We left our spectacular looking Casbah hotel to spend an afternoon in Amman, the capital of Jordan. Along the way we stopped at Bethany on the Jordan, the spot where believers feel that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. The river was much larger and flowed strongly in those days so the spot that has been marked with a variety of structures over the years that have been swept away in floods. A few tantalizing bits of mosaic hinted at what used to be floors. Recently this area was a no man’s land full of mines until the Oslo Accords brought a better relationship between Israel and Jordan. Our guide urged us to stay on the path just in case. A variety of Christian organizations have begun building churches around the site. The Greek Orthodox Church named John the Baptist of course, was especially impressive. Once we got to the river, groups of Christians who had come from the Palestine side were praying, singing hymns, and plunging into the muddy water. Local soldiers guarded the site, perhaps to stop illegal entry from folks on both sides of the river. I put up my camera to take their photo and thought they were giving me a friendly wave until I realized they were telling me not to. Too late!
On the drive to Amman we passed large fields of banana trees, corn, date palms. and sugar cane. While the land is fertile due to all the floods in the past, it must be drip irrigated today. There never is enough water in this arid part of the world. We climbed quickly over 4,000 feet to Amman. An ear popping ride.
Jordan has about ten million people; almost half live in Amman. It has assumed a role as the savior of refugees: Kuwaitis came here when Sadaam Hussein invaded, Palestinians came every time there was a war with the Israelis, the Lebanon war brought another wave, ditto the Iraq War, and most recently masses of Syrians have sought refuge here. Since most of the refugees want to live in Amman, housing prices have skyrocketed. Our guide Hadar lives half an hour out of town as a result. I have wondered how the Jordanians manage all these desperate people. The Saudi’s subsidize the relief efforts, sending lots of cash to insure they have no skin in the game. The Jordanians have made it all work under the leadership of King Hussein. He and his son who will succeed him, have gotten wonderful educations and chosen competent advisors and have put what they have learned into practice. If you have to have a king, it’s great if he knows what he’s doing. Nearly every Jordanian family has a member or two working overseas, mostly in good jobs because they are well educated. They often send home 33% of their salary. Here a family is a team. Since so many people have come to Amman the traffic has gotten gridlocked. The locals are busy building three level roads all over the city, but they can’t keep up.
We visited the King Abdullah mosque, the largest in Amman. We sat on the thick carpeting on the floor and Nader talked to us about Islam and how people here practice it. While we were there a live singer issued the call to afternoon prayer, adding a special ambience to our visit. His voice is recorded and broadcast to mosques all over the city. This is much appreciated by the mosques whose singers were less talented. It almost took me out of the bad mood I always get when a mosque requires the women to wear a hooded robe when inside. I better get used to it!