A few years ago, I landed in pitch dark Amman, capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, to participate in a conference with Iraqis at the Dead Sea on World Bank managed development projects in Iraq in which I was involved. From the plane, coming in from the black Mediterranean, the only sea of light I saw was Haifa in Israel. After that a much more subdued Jerusalem. Next, flying onto Amman over the West Bank, darkness. That’s how I always could gauge the state of a country’s “economic development”: light in the dark and buildings, agriculture and roads during daylight. But Amman is a beautiful city. I would discover that later during daylight.
It was cold. The driver who picked me up from the airport drove with high speed for one hour and a half over a deserted highway, continuously descending from higher elevated Amman to the lower level Dead Sea, a difference of 800 meters, and dropped me at a luxury hotel. A summer-like temperature surrounded me. This is what I saw when I woke up:
The Dead Sea looms behind the majestic swimming pool. The veil of pink haze in the back hides the West Bank. A Middle Eastern colleague said with great pride at breakfast on the terrace: “There is Palestine.” A peaceful look on battled territory.
It was an excellent place to discuss hot topics of the difficulties of project generation and implementation in neighboring Iraq that was still suffering from internal strife. Iraqis are smart people, like most Arab nations, but would benefit from organizing themselves a bit better. It is not for nothing that Babylon lies in the middle of Iraq. But no “Babylon” at the conference: we had good interpreters (in the little box at the back).
The occasion of the conference fulfilled an old wish: swimming in the Dead Sea where “you cannot sink”. But I had no swim trunk with me. What to do? Early in the morning, at 6 o’clock, I put a bathrobe over my underpants, hoping nobody would see me, and walked from the hotel down to the Dead Sea shore. A beautiful scenery, except that a lonely lady took a swim there, too. Bravely, I took off my bathrobe and horrified she dove under. But you cannot sink! By the time she came back up, I was floating in the water, eight times saltier than the saltiest Ocean. “Good morning Ma’am” – “Bonjour,”she said. “Ça vous plait?” Well, of course it “pleased”me, floating effortless like a rubber dinghy. The French lady spent probably a few days enjoying spas in Dead Sea mud. When I got out, my underpants felt like lead. Completely stiff of salt. I could hardly walk with them and when back in my room had to throw them out.
But not before I had taken a nice pic of the shore side. Later in the evening I took the picture that now frames this blog:
The Dead Sea area is famous for its sunset views. When the sun goes down, you can clearly see “Palestine”, a huge wall of mountains.
Since my passport name is “Johannes”, I visited the nearby site at the source of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. It represents a vivid image of the Kingdom of Jordan being a place where Christians can live with Islamic people without being pursued. Pope John Paul II held a mass there for 25,000 people in 2002.
From above left: Jordan River, Baptism Site,
From below left: Area where the Pope held Mass, Orthodox Church.
Proof that I felt “re-baptized” is below.
The conference did not “dance”: working deep into the night, we left with “a plan”. Which, as it appeared later, was pretty well executed thanks to an omnipresent Iraqi consulting firm “Etiman” (which means “fiduciary”) in Baghdad and its leader Dr. Tahir Hassoun, whom you see prominently with a white tie on the picture above, surrounded by his dedicated coworkers. And my long-held dream of swimming in the Dead Sea was fulfilled, despite the loss of my underpants.