Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The wind through my hair

I took off after Mass this morning to visit Umm Qays, the place where Jesus was driven out of town because he healed the possessed strong man from Gedara and sent the legion of spirits into swine before they fell off the cliff. I was reluctant to go because I could have completed a lot of timely tasks.

I deliberated as to whether I ought to get on the road early or get to mass. I decided I would go to mass because I felt like I was receiving a good invitation. I'm glad I did.

I listened to Billy Joel's "The Stranger" as I drove through the outskirts of Amman. I rolled down the window and let the warm air flow through the car. It was nice to get out of the city. I drove about 1.5 hours to the northern border of Jordan where I had to pass through three checkpoints to get to my location. It was eery because I realize that I was suddenly alone on those roads. Others must know where the checkpoint are and they go around them.

The area to the north is very green resembling New Zealand. I then listened to Jimmy Buffet because it seemed like summer weather. When I started heading through a couple small towns, I was very pleased to find some workers in the middle of the street who were collecting trash and trimming the hedges of the small palm trees. That gave me hope that the people want a clean area.

I certainly had trouble finding Umm Qays. The GPS directed me to this very narrow steep hill that led to nowhere. A kind gentleman came out to help me. The hill was so steep I was afraid my car would not make it. He gave me better directions, but those led to nowhere. He invited me in for a smoke, which I politely declined.

I circled around Gedara for quite a while and I turned back home disappointed I did not find my target destination. Then I said, "To hell with it," and I went back one last time. I was led very far away from the GPS directions and then I finally saw a sign that gave me hope. Even if I didn't make it there, I would have been happy because the place was serenely quiet and filled with fresh air. I wanted to take a nap because the air was so clean. Though the green was lush, it was also shallow. The greens will turn to brown in a few months, but for right now, it was beautiful and refreshing.

I thought I might turn around when 10 guides, each at different times, begged me to hire them as guides. "No" does not mean "no" to them. "As you wish," they finally say when they realized they have upset me. I don't want to yell at them, but I do want to yell at them. They are annoying and the language makes it all the more complex.

Just as I've had it with the merchants and faux guides, I run into a tourist police officer who is the nicest man. We had a pleasant conversation, though short because I used up all my Arabic. The man in the museum is quite nice as well. They erased the bad memories of those faux guides.

As I was taking photographs, I kept seeing feral cats. They would look at me and then look away. The guides reminded me of the same. They wanted me to catch their eye as an invitation to come closer. I am not relating these men to animals, but it did strike me that the actions were similar. I do feel badly for them because they depend upon tourists for their livelihood. I'd rather take photos at my own pace and sit down when I want.

I lunched at the restaurant within Umm Qays. The food was quite good, yet the scenery was awesome. There were no bugs and the views were expansive and peaceful. I was very glad to be out of the city. The site overlooks the Jordan River Valley and the restaurant stares at the Golan Heights. If you look closely, you can see Syrian fortifications. Lake Tiberias is at the base of the Heights and it is easy to imagine that Jesus walked there frequently. From the restaurant, the Jordanians says there is a cave where Jesus slept for one night before the Gadarenes kicked him out.

It would have been fascinating to see the place the Romans built in all its glory. All the blood, sweat, and tears that was needed to build the Empire must have been tremendous. It is no wonder the people hated them. They did, however, build monuments of glory.

During lunch, a family made the way up the steps to get to the restaurant. They had a four year old child who looked at me and smiled. She was cross-eyed, but she made her way up into the chair and sat with me. I said a few words to her and her father gently coaxed her to follow them to the restaurant. She then came over and kissed my back as I remained seated. When they returned, she climbed up the chair again to sit with me. Her dad was beside himself. He kept apologizing.

I wondered if only men are waiters in restaurant. It just dawned on me that I've never seen a woman serving food.

On the way home, I saw lots of cows, horses, sheep, and goats. I saw a dead camel, which was curious because its legs were sticking straight up in the air. I thought he might rest before it he was tipped over.

I traveled through Irbid. I thought this is exactly where U.S. citizens ought not to be on their own. Few English-language signs helped me find my way out of there and sometimes the roads were very narrow and borderline dirt roads.

On the way back, since we are close to St. Patrick's Day, I listened to some Irish music. I sometimes let myself go and get into the music. I noticed I entertained a few drivers, who celebrated the fact that I was happy.

To see photos of my trip, click on the link below:

1. Pics of Umm Qais
2. Pics of Lunchtime in North Jordan
2. Pics en route to North Jordan


  1. You went! Oh how happy I am that you made it after some detours. There was not another living soul there the day that I went. Well, I was there, Nadine, our driver, and someone who took our entry fee. That was it. I loved the museum, fantastic. I do not recall any place to eat. Nor checkpoints.

    I do so recall that spectacular view.

    It is funny what you say about Irbid. I never did anything but drive by, and as you know, I am not fearful of Jordan at large, but something about that place made me feel unwelcome. And that is by simply driving by!

    What I like best about the day however is that you were so happy!

    1. I waited until it was warm enough. I went at the right time. I'm also very glad I found it. The road leading up there was spectacular. I wanted to stop at every curve along the way but I restrained myself. Funny. I didn't have an entry fee. The museum was very nice, so was the curator. Oh, yes, I realize that I have Jordanian residency. The restaurant is very nice. It is at the top of the steps near the main ruins. Lovely. I had spaghetti Bolognese and some fried Haloumi cheese. Yummy.

      Irbid was quite tense in parts, but people liked that I was singing in my car. It disarmed then. I was on some tiny streets. I don't think my GPS gave me the highway route.

      A very good day.

  2. John, your happiness came through so clearly. I enjoyed your encounter with the four year old as children are so genuine. The pictures are absolutely spectacular. I'm so glad that you enjoyed your day - we are in the middle of another large dump of snow so enjoy the warm weather!

    1. It was a lovely day. I almost talked myself out of going. I'm glad I didn't.

  3. I find GPS in general often a problem, but our Dutch Photography teacher, Henk Bos, has it down and can go anywhere with it. Irbid actually has a good academic community there - I met with an Islamic scholar from one of Irbid's university to discuss the use of the symbol of the cloud in Islam there. I was invited to his home, and sat on cushions with his retinue of serious Islamic students in his special teaching/study/prayer room, and we discussed parallels in Islam and Christianity. It was a very interesting scene - a New York female from the Village debating with a serious Islamic academic! I need to pay another visit; let me know if you want to join me! PS Patience for the faux guides, they depend on tourists for their livelihood, and many of them know amazing facts about the historical sites. One of my best guides ever for me was a 10 year old kid in Jerash! You miss much without the guides, official or unofficial. Every time I go to these sites I learn more! It's endless!

    1. The GPS found it after some time, but I think there is some problem in the spelling of names. Once I got onto the right road, I made it fairly easily, but it was trying to initially bring me on dirt paths.

      I realize Irbid is much more complicated than I experienced. It is a large city and when you first pass through a town, you miss a great deal. I'd be glad to join you sometime for a visit.

      I don't mind hiring guides. They are very useful. Having 10 of them successively try to be hired by me is wearying. I couldn't even get out of my car before the first two came. I like a little breathing room first. I'm big on boundaries and space. They are not. Instead of my enjoying their knowledge, I become annoyed with them. They always lose a sale with me because their style doesn't match the style I need. I want freedom. They don't assess which strategies work with various peoples. Mostly, I want to take photographs rather than defending my boundaries. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll have a meeting of styles.