Jordan 1974 part 3 – visiting Al Jafr & Ma’an
This is the third article about my visit to Jordan in ’74, to advise Jordan Television on film production. One evening, our host Mohammed Kamal said that I would be going south with the King, King Hussein. I was picked up at the hotel and driven to the Palace. Mansour accompanied me. There, I did not even see the King, I was ushered to an Alouette helicopter with which I was quite familiar.
We took off and I found that we were in a group of five helicopters. It occurred to me that the extra helicopters were to give alternative targets to terrorists seeking to down the King with a SAM. However, perish such thoughts. The pilot was working on a fixed compass bearing of 168 degrees. We were on our way to El Jafr and the King was on one of his annual visits around the remote parts of the country where he could meet up with the local Bedouin and cement their friendly relationship and loyalty to the Crown. It was a chore that he had to do. El Jafr is also the site of the notorious prison which normally houses political prisoners, but I never got to see it. In fact I almost didn’t get to see anything else.
About two miles from our expected landing site, our helicopter developed a mechanical problem. The pilot fought with the helicopter and was quite unable to gain complete control. Soon we were over the landing site and he managed to put the craft down about a quarter of a mile from the centre of activity, albeit with a considerable bump.
We got off and waited to see what was to happen next. In the meanwhile the commanding officer of the helicopter flight came over, got in the helicopter, re-started it and ran the engine for a few minutes. He switched off and got down and waved his hands from side to side at waist level, like an umpire signally a “four” with both hands. For that day, the helicopter was a write off.
We joined the main parties for the meeting between H.M. and the local Bedouin. There were no vehicles around at the time, so a young man on a white horse was despatched to town to rustle-up some transport to get me, and my fellow helicopter travellers, to the next location in the itinerary. In the meanwhile, we witnessed this show of loyalty with speeches from all sides, although the King, himself, said nothing. It was hot, oh! how hot.
It was all over by about 11.30 in the morning and the serviceable helicopters took off for the next location which was Ma’an, possibly the second largest town in Jordan. We followed in a car. The journey by car revealed that the prison at El Jafr was well placed. All around was unremitting desert, while the road was laid at a level raised above the surrounding terrain. A prisoner would have no chance of escape in that terrain, for one thing he could be spotted five miles away. Nothing moved in the desert.
We arrived at an army barracks in Ma’an. Once again, the military, like the Bedouin, were offering their loyalty. There were speeches from the high ranking officers and the King addressed the assembled officers and men who were paraded in their hundreds.
When the ceremonies were over, we were offered lunch. Mansour indicated that I should wait a while. What I was about to witness was a typical Arab method of feeding the five thousand, as it were. Under cover, there were tables lined up with masses of food laid out. The main dish was Mansaf, a huge pile of lamb and rice with nuts and raisins.
To the tables went the High ranking officers, the King had, obviously, decided he wanted to lunch at home, These officers started to wade in to the food when the next wave of officers, Lieutenants and Captains, moved in. At this moment, Mansour indicated that we should go in, find a table and get stuck in to the food. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As soon as we had finished eating, the tables were surrounded by “Other Ranks” who came in to finish off the feast. By this means, everyone was fed, in order of merit. It was obvious that this was a time-honoured method of dishing up food to the multitude.
Here was I, stranded 140 miles from Amman with no helicopter. I spotted the Jordan TV film crew, who had been there to film the proceedings. They offered me a lift back.
They were loading their gear into the back of the car when I spotted that they had a cold box to house the film, but there were not using it. The temperature was in the low forties, but during the day it had been higher than that. I pointed out that the intense heat inside the back of the car could damage the emulsion of the film. They put the exposed film into the cold box and I asked them to tell the laboratory that it had been in the box. This would allow the film to be left to get warmer before development. It was not intended for use until the following day.
The drive back was long and tortuous. The view was mainly desert. Every so often there would be a small village with white-washed mud houses. Mostly they would have small patch of desert that had been converted to take some crops. From time to time, we would pass a farm where several acres of lands (or sand) was supporting a crop that I could not identify.
Additional links: Jordan 1974 part 1 – A journey into the unknown
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