Yesterday, Joe and I rented a car and headed to the far north of Jordan. We got to Umm Qais, a set of Roman ruins overlooking the Sea of Galilee, about an hour before sundown. This meant that we could explore the ruins for a little bit before heading to the restaurant at the top of the hill to watch the sun set over the Galilee and the Jordan river valley. Of course, those of you up on your Middle East geography will realize that being in Jordan next to the Sea of Galilee means that you're also right next door to the Golan Heights - ie, Syrian territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war and controlled by them ever since.
So, picture this if you will: a nice dinner of standard Arab fare, a fine glass of white wine, a beautiful sunset over Biblical settings, Roman ruins on a mountaintop, Jordanian families crawling all over the ruins and taking cute photos, Jordanian military watchposts just beyond the ruins, a small village in the valley below the mountain, Jordanian checkpoints on every road in and out of the village, barbed wire fences just beyond, Israeli pillboxes and watchposts all over the bare mountain just across the valley, and Israeli military jeeps busily humming across the first mountain in the chain that makes up the Golan Heights.
Welcome to the Middle East.
On our way back to Amman this morning via the Jordan River valley, we came through no fewer than 6 Jordanian checkpoints, some no more than 100 feet apart. With the American passport and rudimentary Arabic, we were more or less waved through them all, which is handy, at least. I now know that I will never forget the word for checkpoint, having it so thoroughly reinforced this morning.