Sunday, September 03, 2006

In'sha Allah, I will return to Jordan again someday soon....

Today is my 10th and last day in Jordan ~ so many stories to tell! The people here are sweeter than keenafa, which is a favorite local dessert made of white cheese with dough on top and lots of honey...

I have been treated with so much respect and love and kindness, truly like a queen. Just call me Malekah Lisa. I leave here with a deep respect for the people, gratitude for all the gifts I have been given, and many new and dear friends. Also, ana bakhi arabi schway - I speak a little Arabic now!

It is a wonderful language, full of expressions that reveal the importance of religion, faith and human kindness in a country that is 95% Muslim. We great each other by saying "Salaam alaykoom" - May peace be upon you. Many sentences are followed by "In'sha Allah," God-willing.

Five times a day we hear the calls to prayer sounding in the streets, beautiful and eerie, ringing through the loudspeakers. On the ceiling of the hotel rooms at the Belle Vue where I am staying, on the second traffic circle in Amman, there is an arrow pointing to Mecca.

Despite all of the obvious cultural differences, Amman to me is the Middle East's answer to San Francisco. It was built on seven hills originally and there are now 22 hills (jebel) in the city. The city is also constructed around circles (duar) with directions given according to the traffic circle closest to the address you are seeking and with landmarks, vs. with street addresses, which generally are not recognized by the taxi drivers.

It is a modern city, but in the center of the downtown is an ancient Roman theatre and Citadel, still preserved today. So much history, so many civilizations, that have passed through this holy land...

My travels in Jordan have included Mt. Nebo where Moses saw the Promised Land before he died and Jesus' baptism site, and there are many biblical sites here ~ yet the spirit of the holy land is felt day-to-day here in the way people live their lives. There is deep faith in this country in something greater than all of us, and I have felt and heard and seen that in my daily interactions with the people here.

The buildings in the city are all made with facades of white stone, by law, so the streetscapes feature views of white buildings on the hillsides, with colorful shop signs in Arabic script in the shopping districts. It's a dusty city in this arid landscape ~ Amman is essentially surrounded by dessert, and much of Jordan is a dry and dusty country, with the occasional oases in the resort town of Aqaba, the Dead Sea, Petra, Jerash, Amman.

Amman is a city of contrasts. Many of the women are hijab - veiled - some in full burka, with only the eyes showing, but others wear modern Western clothing. The Jordanian and Lebanese women in the middle and upper classes, our friends here, are elegant and glamorous creatures. They are always impeccably dressed often in sexy outfits, with make-up and hair done. Being at the wedding was like being on the red carpet Oscars night! The ballroom was full of beautiful dark eyed women in sparkling floor-length beaded and sequined gowns, like so many Arabic movie stars...

Amman is growing rapidly. There has been a recent influx of Iraqis, many of whom are businesspeople who fled the country during the war and have invested in real estate and business development here.

There are new malls, including the glitzy Mecca Mall which spans four floors, already features a new extension and a food court to rival any mall in the US (although fortunately you can get delicious Arabic fast food at the mall here).

Many locals here, from cab drivers to friends of Salma's, have told us that the growth in the city has driven up prices, with the price to buy an apartment having tripled in the past few years, from about 40,000 dinars (approximately 56,000 dollars) to close to 150,000 JD (Jordanian dinars).

The governmental structure in Jordan is fascinating, with both a prime minister and King Abdullah, son of the popular late King Hussein, whose fourth wife happened to be an (Arab) American woman named Lisa Halaby who also attended Princeton University. I wonder if there is a chance for me to also join the royal family? ;-)

Portraits of the kings are featured everywhere - in rest stops along the highway, in libraries, behind the desk in the front lobby at the Belle Vue hotel. There is deep respect, a reverence, for King Abdullah here and for his father.

I have heard many stories of the late King Hussein's kindness, such as the time he stopped to greet my Saudi friend Majid on the streets of Amman when Majid was a child. The king visited with Majid who was 10 or so at the time and with his six year old sister. His Royal Highness noticed that Majid's sister's shoe was untied, and he knelt down to tie her shoe himself. So many people have personal stories that show the King in this light, as a great, humble and kind man.

That's all for the moment because I have a flight to catch to Istanbul in four hours ~ but I promise more stories soon about my travels in the ancient city of Petra, the Dead Sea, the Roman ruins of Jerash, the hot springs at Ma'In, and of course the extravaganza that was Salma and Basel's magical and amazing wedding! Pictures coming soon too.

Salaam alaykoom (may peace be upon you). Sending love from the Middle East to all of you....

© Lisa Powell Graham 2006

1 comment:

OpenTruth said...

hey lisa would love to be a part of ur traveling caravan