A question that has become very difficult to ask in the UK recently is asked by everyone you meet here in Jordan: Where are you from? With genuine interest, and no pre-judgement, as I had always asked the question.
At Yarmouk University this morning, we visited the Museum of Jordanian Heritage. A group of girls studying variously anthropology and archaeology interviewed Elaine on camera, clearly revelling in the use of English and engaging with an alien species. Us, not specifically Elaine.
When Elaine and I walked around the campus, we were engaged by young men studying variously archaeology, economics and electronic engineering, most of whom were keen to now how they could come to London to work. We had to say it was increasingly difficult, but gave some suggestions.
After Irbid, we drove across to Umm Qais and the amazing citadel of Gadara, which is in various stages of dereliction and reconstruction. Black basalt stone is conspicuous everywhere. The views of the Sea of Galilee were glorious, though this week there is a haze over the region, closing in the horizons somewhat.
Ever since my younger years, in Cyprus and then briefly in Israel, I have loved places at high elevation – even if I suffer from vertigo. Today’s visit to the ancient city of Gadara was magical in that respect. And we had a wonderful lunch of mezzo, with a home-made lemon and mint drink.
We sat at small tables in the shade of a great arch, while looking out over the distant Sea of Galilee – with swallows roiling around in the blazing blue skies. Small bees showed a healthy interest in our creamy mahalabiya desserts, made with rose water and cardamom, while what I’m pretty sure were hornets showed a predatory interest in the bees.
Then on to the ancient Roman city of Pella, or at least its ruins. We dipped down into the site a bit, but didn’t explore it in any detail. Then, in the evening, we drove up to the Ajloun Forest Reserve, high in the mountains, a site run by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation.
Had a fascinating walk around the reserve as the sun set, with evidence of owl and deer on the winding path. Among the more unusual animals to be found here, apparently, are the Striped Hyena, Crested Porcupine and Stone Marten.
Loved the smell of the forest and was impressed by the standard of the cabins within the reserve. A little digging, however, suggests that the RSNC, founded by King Hussein back in 1966, has been dogged by a number of controversies.
Our site was overlooked by a spectacular building housing the Royal Academy for Nature Conservation, which I understand was party a means of regenerating an old quarry. The academy was apparently the first in the Arab world to focus on nature conservation.
As we have travelled today, I have been liaising by email with Greener Publishing/Fast Company Press in Austin, Texas, about a number of options they have sent through for the cover of Tickling Sharks. Have asked for iterations of a couple of them, and also tested the options with family and team members. There’s a growing convergence, happily.