Where can you meet the civilisation of death eye to eye? Of course – at the Dead Sea! It is there, in Qumran, where in 1947-1956 several ancient documents were found, shedding a different light at Jesus and bringing church
officials to the verge of fury. It is there that the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah were located, destroyed by God – according to one of interpretations – for the „sin” of homosexuality. Destroyed ineffectively – as one may conclude from the numbers of happy homos all around the world.
It is there where Alexander the Great resided with his army – Alexander, known both from his bravado at battlefield and from homosexual needs in bed. And finally, it is there, at the Dead Sea, that the Hashemite Kingdom of
Jordan is located – an unusual Muslim country whose king speaks better English than Arabic and whose gays can exist reasonably peacefully – as long as they exist under cover.
Having bought our tickets to Jordan and applied successfully for days off at work, we started searching for homo traces in Jordanian Internet. This is how we found a blog of a gay from Irbid. The first e-mail to him was sent without much hope for a reply – a year before we tried to contact gays from
Egypt in the same way, without much success. This time, however, the reply came quickly. Mohammed – as this is the first name of our friend – studies in Irbid and is 25 years old. He knows where Poland lies and what Solidarity was, and even recognises who the Kaczynski twins are (a horror!). We specify he
details of our meeting in Amman by e-mail.
Our way to Jordan leads from Egypt alongside the coastline of the Gulf of Aquaba. We leave Egypt in Taba and enter Israel for several hours. These are the least pleasant moments of our trip, as Israel makes no excuses with
tourists at border crossings and spares them no stress. Young female customs officers at the age of Britney Spears search through our luggage, and young boys with Kalashnikovs in their hands treat us as potential terrorists. When the customs procedure seems finished, the customs officer finds a Syrian stamp in one tourist’s passport and problems appear. We wait two hours for data to be checked. Ongoing telephones to Tel Aviv. Finally, we have the permit to cross the border, we drive around a dozen kilometres – and enter Jordan, this time without much difficulties.
We are greeted by burnt, desert mountains. It is desert and mountains that the Kingdom of Jordan consists in majority of. Only the north-western part of the country has favourable conditions for agriculture and settlement and it is there that the capital city of Jordan, Amman, is located.
We reach Petra, the ancient city of Nabataeans, which revived after several
thousand years, selected as one of the new seven wonders of the world. Quite
appropriately – in Petra you can spend the whole day walking through clefts in rocks, admire constructions that are over 2,000 years old, ride a donkey and, finally, drink Bedouin tea with a mint leaf.
A cleft opposite the Petra Treasury.
Donkeys are a very popular means of
Mint tea in front of the Monastery.
A homo detail – the hotel had the Italian channel Gay TV in its cable TV
The next day we reach Amman, a metropolis of over two million inhabitants.
Originally, the city was built on seven hills; today, it incorporates over a dozen. Amman is an old city. The Roman amphitheatre and citadel (with a museum hosting the famous Qumran scrolls) and an ancient suk.
View from the Citadel to the city and the Roman amphitheatre.
The old market
Finally, there was time to meet Mohammed, who appeared to be a handsome, intelligent, sensitive and very hospitable guy. Moreover – which troubled us a bit – Mohammed spoke much more fluent English than us. At the start, we received a beautiful low-relief from Petra, CD with Jordanian music and a tiny
bottle with our names „written” in sand.
The gift from us was a photo album about Poland. It appeared that a number
of typically Polish landscapes, such as a field of poppies or a forest, were a complete novelty for Mohammed.
We were shown a totally different face of Amman. We visited a modern quarter
with embassies and expensive hotels. We saw the Al Thaqafa street, an informal gay meeting place, we did shopping in the huge Mecca Mall, and above all, we talked a lot.
We discussed also the issue of the rights of women and homosexual persons.
The present king Abdullah II bin Al Hussein puts a lot of effort into dragging Jordan out of the well of customs created by Islamic regulations. The breakthrough in conventions started with the rights of women.
Jordan, as one of the first Muslim countries, started to perceive the existence of women and tried to establish appropriately their position in the society. Since 1989, women have had voting rights, and at least 6 women must find their places in the parliament. A great contributor to the fight for women
rights is the present wife of the king, Ranya, and the last spouse of the former king Hussein.
This, however, is all when it comes to the rights of women; the disgraceful
tradition of honour killing allows for the murder of a woman for adultery or
pre-marriage sex, with hardly any consequences. The killings are typically
committed by the victim's own relative, who is then sentenced to as little as 6
months of imprisonment. The present king has attempted to abolish this inhumane law, however, the parliament, with MPs mainly from conservative religious parties and Bedouins, rejected the proposal.
A breath of modernity can be seen in the streets of Amman, where European-styled dressed women, with uncovered heads, can be met more frequently now. Not long ago, the majority of women had to wear scarves covering their hair.
Some, especially Bedouin women, wore chadors, covering all their bodies but for
In the evening we visited books@cafe, one of the few gay-friendly spots in the city. Gays enjoy more freedom in Jordan than in Egypt (where homosexuality is punished with imprisonment) or Saudi Arabia and Iran (where people get sentenced to death for sodomy). Here, gays can meet though the Internet, try
cruising or visit places like books@cafe.
Careful readers will certainly ask – what about lesbians? All too badly, lesbians are invisible in Jordan; neither has our friend Mohammed had to do with them. As he told us, “Women in Islam rather do not express their needs
or sexual emotions. Covering the body is but one way of imprisoning their emotions. For example, it is a shame for a woman to start talking to a man, to speak first. In love relationships it is the man that has to express his love first, he must be the one to initiate. I don’t like this custom, but this is
what reality looks like. That’s how heterosexual relationships look like,
so you can imagine how much more difficult it must be for a lesbian! In Jordan there are no lesbian meeting places; moreover, till the wedding day a woman is under the custody of a man from the family – brother, cousin or father, and even going out is a problem. A student girl may not rent a flat alone – just like a woman living alone, she is stigmatised, and the stigma reaches her family, too.”
Young men don’t have it easy, either. It is a Jordanian custom that parents search for an appropriate candidate for wife, the man can only be a bit choosy. I asked Mohammed how his parents would react to the information that he is gay. “God, I can’t even imagine what would happen. Mom would get a
stroke, and dad an infarction, I guess. But seriously, I feel a lot of pressure
to finally marry. I managed to fuss as to the former candidates. Lately, mom
found me another candidate for wife, but luckily she got engaged recently
with another man. I’m the eldest son and so they badly want me to maintain the
continuity of the family through my children. Financial and emotional assistance for children in their getting married is one of the most important duties of the parents. If my parents found out about my homosexuality, I would be
killed. I’m not joking, the perpetrator would probably be an uncle or a cousin. According to Jordanian law he would go to prison for 6 months.”
I must admit that the whole gravity of Mohammed’s words reached me only
later, after returning to Poland. Here, looking at progressive western Europe, trying to run equality parades, we forget about countries where being homosexual is so much graver than in our, so much despised, Fourth Republic.
I also spoke with Mohammed about his hopes for future. His blog www.gayjordan.blogspot.com  was one of the first gay blogs in Jordan. A Jordanian English-speaking magazine JO! wrote about it and this can be treated as the first
occurrence of the issue of sexual minorities in the Jordanian society. Internet
remains a great hope. New gay blogs are being created. At present, according to Mohammed’s calculations, there are ca. 600 active gays. He himself met only 20 persons from Amman and Irbid and is still looking for a good husband material. He keeps searching, though he knows how difficult it will be for
him. “I don’t know any gay couple in Jordan, I meet only singles and men with bad experiences. Recently, one of my friends was forced to marry, he could not endure the pressure of his family”. Despite gloomy prospects, Mohammed
will keep trying organise gays and lesbians in Jordan. I believe he will succeed, as the Internet increases opportunities for contact.
On the next day we went to the Dead Sea, where we bathed – or rather lied
As we went to a public beach, we could watch the customs of bathing Jordanians. The majority of people, both men and women, bather in full clothing. Next to us we had two groups of high school students. Boys and girls sat separately; however, when somebody played some music from a CD-player (neither
Shakira nor a MTV song), both groups started dancing coquettishly, but maintaining
appropriate distance. It looked like a kind of remote flirt. By the way, Jordanian boys danced greatly and could have served as world models of moving in a sexy way.
In the evening, slightly sunburnt, we visit the king’s mosque and bid farewell to Mohammed. We invite him to visit us in Poland and receive a promise that he will come when he finds his other half.