In 1974 I was in Jordan, advising their television service on newsgathering and presentation. A typical Mohammed Kamal statement, our host in Jordan, was delivered as if it was quite routine. He said “Tomorrow, you dine with the King, a car will pick you up in the morning”. I had no idea what that meant, so the next morning, I put on my best lightweight suit.
The car picked me up, Mansour Fayez who worked for Jordan Television was already in the car, and off we went. After a short drive, we went straight past the Palace. So I thought “Well, we’re not eating there”.
We drove out of town and along the road to Aqaba. After about twenty miles through scrub land and semi desert, we reached our destination.
On the side of the road there was a huge gathering of tribesmen, the men separated from the women by a space which would be occupied by a helicopter carrying King Hussein.
Mansour guided me from the road into this mêlée, on the way explaining that he had dozens of cousins in the crowd. He himself was youngest of nine.
As we reached the outer edges of the crowd, I could see a wall, built of breeze blocks. It was about seven feet high and fifty feet long. In front of the wall there were a variety of chairs provided for the principal guests. At the right hand end, the wall turned through ninety degrees. From the top of the wall, there was a canopy which offered protection from the hot morning sun.
In front of the short wall, was a rather ornate chair and I guessed that this was reserved for H.M. I was given a front row seat and thirty feet away down the line of the main wall. Looking around, I saw that I was the only European attending.
On the far side of the field, the assembled women (not allowed to take direct part in the proceedings), began to issue a verbal noise which was a cross between a yodel and a cry for help.
As the proceedings began, Mansour explained that his tribe, the Fayez, were welcoming the King whose government had graciously purchased land from the Fayez on which to build the new Amman Airport. Wow! A few square miles of quite useless desert had now become priceless real estate. No wonder there were celebrations. In 1983, on that site was opened the Queen Alia International Airport.
The ceremony consisted of speeches by the elders of the tribe. It was quite obvious to me, one who could speak no Arabic, that these speeches were delivered as poems or prose. One could tell. The speeches were read from scrolls which were ornate like an illuminated address. The scrolls, after each speech was delivered, were rolled up and presented to the King.
What about lunch ? After the ceremony, I was ushered by Mansour round the back of the wall. Here, there were loads of tables set out under covers on which was laid out a Mansaf. Mansour showed me to a table. There were no seats. I was joined by a young boys of about twelve and then, to my astonishment, by H.M. King Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
He asked me where I was from and I said UPITN in London. He said “Oh. ITN, yes, I have seen a lot of your people“. He asked me if got back to Amman without trouble after the Helicopter incident at El Jafr. I told him that I got a lift back with the camera crew from Jordan TV. I didn’t expect him to know anything about it.
He said, finally, “I hear that you are doing a good job with Jordan TV”. I said ”Thank you, Your Majesty, I do hope so”.
When we had finished eating, with our hands, we were offered some elementary ablutions. We held out our hands while tribesmen poured water over them from a jug. Then we were offered a bar of Lux, each to wash our hands and then the men with the jugs poured over more water to rinse off the soap. We were given a hand towel each to dry off. It all seemed surreal, washing my hands with a bar of Lux in the middle of the desert.
The King went to his helicopter and back to the Palace. Mansour and I wended our way through the crowd to the Limo for the drive back to Amman. An interesting day.
Next chapter: Chapter 68: Luncheon in a desert town