Impressions of Jordan:
Food, Family and Franciscans

Journalist Diane Handal writes about how the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary are Welcoming the Stranger in Jordan.

In the current edition of ONE, Journalist Diane Handal writes about how the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary are Welcoming the Stranger in Jordan. Here, she adds some additional impressions of the country and its people.

The pink light was rising on the horizon above the hill filled with beige buildings crowded together with a street light sparkling here and there. This is the city of Amman.

Two minarets stood guard in the distance to a huge mosque, named after King Abdullah, capped with a blue roof that looks like a children’s toy that spins. It is a memorial by the late King Hussein to his grandfather and the only mosque in Amman that openly welcomes non-Muslims.

The city of Amman was waking up and the big blizzard they were bracing for never happened, but the plows were out there in the street. The Jordan Times was blaming the weather reporting for lost revenues.

I arrived yesterday from the Allenby Bridge off the bus and into passport control, greeted by photographs of King Hussein, King Abdullah, and his son HRH Crown Prince Al-Hussein.

My taxi had a big decal on the right side of the windshield of King Hussein. The driver was young and began pressing his foot to the pedal trying to pass the cars in oncoming traffic. I yelled, “LA, LA, LA!” He drove normally from then on.

We passed little villages with stalls of red and white kaffiyehs, clear plastic life preservers for the beach, roasting chickens, the Jordanian flag of black, red, and green. Sheep were grazing on the hills and several makeshift tents appeared with children playing in the muddy street. I thought:poor Jordanians — or perhaps, refugees. A man was selling tomatoes in crates and garbage was strewn on the nearby land.

Pouring rain beat against the windshield outside and the sky went black.

The next day, I met with Sister Antoinette and the Franciscan sisters at the convent. It was evident how much they love their missionary work — these are giving, warm, smart, and selfless women.

I met the Executive Chef from the hotel this morning at breakfast, Thomas Brosnan, who is Irish and I told him my son-in-law was from Galway.

I was telling him how one of his staff almost electrocuted himself poking a knife in the toaster and I told him to stop and went behind the counter to pull the plug out.

I wrote Thomas and asked if it would be possible to give the sisters some breakfast sweets tomorrow and explained the reason I was there.

He said yes immediately, and was putting the pastry chef in charge.

The next morning there were four huge boxes filled with breakfast sweets. The sisters loved them. I sent Thomas a photograph of the sisters at the table.

Tamara, the photographer, and I had lunch in dining room with all the sisters. They take turns each day cooking. It was Sister Hanne’s turn today and we had fresh tabouli with romaine lettuce leaves, tunafish, French fries, pickled eggplant and cake for desert. Delicious!

A young woman came to the convent with a white bag from a pharmacy. It had several pairs of eyeglasses in it. Sister Antoinette said it was for a little girl who is losing her sight and could not afford any.

The sisters told me another little Iraqi boy had lost his hair due to trauma of the war. They said that the illnesses they see are mounting in both children and their parents. It makes sense considering what these families have been through and continue to go through.

I walked with Sister Hanne to meet with an Iraqi family. She not only was jay walking, but walking in the street despite the lawless driving, using her cell while talking to me all the way.

At the Iraqi family’s home, their youngest son had symptoms similar to autism and Sister Hanne hugged him and stroked his head, truly loving this child. It brought tears to my eyes.

I left Amman and flew on Royal Jordanian to Istanbul. The flight was packed with elderly people who had just come from the Haj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and I don’t think they had taken a shower for days. The coughing was also widespread.

Near me was a lovely Jordanian family with two small daughters. We all covered our faces with Kleenex and prayed that we would not get sick.

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