Jordan

Annie Caulfield's new book tells of her romance with a Jordanian Bedouin. In this extract, a trip to the Syrian border with her partner Rathwan serves to highlight the contrast between the lives of women in the East and in the West

Our walk took us up to the hilltops overlooking Syria. Traces of abandoned terrace farming gave the golden slopes a dizzying aspect: miles of faint, descending ridges spinning out of sight against a sharp blue sky. Nearer to us, the land was rich and colourful: there were tiny, whitewashed farms set in vineyards and groves of apricots, and an improbable clutch of Friesian cows clustered under some fig trees. Just behind them were two small fields of pale blue opium poppies - hardly enough to merit alarmist talk of a sideline for smugglers, but then I don't know how much opium you need to start a business. The fields looked small enough to be for the farmer's personal use; perhaps the hallucinatory strangeness of the black and white cows among the figs was a scene he'd set up for himself to gape over while out of his mind.

"Just elegant, isn't it?" Khalid said, and I realised where I'd heard this before: Marilyn Monroe exclaimed it over and over in The Seven Year Itch. Possibly Khalid had gleaned his English from more surprising sources than just the schoolroom.

"Just elegant," I agreed, trying to take in the foreground and background in a single glance: the prettiest of southern Italy backdropped by a scene painter of biblical epics.

When Khalid dropped us back in Ramtha, Faraj grandly asked him how much "we" owed him. Khalid's influences switched from Marilyn to Anthony Perkins, looking as if he'd like to stab Faraj repeatedly, with or without a shower curtain handy. I had a few sharp edges trained on Faraj myself, considering he undoubtedly wouldn't be among the "we" who had to part with money.

"I didn't take you as a taxi, I took you as guests," Khalid said to me, almost turning his back on Faraj. Rathwan stepped in, thanking Khalid for his kindness and wishing him luck with his business. Faraj mortified everyone again by offering to pay for petrol. Khalid refused politely, teeth clenching. Then we all just stared aghast at Faraj as he laughed wildly and said: "Please, take some money. We are not Iraqis, we don't want to take petrol from people without paying."

Khalid shook Rathwan's hand, said that it had been lovely to meet us, and walked away without affronting himself with another took at Faraj.

Basma had run mad in our absence, doing up her sparsely furnished little house with whatever she had available: paper flowers in a plastic pot now flourished on top of the television set, curtains had been put up at the barred windows, a poster of Jerash had appeared on the living-room wall. Everything had been cleaned: all the concrete floors were damp, the bathroom was awash with disinfectant, and the scrubbed-faced children were in fresh clothes. Basma had changed into an embroidered light blue dress and made herself up exquisitely. Her husband remained as unsightly as ever.

Basma gave us Pepsis and wondered if we'd like to rest a while, as it was still too hot to eat. Rathwan didn't need asking twice and was soon asleep in the living-room. Faraj wheeled Basma's crippled husband, Shaban, away to visit a neighbour. I hoped the neighbour was hospitable, so they'd enjoy their visit for some time.

I shared a broken-down sofa outside the house with Basma and most of her children. Although we had very little language in common, we managed to communicate as we sat sunning ourselves. That she had married beneath her would be an understatement of the position this refined woman found herself in; nothing about her matched her setting. I noticed her unwitting flinch of repulsion every time her husband spoke to her. Then there was her struggle to rise above a poverty that was bound to get worse.

With me, she seized a brief chance to think beyond Ramtha. She plied me with questions. What countries had I been to? What were they like? Where would I like to go next? When I asked where she would like to go, she smiled ruefully and held out her hands to embrace the whole world: "Go," she said, with a deep sigh. "Anywhere"n

`Kingdom of the Film Stars' is published by Lonely Planet, price pounds 6.99.

Jordan basics

Airborne to Amman: British Airways (0345 222111) and Royal Jordanian (0171-734 2557) fly non-stop to the capital, Amman. Their lowest fares are pounds 412 and pounds 551 respectively (including tax). Cheaper flights available through discount agents such as Campus Travel (0171-730 3402), which has a fare of pounds 255 on Turkish Airlines. Red tape: visas are essential for all but Arab visitors to Jordan, and should be obtained in advance from the Jordanian Embassy at 6 Upper Phillimore Gardens, London W8 7HB, in person or by post. British nationals pay pounds 27 for a single-entry, three- month visa. (details: 0891-171261). Climate: spring is generally the best time to visit. Amman has cold winters and hot, dry summers. Take rain gear for trips between November and April. The eastern desert is consistently dry and hot.

What's the best way to ...

Visit the Congo? Given the present difficulties in Brazzaville and beyond, it's probably best to make do with spending an evening in the company of the writer-explorer Redmond O'Hanlon. He will be speaking about his latest exploits at the next Stanfords' Travel Lecture, to be held at the Royal Geographical Society in London next Tuesday, 18 February. Three weeks later, Rory MacLean will be talking about his latest book, The Oatmeal Ark: Across Canada by Water. Tickets for either lecture cost pounds 6.50, and can be booked on 0171-836 1321.

Relive the Thirties in Morecambe? Join in the Art Deco Extravaganza between 21 and 23 March at the Midland Grand Hotel in Morecambe (01524 417180). The design of the hotel is in the image of a Thirties-style liner, a stylish setting for the planned music, art and other events.

Reach Hamburg for little more than the price of a burger? Take the new pounds 57 special from Scandinavian Seaways (0990 333000). This price applies to a return crossing from Harwich to Germany's second city, taken before 27 March or from October to December, staying a maximum of six nights.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?