My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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AMMAN, Trans-Jordan, Sunday—On Thursday my Syrian friends had planned a very full schedule for the early morning hours before I started for Amman. We left the house of our minister, Mr. Gannon, before nine and went to see what is said to be the oldest mosque in the world. Then we visited the Azm palace, which is being restored. It is a very lovely old building, with separate quarters for men and women and with fountains everywhere—I suppose because water is so precious in this part of the world.

We visited some of the old shops and afterward went out of the town through fertile land, all irrigated, past olive orchards and apricot trees not yet in bloom until we reached what I would call an agricultural experimental station. They are trying to build one of these stations in the outskirts of every large city so that neighboring farmers may see the value of certain good farming practices, obtain better seed and learn to use modern agricultural machinery methods. This station was certainly a good school, with 75 youngsters getting a good practical education as well as a theoretical one in the classroom.

Syria accepts no help from the Point Four program. The reason is that they don't want to be beholden to any one country. Last night at dinner, for example, the minister of foreign affairs said to me: "When you go to Israel they will show you wonderful things, but these will have been done with American money. We are going more slowly, but doing everything ourselves." I felt a little sad, because that is the attitude of distrust which one sometimes feels in one's contact with delegates in the U.N. and which I personally deeply regret. Much has come to us in the United States from these areas of the world. Thus they tell me that Dr. Bennett, who was so much liked here and whose death was such a tragedy, frequently was able to tell them of agricultural products which had actually been brought to the United States from this area. He would add that perhaps it was time for us to repay some of our debts, since we have citizens from every country of the world and all have contributed to the growth and strength and power of our land. If we can work together for our mutual benefit neither of us may gain quite so much, but both of us in the end may gain a great deal more and the world as a whole will be the richer for every bit of understanding that is developed here.

The foreign minister told me another rather nice story about their difficulties in starting hotels in certain parts of Syria. According to the Arab tradition of hospitality, any stranger who comes to the door must be received and entertained for two or three days without any questioning at all. After the third day you may ask him where he comes from and how you can serve him. In an old town not far from Damascus, a hotel keeper had started a hotel. His first guest arrived, but before he had slept there even one night the servants from one of the influential people in town came, collected the guest's bags and invited him to their house. This happened a second time, whereupon the hotel keeper went to the important person with the keys of his hotel. "Either you will allow me to have paying guests," he said, "or I will leave town and you can run my hotel." Hotels, in fact, have really come into existence only since the cities began to grow and it was no longer possible for the individual householder to receive all the guests.

There is another hospitable Arab custom whereby one never goes in anywhere without being offered a small cup of coffee. It is a nice custom, but when one is moving rapidly from place to place the amount of coffee one has to drink may become formidable. If one does not accept, however, the host's feelings may really be hurt. I would prefer, therefore, to be offered the rather bitter Bedouin coffee, because they give only about two drops in a cup. If one wants no more, one shakes the cup when handing it back. If the cup is simply handed back, they will go on refilling it indefinitely.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Amman (Jordan) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, February 18, 1952

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.