Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Jordan

Jordan
I am convinced you cannot truly understand your own values, your own culture, your own station in life until you are exposed to the values and culture and conditions of another country.Traveling in Jordan will help you understand all that.Americans generally don’t know the difference between Lebanon and Jordan and Syria and Egypt. Jordan suffers by association. All are war and upheaval. Without fail, the first question asked after telling someone you’re going to Jordan is, “Will you be safe?”
The country is an oasis of tranquillity in the turbulent Middle East. The economy relies heavily on tourism. Three years ago, tourists had to schedule their itinerary around what and when hotels were available. This year? Pick a place. Pick a hotel. Discounts available.
Airline standards are not homogenous. From Frankfurt to Amman business/first class is three contiguous economy seats with the middle one vacant. A moveable curtain arbitrarily divides economy from first, depending on the number of business/first customers.The Cliff’s Notes version of Jordanian politics. It’s a constitutional monarchy with a king, an elected parliament and an appointed government. However, the king has wide-ranging legislative and judicial power. He can disband parliament, fire government officials and overturn judicial and legislative decisions. I worked at a university like this. The president was the king; the faculty assembly was the Parliament; deans and VPs were the government officials. I felt right at home in Jordan.

Seatbelts are required when flying over Israeli airspace. No Allah Akbah in the aisle when flying over the Holy Land.
We are met at the airport by locals associated with our tour company. We are a tour of four. The associates have already secured the required visas. We are escorted to a separate passport control line, then around security and out to a waiting van. An hour has been condensed into fifteen minutes.
Queen Alia Airport in Amman is new and high and bright. The outside roofline is a succession of gigantic saucers standing vigil, looking over and through expanses of glass as though to ensure there is peaceful behaviour among those who enter and exit the Kingdom.
Three things required for potentates to stay in power in a developing country; roads, health care and education. Roads allow local commerce to be national commerce, national to be international. Good health and education allow citizens to participate in and garner the rewards of commerce. The king will stay in power.
There is no one at Shawbak Castle except a well-wrapped man selling rugs off the back of a truck, the ticket guy and we four. Expansive crusader ruins on an imposing mountaintop. The Crusaders may have died of boredom because no one was foolish enough to attack.

When a lamb is born, they take it from its mother and lay it close to a donkey. This becomes the lamb’s mother image. When the shepherd wants to move the flock, he straddles the donkey, off they go and the sheep follow.Landscape between Amman and Petra is like the Sandhills of Nebraska, but with rocks instead of sagebrush.
We are asked if we would like to drink camel’s milk. The first time you drink it, you throw up, have diarrhoea and chills and shakes and deliriums. But after that, it is good for you.
The Mövenpick in Petra is billed as a five-star hotel. Hotels are complex machines. The owners sent the directions with a few pages missing.
The staff are learning by doing.Guest at the front desk: Could you confirm that I’m in room 303? There’s someone else in there.
We return to our room after dinner to find a message on the TV screen welcoming NaYee Ng. We are pleased to welcome you to your home in Jordan.
The only places allowed to sell wine and/or beer are the Mövenpick and a couple restaurants. You want wine, sir. You can buy wine in Aquaba. That’s a four-hour drive south.         
Our Petra guide is named “Mock-mood”. He teaches anatomy to biology students in a university, is a tour guide and helps his father herd goats. He wants 12 children because his father had 11.
Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world. Every millennium God painted the highlands near Wadi Musa a different shade of cinnamon. The highlands grew and became mountains. One day he dropped the palette and cracked the mountains. And men call it Petra.
The quality of the goods in the government tourist shops is much better than in the shops on the street.
The Wadi Rum (Rum Valley) is a red desert valley with wrinkled pound cake outcroppings drizzled with charcoal shale. Hard to determine if it’s a mountain range eroding into dust or a desert that is congealing into mountains.
Riding through the Wadi Rum is a journey back to when the time was born. We see bedouin, camel and sheep herds and the majesty of geology. It should be experienced in the sand-blown back of a corroded pickup, not from the inside any more than a shower should be experienced inside a plastic bubble.
There are four of us in a camp designed for a dozen. A barrel is fitted in a hole in the sand. Wood is burned to charcoal. Lamb and chicken and vegetables and freekah (wheat) are lowed on a grill then covered with foil. All then covered in sand. Three hours later the food is removed. It was enough for that dozen. We sit on rugs in a tent. There are utensils.   We eat with our fingers. The lousy wine is fine.
If sleeping on the ground in a pup tent and eating beans from a can is at one end of the spectrum, our camp in the Wadi Rum is at the other.
I can’t float in a pool. I can float in the Dead Sea. The water has a sticky viscosity that cradles you like a liquid hammock. On a windy day, the white caps are Dream Whip.
The attendant slathers me in charcoal-colored mud avoiding only my eyes and ears. The mud sits for ten minutes, then back into the sea to wash off the mud. Next, a shower to wash off the sea. Revitalizing, restorative, rejuvenating, ah yes. But like the wine in my glass, how long will it last?
There is one thing Jordanians cannot do. They cannot swim in a pool, for much the same reason Americans cannot saddle a camel. The locals thrash and splash. When I walk by, I consider jumping in for the rescue.
There is one thing Jordanians do not do well. Bartend. Google Bartender School in Amman, see what you get. A craft beer is Amstel.
There is a battalion of Indonesian service personnel working in the Ishtar Kempinski Hotel on the Dead Sea. There is only a platoon of guests for them to serve. They are trained to expedite their duties, with no one else around, they expedite on us.

Perhaps there is a strategy to inadequate signage. Guests thus explore the far reaches of the resort in search of an elevator 20 meters from their room.
 In the near reaches are a half-dozen meandering pools accessorized by palm trees and lounge chairs and views of the hills of Israel across the sea.
The hotel has a second lobby; the place is too big for only one. We stumble across a Pan-Asian restaurant that we thought was either a secret or a rumour.
There is a small, tidy, modern mall not far from the hotel. It has a nice coffee shop. We sit on the lanai overlooking the sea and Israel. I hear gunshots, my wife says. I listen. My dear, that is the sound of bubbles circulating through the water in a hookah.
Our driver from the Kempinski back to Amman was named Nadir−call me Nick. He studied at the U. of Illinois−Chicago and lived there for 20 years. What do you miss about the U.S., Nick? Everything.
Nick crossed the street. He understands his culture and values and station in life. He came back.
Now he wishes he were still across the street.


 Dr. Rodney Romig is the award-winning author behind the Dr. Dan Trix mystery series, seven standalone novels featuring an intellectual hero whose adventures take readers all over the world. The latest installment in the series, Solar Flare, is available now at amazon.com.
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