In Aqaba, Jordan
It's early on Monday morning and I'm listening to the gentle wash of the waves on the Red Sea shore outside my hotel room and thinking about my first impressions of Jordan.
My only previous experience with an Islamic country was the recent one in Afghanistan and so I was curious to see what Jordan would be like. The similarities are many - an Islamic people; a rugged, arid, desert landscape; muezzins singing prayers from the many mosques; women in headscarves and full-length, shapeless garments; and arabic people, most of whom are descended from nomadic tribes - but the differences are dramatic. For one thing, Jordan is not at war or at constant risk of terrorist activity, which makes it safe to walk the streets and generally to come and go as you please. For another, there is a much larger middle class and the abject, mind-numbing poverty on display everywhere in Afghanistan is mostly absent. The national infrastructure - what I have seen of it so far - is good. The 3 1/2 hour drive from Amman here to Aqaba was on a 4-lane divided highway that had obviously been recently resurfaced.
Aqaba is well laid-out with wide streets, often divided by medians full of palm trees, walking paths and places to sit and relax. The hotel I'm staying at is on a par with any other first-class hotel anywhere in the world, and there are a number of others in the same category and many more in various stages of construction. Restaurants are within walking distance and the sound of languages from numerous other countries - Germany, France, eastern Europe, and other Arab states - can be heard as tourists and their families come and go from beach outings.
The sheer volume of world history available within a two-hour drive of the city is amazing. From Lawrence of Arabia, to the Crusades, to major events recorded in the Bible, to the 4000 years of history and culture surrounding Petra, it's obvious that this is a truly ancient land with stories literally embedded in every rock.
The 40 kilometers of Jordanian coastline, stretching from Aqaba to the border with Saudi Arabia on the south, was increased to that amount a number of years ago by virtue of a land swap with Saudi Arabia, and it constitutes Jordan's only access to the sea. The port of Aqaba is a busy one and is equipped to handle both container and cruise ships and port facilities are being rapidly expanded.
Some people in my UNR class asked the other night why the U.S. was interested in giving foreign aid money to Jordan, and I had to confess I wasn't sure. Since coming here, I think I've found out why. The Islam practiced in Jordan is of the moderate, more open-minded variety and the country is relatively peaceful and stable and my guess is that the U.S. would like it to stay that way which means keeping the people happy and the current ruler, King Abdullah, in power. On the more immediately practical side, the port of Aqaba handles several hundred container ships a month where supplies for Iraq are off-loaded on trucks, and driven to Iraq by way of Amman.
I'll share other observations as I get them and when I have time. In the meantime, enjoy the photo below which was taken from the balcony of my hotel room. It's looking out at the Red Sea toward the south with the coastline of the city of Aqaba in the center right and unfortunately includes a construction site, only one of many here in this a-building resort city. To the far lower
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