Friends With Cars

Jordan’s Eastern desert

From Venturing East

It’s good to have friends with cars. I can’t be stuck in the city indefinitely, and neither can my roommate Mel. We need frequent doses of nature, of broad vistas, of goats and camels and other things that make this Jordan, and if we’re lucky, a bit of green. We got all that and more today.

Mel’s friend A is afraid that his students will find his pictures on the Web, so I won’t mention his name. He’s got a car, though, and today’s trip was his excellent idea. When Mel said they were going to Azraq, I was really jealous. Much as I love my teaching job at Ruwwad, Saturday afternoons can be an inconvenient time. But unexpectedly, my class was cancelled and I was able to go after all.

From Venturing East

Of course, though our destination was Azraq Oasis, that didn’t keep us from making a few stops along the way. I mean, when you see Qasr Harranah rise up out of the desert, how could you not stop? With our residence permits, it cost the four of us no more than one dinar to see three castles, and as Mel pointed out, the stone was so photogenic. For the details, click on any of these photos to check out my Web album on Picasa, and don’t forget to read the captions!

From Venturing East

Half way to Qasr Amra, we stumbled across this herd of camels along the roadway, including the most strikingly adorable babies. The one to the far right in this picture was just two days old, and could barely keep his balance on his little feet. We spent almost half an hour following them around taking pictures.

From Venturing East

Next on our tour, the deceptively simple little Qasr Amra. This little pleasure retreat built by an Ummayad caliph to escape the intrigues of the Damascus court was probably a hunting lodge, judging by the scenes of hunting in its amazing frescoes. But that’s not all that happened there, with it’s Roman-style baths and, well….

From Venturing East

Our Muslim friends had a little difficulty believing that this was actually an Islamic building, insisting that it must have been built by the Romans or the Byzantines, maybe even the Greeks, because a Muslim leader would never paint such things on his walls. But, after all, the Abbasids did justify their toppling of the Ummayyad Caliphate with claims that the caliphs in Damascus had strayed too far from their duties and obligations as good Muslim leaders! And Islamic philosophy certainly holds that kings are inevitably corrupted by the power of their positions.

But we moved on…

From Venturing East

…to beautiful Azraq Oasis! Well, ordinarily it’s beautiful. Unfortunately, it was ravaged by a fire, perhaps deliberately set, last October, and the marshlands have barely begun to recover. The blackened trees did make stunning photography, though!

From Venturing East

And I thought it was worth it just for the stroll through the exhibit at the visitors’ center. Jordan is a country where criticism of the government is approached with great caution, but the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature seems to have a free pass in Azraq. After showing the fascinating diversity of the region at the beginning of last century, including how water buffalos brought by Chechan refugees actually made the oasis a more hospitable place for migrating birds, they then proceeded to pan the Jordanian government for agreeing to protect Azraq Oasis, and then draining it of unsustainable amounts of water for the faucets of Irbid and Amman. But I loved their take-away lesson: There will be enough water to help sustain people indefinitely if we leave enough water in Azraq to sustain the native and migrating birds like this one:

From Venturing East

Then we made our way back via A’s friend’s farm in Mafraq for some sunset shots and a delicious little supper of labnah, homemade olive oil and eggs with bread.

From Venturing East

I only wish Ryan were still here. We’d been talking for months about renting a car and doing this same trip….

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