Yoko is originally from Japan and currently living in Amman since summer 2018 with her Egyptian-American husband and two children.
Here in Jordan, she is pursuing her passion for writing, music, nature education, and interacting with children, while focusing on her family. She recently founded a blog site Your Parentology covering parenting, wellness, news, travel, economy, and finance, to convey essential ideas and information to parents and anyone who want to positively impact the next generation. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Prior to coming to Jordan, she had been living in Washington DC, USA. She worked as an economist at an international organization based in Washington DC and the Japanese Ministry of Finance for thirteen years in total, being engaged in policy dialogues with various stakeholders and producing global economic analyses.
Thanks a lot to Yoko for her contribution to the series of guest posts. If you would like to explore life in Jordan, see my Ultimate Guide to Living in Jordan as Expat and read from other nationalities such as an Austrian, Canadian, Russian, Pole, Brit, German, French, Spaniard, Irish, American or Italian living in Jordan.
Three Things I Like
I like Jordan’s beautiful, diverse, and unique nature. Amman and northern Jordan are particularly beautiful in spring with colorful wildflowers and blooming trees. Desert in the south, such as Wadi Rum, has a stunningly beautiful landscape. I am amazed to see wildflowers surviving the country’s severe summer and plants growing in the deserts. Imagining how these plants developed special mechanisms inside their bodies to hold water efficiently in the extreme weather, I feel awed by nature.
Jordan’s nature nourishes young children’s curiosity and opens their eyes to the wonder of nature. In winter, we see trees whose leaves have completely fallen while waiting for spring; in spring we see beautiful wildflowers here and there; in summer we see how plants survive without much rain; in autumn we see various farm products in local vegetables markets. Do you think rocks possibly containing fossils are only found in museums? In Jordan, sedimentary rocks formed hundreds of millions of years ago are seen along streets, in parks, and in deserts. I like to share with my children the joy of imagining how those sedimentary rocks were formed from minerals, organics, water, wind, ice, glaciers, or geomorphic processes in the history of the earth.
Jordanian’s hospitality to young children
I like the hospitality that Jordanian people offer to families with young children. Whenever I bring my children to public spaces, people kindly talk to them and even offer candies. Giving plenty of love and attention to young children is part of Arab culture. As a result, Jordanian children grow with a lot of affection from family, communities, and strangers everywhere.
My Japanese mom friends in Amman also admire the hospitality that locals show to young children. In Japan, we are usually under a lot of pressure to keep young children stay still and well-behaved in public space, and young mothers often face judgmental and critical remarks especially from the elder, such as “What a naughty kid to speak in the train! Your mother should have disciplined you properly.” Here in Jordan, I don’t feel the pressure so much, I can enjoy relaxed family time outside of the house.
Refugees in Jordan
I like how this country has developed together with refugees and immigrants. With Jordanian citizens of refugee origin (mostly from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, or Syria) comprising of the majority of the Jordanian population, they have strived to internalize themselves in Jordanian society economically and culturally. Many Jordanians of refugee origins are successful, such as billionaire CEOs, entrepreneurs, physicians, engineers, and small business owners.
They also brought cultural values to Jordan, which we can see in restaurants, craft stores, and souqs. Palestinian- or Syrian- style fashion or crafts are so beautiful and sophisticated that they dominate traditional craft stores. Syrian pastries, considered to be the best Arabic sweets, are sold in many stores founded by former refugees.
Three Challenges I Face
Living in a different and diverse environment
Learning a new culture and adjusting myself to a different environment are some of my challenges here in Amman. Although I’ve intensively traveled to many emerging or developing countries (including some of the poorest nations in the world), I spent most of my life in Japan and the USA. After starting to live in Amman, I realized that what I had taken for granted was not universal. Compared to the USA or Japan, Jordan has many areas to develop its infrastructures; for example, road transportation is not excellent everywhere, public transportation is very limited, the postal system is underdeveloped, and trustable service providers or contractors are hard to find. Facing these challenges, I’m learning more about this country and becoming accustomed to a different culture.
The same holds true for my children, who grew up in the USA and now have challenging yet educational experiences in Jordan. At playgrounds or schools, they encounter other children who communicate and behave differently compared to those in the USA. Thus my children need to be assertive and communicate to a diversified group of children. Also, sometimes we have to queue and wait patiently for services at a post office or customer service desk, while we used to enjoy the same services more quickly and easily back in the USA. Through such experiences, my children are gradually comprehending that different countries have different systems.
Finding schools and providing support to my children during our international relocation
As a parent of preschool/kindergarten age children, finding suitable schools and supporting them during our transition were some of my biggest concerns.
I faced a challenge of finding a play-based (rather than academic-based) preschool for my children, who had attended almost completely play-based schools back in the USA. Jordan has strived to provide high-quality education to each citizen. Without abundant natural resources, human resource development is an important agenda for this country. As a result, Jordan’s early childhood education (preschools and kindergartens) tend to be academic from early stages, emphasizing reading, writing, and math skills. Although a handful of preschools/kindergartens adopt children-centered and play-based approaches, the majority of preschools (including international schools) are more or less academic in line with the expectation of Jordanian families.
Even if finding a perfect school for your children is not possible, parents are the number one teacher of their children after all. Thus, we focused on what we could do: providing emotional support to them to help them deal with the tough transition; preparing playful environments at home; and arranging occasional playdates with other children. International relocation is quite stressful for young children, just like it is for adults. Thus, my husband and I tried to support them emotionally by accepting their feeling and spending more time with them. In addition, soon after our arrival in Amman, I started to create children’s play areas indoor and outdoor at our apartment unit so that they could enjoy free play as much as they wanted. Arranging playdates also helped not only my children but also myself as I was able to connect myself with other families with similar situations.
Expensive toys and less accessible public playgrounds or parks
I’ve been facing the challenge of creating a playful environment for my children without using toys from stores. As I wrote in one of my blog entries, prices in Jordan are expensive, and toys of good quality are no exceptions. I became aware of how easy it was to play with my young children when I was in the USA or Japan, where toys are not so expensive and a lot of public playgrounds or parks are conveniently accessible.
Thus, we had to make our own toys or to play without relying on toys. We have folded a lot of Origami pieces to use for pretend play, produced our own toys from scrap materials, made kites from scratch, and played tags, for instance. Also, we have done a lot of kitchen science experiments by mixing different materials (oil, water, spices, dish soups, baking soda, vinegar, food color) to observe the texture, smells, or even chemical reactions. During the play, my children often create a mess at home and give me astonishing moments by doing the totally unexpected. If I keep saying “No” to them and discourage them from exploring, children might be deprived of their precious opportunities to develop. It’s challenging but is much fun at the same time. If you are still looking for some ideas, have a look at Bastian’s post about Where to go with Kids in Amman and around – the ultimate guide
My favorite “Japanese” places in Amman
Tsuki (Fairmount Hotel in 5th Circle)
As the most authentic Japanese restaurant in town, Tsuki is enthusiastically supported by the Japanese expat community and foodie locals. The friendly and experienced Japanese chef of the restaurant, who is the only Japanese chef working in a restaurant in Jordan, knows how to cook genuine Japanese food from ingredients available in Jordan. Sushi, as well as street foods like Yakisoba (Japanese fried noodle), are some of the popular items among Japanese.
Uncle Osaka (near Mecca Mall)
Uncle Osaka provides a very nice and fluffy Japanese cheesecake. Cheesecake is obviously not a traditional Japanese dessert, but it is extremely popular in Japan. Although the shop was founded by a Jordanian, its cheesecake is authentic and quite popular among picky Japanese expats as well as locals. The store’s upstairs eating area is lovely with Japanese-style sunken Kotatsu tables.
There are no Japanese grocery retailers in Jordan, so we Japanese purchase ingredients for Japanese or Asian cuisine at Asian Supermarket (2nd Circle) or Silk Road Chinese Supermarket (5th floor, Wasfi At-Tall St. 122, Amman. Opens on Friday only). Some large supermarkets such as Centro, Miles, and 7th Circle Cozmo sell basic ingredients: soy sauce, rice vinegar, Nori (seaweed), and tofu. Meat Master and Cheese & More (both in Na’eb Umran Maayta, Amman) also sell those basic ingredients, as well as Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise and Japanese/Asian dry noodles.
Tribalogy at Foron Rex Bakery (Sweifieh)
Eating Foron Rex’s fresh and delicious bread while checking Tribalogy’s recent product line is one of my favorite activities. Tribalogy, founded by a Japanese fashion designer Mei Hayashi currently living in Amman, produces stylish and cute small craft products such bags, accessories, charms, pouches, Christmas ornaments, etc. Mei has hired a number of skilled Syrian women living in refugee camps and produced Syrian- or Palestine-inspired embroidery items.
Thx so much to Yoko for her views on living in Amman. If you liked this post, make sure to visit the other guest posts