I just got back from 10 days in the Middle East, exploring Jordan with the Jordan Tourism Board and a handful of bloggers, writers, and novelists. I’ve been battling jet lag in Montreal like a warrior, snoozing off and on in bed while trying to wrap my head around the 30+ pages of Moleskine travel notes I’ve collected.
And to think, for a few weeks I considered not going at all. I was bummed out about wrapping up my Iceland trip, and more than a little exhausted. But who turns down an opportunity to check out Asia for the first time? Pfft.
My parents were freaked out about the trip. When they researched Jordan, the first thing they read was “Jordan is bordered by Syria, Iraq…” Fair enough. But Jordan is an extremely progressive country, and never once did I feel threatened or uncomfortable. I travelled with a group for most of the time, of course, but even when left to my own devices nothing went wrong. I did get a lot of up-and-down glances one night for wearing a knee-length dress out in Amman, however. It was a long-sleeved, closed-neck dress…about the most conservative thing I own. Seriously. No one gave me any trouble, but my pale ginger legs stuck out like glow sticks in a nightclub.
A few more reasons to love Jordan:
Women are very much respected. 15 seats in Parliament are reserved for women, and the Queen of Jordan is one powerful and respected lady. She’s extremely educated, devoted to women’s rights, and even has a video blog with an aim to deconstruct stereotypes about Arabs. Wearing a hijab isn’t necessary, but most women (including Christians) do so for both religion reasons and cultural respect.
There is no real religious animosity. I learned a lot from my guide Mohammad. One day in Madaba, I asked him if Christians and Muslims were fairly separated in the country. He said no, and as an example he explained how he never even knew one of his closest friends of eight years was a Christian until a few years ago. The conversation simply never came up. Christians and Muslims live together quite peacefully in Jordan, and the Jordan River is a frequent meeting spot for leaders to open the Muslim-Christian dialogue.
I am by no means a religious person, but another of my favourite quotes of the trip also came from Mohammad. He said: “Religion does not cause warfare or death. It’s all politics. Politicians use religion as a weapon.” Jordan’s had its fair share of troubles like any other country, but it’s a pretty exemplar spot for preaching acceptance and religious tolerance.
The hospitality. While wandering through a busy Amman souk, many elderly men sang out “Welcome to Jordan!” People would shout the same greeting to us from their cars. We were always welcomed wherever we went, and although people selling their wares could be pushy at times, they generally leave you alone if you are adamant.
One of my favourite memories: while trying to navigate the narrow streets of Ajloun, our bus got stuck behind a car that had stalled out. The poor driver was doing his best to fix the situation, but he literally had nowhere to move the car out of the way.
Mohammad jumped down from the bus and went to investigate, just as a police officer approached the driver and started motioning angrily for him to clear out of the way. A few locals gathered. A discussion occurred, and suddenly a few men began pushing the car out of the way. I’m not kidding. They tried to push it into a parking spot, which didn’t fit, and then they pushed it down the street until the road was cleared. We all clapped and cheered. When Mohommad returned to the bus, he had a message to us from the police officer. “On behalf of Jordan, we are truly sorry.”
Jordan was so different from any travel experience I’ve had so far, and I’d recommend a visit to anyone. I DO suggest a tour guide if you’re a little unsure, however, and if you’re interested in having Mohammad guide you he comes HIGHLY recommended. Just leave me a message and I’ll send you his contact details. Shukran!
PS I just added “Asia” as a new category. ERMAGHERD.