The cars are newer and shinier than Beirut, and the traffic behaves itself. Not that it used to. Jordan was once reknowned for the most reckless traffic in the Middle East, but a few years ago they had a massive motorway pileup in which many people were killed. It was too much for King Abdullah. He gave orders. Now there are undercover cameras, checkpoints, traffic patrols and lots of warning signs. And today the traffic flows in an ordered and restrained fashion.Whether or not Plato was right about benificent autocrats, this is a country with systems and order, and one in which the government, while it may not be by the people in quite the same way that we are used to, is by and large for the people.
We are travelling in Jordan with a guide. He is Ibrahim, drives a new Hyundai minivan, speaks excellent English, and for $100 a day each we get him, his Hyundai, all our accommodation and all our breakfasts. Last night we stayed in the Canyon Hotel, which is 3 star (* = Grotty ** = Basic *** = Comfortable **** = Hey! Not too shabby! ***** = Snap! Plump my cushion again, if you please, Fatima ). Today he took us south to Jerash, which is the Ancient city of Gerasa, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis mentioned in the New Testament. It is the largest and best preserved Roman city in the Middle East. Although only 15% of its 800,000 square metres have been excavated, it is impressive. The main street is all there with shops, ingenious sewage system, running water system and ancient stones piled together into temples, fountains and columns. With its mosaic pedestrian promenade running beside the chariotway it must have been a truly beautiful city.
On the way we passed over an insignificant river. I realised, later, that it was the Jabbok, beside which Jacob lay to wrestle with angels and dream of ladders and have his name changed, and I had the oddest sense of homecoming. This was the landscape of my faith. we were driving through the Kingdoms of Aram and Moab, traversing country once walked by Jacob and Rebekkah and all their wily clan. Personally, the Jabbok runs deeper in my imagination than does the Jordan, which we will see tomorrow, and I almost missed it.
We left there to go to the castle of Ajlun, one of several fortresses built by Salah ad-Din. It is in remarkable good shape considering its age and the purpose for which it was built. The interior was dark and cool and quirkily unpredictable. There were a number of people clambering about in it as we were, and amongst them was a party of Jordanian teachers. Clemency being Clemency, joined their group, sang their songs, played with their children and left the castle with maybe a dozen invitations to lunch and the promise of lots of new facebook links.