26 October, 2009

While in the Kingdom of Jordan........

I have been wondering: how can a country with as little resources achieve so much? Unlike some of its neighbors, apart from: phosphates, potash, some oil and gas, and uranium - the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan isn't rich in natural resources. Come to think of it: even Yemen is more endowed. And yet, the Kingdom has done wonders with the little it has and given its citizens a comparatively high quality of life. Its greatest resource is its very smart, shrewd leaders and hard-working, disciplined work force.

The hilly city of Amman, its capital and largest city, is its showcase. It has an exceptionally pleasant weather and is very neat, disciplined, care-free, cosmopolitan and vibrant. And unlike other urban areas in the region, especially in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf which are mainly kept going by the large work force from foreign countries, mainly from South Asia - Amman is managed and run by Arabs. Best of all, is Amman's stunning architecture.


For some, it may be 'bland and lifeless', but it's that monotony of 'whiteness', 'cubes' and sameness that gives the city its wonderful, fascinating beauty and originality. Though the majority of modern buildings are made of  white bricks and white Jordanian limestone as dictated by the city's municipal law, Amman has many old structures and many from ancient civilizations - which blend beautifully with modern buildings.


Jordan earns a good amount of foreign currency from tourism. Above, at the highest point in Amman, is the Citadel - ruins, which are mainly Roman and Islamic, said to be dating back to before Christ; and in the distance beyond, is the Roman Theater, thought to have been built about 2,000 years ago.


While we were in Jordan, the city celebrated its centennial anniversary of the founding of the first municipal council of Amman - on Friday, October the 9th. It was attended by hundreds of thousands of Jordanians and visitors. Hundreds of cars and carriages were drawn by horses and over 2,000 people participated - reenacting the hundred years of  the transformation and civilization of Amman. The carnival started from the famous Roman Amphitheater and went through the old part of the city.


Above, attracting visitors since ancient times, is the very scenic Dead Sea, at about 420 meters below sea level, it is the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface found on dry land and it is also the deepest hyper-saline lake in the world. It is almost nine times as salty as the ocean. Due to its unique mineral content, the sea is a major attraction for health research and treatment. I did swim in the sea, and incredibly - I managed, without effort, to easily float and actually lie on my back for hours in the water; the Dead Sea has a lot of salt in it and as salt water is heavier - denser - than regular water, and as we are lighter than normal water and can easily float in water, hence it is even much easier to float in the Dead Sea.


Jordan has some of the best educational institutions in the Middle East. Above: the largest and oldest university in the Kingdom  and one of the most prestigious in the region - the University of Jordan. It has many students from other parts of the Arab world including from Yemen.


The Kingdom too, has some very excellent hospitals, like the King Hussein Cancer Center, above, in Amman. It is said to be the 'leading comprehensive cancer care and treatment' in the Middle East. The Kingdom has many other fine hospitals and medical centers.


One of the most pleasing sites in Amman is the greenery. Wherever you go, you will find trees and plants: olive, pine, cedar, oak, fig, palm and vines are all over, which give the city a unique, spectacular look and scent. Even on many rooftops and balconies, there are many potted plants.

 

I was surprised but elated to learn that Hadhramout exists in Amman. In the form of restaurants that make and serve Hadhramy dishes, especially the renowned Hadhramy mandy; the food is more expensive than back home, but tastes just as good as those made in the best restaurants in Hadhramout.


But I wasn't happy to see the many fast food outlets in the city. Fast food maybe cheap and sort of convenient for the young and those on the move, but its very adverse health effects are undeniable and many.


I wasn't happy too, to see a structure in the very pleasant Amman of two looming towers - above. I was surprised that the planners of the city who have done such an excellent job of keeping Amman indigenous and original, could accept such an aberration and monstrosity to be constructed within their city. Referred to, by Jordanians - most of whom seem to be proud of it - as 'the two towers', the buildings are completely out of place in the splendid metropolis.


And I and my wife, though we did visit and see the Jordan River and the baptism site of Jesus, were rather very disappointed that we couldn't cross over to the Palestinian West bank and visit Jerusalem and Al'Aqsa - just about 80 km. across the border from Amman. Israel still continues to occupy and control the West Bank. I took the above photo of the Palestinian side while standing on the Jordanian side, with just the River Jordan between us.

Jordan has many good things going for it, except for three things that I noticed: the Kingdom has a very serious water shortage, which might be very hard to solve; most of Jordan's citizens are young - about 70% are reportedly under the age of thirty - how all these young people will be employed is another enormous problem for the Kingdom's planners and leadership; and, I noticed that, most Jordanian men and some women smoked - this can be costly for its health system.

Through the ages, ancient and now, Jordan's history has been shaped and conditioned by many civilizations and people. In recent times, it is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has very much affected it; it has caused immense suffering for Jordanians. At the same time, many Palestinians, by being a part of Jordan and a part of its production machine - have been a boon for it and have boosted its strength. The Iraqi situation, as sad as it is, was another blessing for the Kingdom: in the early 1990s - fleeing Kuwaitis and other Gulf citizens, many of who were wealthy, invested heavily in Jordan; and a few years ago, when the Americans invaded and destabilized Iraq - many Iraqis fled to Jordan, boosting it with their wealth and brains. And the instability in Lebanon and Beirut, has made many investors and visitors to turn to and opt for Jordan and Amman. 

Few people know that, of all Arab countries - the Hashemite Kingdom has done the most for Palestinians. Many, and maybe, most Jordanian citizens now, are of Palestinian origin. Of all Arab states, the Kingdom too, has the most Palestinian refugees. Few people know, too, that many - Circassians, Chechens, Armenians, Kurds, and Gypsies live in the Kingdom and, though integrated, they still maintain their separate identities. Many Iraqis who fled the conditions in their country, now live in Jordan; and so do some Egyptians, a few Syrians and Lebanese. This extensive diversity of people in Jordan, is a testament to the Hashemite Kingdom's and its people's very welcoming and hospitable character.