The green, stone-strewn hills beckoned us out of the city and welcomed us into their fields, bursting with yellow flowers and fed by a gushing stream. As two friends and I descended into the valley, passing homes and shops, children waved hello while washing their goats, and men took long strides to catch up with my friend, David, shaking his hand as they exchanged phrases like, “Go in peace” and “God be with you.”
Walking along the road, I glanced down at a home nestled into the hill.
“Marhaba!” I said a woman sitting on the patio and holding her small son.
Waving, she said, “tafaddili.” Gesturing toward her home below, she was inviting us inside.
After exchanging glances, we decided that our trip to the ancient Jewish castle in the valley could wait and accepted the invitation. For the next hour, we talked in broken colloquial Arabic with this woman and her family who treated us like their own children, even though we were strangers.
Under the shade of a grape tree bursting with new, green buds, we sipped gritty coffee and clear tea. While the family leaned against the wall of the house, we sat in plastic chairs, our glasses resting on shiny wooden tables brought outside from the living room onto the patio.
The branches of the grape tree split the sunlight into shards that stretched across the faces of our hosts—Reema, Muhammad, Rami, Abdullah, Aseel, and Ahmed—and I willed my mind to remember every feature of their faces, and more importantly, their small gestures that spoke of infinite kindness.
I won’t forget the mother Reema, who pleaded with us to stay for lunch, and the way her gray hijab fell down around her shoulders as she stuck her head out of the kitchen door to toss out trash.
And Muhammad, the quiet father, his eyes crinkling from the sunlight as he offered us fresh mint to suck on.
And Rami, the eldest son wearing a tight pink shirt and a baseball hat, who served us our drinks and told us about the annoyances of his electrical engineering program at the Hashimite University.
And Abdullah, the nine-year-old busy-body who stood tip-toe on tree branches to pluck fuzzy, green unripe almonds for us to eat.
And Aseel, the shy seven-year-old who bounced a blue marble against the stone floor, and tied a green scarf around her own legs, playing a pretend prisoner game.
And the baby Ahmad, who sat burrowed in his mother’s arms, stuffing his hands into a glass of coffee and smearing the grime all over his face.
After we eventually waved goodbye and continued on our way, I realized that this is why I’d come to Jordan: to experience and learn from hassan al-deeyafeh, the “hospitality” that makes the Arab world such a beautiful place. It’s the principle that a stranger can’t walk through your town without being offered a place to sit, drink, and eat. Other petty obligations can wait, because people and relationships are most important.
Throughout my time here, I’ve experienced this hospitality countless times: when my cab driver went from car to car to break my 20JD bill, so I could get the proper change; when my host brother placed a bouquet of wildflowers next to my bed before I woke up one morning; and when shopkeepers truly care about how I’m doing, and insist that I take a trinket from their store as a gift.
If there is one story I can bring back to the States, it’s this one. If there is one thing I want Americans to know about this country I now call home, it is hassan al-deeyafeh.
And if there is one thing that I hope to bring home and adopt in my own life, it’s hospitality. As the Catholic theologian Louis Massignon often talked about, we all must adopt the hospitality that is so present in the Arab world, because it exemplifies the way Jesus wanted us to treat our neighbors, enemies, and even strangers.
“Let brotherly love continue. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2