You Go On Vacation To The Country You Have, Not The Country You Might Want Or Wish To Have At A Later Time

"Hey, isn't that . . ." Jen started to say as we drove through Karak, Jordan on the way to Kerak Castle, the crusader castle built in the twelfth century. The car was quiet. We all saw what we saw and the driver saw that we saw what we saw: on the window of a store we just cruised by was a picture of someone who looked suspiciously like Saddam Hussein. I froze for a second, and snapped these pictures only as we drove by, so it's a little hard to tell:

Karak, Jordan

Karak, Jordan

"Yes," the driver sagely responded to Jen. He then went on to explain why there was a picture of Saddam Hussein posted in the window by launching into what sure sounded like an apology for the Baathist regime: countries in the Middle East need strong leaders, more people died in the war than died under Saddam — stuff like that. "But I don't think one way or the other," he added.

"Interesting perspective," Michael said.

I imagine that outside of Iraq (obviously) and certain communities in the U.S. that sent sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, grandchildren, relatives, friends and acquaintances to Iraq, Jordan is probably the country most affected by the Iraq War. Not only are there close to 1 million refugees or expatriates living in the country because of the war but the war also contributed to steep inflation in Jordan and rising gas prices.

Speaking of gas prices, a couple of hours later here's what our driver spent to fill up the tank along the King's Highway. I think (based on this) that the price of 655 fils a liter is set by the government (the article says that that price was recently lowered to 620 fils a liter):

Gas Station, King's Highway Between Wadi Mujib and Madaba, Jordan

Here I am working on the back of a napkin: 655 fils a liter equals 2.48 Jordanian dinars for a gallon. At the current exchange rate of $1.41 US dollars to one Jordanian dinar, that means that it costs $3.50 for a gallon of gas in Jordan. That's something you don't expect to see in the Middle East. At least I didn't expect to see that. Rising prices start to make you crave stability. In some ways I think all of this contextualizes the ambivalent response.

That said, we were in Jordan before all the stuff in Egypt and now Libya started happening — I wonder if the driver would go for that same teachable moment with us today — just because the goal of "stability" seems somewhat devalued as of late. Or not — maybe Jordanians still have a soft spot for Saddam.

Now before jumping to too many conclusions about the storefront in particular, it's important to keep a couple things in mind. One, it's possible that the picture of Saddam isn't actually him — though it sure did look like him as we drove by — and everyone immediately recognized it as him. Two, it's possible that the store owners meant something else by putting the photo in the window. It is hard to tell without reading Arabic what kind of store this was. Looks like a general store of some sort. I suppose I could try to transliterate, but I'm not sure it would do much good (I already tried once, and took another stab at transliteration this morning when I saw one of the notes I made during the trip about the olive oil factory we visited in Naour being called something along the lines of "Leftawi Naour," according to the driver at least; I tried to discern the letters and all I could make out was "ha-a-sad q nk-wa l yat"). The colors on the store throw me off, too — red and blue are unusual in Jordan, at least in our admittedly limited experience. Green and red, yes, but blue and red are colors I associate with other countries.

Which is to say, as I studied that picture the other day I started to second guess the moment in Karak: Maybe Jordanians aren't all Saddam apologists after all; things are murky; I can't read Arabic; Hey, I subscribe to @QueenRania — I thought we were cool here! Etc., etc.

And then I saw this:

Kuwaiti lawmakers are calling on their government to cut ties with Jordan in a row over the naming of a street in a Jordanian town after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussain, Gulf News reported on Sunday.

So yeah, that happened. What do you do?

(Here are a couple of links on this topic that you might find interesting. The second one is funny for this line — it's in the context of a Jeff Foxworthy-like "You might be a redneck if . . ." list where "Jordanian" is substituted for "redneck," as in "You are a Jordanian if you used to admire Sadam Hussein but refuse to admit that now after what happened to Iraq. [I know you had his poster on your car's window … confess].")

The driver loved showing us these signs along the highway that illustrated how close we were to all these Middle Eastern bogeymen. I liked seeing the signs, too:

Desert Highway (Highway 15) South of Amman, Jordan

Highway 35, Jordan

Which is also to say that politics are probably always an issue in such a jam-packed corner of the world. Looking out over the Dead Sea, for example, we were admonished that we were looking at Palestine and not Israel — as one of us let slip at one point (never mind that even the pre-1967 borders included at least part of the Dead Sea coast).

Interesting perspectives, always interesting.

See also the Big Map: Egypt/Jordan, December 27, 2010-January 11, 2011.

Posted: March 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: National Geographical | Tags: , , , ,