I don't know how to put this delicately so that it doesn't disgust anyone not already familiar with the culture here, but inbreeding is not unusual here in Jordan. It is of course more common at certain social levels and communities than others, but it is present nonetheless. The concept of marrying one's cousin is almost universally disgusting to us Americans; here, most of the population has been raised with the idea that it is not at all out of the question.

The other night we were drinking yansoon with OmmAatif. She had six members of her extended family there to share the visit, four adults and two children. When we asked who everyone was, we got a very interesting response: with the exception of OmmAatif (who had married one of the men's father as her second husband), everyone was related to everyone else in more than one way. In other words, it was all a mix of cousins and brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law being one and the same.

With this information in mind, something else made a lot more sense. One of the children in the room with us was also named Miriam. When I asked how old she was, I was shocked to learn that she was the exact same age as our Miriam Damascus. I was surprised because the other Miriam looked no more developed than approximately an 18-month-old, even compared to our Miriam. She looked very sickly and strange, and next to her, our Miriam looked positively robust.

I took another look around the room and noticed that most of the adults also had some unusual characteristics. One woman had a malformed eye and another man and woman also had some strange physical features. I can only assume these were the effects of inbreeding over time.

I understand these families' reasons for wanting their children to marry cousins, generation after generation. It's certainly convenient to know the potential spouse's family history inside and out. And marrying a relative keeps the wealth within the family. But the effects of this kind of reproduction over generations is devastating. In extreme cases in small villages, this practice has led to widespread deafness, blindness, and even missing limbs, all occurring disproportionately within one extended family. There's a reason that marriage between first cousins is outright illegal in the United States. Even medical professionals here in Jordan are well aware of the negative effects and make efforts to educate the populace.

But a marriage practice that has become something of a unquestioned tradition in some family circles is not likely to go away anytime soon, no matter what the consequences.

Our lucky day

Congratulations, Petra!