Amman Dispatch

| Sat Jan. 26, 2008 6:06 PM EST

In a chilly apartment office in the booming, white-villaed Jordanian capital yesterday, an associate of my contact, a slim aristocratic Jordanian, dressed in a navy sports jacket, discusses in fast English various subjects of interest, his cigarette extended into the air. Downed cups of tea before us, I was writing as fast as I could on a huge notebook whose pages detached as I turned them. And then in the course of discussing why he blocked a certain transaction, he came to: " ... But I would never do anything to harm my idol, the greatest leader, Saddam Hussein." More professions of love for Saddam followed as I kind of started. But the conversation remained benevolent, and I later found this view that Saddam knew how to manage Iraq better than the current American-propped-up, Shiite-run setup to be pretty widespread and ordinary among the admittedly few Jordanians I got to meet, who were universally incredibly hospitable, and whose borders, under the omnipresent official portraits of a benevolently smiling King Abdullah and his late father King Hussein, are open to pretty much everyone, including some one million of Iraq's wealthier emigrees, Syrians, Saudis, Gulf investors, Lebanese, Turkish, Americans, Israelis, etc., albeit with an extensive and watchful security superstructure. Massive real estate contruction booms around the city, with towers, new hotels, villas and industrial offices going up. A half hour drive out of the capital, peasants from out of a Biblical scene herd sheep and goats on roadside hills, and petit blue and green decoratively painted Isuzu pick-up trucks deliver wooden crates of fresh tangerines, eggplants, and tomatoes to markets. Another Jordanian I met, Samir, discussing the importance of education and his university degree in good English, got to the subject of the Shiites -- "who do not practice the right Islam" -- as well, and how Saddam "was like a king" who knew how to govern the Iraqis, "who are difficult, they are not easy like the Jordanian people."

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When I opened the floaty blinds in my hotel room, I looked across the traffic circle to the huge white stone hotel built apparently by an Iraqi associate of Saddam's who is rumored to have stolen millions of dollars of his money. I flipped on the TV, featuring an Al Jazeera International program on how hard it is for women in Israel to get a Jewish divorce, and the top news of Gaza Palestinians standing off against Egyptian riot police trying to close the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza, and in the morning, using bulldozers to break down a new opening in the barrier walling them off, and hordes of people crossing through.

This morning, when I needed to buy a charger for my dying cell phone and the Amman shops my driver and I went to were closed, a taxi driver across the street pulled his charger out of the car and gave it to us for a couple dollars. How he figured out the situation so quickly and generously decided to offer his seemed part of a kind of communal local culture of sharing that also included driving between the lanes and making left turns across the incoming traffic, without even a honk or hardly a brake from the oncoming traffic. Beyond the small towns, we flew down the military highway, passing checkpoint after checkpoint. Sawahike Ameriki - American journalist - the driver would tell the soldiers. And they'd peer through his window at me in the backseat, and wave us through. At the border, I filed onto a bus with Arabs, Jews, Israelis, Jordanians, American and British, and we made our way across the half mile to the other side, interrupted by a couple more passport checks and a stop by a young female soldier using mirrors to check the bottom of the bus for bombs. After which, our busload emptied out and filed through Israeli security. In the entrance to the Israeli side of the border crossing with Jordan hangs a black and white framed photo of Israeli prime minsiter Yitzhak Shamir and the late Jordanian King Hussein, who in 1994 made the peace treaty that brought more peace and prosperity to two lands where the people do not necessarily see much eye to eye, except the benefit of such an agreement. "We very much need peace," my Jordanian driver told me, as a Syrian truck pulled ahead of us, full of Jordanian cucumbers and tomatoes.

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