Jordan A to Z: K is for … Kings!

Jordan is a constitutional monarchy officially known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  The Hashemites are a historic Arab tribe tracing their roots to the prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and ultimately to Hashem the great-grandfather of Muhammad (hence the name Hashemite).  The current ruler of the kingdom of Jordan is His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Hussein.  He ascended the throne in 1999 after the death of his father King Husein who had reigned since 1952. There have been 4 official kings of Jordan since it became an independent state in 1946.  Interestingly, you can tell the history of the Jordanian monarchy by taking a look at it’s major currency notes

A History Lesson from Jordanian Currency

1 dinar or“1 JD/ 1 lira
Value: 1.41 USD/.98 EUR
Face: Sharif Hussein bin Ali (1908-1917)
Back: Great Arab revolt of 1916

From the 10th century, a Hashemite
was appointed as the ruler of Mecca.
In 1906 Hussein bin Ali became Emir.
in 1916, with the help of the British he shook
off the Ottamans, ruling the Hejaz Kingdom
and briefly declaring himself Caliph until
1924 when the Sauds forced him out.
From that time he lived in Transjordan
under his son’s rule.   Hussein died in 1931.

5 dinaneer or “5 JDs”
Value: 7.04 USD/4.88 EUR
Face: Emir/King Abdullah I bin Hussein (1921-51)
Back: Ma’an Palace – the house that served
as the early palace/HQ for Abdullah

Abdullah had served in the Ottoman government
but later worked with T.E. Lawrence and his father
to overthrow the Turks during the Arab Revolt.
He ruled as Emir of Transjordan under the Brits
Until independence in 1946, and then as king
until he was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951.

10 dinaneer or “10 JDs”
Value: 14.10 USD/9.77 EUR
Face: King Talal bin Abdullah (1951-52)
Back: First Jordanian Parliament.

Talal was Jordan’s briefest King ruling
only for 1 year.  He stepped down in 1952
for health reasons, reportedly that he had
schizophrenia.  The highlight of his monarchy
was the ratification of the Jordanian Constitution
establishing the Parliamentary system that
is still in use today.  Talal died in Istanbul in 1972.

20 dinar or “20 JDs”
Value:
28.20 USD/19.52 EUR
Face: King Hussein bin Talal (1952-99)
Back: Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

At age 16, Hussein narrowly escaped being
assassinated with his grandfather in 1951.
After Talal’s short reign Hussein was enthroned
at the age of 17 and ruled for 46 years.  He is
Jordan’s most beloved King, having guided the
country successfully through 4 decades of
conflict and growth.  He signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. Hussein was well respected
in the international community and his loss to cancer in 1999 was felt keenly around the world.

50 dinar or “50 JDs”
Value: 70.42 USD/48.82 EUR
Face: King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein (1999- current)
Back: Raghadan Palace built by Abd I in 1926

The first several years of Abdullah II’s reign were
marked with solid financial growth, but the recent
global economic downturn has presented new challenges to the monarch.
Despite rumblings within certain segments of society, Jordan was weathered the tumult
of the Arab Spring fairly quietly.  Abdullah II is
well-liked both within and outside of Jordan.  Named on of the 4 most influential Muslims in the world in 2010, Abdullah II has been a face for moderate Islam.  The 2004 he published the “Amman Message“, a treatise on moderate Islam.

Well that’s the history of the Jordanian monarchy in a nut shell.  A short paragraph is hardly suitable to describe the impact each of these great men have had on their country and the world and I would encourage you to do some more research on your own if you are interested in the history of Jordan.

Jordan A to Z: J is for … (the) Jordan River!

Satellite image showing the Sea of Galilee in the North (top) connected to the Dead Sea in the south by the Jordan River Valley.

The eponymous Jordan River serves as the western border of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.   The name has possibly descended from an ancient Aramaic word yerdon, meaning “slope,” which is also reminiscent of the Hebrew word yardon, meaning “descend.”  The Arabic urdun is probably related to one or both of these words as all three languages are linguistic cousins and share ancient roots.  Both monikers would be apt for this river that falls from the flanks of Mount Hermon (summit: 2,814 m) to the Dead Sea (400 m below Sea Level), making the Jordan River the lowest flowing river on Earth.  This geographic morsel joined with the fact that the Jordan River Valley is the northern point of origin of the Great Rift valley would make this humble river a significant topographical feature that cannot be ignored, even if it’s historic reputation did not proceed it.

Modern-day explorers are often surprised when they finally make it to the shores of the once mighty Jordan.  This river that religious texts tell us once required a miracle in order cross could now be waded in parts if it were not a highly monitored international border.  Just before it finally drops into the Dead Sea the Jordan seems more of a narrow, muddy, slowly meandering creek (or “crick” as we would say back home) and not a thing of miracles.  The reason for this is simple … it is the major source of fresh water in a very arid region and has been used extensively for agriculture and other purposes by the nations it runs through and between.

The Jordan River's southern end as it is today.

It is estimated that only 10% of the water that starts at the headwaters of the Jordan finally make it to the Dead Sea. Much of this water is pumped out by the nation of Israel, but Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan are said to utilize it as well.  As you can imagine accurate figures about this sort of thing are hard to come by and are jaded by politics.  Nonetheless it seems quite obvious that Israel takes the lion’s share of the water resources from this international boundary water.  Environmentalists warn that the ecological impact of water mismanagement in the Jordan Valley may be irreversible.

Despite these dire warnings, there is one bright spot on the banks of the Jordan – even if it is not an ecological one.  Shortly after the Jordanian and Israeli governments signed a peace treaty in 1994, the Jordanians began demilitarizing a valley that was full of land mines.  This lead to a Catholic monk and archeologist, Father Piccirillo exploring the area to find the Biblical “Bethany beyond-the-Jordan” where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  He made incredible archeological discoveries and under the auspices of HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammed the foundations of many ancient churches were uncovered.  Many scholars now agree that this is the most likely site for the baptism of Jesus.

Tourists and Pilgrims can visit easily visit the site on a day-trip from Amman, even combining such a visit with a dip in the Dead Sea and taking in the view from high atop nearby Mt. Nebo where Moses gazed upon  the land of promise before passing away.  Information about the Bethany beyond-the-Jordan site can be found here.  It is well worth the visit.

Ruins of several churches on the spot where many scholars believe is the authentic location (in Jordan) of the Baptism of Jesus

(As a side note I must say if you are planning a joint visit to both Israel and Jordan … Please save visiting the baptism site for your time in Jordan!  The traditional Israeli site in the north near the Sea of Galilee has no historical significance whatsoever, and the Israeli’s have constructed their own viewing platform across from the Jordanian site.    They call the place Qasr al-Yahud (castle of the Jews).  Negative reactions from the Jordanian government and press to the opening of the Israeli side can be read here.  The fact is that the overwhelming  majority of compelling archeological discoveries are on the Jordanian side.  If you want to experience this bit of history, please spend your money on the side of the river where the event is most likely to have happened.  Thanks!)

Jordan A to Z: I is for … Islam!

What can I say in a simple blog post of a few hundred words about the main religion of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan?  Whatever I say  in this short span of words could not do the topic justice.  So, I will just give a couple of stats, and a little food for thought.

Estimates vary on what percentage of the population here in Jordan are Muslim.  My best estimate pulled from a variety of sources is around 96%.  (out of aprox. 6 million people).  At such a high percentage one might think you should just say 100%, but there is a sizable Christian minority that is given a lot of religious freedom and has a definite impact on society.  The government even guarantees 10% of parliamentary seats to Christians.

It is probably safe to say that 100% of Muslims here are Sunni, although you may meet a Shi’a here or there … it is not enough to make a demographic blip.

Of course, Islam is famous for the so-called 5 Pillars or religious activities that every Muslim should perform:

  1. reciting the Shahada (“there is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet”)
  2. praying 5x a day (preferably in a mosque facing Mecca, but not necessarily)
  3. fasting during the month of Ramadan (no food or drink from sunup to sundown)
  4. giving to the poor (2.5% of your extra wealth each year)
  5. going on pilgrimage to Mecca (once in a lifetime if you can afford it)

Many outsiders think that Islam is a religion that solely revolves around the performance of these 5 activities.  I have often heard non-Muslims say that Muslims hope to go to heaven by doing these 5 things as “religiously” as possible.  Not to say that these activities are not important, I must point out that at the core of the Islamic system (as I understand it) is a system of belief or faith.  Besides the activities above (or perhaps before them) are the 6 core beliefs that Muslims have faith and trust in:

  1. The Oneness of God (I think this one speaks for itself)
  2. The prophets of God (Muhammad, Jesus, David, Moses, Abraham and most of the rest of the biblical prophets)
  3. The books of the prophets (Muslims consider the Qur’an, Gospels, Psalms, and Torah to be scripture)
  4. The Angels (believed to be the helpers of God, particularly the Angel Jibreel/Gabriel)
  5. The Last Day (that there will be a day of judgment that all will face)
  6. Fate/Destiny  (That God has ordered beforehand the events of our lives)

If a Muslim does not believe in these 6 things then  he or she is not truly a Muslim, even if they perform the 5 pillars perfectly everyday.

I will write more on Islam at another time.  The only other point I would like to make right now is that my experience as a Christian American living in an Islamic Middle Eastern country has been very positive.  I have been welcomed warmly and treated with respect.  This may not be the case everywhere in the Islamic world, but it certainly has been my experience here in Jordan.  I have met many people of deep beliefs who want peace not only for their families and country but for the world as well. Although there are significant differences between Islam and Christianity, I have found that many here prefer to focus on those things that we hold in common, rather than the things that divide us.

I say all of this because I know that Islam and Muslims are still caricatured by some in the west in a negative light.  There is still fear and mistrust.  My only question for people would be this:  where do you get your information on Muslims … from the media or from your Muslim friends? Don’t judge an entire group of people based on the actions of some of its fringe elements.  There are a lot of unsavory Westerners and even Christians by whom we would not like to be judged.

Jordan A to Z: H is for … Hummus!

Mmmmmm …. hummus!

Nothing beats a nice bowl of fresh Jordanian hummus.  I’m not talking about the prepackaged stuff you buy at the supermarket in the States or Europe with it’s designer flavors and mispronounced name.  No, I am talking about the stuff that is a labor of love … whose beans have been soaked for hours and whose ingredients are just the essentials.  Never yellow or beige, or (egads!) orange … it’s off-white color accented by bits of green parsley or mint or purple sumac speak of careful handcrafting.  It is smooth and creamy, and perfectly balances the bitterness of tahini with the tang of lemon juice.  Mmmmm …. hummus!

A local feast of hummus, falafil, batata, ful, and khubz at Hashem's in downtown Amman.

Truly, once you have tried hummus in Jordan, you will never be satisfied with what is offered up as hummus elsewhere in the world.  What, you may ask, is the difference?  First and foremost I would have to say texture.  Jordanian hummus is smooth … never chunky.  You cannot over blend your chickpeas when making hummus.  To get it right you have to let it go on the food processor for 15, 20, maybe even 30 minutes.  I learned this from a guy who has been making hummus for two decades.  Every morning you can walk into his hole-in-the-wall shop and see his industrial grade mixer that looks more like an outboard motor than a food processor churning away at a huge vat of creamy delicious goodness.

The next thing that sets Jordanian hummus apart is simplicity.  Not to mix haram and halal … but it’s like the Bavarian purity laws restricting the number of ingredients for beer in Germany.  The best hummus is simply:

  • Chick Peas
  • Tahini
  • Lemon Juice
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic

And maybe some salt.  Baking Soda is used in the soaking process … but it is not a main ingredient.  That’s all you need.  Jordanian hummus tends to have a lot of tahini flavor to it followed by lemon juice and very light on the garlic, if at all.  That’s it … no sun-dried tomatoes, or greek olives, or roasted red peppers, or whatever other nonsense makes it into supposedly “gourmet” hummus these days.

That’s not to say there are not variations on the theme when it comes to hummus in Jordan.  It’s just that the additional flavors tend to come from toppings and are not blended in with the hummus itself.

Hummus bi snobar (with pine nuts)

Hummus topped with pine nuts. Mmmmm.

Hummus bi lahme (with meat)

Hummus topped with meat (typically ground lamb or beef)

Hummus bi shawerma (with shawerma – my favorite!)

Hummus topped with lamb shawerma ... also possible with chicken.

It’s like the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial from back in the states, “Hey somebody put Shawerma in my Hummus!” “Hey, someone put Hummus in my Shawerma!”  Seriously you cannot go wrong with that combination.

Hummus in Jordan is also typically dressed with either olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and a citrus-jalapeno-garlic sauce that is amazing!

The last thing that sets Jordanian Hummus apart is it’s taste.  The flavor profile highlights the sesame of the tahini and the citrus from the lemons.  There should not be a “beany” flavor at all in the ideal bowl of hummus.

Jordanian Hummus at it's best!

Mmmmmm …. hummus!  If you are looking for the quintessential bowl of hummus in Jordan check out Hashem’s downtown (near the post office), Dream Restaurant in Ashrafiyeh (East Amman), or any of the Abu Jbara branches throughout the city.

Check out these other A to Z bloggers:

I’m trying to link to 5 other random A to Z bloggers when I have the time.  These are completely randomly chosen from the almost 2000 participants, so I can’t vouch for their content … but so far everything I have seen has been interesting.  Check them out if you have the time!

1278.
And this one is not random … don’t forget to stop by and see how Jim, my friend and fellow Blogger-in-Jordan, is doing on the A to Z Challenge at  The Left Wright Brain.  Rumor has it great minds think alike when it comes to what H stands for in the country of Jordan!

Jordan A to Z: G is for …. Gelatin

Why, you may ask, does G day for Jordan have to do with gelatin?  2 simple reasons.

The first is most obvious … my brain feels like gelatin! A week of writing posts everyday is enough to make anyone’s brain wiggle and jiggle like a translucent block of brightly colored confection.  Probably with little pieces of fruit, or better yet shredded carrot, it it! On top of editing and teaching and being a family man … a post-a-day is quite demanding and I’m feeling it!

The second reason G is for Gelatin in Jordan is this . . .

Many brands of gelatin are not considered Halal for consumption by followers of Islam.  You may or may not be aware that Islam has a dietary code akin to the kosher regulations of Judaism.  I say akin because they are actually a number of differences, but the fundamental nature of both systems is similar … proscribing for the community what is and is not permitted to eat.  The how and why of the two systems vary greatly … but the essence is the same.

Most people are aware that permitted food is Judaism is considered “kosher.”  In Islam the term is “halal”  and the opposite is “haram.”  No that is not harem …. think /hah-rahm/.

In Islam Halal meat has been butchered in accordance to Islamic principles.  And it does not contain pork.  Petty simple.

Well we were told one time by a local that gelatin was Haram because it contained pork.  Of course we laughed, and explained to our friend that there was absolutely no pork in gelatin.  It seemed ludicrous to us …. Ham flavored jello?

As it turns out … pork in Jello … not so crazy.  It seems that the fine makers of most gelatin products have traditionally used pig cartilage as a key part in the gelatinizing process.  (yeah I just made up the term gelatinizing) .  So there you have it folks … check carefully before serving gelatin based products to your Muslim guests.  Halal brands will be clearly marked as such and generally use some sort of cow cartilage in lieu of pig.

Jordan A to Z: F is for …. Friday!

Friday!

Ahhhh … the weekend!  And by weekend, I mean the weekend proper not just the last day of the work-week and the beginning of the weekend.  Yup, that’s right here in Jordan, Friday is a bona fide day off.  It stems from the Islamic religion, with Friday being their preferred holy day as opposed to Saturday for the Jews and Sunday for the Christians.  So, all across the Middle East Friday is a day off from work for most people.  Of course, as in all nations, if you are in the service or hospitality industry you will most likely be working anyways.

For most working-class people Friday is their only day off.  A two-day weekend is really a modern convention in the Middle East.  Some countries (mainly in the gulf) opt for Thursday and Friday as the weekend.  However, here in Jordan, it is Friday and Saturday.  Unless you are a Christian … then you get Friday and Sunday off but have to work or go to school on Saturday.  Go figure.  Split weekends.  Not fun.

Some of you might be asking what do Jordanians do on Friday?  Well, here’s my outsider’s answer to that:

  • Sleep -Jordanians love to stay up late.  Especially on Thursday nights.  They stay up with their family chatting over small cups of strong coffee or tea talking into the wee hours of the morning.  As a result, Fridays are often a slow start for some.  Actually early Friday morning is a great time for grocery shopping as the aisles are mostly empty … but don’t wait until afternoon as any grocery store will likely be packed!
  • Go to the Mosque -Despite the well-known mandate to pray 5x per day, Muslims are not required to pray in the mosque each of those times (it is considered more beneficial to pray in the mosque, but not mandated).  However, mosque attendance spikes on Fridays – especially around midday – as this is when the Imam gives his speech or sermon.  Worshipers sit on the ground to listen to the sermon and then perform their prayers.  In the larger mosques it is not unusual to find the men lining up in rows outside the mosque in the courtyard, on the sidewalk, and eventually in the street.  This is because the mosques are full to overflowing on many Fridays
  • Visiting – Friday is a day for making a round of all of the relatives.
  • Outings – The malls and restaurants and supermarkets and cafes are packed on Fridays with Muslim families out and about enjoying the life in Amman.  But the most famous and well-loved Jordanian Friday outing is the:
  • Mishwar – On Fridays families like to get out of town, find a place along the road or perhaps in a park or other clear area, lay out some blankets and spend the day grilling food, drinking tea, and enjoying each others company.  Mishwar comes from the Arabic term for grilling meat.  It is not uncommon to see an extended family parked out under any random tree along the major highways, enjoying more each others company and the food than perhaps the setting itself.

I would like to think that restaurant chain TGI Fridays realized the master stroke of marketing genius in their name the first time they opened a branch here … however, I have a feel it was probably just a fortunate happenstance for them.  Either way, I stand with them and millions of people in the Middle East in thanking God that it’s Friday.

Jordan A to Z: E is for …. Enchiladas!

Enchiladas?!?  In Jordan?!?

Unfortunately … no.

This post is not meant to highlight one of the cool and unique aspects of life in Jordan.  No, rather it is a post meant to beg and plead with some wealthy business minded patron to please, please, PLEASE bring an honest-to-goodness reasonably priced Mexican restaurant to Jordan!  PLEASE!

My first choice, of course, would be El Famous Burrito.  If you have spent any time in the Chicagoland area you know what I’m talking about. Here’s the one I used to frequent.

Next (and perhaps more realistically) would be Baja Fresh.  There is one in the Dubai Mall in (wait for it) … Dubai!  Mr. Middle Eastern Restaurant Developer, Entrepreneur, and Investor … please bring Baja Fresh to Jordan!  We have many large malls that would make an ideal and profitable locale for such a venture.

Of course, a Chipotle or Qdoba would work well too.

Barring either of those, even Taco Bell would be acceptable … although I fear it would not be done right and the fact that it really is the low end of the Mexican eating environment would become all to obvious.

A Cozymels or On the Border would be ok to … even though those are a bit on the pricy side.

I know, I know … some of you Ammanites are protesting right now and pointing out that we have Chili’s on Mecca Street and in City Mall as well as Cinco de Mayo at the InterContinental Hotel. First of all … Chili’s is not what I am really looking for when I say a Mexican restaurant.  Sure their chips and salsa are great and so are the fajitas …. but that’s all their depth when it comes to anything remotely Mexican.  When I just want an honest down to earth shredded beef taco with a little grease oozing out of it, or a crispy fried fish taco with just the right spicing, or monster burrito … Chili’s just doesn’t cut it.

Don’t even get me started on sopes or chiles rellenos or tamales or mole.

As for the Mexican place at the InterCon it is way overpriced and the quality is not near any of the places listed above.  And there’s also the sorry little place in Mecca Mall near Subway.  Every time I get something from there my wife looks at my quizzically because she knows what my reaction will be.  I just hope maybe they’ll get it right one of these times.

Ok … so this post isn’t really about something Jordan has … but something it needs … a great Mexican restaurant (reasonably priced)!  It’s no brainer really.  All the American ex-pats would flock to such a place and the locals would catch on to it.  What’s not for a Jordanian to like about Mexican cuisine?  It has shredded meats, thin pieces of bread, fresh vegetables, hot peppers, beans, rice, corn … it’s truly a match made in heaven.  So c’mon investors and restauranteurs …. bring Mexican to Jordan!