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Interview with Catherine Porterfield, an American woman living in Jordan

09.24.2012

Yamaan and Catherine, Trek to Petra

2 years ago, Wildland Adventures joined with the Jordan Tourism Bureau of North America, ExOfficio, and an extraordinary Jordanian trekking guide named Yamaan Safady, to launch a new exploration of Jordan and Petra. But not your typical tour! Yamaan came to us with a new idea, a 50-mile trek to Petra through the breathtaking wadis and high places of Jordan, terminating at the Monastery, at the top of Petra. Our sponsoring team sent photographer Peter Potterfield along to document the journey (click to read Peter's article and watch a video documentary about the trek), hosted by Jordan Tourism Board’s Catherine Porterfield. How were we to guess that, in a very short time hence, Catherine would be moving to Jordan permanently…as Yamaan’s wife! We heartily congratulate both of them, and took this as an opportunity to ask Catherine about her new life as an American in Jordan. We hope all of our current and future Jordan travelers will find her observations helpful, enlightening, and an invitation to everyone to visit this spectacular and hospitable land!

View all Wildland Adventures tours in Jordan 

Wildland: As an American and a woman living in Jordan, do you feel safe?

Catherine: I feel incredibly safe living in Jordan. I can honestly say, I feel equally as safe living in Jordan as I did growing up in Washington DC, living so close to the White House. The differences are that in Washington DC, every morning when I wake up to turn on the news I see that there has been a murder, robbing, fire or some other crime during the night. You do not see that in Jordan because it is such a rare occurrence. What you do see, is what is going on in the neighboring countries, and how that is affecting Jordanians in terms of proximity, and in terms of Jordanian families who have relatives residing in these countries. However, I do not see or feel the direct result of what is going on in the region while living in Jordan – it is business as usual here!

Catherine and Jordanian friendWL: What surprises you about Jordan?

Catherine: What surprises me about Jordan, still, is their hospitality. It is unmatched by any other country I have visited. I had family friends come stay with me last spring. They were visiting Amsterdam and then came to Jordan. After 1 week in Amsterdam and then at the end of their trip in Jordan they said “It is like we were only seeing white/vanilla while touring Amsterdam and then we came to Jordan and finally saw color…and not only color, but a rainbow”!

I think this quote says it best, and it describes the people. They have such vibrant personalities and want visitors to have the best possible experience touring their country. They will do anything to ensure that you are having the time of your life. They will offer you a place to sleep, food to eat, water to drink – and this includes the poorest of people who do not even have this for themselves. However, they will find it for any guest.

The people of Jordan make up the “color” that you see/feel. And no description can ever do it justice. It is something that needs to be experienced firsthand.

WL: What is your daily life like?

Catherine: My daily life is actually very similar to when I was living in the US. I get up and go to work in the morning. I workout immediately following work and then head home for what we call “linner”. In Jordan, lunch is the big meal of the day…usually eaten between 2 pm – 4 pm. So, we eat a bit later than normal in Jordan, but it is also much earlier to the 7:30 dinner time I am used to in the US. Therefore, we call our 5:30 hybrid meal “linner”.

Weekends in Jordan are Fridays/Saturdays, with Fridays serving as the equivalent of Sundays in the US. Fridays are the holy days, with the “biggest” prayer of the week being noon prayers on Friday. Many businesses are closed on Fridays and families gather for breakfast or lunch. I see Yamaan’s parents and his aunt every Friday morning for breakfast. Saturdays are our days for fun, exploring Jordan or running errands to get ready for the upcoming work week!

Trek to Petra Jordan adventureWL: What do you miss the most about living in the US?

Catherine: I do miss the sound of being near water and the constant greenery. My running/walking routes in Washington DC are all along the Potomac River and it is amazing how much I miss seeing/hearing water on a regular basis here in Jordan.

However, Jordan is much more green than people think, but it is primarily in the springtime… in the north it is so green and lush it almost looks as if you are in Ireland! But, as the dry season kicks in during the summer, the green fades and I really long for it starting by the fall. However, it shocks people when I tell them that Jordan is green and lush in the spring… they think I live in the middle of the desert! They cannot be more wrong. In fact, you should see the gorgeous flowers Jordan has in the spring/summer!

WL: Are you able to continue pursuing common "western" interests while living in Jordan?  

Catherine: There are activities that I like that I am not willing to give up just because I moved and so, as you do whenever you move to a new location, you adapt your activities to fit your environment.

I am an avid runner and have run over a dozen half marathons and 5 full marathons. I run and train in Jordan. I actually just completed my first international race in Paris this spring, where all my training was done in Jordan. I have found running routes on streets in Amman with little car traffic, there is a great sports city in Amman with various training runs and also there is a track/gym where I work.

I love to listen to live music, my favorite bands do not have Jordan on their tour itinerary yet, so I have been expanding my music horizons and listening to local Jordan musicians.

There are places that cater to expats living in Jordan so you can go to these locations (restaurants, clubs, bars, etc.) and spend time with other people who are from the US (or other countries) and share our experiences about being expats living in Jordan.

Trek to Petra Jordan adventure travelWL: What do you like about living in Jordan that you don't find in the US? 

Catherine: The importance of taking care of family and friends in Jordan blows me away. I come from a very close family but there is a sense, generally, of living in the US of more independence. For example, if I were to get a flat tire living in Washington DC I would never think to call family or friends immediately to help. I would call AAA and handle it myself. Obviously, if it got to the point of needing assistance I would call my family, but it would be after I explored options of solving it on my own.

In Jordan, since there is not a service like AAA I would immediately call Yamaan. However, if I could not get a hold of Yamaan, there are probably 100 people I could call – ranging from family members, friends, colleagues or simply acquaintances who would drop everything and come help me immediately. And, they would arrive never acting like I was inconveniencing them… rather they would take me out for coffee/tea since I had to deal with such a frustrating situation as having a flat tire! Jordanians really take the time to not only tell but SHOW their love for their family and friends. It is truly amazing.