#6 Jordan, March 26, 1999

Dear Everybody,

Salt was another town that Mohammed and I drove to where we visited some friends of his. Only the wife and eight (!) children were home. The husband is the same age as Mohammed, 30. Salt is a nice, old town. The next day we spent with Hooda, Mohammed’s sister, and family—what cordial people.

It is interesting to see the Jordanians’ reaction to the new king. Most people that I have talked to (taxi drivers, etc.) loved King Hussein and expect to love King Abdullah, as well, as they expect him to follow his father’s policies—Arabs are very big on respecting the fathers’ wishes, so that fits. They kind of feel sorry for Prince Hassan, who was the King’s younger brother and the Crown Prince, but they don’t expect the rift to be a problem.

We had a nice drive through the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea. The salt content is very high—I remember learning as a child that everybody floats in the Dead Sea. We didn’t go swimming as Mohammed said that one really needs to rinse off all the salt afterward or it burns your skin. The River Jordan has very little water in it now, as much is used for Israeli irrigation. This area is where Mohammed’s family comes from, and a sister still lives nearby, whom we visited briefly. We also stopped in to see another brother, Isadeen. The scenery around this area is gorgeous.

The next day I said goodbye to Mohammed and Jordan, a lovely country to visit. It had been really great having Mohammed as a guide, and it had been especially lovely interacting with his family and friends. Mohammed drove me to a village near the Syrian border and helped me get a service taxi to go on to Syria to clear customs. I had gotten my visa in Cairo some weeks earlier.

Well! The border person said that my visa (for presentation) had expired! My guidebook had said to get the visa in Cairo as Syria wouldn’t issue visas in Jordan since Jordan was friendly with Israel. One had three months after getting the visa to present it but this man said it was only good for one month. What a bummer! The visa application in Cairo had asked when I was going to be crossing the Syrian border and I had responded ‘March 20’ so if the clerk had looked at that, he could have told me that I would need to get my visa later. After crossing the border, one could be in the country of Syria for 15 days.

The man told me to go back to Amman, Jordan where I could get another visa. I got a taxi to go back to the village where Mohammed had left me, and called him on his cell phone. He suggested that I take a service taxi to Irbid, where he was staying with his sister, Hooda, and he would meet me at a hotel there. Mohammed picked me up and we went over to Hooda’s. A family of cousins came to call. Since it was Mohammed’s birthday the next day we decided to have a party. Mohammed and I went downtown and got two beautiful birthday cakes and some other food and we had a wonderful celebration. There were about 20 to 25 people at the party including the cousins, some neighbors from upstairs, some other friends, and family.

The women mostly sat in one room and the men in another although Mohammed and his brother visited the ‘women’s room’ frequently. Hooda’s teenage daughter played music on a boombox and the women danced. I was asked to dance and was given a scarf to tie around my hips as did all the women. We danced in a circle—they were very pleased when I joined in.

Then they asked me (through Mohammed—no one else except one brother could speak English) if I would sing a song! I sang “God Bless America,” thinking that maybe they could catch the word ‘America.’ Mohammed said that Hooda really wanted me to stay overnight—her first American overnight guest—so I did. She swept the carpet in the living room, which had upholstered furniture in it, and put down a mattress, pillow and blanket. The room that the women had been in had mattresses all around the periphery of the room for sitting on, along with piles of pillows. Each individual family member moved a mattress to the middle of the room to sleep with a pillow and blanket. I slept alone in the living room while all of the family members slept in two other rooms. What a great party, which lasted until 1:00 AM!

Since the next day was Thursday it occurred to me that I couldn’t get my visa (and my passport back) in Amman until Monday—at least that was the case when I got it in Cairo. And since I can’t be without my passport traveling around as there are frequent passport checks on the highways, Mohammed suggested that I return with him to Aqaba (where he lives) for a few days.

This was a good respite as I did piles of laundry, lazed around and read, and went for long walks. For breakfast I ate fuul (a mashed bean dish with lots of oil that you scoop with chunks of bread), humus, and ‘dry’ yoghurt, which is the consistency of cream cheese. Fuul is their main breakfast dish.

On Tuesday I got Mohammed to drive me to Amman again so I could go to the embassy and get my visa for Syria. No dice. The guidebook was right on that, anyway, and the clerk at the Syrian border was wrong! I was disappointed not to be able to visit Syria as it seems like a very interesting country. So I tried to book a flight for Crete, but they were fully booked, and I ended up booking a flight to Lebanon for Thursday.

We visited more friends of Mohammed’s—the mother of his friend, who had tattoos on her face and hands. She was enthralled with my picture of my blond granddaughter, Ellie, and kissed the picture effusively. I also met her son and daughter-in-law, who lived upstairs. Because Mohammed was there, the son went and got a scarf for his wife to put over her hair.

I shall fly to Lebanon tomorrow, and so far, I haven’t been able to buy a guidebook—maybe in Beirut!

Carol

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