Saturday, November 16, 2013

My Jordan

It would be a shame to be here in Jordan and not share something about this remarkable land. The picture above is taken from my hotel window in Sixth Circle. In it, you can see how the white stone buildings stretch on and on and on. No picture, however, can provide the feeling of standing anywhere in the city of Amman and seeing the seven hills strewn with houses that, for the most part, look little different today from what they have looked like for time immemorial. Even more difficult for a photograph to show would be the feeling that many report, the one I felt a little more than six years ago when I came here for the first time: a sense of belonging. Not to the city; the belonging is greater than that. Not to the country; the belonging is greater than that, too. Not to the land, for the belonging is greater than even that. The belonging is more than simply to a place, it is to a time. And it is more than to a time; it is to all time. As I stood for the first time, looking out over the ancient hills that comprise and surround Amman, the sand and dust beyond that will eventually turn into the Wadi Rum desert, the crumbling stone artifacts that represent the old Roman Ampitheater or the Citadel, the modern cars that swoosh past with seeming oblivion to the holiness of this land, and the people dressed in anything from total-cover garb that goes back to the days before those modern cars and modern buildings to Western t-shirts and jeans, one suddenly understands where one belongs in this life. Amman joins the past, the present, and the future into one time. Where one belongs is in the middle of this mixture, in the "now." We all have a place in this universe; it just can be felt a little more strongly and a little more clearly in Amman than in any other place on whose soil I have trod. Many visitors have told me that they have felt the same thing.

I suppose there are other cities in the Middle East that might awaken similar feelings. Damascus is one of them. I have been there. It is a great, ancient city, but the lightness of the stone in Amman and the lightness of being that it awakens is, for me, more comforting, more enticing.

There are some wonderful places in Jordan besides Amman. Most are fairly well known, but just in case, let me share my favorites and the reason for that.

There is, of course, the Dead Sea. I have a special relationship with the Dead Sea for in 2004, when I first visited it, my arm had had been bleeding every day for more than two years from a dermatofibroma. A cancer surgeon had done a biopsy and declared it benign, but it created a malignant mess on all my blouses. After swimming (or bobbing) in the Dead Sea, I fell asleep under the warm, soothing sun, awakening only when the sun climbed higher into the sky and began to bake me like a pie, literally, for by that time, the salt and minerals had encrusted me. Itching from salt on skin, I walked over to one of the many spigots available on the beach and washed off all the salt I could find. I was still partially encrusted and decided to take a shower in the hotel day room that friends and I had rented on the beach. After a leisurely, cool shower, I noticed quite by chance that there was no blood on the towel. There was always blood on the towel after a shower. I looked at my arm. What the heck! I could not find the dermatofibroma. I trotted over to the mirror for a closer and fuller look. By golly, it was gone. All gone! No sign that it had ever been there. Unbelievable! So, indeed, I will always have a special relationship with the Dead Sea.

Then there is the great desert of Wadi Rum. One can easily understand why the Israelis were lost here for 40 years whether by Divine plan or simply by the nature of the terrain. Watching the Bedouin navigate the sand dunes in their contemporary four-wheeled vehicles is quite a contrast: the land of old and the people of new. Not that new, though. Many old traditions remain. I love Wadi Rum. I have a special relationship with the desert, as well as the sea, for Donnie and I spent a blissful week living with Bedouin desert dwellers during the Eid of 2005. Donnie would spend early morning and evening hours photographing the desert at the time when it was most fully clothed in splendid colors while Sabah, the youngest son in the Bedouin family, would lie on the desert sand, watching him, not moving so as to encourage the birds that would gently settle down near us to stay just a little longer, and marveling at the caravans of riderless camels making their way back home to their Bedouin owners. I particularly adored the baby white camel that Sabah's parents owned. I knew that some day she would grow up to be as ornery, even vicious, as the camels that we were gazing upon from the safety of our piece of desert sand, but for now I enjoyed her willingness to let me sit nearby and observe her relaxing in the sun and chewing on grass, completely oblivious of any needs except those of nature.

Other places for which I have a special fondness in Jordan include some of the expected places: the Red Sea, Jerasch, Mount Nebo, the Madaba Church, but not Petra. That is only because I have not been to Petra (I know; that is scandalous), but Donnie has and is love with that place. I would provide some additional pictures and words for those places, but I am out of time and space, so I will leave to your imagination, if you have not visited this charmed and charming land, just what is so special about each of them. (Oh, uh, yes, there is always Wikipedia if you cannot stand not to know!)

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