Jordanians are among the most polite people I have ever met. I had never been to Jordan before and no sooner had I stepped off the plane than I was greeted with ‘Welcome to Jordan.” From security, to passport control to the taxi driver, it was the same all over. Polite, pleasant and very respectful. Not only was it my first visit to Jordan, it was my first visit to the Arab world, the world of Muslims, tradition and time-honoured culture. At this point some of you will have an image in your head of a women in full Burqa.
Well, you would be wrong in that image. You will probably see more women in Burqas on the streets of London than any shopping mall or hotel in Jordan. Society in Jordan is probably more open than any other country in the Arab world. It’s a heady mix of modern 21st western living and traditional Arab culture. As one barman told me, “This is Jordan, not Saudi Arabia.”
They say that smoke gets in your eyes and if you’ve ever sat round a camp-fire at night you’ll know what I mean. That said, the same is also true in Jordan, except you don’t actually need a camp-fire to get your eyes watering, a Shisha will do just as well. More of that later.
In my brief stay at the posh hotel that needs to get it’s customer service act together, one night was given over to a traditional Arab buffet. Having no idea what exactly to expect I was amazed to find that my idea of a buffet was a western fixed perception of cuts of meat, a few veg and a pudding. Oh no, no, no dear reader, that is not what I found to greet me. The sight, the smell, the ambiance and the pleasant greeting by the staff was out of this westerners world.
It was low lighting, plenty of spicy smells and many many dishes. I shamefully have no idea what their names were, but they looked enticing. The most obvious thing that was missing was pork, but, being a beef man my salivating tongue was more than happy at the absence of pork. I have no idea what it was I ate except to say it was obvious what went into the dishes in terms of meat, veg and fruit, yep, even fruit made an appearance in some dishes. I wasn’t a fan of spicy dishes, but I’m a fan of Jordanian dishes. In fact I’m a fan of Jordanian cookery and may well do some research and try a few myself.
As the food dwindled the music started and with it came a sultry mix of sounds, vision and smell. The belly-dancer made her appearance to the music of I know-not-what, but it was foot tapping stuff nonetheless. The dancer knew her stuff and shook and swayed to the music with well practiced ease. It was glad I hadn’t chosen her path as a career. Supple it was, subtle it wasn’t. The point of the dance seemed to be to entertain, sort of titillate, but mainly it struck me this was maybe an art-form expression. Either way it was impressive stuff.
After a couple of numbers I noticed a sweet smell in the air and at about the same time my eyes began to water and my nose twitched. The belly-dancer was the signal for those who felt the need to smoke. Not cigarettes or cigars, but the traditional Shisha. Note of warning, don’t mix up shisha with shiska. Shiska is a Jewish term to describe a gentile girl or woman. That probably wouldn’t go down well if you shouted out, “Oh look, a shiska,” at a traditional Arab gathering.
The shisha is what some call a hubbly-bubbly or water pipe. You smoke mainly materials that are apparently molasses based tobacco infused with whatever takes your fancy. It’s a sweet and heady smell that brought tears to my eyes and is probably not particularly good for your lungs, but if it’s something you enjoy and isn’t illegal, then who am I to rain on your parade. Admittedly it wouldn’t go down well in a coffee bar in Epsom, but when in Rome let the Romans do their thing.
Without a doubt I will be visiting Jordan again, but with one exception. I will not be floating in the Dead Sea. More about that experience next time.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2019
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