Reporting Live -- from Jordan -- It's Michael (part ii)

now it can be told:

the story too hot for the Times-Courier to print -- a tale the STAR and A Current Affair want. Now -- the censored, edited "out-takes" of the above story -- the truth of an Irish lad in the Muslim world.


dear folks --

To visit the sprawling city a bus system runs hither and yon but we have yet to figure out "the system." Cabs are a cheap way to fly -- truly. They soar at the rate of 10 Fils / 100 meters, or 24 / mile. Andrew couldn't enter a D.C. cab and close the door for that price.

culture

* You can't be "shy" about living here.
They won't let you.
Every time you blink someone says: "Coffee? Shay (tea)? or Cha-eye (tea)? or Shy (tea)?
"No, they will not take "No," as an answer.
So learn to say "shy" or "cha-eye," and if they still don't understand -- just say, "Lipton."


* this is a world with a strange 28 letter alphabet and they read from right to left.

si ti tahw uoy won --- now you know what it is

daer dna cibara eb ot eikl --- like to be arabic and read

sdrawkcab egap eht ssorca --- across the page backwards


So far the food is pretty "American." Larry did buy "something" that was a setback to Arab-USA relations but it was less than a Dinar ($1.50) so he may just eat the loss but not eat the "something." Finally found some Diet Coke. It's sold in skinny 250 ml containers -- 8.5 ounces. Living with the Arabic language is tough but at least my verbal acumen includes "metric."


Jordan is a country without oil or gas -- neon gas that is. Nite life in the Muslim world is not marked by flashing signs. The sign of this pro-family Islam nation is people sitting on the porch in the evening's shade. Jordanians tend to stay home and make more babies. These babies grow up and meet their relatives on the porch and perhaps half of the marriages are between cousins -- and a large number of them being first cousins.


in the 1982 film "The Eyes of Laura Mars" Faye Dunaway plays a photographer with ESP visions. Here the vision is of Muslim eyes peering at you from their silk-like masks. ESP: exotic sensual people.


money, honey:

the economy of this place is a mystery. The low, low pay and the gorgeous homes are not in synch. But a native said: "Mike, you don't see where the teachers live. You are seeing the Palestinian money; the Iraqi money; the Saudi money and the Kuwait money."

teachers makes 3,600 JD / year -- $4,800.

My starting Batavia, N.Y. pay was $4,500 -- 33 years ago.

It just doesn't compute -- even with a liberal government housing loan policy how do they float a loan an pay it off?
We infer the people never pay off the loan. Never even come close to paying off the loan.

the landscape brings memories of Sicily. Building construction is always going on but never done. On the Mafioso-island they say families -- (does-ah-Italian-ah-fam-ah-lees) -- build their house thruout their lives. When they get a few extra Lira it translates into a few extra bricks. Slowly onward and ever upward.


energy costs are about 8 cents per KWH -- equal to Charleston's fare. Food prices, too, are like those in the midwest. Nothing is free, man, in Amman.


how DO they survive ? If teachers are making 15 JD ($22.50) / day, Osamma, my driver; Shamir, my houseboy, and the laboring man-in-the-street might be earning 6 JD daily. So how does this economy "work?"


hair today

don't want to alarm anyone by saying that I had surgery -- but it felt like I had surgery.

I got a haircut today (sat - july 16th)

Donna, my "hair stylist" back in Charleston is going to have to add more flair, precision and subtract 16% from her fee if she wants to keep my business. This guy started out with a shampoo -- ended with a shampoo -- coifed -- shaved -- razor cut -- snipped every hair individually -- powdered me -- added mousse -- and splashed on lotion for 5 JD - $7.50. Donna charges $9. With the 1 JD tip to a guy who looked like Ricky Ricardo -- we came out even.

"Stylists" over here have to ply their trade on men because so many women wear "the scarf" that no one knows or cares if they are having a "bad hair" day.


margot called with Father's Day greetings and report on her travel plans to Ireland which begin less than 24 hours after my August return. If the Royal Jordanian plane is late we could pass each other on the international concourse at O'Hare.


andrew followed with a call and reported on his trip to London-town and August plans to move from Washington to Notre Dame Law School. Doesn't anyone in this family stay put?

Andrew called again tonight regarding the OJ Simpson story. Amazingly, JTV had film of it an hour later. It's the only USA news they have aired in this first month of duty.


amman:

how to you summarize the history of one of the world's oldest cities? You'll be ecstatic to know you don't. Boy, that saved you 22 pages of reading to recap 4,000 years of events.

Even trying to find out what happened since 1967 is very difficult.


home alone

After five weeks, Larry left today (June 29th) for Syracuse and it has me worried. When they stamped his luggage and body with SYR tags, he may have been airborne for 30 minutes and is sitting in Damascus wondering why his family wasn't there to greet him. [ that's Damascus, SYRia -- get it ? ]


July: Amman has suddenly turned into an American enclave as professors from the Universities of --- are here working on a variety projects. They are staying all over the city so we hardly see each other. A geologist from LSU is coming and will be my roommate for two weeks. Then it is Home Alone II.

Geez, all these folks arrive, efficiently do their job in a fortnight and disappear. No one else is staying three months. This confirms an age-old suspicion: if you want a job done slowly, hire me.


post offices

From Jordan it is impossible to mail a letter or make a telephone call to the West Bank. Well it is expensively possible -- routing the call thru Turkey or Greek switching stations. People give mail to friends going to the West Bank / Palestine so they can send the letter to relatives and friends living there. Israel, of course, reciprocates with the communication blockade. Larry sent a postcard to a friend in ZIONSVILLE, Indiana, and it surely turned some heads in the mail room.

So how do these two countries ever get together for peace talks if they don't write each other or answer the phone?

p.s. August 8th: you can now call the West Bank direct - a couple JD / minute.


jordan

It is only 265 miles from top to bottom: Syria to the Red Sea, and the total farm land can be packaged in a square 80 miles on a side.

Jordan's resources are lean - no oil - and stretched beyond basic infrastructure needs. As a country it supports an army who has defended the turf; well, sand, more than the locals want to remember. There is also a world embassy system which must be maintained. Such debits drain the assets needed for other basic things -- like schools.
It's a constitutional monarchy with 30 Senate members appointed by the King while elections fill the 60 seats in the Lower House - 30 each from the East and West Banks. Fifty members must be Muslim and 10 are Christians.

Now there's a political litmus test.

Americans have seen more of the King this summer than we have.
Well, not really. Pictures of The King are everywhere and I don't mean, Elvis. All currency bears his picture, and a new coin called a Qirsh was just thrown into Jordanian pockets. Not surprising, it bears a likeness of their Sean Connerly look-alike. The King's image is omnipresent: classrooms and hallways and lobbies and atria and offices and stairwells and billboards and buses and cabs and airports and tvee and . . .


amman

It is now August and although the bubble hasn't burst, it is leaking.

The squeaky clean Jordanian world inflated in the previous paragraphs is showing its human side. There's broken automobile glass in the streets; and some wailing sirens but not the number expected for a city this size nor from all that broken glass.

Two buses collided near Syria, killing 32. There on a rural Jabal is the outline of something identical to my hometown landmark, Attica State Prison.

The paper even ran a story about an 11-year-old killing a 12 -year-old, so not everyone coming toward you on the street is fondling Prayer Beads. More about that story and its political implications, later.

At the our office a 12 year old girl drown in the pool, and tomorrow 14 of her peers take off for the Little League World Series in Germany.

The new class of ninth graders at the Jubilee Magnet School has been chosen -- about 80 kids from Amman's 34,000 eight graders, and boy, are their parents are beaming.

So the Jordanian society is much like any other. There are day-to-day smiling triumphs and some life-long tearful tragedies.


traffic

There are very few controlled intersections so pedestrians are on their own crossing these wide avenues. It's strange that Jordan hasn't produced more Olympic sprint champions.

Commensurate with its speeding vehicles, Amman is a town noted for its 15 inch sidewalk curbs, with the NCAA record (National Council of Arab Athletes) being a 20" plunge and climb. The curbs give pedestrians a sense of security - "beep- beep" - however false - and at the same time underlines an insensitivity of its Streets Department to needs of the handicapped. Ironically, many a person has joined the ranked of the handicapped with mis-steps to or from the alpine heights which separate pedestrians from motorists. The curbs provide a nice ricochet wall like the ones from which people love to bounce while driving bumper cars at the county fair.

After scaling the curb height pedestrians stroll the equally-dangerous walkways which are often a jumbo of fractured concrete resulting from repair of something subterranean or the disrepair caused by foot traffic and time. American merchants would cower in the shadow of their lawyer were the front of their store crossed by such rubble and they envision shoppers slipping, sliding, stumbling and suing.

For those who like to spot "new license plates," this your mecca:

When a speeding white Mercedes ("beep- beep") from Romania sent me lunging for the curb, a voice out of the sky echoed: "ToTo, we're not in Kansas anymore."


tvee

Three tvee stations sign on about 4 p.m. and are off by midnight with a dirth of English language shows in between. The flagship is JTV - Jordan Television. but STV from Damascus has better versions of MTV videos, albeit through a blizzard of electronic snow. Rock videoes on Syrian tvee doesn't jive with the world's image of President Hafez Al Assad. This home isn't wired - or more properly stated, "dished" to receive satellite tvee but many are. While in a store today a tvee was showing CNBC's Wall Street Report, but the question arises:
"How long can a guy hang out at the 7-11 watching CNN and changing channels before drawing suspicion ?"

Right now there is a program on that is in English but has a French voice- over with Arabic subtitles. Someone with sensitive ears and lip-read-eyes could become tri-lingual in an hour.

For those who claim that American tvee is the pits, they need to see rejected pilots, sitcoms and adventure series that weren't good enough to play in Peoria. We have. The good news is that they are only on a few hours a day.


more gnus

What is Clinton doing these days? Whether the newscast is in Arabic, Hebrew, English or French, there is only cursory mention of the USA. - and that's a World Cup report. Reporters are busy on the "local beat" : Gaza; West Bank; Golan Heights; Syria; and Iraq. By the way, we ran into some America GI's who are training with the Jordanian Army. The latter makes no bones about it: Iraq really did win "that war." That would be news to George Bush. On the mideast news there are no sound bites. Once "a suit" gets hold of a microphone, it's a solilquey in the sun and sand.


ray-de-oh

So much for the video, now, what about audio?

After a dozen weeks of listening to the incessant wail and terribly loud, monotonous droning voices combining with unimaginable instruments to produce non-danceable Middle East music, my ears crave a little American Rap. Naaaaaaw . . . . not yet.


whether or not

Jor-DAN: an incredible climate. Opening the bedroom balcony door makes it a two-blanket night. Days remain 90 degrees but with no humidity those desert breezes have a wind chill of about 75.

Though this is the desert, winter can bring snow to Amman - 3300 ft above sea level. A few years ago they received 19" in one storm. With all that snow and all these hills, all those motorists were paralyzed and this town shut down for a couple of silent nights. No beep-beep.

No weather maps on tvee -- maybe they don't want the people to think they are breathing "used air" -- particles that were in the lungs of a Jew just a few hours ago -- as forecasters simply report the high / low temperatures in five national regions. In the eastern desert the temperature differences are truly night and day -- an eye-popping 20 degrees Celsius. That's a shivering 36 degrees if you listen to Gabriel Fahrenheit tell the story.


amman west -- the dead sea

During your visit don't get conned into joining the Dead Sea Fishing Club or you might be playing lead guitar for the hottest rock band in Amman. Si? Warren Christopher sails into this Dead Sea Motel in four days, but will he be able to float a peace pact on these buoyant waters ?


amman south

Petra: there is an old Catholic quote saying "On this rock (Peter) I will build my church." We walked through Petra and boy, does it ever mean rock. At Mesa Verde National Park visitors see the remnants of cliff-dwelling Native Americans whose time in the architectural spotlight was about 7,000 years ago. Just 5,000 years later in this desert were stone-digging cliff dwellers whose works demote our natives to the "Sandbox Sculpture League."


aquaba - the red sea

In 1116, Crusaders built a fort on a Gulf island. In another crusade 800 years later -1916 - Aquaba was the GHQ of Prince Faisal (later Iraq's King Faisal I ) during his revolt against the Ottoman Turkish rule. That is when Col. T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935) - Lawrence of Arabia - acted as the liaison between Faisel and the Brit, Allenby (Edmund Allenby: 1861-1936) who was holed up in Cairo. Allenby captured Jerusalem in Dec 1917 & Damascus ten months later.

Allenby had a bridge named after him - a tiny structure spanning a huge political chasm over the Jordan River. Later -- a few pages from now -- an account of my traverse of that span.

It was 40 C today in Aquaba -- 104 F. Muslim women, many in "total black cover" - take their kids to the beach just like any family. Cultures usually adapt their clothes to the environment but going to a 40C beach in black -- Hmmm.
Took a JETT to this Kingdom's only port: Jordan Express Transit and Transport (bus).

Show up in a land where people don't queue up and elbow your way aboard. Two computers + a Modem line = a simplified life all concerned. To / fro tickets totaled an amazing $6. Hey, charge $10 for the 400 mile round trip and buy that modem package next week. Modems aren't illegal but they are taxed so heavily and telephone rates are so high that modems are essentially illegal. Modems let people access the world and no matter how hard he smiles, King Hussein doesn't want his subjects to have access to the world. Knowledge is power.


The road south - singular - is filled with the 18-wheelers and it's four lane about half the way. Then the "obstacles" appear. With a wadi on one side and mountains to the other, drivers play hopscotch - downhill en route to sea level and uphill while "going home."

Aug 4th update--

To build the new road ( ~ a few miles) between Aquaba and Eilat they detonated 30 land mines today. My July statement about the difficulty of making the short trip was right on target -- literally. Ka-boom.

In Aquaba there are 2,000 hotel rooms. In Eilat there are 20,000.

Jews know how to have a good time.


amman north

We proceeded north to a little town of Al Hammah near Lake Tiberias (700 feet below sea level). "So what," you say? Well let's call Lake Tiberias the Sea of Galilee and watch the eyebrows rise. The tropical Jordan Valley - with its palm trees and associated flora is known as a graben to geologists, and has divided Eastern and Western Civilizations through time because its longitude slices the lush from the arid climates. To wit: cultures that cut up bananas for their corn flakes or those who dice dates for same.

Hammah is a tiny town known for its hot springs but none of the grandiose homes of Amman are found here. It's dirt poor. Poverty plus. Or maybe, poverty minus. Visitors get to see what is probably a more realistic picture of living conditions in so many rural parts of this desert Kingdom. Grim.

Then it was a stop at Ajlun - a huge castle with links to the Crusades. As the guide said: "It dates to a time of the European occupation of our area." In our area people are pre-occupied with the concept of occupation. Ajlun overlooks the Jordan Valley and on a clear day the Holy Land is right there on the retina.


politics

This was a "serious nite" in Amman-town (June 8th) . By a chance in a million, Item #5 on the Blue Immigration Visa card popped out before my eyes.

To wit - "report to a police station within two weeks of your arrival."

Well - how serious are they about that? With the first four items printed on the half of the card that was surrendered at the Immigration gate, who could tell. Was there something there that placed negating parameters around #5 ?

Officers at the police station were not about to open up their "immigration office" at 9 pm for two left-handed infidels unless someone with clout, clouted. That was Victor Billeh, our Palestinian / Jordanian boss -- the Wisconsin PhD pulling out in front of us like that Green Bay Packer lineman of old; Jerry Kramer, and running interference. We got the Blue Card stamped - - the Passport stamped -- were given a new Orange Card and it too was stamped. And even Carolyn Fitzgerald Leyden's named is stamped on a Jordanian police blotter. That's my password in case it is ever needed. See, you can always count on your Mommie. That means Fitz, who never liked the concept of travel is now a quarter way around the world from her Horseheads, N.Y. home. It also means that with all those official stamps and cards it will be possible to leave the country.


stone love

Remember that item about the 11-year-old killing a 12-year-old? It resulted from a soccer game result and there are political implications to be gleaned from it.

The predator was teasing the prey about losing the contest and rocks were exchanged. A child died.

Surprisingly, it was all due to the fact that Jordan has a very active N.R.A. That's the National Rock Association and they maintain that every citizen has the inalienable right to own a rock - be it igneous, sedimentary; or metamorphic.

And everyone does.

You see them nightly on the news:

Legislators are saying that in urban areas like Gaza, Hebron and Jericho there should be restrictions on those who automatically start tossing rocks before seeing if the situation warrants such an assault.
Kids on both sides wear "fanny packs" and with great ritual place 47 stones there to commemorate the 1947 UN agreement to divide Palestine and ultimately created the Jewish state in 1948.
The canvas carriers are called Arab-Kosher Paks or A-K 47's. Liberals want these dangerous, multi-stone assault depositories banned but the conservatives say that civil liberties shall not be taken for granite. They point to David who needed only one shot to kill Goliath. Good point. And then there is the N.R.A. credo which correctly insists, "Rocks don't kill people - people. . . "


jerusalem - almost

Bridge crossing requires a 2-3 day advanced application to get the "papers" that will let you stand in line to get the "permit" that will allows you wait in line at the bridge and be interrogated on why you want to cross the river. They don't accept everyone and always reject any smart aleck who asks, "to Grandmother's house we go?"

Unfortunately there are many grandmothers on both sides of the channel who don't get to see their families and ironically their tears of sorrow could fill this almost waterless creek.

Allenby is only a 90 ft bridge with no fancy ironwork structure but it sure is one whose political framework is towering. Jerusalem is only 70 miles from here. You could "do lunch" there and be back in the office for an afternoon of work.

Politically its distance is measured in light years -- or speaking like an Arab, "Ohhh aquaba (obstacles)." We were told that with this summer of negotiated political change, Americans and other third country nationals didn't need West Bank Permits. Wrong. Attempting to cross the bridge brought this comment from the lady with a machine gun: "Permit ?"

That began the 35 mile retreat to Amman's Ministry of the Interior to fill out forms which asks for the identical information that is on every Passport. So why do you need another form? Ooops, one new question: "What is your religion?"

(Larry: the Ministry is north of the Marriott where the guy with a machine gun stands on the overpass of Al Jame ah Street & Queen Noor Blvd.)

After a purchase of the 22 permit stamp throw it into the pile to wait a least a day. Back to the Alleby / King Hussein Bridge: actually, I never saw "the bridge" --- it's down the road a bit.
The buses and cars stop at the "depot" because Jordanian license plates are not allowed "over there." The scene is chaos. The bus parks and people file into a huge terrible-smelling building, where they wander and wander from line to line looking at other people holding a rainbow of paper: yellow forms and green forms and white forms and pink forms -- and Passports and pained expressions that ask:
"What if this is the 'pink form' line and I only have 'yellow forms'?"
Was michael in the right line ?
Five times the answer was, "No." No one would have anything to do with me until some kind person said -- "Out -- Out -- you don't belong here." Tugging me by the arm out the door he said: "There - you belong there" -- pointing to a small, new, clean building with a door hosting the only English sign in the place: "tourists." And that's when they broke the bad news -- No permit --- no West Bank.


"there's a man with a gun over there"

Back in the 70's the Buffalo Springfield sang:

As you approach, cross and see the Allenby Bridge in the rear view mirror, there are lots of men (and women) with guns over there and there and there and everywhere you look --- and all of them say, "Stop, now."

But before you ever get to the guys with the guns -- you are involved in a paper chase in two buildings - one on the east bank and one on the west.

Sit and wait -- stand and wait -- pace and wait.

Bottom line: Amman to Jerusalem = 70 miles.
Time of trip: 7+ hours.
It was not a NASCAR record.

The good new is that as a third country national, it wasn't a 12-14 hours trip like the Muslims usually endure. It takes them a day to cross and a day to get home, so any trek is a minimum of three days.

The man "right here" wants to look at your Passport foto because he doesn't trust his colleague who just checked it 200 m to the east. So the cab stops; the passengers sweat both physically and emotionally, and the inspection begins. In less than 800 m the cab stopped four times and Passports were check while its cargo tried to assume the pose the camera assumed they were in when the shutter clicked.


not here, R.E.M. not here

Finally reached Jerusalem and here is the lowdown on the St. George Hotel in the Arab quarter: friendly -- barren -- $67/nite -- no tvee -- but a great free breakfast. If there is a next visit to J-town, the classy YMCA across from the city's most elegant digs, the King David Hotel, will be the place to hang my camera bag.

Near the St. George was a gas station (2.88 schekels/liter or $3.75/gal) where a radio was blaring R.E.M's 1991 monster hit, "Losing my Religion." How ironic -- losing your religion in this town ? No way. After all, Jerusalem is the home of "The Big Three" -- GM, Chrysler and Ford.

Just kidding.

Judaism; Islam; and Christianity all began here. But have you every heard of the Armenian Christians and the Coptic Orders and the Belgian Monks and .. and .. and --

See, we're talking about more than just the "Big Three" because also camped here are all of the spin offs; look-alikes; copy cats; and wanna-bees, too. How about this sign :

"The First Holacaust was the systematic extermination of non-Christians by the Vatican with their Crusades."

Will fax that information to the Holy See and see if their Spin Doctors report the story the same way.

On second thought, R.E.M., you really could lose your religion very easily in this town because after visiting all the mosques and churches and synagogues, it's possible to forget which holy cloak you were wearing when crossed the threshold at Damascus Gate.


ho-o-omeward bound

Coming back to the East Bank combined a $41 for the cab with a $23 exit tax and of course, more waiting, but the portal to portal trip was cut to only 4+ hours. By the way, don't let them stamp your Passport upon entering Israel because on the way back, Jordan will see than you have been "over there" and won't let you back in. This makes it hard to go to work tomorrow in Amman, and catch that August 18th plane. Ever hear about the man without a country? By the way, in the interest of gender equality, this time Dad, R.C. Leyden was the "password" on the border crossing records. Ask them to stamp a separate piece of paper when entering, and return it to the officer upon your exit. This trick may not be necessary for future Jordan-West Bank crossings, but should you ever want to visit Lebanon and Syria, and an Israeli stamp in the Passport will get you a ticket to ride the next plane out of town.


saving the best to last

In response to a surprise invitation we did a dog-n-pony show for the 89 students in the charter freshman class at the Queen Noor Jubilee High School.

The 51 guys and 38 gals -- the future leaders of Jordan; were chosen from an eighth grade class of 34,000.

All government (nee: public ) schools are either male or female - because it says so in the Koran, but this one is coed. The principal is a native son with a PhD from Purdue. It was tremendous to go in for a couple hours and then disappear, but the "poor" teachers who have to face them every day would be pressed to come up with something new and challenging. Whew ! What a gang ! This fall the school will have grades 9-10 and plans call for a 9-12 HS campus adjacent to U. of J. with dorms and students from the entire Moslim world.

Two analogies from the animal kingdom describe this experience. One comes from my visit near the North Pole and the other originates south of the Equator.

Sled dogs constantly lunge against their harnesses before, during and even after the race. It's a trained behavior: pull-pull-pull.

And then there was the experience of feeding the piranah from the dock of our jungle hut hotel in the Amazon Jungle. With lightning speed and from every direction the carnivorious fish would attack the pieces of ham thrown into the river. This is a natural behavior.

The smiling, beautiful, humerous kids at Jubilee School were a cross between the sled dogs and piranah -- nurture and nature -- their piqued curiosity lusting to know who, what, where, when and why.

We presented them with a variety of problem-solving activities, and while their answers were not always correct --- (heck, they are only 14 ) --- their confidence and willingness to risk was overwhelming. Some students at EIU might pale in their mental glow. When the workshop concluded they wanted us to --

Piranah devouring our ideas -- sled dogs pulling on their mental harness.

Kids -- was the highlight of the trip.