Ajlun, Jerash, Aqaba: "Ali Hassan"
The H.K. of Jordan
June 2, 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
I am standing on a terrace perched on a steep hillside in the north of Jordan. The view is historic.
Below and to the west and south is the fertile and green historic Jordan Valley.
Beyond the tomato farms, olive trees and apricot orchards lies the historic Jordan River. Across the river lie the Palestinian Territories, Israeli Settlements, military roads and "no-man's land."
To the northwest, beyond the summer mist, is the Israeli port city of Haifa and to the north, the historic city of Tiberius, the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights.
All of these historic sites lie less than one hundred kilometers or sixty miles away.
Suddenly, above the terrace the most historic sight and sound appear. A sight and sound beyond history, a young boy gently guides his grazing herd of goats along the hilltop, bells clanging in the late afternoon breeze. Positively Biblical.
The food is arriving so I must take my place at the long oval table. Yes, I am a guest again, this time at the home of my new friend Ali Hassan.
I met Ali on the road. I was driving south and I paused at a crossroads to check my map. Ali was diving north, and he dutifully stopped to help. In a matter of minutes, Ali arranged for my driver in Wadi Rum, and invited me to his new hillside home in Ajlun.
Since this spacious and airy home is still under construction, we are having a late lunch with the painters and carpenters. The foreman is Ali's cousin, and Ali's cousin's wife prepared the meal:
Noodle soup, a huge platter of rice and chicken and vegetables and assorted spicy salads and hummus and pickles and olives and bread and bread and more bread. And tea. The workers and Ali and I leave nothing but crumbs. The workers have been working and Ali and I have been tramping around his citrus orchards where we stop to admire the historic views and to discuss, just briefly, the political and historical matters of this area.
We missed the Qala'atar-Rabad, a castle built by the Arabs as protection against the Crusaders, but we did manage a leisurely visit to Tell Mar Elias, a hill in the region of Tishbe, the hometown of the Prophet Elijah, and the site of the remains of a large Byzantine church.
South of Ali's home and north of the capital Amman lies Jerash, a prehistoric as well as ancient site. Dating back to Neolithic times, the area grew under Alexander the Great (333 BCE) and later after the conquest of the area by the Roman General Pompey (64 CE). Jerash became part of the Decapolis, the commercial league of cities formed by Pompey.
Jerash, one of Jordan's main attractions, is a truly historical city of impressive and monumental Roman ruins. I enter through Hadrian's Gate, a huge arch built in honor of the Emperor's visit in 129 CE. The Hippodrome of ancient chariot races, horse races and athletics is my next stop. I wander through the distinctive and graceful Oval Plaza, 90m long and 80m wide with fifty-six Ionic columns that surround the original curved paving stones.
The South Theater seats five thousand spectators; the North Theater, the "Off Broadway" version is only slightly smaller and may have been a concert venue. I discover original carvings on the entrance walls (Pan and his pipes) and original seat numbers (Roman Numbers, of course) that are etched into the VIP sections.
For excellent views of ancient and modern Jerash I climb the hill to The Temple of Artemis and then down the hill to the Temple of Zeus.
I end my hot, late afternoon wanderings at the market stalls and I try to purchase a small embroidered pillow case to add to my collection. When the smiling vendor mentions that his mother actually stitched the fabric, I smile myself. Really? Where have I heard that one before?
Ali and I agree that he would continue to be my guide in the Arab Middle East. I want to go to Syria, just north of here, but when I request a visa, the sour-faced rep at the Syrian Embassy in Amman says, "No way! Maybe in one month." Their loss.
So Ali and I will drive south again, to his current home and family in Aqaba. Ali, 48, has one wife, eight children and a few grandchildren. From Aqaba, Ali and I will take the ferry across the Gulf of Aqaba to The Sinai and Egypt where they issue visas on arrival.
I am very sad to leave Jordan. Everyone I met is pleased to "welcome" an American. The generous and gracious hospitality is the traditional trait of all the citizens. I am happy to be here among them. I will miss them.
And when I return, Ali has promised me the new guest room with its cute balcony and the historic view of the green hills of the Jordan Valley.