The Tapestry of Amman Jordan

Oliver Wendell Holmes said of ones perception that "Simple people... are very quick to see the live facts which are going on about them." I believe this to be true when thinking about other parts of the world.

As many of you know I have traveled mostly to China in the last couple of years. One of the reasons I was hired for this position was the very fact that I have done business in a culture that is 180 degrees from our own. My future boss asked me in my interview: Do you know any Arabic people? I answered that I only knew one, a dear friend of my named Lilly from Egypt that I have not seen in years.

Well, that problem has been resolved, as I have been treated as family in Jordan. I must say that the Arabic world is not what I expected it to be. The people are proud of both their Muslim and Arab traditions, they are very friendly, and go out of their way to show you their hospitality, also they are very hygienic, as the Quran tells them to be. So, that said, I enjoyed my time in the Middle East, I must admit more then my time in China. A quick observation and a pleasant one is that I would like to convey to all back home, everyone I met was Muslim and follow the word of the Quran that is the real work of the Quran; this includes many of the tenants that we believe as Christians. They denounce terrorism fiercely and want everyone to know that Islam is a faith of Peace. Now, those are just words, and someone might blog me and say this about themselves, but I can honestly say the people I met seemed genuine, trustworthy and had no malice toward us, many liked to remind me that Jesus is one of their most sacred profits, they to believe he rose and like us, they are also awaiting is second coming.

That rose colored account not withstanding; there are many cultural differences which created both comedy as well as frustration. Many people in Amman speak English; however it is not as prevalent as in Europe. I learned the customary hello, thank you and the such, but Arabic is entirely too hard to wrap ones head around on the first pass. My nephew is studying Arabic at Columbia, so I will be interested to hear his thoughts if I should tackle it or not.

Comedy of Errors

The first day we arrived in Amman it was night, and we had to go to the Avis desk to get our car and our driver. One does not drive the streets of Amman as the traffic laws here are merely suggestive and subjective at best. We found that our drivers name of Casey, not sure how you spell that but he was Jordanian none the less. Long story short, we had to change a tire out, get gas and take a trip of about 20 miles into Jordan this took about 1 ½ hours until we got to our hotel.

I know I have described Amman as a nice place, but that does not mean it is safe by any means. Pulling up to our Hotel, named the Bristol, you find yourself in a bunker zone. The hotel is surrounded by concrete barriers, spikes protruding from the cement and two Jordanian Army guards with Oozie Machine guns 24 hours a day. Upon going into the hotel, all bags are x-rayed and all must walk through a metal detector as well as get frisked.

Iraq: An Explosive Market

So, many people ask me what I am doing selling advertising in the Middle East. Our customers are Iraqi businessmen of which most had business in various regions of Iraq. The US Government encourages Iraqi nationals to bid for contracts to rebuild their own country. The problem is that the insurgents do not like them doing business with the United States. As and example of the danger they face, a prospect of ours named Nasser, who builds and manages water reclamation projects, had his business outside of Bagdad only last year. His building was hit with a suicide truck bomber killing his whole staff, of which he missed being there by only five minutes. Nasser wanted to make sure that we would not put his name on our website or anywhere the insurgents might look as feared he would be targeted again. The moral of this story is we have to be particularly careful how we present our advertising as lives are at stack. In the last four years Stars and Stripes has lost four of its Iraqi delivery drivers to ambushes on the road from Bagdad to Erbil in the North.

Treated Like Family

That might have left a bad taste in your mouth, so now I will talk about the wonderful food and hospitality that I experienced in Jordan. Ali Salamin is one of our customers that have actually become a good friend of my sales representative assigned to Jordan. He invited us over to his house for a traditional Iraqi fish dish called “Masgouf.” This is a cod type fish that is put on a spit, encased in pita bread and cooked for hours. Ali’s wife also made what I can only describe as Tapas type sides full of lamb, beef and beans, they were wonderful. If the food was not wonderful enough the conversations was absolutely fascinating. First I must preface by saying that our dinner was men only, we met Ali’s wife and kids then they summarily went back into the kitchen to eat. That left us at the table with myself, Eric my sales rep, Ali his friend Achmed, who I am going help get a job with Eastern Accents in Chicago, and finally and most interestingly, Ali’s father Ahmad who is a doctor. Ahmad talked as passionately about Iraq as we do about America. It was fascinating here him recount the rise and fall of the Bathe Party and Sadam Husain. The point that struck me was that he did not necessarily think Sadam was good or bad, just that Iraq is his home and that was just the way things were. He concluded by telling us that, although he knows Sadam is an evil man, he wished that America never came as it turned their families life upside down.

Coming to Jesus, Literally

Finally, we took a detour from our selling efforts to take a trip where it is believed John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. This is about 40 minutes from Amman near the Dead Sea and was a truly moving experience. When we go to the gate to enter the holy site we were told by the Jordanian army that it was closing in 30 minutes and we would not have time. I don’t know if it was divine providence or Ali’s skillful haggling, but they let us through. Upon entering the gate, one of the guides got in the car and led us to the Jordan River. His name was Achmed and he loved everything American, so he gave us a private tour of the site. What was so special about this was that there were no other pilgrims in the area and he let us walk under the ropes cordoning off the baptismal and let us actually go into the baptismal. This baptismal was built in the 5th Century by some of the first Christians along with a church apply named the Church of Saint John the Baptist. We asked why the river was not longer in the path of the baptismal our guide told us that the Israelis rerouted the Jordan River to allow for more water for the West Bank settlements. He also told us that is was rare to ever see any water in the baptismal, but a spring was producing a little bit of water. We wasted no time getting our plastic water bottles out and took this holy water which I shall cherish and baptize our daughter when she is old enough. A couple of people have asked me: How do they know that is where Jesus was baptized? My answer is maybe it is not the exact spot, but over the ridge is Jericho and on the way is the supposed spot where Elijah’s ascension to heaven. Enough said.

So as I head to Kuwait tomorrow, I feel that this experience has given me some incite into the Arab and Muslim culture. Not everyone is a terrorist, they don’t all hate Americans and Alkita is not behind every bush.

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