Browsing Date

February 2009

Destinations, Middle East

Two Sides of Jordan

February 24, 2009 • By

In some of the countries I visited, it’s hard to get the real story regarding the population, the economy, education and religion.  Below I have given you an overview of Jordan today and also one person’s story of everyday life.  It is impossible for me to confirm the facts in this man’s story so please keep that in mind.

The First Side

Jordan is known as the land of smiles.  There are approximately 6 million people living in Jordan where Arabs make up the majority of the population.  The only mentionable minorities are the Circassians and the Armenians which account from 1-5 percent.  Jordanians are Sunni Muslims similar to Egyptians but Shiites do form a small minority.  The Christians living in Jordan belong in most part to the Greek Orthodox Church.  As Jordan’s location is key to stability in the Middle East, many war victims from Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq find refuge here (making up roughly 1 million).

According to Wikipedia, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with representative government. The reigning monarch is the head of state, the chief executive and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The king exercises his executive authority through the prime ministers and the Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The cabinet, meanwhile, is responsible before the elected House of Deputies which, along with the House of Notables (Senate), constitutes the legislative branch of the government. The judicial branch is an independent branch of the government.

Jordan appears to be a rich country in comparison to the places I stayed in Africa.  Most people maintain jobs and the currency/economy is stable.  Jordanians are educated and most learn English and French.  The rural(desert) and urban areas are immaculate and the people talk openly about family life.  While some of the ethnic groups live in the desert, Jordan’s population centers around the cities of Amman, Aqaba, Irbid, Jaresh and Madaba (Dead Sea).  Many of the shop owners I met served in the army alongside American soldiers and have great respect for the United States.  Here I feel welcome and quite safe.  Most of the population works in real estate or tourism and also textiles.  The United States is one of Jordan’s largest importers of textiles.  While Jordan possesses oil reserves, they import much of their resources from Iraq.  It’s my understanding Jordan works hard at maintaining peace for it’s people.  This often comes with a price.  Neighboring countries and their conflicts often force Jordan’s hand but for now the country is at peace with Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The Second Side

While watching the sunset from my hotel balcony(overlooking Petra), I started conversing with one of the bartenders who I convinced to take multiple pictures of me at sunset.  Incidentally, it was a magnificent, blazing red sunset.   One mocha latte and two Quick hot chocolates later, our idle chitchat turned into a deep discussion where I was literally on the edge of my seat in suspense.  He would not disclose his age but I am guessing he is in his late 40s.  His first wife bore him three boys and after 7 years of marriage they decided to go their separate ways.  In his exact words, ” she wanted to separate and I was ok with it.”  They are not divorced.  Similar to other countries in this region, he maintained custody of the boys.  He then lived with his mother and children for four years before he said he needed to find a wife to “take care of my sons, to take care of me and to take care of the home.”

He talked in great detail about his mother.  She is 70-years-old (and he says very old and tired).  One of three wives,  she bore 12 sons and 3 daughters.  The youngest is 20-years-old and still living in the “big house” as he called it.  I thought this house must be huge to have that many kids in it.  The daughters still care for the mother bringing over food etc. but the “big house” is located next store to this man’s home.  Whenever the family gathers, which I guessed to be  weekly, the children and grandchildren come from near and far to be with the mother.  The father died 12 years ago but he didn’t seem like he was in the picture anyway.  When the mother visits other sons in Amman or Aqaba the family here misses her so much they beg for her to return home.  Her visits away often last two weeks.  One son has a 1.5 year old daughter and apparently grandma is very taken by this child so she likes to stay in Amman.

When it came time to remarry, this man had a difficult time.  You see dating is forbidden in Jordan.  Men and women cannot even meet for coffee.  This is a drastic difference to Egypt where couples openly dated.  In Jordan, people have to meet/date in secret.  His story goes like this….his sister living in Aqaba knew a girl who lived with her family in the house behind the sister.  The sister asked her brother to visit Aqaba to arrange a secret meeting.  He literally sneaked into a house to have coffee with this woman.  After just one hour, my friend said to this woman if you agree, we marry.  It’s my understanding there might have been one additional phone call between the two but nothing more.  It  seems very medieval to me.  He went on to describe how the sister then had to intermediate with the family to arrange for the marriage.  Apparently, the family disapproved of the union.

Married for 7 years, they have two children: a girl and a boy for a total of 5 (first wife).  He says he wished for a daugher and now that she arrived he is done.  (He clearly makes the decisions).  My friend simply raved about his 4-year-old daughter and the importance of family.  He spoke openly about education and it bothered him that he cannot obtain quality high-paying jobs.  Educating his children is paramount but he relies on the government funded education.  Private education would cost anywhere from 25-100JD and he only makes 300JD = $425 USD a month.  The government only charges 2JD for the children to attend school including books but if the books are returned damaged, parents must pay 15JD.  A hefty fee for some.

On his salary, he  supports a family of 5 children and one wife.  I gathered he paid off the first wife at some point.  In addition to working as a bartender the last 17 years, he also creates stone carvings.  He sells his artwork to the local shops in town and as far away as Amman.  The day or two he gets off from work each week he spends strictly with his children.  The only problem occurs when the days do not coincide with a Friday or Saturday(Arab weekend), which breaks his heart.  He spoke affectionately about all of his children and how he takes them out and plays with them.  The oldest son, 17, doesn’t want to hang with dad but as my friend said, ” the children here in Jordan do not leave home until they are married so I am responsible for him.”  I wouldn’t mind having a look at this man’s home, workshop and garden.  It seems to represent a slice of Jordanian life.  He invited me and my mother(who he thinks should definitely visit Jordan) to a family dinner next time I am in town.

Lastly, he told me a story about dating Jordanian style.  He had nothing to gain by telling me and I had nothing to lose by listening but I’m still hoping this is not an everyday occurrence.

A young woman attending university in Amman loved a man and told him she wanted to marry.  The man said if you love me, we will meet and sleep together.  The woman said ok I will do whatever you say.  This woman arranged for her girlfriends to lie to her brothers.  The girls would say they too were traveling to Aqaba (5 hours).  Instead, she was going alone to meet this boy.  The brothers called each of the girlfriends who all said yes they were taking a trip to Aqaba.  In Jordan, brothers are the caretakers and the keepers of the sisters.  They have great control.  It’s scary.  This woman goes to Ababa and meets at this pre-determined location and they have sex.  The man then says, “if you love me, you will have sex with my friend too or I will tell your brothers.”  Essentially, the woman is raped by 1-2  men.  A few months later, the woman finds out she is pregnant.  The brothers force the man to marry their sister.  This is very dishonorable to the family.  Everyone knows the story.  After 6 months, the “father/husband” says he doesn’t want to be married anymore and the brothers says ok.  The brothers then meet their sister for coffee.  They behead her pregnant.  Afterward,  the brothers call the police and admit they killed their sister.  The guilty brother served 7 years.

I struggle with believing this but I’ve heard many stories about men feeling dishonored and beheading women.  In fact,  a man living just outside Buffalo, NY beheaded his wife after she asked for a divorce only a month ago.  They were Pakistani-American.  Who knows?

I missed the bus to Amman.  It must have been the lively conversation.  I’m seeing Little Petra today and going to a sunset BBQ. Off to Amman tomorrow on the 7 am bus.

Destinations, Middle East

Sex, blue eyes and oh yeah PETRA

February 23, 2009 • By

Now that I have your attention…Let’s be serious.  I don’t really need a wardrobe full of Bedouin scarves.  The only reason I continue to purchase these picnic table head pieces is so I can gaze longingly into the beautiful blue eyes of the Jordanian men.  It’s great.  I pretend I have no idea how to wrap my head Bedouin style and they offer to assist.  I might need to import a few of these blue-eyed babes back to the States.  This gives new meaning to the phrase eye candy.  My favorite part of being a western woman is that Arab men are allowed to talk and to flirt with me.  By putting on quite a show in the hotel lobby, the manager decided he would teach me how to wear the head scarf.  Where do you think he took me?  (Before you start assuming anything, recall that I am in a Muslim country).  We darted off to the bathroom (the MEN’S bathroom) for the mirror.  As I playfully asked him about the origin of his blue eyes (from his mother or father), he wrapped my head in all sorts of ways.  We finally settled on a style conducive to climbing and conveniently cute.  Now that I had him in my good graces I informed him I also had no heat or hot water in my room.  He offered to “check out” my room and I thought that might be a bit much so I said no thank you but he told me all I needed to do was press zero and I would have his full attention.  AHHHHH infatuation. 

The next day I woke up at sunrise to set off exploring Petra.  I booked a guide and to my disappointment he did not have blue eyes but he did want to talk about sex.  It wasn’t the first thing he said but when he showed me a rock inscription he mention something about sex and American TV.  Instantly, I thought here we go again.  It occurred to me that when I am alone Arabic men must think it’s ok to question me about sex.  Furthermore, every Arabic man and likely woman truly believes Americans are having sex at 14.  Please! What about the French, the Italians or even the Australians?  Last time I checked, Americans (minus Hollywood) act more prude than any of these other countries–sorry friends abroad.  This guide Sloonie, I am certain I missed the English translation of his name, let me know that Arabic men are repressed since they don’t make sex before marriage.  When I asked why he wasn’t married, he said because he needed to make money first.  I am beginning to see comparisons between Arabs and Mormons.  They marry just to have sex.  What I find even more interesting is that all these men I meet want to talk about sex but they never cross any lines.  They want to learn but not engage.  It’s too much.

Back to Petra…I know you are getting tired of me saying this about every site I see but it’s amazing.  Each place I visit seems to be better than the last.  The Nabataean’s, an ancient Arabic tribe, created tombs and memorials out of sandstone rock around 526 BC.  Since this was before Christ, they carved these temples for royal burials as well as their pagan gods.  They cut the rock from the top down building theaters, irrigation canals and numerous tombs.  The natural colors of the rock are even more spectacular than the tombs themselves- quite a feat considering the time period.  The sea and sand and elements of air, wind and sun have mixed brilliantly with the sandstone portraying vibrant red, blue and yellow colors rippled through the rocks.  Locals refer to Petra as the rose-red city and it fits perfectly.  The Nabataeans fought off the Egyptians, Greek and Romans over the years but there are remains of Greek and Roman architecture leading archaeologists to believe these groups lived in harmony together.  The city was likely abandoned around 126 AD due to severe earthquake damage destroying much of the infrastructure. 

A Swiss man founded Petra in 1812 but locals lived in the rock town until 1985 when UNESCO named it a world heritage site. 

I gave my body a workout climbing 1,000 steps to the Monastery at Ad-Deir.  It was worth the hike as the peak gave way to the most incredible panoramic view of the Jordanian desert and Petra below.  The scenery was outstanding and every step took my breath away (literally and figuratively).  The color of the rocks in contrast with the sky and the sand below were overpowering.  Every path led to another and my walk turned into a day-long journey. 

Near the end of my hike, I encountered several Bedouin’s selling jewelry and rose colored rocks.  Children were running free and locals were selling “taxi” rides on donkey’s and camels.  It was all pretty exciting yet exhausting.  Then, I watched a 2-year-old fall to the ground.  Being the nurturing person I am, I couldn’t believe not one person came to tend to the child.  I stopped and looked around but the child continued to holler.  Despite my apprehensions, I picked up the screaming boy and tried to calm him.  I know I know….babies and most children hate me.  The child clearly had a poopy diaper and probably had not been fed.  On further examination, I saw he also had a scrape from his fall.  I found myself in a bind and I asked some passing tourists what to do.  They all said to leave him.  Finally, I saw a local on a donkey and asked him who the mother might be.  He told me to take the boy to the women downhill.  I walked with the baby for about 15 minutes and left him with the women who didn’t even acknowledge him or me.  It was one of those what do you do moments and I was completely out of my element here.  I assumed this was the way of the Bedouin people and came to the conclusion I did the best I could for the child. 

I walked silently along the path out of the “city” and thought about how fortunate I am to even be in Jordan.  Other than that episode, I truly enjoyed the city of Petra. 

Today, I got pissed at the Marriott for not calling me a cab to the city. They wanted me to wait 30 minutes for the shuttle-like that was going to happen. I decided to show them and walk the 7 km. About 3 km in to my walk, I regretted my decision and started making plan B. A few people had honked at me and I recalled hitch hiking was safe so when a nice car honked I waved and jumped in the vehicle. The Toyota Corolla and man from Petra delivered me safely to town. Sometimes you have to do what has to be done. Already warmed up, I did more rock climbing and found even more hidden coves filled with colorful rocks and tombs.  The city of Petra is not only a find it’s an inspiration. 

I’m off to Amman tomorrow and making my way toward Israel.