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From Baxter to Jordan

BAXTER — It’s not an unusual story. Boy meets girl at Central Lakes College. They go through college together, get married and start a family.

The twist comes when the boy — now a grown man — is offered a good job in his homeland of Jordan, and the Baxter girl he met years ago — now a mother of three — must adjust to a new life in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Married for 13 years, Yanal and Bethany (Bogenschutz) Almanasir have spent the last three years in Jordan. He’s a senior economics analyst for the prime minister of Jordan. Bethany Almanasir, who used to work outside of the home, is now kept busy caring for their three children, Aisha, 5; Omar, 3, and Abdallah, 10 months.

“I’ve got enough going on,” she said, expressing a sentiment that any of her American counterparts could easily understand.

The Almanasirs are spending a few weeks visiting Bethany’s parents in Baxter this month and giving her children a taste of Minnesota summers.

Yanal and Bethany met around 1996 when they were attending school at Central Lakes College. Bethany was a 1996 Brainerd High School graduate. Yanal had traveled to the U.S. and joined two brothers who were also pursuing educational opportunities here. Together, they continued their studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in economics and she earned a degree in nursing as a registered nurse.

College degrees from American universities are highly valued, Yanal said, and after struggling to find a suitable job in the U.S. he was offered a position in 2009 as a investment promotion specialist for the Jordan Investment Board. Since April of 2010 he has worked in the office of prime minister.

“I enjoy getting experience in the public sector,“ Yanal said. “I like working with the prime minister.”

Although she had visited Jordan several times during her marriage, Bethany had to adapt to a new lifestyle when the family decided to make Jordan its home. She had to learn a new language (Arabic) and new way of making coffee and cooking as well as other customs. Meals in Jordan often involve rice-based dishes, meat with vegetable sauce and garbanzo beans.

“Everything is different,” she said.

In addition to her Jordanian friends and relatives Bethany has an informal support group of western friends living in Jordan. They share tips on Mideast culture and information on where to find western food such as sour cream.

Bethany found the Jordanian people, many of whom speak English, to be friendly and helpful when she tried to find new locations on her own. Jordanians may not agree with all of the U.S. government’s policies, Bethany said, but Jordan is an ally of the U.S. and the people have a high regard for America.

“They love Americans,” she said. “Overall, they think highly of the U.S.”

The couple said Jordan, particularly the Amman area where they live, is westernized with the likes of Starbucks, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut available to people, but tourists can also see shepherds and desert-dwelling Bedouins in the nation’s capital.

Bethany said she dresses much as she does in the U.S. and does not wear the traditional covering worn by conservative Muslims. Women are allowed to dress as they like, she said, and it’s not unusual to see women dressed in western styles. In addition, Jordan has many highly educated women and it’s not unusual to find women who are doctors and lawyers.

“Women can dress as they like,” she said.

The choice in clothing fashion is made by each individual family and more conservative dress would be appropriate for some of Jordan’s rural areas, she said.

“Almost everybody speaks English at some level,” Bethany said.

Although she misses being close to her parents, Tim and Nancy Bogenschutz, and her two sisters, Bethany said living in the Mideast has been a rich experience that has given her insight into new perspectives. Two aspects she particularly likes about Jordan are the respect accorded to all religions and the emphasis on close families.

She attributed Jordan’s tolerance of diversity, in part, to King Abdullah II’s education in Great Britain and the U.S. and to his being raised by his mother, who was British born.

“He gets both (cultures) completely,” Bethany said.

The religious breakdown of Jordan is 92 percent Sunni Muslim and 6 percent Christian, yet legal holidays are granted for both Christmas and Islamic holidays. Bethany said practitioners of those two religions interact easily in Jordan.

She said she enjoys the public signs asking people to remember God and the five-times-a-day call to prayer for Muslims. Bethany said Jordanians are religiously tolerant and Islamic teachings call for respect to be shown to Christians and Jews.

The Almanasirs live on the outskirts of Amman near his parents and cousins and, like most Jordanians, are very family oriented.

“They all take care of each other,” she said.

Jordan’s economy has been shaken somewhat by the unrest in neighboring Syria, Yanal said. The strife resulted in Jordan accommodating about 150,000 Syrian refugees and closing of the Syria-Jordan borders.

“It makes it hard for investors,” he said.

However, progress has been made since King Abdullah II instituted more democracy and privatized the water and electric industries.

Yanal said he was hopeful Syrian rebels are successful in overthrowing the Bashar Assad regime and stability is established.

Tourism is a big part of Jordan’s economy. Must-see tourism attractions in Jordan, according to the Almanasirs, are Petra, an ancient trading center established around 600 B.C.; Jerash, a well preserved Roman city; Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the promised land; Wadi Rum, a mountain climbing destination; and the Red Sea.

“Don’t be afraid to visit,” Bethany said. “It’s very safe.”

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860