Nuh Part 1: Getting Situated
Located about three hours south of Amman, Jordan’s capital city, is one of the country’s most iconic monuments, Petra — or ar-Raqmu as it is known in the local Arabic. For readers with a limited knowledge of the region and its history, you may have seen ar-Raqmu’s most famous feature, al-Khazneh, in such fine films as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or The Mummy Returns or Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Of course, like most things, what is most commonly known about ar-Raqmu is a sliver of what’s available to be known.
The highway from Amman to ar-Raqmu is peppered with signs directing travelers to sites of memory, sites of pilgrimage. Whereas I am accustomed to highway exit signs directing travelers to an Econolodge or Exit 51A, in Jordan one encounters directions to the baptismal site of Jesus or Jebel Haroun (a mountainous area dedicated to the older brother of Moses, Aaron). A constellation of sites like these light up the rocky desert from point to point.
But it isn’t simply that Jordan is home to a number of Biblically familiar sites that makes the country so interesting. Indeed, Jordan is the middle of the Middle East, the heart of innumerable routes and crossings linking an incredibly diverse array of communities for millennia. Amman may be — if not the oldest — among the oldest continuously settled cities on Earth. (Archeological evidence suggests settlement as early as 7000 B.C.)Just as today the population of Amman is a mix of ethnicities and communities — Palestinian, Syrian, Iraqi, and Circassian, among others — historically Jordan has stitched together a patchwork of identities, communities, languages and traditions.
Ar-Raqmu is no exception. Long the center of the Nabatean kingdom, ar-Raqmu was a strategic entrepot capitalizing on the numerous, convergent trade routes from the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, China, Persia, the Hejaz, the Caucasus, the Levant, and the Mediterranean. Because overland trade and travel have diminished significantly this last century, it can be easy to overlook the important role the northern Arab peninsula played in the historic development of global trade and relations. Outside empires competed for conquest and control of ar-Raqmu and Jordan— the (Italian) Romans, the Byzantine (Greek Romans), the Turks, the British — precisely because it played such a critical role in global trade.
The movement of people and goods created an intricate network linking the African with the Eurasian continents, as well as thousands of cities, villages, farms, kingdoms, faiths, tastes, products, folklore, ideas, enmities, alliances, tongues, songs and dance. These networks were a diverse and dynamic system of exchange and adaptation. The transmission of ideas and technologies transformed societies — perhaps by choice, but often by surprise.
It is customary to describe the 21st century as an age of accelerating change (and it is), but that description often obscures from our vantage the dynamics of change which shaped the past. The paradox of change is that it is constant; it is always happening, and therefore, has always happened. In this change is static, unchanging. The universe is predicated on the transformation of physics into chemistry, information into action, simplicity into complexity, of one thing into another.
In this series, I will attempt to examine what we might learn from past attitudes toward change. Our shared world is in the midst of considerable changes; changes in our politics, changes in our technologies, and most critically, changes in our environment. If ever we needed guidance on how to navigate change, it was now. But seismic changes are not unique to us in 2021, nor are they so unprecedented that we should wallow in unresponsive antipathy. To be alive is to make decisions; that is, to manage change. What is irreparable is irreparable, and nothing that has been done can be undone.
On the other hand, the future is open, an open invitation to take initiative, to try new things, to succeed and fail and learn from doing. In Part 2, we will meet a man and his flood and the difficulties his prescience brought him. In doing so, hopefully we can conceptualize an important lesson on how to best manage change.