Jordan (Some)Times

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THE (Occasional) JORDAN (Some)TIMES

Sunday 12 May 2002
Volume 1, Issue 9

– The Weather in Amman
Yesterday - High 25C/77F - Low 13C/55F - partly cloudy
Today - High 26C/79F - Low 14C/58F - sunny
Tomorrow - High 26C/79F - Low 16C/62F - partly cloudy
[Some rainfall on Friday.]

– Overheard in Jordan

"From where you are?" - kids in apartment building across the field from ACOR; ice-cream scooper (an Iraqi) at Jabri's on Garden Street in Amman; half a dozen sooty charcoal producers in the lower Wadi Zarqa (River Jabbok), slowly burning huge covered piles of smoldering firewood to provide little briquettes for all the hubbly-bubbly water pipes in the country.

"You are most welcome in Jordan!" - kids in apartment building across the field from ACOR; ice-cream scooper (an Iraqi) at Jabri's on Garden Street in Amman; half a dozen sooty charcoal producers in the lower Wadi Zarqa (River Jabbok), slowly burning huge covered piles of smoldering firewood to provide little briquettes for all the hubbly-bubbly water pipes in the country.

"Thank you very much (with roses)!" - three girls in the house at the top of our walking hill whom we have come to know over the past three years (Rula is tall and thin, about 14, and the twins, Assil and Rafif, just turned nine; there is an older sister and some older brothers as well) - in response to a gift our granddaughter Sara (who turns six next week) sent from Seattle for them, a Chia Pet Lion (nothing like it available in Jordan).

"Ahlan wa sahlan (Welcome - It is not hard for you to be family)!" - Parents of family at the top of our walking hill who have invited us into their home more than once for tea and, recently, for huge slices of the best watermelon in the world (even better than Hermiston melons!) - spoken about fifteen times per visit.

– Recent Travels in Jordan
The last several weeks have seen us on the road again ... in many directions to many locations. A group of ACOR fellows, directors and office and kitchen staff headed off in early April to visit Patricia Bikai's excavations on the "Blue Chapel" in Petra (reported earlier as the location Carmen gained her first excavation experience). We caravanned (if traveling in a group of four vehicles spread out over ten kilometers of the Desert Highway counts as a caravan) from ACOR down to Ma`an, turned west toward Petra and drove into Petra the back way, with special permission. After a lovely lunch, served and devoured in the side aisles and nave of the ancient chapel, we saw all there was to see of the churches Patricia and Pierre have excavated in Petra. It was a great experience, even if on a cold and blustery day.

The trip back to ACOR gave us opportunity to experience all recorded forms of weather known to Jordanians, with the exception of clear skies and sunshine. The rain (shitta) came down in sheets; the snow (thalj) flew blindingly past us; the sleet (jalid) crashed onto Jeepers and the wind (hawa) blew everything horizontally. It was nasty out there. There were places along the Desert Highway where, because of the blowing dust, we could see no more than a few meters in front of us. The wind, stirring up brown-out levels of dust, also carried with it huge drops of rain, making the brown-out areas mud-build-up areas on the windward side of our vehicles. The windshield wipers bogged down in the accumulating mud and drivers-side windows became totally opaque, covered with a half inch of compacted mud. It was amazing to see all the cars traveling with us, looking half plastered with soiled, spray-on spackle and leaning hard to one side. Only the heavy rains in Amman saved us from a certain trip to a restaurant to get the vehicles washed off by unsolicited attendants in the parking lot. Reminds me that since the wind is often blowing hard on the Desert Highway most vehicles traveling south to Aqaba lean a bit to the east when they arrive. The return trip to Amman usually seems to straighten them back up.

In search of Iron I sites, we also traveled again to the Jordan Valley to visit Tall al-Dhahab al-Gharbi (Ancient Mound of Gold - West), along the Wadi Zarqa (River Jabbok). While the hike to the top was breath-taking (literally), the view from the top was, well, breath-taking. The western Zarqa Valley is precipitously undulating and the stream flow heavy due to good rains. We also visited Khirbat Ghazzala (Ruin of Gazelles), a small site in the Jordan Valley, as well as Tall as-Sa`idiya, perhaps Zaphon or Zerathan of some of the Judges narratives connected with Gideon's pursuit of the fleeing Midianites. Al-Kharaz, just up the Jordan Valley, boasts a "four-room" house, and so merited a visit too.

Last Thursday and Friday we loaded up Jeepers for a trip to the south, stopping at several important sites going and coming, and spending the night at Petra. We encountered a new (to us) traditional village south of Karak by the name of Adnaniya. Most of the thirty or forty stone houses with flat roofs had been abandoned for newer homes nearby, leaving the entire village open for our inquisitive wandering. Like other traditional villages in Jordan, Adnaniya provided a feel for ancient biblical towns. Everything was there - narrow alleyways between box-like domestic houses; animal smells; cisterns into which roof-runoff rainwater was channeled, animal stalls; traditional architecture of stone walls, wooden beams, lashed reeds over the beams with mud and plaster atop these, a roof roller still around to smooth out the mud of the roofs after each rainfall; animal smells; wild-flower-strewn courtyards. A biblical assault on the senses, including smell, which is why I keep advocating a Scratch-and-Sniff Bible.

On our approach to the traditional village, we asked permission of a woman in a nearby house to photograph the site. There was no hesitation on her part. Then, from nowhere, came a twenty-something man who took on the self-assigned task of providing tour-guide services. While I normally thank these people and move on (worried about how much it will cost me), he was insistent. At the snap of his fingers, we whirled this way and that, finding our way through the entire site, stopping at every corner for the picturesque photo ops we encountered. The village gave to us a living illustration of ancient life in small communities. We could see what it meant, in human terms, to build and maintain houses; to live with the animals year round; to put up with noisy neighbors in something like an eternal dormitory. At the end of our tour, the man refused adamantly to accept anything for his time. He would have none of it and wished us well.

We also stopped at Khirbat Akkuza, dramatically perched on the northern escarpment of the Wadi Hasa (Zered in the Bible) which feeds into the southern end of the Dead Sea. It was an early Iron Age outpost of some kind, protected on one side with a dry moat and the other three sides by near-vertical slopes on which you would not want your kids to play if you didn't want to collect them from several hundred feet downslope each day to bring them back for supper.

Then on through Tafila (where we had lunch of fresh, hot pita bread not two minutes out of the oven of a street-side bakery and drinks [Mirinda for those needing to know] for a total of JD1.200 [about $1.70] for the three of us). Then past Dana to the extraordinary "acro-site" of Sela, a natural rock fortress overlooking the Wadi Araba between Jordan and Israel. Nothing like this site, perhaps the Sela of the Bible, for sensing how the Edomites lived high among the sandstone rocks of this mountainous region.

It was a challenge, on arriving at Petra, but someone had to stay in the Five-star Petra Movenpic Hotel and check out the best dinner buffet anywhere in Jordan. We considered ourselves up to the task, having starved our bodies on the trip down in order to reserve stomach space for the evening meal. Waddling up to our rooms after our culinary conquest, we were scarcely able to roll into bed. Getting up was more difficult, but, driven as we were by visions of the best breakfast buffet in Jordan, we managed to aim ourselves toward the elevators for transport back down to the dining room floor.

The journey back to Amman involved a stop at three sites in Moabite territory east of the Dead Sea, all with the name of Mudayna. There was Mudayna al-`Aliya, also set as a peak-with-a-view overlooking precipitous slopes on three sides and a moat on the fourth. It is being excavated by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, and has already revealed a casemate (double, divided) wall and several pillared (some "four-room") houses from a century and a half after the one at `Umayri. One reaches this site by roaming along a gravel track for seven kilometers through mostly desert regions, a bedouin camp (with the obligatory mean dog growling and snapping at us) and then over open rocky hills.

Up the wadi five kilometers is another Mudayna, Mudayna al-Mu`arradja, which likewise demands travel over non-roads. Following the GPS arrow, we jeeped along a sometimes narrow ridge atop steep valleys dropping hundreds of feet, inching our way over rock outcroppings and boulders to within a half-kilometer of the site. It was raining a bit, but this fortified site, dating to the early Iron Age and boasting a pillared house of some kind, demanded a visit. The view was stunning.

The third Mudayna, Mudayna `ala al-Mujib, was also perched atop a hill overlooking a steep valley hundreds of feet deep. While we ran out of time to hike to the site, we looked longingly at it across a deep crevasse, promising to visit the site in the future. It may also contain remains related in time to what we find at `Umayri. Then, there are three other Mudaynas, but these are not currently on the must-see list of archaeological sites related to my project.

– Al-Wadeh, The Situation
Thank you sincerely for all of your insightful responses to the piece in the last Jordan (Some)Times about the situation across the river. I don't have the space to cite or respond to all of them (the most received in response to any issue), a fact which does not lessen my appreciation to you for caring and communicating that care. We can hope that the Saudi initiative, agreed to at the Arab summit in Beirut last March, will find its way into reality. This is clearly the most balanced approach available, one which would move all parties in the right direction to solve the underlying problems in the region. We keep praying for peace.

You might want to check out the web version of today's real Jordan Times (www.jordantimes.com) to find an article by `Umayri landowner, Raouf Abujaber, and a letter to the editor by veteran MPPite, Gary Huffaker.

– The News from ACOR Amman
Well, it's been a quiet week (or so) in ACOR Amman, my home town. Quiet except for the breaking news that today is Mothers Day in America. Breaking because Jordan is several hours ahead of the American time zones. Which means that I can be the first to wish everyone a Happy Mothers Day in the US. Which actually means that, having forgotten that this is Mothers Day, I still have more time to make up for the oversight and extend my best wishes anyway! Which may or may not be helpful, since, statistically, most mothers in America will likely not read this edition of The Jordan (Some)Times.

Carmen is especially enjoying Mothers Day. She has the privilege today of hopping into Jeepers with her husband (and Bev Beem from Walla Walla College) for a ride to Irbid in northern Jordan for the romantic occasion of listening to a lecture her fine husband is giving at Yarmuk University on Tall al-`Umayri and the Iron Age in Jordan, something she has always wanted to hear about ... again. At least that is what this Martian thinks. But it's really not as bad as it sounds. She could be shopping, thereby frittering away our retirement nest egg (a bantam egg in a lilliputian nest already).

In any case, we would like to extend our warmest Mothers Day greetings to all our mothers, without whom the odds favoring our present existence would be seriously diminished. Too many personal relatives for me to mention, but my mother, Alice Clark in Anacortes, WA, and Carmen's mother, Julie Mosser in The Dalles, OR, deserve our deepest gratitude. As does my grandmother, Elsie Fowler of Anacortes, WA, whose 102 years and 102 descendants continue adding to her already insurmountable stature. Great people, these mothers! Yours too!

We also feel deeply for the mothers in Israel and Palestine, as well as in other parts of the world, who have lost their children, a part of the all-too-often overlooked human sidebar to the headline news of battles, bombs, bombardment and saber-rattling. They deserve better. We owe it to them to do better by them, to be better.

The Arabs have some intriguing designations for places, events and objects tied to mothers and motherhood. There are, in the published database volume of Jordanian sites, 184 locations beginning with Umm (Mother of), as compared with 147 place names beginning with Abu (father of). Some examples of "mother" place names: Umm al-Lulu (Mother of Pearl); Umm al-Walid (Mother of the Boy); Umm al-Hayya (Mother of Life); Umm Qasr (Mother of Castle); Umm Tall (Mother of Ancient Site); Umm Zaytuna (Mother of Olives). One site in Petra, the Edomite mountain stronghold of last resort in the event of attack, is called Umm al-Biyara - "Mother of Cisterns" - because of all the cisterns carved into the rock to collect and conserve rainwater for people living on its flat top. Umm al-Jimmal (Mother of Camels) is a Roman site near the Syrian border, called that because in its desert location it provided a home for camels and a stop along a camel-caravan trade route.

As a part of Palestine's long history, the mother goddess has been revered in order to secure safe delivery of children at birth, an event fraught with the gravest danger to mother and child, as revealed through burials, in the incredibly high infant mortality rates of antiquity. Little wonder we find so many hand-held clay figurines of pregnant and delivering women, likely used as good-luck charms.

In the words of Elizabeth Willett, MPP veteran: "Because of endemic disease and poor socioeconomic conditions [from 1150 to 650 BC], of the average 4.1 births per female, only 1.9 survived. From 650-300 BC, this improved to 4.6 births per female, with 3.0 survivors. On average, 35 percent of all individuals died before age 5. High infant mortality kept nuclear families small enough to live in the familiar four-room house. Even without an epidemic, families would have had to produce almost twice the number of children they wanted in order to achieve optimal family size." Life was difficult for ancient mothers and their young children.

In another view of motherhood, the land, seen as the mother of its people, nourishes its inhabitants through a relationship of mutual interdependence with plants, animals and humans. Normally, place names are grammatically feminine in gender, demonstrating the dependence of local citizens on the source of their origin and ongoing sustenance. Little wonder the land lies at the emotive center and communal heart of the disputes in Palestine today. It (she) is part of the family, an integral member of the clan.

And, of course, to emphasize a point, one labels something metaphorically: "The Mother of All ______." As in: The Madaba Plains Project is the Mother of All Projects. Or: Archaeology is the Mother of All Disciplines. Or: We are experiencing the Mother of All Excavation Seasons this summer. Or: ....

Well, that's the news from ACOR Amman, where the directors are strong, the office staff is good looking and all the ACOR fellows (and their mothers) are above average.

Editor: Doug Clark
Assoc. Editor: Doug Clark
Managing Editor: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Chair: Doug Clark
Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Other Editorial Board Member: Doug Clark
Desktop Publishing: Doug Clark
Quality Control: Doug Clark
Proofreading: Doug Clark
Data Entry: Doug Clark
Marketing: Doug Clark
Circulation: Doug Clark
Censorship: Doug Clark's mother

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