Jordan is made up of indigenous Sunni Arabs, Palestinians, Christians, Bedouins as well as small pockets of Circassian, Chechen and Armenians. About 20% of the Palestinians, usually those that arrived in 1967 live in derelict refugee camps and do not consider themselves Jordanians, even third generation who have never seen the West Bank or Israel. We were told by a local that they have no interest in integrating with Jordanian culture and national life and are an ongoing problem because of high crime and violence in these communities. Many of the older Palestinians, those that have settled in 1948 have decided to become part of the country’s future and look upon Jordan as their homeland, like Ahmed, for example, who was our guide in Petra.
Our interaction with Jordanians was not extensive but I can say from the little experience we had that some are not happy to deal with Israelis, even those that give them business. In a bookshop for example the merchant became completely quiet and could not hide his disgust after we told him we were Israeli. When we left I heard him gushing over a small group of French tourists “I am so lucky to have you in my bookstore”. To be fair, I can’t attribute all negative feelings for Israel because of anti-Semitism or political reasons but also because Israeli’s don’t have a good record of behaving themselves while traveling and this is an ongoing embarrassment to the country. My advice to Israeli tourists is to blend in, pay the extra fare and shutup.
When going to Jordan with a group from Israel it is required by law to have a Jordanian guide and if you are American or Israeli a police guard as well. Our Jordanian guide, Ali, was of Bedouin origin although he left the traditional nomadic lifestyle like many in his community. He had a voice like a story teller and a theatrical charm and exotic voice which completed the picture of the mystical Arab. If he was playing into our imaginations, I did not mind, for he was professional, friendly, and knowledgeable and most of all knew the land as if he was married to it.
After every hike he would prepare lunch or dinner in his makeshift kitchen and his food was always perfect, or it seemed surrounded by wild canyons and open skies. We would tell him,
“Ali, everything tastes wonderful” and he would begin with his story, his words flowing like sand dunes
“When I first began cooking for these trips I didn’t know how to cook, so I asked my wife and did exactly what she told me, but the food…..it wasn’t good, it was missing something, I went back to my wife and she said “you must prepare the food with your heart, otherwise it doesn’t matter what you make, it will never taste good”, this is exactly what I did”, he says as he places his hand on his heart, in a dramatic gesture “and now my food is much better”
Ali’s food is simple and delicious, requiring only the freshest ingredients and beautiful landscape.
Ali’s Fattoush Salad
2-3 tomatoes cut into medium pieces
2-3 cucumbers cut into chunks
3 stalks green onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
Small bunch mint leaves, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 pita, cut into bit sized pieces
1 sweet pepper, chopped
Oil from frying
1/2 teaspoon sumac
Fry pita bread in oil until golden brown, drain on paper towels until cooled. Season the bread with salt and pepper. Combine all the vegetables and add lemon juice, zest and season with salt, pepper and sumac. Mix well. It is possible to add olive oil as well but because there is a lot of oil in the fried pita bread I usually omit it in this salad.
*Purslane which is sold in the local Jordanian vegetable market can also be added to this salad as well as lettuce, radishes and chunks of feta cheese.