(Note: this is the second of three blogs promised to readers about the Middle East. The previous blog was on Israel and the next will be Egypt.)
To understand Jordan, you must think in terms of being a middle child combined with being a tribal based kingdom and not a nation. Jordan, like Israel and unlike Egypt is a European defined area from carved up parts of the former Ottoman Empire. This is subtly 'in your face' as the Jordanian flag has colors representing different caliphates and dynasties, the dominant dynasty being the Hashemites. The current and previous kings are Hashemites.
Crossing into Jordan is crossing into an inefficient bureaucracy compared to the West. Pictures of the current king are ubiquitous as if in a dictatorship. Women wear the hajib scarf as a symbol of modesty and privacy. In rare cases, especially among the young women in their teens and 20s, this reaches ludicrous dress, such as the other clothes being more accustomed to a street walker or Paris Hilton neophyte. This, combined with the middle child — tribal mentality, best describes my perception of Jordan. Added to this is the call to prayer five times a day according to the Moslem tradition, which permeates the air in a relaxed, peaceful sound.
Physically, the country is beautiful and more diverse than the images we have by way of Lawrence of Arabia. The desert terrain is overwhelming and the mountains and valleys rival anything we have in the States. Unfortunately, in many locations, trash is at the side of road, which has to be overlooked when experiencing the spectacular views.
We drove from our boarder crossing with Israel to Amman, the capital, via Jerash. Jerash is a model Roman Empire city with a Hippodrome, market place and temples, rivaling Pompeii as a complete snapshot in time of a Roman city.
The ride to Amman is on a modern road with stops at the Jordanian version of the Wall Drug Store or South of the Border, selling knickknacks, hookah pipes, curved knives and of course Cokes and junk food; mosques are located every few miles at the side.
Amman is fascinating: very hilly and very modern. The old citadel overlooks the city and is near a Roman amphitheater.
Significant biblical loci are located in Jordan: Mount Nebo with its incredible views of Israel in the distance and the Dead Sea, and the pillar of salt that was Lot's wife closed to the Dead Sea. Floating in the Dead Sea is an experience as it is 10% salt. The best way to describe it is regular swimming in a pool, lake, river or ocean is a broth and the Dead Sea is a rich stew.
But then there is Petra, a place of near indescribable testament of mankind's connection with the environment. (Petra may be known to you via the scenes toward the end of the second Indiana Jones movie.) Petra is a hidden city carved in red rock reached by a narrow path, the Siq. Walking around the ruins carved into rock is like walking in another world. Pictures do not do it justice. Part of the experience is dealing with the persistent sellers of jewelry, pictures, artifacts, camel rides, etc., in a jovial and playful manner.
Our guide did not hold back on problems facing Jordan: the difficulties of getting a progressive political consensus given the tribal structure, political corruption as a few families are economic overlords and lack of resources. Jordan in the past has been a dumping ground for Palestinians and refugees from oppressive regimes in the area, recently Syria, but Jordan cannot absorb these people.
Jordanians are proud and have a strong loyalty to their family and tribe. Jordan is in a transition. It is to be hoped that it will be to a modern Islamic State and not a repressive theocracy.