One of my favorite things about Arab societies is that they are generally very family friendly. People here love kids. They love to have kids, they love other people’s kids, and they want everyone to get married so they can have their own kids, too.
This attitude is very interesting to me, as an American. I grew up with rule number one being “Don’t take candy from strangers.” But here in Jordan, Miriam is growing up with the rule that strangers will give her candy every day, and it’s ok to take it.
The importance placed on families means that this is an extremely permissive society when it comes to the behavior of children. Kids here can get away with anything, especially if they’re male.
We were reminded of this on Sunday night when we attended a meeting at the offices of the Distoor newspaper. A friend of ours from church works for the newspaper and invited Jeremy and a few of the students to attend a presentation there. The presentation was about this website, and was given by its Canadian founder (under the auspices of, I somehow feel compelled to mention, His Majesty King Abdullah) (even television shows have to be “under the auspices of” something, even if it’s just McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits).
Before we left, Jeremy called our friend to see if it was an informal enough event that Miriam could attend. Our friend said it would be no problem. We were expecting a large room with an area at the back where Miriam could run around if needed.
So imagine our surprise when we showed up and saw that it was to be a very small group of participants in a very formal setting, complete with black leather chairs, microphones on the tables, and a juice and water service. By American child behavior standards, it was in no way an acceptable event for a 20-month-old to be attending.
But all the Jordanian participants seemed to think nothing of little Miriam being there. Or rather, they thought it was so cute and adorable and showered her with sweets. I think the only person who was wondering about it (besides ourselves) was probably the Canadian presenter.
After about a half hour, I was afraid that Miriam’s increasingly distracting antics would eventually bother someone, even if it didn’t look like that was going to be possible. So I left early with her. But not before the photographer assigned to cover the event had taken about a dozen pictures of her. I can’t imagine the headline that would go with such a photo: “Toddler contributes to discussion on Jordanian youth issues”? I’ll let you know if I ever find out.