On Thursday I was invited to be a part of the 1st conference of the Euro-Mediterranean Abrahamic Forum in Amman, Jordan. Luckily, I was able to take time off work for this convention. Because we are Israelis, we couldn't go to the much closer Allenby Bridge, but rather had to go over the Sheikh Hussein bridge near Beit Shean Valley, a 2 hour ride north of Jerusalem. On the Israeli side of the border was a large photo of the late King Hussein lighting up the late Yitzchak Rabin's cigarette. They're both smoking. "Oh look, they're killing each other," I mentioned to one of my travel mates. On the Jordanian side of the border, as Israelis we had to report to the Tourist Police before our passports were stamped. I guess they want to take a talley of how many Israelis come into the country and to keep an eye out. We're touchier tourists than others.
Driving on the other side of the Jordan River, we passed by rows of small Bedouin villages and small shops. I had seen the same vistas in photos of Pakistan, Iraq, etc. They were remarkably similar. Photos of King Abdullah were everywhere, nearly at every intersection. Our young driver told one of the women in our group who was fluent in Arabic that his parents were refugees from Jerusalem. Ooops. Sorry 'bout that, but please get us safely to Amman. The climb up from the valley to the top of the ridge was slow, and the van had a rough time going up the steep road. Eventually we did make it to Amman, to the hotel.
That evening the young Jordanians took us out to Books@cafe in Western Amman - with a pub, dj, funky colors, etc. something you'd expect to see in any Western country. We passed Rainbow Street, a street of cafes and interesting shops - this was modern Amman. They served liquor at the pub, and I was surprised to find so many liquor shops all over Amman - even in the more conservative downtown Amman area.
On Friday I invited a friend of my friend Ibrahim from the Mt. of Olives, whom I met on Facebook, to come join us for some of the sessions. Mohammed, a man in his 50s, came over to the hotel to meet me. He laughed when I wrote down my contact information.
"You write just like Obama" - and he curled his hand over the paper to show me that the president and I do indeed have that odd way of writing.
My Israeli Jewish roomate had gone with the Moslem women to the local mosque. Of course, the women put on the special cover up over her head and body before she entered the mosque. She apparently knew the prayers being fluent in Arabic. And we prayed the Jewish prayers in the mezzanine of the hotel above the lobby, being that the hotel management didn't want to give us the private room upstairs so we had held our sessions in the dining room. Well, Jewish prayers aren't quiet and there was a lot of singing so we pretty much freaked out the hotel staff, who were nervous about the other guests hearing us (many of course from other Arab countries) and wondering what the hell was going on. I guess the staff thought - enough is enough - and allowed us the use of the private room from then on. Which goes to show you - when all else fails....pray.
"Did anyone slip us some drugs?"
That's what it felt like. It was one of the trippiest places I had ever been too (and photos don't capture it), and unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos (other than the ones we snuck in), but I'll try to describe. We walked into a place where families sat together, most of the women were traditionally dressed with Hijabs and a few were dressed modern. I looked behind me to see a couple of women seated together, tons of makeup, with head coverings, but with ample cleavage showing. Huh? But never mind. To each his/her own. We arrived just as the Bingo game (yes, bingo) was winding down, with the prizes being household items instead of money. Then an Iraqi singer took the stage and sang for like three hours. Our waiter wore a black suit and his bangs were like pasted onto his forehead.
And we danced and danced. And my Jordanian friend told the singer I was from Canada. I wasn't sure if this was a place where you can be openly Israeli, and at 2 am, I wasn't sure I wanted strange reactions so I left it at that.
The next day we strolled to downtown Amman to eat knafe at this famous little shop. Downtown wasn't modern, people dressed more conservatively, though I did see small groups of tourists.We passed by the oldest mosque in Amman.