Dispatch, Jordan 1: Hummus on my shoe

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Travel Weekly's Kenneth Kiesnoski is in Jordan for Jordan Travel Mart 2010. His first dispatch follows.

My first morning here at Jordan Travel Mart 2010, being held at the gleaming King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center on the shores of the starkly gorgeous Dead Sea, got off to an inauspicious, if slightly amusing, start.

Surveying the buffet offerings at the early-morning welcome breakfast, I bypassed the scrambled eggs and pastries and made a beeline for the table heaped with platters of mezze.

Mezze are the delicious appetizers such as hummus, baba ghanoush and tabouleh as well as olives, cheese and yogurt. These foods are typical of Jordan and most countries around the eastern Mediterranean. I am in Jordan, after all, so why eat an American breakfast?

Still a bit fuzzy-headed from my 14-hour journey to Amman from New York via Chicago, I sat down and scooped up huge dollops of various mezze from my plate with the aid of warm wedges of pita bread as the morning’s presentations got underway.

During a break, I headed out to the sun-drenched conference center terrace for the stunning views of the Dead Sea. There, I chatted with a charming and erudite Jordanian senator, Amal H. El Farham, for some time and we soon discovered we’d both attended New York University.

Both glad to have met a fellow alumnus, we exchanged numbers before parting and promised to reach out if we were ever in each other’s neck of the woods again. Not suspecting anything was amiss, I headed back into the session and sat at my place. I reached down into my briefcase to grab my notepad and found, to my horror, that one of my shiny black dress shoes sported an enormous, perfectly composed swirl of creamy beige hummus.

Although mortified, I was grateful the elegant, eloquent Ms. El Farham had the grace not to point out my food/footwear faux pas. Wiping the offending hummus into oblivion, I chuckled over the incident with a fellow journalist at my table and turned my attention to the informative speech being given by Nayef Al Fayez, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board.

 

There were several things about Mr. Al Fayez, Ms. El Farham and the other Jordanian officials and tourism suppliers on hand here at Jordan Travel Mart that impressed me: their fluency and ease in English; their impeccable manners, coupled with a relaxed, U.S.-style informality; and their passion for Jordan as a tourism product.

Most of all, I was moved by the warm welcome they extend to foreign visitors, particularly Americans. As Jordan lies in a region where the U.S. is not always the most popular of world powers, it’s easy to forget the country is a steadfast American ally and that its people appreciate their strong links to our nation.

In fact, I was surprised, and pleased, to learn that the U.S. plays a major role in growing and promoting tourism here – in a responsible and culturally and ecologically sensitive manner – through the auspices of the USAID development agency.

USAID-Jordan and its Siyaha Jordan Tourism Development Project II is a major sponsor of Jordan Travel Mart. Huge informational displays in the convention center – labeled, albeit in small print, “From the American People” – detail its various tourism initiatives currently in progress.

Ibrahim Osta, chief of party for Siyaha, gave a major presentation on USAID’s efforts in Jordanian tourism for the international buyers and journalists on hand.

The agency is also helping with the development of Jordan Academy, the Jordan Tourism Board's new online specialist certification program for tour operators and travel agents.

Even this jaded New Yorker admits that my heart was warmed to see that my tax dollars are apparently being spent constructively and wisely in at least one place in the Middle East. I’ll even admit to a bit of pride.

On the patriotic level, of course – the hummus-on-the-shoe incident ensured a healthy degree of personal humility for this American journalist.

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