Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ominous Trend

I have this lingering suspicision that all is not well in the desert - particularly in the formula: experimental technology+energy+business. The other day, sitting quietly in a coffee shop of a local hotel, I overheard - ooops, not supposed to do that - hope you will forgive me, that Shell, the petro-chemical giant, will soon be setting up shop in Jordan, along with some other big boys in the petroleum industry.
As we all know, Jordan picked the short straw when it came to natural resources such as carbon fuels, ie that glutinous gunk proliferating in the Middle East that makes the world go round. However it does have shale oil, quite a substantial quantity. And herein lies the problem that keeps me awake at nights.

Shale oil needs a different process of extraction – you have to mine for it and the cost to the treasury and the environment is what has been keeping shale oil where it should remain, underground. Until that is, the Shell corporation came up with a new technique . They ingeniously devised a scheme to heat the shale oil 'in situ' until liquefaction occurs. And then they pump it out. Ok you might think, what's wrong with that? The problem is that they heat the shale to such a high temperature, it will take three years to liquefy. See the problem? And where do you think they are going to test this 'revolutionary' procedure – why in Jordan of course – right next door to our struggling Azraq Oasis – an environmentally important water source of underground aquifers not just for migratory birds but numerous communities of people dependant on agriculture for their livelihood.

Shell is going to 'bake the desert – underground and above it – for a whole three years'…. And I find out along the grapevine, other western countries such as America have declined to go along with the scheme due to questions over environmental and health risks.

For health risks … read …cancer. For environmental risks ... read... whatever you can imagine in the worst possible terms. It's common sense right? Our fragile eco-system doesn't stand a chance. Has anyone spared that a thought, as we stumble over ourselves in our narrow minded approach to energy needs?
As Europe makes important strides into alternative energy sources, not to mention Turkey and Israel (solar heating) - we follow the piper...

On my mind.....

For the last few days all the things Ali told me about Iraq have been going around in my head. He had called us last month from the US to say he would be passing through Amman on his way to Basra to visit his family who he hadn't seen for 16 years. So he stayed with us for a couple of days. He had never been in Jordan before but one of the things that really struck him was what he called the 'terrible driving'. He must have mentioned this at least 20 times in the couple of days he was here. But let me give you a bit of background.

After the collapse of the Shi'ite upsrising in March 1991, more than 90,000 Iraqis sought refuge with the coalition forces. They were settled in Rafha and Artawiya, remote desert camps in Saudi Arabia, several kilometeres from the Iraqi border. Eventually some 60,000 of the refugees returned to Iraq but around 30,000 stayed in Rafha. Conditions were hard there as it was a restricted camp surrounded by barbed wire fences, with continuous military patrols and nightly curfews. The refugees were cut off from their families. By 1997 most of them had been resettled including over 12,000 that were sent to the US. Ali was one of these. He had spent 7 years in Rafha. When my son went to university in the US they met and became good friends.

I had met Ali several times on my visits to the US and I remember how happy and excited he was at the start of the Gulf War. When Saddam was toppled he was elated. Last week, after one month in Iraq, he passed through Amman again on his way back to the US. All his feelings of happiness and hope for the future seem to have faded. He talked and talked about the problems in Iraq...the lack of electricity, water, and medicines, the lack of social services such as garbage collection, the poor schooling of only three hours a day, that squatters lived in most of the public buildings, and on and on. Over and above all of these problems he talked about the total absence of security. But what astonished me most, and gives one pause for thought, was when he told us that so many of the Iraqis he met, even those who had suffered greatly under Saddam, wish that he were back in power. That is just how bad the situation is today.

In fact the only thing he said that made me smile was, "Driving in Amman is paradise compared with Basra!!"....z

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Photo sheep and the city 2

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Photos: sheep and the city

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Where Sheep May Safely Graze

Anyone who drives in Jordan, especially Amman, must concentrate completely. Occasionally, I am a passenger and it is only then that I can look at my surroundings. Yesterday was one of those days. There, in an empty lot near the Sixth Circle, I saw a flock of sheep grazing on the stubble of green that miraculously appears in the spring. I’m not talking about four or five animals; I’m talking about 30 sheep at least. How is it possible that in a city of over 2 million souls, one will find a flock of sheep next to shops and apartment buildings placidly grazing? How did they get to the Sixth Circle? Assuming that the shepherd trucked them into the city, why wouldn’t he buy animal feed with his resources instead? Absurd or quaint – I’m not sure which, but that is life in Amman. ASH

Another Trip

I’m packing again, only 3 more days before I board my Royal Jordanian flight to New York, on my way to Washington DC. Although I begin my trip there, I will also within a month’s time, go to upper New York, St. Joseph Missouri and Detroit Michigan. How many times since 1963 have I done this? Too bad I never kept count, but I expect that I could figure it out if I would go through the hundreds of letters that I have, written mostly between me and my mother! Yes, I am the packrat, the one with the 1963 newspapers about the Kennedy assassination. In my collection I also have more than 30 year’s accumulation of family letters. A couple of years ago I read though about 20 years worth and then stopped for awhile… I will go back to them someday…

Over those years I have raised a family and luckily have been able to visit my huge, healthy, vibrant family in the States…and then from afar, watched my loved ones slowly leave us. This time I will be seeing all of my remaining elderly Aunts and Uncles greatly diminished over the years. Dad still has a brother, 97 years old, a sister, 96 and mom’s sister, now 93. The highlight of this visit will be to celebrate the 70th anniversary of my Uncle Brook and his wife, my Aunt Dolores. After loosing my parents, they have remained a steady source of strength. Due to their anniversary, a mini reunion is developing and it will join me with my sisters and also with a couple of my first cousins. We will be meeting for a joyous occasion instead of the sad funerals that have united us in the past…but we are also acutely aware that these people who are so precious to us won’t be with us too much longer.

I know that as I age, losing loved ones is inevitable and being so far away adds to the pain. But thankfully I have been able to make many of those “past reunions” and after this one, I wonder when the next one will be? When we were swept off our feet by these Jordanians so many years ago and we made their home ours, this is one dimension, in the passion of the moment, that many of us didn’t consider!

Friday, April 28, 2006

A Jordanian Reality

Before ‘Pluralism in the Classroom’ (posted April 21, 2006) slips into April archives, I want to mention my first experience with religion classes, and how different it was for me. Both our daughters went to a private Catholic girl’s school in Jerusalem and I knew that the school would teach them their catechism. No problem, since it relieved us from seeking private tutoring. However, my husband discovered that when our youngest daughter was in the first grade, she didn’t know the rosary. When he asked her why, she answered that her math teacher who taught the class for Moslems was much more fun than the nun! She had been going with her Moslem friends to their religion classes!

I never knew that the Moslem girls in this Catholic school were also having their own classes; I had never thought about it! All schools admitting Jordanian children come under the authority of the Ministry of Education. I was young and naïve and had not yet translated into my own life the fact that Jordan is a nation with a state religion - Islam. A state religion is a foreign concept to an American. Another reality that struck me at the same time was that I was the foreigner now! ASH

'Twas a Hot and Murky Afternoon …

It was murky weather yesterday, hot and clammy, most unusual
And my eyes burned…..
…. as I waited in the traffic ….
Worse than London at rush hour.
A ten minute drive now takes thirty, forty five or even fifty minutes of endless queuing, honking and a new found ability "to squeeze" behind cars, trucks, buses and 4x4s in lanes miraculously there.
All spewing out lethal fumes into our once sweet smelling desert air,
While the traffic police sit and watch and occasionally whistle at a taxi driver going about his daily chore of driving through the madness.
Climate change…. or maybe globalization - I say with a wry smile
As Bush and Co deny, deny, deny and reap the profits,
And I have to deal with the rage.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In Reply to a Comment

One of the first questions we asked each other after launching our blog was, “Is anybody out there reading it?” Comments that are posted let us know that we have some readers, family members included. We value all comments whether they are specific to a posting or in general.

We stated in our purpose that we are three American and three British women who are married to Jordanians and have lived in Jordan for many many many years! We want to share our experiences and views of our lives in Jordan. In doing so we may be critical of life here at times – but we insist that our criticism be constructive not petty or malicious in any way. Writing can be misinterpreted and misunderstood as easily as speech, and we apologize to ‘staghounds’ if they were able to infer from a recent posting that we were criticizing specific people. We were not. We were criticizing drivers from the palace and people from the royal protocol.

The fact that the commentator, ‘staghounds,’ knows Jordan, and has lived here, makes his comments most interesting. Please continue reading and commenting. A-Z

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Royal Pain in the _____!

Once again I had a near accident yesterday with a palace driver. Why do these drivers think they own the road? Is it just because they work for the palace. In fact I've noticed that quite a few of the people who work there seem to think they have the same privileges as the royals and the world owes them a favor. As I mentioned, it seems the palace drivers are licenced to speed, weave in and out of traffic, cut in front of you, make a left turn from the right side of the road, and go through red lights.

Then there are the guard cars. If you happen to be in the wrong lane at the wrong time you have to get out of that lane - NOW! If you don't want to get shot, you can either move into the next lane and cause a twenty car pile-up or plunge off the bridge to the road below. It's your choice.

Another 'favorite' of mine are the people from the royal protocal. Recently I was at an event under HMQ's patronage. A person from the royal protocal arrived early, and without so much as a cursory hello, stood before those assembled and arrogantly told them they were not to approach the Queen, not to ask questions, not to give her any petitions, etc. Those present nodded politely, but as soon as the said person left a deluge of derogatory remarks could be heard. The whole purpose of HMQ's visit, to be with her people, was tainted before it even began.

Perhaps it's about time someone teaches these 'royal helpers' how not to be a 'royal pain in the_______!'z

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Precious water

"They were planting grass on the main road, outside the new school today," I told my husband recently.
"No, it's that artificial stuff they're putting down," he confidently replied.
OK, he must be right, I thought!!! Surely grass, that most thirsty of ground coverings, is not being planted on the open roadside.
However, when I drove past the following morning, the ubiquitous "they", that is, the Greater Amman Municipality, were installing irrigation pipes, obviously not, for synthetic grass.

Ever since I came to Jordan, nearly 30 years ago, I have heard the same dire warnings about water shortages and what this means to the country. I have railed against citizens of Amman who have insisted on their cars being cleaned daily as well as the sidewalks outside their villas, and looked on in shocked horror at the immaculately manicured lawns of western Amman.

For many years the powers that be have discussed the "Disi this" and the "Red/Dead that". There have been government sponsored campaigns urging citizens to adopt water saving strategies. Every year the media reports on the amount of rainfall, centimeter by precious centimeter. We watch with abated breath as the dams fill up steadily and we become more and more frustrated as allocations of water to our homes decrease in the summer from twice a week, to once a week and sometimes even nothing.

So how come, the very organization that should be setting an example, showing the rest of us how to economize on our precious water, should be wasting it so wantonly? M

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pluralism in the classroom

Since the day evil entered our lives on 9 November 2005, I have been troubled by an issue that I have been grappling with for the last fifteen years and no-one has yet to give me a definitive answer.

For years we hear about conferences, workshops, seminars, tackling the issues of human rights, promoting pluralism that we all aspire to, etc etc, and yet the hard work of these professionals and academics hardly ever filters down to its most effective layer of society - the classroom. And this brings me to 'my issue'.

Coming from a christian arab family, I was keen that my children also learn the values of their muslim neighbours. And yet in the classroom my children were withdrawn from the Islamic studies class and put into a christian studies class. I objected and asked that my children remain with their muslim friends in this particular class. The headteacher was a bit taken aback - "You are the only christian family that has ever asked that - are you sure about this?" came the reply. There was no doubt in my mind being a citizen of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan that it was my duty to expose my children to another religion other than their own - isn't that what pluralism is all about? And yet, fifteen years on this situation still exists - creating a division where none should exist.

My question is why?

Why is it so difficult to change a curriculum that is obviously flawed and can only harm the greater interests of this country? There has to be greater understanding between Muslim and Christian at the grassroots level, so that we may always be one step ahead of those whose twisted, criminal and evil sense of being in the guise of one religion or another never gains the upperhand.

I sincerely believe that pluralism in the classroom is a good starting point to bolster human security in our everyday lives - another mechanism for good governance.


Of Herbs and History

While we are on the subject of spring – let's spare a thought for our environment – as Jordan's vistas, the lay of the land and the dwindling green belt and park areas are hijacked by short sighted town planners and turned into questionable commercial ventures. And the price we pay is the loss of vegetation, wild plants and herbs, mother nature's medicine cabinet and most ancient and enduring gift to mankind. Here is an overview:
Knowledge of plants’ healing powers has been handed down over thousands of years of recorded history and by that great oral tradition, the word of mouth. Our ancestors – the hunter gatherers of prehistoric times knew exactly what they were doing: Back in 1960, in a cave in Northern Iraq, archaeologists uncovered the burial site of a Neanderthal man dating back 60,000 years. What was unique about this site was the physical evidence of the use of herbal remedies. After analysis of the soil around the bones, extraordinary quantities of plant pollen were revealed. Some of these plants, such as yarrow (achillea millefolium), are medicinal plants still used throughout the world today.
We have ancient cultures to thank for much of 20th century pharmacopoeia that was derived from the herbal lore of native peoples throughout Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia. One of the first recorded "herbal guides" dating back five thousand years, came from the Middle East. Created by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, present day Iraq, cuneiform clay tablets record the use of 250 herbs for healing such as caraway, thyme and garlic. The Babylonians (c. 1800BC) famed for their ‘hanging gardens’ valued saffron, coriander, cinnamon and garlic for medicinal properties. In their ancient classic Epic of Gilgamesh, the importance of herbs is shown when the legendary hero loses the “mythical plant” of eternal life to a snake. And of course the Egyptians left behind invaluable medical papyri and inscriptions that testified to the importance of herbals in their everyday lives.

Perhaps the most important Islamic physician and chemist was Hakim Ibn Sina, born in AD980, known as Avicenna in the West. He embraced existing knowledge from previous civilizations, to produce his book ‘Canon of Medicine’, a knowledge-quest for medicinal properties in herbs, with the aim of universal and spiritual understanding. Ibn Sina is credited with producing the first essential oil – that of rose, an important element in Islam. Today, symbolic of the past, 10 tonnes of rose water is used to wash the walls of the Kab’a in the holy city of Mecca prior to the annual hajj (Muslim pilgrimage), a ritual carried out by the Saudi Royal family.

In the East, herbal medicine has always been an integral part of health care. But during the last three hundred years in the West, with discoveries in physics and chemistry, herbal medicine struggled to survive in a world hell-bent on the chemical “magic bullet” and the plunder of natural resources. Herbs were discredited as healers in favour of synthetic drugs that were seemingly capable of conquering disease.

Often gathered from the wild, the plant world has given us essentials such as Colchicine from the Autumn Crocus for the treatment of gout, Digitalis from the Foxglove for the treatment of irregular heartbeat and Salicylic Acid (Aspirin), a powerful painkiller from the bark of the willow tree.

Here in Jordan herbal medicine has been an integral part of rural primary health care, despite lack of acknowledgement, where the older women (Hajat) of remote pastoralist and nomadic communities have been the "gate-keepers of this ancient knowledge". They share a value with pioneering scientists by practising on themselves and their children first. They have kept the tradition alive because they spend half their lives on the land, in direct contact with nature, farming and cultivating the the cash crops such as figs, olives, grapes, lentils and wheat which the men will sell in the market. It is estimated that 60% of the population depend on herbal medicine in their daily lives, and often resort to it to treat their livestock too. Brushing aside attacks on their credibility from the medical profession, the only threat to the Hajat and their herbs seems to come from the disinterest of the younger generation. The Hajat respond to pain they see; what they don’t see they don’t treat - as is the case for chronic conditions such as cancer, that “balawi ajnabeeya” or ‘foreign catastrophe’!

Jordan offers a vast, diverse landscape from Mediterranean oak forests in the mountains of Ajloun, tropical vegetation in the Jordan Valley and on to the wonders of the desert in bloom during the few weeks of spring. Home to over 2,500 plant species, Jordanian botanists have identified at least 485 species from 99 different families that contain medicinal properties. Much of this information can be located at the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Jordan where extensive research has been undertaken in recent years in particular by Dr Talal Aburjai, an advocate of phytomedicine. With increasing scientific research into phytomedicine in Europe and Asia, Jordan may well be in a position to reap the rewards. Recent reports from Europe would suggest that our much loved green olive tree may offer an alternative to conventional antibiotics in the form of Oleuropein, extracted from the leaves, that has proven highly effective against some strains of bacterial infections.

And where would we be without the indispensable thyme, apart from a delicious addition to a typical Arabic breakfast, its oil dissolved in water is traditionally used as an antidote for snake and insect bites and is a useful digestive remedy; or mint an essential ingredient in Arabic tea, traditionally used as an antispasmodic, digestive tonic that has a powerful antiseptic/anaesthetic action, good for toothache or useful in the treatment of colic and flatulence.
It is time to get to the essence of the problem; credit tribal lore for its invaluable contributions to our well being and realise that preservation is the key. Let’s hope our pharmaceutical industry doesn’t wait too long to benefit from Jordan’s indigenous healing herbs.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Spring means Green Almonds

Almond trees are among the first trees to bloom in Jordan. The small pinkish white flowers appear on bare branches some weeks before spring flowers and warmer weather arrive. Farmers don’t allow the almonds to ripen on the trees though; they pick them and sell them green for a nice profit. Jordanians delight in eating them raw with or without a little salt.

When I first saw the fuzzy looking green almonds on a dish, each one the size of a prune, I had to ask what they were. To me almonds are the delicious and addictive roasted, salted nuts. But green almonds to eat? The only time I ate one I found it so sour that my mouth rebelled and I had difficulty swallowing it. I was amazed that my children loved them immediately, as if they were part of their Arab birthright.

Before a kilo of green almonds disappeared my mother-in-law would keep several handfuls aside to cook with a pot of grape leaves. I still find that not all Jordanians know that green almonds scattered among the layers of stuffed grape leaves add sourness that makes a tasty dish absolutely exotic. And the cooked green almonds are delicious! But this dish is possible only in the spring.

My Jordanian family is always aware of the arrival of a specific fruit or vegetable in the market. The new arrival triggers a debate on whether or not it’s worth the price today, or should one wait a few more days. The eagerness to savor the remembered taste often overrides the expense. I found this excitement strange and unfamiliar, since I was raised in a large American city and never experienced closeness to the earth. Fruits and vegetables are necessary for good nutrition; I have little cultural or emotional attachment to them. It took me some years to realize that every time I hear a discussion about the price of fruits and vegetables newly in season, I am witnessing thinly concealed joy. Jordanians celebrate the arrival of each fruit with anticipation and gratitude. Green almonds in spring always remind me of a wholesome and enviable attitude that Jordanians have and I never learned. ASH

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Spring - a new beginning

Today I was invited for a 'mensuf' (the Jordanian national dish) by the ladies of Bani Hamida in Makawir. We had a wonderful time eating, singing, and dancing. After lunch my friend and I decided to drive down to the Dead Sea on the new road from Makawir. It's a beautiful drive with stunning views of Machaerus, where King Herod built his palace, the hot springs of Ma'in, and the Dead Sea with the hills beyond. Several times we got out of the car to enjoy the scenery and to take pictures. All is quiet out there except for the sound of the wind, twittering birds, and occasionally, drifting up the valley, the song of a shepherd or the bleating of new-born lamb. Spring is in are blooming, the hills are green, and the trees are budding. It's a beautiful time of year....a time of new beginnings.

And yet this peaceful calm is really quite deceptive. Not a day goes by when one doesn't hear the painful news of yet another bombing, another targeted assassination, house demolition, raid, more death and destruction. Every day we go through check points and security checks to enter hotels, malls, restaurants, banks, etc. as if this were the most ordinary thing. Perhaps we accept it because they say this is all about democracy. I have my doubts.

My wish this spring, for all the people of this area, is that they too can have a new beginning....a new birth of freedom, justice and peace which will only come when we all realize that to build a country is harder than to destroy it, that to dialogue is more productive than to impose one's will on others, that to make peace is much harder than war. z Posted by Picasa


While my family in England are facing a hose pipe ban because of lack of water in a country where it seems to rain so much, we here in Jordan seem to be coming up with schemes to use more water!
It has been announced that hotels will get a continuous supply of water throughout the summer while we, mere citizens, have to do with once a week and in the summer that trickles in and does not get to the tank on the roof. I wish the water company would make conditions on the hotels that if they get water every day they should have to have water saving procedures in place. And all their bathrooms should have a notice explaining that Jordan is water scarce and guests should take care.
Now why have we suddenly gone mad with grass everywhere??? It takes a great deal of water and looking after and a fortune is being spent on small areas. Also what about the fountains which are built everywhere and only work for a short while and look filthy within months. How much water do they use?
I remember in 1969, living in what is now nearly the middle of the city but was then out in the country, not having mains water for six weeks and how everyone felt that there would never be enough water to sustain us in the coming years. And now the population exceeds 5 million plus tourists, refugees and huge building projects - where is it all coming from and how long will it last?????? T Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter in Jordan

Easter is a national holiday in Jordan – but it hasn’t always been so. Years ago the government excused Christians from coming to work on Sunday mornings, allowing them to attend church services if they wished. On the days of Christmas and Easter Arab Christians could have the entire day as a holiday. This set a precedence that was easy to abuse since the majority of Arab Christians in Jordan are either Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic. According to the Roman and Greek Church calendars Christmas is on December 25th and January 7th respectively. Easter also falls on different dates three out of every four years. Then there is a substantial Armenian population who has Christmas on January 19th. So a Jordanian Christian could have three Christmases and two Easters every year and no one would be the wiser!

This might still be situation, but the government decided to organize the Christians officially. Of course they didn’t do this alone; the Church fathers were very much involved. In the Arabic language Easter is called ‘The Big Feast’ leaving Christmas as the little one. I think that possibly there are more Greek Orthodox Christians than Roman Catholic, so the orthodox were able to designate the ‘big feast’ according to their calendar. By default, Christmas is December 25th. This coming Sunday, April 23rd, is Easter and a Jordanian holiday for all; schools, offices, and all government agencies will be closed. The same applies on December 25th. Christians are a tiny minority in Jordan, somewhere between 3-6% of the population. The fact that their religious holidays are official is exceptional and truly remarkable.

Monday, April 17, 2006

museum piece?

The British Royal Air Force first came to Jordan during the First World War and then in the 20s and 30s made Marka their main base in the country. Many of the original buildings built in the 30s still remain and it is just wonderful to explore them. This picture shows a Miele washing machine and spin drier, which must be at least 60 years old, side by side with a modern one. I emailed Miele to see if they would like it for their museum, but no reply!!! I must think up some way of preserving it somewhere. The buildings have the wonderful draught vents at the tops of the roofs. Original fans and switches are still there but unfortunately it is all slowly being eroded with low ceilings put in and modernisation. One beautiful rock with carvings on it has been painted white so you cannot see the letters properly - oh the military!!!

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The Vegetable Seller

Pomegranates on the Road to Jerash

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" said Martin Luther King. This statement appeared on my computer today; it happened to coincide with a visit from Issa, my vegetable seller.
Issa does not have a shop, a car, nor a regular supply of vegetables and fruits. But he does have his wits about him. Given the excess produce by a caring farmer, Issa arrives on my doorstep laden with plastic bags. He has been selling me parsley, aubergines, potatoes or cucumbers for the last twenty five years on a monthly basis, until recently. I had not seen him for more than four months and last week he reappeared. "Where have you been" I asked. "Palestine" he said "my mother is there. She is sick, but the Israelis would not let me stay, so I came back to my sister's house." I handed over a couple of dinars for the parsley and bag of potatoes – and he pressed the money to his forehead and beamed a beautiful smile as he glanced upwards in a silent prayer of thanks, as he always does. "My sisters can cook for me now" and off he trundled, with a wave of his arm, eager to get home for dinner. It was a long walk to the bus stop. Fortunately today it was not raining for in all the years I have known Issa, he has never worn a coat.

Issa, you see, has special needs. Unable to work, he sells vegetables from door to door and the money raised goes towards his upkeep. The approaching years do little to dim his spirits; but he can't understand why he can't stay with his mother.

Issa is a Palestinian from Ramallah and has been given refuge in Jordan since 1967. He has no grand ambition, nor unattainable desire but that which is God given: to live as one family in peace in his own homeland - Palestine.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spring in Jordan

It certainly is Spring in Jordan. Yesterday when I was coming home from playing tennis, the thermometer in my car read 32 degrees C (90F) and today it is 17C (62F) a 15 degree drop! The whole month has been like this, some very warm days followed by much cooler weather.

At the beginning of April, after being completely dry in March, we had some good rains and today we are supposed to have some more but so far there are only lots of clouds with a few tantalizing drops. Living in a country where normally there is no rain from April till November, we would all love to see more as this could very well be the last one until the fall.

What can I say about Jordan's glorious springs? The country is transformed into a mini Switzerland with multitudes of wild flowers and green grass everywhere. It is the time that I love to fill up my car with friends and explore the countryside to soak up the color and the cool. All too soon it comes to an end and the green turns to brown followed by hot sunny days. So you can't blame us for wanting to feast upon the green of spring as it lasts such a short time.

I haven't taken any pictures this spring but I have a few from last year that I will try to put on this site...if I can figure out how. The wild black Iris is Jordan's national flower and I found lots of them near one of our archeological sites, Um Al-Rassas and the red Anemone is the most widely found wild flower scattered around the countryside. Hope I succeed in getting the two pictures to appear!

Just looked out the window...still no rain...inshallah (God Willing) it is yet to come!

Silence of the Wind

We pulled the car over alongside a vast field of green growing wheat and sat pondering the silence of the wind – it is an ill wind that blows today up the Kings Highway to the ancient plains of Moab. I watched a small bird of prey hovering quite still high above the ground for a full ten minutes before it plunged to earth feasting on insects recently unearthed by the plough. Then watched the antics of the Hoopoe bird as it chased its mate in-between the sheaths of wheat a stone's throw from the car. It was silence of a sad kind. Our favourite aunt lay dying of cancer in a hospital bed surrounded by family and friends as the priest gave the last rites.
And then it was over.
And as I looked across the field at the tiny hamlet of houses, at the shepherd and his flock of sheep, I mourned not just for Leila, but for all those suffering death and despair throughout the Middle East today. I mourned for all those clinging to their culture by their fingertips as the ill conceived winds of change are imposed from afar by military might, deception and self interest.

And now the Dead Sea and the Jordan River are dying…..


Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Jordan River

I found yesterday’s editorial in the Jordan Times a powerful warning that must be heeded.
(See Friday/Saturday, April 14-15, 2006)
The subject and substance of the editorial was about the abuse and theft of the waters of the legendary Jordan River!

The seventh century A.D. mosaic map of the Middle East known as The Madaba Map shows the Jordan River clearly. It shows fish swimming down stream and then turning around at the mouth of the Dead Sea to avoid certain death. If the proportions of the map are at all accurate, the Jordan looked like a mighty river then.

In 1848 an American naval expedition led by Lt. Lynch navigated the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. The trip took eight days after which Lt. Lynch concluded that the river was too unpredictable for any large scale commercial navigation purposes. So there is proof that the river was navigable 150 years ago.

Before the June 1967 war anyone could easily visit the Jordan River, and local Christians often baptized their children in it. We baptized ours in 1962 in a memorable ceremony. The priest took them with their god parents in a small boat to the middle of the river where he could easily reach into the water for the baptism rite.

After June 1967 the Jordan River became an armistice line between the occupied West Bank and Jordan. Actually, the crossing has the attributes of an international border. Although I don’t know what the legal status of the Jordan River is at the moment, approaching its banks is nearly impossible and very dangerous. The only place I know of where one can get near the river is at the newly developed Baptism site. During my last visit there I was impressed with the historical and Biblical significance of the whole area. However, the Jordan River is dirty and polluted. I can’t imagine much life surviving in the shallow water so filled with silt that it no longer looks like water.

Are there international bodies which can help us save the Jordan River? Are there international accords that can be implemented? I know it is imperative that something must be done and done soon, or the Jordan River will cease to be.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Robert Fisk

I just finished reading Robert Fisk's latest book, The Great War for Civilization - The Conquest of the Middle East, all 1200 + pages! Although I felt before beginning it that it was going to be a challenge to get through, I found, on the contrary, that it was hard to put down. The challenge I had was absorbing all of the details and events that he covered. I should have known that it was worth a read after having read his previous "thick" book about Beirut, Pity the Nation. I find that I go through jags of reading books about the Middle East and then I have to resort to something lighter, that presently being Jhumpa Lahiri's, The Namesake...another good read. I also do a lot of reading on the internet and tackle at least a couple of articles from the online NYTimes daily. Which leads me to compare what I have access to today to what I had available to read when I arrived in Jordan in 1963!

We, inshallah (God willing) are going to build a house in the coming year and move out of the one that we have occupied since 1965. In the process I am going through stacks of "junk" that have accumulated over the years and today found an issue of The Jerusalem Times published on Sunday November 24, 1963 headlining World Mourns Kennedy. This 4 page paper, printed in Jerusalem was the only newspaper easily available in Amman. We could also get the New York Herald Tribune, European Edition (I have that November 23-24 edition too) or The Sunday Times, but they would be several days old before we finally received them.

Now Jordan has a daily, The Jordan Times, and a weekly The Star newspaper available plus innumerable locally published magazines in the English language for us to consume. We are also fortunate to have a great communications infrastructure that makes available on a subscription basis, the world wide web via both dial up or ADSL lines. That plus countless internet cafes allow nearly everyone who wishes to be, to be connected to the internet. What a contrast to Jordan 43 years ago!

I won’t begin to talk about how email has changed my life…that will have to wait for another blog on another day. I hope that you have liked my first attempt at doing this…perhaps I will become inspired to do it again before too long….let’s see what other junk I find while cleaning my closets that might jog my memory!!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

one brave Jordanian

Have you ever heard of Mostafa Salameh? He is a brave courageous Jordanian who is attempting to climb the seven summits of the world. He has succeeded in raising the Jordanian flag on the first three summits. In March last year he reached 26,500 ft of Mt Everest but a severe stomach ulcer forced him to be evacuated to hospital. He will make another attempt in March 2007.

I met him this evening, what a wonderful man who is showing the world what a Jordanian can do - for those in Jordan there is an exhibition at Wild Jordan and those outside Jordan visit his web site

Let us begin

This blog, Jordan Journals, was created today, and since I came to Jordan first and am the oldest of the ladies, I will begin.

I arrived in Jordan in the spring of 1959 and was introduced to my new family - which was actually a huge Arab Christian Tribe. During the past four decades I have become as much a member of this tribe as I am ever going to be and still hold on to my own identity. I have also learned much about the Arab world - its language, food, customs, values, and traditions.

In 1959 Jordan had a population of about one and a half million people and the capital, Amman, had about 200,000 inhabitants. There were no traffic lights anywhere, few people had their own cars, and maybe 12 women in the entire country had a driver's license. If members of my husband's family who lived in the hometown of Madaba, about 45 minutes away, came to visit us in Amman, we needed to feed them and offer them a bed for the night. Since I came from a big city in the USA, I was amazed that life was so simple here. I had no concept of how Jordanians lived. My ignorance and cultural shock seemed limitless then. The learning process began and with it came a strong desire to share what I have discovered with others who have never visited the Middle East. I hope my comments will help to make Jordan a familiar place and Jordanians a real people.