5 Reasons We Decided to get Married in Jordan in 2016

This year, we will stand in a magical spot in a Roman Amphitheater that was used to make many a grand statement 2000 years ago. We hope to make those ancient orators proud as we say our vows in front of those friends and family willing to join us on this adventure.

I call it an adventure rather than a wedding because it is not traditional by anyone’s standards. It will have elements from both my culture (modern American) and my fiancé’s (Palestinian/Jordanian Arabic) – but it will be like no celebration our guests have attended. We get all the reactions you would expect under these circumstances: “it’s not done”, “it’s not safe”, “that’s incredible”, “is that possible?”, and so on.

What would lead us to do such a crazy thing, especially at a time like this?

 

  1. Being True to Ourselves
I met Adam in Australia, he swept me off my feet and challenged me on so many levels. The first international trip we took was to meet his parents in Jordan. I was so afraid they would hate me. I’m an American, I’m not an Arab woman, I don’t cover my hair, I’m not Muslim, I don’t fit the vision they must have for the “right” woman for their son. But he told me it would be ok, and so one summer day I arrived for the first time in the Middle East and drove to meet people that all my media tells me should despise me. Yet, I have never felt more welcomed than I did upon arrival at their home. They fed me until I burst, they told me stories, and seemed so worried that I would not like THEM!

After many wonderful moments and excursions with family, Adam and I travelled to Petra and spent a day hiking around ruins from a culture that flourished before the Roman Empire. They created an oasis out of the desert and their sandstone masterpieces continue to amaze, you may know some aspects as featured in films like Indiana Jones and Transformers 2. You have to walk the canyons and climb the hills to feel the awe these structures evoke. That trip left me altered. Both the history of the place and the modern challenges that I observed in all their complexity. I came away knowing that the way the “Middle East” is represented in my world is so flawed and limited. I knew I had to go back. And I have visited 2 more times, revelling in new discoveries every time.

 

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Azaleas or oleandas? blooming in Petra

It is a magical place for me, one that I would never have discovered if I had not met Adam. So it feels like exactly the right place to publicly join our lives.

  1. Family
Adam’s parents live in Jordan, but they are both originally Palestinian. They left before Adam was born and he has never seen the town that bears his family name, he was not allowed to go there with his Jordanian passport. His family spent time in Kuwait because there were good jobs there, and they stayed even through the first Gulf war. While I was worrying about whether I had outgrown my pink curtains, Adam was hiding in bunkers and collecting shell casings from the American fighter jets that flew overhead at night. They survived that war but moved back to Jordan afterwards. So they returned to Amman and have lived there ever since. Adam and his brother were able to get Australian visas and ultimately Australian citizenship, but his parents are likely to stay where things are familiar and where their extended families are. After being pushed out of so many homes, they hope not to have to move again.

 

It seemed like the right thing to bring the celebration to his parents rather than make them take the long journey to the US or Australia. We’ve scheduled an event for 2017 in California for my American family who cannot travel so far.

 

  1. Ultimate Friends
I have met some of the most amazing people over my lifetime. I am blessed to call them friends and thrilled that they share a little bit of my insanity. They are scattered all over the world, and no matter where we held it, many would have to travel a long distance. Adam and I have found that the best trips we take are with our friends, and so much of who we are is about the experiences we have while travelling. So I felt the best possible way to celebrate our union was to offer them the same unique experience travelling to Jordan as Adam had given to me.

 

We are coordinating a 7 day trip through Jordan that hits all the best spots for the most Epic Destination Wedding of 2016 and 30 of our friends have signed up to join us.

 

  1. Epic Scenery
People say they are coming for the wedding, but I’m pretty sure they are coming to see Petra. I can’t blame them, it is one of the 7 wonders of the world and it has been my highlight on every visit to Jordan. It is one of the 5 World UNESCO Heritage sites in Jordan.
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First visit to Petra
Our last trip included another UNESCO site, Wadi Rum, the desert valley where many films have been set, including “Lawrence of Arabia” and more recently, “The Martian”. It is like being on another planet and it is amazing to sit just miles from the Saudi Arabian border and watch the sunset with a Bedouin guide making tea on an open fire with the firewood we collected. It is peaceful there, a word you rarely hear in conjunction with “The Middle East”.

When we dove the Red Sea we explored a tank that was sunk to make an artificial reef. A fitting place for such things in my opinion; providing a home for creatures to make a life rather than being used to destroy homes. The Red Sea at Aqaba is calm and full of sea life. The Dead Sea is so salty nothing can live in it and I find I can’t swim in it for more than 15 minutes before it burns! Jerash is the site of the amphitheater in which we will hold our ceremony. It was one of the 10 major cities, known as the Decapolis, built by the Romans in the Middle East, nicknamed Pompeii of the East due to its size and high level of preservation. You can explore Jerash virtually thanks to the great work Google did in 2015 mapping via Street View 30 historical sites in Jordan.

 

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Wadi Rum – epic red desert marked with amazing rock formations.
There are natural wonders, historical wonders and religious sites of Biblical importance – all in one small, friendly, country.

 

  1. Safer than you think – “Noisy Neighborhood…Quiet House”
On our last visit we heard stories about the changes that are coming to Jordan with the influx of refugees from neighboring conflicts. According to the government, Jordan has so far hosted around 1.4 million Syrians on its territory, or the equivalent of 20 percent of its population, receiving up to 5,000 refugees per day at times. More people mean restrictions on water, increased cost for food and housing and in some cases, more petty crime. Yet I didn’t notice a difference from my first visit 3 years before. Tourists are unlikely to notice these challenges, just as visitors to America are unlikely to be impacted by the social conflicts ongoing there. Yet tourism has halved this year as so much media attention has frightened people from visiting any part of the Middle East. While Europe, North America and Australia struggle to convince their citizens to accept much smaller numbers of refugees into populations that are much larger, Jordan has become a safe haven for people who are justifiably afraid. I have a lot of respect for the Jordanian people and their government for bearing such a huge refugee burden and I encourage everyone to donate to their efforts.

Last year, a friend of mine from Europe coincidentally took a trip to Jordan at the same time we were there. She travelled alone with no qualms and at no stage was she threatened or endangered. I have met a blonde, female foreigner in Jordan who told an amazing story of a car breakdown where strangers rushed to help. I’ve heard Jordanian women in Australia tell me they are afraid to go out in the evenings alone in Melbourne since they find it feels more dangerous than back home, an ironic twist I think. Western women often feel particularly threatened by the idea of travelling to a Muslim country, but I have discovered a respect for women in Jordan that is a refreshing change from the rude treatment I have experienced in other parts of the world. Yes, people will look at foreigners, because we are out of the ordinary. But there is curiosity, not malice, in their glances.

 

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A shy boy serves us the best fresh falafel.
Some friends have expressed concerns about being kidnapped or targeted as foreigners and it is a sad reality that somehow the Western media has given ISIS and Al-Qaeda far more power in our minds than they have on the ground. The UNHCR runs a large operation in Amman, Jordan and employs many foreigners who safely travel to and from work everyday. There is no war inside Jordan and there is a treaty with Israel that ensures that Israelis feel quite welcome to cross the border for holiday or even to start businesses.

 

When I arrive in Jordan, I do worry. I worry that my future mother-in-law will feed me too much, that I will get a sunburn, that I will pay too much for that trinket, or that the perfect falafel place from last visit will be closed this time. I worry about the things we all worry about when we travel. As with any foreign place, it is important to respect local customs and in the case of Jordan, dress conservatively. This style of dress works well for those of us also concerned about sunburns, and while I’ve never worn a hijab (female Muslim head covering), I usually wear a hat outside and cover my shoulders. It is safe to consume alcohol in appropriate places and in appropriate quantities. The resorts located on the Dead Sea and Aqaba (Red Sea) all have security that restricts access to registered guests only while the hotels in the cities screen everyone who enters. We will be travelling with local tour guides and potentially a local policeman assigned to ease our transit.

 

I know there are real threats in the world, and I would never put my guests in harms way. We are taking the right kind of precautions to provide safety for our group and ensure they see the magical side of Jordan that has made me return time and again. I believe they will take their own magical experiences home with them and spread stories of how life goes on and flourishes even in places that seem hopeless from afar.

 

– Jennifer Fein is the Founder of Youli – inspiring you to travel to places you never would have gone on your own. @youlivetotravel
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4 thoughts on “5 Reasons We Decided to get Married in Jordan in 2016

  1. Hey Jen – This is fantastic. A truly inspiring and eye feasting journey of a piece you have written and photographed here. I hope someday to travel to the amazing wonders of Jordan and discover like you the beauty that lies within. Thank you for creating this.
    Ben

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. I didn’t realize Petra is one of the seven wonders of the world. What an inspiring blog with beautiful photos – great job in capturing them. Now I really want to join your wedding adventure!

    Like

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