Impressions from Jordan

Impressions from Jordan

Revisiting a country after a few years is a great experience. You notice the subtle changes, which may be indiscernible to locals, right away. Like Mark Twain’s own experience with New York, returning to Amman after an absence of four years, this time for the wedding of a Palestinian-Turkish friend’s sister, I found some, if not much, improvement in it.

For one thing, the airport is brand-new, complete with a Starbucks in the small but modern arrivals hall – which made me wonder if quality infrastructure is not a big deal after all. Then, I saw the Petra highway the next day, which seemed to have actually worsened. But I wasn’t at the steering wheel the last time, and so I may not have paid attention to the pitch-black road and trucks without headlights.

I would not hold this against Jordanians, though. Even darlings of the emerging world like Brazil and South Africa have roads with huge potholes and in general shabby infrastructure. In fact, China is the only developing country I have visited that has infrastructure comparable to, if not better than, Turkey’s.

I found the presence of Turkish firms as strong as during my last visit in May 2011. An ad from Turkish appliance manufacturer Vestel greets visitors driving from the airport to the city. I guess they have not got around to building malls and residences in Amman yet. I also saw Sarar and Beko, along with several Turkish companies I had never heard of. Curiously enough, the Ülker biscuits and candy bars in the supermarkets had been replaced by Eti products.

Seeing so many Turkish companies reminded me once again of their successful efforts, supported by the government, to diversify their exports in the wake of the eurozone’s economic woes. However, these new markets alone can never fully replace Europe; these countries demand less sophisticated, lower-value added products. A whole shelf of biscuits would probably bring in less revenue than a single iPhone.

Interestingly enough, Turkey’s exports to Jordan have plunged during the last year or so. I am tempted to put the blame on Syria and/or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but these problems have been going on for a while. Besides, Jordanian exports to Turkey have continued to surge. As a result, Turkey’s trade surplus with Jordan has narrowed.

However, Jordan has not managed to emerge from its war with ISIL unscathed. Instead of the throngs in May 2011, there were few tourists in Petra this time around. With no one to feed them, even the stray dogs and cats of the ancient city were going hungry; we did our best to feed the kittens with the Eti biscuits we had bought in a small grocery store on the Petra highway.

And then there are observations that statistics cannot match. Back in 2011, seeing teary-eyed refugees looking at the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee from the lookout point at the Decapolis city Gadara/Umm Qais was worth reading a dozen books on the Palestinian problem. This time, I met my friend’s relatives, who had travelled from Israel and the West Bank to attend to the wedding at the farmhouse of the bride’s uncle on the outskirts of Amman.

You could see Palestine and Israel in the distance, as well as the River Jordan where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. And I wondered if the region’s conflicts would still be going on in another two millennia.