Thank you to all of the Jordanians who have been emailing me wondering where I’ve been for the past month. I haven’t been blogging for many reasons: my family came for a fabulous three-week visit; I had to finish up my end of the semester grading; I had to finish my presentation for the Second World Congress of Middle East Studies conference; and I had to tie up loose ends and say goodbye to many people and places in Jordan. Today is my last day here.
It was a great way to say goodbye by having my partner and son visit and show them all of the amazing sites in Jordan and Palestine. While I did a bit of tourism over the course of the year I hadn’t done such a grand tour in this fashion and there were amazing places I had yet to see like the Dana ecological reserve and Wadi Rum. In Palestine we visited Al Quds (Jerusalem), Khalil (Hebron), Nablus, Ramallah, Beit Lahem, and Yaffa/Tel Aviv. We covered so much territory–Amman, Um Qais, Jerash, Petra, Aqaba, Dana, Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, and Kerak (though we never did find the correct road to make it up to the crusader castle so we only had a glimpse of it from a distance). The trip was one of the best three weeks of my life. I was especially happy to see the places I love through the eyes of people I love and hear their impressions of people they met and places they saw. It is especially interesting to see the surprise at the complex layers of history, topography, politics, people, and language that exist here. We had so many interesting conversations about the different forms of colonialism that has existed in this region from the Romans to the Turkish to the British. Having a twelve-year-old is always a wonderful way of re-thinking preconceived notions one has about anything. Through him we were able to question things like “who are the Arabs?” or “how did the Roman colonial rule differ from the British?”
At night we would return to my home and watch David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, which despite its problems in terms of representing Jordan offers an important glimpse of this country and its history–including the ways in which the Bedouin became Arabs. We watched it while pouring over historical maps and more accurate historical representations. This evening activity came in very handy when my son contracted a bacterial infection in his stomach and couldn’t do much of anything. He had to go to the emergency room three times within twenty-four hours. But this was yet another experience for him to witness the excellent ways in which doctors and nurses care for patients here in contradistinction to the American doctors who have a lot to learn about bedside manners. His stomach illness was on top of my partner’s torn ligaments in his ankle as a result of my thinking we could hike down into the 1948 Palestinian village of Lifta without the proper footwear. In spite of these medical issues, we had an amazing time.
One of the things all of this leaves me with is how much can glean by touring this region. Of course, there is the biblical aspect, which brings many Christian tourists here. But there are also the many ecological sites here run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature. Although we were only able to visit one I was so amazed by the beauty and the preservation. I am especially in love with the Feynan Ecolodge where we stayed. This gorgeous hotel–the most incredible one I’ve ever seen in my life–is powered by solar energy and at night is only lit by candles. They also have one of the most amazing chefs in all of Jordan who made us a spectacular vegetarian feast for dinner and breakfast. In Wadi Rum we went camping in a Bedouin tent and had a tour via a 4WD vehicle (because my partner’s ankle made it too painful for him to hike) of this gorgeous desert in the morning. The sunset there was magnificent as was the night itself because we had a full moon. Summer isn’t exactly prime season for these places so we had both the Ecolodge and the Bedouin tent to ourselves, which was lovely. And, of course, it wouldn’t be Jordan without the Arab hospitality par excellence.
We returned to Amman from our trip south because of my conference and also so we could make some day trips up north. I didn’t attend much of the conference because my family was here, but we did get to go to an amazing Andalusian concert at the Roman amphitheater downtown. This is my favorite way of viewing the ancient Roman ruins in Jordan. I love the way that these spaces–the Citadel, the amphitheater, Jerash–are used for contemporary musical or theatrical events. I haven’t had the good fortune to attend the annual Jerash music festival in July, but I hope that one day I can.
Although I didn’t attend much of the conference there were some interesting things buzzing around Jordan in relation to it. Apparently, the night before the conference began two Jordanian newspapers had articles about the conference in which they stated that anyone participating in it would be considered to “normalize” relations with Israel. These Jordanian professors who were listed in the conference program were named in the newspaper and blacklisted (though I am not entirely sure what this means for them or for their careers). Many people dropped out as a result of this. And the film festival associated with the conference also stopped midway through as I heard the organizer of this, who is Lebanese, left the country with the films because she was either blacklisted or afraid of being blacklisted. While these actions are not at all in line with what the academic and cultural boycott of Israel calls for, there are some understandable reasons why people increasingly dropped out. For instance, I’m told that the conference organizers placed Israeli scholars on pre-organized panels to make it appear as if people were engaging in “normalized” relations even though they were not. I wish I had had the opportunity to attend more of the sessions so that I could get a sense of all this, but my family comes first.
It’s hard to imagine that my time as a Fulbrighter is coming to an end tomorrow. It’s been an extraordinary year–one of the most incredible in my life even though I’ve had to be separated from my family. Tomorrow I leave for Falasteen to finish the last bit of my research. That is, if I can get in. Apparently, a week ago Israel declared the West Bank a “closed military zone” and is turning away any internationals who want to go to Palestine. I suspect this has something to do with keeping ISM (International Solidarity Movement) activists away, but I don’t know. Given what’s going on in Ghaza right now I have no idea what to expect. All I know is that I’m so happy to be spending at least some extended time with friends.
So that’s all from this side of the Jordan River. Thank you, Jordan, for all that I have learned and experienced.