The Middle East unveiled

Live from Jordan- Letters Home from My Journey Through the Middle East

An American grad student spends a year in the Middle East, mostly in Jordan, then in Egypt, with a little traveling in Turkey, Syria and Israel, and this is the result. Live from Jordan is a rather interesting and introspective piece of work, as you’d expect coming from a young Arabic-speaking American Benjamin Orbach who seems to have a deep passion for the region and its culture and engaged in a lot of conversations with friends, neighbors, classmates and strangers. Of course, the writer would take exception with that last part of the last sentence as it actually goes against one of Orbach’s main points, that despite a common predominant religion (Islam) and predominant language (Arabic), the “Arab Street” is very diverse, with Jordan, Egypt and Morocco having their own societal character and social norms and traits. Reading this is a good way to pick up some understanding of this region if like me, you have hardly any in the first place. This isn’t a normal travel book full of whimsical entries and exciting events, but a serious but personal account of life in the Middle East. There is, not surprisingly, a lot of anti-Bush/ anti-US government anger (this is during the buildup to and actual invasion of Iraq by the US), but also a love for American culture, Mariah Carey being a notable example. Orbach explains well the tense situation of Palestinians in Jordan, especially their tensions between them and “East Bank” Jordanians, and their longing for a “return” to Palestine, which many of them have never seen, as their grandparents were driven out by Israelis in the mid-20th century. One really strange part is when Orbach’s mother comes to visit him in Jordan and he describes how protective he has to be of her, not allowing her to go anywhere by herself due to the possibility of harassment. This is a bit disconcerting and he gives a good explanation in comparing the deep restrictions placed on Arab women in (Jordanian) society and the different attitudes towards Western (white) women. Oh, and the thing is that Orbach is Jewish, a fact that he hides from many of his friends as well as strangers he meets. Which makes his stay in the Middle East all the more impressive.