Bridging the gaps between East and West on women's trip

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Having dinner and tea with the women and children who live in a traditional multi generational Jordanian household.
Having dinner and tea with the women and children who live in a traditional multi generational Jordanian household. Photo Credit: TW photo by Jeri Clausing

AMMAN -- Some things are just universal.

Just how many became clear on my recent Intrepid Travel "women's empowerment" trip when -- within just a few minutes -- the discussion between our group of Western women travelers and local hostesses turned to fashion.

"Did you get that dress in Morocco?" a traveler from Austin asked one of the members of the multi-generational household after we were told she had traveled abroad -- to Morocco.

She nodded, smiling.

"I bought one just like it there," the Texan said. "Only mine's purple. I love it. I wear it all the time."

And so the ice was broken as our group of a dozen women spanning a broad range of ages and origins were welcomed for dinner with the women to talk about our lives, play with their kids and have our hands painted with henna and our eyes lined with kohl.

While the point of Intrepid's new women-only trips to Muslim countries is to learn about cultural differences, our exchanges also underscored the many commonalities.

Aida Hilali, also known as Um Sultan, Jordan's Matchmaker.
Aida Hilali, also known as Um Sultan, Jordan's Matchmaker. Photo Credit: TW photo by Jeri Clausing

On our last afternoon, for instance, we met with one of Amman's most sought matchmakers, Aida Hilali, who told us she is called upon largely by mothers seeking to connect their sons with potential brides from compatible religious and social classes.

But as in any society, she said, she has also made her fair share of pairings between young women -- and men -- who happily married quite older partners for their money.

While there were as many differences as similarities in how and why Western and Middle Eastern couples meet and marry, the opportunity to sit down with a woman who has built a 20-plus year career out of matching couples in a culture with a history of arranged marriages was more than thought-provoking.

It also led to a prolonged, intelligent and open-minded discussion that underscored exactly the kind of respectful cultural exchange and understanding that today's global political climate is sorely lacking.

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