Valerie Viers returned to her hometown of Hodgenville from a two-year Peace Corps stint in Jordan with the realization that though Arab culture and customs are quite different from those of Americans, people are basically the same everywhere.
“The kids love to play the same games as our children, for example tag, and their version of duck-duck-goose,” said Viers, who served as an English teacher at a girls’ school there. “They watch American shows like Hannah Montana, Tom and Jerry and Sponge Bob Square Pants.
But, there the similarities end.
“Boys and girls are together in grades one through three, but, starting in fourth grade, they attend separate schools,” said Viers, who taught at Al Ghwair Secondary School for Girls. Though classes are in session five days a week as they are here, they start on Sunday and end Thursday so that the students can enjoy the Muslim Friday and Saturday holidays.
“They let me take off Christmas, Easter and other Christian holidays,” said Viers, whose parents are Dennis and Connie Viers of Hodgenville.
The family of one of the students she tutored “adopted” Viers, which made her introduction to Jordanian culture much easier.
“I ate with them twice a week and they had me over for Friday lunch which for us would be like a Sunday dinner,” she said.
The menu, however, was far from Southern fried chicken.
“We ate “mensaf,” boiled sheep served on a bed of rice with sheep milk sauce,” she said. “I’m not crazy about sheep, but it grew on me.”
Kids at school also supplied her with snacks, even though she told them their snacks were for them, not her.
“Arabs are very hospitable and generous people and their kids learn to be generous and share (especially food) very early in life,” she said. When she taught first grade, her students were always offering her what they had to eat for break - cookies and crackers.
“Frequently I would go home and find that when my back had been turned, the kids who had offered me their cookies had gone ahead and stuck a few in my purse while I wasn’t looking,” she said.
Her craving for American food put her into what could have been a dangerous situation.
“One time I went to Karak to buy peanut butter as there was none in our little village and accidently walked into a demonstration for Hamas,” she said. “It was during the January 2009 War in Gaza and though the demonstration was peaceful, just being there was a pretty intense experience with a bunch of men yelling ‘Allahu Akhbar! Allahu Akhbar! (God is great).’”
A 1993 LaRue County High School graduate, Viers received a bachelor’s degree in French and German from the University of Kentucky and masters in library science. She worked as an academic librarian in Wisconsin until 2008 when she joined the Peace Corps.
“I liked the idea of living abroad and was interested in the Middle East,” she said. “I had spent five months in Morocco, but though they and Jordanians both speak Arabic, their different dialects made it hard to understand them.”
She completed her Peace Corps service in August, returning to her family whom she had not seen in two years. Since her return, she has spoken about her experiences to students and said she would enjoy speaking to others about her life in an Arab country.
“It was very demanding and called for me to make a lot of adjustments, but it was well worth it and I wouldn’t change a thing if I had it to do over,” she said.