There were suddenly way too many needles in my life, because I had to have my hepatitis and typhus shots, while on the other hand I spent a lot of the time at the dentist, where they tried to sort out my tooth so it would leave me alone during my time in Jordan. So my preparations actually started as soon as I bought the ticket, and by the time I had to pack on Saturday before travelling, I’d actually had enough of everything. I had to remind myself that I don’t, in fact, need that many pairs of pants, and that people do live in Jordan and have stores there. No matter what I forgot, I would be able to find some sort of a replacement there. I was struck by Reisefieber and I couldn’t wait to sit on the bus on Sunday morning and start my 12-hour journey.
In the air
The flight to Amman was two-thirds empty, which was great for me because I had three seats all for myself, but it still says a lot about the current state of tourism in Jordan. The flight takes five hours and this doesn’t seem like a lot until you realize that you’ve been on the plane forever, but in reality only two hours have passed. But the wait is worth it, because it’s clear to you that you’re on unfamiliar ground as soon as you fly over Amman. From the air, this city looks like an anthill, with beige buildings that twist and turn through the center, surrounded by red-tinted lights.
When we landed, passport control looked at me a bit strangely because I hadn’t been able to tell them where exactly I’ll be staying, but I did manage to make them realize that I’m only visiting. This was the first hint that I will have to be more persistent than I’m used to. The second hint came when I was buying a SIM card that would enable me to stay in touch with my world for the duration of the trip. I nearly got into an argument with the seller, who was pushing a document in Arabic in my face and wanted me to sign it without telling me what it was. He condescendingly kept telling me that I shouldn’t worry about it and just sign it, but I persisted until he finally gave in and told me that by signing, I take over the responsibility for what I do with the SIM card. So simple. But it took a while for me to get this information …
My brother was waiting for me at the exit and led me to a silver and smoke-filled car belonging to the son of his Arab teacher. On our way home, we met a horde of black cars without licence plates accompanied by the police, which was probably one of the princes or presidents of Arab countries that were in Jordan that week to attend the Arab Congress.*
*As an interesting fact: one of the presidents apparently brought a 1200-person entourage, which had the entire hotel at their disposal. I barely know 1200 people, much less do I want to bring them to a meeting with me …
Unusual friendships and discovering Amman
I spent the first three nights in my brother’s rented apartment, but that first night I actually only saw the bed, which was a sight for my sore eyes. Unfortunately my sleep wasn’t uninterrupted because I was woken up at five o’clock by the morning prayer from the nearby mosque. But I bravely continued sleeping and woke up ready for new challenges. The first one was getting a taxi, which you don’t call but rather step on the street and start waving your hands in hopes of getting a taxi to stop. That was new for me as well as more than just a little scary. The fact that the taxi driver didn’t speak a lick of English contributed to this fear, but we managed to communicate with help of a landmark that I showed him on my phone.
I arrived to the Roman Amphitheatre, one of Amman’s sights, at the same time as a group of children who excitedly waved at me and screamed “Hi!!!” and “What’s your name?”. This, I later realized, was rather standard and all kids that we met while traveling did the same thing. I avoided them by first visiting the museum of folklore and then by climbing to the very top of the Amphitheatre.
While I was trying to position BB-8 at the top of the amphitheatre (you can see the pictures here), I was approached by a guy (man?*) of my age, in shorts, sunglasses and backwards baseball cap. I knew he was American even before he opened his mouth. He saw what I’m taking pictures of and wondered why I was doing it (I still don’t have a good answer to that), and after a bit of conversation, we decided to take a taxi together to the nearby citadel, which is one of Amman’s landmarks.
*Is there a rule when we start talking about women and men instead of guys and girls? I still don’t see people my age as adults and I feel weird talking about men. I usually avoid this by saying “dude”. It’s easier.
Such short friendships abroad always amuse me. No matter how afraid I am of people and what they do, at the same time I also have an excellent 6th sense that has, so far, never led me astray. I wish to be alone, walk around the ruins in peace with earphones, but instead I make friends with a super nice dude-bro American and spend the citadel visit chatting about European geography, love for heights and stupid sayings. Funny how things turn out sometimes.
In the early afternoon, my brother and I met up for lunch in downtown Amman and it was excellent. The food was a lot less exotic than I thought, and I had an inkling that this would actually be a key phrase on this journey. “Less ___ than I expected.” After all, traveling is meant to break stereotypes that we unknowingly hold and that poison the way we view the world. We walked in the city centre and the main impressions I got were those of earsplitting loudness and air that always smells vaguely of smoke and spices. In Jordan (and Arab countries in general), they smoke a lot and don’t have laws that would prevent smoking inside.
Boring Day 2
I didn’t even think that museums could be closed on Tuesdays but … museums are closed on Tuesdays and I suddenly didn’t have any idea what to do. I took a taxi to the Taj Mall, which gave me the impression of being in Europe again (Starbucks included), I walked down Rainbow Street, which is a very popular street among young people and has plenty of small caffées, I went to the Hashem restaurant with the best hummus, and I barely found my way home, because addresses don’t exist in Amman. You have streets, of course, but often there are no house numbers.
In the evening, we visited the landlord where we sat down for a bit and I faced the challenge of explaining what exactly linguistics is. I also started getting used to the fact that I truly don’t understand anything when they speak Arabic around me. Once we got out of dinner invitations (Jordanians are very hospitable), we went to eat to a Yemeni restaurant, then quickly back home to pack for the week of traveling that awaited us. I once again couldn’t wait to go, this time by car.