Jordan. The very mention of the short version of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan conjures visions of history back to the beginning of recorded time. The collective memory of vast numbers of humanity are enshrined in this part of the world. The region is known by many names; Fertile Crescent, Levant, Middle East, Ancient Near East, Holy Land and many others depending on who is speaking and about what subject.
My own introduction to Jordan and the region came from a book my grandmother bought from a peddler back in the mid 1960’s. The book was about the history of the Holy Land, and to my delight it was filled with beautiful, glossy pictures. Many of them were actually in color! She kept the book in the most honorable place in the house. It was always under her great, heavy Bible on top of the television. She lugged that Bible, that seemed to be almost half her own tiny size, around until it was almost completely worn out. Sometimes, she opened the history book and read it with me and told me about the wonders of the Holy Land. It was this book that inspired a life-long thirst for knowledge about this region. My experiences here in Jordan can be directly attributed to my Dad who gave me a love and appreciation for history, and my grandmother, Dad’s mother, who gave me a thirst for the “cradle of civilization”.
|Panoramic view of Amman|
I began touring Jordan on an annual basis beginning in 2002. I saw first-hand the sites I’d been studying for so many years. Dead Sea was, and still is, a marvelous wonder to me. Imagine! The lowest geographical point on the entire planet! While I stayed in a hotel at Dead Sea for two weeks, Zeek showed me the other wonders that are Jordan; Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum and many others. I experienced the food and drink of Jordan and awakened another passion. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am something of a gourmand (noun: a lover of good food) and my sensibilities for good food have been taken to new heights by Arab cuisine!
|Vegetables and fruits market|
As fantastical as the tourist sites at the Citadel, Ajloun Castle, Umm Qais, the Roman Theatre and all the others are, it’s good to get off the beaten “tourist track” and meet the people who live here, attempting to make a living and support their families. These people are what makes Jordan the warm and welcoming place it is. They give Jordan the richness and flavor and weave a tapestry the tour guides can’t. It was their fathers and grandfathers who fought in the Great Arab Revolt, who were pushed off their lands during the Nakba in 1948. But they won’t tell stories only, be prepared; they will ask a million questions with the skill of an inquisitor. Here, where family is everything, they want to know everything about you, but about your family too. Above all this, though, they will welcome you a thousand times. “Welcome in Jordan!” I have heard it a billion times, it seems, but I never tire of hearing it. The welcome is genuine and heartfelt.
Since ancient times the laws, or rules of hospitality have governed everyday life here. In Biblical times one had a sacred duty to offer bread, provide lodging and protection to any traveler that came to one’s door. In breaking bread together they were bound by the strongest ties of friendship. Refusal of the offer essentially sent the message that the bread of the host was unfit to eat and violated the sacred law of hospitality. Severe penalties could be incurred by such a refusal.
|Preparing Arabian Bread|
When Issa (Jesus) sent his disciples out he told them to take neither bread nor water. This required them to rely solely on the hospitality of the villages they visited. In an effort to teach his friends about hospitality Issa told them that on the day of Judgement the Creator would say to them: “Come, you blessed of My Father...for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matt. 25:34-40, NKJV)
Just as in Christianity, Islam teaches that mistreatment of a stranger is one of the surest ways to incur divine wrath. A great part of hospitality is in receiving a person from whom one has no expectation of anything in return. The tradition of the Arab is that one owes a stranger enough dates, figs and water to reach the next destination. It is a three-pronged relationship between the host, the stranger and God. Sustenance is a right rather than a gift and the duty to provide it is not a duty to the stranger, but to God himself.
As I move around the kingdom in search of history and stories I meet a great many people; shop owners, neighbors, family friends. I am innundated with invitations to their homes for meals or coffee. When chatting in the street someone will inevitably press a cup of coffee or a juice into my hand. When stopping in small shops to browse, the owner or manager will invariably prepare coffee to enjoy as we negotiate. Everywhere I go I am received as a friend, completely without suspicion or mistrust. Coming from the West, it took some time to accustom myself to this unique hospitality.
|Turkish coffee...I can drink it all day and night!|
Spend a year in Jordan and you will experience a huge variety in the scenery. At springtime, after the winter rains, the hillsides are lush with green grass and trees. As we spend time outside the city in spring, I am reminded of the verdant fields of Ireland. The beautiful emerald pasturelands filled with sheep and goats enjoying every morsel of the sweet green grass while they can seem to sparkle in the bright, but not yet hot sunshine. The contrasting colors make the ever present stone-wall fences more noticable. The sheep and goats seem whiter. All the world seems clean and fresh and begging to be not only enjoyed, but taken in great gulps. That’s just what we do, too because we know it won’t last long.
As summer approaches the luscious green begins to fade to a pale beige that characterizes the earthtones of this region. Now it’s impossible to distinguish earth from dried weeds from a distance, the color is so closely matched. There is a harsh but surreal beauty in the desert. The ochres of the Eastern Desert blend in such a way that in the bright sunlight it seems almost to shine. One of the most, to me anyway, interesting sights is the striations of the earth visible in the cutaway portions of the mountains for the highway. You can very clearly see the different striae layer-by-layer. The graceful curves they form when the forces underneath the earth shoved them upwards to form the mountains gives mute testament of the wonders of nature. In other areas you can see actual breaks in the arcs where one side of the mountain was pushed a bit more forcefully, making a tectonic shift.
Moving over to the western desert area is the beautiful and vast Wadi Rum. The rose-red sand and mountains have been compared with the lunar landscape. It’s quiet. It’s intimidating. It’s inspiring. It’s HUGE! Despite it’s harshness, Wadi Rum has been inhabited since prehistoric times. All round the desert you can see rock paintings, graffiti and temple ruins. Lawrence of Arabia based his operations in the wadi during the Great Arab Revolt in the early 20th century. Portions of the movie of the same name were filmed here. If you have seen that film or read Lawrence’s book, you have seen and experienced Wadi Rum. These days it’s popular for climbing, trekking and eco-tourism. The bedouin tribes who live here now are exploiting the tourist trade to great advantage.
|Peter O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia|
|Castle constructed of basalt|
Traveling and Living in Jordan
I am frequently asked about safety for foreigners here. My first response is that thanks to His Majesty, King Abdullah II the safety of his people and his guests is one of the highest priorities in Jordan. The safety of visitors is especially important because tourism is the bread and butter of this economy. The crime rate in this kingdom is extremely low, especially when compared to like-sized cities in the US. In fact, Birmingham (my previous home) is likely to have more murders in a single month than occur in the entire kingdom of Jordan in an entire year! After being here almost two years and considering it at length, I believe that the old laws of hospitality may be the primary mitigating factor that helps to keep the crime rate so low. Additionally, the entire society is so focused on family and Islamic values that injury to a neighbor or visitor is extremely repulsive to the average Arab. Every Muslim child is taught from the cradle that “Our great Prophet teaches us to be generous and how to entertain guests. He wants a Muslim to show gratitude and be kind and happy when receiving guests. One should respect and welcome his guests, in particular when they are strangers, or have no family or friends in that country”.
I will give an exampleof the Arab mentality to which I was eyewitness last year. A group of us had gone to the mall to see a movie. We were standing outside the entrance, chatting when a woman ran screaming out the door. She was saying she had lost her child. Our first thought was the child had been stolen. We were perhaps 12-15 men standing there. We asked for the boy’s name and how he was dressed. Instantly, after receiving the information every man in the group sprang into action, running in every direction. In under five minutes the boy was found in the parking garage. Turned out that the boy’s father, who was thought to be back inside the mall, took the wee lad to the car for some “counseling”. The Mother was distraught at the idea someone would kidnap her child. Everyone was shocked by the idea, because it is virtually unheard of on this side of the world. The Muslims consider all men their brothers, and family must be protected at all costs.
During the past two years I have been in the streets at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes in crowded areas, sometimes in lonely, dark places. Not once have I felt uneasy. Not once have I been given the impression that anyone had evil designs on my person or possessions. Many times, though I have been hot and tired after walking a great distance and stopped in a shaded area for a bit of a rest. Uncountable times a merchant has come out of his shop with a chair or stool and insisted that I sit and give myself a rest and then brought water and coffee to me.
At the risk of being overly generalizing, I must say that the people in this kingdom are among the kindest and welcoming people I have had the privilege of meeting. To anyone who has ever felt a desire to visit the Holy Land but was held back by fear I offer only this advice: come to Jordan and experience the welcome, drink in the history and go home with a completely new image of the Arab people. I guarantee that one visit will leave you with the desire to come here again and again! I will join with every Jordanian in saying to you, “Welcome in Jordan!” as I prepare your coffee or tea and a “little something” to eat!
|The vastness makes you realize just how small you are...|
|Desert eagle having lunch|
|Ahh, so tender and juicy!|
|Will you share my meal?|
|Dress shop downtown|
|Jordan's police department is fully open to women|
|Street juice vendor|
|Flea market downtown|
|Nymphaeum ruins near Roman Ampitheatre, downtown|
|Shoes market downtown|
|Spices market at the souq|
|Petra Tourist Police|
|Riding camels in Wadi Rum|
|Top of Jabel Rum|
|Nabatean temple ruins in Wadi Rum|
|Did I mention Wadi Rum is huge?|
|Petroglyph of family in Wadi Rum|
|Petraglyphs in Wadi Rum|
|Wadi Rum, Seven Pillars|
|Road sign on King's Highway|