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A New Mexican looks at Jordan

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted December 2, 2002

(Amman, Jordan) At the beginning of a week's trip to Jordan, I've just returned from spending an hour at the mall; yes, the mall, a sublimely American institution.

This mall in Amman is three stories high and comprises a kaleidoscope of American stores and western merchandise. It was crammed with people doing what they do best in malls – shopping. Those who weren't shopping were just hanging out on any of the mall's three levels enjoying a cup of coffee and a snack. I saw no evidence of hostile and predatory teenage gangs roaming the mall, or any violence on Jordan's streets and I didn't see any AK-47 toting police officers. (I did see one young man committing a "crime" while we were on our way to the mall. He was selling packs of gum while standing on the median, which our tour guide told me is illegal).

I'm staying at a hotel more luxurious than most at which I stay in America and every modern convenience of which anyone could possible have need is in easy reach. The little bit of Amman which I have so far managed to visit is a bustling metropolis very similar to many large cities in the United States. The country's primary disadvantage seems to be its close proximity to some of the world's hottest trouble spots.

Understandably, that has gotten some people very concerned about traveling to Jordan. Unfortunately, some people are having difficulty making the distinction between Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Now I don't want to deceive you. There was a recent shooting of a USAID worker in Jordan, and the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning for those planning to visit the region. However, the same U.S. advisory proclaims confidence in the Jordanian government to provide adequate protection for those traveling here. And it's worth asking whether one shooting should encourage Americans and others to people to stay away from here. After all, America is continuing to recover from the sniper attacks and still encouraging people to visit!

Interestingly, a number of individuals with whom I am traveling told me the horrified reaction that they received from friends and relatives when they told them they were planning to come over here to visit for a few days. It was basically, "Are you crazy?" "Why would you go now? What's wrong with you?"

Maybe their answer should have been, "No, just prayerfully cautious; as we should be in everything we do in life, including traveling anywhere, not just to Jordan. And while one incident good or bad does not a pattern make, I was very impressed earlier tonight with the outcome of what could have been a potential disaster.

As we were getting ready to leave the mall, Frank Tercero, the colleague from Albuquerque with whom I am traveling suddenly remembered that he had left all of his personal documents in the mall. An understandable look of horror came over his face and we quickly retraced his steps. We found the document case just where he had left it, five or 10 minutes before. How many American malls could you successfully repeat that experience in?

All of this evening's "excitement" occurred while we were dead tired after having been up almost 24 hours since leaving Albuquerque, New Mexico. However, there were a few harrowing occurrences as well in the days prior to leaving. Here's one. While I was really looking forward to this trip, I wasn't enthralled about flying out of New York's JFK Airport. It had been the airport of origin for more than one high profile airline disaster in the last few years.

I was beginning to overcome my reticence by committing it to the Lord when a comment from a business acquaintance made me take that commitment right back from the Lord and start worrying about it again. The individual said, "Flying out of JFK, huh? Hmmm. There've been some planes flying out of there that have never returned."

How comforting! Well, the big day came and along with my Frank Tercero we took off, landing first in Dallas where we had a couple of hours to spare before flying on to JFK.

There was a six hour layover at JFK, but making our way from one terminal to another, checking in with Jordanian Airlines and eating a makeshift supper of pizza and meatballs made the time pass by pretty quickly.

We eventually boarded the Royal Jordanian airliner, an A340 200, and made ourselves as comfortable as we could. It was difficult to get too relaxed, as the background music was playing at a level too high and too annoying to be background.

Despite the bright lights, the annoying music and a tired baby or two crying dismally, some brave people attempted to sleep, or at least take a nap. I'm not sure how successful they were, but their faces didn't look particularly happy.

The time passed, and soon it was time to take off. Other than some turbulence and one of those unexpected sharp drops in elevation where if you had the misfortune to be holding a drink you ended up wearing it, the flight went pretty well. We arrived in one piece and along with the rest of our group took a short van ride to our hotel where for our first meal here, we enjoyed a delicious Chinese supper for our first meal in Jordan.

I'm looking forward to the remainder of the week in Jordan as I see for myself what the country is really like. I hope you'll enjoy reading what I find.

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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