The Arab World was ruled by the Ottomans until they were defeated in WWI. It was then divided and these countries were carved out by the French and English who then occupied them until the next Great War. As many as possible were given access to the seas, either the Mediterranean or Red. Syria and Lebanon got the Mediterranean. Jordan has about a 15 mile stretch of shore on the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba along with Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is Jordan’s only port and currently it’s only major trade route since the borders to Syria are closed. Aqaba seems like a different country with its humid climate, palm trees and resort hotels. It is busting at the seams for not only is this a major destination for Saudi and European travelers, it is where all the Jordanians come for a weekend getaway. The heat is the only oppressive thing here. The twins start getting cranky and I’m going limp and impatient while my husband runs in and out of hotels trying to work the best deal. We finally decide to splurge and settle on a Western resort on the beach. The hotel is under heavy security and we enter through a guarded gate, our bags are screened. If anywhere should be targeted for terrorist activity it would likely be a spot heavy with foreigners and not locals. But Jordan has been quiet and safe for the most part, an oasis for travelers and a safe haven for refugees fleeing war. It is Friday night, the holy day for Muslims. The local mosques of Aqaba are crowded as the men mingle after the prayer. Although it is approaching 10pm, people are swarming the streets and plazas. The beaches are alive with music and hookah tents. Before this trip my exposure to my husbands culture was a fissure, shallow and out of context. I couldn’t understand how or why they would let their kids run around until midnight or why on earth we were drinking Turkish coffee at 8 pm. It annoyed me we couldn’t seem to leave the house until an hour after we planned and why we were only arriving at our destination at the twins bedtime. But I get it now, in such a hot climate you avoid the heat of the day. When the sun eases up in the late afternoon, we go run our errands and eat falafel on a terrace or hummus in a breezy alley. The price of perspective is humility. I relish, with some sting of a guilt, a strong hot shower and an air conditioned sleep.
In the morning we flock to the sand once again but this time it leads to a cool and refreshing baptism of sorts. I’m now immersed in a new land and culture and my soul feels lighter and more in touch with the vast humanity I share this life with. As I swim out and tread in the crystal clear water, I truly appreciate the proximity of the countries that share this port. Elat, Israel and Egypt to my right, I can clearly see their coastal resorts shimmering. To my left the Saudi coast line dotted with huge container cranes. They seem so peaceful in the distance but I’m not so naive to appreciate the fragility of that peace, the political strife and dissatisfaction of the people bubble under the surface. The princes and prime ministers have secret meetings on these shores in their beachfront villas to treaty and hold peace talks. Perhaps even they need to cool off and relax in these shared waters to remember what’s important before donning their stately personas and heading in for a hot debate.