The famous 1962 movie, Lawrence of Arabia, came back to mind when I approached the desert Wadi Rum in Jordan, where much of the film was shot. “Vast, echoing and God-like”, he would have said. I had negotiated with my taxi driver to take me there on the way to the airport at Aqaba, traveling from Petra. Wadi Rum is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a wonderful desert of silence and sandstone mountains rising up from the dust in a mellow orange color.
Unfortunately, a sandstorm was brewing and we had to turn around and flee the area with great speed. The land around us already began to look like dust was flying everywhere.
Speeding to Aqaba airport had its amusing intermezzo: Cars on the parallel double highway going in the opposite direction (Jordan has excellent roads) were flashing their lights. Cops were checking on speeders. What else to do if you are fleeing a sandstorm and must catch the airplane before it gets grounded? And yes, there he was, black clad, handsome like Omar Sherif, huddling on his knees along the highway, a minuscule figure in the boundless landscape, targeting his radar gun at us. My driver slowed down just in time, we thought. He wanted to speed up again once he had passed the officer, but then we noticed the police car a bit farther down, waiting to chase after us to give us a ticket. I was able to talk my way out of it, saying I needed to catch a plane before the storm would hit us, for an “important international meeting in Amman”. The driver crossed himself (he was a Christian), feeling lucky. At the time of Lawrence of Arabia, they rode camels and horses here.
It was very windy at Aqaba airport. As soon as we had checked in, the pilot of Royal Jordanian left hastily in a very steep climb, as the Wadi Rum was right in the middle of the flight path to Amman.
After a week of hard work in Amman, reviewing the status of World Bank financed projects, a colleague and I went to visit As-Salt, a charming old town in a mountainous area, about one and a half hour drive. It could have been Northern Italy or the French Provence. Its historic sites had just been renovated in a World Bank financed project.
We mounted 200 solid carved steps to get an oversight view of the town. Stray cats had made their home on some of the landings. The view was spectacular, but climbing that high had seriously taxed our blathers. What to do? Jordan towns are not very liberal with public restrooms and Amman was at least one hour away. A most grueling situation.
Sunset was approaching but luckily we found our driver down at the town center and he pointed to a public place for ladies and gens hidden behind the market: built with the World Bank money. Good grief, what a relief!
It’s behind the clock somewhere. If there was ever a World Bank project that I found useful, it was this one.