Jordan is a tiny nation surrounded by conflict. Before I arrived in the Hashemite Kingdom, I expected that we might feel as if the walls were closing in on us, as if the borders were being encroached on and safe space was limited. Instead, Jordan lived up to its reputation as a bastion of peace and acceptance.
At first, I almost felt at home. I felt incredibly comfortable in Jordan. No matter where I travel, I almost always feel a little bit uncomfortable. I consider this feeling to be inseparable from world travel. When you leave home, you leave comfort. Discomfort gives way to growth and understanding. Most of Jordan was calming to me. No part of it threatened my personal safety. Every small town was full of warm, easy smiles. The landscape and its neutral colour palette appealed to my senses. Driving along a perfect winding highway with the sun glinting off of the crystallised Dead Sea coastline, we couldn't believe the beauty. After five years in Vietnam, the unruly traffic didn't phase us either. The hospitality was sincere and genuine. We were open to making connections with locals and spent much of our time enjoying prolonged tea or lunch with total strangers, soaking up the easy conversation.
There were some jarring moments, too. The longer we spent in Jordan, the more we saw evidence of heightened security measures like ubiquitous security cameras and military vehicles traversing the highways adorned with heavy artillery. Locals reassured us when they told us how safe they felt under the protection of the government. A not-so-subtle reminder that peace is relative and dependent on historical circumstance. As Canadians, we experience peace in the way that our land is untouched and open. Nothing in my lifetime has necessitated the taking up of arms or the patrolling of highways. Peace just is. We feel safe in the absence of military tactics, but in the Middle East, peace looks different. I tried to accept that for what it was.
That Dead Sea highway drive had us flanked by the unmistakable tent cities of UN refugee camps. We drove through them in silence, watching from afar as throngs of Palestinian refugees went about daily life - smiling, playing, selling produce, doing laundry. We would blink and they'd be behind us, the narrow landscape overtaken by another luxury resort.
What does one make of these fleeting sceneries? To what extent, as travellers, do we take on the strife of the countries we visit? Is it our responsibility to let the more unsettling images stay with us alongside the picturesque and majestic? Are they part of the experience, or something to forget, like rude service or bad weather?
Somehow, I can't separate the "good" and the "bad" of Jordan. Why should I? The refugee camps were as out in the open as Petra or Wadi Rum Desert. The military checkpoints were as normal as stopping for Arabic coffee on the side of the road. The security cameras, as the locals said over and over, were only there to ensure the safety of all locals and visitors. Jordan is the sum of its parts. How often do we visit places, flitting from destination to destination without even a second of discomfort or sorrow? If Jordan can bare itself to visitors and still remain as charming, safe, and hospitable as it is, then it is worth a top spot on every serious traveller's list.