July 11, 2009 Page 1
Jarash, a Roman Time Machine
Since lacking in natural resources and water, Jordan has never really been the target of conquering empires. It merely served as crossroads into centers like Baghdad and Damascus. Nevertheless, the endless march of time has left its mark on Jordan in the form of magnificent archaeological finds. The city of Jarash, about thirty minutes north of Amman, is a spectacular example.
To get to Jarash, we drove through hills speckled with olive trees and orchards. The short ride was a nice change in scenery, especially since white-stone buildings dominate Amman and the drive to Wadi Mujib was largely desolate. As a result, I have developed a fondness for trees, perhaps resulting from nostalgia for the green that dominates the “Bluegrass State.” In fact, when many Jordanians speak about their youth, a specific tree plays some role. For anyone who owns land, it seems as if they also own an orchard (or boustan in Arabic). If they don’t have enough land for an orchard, they still plant some fruit trees. I realize the generalization, but Jordanians love to talk about their trees and the meticulous care they provide them. With every house I have visited, a tour includes a walk outside to see the trees.
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I find this attitude rather peculiar and curious. I can understand being shown a rare flower or plant…but a tree? Then I remember where I am. Most of the country (except the north and the Jordan Valley) is desert, so trees are rare. But it is interesting how these trees are prized and affectionately remembered. It must be something about the utility of trees. Unlike the United States where grass characterizes a yard and often the difference in its care demarcates ownership, here trees serve that purpose as well as provide fresh produce. Only the wealthiest have grass, which requires too much water yet produces nothing edible. For Jordanians, trees are practical and beautiful.