Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Jordan
- 1 Communications
- 2 Housing and Site Location
- 3 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4 Food and Diet
- 5 Transportation
- 6 Geography and Climate
- 7 Professionalism, Dress, Behavior
- 8 Social Activities
- 9 Personal Safety
- 10 Rewards and Frustrations
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service we take for granted in the United States. Though the Jordanian mail service is generally reliable, some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Advise family and friends to send all letters via air mail. Mail can sometimes take as long as two to four weeks between U.S. and Jordan in either direction.
If possible, write your family on a regular basis and number your letters. Experience has shown that when a month or two goes by without news from the Volunteer, friends and loved ones become very concerned. Please advise parents, friends, and relatives that mail may be sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly.
Packages can be sent via international mail through the U.S. postal system. All packages addressed to you are subject to customs. Hints: Used items are usually delivered customs-free, while new items are taxed at full value. Smaller packages (particularly those in padded envelopes) seem to make it through with relative ease.
Important: Never have anyone send cash through the mail. Such letters seldom arrive. Packages are inspected by custom officers.
Your address during pre-service training will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
c/o Peace Corps/Jordan
P.O. Box 6338
During pre-service training, mail should be sent to the above address. Mail will be forwarded to the training site regularly. Do not have packages sent during training, as they will have to be cleared in Amman and you will not have access to the post office during working hours. Once you are at your permanent site, it will be wise to get to know the post office staff and have mail sent directly there. In Jordan, personal relationships are extremely important and can help with red tape.
Generally, high quality, long-distance communication is available. However, Volunteers have had little success with calling cards (AT&T, MCI, etc.). It is possible to purchase Jordanian pre-paid international phone cards in various JD (Jordanian dinar) denominations, but these can only be used for public phones. Cellphones from the United States will not work here. Cellphones can be purchased in Jordan, and many Volunteers purchase them (at their own expense) to keep in touch with family and friends in Jordan and in the United States.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
While computers are available in most schools and in some host agencies in Jordan, you should not expect your work site to have Internet access or e-mail. Internet cafés are found in all major cities, usually at a cost of JD1 (U.S. $1.40) per hour. Some Volunteers have laptops. The Peace Corps office has three computers and a printer for Volunteer use during office hours. Volunteers must coordinate their use among themselves.
Housing and Site Location
After completing pre-service training, you will move to your actual work site for two years of service. Your host agency or school will have helped to identify acceptable housing within the local community. Your living accommodation is intended to be simple and comparable to your Jordanian neighbors. Most buildings in Jordan are concrete and not insulated. Your house/ apartment will likely have one or two rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The Peace Corps will provide a refrigerator, gas space heater, stove (no oven), and a small allowance for the purchase of essential household items. Washing machines, clothes dryers, air conditioners, and central heating are seldom found in either urban or rural areas and will not be featured in Volunteer housing, but you will have indoor plumbing, electricity, and hot water.
Volunteer accommodations must meet the Peace Corps’ health, safety, and security standards, yet be modest and typical of the area in which you work and live. You may have an apartment or a free-standing house, some part of which may be occupied by the owner’s family. You will also have the option to live with a host family that can enhance your cross-cultural experience.
You are expected to live in the village where you work. This is very important! Some of your Jordanian supervisors and co-workers may commute from the nearest town and be less involved in community life. However, as a Volunteer, you are more than an employee doing a job. You are considered a member of the community in which you work, and there is no better way to demonstrate this than by being visible and involved.
Other Volunteers will be within relatively close proximity due to Jordan’s small size and reliable transportation. You may have another Volunteer in the same village, or it may be a few hours by bus to the nearest Volunteer site. The Peace Corps office in Amman is no more than a four- or five-hour drive from the furthest Volunteer site (public buses may take longer).
Living Allowance and Money Management
Once sworn in, Volunteers receive a monthly living allowance in Jordanian dinars. This living allowance covers daily needs such as rent, utilities, food, and toiletries. Depending on lifestyle choices, most Volunteers live comfortably on their monthly living allowance. Volunteers also receive a small leave allowance.
Peace Corps/Jordan establishes a bank account (with an ATM card) for every Volunteer. All allowances are deposited directly into that account. ATM access is exceptionally good throughout Jordan.
There should be no need to supplement your living allowance with money from home. In fact, you are discouraged from using personal savings to raise your lifestyle above that of your Jordanian colleagues. Volunteers may, nevertheless, wish to bring along a credit card for emergencies, trips, or special occasions. American Express, Visa, and MasterCard are accepted in many hotels, shops, and restaurants frequented by tourists, especially in the capital and larger towns. In Amman, there are a number of places to change money with little or no commission. ATMs are widely available and will accept most major bankcards. Banks will charge at least a 1.5 percent cashing fee for traveler’s checks and some will only cash them for their customers.
Food and Diet
High-quality food is generally available in Jordan. Tea, unleavened flat bread (pita), rice, and yogurt are Jordanian staples and you can find a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices. In addition, eggs, powdered milk and drink mixes, canned tuna, pasta/noodles, and processed cheese are also on hand. Lamb, chicken, and goat are common; however, due to their relatively high cost, they are not always included in daily diets. In general, meals are rice-based and mildly spiced.
Vegetarians will experience minimal problems in ensuring an interesting and wholesome diet. You should be aware, however, that most meals in Jordanian homes are eaten from a common plate, and there will likely be meat on the plate.
Small shops, called doucans, are found everywhere, even in the smallest rural community. The range of goods offered depends on the size of the community and local preferences. Only very basic foods and household necessities are found in the smallest stores. There are several 24-hour supermarkets in Amman and a few other cities, and mini-markets are universally found in provincial towns.
Islamic law forbids eating pork and drinking alcohol. Although somewhat tolerant of other people’s beliefs and customs, rural Jordanians are likely to show little respect to Volunteers who are known to drink—especially if it becomes public knowledge through gossip or if the physical effects of overindulgence are apparent. Tea, Arabic coffee, soft drinks, fruit juices, and bottled water are readily available throughout the country.
The holy month of Ramadan follows the Islamic calendar, so its timing changes every year. Ramadan is a time when nothing is consumed during daylight hours (fast is broken at nightfall). Smoking is not permitted during the day. Volunteers should be respectful of religious requirements and significance during the month of Ramadan. As Ramadan will begin while you are still a trainee, you will experience what that entails during pre-service training.
As a Volunteer in Jordan, you are not permitted to own, rent, or operate any form of motorized vehicle, including motorcycles.
Volunteers are also not permitted to be a passenger on a motorcycle. Most Volunteers can catch a small village bus from their home into the nearest city. In these small cities, they can catch a bus to Amman. Although buses are cheap and universal, they can be time-consuming and unpredictable, as they do not run on fixed schedules. Since most village buses stop running at nightfall (4:45 p.m. in the winter), patience and planning are required. Within larger regional centers, private and shared taxis are most frequently used. Travel on buses within Amman is manageable, but at first it will be an adventure as there are neither set schedules nor posted routes.
Geography and Climate
The geography of Jordan is varied, from the Dead Sea at 1,300 feet below sea level (the lowest place on earth) to mountains reaching 5,700 feet. On the western edge of the country, the Jordan River winds its way through a low valley into the Dead Sea. Mountains rise to the east of this valley, with Amman located on the central highlands. About 80 percent of Jordan is arid, rocky, and receives less than 100 millimeters of rain per year. The temperature varies from 120 degrees Farenheit in the summer to below freezing in the winter. Skies are blue and sunny from March until November, and from November to March when it does rain, it pours.
Professionalism, Dress, Behavior
Jordan is a Muslim country and you will work in rural areas and small towns. Jordanians take great pride in their personal appearance no matter what their economic status. Dress codes are very conservative. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of your co-workers, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself modestly and professionally. Suits are not required, but clothing should always be neat and clean. It is not appropriate to wear jeans or T-shirts at the workplace or on social occasions. (As you adjust to Jordanian culture and can make more informed decisions about dress, you may find a few social or tourist situations where jeans would be acceptable.) Shorts are never appropriate for male or female Volunteers, regardless of the weather or activity. Halter-tops or tight-fitting apparel worn by women are considered offensive and provocative by Jordanians and must not be worn. Most women in Jordan cover their hair with a scarf, and while Volunteers will not be expected to do so, they may still receive some pressure to cover. Female Volunteers wear loose-fitting clothing that covers wrists and ankles and shirts that reach mid-thigh. Male Volunteers wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts for work. The packing list section at the end of this book goes into more detail regarding appropriate choices. Dressing according to local custom is crucial for successful integration.
Important! Appropriate clothing can easily be purchased once you’ve arrived. There is no need to pack an entire wardrobe before you see for yourself what the dress codes are really like.
The weather can be very hot, so natural fibers will be more comfortable. Winters are cold and sometimes wet with snow falling in some areas. Appropriate warm clothing and layering are necessary, as most buildings and offices are insufficiently heated.
Jordanians generally do not exercise outdoors, but a few Volunteers have eventually felt comfortable running in their villages with the appropriate attire. Volunteers should consider options for indoor physical activity (jumping rope, yoga, etc.).
The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a manner that fosters respect within your community and reflects well on you as a citizen of the United States and a Volunteer in the Peace Corps. You will receive ample training in appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training.
As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest, and thus you should be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts. Public drinking or even references to alcohol are offensive and can be damaging to a Volunteer’s reputation and, hence, effectiveness. Also, there are strong taboos regarding intimate relationships, and extreme discretion must be exercised. Unmarried Muslim women engaging in sexual relations may be subject to severe family retribution and even death. It is forbidden for unmarried males and females to be alone together. This applies to Volunteers as well, so it is inappropriate for males and females to visit each other at their sites. You must constantly monitor your personal behavior and understand the consequences of your actions.
Long hair on men is not culturally acceptable and male trainees should arrive at staging with short, undyed hair.
Body piercing is unacceptable and tattooes must be covered at all times. Pierced ears for women are acceptable.
Volunteers find the hospitality and generosity of Jordanians to be a wonderful part of the culture, and visiting and tea drinking will likely become a daily routine for you. Social activities will vary depending on where you are located as well as your gender and marital status. Many Volunteers attend weddings, parties, and picnics with Jordanians and often visit neighbors’ and colleagues’ homes for lunch or tea. Most social activities revolve around food and family, and there can be pressure to eat a lot. During Ramadan, Volunteers often fast and are invited to share iftar (a feast of traditional Jordanian dishes) with neighbors and friends at sunset.
There is strict separation between genders in Jordan. For example, men and women, although celebrating the same occasion, will do so in separate areas. Male Volunteers should not expect to socialize with female Volunteers after training at either’s site. This standard is applied even to visiting friends and family members of the opposite sex.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is detailed in the Health Care and Safety section, but this is such an important issue that it cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, having limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as wealthy are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies to help Volunteers reduce these risks and enhance their safety and security. That said, you are expected to take primary responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Due to financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support promised. The pace of work and life is much slower than what most Americans consider normal. For these reasons, your Peace Corps experience will be a journey of emotional peaks and valleys as you adapt to the new culture and environment.
You may be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work, perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will ever experience. Often you will find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your counterparts with little guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact or without receiving feedback on your work. Development is a slow process! Positive progress is often seen only after the combined efforts of several generations of Volunteers. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without the validation of immediate results.
Though you will not be making as many environmental adjustments in Jordan as you might in other Peace Corps countries, you must be aware of and accept the significant cultural adjustments you will have to make (not drinking alcohol, gender expectations, loss of privacy). Be open to these changes and take time to consider them before leaving the U.S. Jordan is a beautiful country with generous people. The adjustments may be difficult at times, but it will be worth it to become a full participant in your community.
To approach and overcome these challenges, you will need maturity, flexibility, and resourcefulness. You must make a commitment to integrate into your community, withhold judgment, and work hard, if you expect to be a success. Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the highs are well worth the lows and most depart feeling that they have gained as much as or more than they gave.