As another country that doubles as a first name, you’d be hard pressed if you haven’t heard of Jordan, especially if you pay any attention to the news. I suppose there are more than a few who only watch the dumbest of TV shows, and well… I promised I would stop going off on tangents, even though that is certainly tangent worthy. But it’s a topic for another time. There’s a lot going on in this area of the world. And I’m hoping to shed some light into the culture where this is taking place.
This country is named after the Jordan River, a major river in this area. It essentially runs from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and partly serves as the border between Israel and Jordan.
Jordan lies in the Middle East in an area sometimes called the Levant. This is the area that is closest to the Mediterranean Sea. It is surrounded by Israel (along with the West Bank and the Golan Heights) to the west, Syria to the north, Iraq to the northeast, and Saudi Arabia to the south and east. Jordan also shares a border with the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea, which are really the most significant bodies of water in the entire country. The Dead Sea is actually the lowest place on earth at 408 m (1338.58 ft) below sea level. The country varies between arid desert plateaus and arable mountain regions and generally has a Mediterranean climate.
This area is steeping in Biblical history, and several of the kingdoms mentioned in the Bible originated here, like the Kingdom of Moab, the Kingdom of Ammon, the Kingdom of Edom, and others. It was also included as part of other kingdoms that extended its way into this region: the Akkadians, the ancient Egyptians, the Hittites, the Persians, the Greeks, the Nabateans, a number of other empires including at times, the Israelites. The Nabateans were the ones who developed the Nabatean alphabet, originally based on Aramaic, and eventually became the basis of the Arabic script. The Nabateans also left us the city of Petra, known for its rock-cut structures and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This country began to be known as Transjordan, and this name will stick around until they declare their independence. There were many Jewish settlements in this area, but Christianity quickly spread across the region because of the Roman Empire. But like most places in this region, the Ottomans eventually took over (and stayed for the next 400 years), bringing with them Islam. While the fighting of WWI was happening in Europe, there was another fight happening: the Transjordan troops were fighting against the Ottoman Empire and were generally supported by the Allies. (This revolt was highlighted by T.E. Lawrence and served as the basis of the movie Lawrence of Arabia.) Afterwards, Transjordan was placed under the British Mandate for Palestine. In 1946, Transjordan gained its independence, officially becoming the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. A few years later, the “trans” was dropped, becoming the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. They went through Palestine to attack Jerusalem. Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, Jordan and Israel would fight several wars over the Palestinian states and land occupation, and several peace treaties have been signed.
The capital and largest city, Amman, has about 4 million people, making it about the size of Los Angeles. Because it’s one of the largest cities in this area, it’s also a center for government, media, arts, education, and business. Amman is also one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world. At one time, the city was renamed Philadelphia by the Macedonian Greek ruler of Egypt at that time. The Ottomans moved the capital to the city of Salt, but when the British took control, it was moved back to Amman. The city itself now spreads across 19 hills, and it can actually get cold enough to snow (which seems weird to me because I always think of it as a warm country). Although the city has very ancient roots, it is very much of a modern city today. Complete with several universities, mass transit, growing financial and commercial sectors, sports, and a thriving culinary scene, Amman enjoys a large tourist season throughout much of the year.
Jordan enjoys a moderately high economy and benefits from trade agreements with Turkey and the European Union. Larger portions of their economy are based on the production of various fertilizers, medicaments, and textiles. The country suffers from low natural resources, which forces them to become reliant on foreign aid and trade for food and energy resources. It’s the only country in this region to not have its own oil reserves. Battling high unemployment and poverty, they also suffer from having the top students choosing to work abroad and send their remittances home. However, their growing financial, commercial, and tourism industries are helping the country regain some of its footing.
The official language is Standard Arabic, which is the language of education and government business. English is so widely spoken that many college courses are taught in English, and it’s become the de facto language of commerce and banking as well. You’ll also find French and German taught, but mostly in the private and elite sections. Along with those languages, there are several other languages that have pockets of speakers throughout the country: Chechen, Circassian, Armenian, Tagalog, and Russian.
The vast majority (about 92%) practice Sunni Islam, and there is a smaller percentage of other Islamic denominations. There is also a small Christian population in Jordan. Christian lawmakers actually have a certain number of seats reserved, and many business owners traditionally have been Christian. Smaller pockets of other religions like Druze and Bahá’í are spread throughout the country. Although religious freedom is technically on the books, there is some controversy as to how protected the minority religions are.
Jordan is an ancient land, and there are many places mentioned in the Bible that are widely believed to be in present-day Jordan. Moses’ burial place is thought to be near Mount Nebo. The ancient city of Petra that was carved into rock is thought to be nearly 2000 years old, but it wasn’t known to the western world until the 19th century. John the Baptist was imprisoned in a Jordanian palace near the city of Madaba. The culture here is different from other areas, especially in comparison to European-based cultures. Jordanians are a very welcoming people and often offer coffee or tea to friends and visitors. They are especially cautious about admiration and praise and often warn against it. Admiring something in someone’s home will often prompt the owner to give it to their guest, and praising children excessively is often viewed as bad luck. There are a lot of customs concerning eating and being in the home and in pubic. But I will throw caution to the wind, however, and say that I have picked out some really good recipes and cannot wait to make them.
Up next: art and literature