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Brown Girl, Arab World: I Conquered My Fear & Took A Solo Trip to Jordan

Travel

I've never been one to travel scared.


News stories, paranoid friends and family, and even movies like Brokedown Palace, will have you terrified to leave your home, let alone fly to the other side of the world. For me; however, the "see for yourself" mantra has always rang true.

That's why when I had the chance to check another adventure off my bucketlist in Jordan, I was beyond thrilled.

Jordan was a country I had dreamed of ever since Indiana Jones, along with his whip and sidekicks, ran through Petra on their Last Crusade. It had a magic that captured me instantly and even though I was just a little Black girl from Brooklyn, I knew I had to make it there someday.

Of course when I told my father about my plans, he immediately went into protective daddy mode:

“You're not going by yourself are you?"

“There's no way I'm allowing you to ride through the desert for hours with strange men!"

“If you insist on doing this, we need to set up a system of selfies and safe words."

Now, seeing as how my father thinks my overly grown self needs a safe word for trips to the supermarket alone, you will totally be able to understand why I paid him absolutely no attention. Until his last concern escaped his lips, “Do you even know if they like Black women or Black people over there?"

I didn't.

The more I researched my trip, the more my excitement became infiltrated by doubt and fear. Not too many people I know, even some of my seasoned travel friends, have been to Jordan. Those that have went in groups, on tours or with husbands. I was realizing that I didn't know how I would be received as a woman in Jordan.

A solo woman. A solo Black woman.

Sure I practically live in Abu Dhabi and visit often to hang with friends, but the UAE, despite its strict laws, isn't considered the “real" Middle East. It's Vegas on steroids, an over the top Jetson-like metropolis where foreigners come to play and indulge in their bougiest fantasies. Living and playing in the UAE can give you a false sense of security about how the rest of the Middle East operates, and it's a far cry from everything I was reading about Jordan.

Ok, now I was a bit scared.

But, I'm from Brooklyn, with all the “cough up a lung, where I'm from…" bravado that it entails, so I decided to put on my best screwface and face my fear head on. I was going to Jordan. Alone.

Jordan from the hills

The minute I touched down in Jordan I kept my eyes open and guard up for any awkward stares or surly men wondering where my husband was. I met my driver and immediately took a selfie with him because my father is insane, then headed to my hotel in central Amman. Once I got settled I decided to take a trip down Rainbow Street and indulge in some shopping, food and people watching.

I was standing on a random corner trying to figure out where to eat when a group of young Jordanian women approached me, asked if I needed help and invited me to eat with them. I must admit that my first reaction was to give them the “Girl bye!" face because in NYC if a stranger approaches you on the street they are either a lost tourist, homeless or trying to rob you. Yet I threw defensiveness to the wind, went to lunch with these women and ended up bonding with them over our matching Jordans. Mine worn with jeans, theirs worn under abayas.

Indiana Dani at Petra

Next up was my trip to Petra. My driver returned for our four hour journey through the desert and immediately my nervousness returned. Four hours in the middle of nowhere, with a strange man on the other side of the world where I know no one. What if he killed me and left me in the desert? What if my father has to resort to living the male version of “Not with My Child" to rescue me and bring me home? Clearly I watch too much Investigative Discovery and Lifetime.

The drive ended up being full of laughs and adventure. My driver became like an older brother, cracking jokes on me, taking me to hang out with friends at random rest stops and educating me on life in Jordan. We explored Petra together, drank beer and played card games until the sun came up.

My first selfie with strangers turned friends

He signed me up for a Jordanian cooking class because family everywhere believe food is the path to marriage.

Sigh, brothers. I ended up loving the class while I never attracted that husband, I met other solo women from Turkey who were excited to see someone “brave" just like them. Perhaps Jordan wasn't so bad after all.

Desert selfies with Mohammed

The next morning I said goodbye to my “brother" and made my way to Wadi Rum with another driver that would introduce me to my future BFF for life, Mohammed. Mohammed was a Bedouin who lived out in the deserts of Wadi Rum in the way of his forefathers, living off the land with minimal contact with the outside world. As a city girl I was not about this life. What do you mean there's no cell service and I can't check Facebook? Why is there no light in my tent? Why am I sleeping in a tent? This was going to be interesting.

Mohammed and I became fast friends and took more selfies together than the Kardashians combined. He made me a picnic lunch beneath a rock and played me traditional Jordanian songs on his iPhone (Apple is everywhere!).

Chef Mohammed

We hiked mini mountains, visited friends and talked about relationship troubles, chased defiant goats, and watched the most beautiful sunset together before heading to our camp for the night where he prepared me a delicious chicken dinner that was cooked in the ground traditional Bedouin style. We stared at the stars shining bright above us and shared the hopes and dreams of two people so different, but very much the same.

That night, I fell in love with Jordan.

After riding a camel back to the village, I exchanged info with Mohammed, snapped a few pics of him with his friends (Jordanian men are yummy…praises.), said goodbye and headed off on a two hour journey towards the Dead Sea. I checked into my hotel and headed down to the beach to spend some time covering myself in mud and taking awkward pictures of myself floating while trying not to drop my phone in the water. So many people, local and foreign, came to chat with me, invite me to lunch or to dinner in their homes. It was refreshing.

Dead Sea

As I stood in the water admiring the sight before me, for the first time I realized that I was no longer nervous or afraid. Unlike other countries where I needed to be on guard for my safety or couldn't go two feet without being reminded that I was strange black fruit, Jordan allowed me to be free.

It was in that moment that I realized I hadn't been scared since I arrived. That no one mentioned my race or gave me awkward stares. That the men my father was so worried about me driving through the desert with protected me like I was family. A trip that started out with fear had turned into one of the best adventures I've had so far, and after 70+ countries, that's saying a lot. Jordan was nothing like what I thought, nothing like what some media might have you believe. Jordan and its people filled my heart with so much kindness and love that I was never alone and instead of being scared I was able to open myself up to the world around me. New friendships, new experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.

As I headed back to the airport, after a night of partying because if you didn't already know, Jordanians get it in, a sense of sadness came over me. Not too many places evoke emotions from me, but Jordan had won my heart. I hugged my “brother," who came back to see me off, and cried like a baby on his shoulder. “I tell you, Jordan is amazing. You are one of us now, this is your new home," he said. He was right. I took one last look around and I no longer felt like a brown girl in an Arab world. I felt welcomed; I felt at home. And I can't wait to return.

Have you ever overcome a fear of traveling? Let me know! And feel free to check out more pics from my trip to Jordan below.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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