Amman: "Under Whelmed, Overwhelmed"

Mandaba
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordon
May 25, 2007
Marhaba,

So far here in Jordon I am mostly "under"whelmed.

The Citadel in Amman was good, overlooking the city as one would expect from a citadel.

The Roman Theater was, well, a Roman Theater. Good location, uncomfortable stone seating, and the usual good acoustics, as one would expect from a Roman Theater.

(Please forgive me if I sound a little jaded. After all, I did stroll around an ancient fort and I did sit for a while in a Roman Theater. A Roman Theater! I have seen several theaters and they are all quite remarkable. I am fortunate to have seen them.)

Amman itself is a bustling and clean city of mostly white stone buildings all perched on several hills, like Rome itself. When I get lost driving around the city, as is my usual burden, I look for a hill with white buildings and a white mosque on top. Guess what. Every hill is covered with white buildings and every hill has at least one white mosque. Finally I hire a taxi driver and follow him to my hotel. He gets lost, too.

The castles in the desert are also underwhelming. They are important from an historical and archaeological point of view, especially if you are a fan of the Umayyads. But they are small and isolated and only modestly impressive. But I am happy to take my photos of the carvings and mosaics and frescoes, and then find a good lunch out here.

I say "out here" because I am way, way, way out here. What is overwhelming is the vast and fast desert of hard stone and rock; it goes on and on and on beyond the horizon in all directions. I can only wonder and marvel that in the past, people actually crossed this flat and barren land.

In modern times this desert is criss-crossed with first class roads that carry tankers and large freighters and my little Opel. The road signs bring a smile to my face: to the north is Syria, to the west is Iraq and to the south is Saudi Arabia, and they are all within just a few hours ride. It is tempting. But, I head back west to Amman with the A/C off and the windows open. I want to enjoy the dry desert air as it cools down in the late afternoon.

What is most overwhelming is Jordanian hospitality. Taxi drivers and hotel staff and total strangers on the street are energized to be as helpful as they can be.

I met Sama, a young woman (naturally) who was headed for her school. I volunteered to just get on the shuttle bus for the thirty minute ride through the hills to Philadelphia University. Then she invited me to join her on the campus. She introduced me to her friends and then to her professors. They all were curious and happy to chat. One professor, an Iraqi, now living in The Netherlands is a linguist, and another, Ismael, invited me to attend his class in Arabic Language. The students, especially the young guys all wanted to chat. Then Ismael invited me to his home for a huge lunch of soup, roast chicken and roast potatoes and vegetables and salad and coffee. Then we visited his "farm." - a large grove of olive trees on a sandy hillside. The olives at lunch were from this grove.

In the evening at The Pub in my hotel, I meet Zaid, a Jordanian man, and Christina, his Romanian girlfriend. They insist I share their food and he would not let me pay for my drink. We decide to meet again the next evening, in sha Allah.

And here in Mandaba, while I am buying some CDs, I met a man who travels frequently to New York City on business. He knows the A and F trains and Broadway and the UN buildings and also Brooklyn. When I told him I live in Bangkok, he immediately mentioned the Grace Hotel - famous for its hospitality to Arab guests. And he also invited me to his home for dinner. I declined. I know that I was probably a little rude: the warmth and generosity here is almost embarrassing.

Yes. It is overwhelming. Everybody wants to know here I come from. I always say 'USA." They always respond with a smile and a touch of awe and they almost chant the words, "The United States of America." And then they follow up with, "Welcome to Jordon" and occasionally, "I am happy to welcome you from America." We only briefly discuss the current political situation in the Middle East. My impression is that they respect us in America and only wish that we see their side and their interests with a little more understanding. They are fiercely proud to be Jordanians.

I am off to Mt Nebo and maybe the Dead Sea from the Jordanian side. Maybe underwhelming? We'll see. Then south to Petra where I expect to be overwhelmed.

Yes, I am driving and I feel safe and comfortable. Stick shift? It's like riding a bike.

And, you would have been proud of me and my good Middle Eastern negotiating skills as I bargained down the hotel rate from 40 Jordanian Dinars, to 25 Including tax and breakfast! Then they killed me on the laundry bill!!!

Ma'a salaama,

Mr. Jan

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