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Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

Take our Pledge for Climate Protection and learn about the Global Warming Crisis Council.

SEI hometown action!
Arcata city council's proclamation against war on Iraq and Kyoto Protocol proclamation.

Overpopulation has become a reality.  Overpopulation Resources and News Tidbits

Sail Transport Network

Fact Sheets
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Long Distance


Jordan: Tradition and modern culture

by Sheila Freeman

When I visited Jordan for the first time in Spring 2000 I was rather surprised to find it not quite the "underdeveloped" country I expected.

The suburbs of its capital, Amman, are every bit as wealthy in the conventional sense as anywhere else in the western world. Wide tree lined clean streets, well dressed children, pretty parks and, yes, supermarkets and malls and some of the fanciest, expensive hotels I have seen anywhere.

The population of Jordan has perhaps doubled in recent decades with the influx of peoples escaping the various wars and political pressures around them. Palestinian, Kurds, Lebanese, and more.

A rich and westernized country, this is also a country where small scale is very much thriving. The older centre of Amman is alive with hundreds and hundreds of little shops. Few resemble in size the enormous department stores and supermarkets we are so used to in Europe and America. Added to shops there is also a huge and thriving open market with everything from fish to flowers. Hundreds of shoppers scurry along narrow roads that disappear up steep staircases.

Is this something the world would like to get "back" to, I wondered. Of course it is not "back" to the time before farming that some advocateóbut it is "back" before the dominance of chain stores, multinationals, fast food and world homogenization.

Travelling South of Amman into the desert the road comes to an end at Wadi Rum (where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed). Here I met yet another contrast, not in space but in time.

Only fifteen years ago my friends tell me there was nothing at this spot but one lone buildingóa brick police station shaded by a couple of scrawny trees. From time to time the Bedouins gathered with their goats and camels and heavy black woollen tents. They stopped here because, although there is no obvious sign of it, water can be found. Very recently they lived as they had probably done for centuries.

Yet today there is a town of sortsóseveral hundred one-story houses built of concrete blocks, about three sparsely stocked shops and a little Bedouin cafÈ where all ten of my friends caught the local bug.

There is also a "rest house"óa kind of hotel minus roomsófor the "rooms" are rows and rows of little tents set up in the sand. So well run and efficient it is as many as half the tourists who come to Jordan stop here at least long enough to have an excellent meal and do the obligatory camel or jeep ride into the desert.

Today, the Bedouin here are not only keepers of sheep and goats, a job mostly for women, but their main income is made from the touristsófat and thin, pale and blistered, in their shorts and knobby knees they come in the thousands, are packed into jeeps and, for a fee, taken about a mile out into the unpaved stark and sweltering desert.

We came ourselves to climbóthe incredible pink, wind eroded cliffs and mountainsódry and eery as the moon but incomparably beautiful. We too were intruders in this ancient land.

Jordan is like so much of the so called "developing" world. The pretty, unspoiled world we as tourists would love to find - the world we read about in 19

th century novels and diaries, the world we see in the paintings and fading photos, the world also seen in todayís glossy travel posters. The reality is so different. The beauties are crumbling, disappearing, being wiped out. The quiet places, the deserts and wildernesses are filling with houses and tourists leaving rubbish, pollution and a frightening loss of wildlife. Well restored antiquities are subject to ever increasing air pollution and human trampling. The world we wanted to leave behind is already here waiting for us. McDonalds has beat us to it.

We crossed lands which only recently had been rich farms now hardly worth plantingódry and dustyóthe visible effects of global warming.

Back in Amman you have the traffic, buses, taxies, and horns. In the busiest parts of town there is no concern for pedestrians. Actually, there are sidewalksóbut attempting to cross the street is like contemplating suicide. Far from slowing down for pedestrians, the cars seem to speed up and always lay on their horns. Despite the cars, most of the traffic here is either delivery vans, trucks, taxies and buses. Taxies ply for trade by pulling up by any likely looking customer and honking their horns. The fact that you are showing not the slightest desire to get aboard is no deterrent. Women walking aloneóespecially western womenóare obviously in need of a lift. And for women to walk alone, especially after dark, is not only dangerous but lonely. Local women disappear with the setting sun.

And yet some of the most hospitable people I have met anywhere were in Jordan. All were kind and welcoming but the Bedouin surpassed belief. Far from being in danger of your money, life or "virtue" you are far more likely to be in danger of losing Western arrogance. I met a young woman tourist from Singapore who was invited, as many tourists are, to stay the with a Bedouin family for dinner but was made so welcome they asked her to cancel her holiday to continue with them indefinitely. She was offered the best of their food, the best place to sleep and they went to enormous trouble to tend to her every need, including carrying heavy bags long distances. Wishing to thank them with some sort of present she was embarrassed to have nothing to offer but a few ballpoint pens. These were accepted with great joy and in return they gave her a beautifully hand embroidered Bedouin dress. Stories such as this are common.

The Bedouin, like many less corrupted societies, find generosity to be a greater proof of worth than wealth and possessions of which they have almost none. When offered a shirt by another tourist a Bedouin man said "Thank you very much but why would I want a shirt? I already have two."

This land of contrasts is now being drawn into the aftermath of 11 September. Tourist numbers dropped dramatically. The deep suspicion of Arab culture, religion, dress and manners which already exists in the West fuels the flames of revenge. Suddenly all Muslims are considered "mad mullahs" "people who donít share our sense of decency, humanity..." Although those words were meant to apply only to the terrorists themselves it is only a small step for those donít know Shiites from Sheikhs from Sikhs or Souks, or, for that matter, the Taliban from a Turban, as ignorant folk lump everyone from Morocco to Bangladesh into one. There have been terrible incidents of violence already in America and in Britain and Europe. Striking out in blind revenge.

There is no love for Israel/Jews here; the only negative comments from otherwise completely friendly, amazingly friendly people.

Like most people, Jordanians are horrified by US saber rattling and bombing. To think these people will be tarnished or worse by the anti Arab backlash is sad.

Sheila Freeman is a veteran correspondent for the Auto-Free Times (Culture Changeís old name), based in London with Friends of the Earth.

Moslem myth versus history?

"While there may well have been a historical individual named Ubuíl Kassim who was later entitled Mohammed (ëThe Praised Oneí), who raised followers and participated in the initiation of the Arab Conquest, he likely came from northeast Arabia in what is now southern Jordan. The deity that Ubuíl Kassim chose to follow was Allah, a contraction of al-Lah, the ancient Arab God of the Moon...

"For (Islamic historian Mohammed Ibn) al-Rawandi, Islam is an invention for the purpose of providing a religious justification for (Middle Ages) Arab Imperialism. The Conquest is the reason and explanation for Islam, not the other way around."


Jack Wheeler, Freedom Research Foundation

View Issue #19 / View all Issues



Articles of interest:
Measuring and controlling the actions of governments 

Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results. 
WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius 

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.


Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California. Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit torganization.