Refreshing Frankness

Amman -> Ajlun -> Pella (Tabqat Fahl) -> Umm Qais -> Amman, Jordan

My roommate Ryan has been dying to drive, so today we rented a car, he and I and my colleague John, and went on an adventure. From my archaeologist friend Chris, I’d gotten a copy of the best map he had and directions to Pella, and from Pella to Umm Qais, my favorite place in Jordan, and Ryan’s. However, there are no truly good maps of Jordan, so even the best map is mostly an approximation of where you’re actually going. In addition, signage is spotty in Jordan, so we had to stop frequently to ask for directions.

The directions we got from Ajlun Castle down into the Jordan Valley turned out to be a simply gorgeous ride down flower-covered mountainsides, through the villages of Halawa and Hashemiyya (the one in Ajlun, one of two villages of Hashemiyya where there were Peace Corps Volunteers in my day!), and the ruins of what looks to my untrained eye like an Ottoman village. Once we got down to the bottom, directions were pretty simple. There’s basically only one road along the Jordan Valley, so we turned right/North at the checkpoint and we were off.

But the guys at the checkpoint had said 7km to Pella, and when we had gone 9km and still not found it, I as navigator started to get nervous. We stopped a couple times to ask for verification, and the most useful of these was also the most amusing. Usually I would ask women for directions, but with Ryan and John in the car, I felt safe enough asking a young man hanging out by the roadside.
“Why don’t you come in for lunch and then I’ll take you?” he immediately responded.
“No, no, we have a lunch date in Umm Qais later,” I replied quickly, only a slight exaggeration since we’d been talking about lunch and a glass of wine at the Resthouse at Umm Qais all the way up the road.
“It’s okay, I’m just obligated to ask!” he grinned, and gave us excellent directions.

As we drove away, Ryan and I had a good laugh at his candor. It’s true, in Arab culture, hospitality is so deeply ingrained and so important that one is essentially obligated to invite into one’s home anyone who asks for help in any way. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, sometimes I took advantage of this, because it granted me the access to the community that was so essential for not only my work, but for my personal well-being. Still, it is exceedingly rare to hear an Arab speak so openly about his obligation of hospitality!

We got a little confused on our way to Umm Qais, too, because there seemed to be no signage in English, but eventually we made it. I’ve never seen Umm Qais so busy! Like every other grassy overlook or streambank we passed today, Umm Qais was swarming with Jordanians who’d had the same urge we had to get out of the city and enjoy the precious few weeks of green!

Also, if I may be frank myself, the new guard tower in Umm Qais is just a blight. Perhaps it is warranted for security purposes, but it was in the way in many of my pictures today. Most notably, it stuck right up in the middle of the beautiful sunset we watched from the top of the West Theater!

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