Monday 7th July 2014
I left Jerusalem by public van. For the last time, as on several previous excursions, I went out over the Mount of Olives and down the road through the Judaean wilderness from Jerusalem towards Jericho. We continued on to the Allenby Bridge border crossing, where I passed through Israeli security without any problems. Then another bus took us through the several kilometres of no-man’s-land – it really is a barren place!
P.S. I pulled my walking boots on for the first time in five weeks. It was easier to wear them than to pack them! I have been wearing walking sandals for the past five weeks. The boots, once so familiar, as familiar as a comfortable sock or a second skin, felt strange! Either the soles of my feet have softened so are not accustomed to the boots, or have hardened and adjusted to the walking sandal so are not accustomed to the boots. But they settled quickly enough as I wore them all day.
The Allenby Bridge was underwhelming. It was so small I barely noticed it, let alone photograph it, thinking it was just a section of the road. Neither did I see the Jordan River! Either it was hidden in the reeds or I was asleep!
On the other side, I passed through Jordanian immigration without any trouble – I had arranged a visa for Jordan when in Rome, without which I could not have gone across this border, but would have had fly from Tel Aviv to Amman or travel north or south to other crossings, where a visa would be granted on arrival.
Then I caught a shared taxi to Amman. Including a 4o minute wait in bus stop in Jerusalem, and waits at each of the border crossings, and waiting for the shared taxi to fill, the journey from door to door took about four to five hours.
For information on the Allenby Border crossing see:
First impressions – Jordan is a very rocky country. There are rocky hills along from the border to Amman. Jordan is also an agricultural country, for there are date palms and other crops wherever irrigation makes production possible in this hot, dry land.
N.B. Like Israel, Jordan also claims a baptismal site on the River Jordan!! I saw the road signs.
From the river to the capital, Amman, it was a climb up nearly all the way. Amman itself climbs up and down the hillsides of the valley around which it is located.
Where there are hills, as I have learned to my cost over the past three months, on the Camino in Spain, and in my excursions in Israel, where there are hills, there are also steps!!
Amman and the other towns I passed through are not unlike parts of Pakistan. The same hot dusty, slightly run-down look, as in some of the large provincial towns of the Punjab. The same rubbish around the streets. The same proliferation of mosques. The same, high curb along the roads as in cantonments in Pakistan – is it part of the British heritage?
The markets are much the same as others I have seen in many places, Lahore, Delhi, Istanbul …
A young man outside a craft/souvenir shop offered to show me how he makes images in sand inside a bottle. It was very clever. He has a variety of coloured sands. He mixes a base made from different colours and pours it into the bottle. With a funnel, he introduces a particular coloured sand, pouring and pushing it along the side of the base sand already inside the jar to make the design/shape that he is creating, in this case, as you can make out, the lower half of a camel.
When he has finished the design, he pumps a rod into the sand in the bottle to pack it in tight so that the design is “fixed” and won’t dissolve with the otherwise proverbial shifting sands, then glues over the top to hold it securely in place.
Amman has a Roman Amphitheatre. So the Romans were here long ago. There are other Roman ruins in Amman and in other cities of Jordan, some of them quite well preserved.
My overall impression is of greater poverty than in Israel, though not as much as in the Palestinian Territories. I am guessing that it is a struggling economy. The infrastructure looks a bit run-down. The goods on sale in the shops are older models, air-coolers rather than air-conditioners, hawkers selling a mixed variety of second-hand used goods, all indicative of greater economic hardship.
Jordan hosts many refugees from neighbouring countries, and has done so for many years, from Palestine, from Iraq, from Syria, from Egypt …. The numbers are huge, a significant proportion of the population. It must be a big burden for a struggling economy. The longer they stay, they will have more and more ramifications on the composition of the nation in the future.
However, I have heard that it is at present a very stable place, in a very roilsome part of the world!
My other impression is that the Jordanian people are more friendly than in Jerusalem, where the shopkeepers were certainly keen to engage with passing tourists to make sales, but otherwise seemingly not interested. Here there are more people disinterestedly saying “welcome” as I walked around, more pleased to see a “tourist” (we tourists are certainly a rarer species here than in Jerusalem, at least in the parts around which I was walking today, though I am sure there are hordes of tourists at the tourist sites of Jordan, even if not so many at this time because of the summer heat!), more willing to engage in conversations.
I have been getting a few laughs from a line I learned in Bethlehem. The shopkeepers call you “friend”. They want you to buy from them. They want you to come into their shop. So one of the first questions they ask is, “Where do you come from?” Then they know in which language to engage you! I answer “Australia”. Then, to reciprocate, I ask, “Where do you come from?” The answers are illustrative! In the Muslim quarter, the answer is often not “Jerusalem”, but “Palestine!!” So that opens up possibilities for conversation. If they say “Jerusalem”, that too opens up possibilities for conversation. On one occasion, when I asked the question, “where do you come from?”, one smart shopkeeper in Bethlehem replied,”from my mother!” I laughed.
It is actually a profound answer. If more of us saw ourselves as humans first, rather than in terms of nationality, religion, politics, sex or whatever other way we divide and separate ourselves from others behinds walls and names, then there would be more possibility of building human relationships, of making peace, not war!
So since then, in Jerusalem and here in Amman, when people ask me, “where do you come from?” I plagiarise the response of that Bethlehemite shopkeeper and sometimes reply in Arabic, “min ummi!” (“from my mother”), which first confuses them and then gives them a laugh!!
I have much more to see and explore, but only have three days in which to do so. It will be an interesting time.
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!