ONE @ 50: A Fish in the Desert

In honor of ONE magazine’s 50th-anniversary year, the CNEWA blog series, ONE @ 50: From the Vault, aims to revive and explore the wealth of articles published in ONE magazine throughout its history. Read about an ancient village in Jordan striving to maintain its identity in an increasingly technological society, originally published in November-December 1994.

Read an excerpt from “A Fish in the Desert” below, then read the full story.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan boasts significant architectural and historical sites: Mt. Nebo, where the Lord showed the Promised Land to Moses; the second-century Nabataean ruins of Petra, popularized by the movie hero Indiana Jones; the Roman ruins of Jarash; and the historic 12th-century crusader castle at AI Karak.

Situated one-and-a-half hours south of the Jordanian capital of Amman, the tiny village of Smakieh seems unimportant in the shadow of these treasures. Yet Smakieh is unique. Its place in Jordanian life may change, however, as the Middle East peace talks develop.

Two clans, the Hijazine and the Akasheh, live here. This translates into 350 families or 2,000 residents. All of the villagers are Christian, mostly Latin and Melkite-Greek Catholics, a rare occurrence in a nation that is 96 percent Muslim. While the environment may be best described as arid, the faith of the villagers is far from dry. From the Hijazine clan alone, nine men are currently serving the church as priests and 15 women as religious sisters.

The origins of Smakieh are obscure. Its name is derived from the Arabic word for fish, semek. Maybe the first homes formed the town into a fishlike shape. Somehow it does not seem possible that fish were ever caught in this desert region.

Over the years, the area’s Bedouin gradually left their nomadic existence for the settled life of the village. Only in the past 70 years has the wandering from pasture to pasture ceased. But many villagers retain their Bedouin traditions. Older women still plait their hair into two long braids, which are often knotted atop their heads. Mansaf, the national dish of lamb on mounds of rice, nuts and yogurt, is eaten by hand. Even the bread, a rough mixture of locally grown barley and grains, harkens back to the chewy loaves likely used by Jesus and the poor of the Gospel.

Read more.

Father Corcoran is Director of our Amman office.

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