Amidst the monstrously large suitcases there was an air of excitement and great expectation among the international travelers. The hotel lobby was large and grand. Eager to get to my room, I anxiously watched while one of the elevators quickly filled, and then quickly stepped into the next one that arrived.
There we were, alone, on the elevator together. He was an older, distinguished and handsome gentleman, dressed in a beautifully tailored suit and white shirt that required no tie to formalize his business attire. Suddenly sharing the confined space, I greeted him and asked where he was from. Smiling, he said "Iraq. Where are you from?" he asked. I said, "The United States." We stared at each other. And then we simultaneously relaxed and smiled as we read each other's thoughts. The elevator door opened on the fourth floor. He turned left, I went right.
Thus began my 10-day visit to the beautiful country of Jordan. We were in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Amman, the ancient capital city where less than two years later, explosives would rip three hotel lobbies and the hearts of millions of people who had lived in or visited this oasis of peace.
It was February of 2004 and the United States was engaged in the war in Iraq. I traveled to Jordan with a group of pastors and journalists from cities throughout the United States. At that time I was an on-air host of my daily show on Soul Beat Television, based in Oakland, Calif.
Although I knew no one in the group, we all became friends as we witnessed the shock and awe of Jordan. It is a magnificent and dramatic country brimming with historic sites and treasures that were generously shared with travelers who came from all points of the world.
Our master tour organizer was Arthur Murphy who, in his professional life, is a consultant to politicians in the Baltimore region. Murphy's personal mission is to introduce people to the beauty and historic wonders of Jordan through his series of tours he has led there for more than 10 years. He has become an ancient historian with great knowledge of the people, geography, religions, language, architecture, traditions, art and historic monuments that abound in this tiny country. Murphy's passion for Jordan is powerful. His grief in the aftermath of the recent bombings in Amman runs deep.
We all felt comfortably safe as we traveled through Jordan, a tiny country of 4.7 million people.
One day I wandered away from our group when we were in Jerash, surrounded by ancient and stately pillars, white rocks and willowy trees. I had seen two men kneeling in prayer at the sound of the midday amplified signal, heard also at sunrise and sunset every day throughout the country. I walked the short distance to the field where they were standing in their flowing garments and softly turbaned head dresses. Maybe I felt safe because their smiles and gestures reminded me of my uncles in New Orleans. One of them was able to speak a few words in English. I remember how gentle these men were. They told me a little bit about the area and offered me a leaf from one of the nearby trees as a gesture of peace and goodwill.
Jordan is bordered by Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. These countries share borders with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and Turkey. Jordan's history took root in the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. It is a country whose rulers were Greeks and Romans and where enslaved people brilliantly built the time and gravity-defying monuments that still stand in testament to their toil and skills. Muslims, Christians and Jews have been constant co-habitants in this little country. King Abdullah, his wife and his mother are protectors of their country. They are revered by their people, whose trust they have nourished and cherished.
Last week when the escalating war exploded in three hotel lobbies in Amman, it was a jolt because Jordan was a delicate beacon of peaceful co-existence in that region. As people throughout the world instantly recognized that a new phase of "the war" had begun, they simultaneously rejected the first major war of the 21st century, which had seemingly been waged to divide and conquer.
Thus united, the international peace movement has begun.
Mona Lombard is a publicist. She is also a real estate and mortgage loan agent with Trans-Continental Mortgage Corp. in Oakland, Calif. E-mail comments to: [email protected].