On occasion, we are fortunate enough to have an experience or conversation that sends chills for its human quality. Our time with Zikra Initiative and the women of Ghor al Mazra’a in Jordan was one such experience.
From the moment I passed into the courtyard, Um Atallah took control and led me to a seat on the ground near her. Two other women swapped their attention between their work and us, offering encouraging smiles. These were the women of Ghor al Mazra’a near Jordan’s Dead Sea. And for a few hours, they shared with us a bit of their lives with us.
Let the Lessons Begin
Um Atallah, the clear leader of the group, sat me down and got to work with my education for the day. You see, at Zikra Initiative, a core element of the philosophy: “riches come in many forms,” means that everyone has something to share regardless of monetary wealth. The women of Ghor al Mazra’a shared with us their cultural wealth — their crafts, their cooking, their heritage, and a glimpse of their lives.
Without a common spoken language — or much need for one — we began. I learned how to make kohol (natural charcoal eyeliner), olive seed bracelets, intricate tassel knots on a Kuffieh (traditional male headwear) and ground wheat al raha (using a wheat grinder made from two circular stones). Another woman, Amal, gave me a quick lesson on gallayet bandora, a Jordanian tomato-based dish, as we sat side by side over gas burners.
While I had clumsy fingers and a few difficulties here and there, my real challenge of the day came when I attempted make shrak, their traditional flat bread.
Making Bread, Easier Said
From a mound of worked dough, Um Asad pulled off perfectly sized rounds and laid them in a flour-dusted tin. Dan and I sat on the floor and watched her as she effortlessly tossed the dough to perfect thinness in a way that would make a pizza chef envious.
Her hint: “Move your hands like a bicycle, continuously. Don’t stop.”
It all looked straightforward enough, so I nodded “sure” as a ball of dough was passed to me. I mimicked her movements. Turns out that moving my hands like a bicycle with a ball of soft dough flopping in between is tricky. The dough worked to uneven – thick in some spots, bare in others. Um Asad watched the collapse and eventually came to my rescue, tossing my holey dough onto the saj, a hot iron griddle shaped like an inverted wok.
I tried again and again. Dan did, too. His bread was also full of gaping holes, some eerily shaped like Edvard Munch’s Scream.
Neither of us would be the day’s breadmaster. But that wasn’t the point. Instead, the idea was for each of us to learn, to try, to share, to appreciate.
Read the rest of the article on Uncornered Market.
More about Zikra Initiative
If you’d like to learn more about Zikra Initiative and its innovative approach to tourist exchanges, check out the Zikra Initiative website. A full day visit to Ghor al Mazra’a costs around $35; most of the money goes back to the community either in the form of microloans for the women or community development activities. For any visitor, this a human and cultural experience well worth the effort and minimal expense.
We were also fortunate to spend time with the founder, Rabee’ Zureikat, a down-to-earth visionary who’s found an approach to bring people of different backgrounds and socio-economic levels together in a setting that rather elegantly highlights the beauty of respect and equality. He also makes a clear distinction between the Zikra Initiative approach of cultural exchange versus the donor-recipient equation often found in voluntourism, which leads to an inherent inequality between participants.
It’s also interesting to note that most current participants are Jordanians from Amman. As Rabee’ tells it, many of them are citygoers, who like tourists, are often unaware of the traditional customs and diversity at work across their own country. (I’m sure we can all identify with this.)
Regardless of your time or budget, we recommend arranging a visit with Zikra Initiative. Hopefully, by the time you visit Jordan, Rabee’ will have set up other exchanges around the country, continued his work in the Middle East, and found a way to take his ideas worldwide.
The article Women in Jordan was first published in the blog Uncornered Market . This is how the blog initiators introduce themselves “Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott: two American kids, turned mid-career professionals, turned travel junkies. More than four years and 65 countries later, we’re still traveling around the world…and still married.”
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