of Jordan we want to thank the women of Petra for welcoming us into their lives and community. They are part of what makes this town so unique and are one of the reasons A Piece of Jordan exists. What they sometimes find normal about their lives, we find fascinating and vice versa. We look forward to making more memories, sharing experiences and exchanging knowledge with you as a part of the story.