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Ames K. Swartsfager

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White Horse
By Ames K. Swartsfager
Monday, August 26, 2013

Rated "G" by the Author.

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A Jordanian tells a story about why his countrty losves iots king.

By Ames K Swartsfager

Muhammad, Ahmad and I were sitting drinking apple tea and chatting outside a café in Madaba, Jordan. They were dressed in western style shirts and pants, except for their red-checkered kufia and lightweight outer cloaks.

Muhammad could speak English and, since I could not speak Arabic, he translated for Ahmad and me. A young man from the café placed the kettle on a small charcoal stove in front of us.

In the cold sun and washed out sky of winter, we drank the hot sweet tea and discussed what it was like living in a nation with a king in charge.

“The people here love our king.” Mohammad sat up straight with a serious expression. “His Majesty King Abdullah II, King of the Hashemite Kingdom, is the 41st-generation direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him.

“He is always doing good things for his people.” Pointing to a store down the block, he added, “See that store? It is a program our Queen set up for the disabled. They learn how to make and create pottery and mosaics.”

He shifted his feet, reached over to the copper teapot, and offered the pot to Ahmad and me, but our cups did not need refilling. Muhammad poured himself more tea. He turned and looked at Ahmad, who nodded slightly. He settled back, getting ready to speak. Before he could say anything, Ahmad leaned forward and spoke a few words in Arabic.

Muhammad replied, nodding his head. “Ahmad said I should tell you the story of the White Horse.”

I looked at Ahmad, who was smiling and nodding. I smiled back, wishing I could better communicate with him.

“There is a story—a true story—that shows how much we love our king.” He took some more tea, and straightened his kufia, which the breeze was blowing an end of into his face. Then he leaned toward me and began his story.

“Our country has a large and dangerous cavalry as part of its army. This unit is composed of soldiers mounted on camels. This camel cavalry defends and polices the border where our country and Saudi Arabia meet in the desert. ”

Ahmad again spoke quietly and Muhammad nodded and spoke in return. “Ahmad wants you to know they are the toughest of all soldiers in the world. They can go for days without water or food and they fight like cornered cobras—and are just as dangerous! They are a crack outfit, like your SEALS, except on camelback.”

I sensed the story might be a long one and I would need tea to keep me warm. I reached over to the teapot sitting over the glowing coals and offered the pot to Ahmad and Muhammad. They refused. The tea was very hot, almost scorching my lips.

“Every year the king, who personally commands the Special Forces of our country, joins this group of highly trained fighters and inspects the borders. He is well known for his interest in land, sea and air sports, including free-fall parachuting. He shares his late father's passion for cars and motorcycles and became a Jordan National Rally champion. Today, he continues to enjoy aquatic sports, including boating and scuba diving.” Muhammad took his tea glass and drank a bit, savoring its taste and smell.

“I have heard this is so.” I blew on the tea to cool it and I drank a bit more.

“One time when the king was inspecting the borders, he received a message requesting his presence at the palace. With a detachment of two, he rode across the desert at full speed. The trip took longer than expected because of a huge desert windstorm. To survive they had to lay the camels down and sleep on the side away from the wind. For three days the wind blew out of control. When it was over the king and his two comrades were out of food, and what water they had was spoiled by dust from the storm.

“Two days later as they were going around one of the high buttes of the desert, they saw a man coming toward them. He was middle-aged, his turban was dirty and his clothes were ragged. When the man saw that it was the king, he fell to the ground in obeisance.

“‘Your majesty,’ he said, ‘my name is Sulef, please come to my home and refresh yourself.’ The King agreed and the man led them to his tent.

“Arriving at Sulef’s tent he called for water so the king and his party could wash themselves. Sulef himself prepared tea. It was obvious that this man was a very poor man. He had only one wife, and just a handful of goats were to be seen roaming around the tattered tent.

“While his wife waited on the guests, Sulef went out, slaughtered a young kid and prepared it for roasting over the fire. Then he came before the king again and bowed deeply.

“‘Your majesty, please forgive me, but I must be away for a few hours. We have a kid roasting and my wife will see that you are comfortable until I return. Please rest and be at ease in my tent.’ Sulef bowed again and left.

“Sulef gathered his goats, twenty-one of them, and herded them to the north across the desert.

“It is said that the king watched Sulef and wondered where he was going, but he was very hungry and tired, so he did not resist the invitation to rest. After eating his fill of roasted meat he fell asleep.

“Three hours later Sulef returned, leading a beautiful white horse. He brought the horse into the tent in front of the king. Your Majesty, I would like to present you this fine horse.”

“The king stood up, walked to the horse and placed his hand on its neck and flank.

“‘This is indeed a fine horse Sulef, but where did you get the money to purchase such an animal?’”

“‘I sold all my goats so that you could arrive in your capital in the best style.’”

“‘Oh Sulef, I cannot accept this gift. You will be left with nothing.’”

“‘Allah will provide. Please, your highness (Sulef bowed deeply) please takes the horse. I would be embarrassed if you had to enter your city on that bedraggled camel. You are our king and should arrive riding on this fine animal. On this horse you will enter your palace as what you are—a great king. Please your majesty, take my gift.’

“The king, knowing that if he said anything more he would insult Sulef, took the horse and said, ‘This is the greatest gift that has ever been given to me. May Allah bless you.’

“The king and his guards rode off, leaving the king’s camel with Sulef.

“A few weeks later Sulef was surprised to see three Bedouins drive a herd of goats up to his tent.

“’The King Abdullah, peace be upon him, says that these should belong to you to repay the hospitality you showed him.’ There were fifty goats in the herd.

“’That’s way too many,’ Sulef said, welcoming the men into his tent and offering them tea.

“After drinking the tea, the men shared how wonderful the king looked on the horse when he road into Amman. ‘He thanks you for your hospitality with this gift.’

“‘Please tell the King that I accept his gift with thankfulness. May Allah bless him.’ Sulef offered more tea, but the three men said they had to return to their camp by nightfall.

“As they were mounting their camels, Sulef called to them, ‘Do not forget the king’s camel he left here.’

“‘The king says that his camel is your camel,’ they replied and then they trotted off toward the west.

“The horse, or its descendants, is still in the King’s stable.” Muhammad said. “And when he wants to look like the great king he is, he rides him and remembers the sacrificial gift of Sulef.”

We all sat drinking tea in silence as we pondered this story.


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