Syria and Jordan
We’ve been back from Syria and Jordan for nearly two weeks
and already it seems like a dream. In fact, it seemed like a dream the day after we returned, but I know it wasn’t. I have Jordanian sand in my sandals to prove it. I haven’t cleaned them yet, not having needed sandals in England so far, but I have hope. A hot, dry summer is predicted. Then everyone will complain about how hot it is, and how dry. Television programs will warn about sunstroke. There will be a hose pipe ban (hose), while tv journalists gleefully wring the subject dry and accuse the government of doing
nothing to avoid it, while gardeners will shake their heads about the state of their plants.
It is the same everywhere, of course.
Every year of the fifteen I lived In southern France it was the same,
despite the fact that it was dry, every year, as it had been every year in
living memory, and never did have enough water.
Californians, too, complain about water, fire, and wind, to say nothing
of earthquakes, and no doubt the mid-west of the U.S. is the same, if Mark
Twain is correct. And Somebody who is in
charge is responsible, not uncontrollable Mother Nature.
Maybe the only place on earth where people don’t complain
about water is the near East, because they live in a desert-like environment
anyway, where even 5 start hotels have signs in the bathrooms saying “Water is Life”. It is desert-like, but not true desert, at least in Jordan, our guide Walid
told us. The soil is not sand, it is fine, dry earth which
would turn into a rain forest if it rained. Well, that is what he said.
However, I know this to be true because in Wadi Gilrat we went to see a Neolithic
settlement called Beidha. On the trail
back to the bus a Bedouin woman and her children were selling the inevitable
post cards and jewelry. As we talked,
one of the smaller children sat down in the dirt and threw it over his legs as if her were in a paddling pool.
The dust blew in the wind like sprays of water, unlike sand which would dribble
through fingers onto the ground. Which
explains why the children were so grubby.
And in the Fertile Crescent where rainfall is greater, the land, while
not a rain forest, is green and prosperous.
But I digress. Or do
I? I can’t regurgitate all the facts we
were given about the cradle of western civilization in 10 short days, including
two countries and several ancient sites, so I’ll begin as I do when I start a
painting, with roughly the right colors in roughly the right places. Or maybe just the colors.
Syria’s and Jordan’s contemporary architecture mostly
consists of gray concrete block squares emerging out of flat land, with long
steel reinforcement rods sprouting at each corner like a forest of quills. It
was the same in Egypt, where you don’t pay taxes on a house until it is finished,
so it is never finished. Our Syrian
guide told us the houses are left unfinished so when the children grow up they
can build another floor, but I think the tax story is closer to the truth.
In between building sites, vast stretches of dun-colored
soil spread out on either side of the bus as we rolled from site to site. Men in elegantly long robes, scarves draped
over their heads, tend herds of sheep and goats nibbling at invisible
nourishment hidden in the rocks. Donkeys stand in their midst, seeking
company, or sometimes in small herds together.
Camels roam in rocky hills like horses in pastures, or carry shepherds watching
Unfortunately, the main crop in the Syrian countryside seems
to be plastic bags billowing from fence posts or rolling like tumbleweeds
across the barren landscape. In Jordan
there are fewer, but still, in the poorer, drier areas, there are too many.
The cities we visited are a different story. Damascus, the little bit we saw of it, is a vibrant ciy with magnificent villas and squares from the past, islands
of beauty amidst the color and confusion of the streets. Donkey carts piled high with goods manoeuver
through the chaos of vehicles driving either on the left or the right, as
required; horns honk, and minarets rise out of the groves of reinforced steel
Ammon, near magnicent Petra, is beautiful and clean, with
good roads, modern architecture, and finished homes.
But here’s the thing.
In Damascus, three girls about eleven or twelve years old
stopped to watch me sketch. They asked
me my name, told me theirs, and asked me where I was from. They were practicing their English, curious about us westerners.
In Jordan a middle-class family asked where I am from and if
they could take a picture of their four children with me. They asked me how I liked Jordan and the
Jordanians. They were smiling and kind.
Also in Jordan a family of women stopped me to talk. The youngest one asked me the same questions,
how I liked Jordan and Jordanians, my name, where I am from. They shook my hand, including the grandmother
with hennaed tattoos on her face and a long, hooded black robe. .
I didn’t feel unwelcome anywhere. Maybe there is hope after all.
To Be Continued —
- Syria and Jordan, Part 2