AN OASIS IN THE MIDST OF TURMOIL
June 04, 2005
Travel to the Middle East today? To the country of Jordan? Why would anybody want to do that? Because it is an absolutely wonderful place to spend time. Jordan’s neighbors, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and even Israel are all in the midst of their own political problems. Violence is common. But Jordan is a stable and peaceful country filled with many interesting biblical and historical sites as well as compelling natural attractions. It is a fascinating country, and the following is a thumbnail sketch of this country of “the other holy land.”
Jordan’s population of 5.6 million is 98% Arab. Seventy percent of the Jordanian population is Palestinian Arabs, displaced from the West Bank and other areas in Israel, and Iraq during the past forty years. No country has absorbed more Palestinian refugees than Jordan. Most of the refugees have become an integral part of Jordanian life with careers in business, politics and other areas. Still, some refugee camps exist and are administered by the United Nations Relief and Works agency.
Bedouin Arabs, the nomadic shepherds, who for many centuries roamed the hills and deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, have a strong presence in Jordan. These desert dwellers number in the hundreds of thousands, but few today can still be regarded as truly nomadic. Many have moved to villages, while others have entered mainstream Jordanian society. A few retain the old ways. Tents and flocks of these tribes are frequently seen once one leaves Amman and the larger towns and travel the countryside.
It is estimated that around 40 families still live a nomadic or semi-nomadic existence in the Wadi Rum area. As did their ancestors, they camp for a few months at a time in one spot to graze their herds of sheep, goats or camels. When the pasturage runs out, they move on.
Perhaps surprisingly, no Jewish community exists in Jordan. But many Jews travel to Jordan for their holidays. They often frequent the beautiful resorts along the Dead Sea and Gulf of Aqaba where they are received cordially.
People of “Christian background” comprise about 3% of Jordan’s 5 million plus people. These are mostly Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, along with a much smaller percentage of Protestants. To the best of our knowledge, one congregation of the church of Christ can be found in Jordan and is located in Amman, the capital city.
FOOD AND HOSPITALITY.
Arab hospitality has long been legendary, and it is still flourishing today. Stemming from countless centuries of survival in the desert, hospitality is extended to any person in need—including an enemy—as part of their creed that no traveler is turned away. This code made it possible for travelers to cross the desert, knowing that they had a chance of survival.
The modern version is the never-failing serving of coffee and tea and sweets to visitors. Every time we visited or interviewed someone, we were quickly served their deliciously sweetened tea and Turkish or American coffee.
In the hotels, the food was beautiful and tasty. As far as we are concerned, Middle Eastern food is delicious! Just for fun, we wanted to share with you the recipes for some of those dishes. We hope you enjoyed them. These came from a restaurant in Petra run by a delightful American woman who went there 20 years ago on a lark and never left. We were given the recipes and assigned a cook to help us in their preparation. When we were finished, all of us shared our results in a delicious meal that night
(Salatat Khodra bil Tahinah)
1 cup chopped parsley 1 small onion, chopped
3 tomatoes 3 cucumbers
¼ cup vinegar ½ cup tahinah (sesame paste)
Juice of one lemon 1 teaspoon salt
- Peel and dice the cucumbers.
- Chop the tomatoes finely.
- Place the vegetables in a bowl.
- Mix the tahinah (also spelled tahini, vinegar, lemon juice and salt.
- If mixture is too thick, add a little water to it.
- Add the tabinah mixture to the vegetables and mix well.
2 medium-size cucumbers 2 large tomatoes
1 cup finely chopped parsley 1 green pepper
1 teaspoon salt 1 cup finely chopped mint
¼ cup lemon juice
- Chop the vegetables finely and mix them.
- Add lemon juice and salt.
2 cups chickpeas (garbanzo beans) 6 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda ¾ cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt ½ cup tahinah (sesame) paste
½ cup finely chopped parsley
- Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water with the bicarbonate of soda.
- Remove any beans that are floating and any pebbles that you might find.
- Cover the beans with water and bring to boil over high heat until foam forms at the surface of the water.
- Remove the foam from the surface and let the chickpeas simmer for an hour and a half or until tender.
- Drain the chickpeas and puree in blender or food processor.
- Crush the garlic with the salt, then beat in the tahinah and lemon juice.
- Stir in the chickpea puree and then add the parsley and mix all very well.
- Serve in shall bowl, garnished with a pinch of paprika and parsley.
NOTE: Tahinah (also spelled tahini) is Sesame paste and can be purchased in some
specialty grocery stores in the U.S.
Recipes courtesy of the Petra Kitchen in Petra, Jordan.
Jordan is slightly smaller than the state of Virginia and is comprised of three major geographical regions: the Rift Valley of the Jordan River, the East Bank Plateau and the Desert steppe of the eastern and southern parts of Jordan.
Forming part of the Great Rift Valley of Africa, it runs the entire length of Jordan from north of the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) south through the Jordan valley nearly two thousand miles into east Africa and Mozambique. It is caused by the meeting of two great tectonic plates. The rift leaves the entire region, from the Sea of Tiberias down to Aqaba and the Red Sea. The Jordan River is fed from the Sea of Tiberias, the Yarmouk River and the valley streams of the high plateaus to the east and west.
The Jordan Plateau of northern and central Jordan rises to nearly 4500 feet and is set on limestone and sandstone outcroppings of rolling hills. It slopes to the desert steppe of eastern and southern Jordan. Amman, its capital, sits on the small rolling mountains of the plateau. Valleys in the south that cross the King’s Highway form dramatic canyons. This area contains the main centers of population: Amman, Irbid, Zarqa and Krak. It also contains the sites of major interest to visitors: Jerash, Karak, Madaba and Petra.
About 80% of Jordan is desert, mostly in the south and east. About all that survives in this desert area are scrawny sheep and goats, the Bedouin and their flocks, who have survived there for centuries. Wadi Rum, a must see, is located in southern Jordan and is one of the most fantastic desert landscapes in the world.
The Sea of Tiberias (Galilee), in northern Jordan, as seen from Gadara which is a possible location of Jesus casting the demons into the swine.
Because central Jordan is approximately the same longitude as Dallas, many familiar seen particularly in the spring and summer.
On the northeastern side of the Dead Sea, a marvelous resort area has sprung up in recent years. The Moevinpick Resort and Marriott resorts are beautifully situated next to the sea and possess all of the amenities of five-star resorts. Only five miles away, Bethany beyond the Jordan is an easy morning day trip for us, and the remainder of the day can be spent relaxing by the Dead Sea.
The balmy winter climate and ideal setting on the Gulf of Aqaba make this Jordan’s aquatic playground. Diving and snorkeling are Aqaba’s main attractions. One of the world’s best coral reefs is located at Aqaba, and large numbers of visitors enjoy it by glass bottom boat or scuba diving. It’s an obvious place to break a journey to/from Israel/Egypt. Aqaba is a good place to relax from the rigors of traveling.