I love to adopt local customs wherever I travel, so at my presentation in Jordan on ecotourism before an audience of local travel professionals including the Minister of Tourism, I introduced myself not as Kurt Kutay, President of Wildland Adventures, but rather as "Abu Tarek", or the father of Tarek; it is customary among Jordanians to refer to yourself by the name of your first born son (or daughter if you don't have a son). So, I kept it up everywhere I traveled throughout Jordan including our Bedouin Trek to Petra and it was a great icebreaker as a visitor here. Everyone was surprised that our son has an Arabic name because of my Turkish heritage. (And he looks Arabic as seen in this picture with Anne.) As soon as I used Tarek's name instead of my own for introductions, they would smile and do the same, always gushing with pride for their first born son whether it was his Excellency the Minister of Tourism or a local Bedouin who invited us into his goat hair tent to share the ancient tradition of hand-roasted Arabic coffee infused with cardamom.
Jordan shares many characteristics with my son Tarek, not the least of which is good reason to be optimistic about the future. Not unlike Tarek, Jordanians are a progressive people committed to a stronger blend of democracy that supports their ancient ways of living with community interests over those of the individual, and dare I say respect for their elders and traditions! When the government announced the end of gas price subsidies to reduce deficits during my visit here, there were street blockades and protest rallies, but it remained safe and peaceful overall for travelers. Even the more radically conservative and religious factions here have supported the rights of protestors, denouncing violence and political reform outside the democratic process.
And when Israel struck Gaza while I was traveling in Jordan, the King reaffirmed Jordan's peace treaty with Israel while taking an outspoken stand against the military attack in solidarity with their mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters of Palestine. In spite of the violence across the border that week, life in Jordan remained normal. Like my son, King Abdullah is generally considered wise and diplomatic with a sensible approach to modern reforms in the context of a globalised world; although as a young activist Tarek strives to make deeper and faster social, economic and political reforms for the disadvantaged, disenfranchised and the poor.
Education and healthcare are highly developed in Jordan. Male literacy is 95% and female literacy is 85%. Female life expectancy is 81 years, while that for males is 79 years. Long live Jordan. And, long live my first born son, and daughter too!
Happy Birthday, Tarek! I sang, danced and played the flute for you with my Bedouin friend in the desert.