In the latest edition of CNN’s Quest’s World of Wonder, host Richard Quest travels to Amman, the capital city of Jordan, using the city as a gateway to explore the country’s rich history and spectacular landscapes. Quest meets Jordanian royalty, Bedouins, entertainers, and archaeological experts on his quest to discover the DNA of Jordan.
Quest’s tour guide through the city is His Royal Highness Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, the half brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah the Second. The royal family remains popular in the country and is deliberately accessible, something Quest witnesses as people flock for selfies with the prince as they eat falafel on the streets of the city.
Prince Ali serves as the Chairman of the Board for the Royal Film Commission and he takes Quest to visit Film House, the country’s first centre for the audio-visual arts. His wife, Princess Rym al-Ali, a former journalist and CNN Correspondent, joins the tour of Film House and talks the city’s history, “Don’t be fooled by the appearance – the traditional appearance that you see, because there’s a lot of sort of modern and traditional side by side.”
Beyond the capital, Quest visits the Dead Sea – the lowest land-based elevation on earth – with Jordanian comedian Nabil Sawalha. The two men take a dip in the lake’s famed salty water and have a massage with mud from the lakebed. Sawalha describes what makes his country so unique, “It is a big-hearted country that takes in everybody. So, if you put these together, it creates a dynamo of the different cultures and they tie together.”
No journey to Jordan is complete without a visit to the ancient city of Petra. Quest tours the UNESCO World Heritage Site with Professor Sami Al Hasanat from the Al-Hussein Bin Talal University who speaks about the area’s beauty, “Every day I see it differently – every day, because to me it seems like concentrating on a picture. The more you focus, the more you see, the more you’ll discover.”
The Bedouin guides at Petra welcome Quest and offer him Arabic Kohl, an eye make-up that protects them from the sun and sand. When Quest notes their similarity to actor Johnny Depp, the Bedouins joke, “Johnny Depp looks like US! He take our style, my friend!”
Finally, the programme visits Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert. Here, Quest experiences a re-enactment of the 1916 Arab Revolt, in which British officer ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ became famous. The production is staged by the Jordanian Heritage Revival Company for tourists.
He is then re-joined by Prince Ali and they visit a Hollywood movie set currently using Wadi Rum as its backdrop. The prince speaks about the importance of the film industry for the country, “We are developing our own film industry. But also, it brings real benefits to people. And the funny thing about film, which people don’t really realise, it’s not about getting a support tour or money into government. It’s about the people who work on the ground, the local communities all benefit from, from this wonderful industry.”
Quest concludes his time in Jordan by sitting around a campfire with the prince, looking out over Wadi Rum. His Royal Highness speaks about why he visits the desert so frequently, “Well, I come here as often as I can. The desert is a beautiful place. It’s clean, it’s pure. It’s a place where you can rejuvenate yourself. And in this world, this crazy world we live in where everything is so fast paced, it’s nice to get back to your origins.”
Prince Ali describes how visiting the desert makes him feel, “We have a word for it in, in Arabic. And it’s called “Sakinah”. Sakinah means peace, peace of the heart, peace in your soul. And that’s what you feel. You’re looking at an infinite universe, infinite world, and infinite place. And that’s what we feel.”
From the city of Amman to the otherworldly Wadi Rum desert, Quest discovers that Jordan is a biblical and wondrous land. He draws upon the prince’s words when summing up his time in the country, “I think Prince Ali has given me the word that best describes all of this. It is Sakinah. Peace of the soul, the tranquillity that we all seek. And you will want to come here and find your own bit of Sakinah when you visit, because without doubt Amman and Jordan are part of our world of wonder.”