More about Jordan


[large 11th Century Crusaider Castle in backgroud – shortly after this picture was take a snowball fight began]

We left the day after Christmas, the flight was two hours late leaving Accra which technically put it on the 27th, not the 26th. Leaving was the easy part, getting the tickets, another matter. I went to the offices of Egypt Air, and booked the flights, actually, I went there several times, and each time didn’t have the feeling that I had done anything. The office staff whisper, and so I have trouble hearing, then they want a passport, to prove that Anna is a child, and then to pay for the tickets, they want US dollars. So I go to the embassy, but they won’t let me cash checks of that amount, and if you want dollars, you have to fill out the paperwork a day ahead, and then be sure to come in the next day, or he might not bring the cash for two days. It’s the problem with a cash economy, there is no credit, no credit cards accepted, no checks, and so for big ticket items, you need a box of cedis, or US dollars. So I go to a travel agent, maybe they will take credit cards. But no, even though the VISA sign is on the door, they too want cash, and not just any cash, US dollars, and not just any US dollars, they want crisp new ones. I get in an argument with the manager, who says one of the bills is too old for him to take. “I’m sorry,” I say. “These are US dollars that come from our embassy, and they are good. So take it or leave it.” It wasn’t that easy, it took three more trips to the agent, but finally, the day before Christmas, we had tickets to Egypt, but our tour starts in Amman, Jordan. It costs $100 more per ticket to purchase tickets from Cairo to Amman in Accra, so we land in Cairo on the red-eye hoping to buy tickets and get visas for Jordan in the five hours of layover we have. Turns out this was no problem, the problem was the unseasonably cold weather.

After some very good coffee, we got directions to City Star Mall at the coffee shop. Directions were written in Arabic, and looking at them Fox noted, “I just hope it doesn’t say, “Rob and kill the infidels! It doesn’t, and we spent a delightful few hours at the mall buying some warm clothes. The re-acculturation was strange – back to civilization. We have gotten so used to Accra, it seems strange to have all the amenities, like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Hardies, Levis jeans, a real bookstore, and all of these places took VISA. WOW!

[CityStarMall Pictures] -To get an idea of the perspective, I’ve made it B&W all except for Anna and Suzanne who are at the center of where there is color.

Then it was off to Amman, Jordan and when we land it is snowing! When I was there 10 years ago, on a seminary sponsored trip, I remember it snowing in Amman, (and they told us it was the first time in seven years). Our first day we put on all the warm cloths we had, and our guide and driver felt so sorry for us, they gave us their own coats and gloves and scarves.

[Jerash Oval] [Jerash Temple]

In Jordan we saw Jerash and Mt. Nebo, swam in the Dead Sea, and spent a day at Petra. It turns out we were quite blessed, only two days before, Petra had been closed due to snow, and the people who had come to see it were trapped, the roads were closed. The tour called for staying in a Bedouin camp but our guide said that was ridiculous – no one could do that in this weather. So, we switched to a few star hotel, that had internet access.

[Mt.Nebo – see the Moab, where book of Ruth took place]

[Dead Sea – We’re in our bathing suits and wearing coats. You’ve really got to want to swim in the dead sea.]
[Dead Sea – Family float swimming]
[Dead Sea – Fox and Steve getting a “mud treatment”]

[Saddam]
On the morning we went into Petra, we turned on CNN to learn (about 30 minutes after) that Saddam had been executed. We had been awake since 4:30am when the Mosque next to the hotel, broadcast a 2 hour call to prayer over the loudspeakers. This was before the second video with sound had been released, so all day long people were trying to make since of what had happened, and who to blame. We claimed we were either from Ghana, or Canada. Not a good time to be an American in the Middle East. This was the first English speaking news we had heard since we left Accra (and there’s not much news there either). It was nice to have the news, though, but a strange time to be in Jordan, with Saddam and the Hajj and the big Muslim holiday (the reason for the two hour call to prayer, usually its just 30 minutes long, but just as early). However, the anti-American sentiment was not that noticeable, really; people were kind and hospitable.

As we are preparing to leave Petra, it is discovered that Anna had left her glasses at the restaurant at the far end of Petra, and so I took a donkey back. The donkeys are small animals here, and my feet were only about 8 inches off the ground. We bounce along, it is much faster than walking, but not as fast as a camel. When we get to the restaurant, I ask the manager about the glasses, and he is completely unhelpful. I start searching the trash, and find ours. Funny how you can dig to your level, and find what you tossed out, the apple core, the orange, the juice container. They all contain our signatures, but there are no glasses. The donkey driver sees me and takes pity. He goes and finds the owner, and then they take me to the office. It is far away from the restaurant, inside an old building, in a back room, and I figure I’m either getting set up for a mugging, or going to find Anna’s glasses. Petra is empty now except for its residents. We walk in the cold, dark, unlit room, and the owner opens a drawer there he sees a set of glasses. They are Anna’s! I couldn’t believe it. So I dash the guy, and then its back to the entrance by donkey.

[Petra – tomb where he was born]
As we bounce back, I learn about the Bedouin ways, how his family has always lived in Petra. From time to time the government tries to drive out the Bedouin, but they can’t. This is their home. He points out one of the tombs carved out of sandstone and says “I was born in that cave.” I can’t even see how you would get to it. I learn he has seven children, and he has been married seven years, so I know the age of his children. “Seven is a good number,” he says, “and now I will stop.” His name is Ishmael. He learns I’m a pastor, and so we talk faith. He has so many questions about Christians, and I do my best to explain. I ask about the Hajj, when he will make his pilgrimage, and about the Bedouin governance, like who decides who gets to live in what cave? Though he has never been to school, his English is excellent, learned from the tourists, he says. “Are you learning Chinese?” I ask.

I’ve been surprised by the number of mainland Chinese on this trip. I would say about one third of the other tourists are Chinese. They are a polite bunch, and you can see the excitement on their old faces, how they never thought they would be allowed to leave the country to see the majesty of Petra.

[Petra – Anna on big camel]

Then the donkey driver’s cell phone goes off, singing some sort of song in Arabic. “How funny,” I think. He is living as his family has lived for 1000s of years, being born in a cave, working Petra as it must have been worked in the days of the caravans, and perhaps the biggest change in all these years is the cell phone. It is his brother who lives in Spain, calling to wish him a happy holiday. They chat away, and when he hangs up I ask about working today, on the Muslim Sabbath, and a high holy day for them. He says he has seven children, and Allah doesn’t want them to go hungry, and besides, Petra has been closed much of the week, due to the snow. So I give him what I have, and we promise to meet again in 10 years, when he will introduce me to his grown children and have tea.

People were very friendly and hospitable, and in Jordan, English speaking. Though our State Department has Jordan on a watch list that doesn’t recommend travel to it, we never felt our lives in danger, or threatened. I remember this from 10 years ago, how friendly everyone was. We had been trapped in our hotel all day, and that night we snuck out to go exploring in the snow covered city. We got in a snowball fight with some Jordanian youths, and had tea with the guards, guarding the military barracks (complete with AK-47s). This time, my snowball fight was with the kids overlooking the ruins of an 11th century crusader castle that was too covered with snow to visit.
[WadiRum – 7pil]

Finally we briefly toured Wadi Rum, the desert where Laurence of Arabia was active in the first world war, and then it was back to Egypt by large boat.

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