This is probably not the reception most Americans expect from a Muslim country bordered by Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Palestine. But Jordanians are renowned for their hospitality. Many of the residents are of Bedouin descent. A traditionally nomadic ethnic group, the Bedouin have long endured life in a bitterly dry and hot landscape, in part through their honor code of diyafa. Every traveler, even an enemy, must be offered shelter, food, and protection if she or he approaches a Bedouin tent in the desert.
In the modern city of Amman, diyafa showed up in a handful of salted melon seeds our taxi driver passed back to us without a word. On our walk to dinner, a vendor gave us a free taste of a freshly cracked almond--he broke the shell with his hands--and a dried fig covered in powdered sugar. At the outdoor eatery Hashem (where I had the most creamy, garlicky, spicy, delicious hummus of my life), the table next door passed over a falafel ball stuff with onions and peppers. They hardly paid attention as we ate it, as though we were already members of their family. The waiter, Said, wearing a muscle T-shirt and a big toothy smile, shook my hand. "Welcome to Jordan," he said.