Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jordan Challenge 14. When in Jordan During Eid, Head to Aqaba

There's nothing like leaving your own culture to make you realize which cultural values are so deeply embedded that you don't even notice they are cultural values.  Being in the Middle East, like being in East Africa a few years ago, makes me acutely aware that I am an American who thinks about time the way an American does. For us, time is a commodity to be scheduled and once the schedule is in place (as far in advance as possible), to be adhered to as rigidly as possible.  Jordan's not like Tanzania, where a 6 pm dinner appointment might just as easily mean 7 or 8, but there is a certain fluidity to time here that is tough for a lot of Americans, including me, to acclimate to.  Some of it is fun, like the fact that waiters will NEVER kick you out of your table here, and you can sit for hours without ever being brought a check.  But other parts really challenge Americans to put their day planners away, because we can schedule till we're blue in the face, but things might change.  Religiously-based holidays, for instance, can only be estimated on the calendar and aren't actually fixed till a few days before the holiday based on where the moon is. This year, that turned out to be a bonus for everyone when Eid al-Adha -- a very big holiday in the Muslim calendar commemorating the end of the Haj and also God's relenting and allowing the prophet Abraham to sacrifice a sheep instead of his son -- happened to start on Sunday (which is the first day of the work week here). Then the powers that be announced we'd be having the whole week off for Eid. Bonus!

We had hoped to spend at least part of the Eid holiday visiting the West Bank and Israel, but that was not in the cards because I am still waiting for my Jordanian residence permit, making travel across the border quite tricky.  So, we decided to visit some places in Jordan, including first Petra and then Wadi Rum.  And Aqaba, it turns out, is only an hour's drive away from Wadi Rum and situated right on the Red Sea.  So of course, we decided to check it out as well. The only problem with our little plan is that it was shared by many Jordanians who were as excited about the week-long holiday as we were.  We found this out through experience, when, for instance,we showed up at the JETT bus station an hour early to get tickets to Aqaba, only to find the bus sold out.  No matter, we bought tickets for later in the day and luckily had thought to book a hotel room earlier.

Although Aqaba reminded us both of other seaside resorts we've been to, the beautiful mosques of Aqaba were part of what made it unique.
Chris and I both thought that Aqaba reminded us of Mexico, particularly the Baja coast, in terms of both weather and the general atmosphere.  Of course, Mexico has many fewer mosques and many more displays of skin among the beach goers, but still, after the rainy chill of Amman, the easygoing atmosphere was quite easy to take.  We sandwiched out trip to Wadi Rum in between two days and nights (at two different hotels) in Aqaba and managed to get both desert and beach sand all in one trip!
On our first night in town we took a stroll on the waterfront.  The lights behind Chris are of the much larger Israeli resort of Eilat across the water.

Here's where the Middle Eastern perspective on beach-going starts really diverging from ours.  The only people wearing swim suits on the public beach were little children and teenage guys.  As you can see with the woman sitting in the foreground, Jordanian woman pretty much stay fully clothed on beach days.

Chris enjoying a (non-alcoholic) drink at sun-down and taking in the terrific view.

We never made it down to the resorts south of town where the snorkelers and scuba divers explore what are supposed to be amazing coral reefs -- that will have to wait for another day.  But we can now say we've taken part in an important institution -- celebrating a part of the Eid vacation on the shores of the Red Sea the Jordanian way. 

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