Marhaba from Jordan – the Arizona suburbs of the Middle East

Yesterday, I woke up in London :). Spent the morning walking around Camden with Joost and then headed to the airport for Part 2 of my trip to Jordan. Wah! So exciting!

I had read that given that Jordan is a conservative Muslim country I should cover up and always keep my hair pulled back, if not covered. Keeping that in mind, I packed my suitcase full of baggy clothing – linen pants and loose fitting long-sleeved shirts. I may have gone too far…but I figure, better to be overdressed than offensively under-dressed.

At the airport, not wanting to stand out once I got to the Royal Jordanian gate, I buttoned my shirt all the way up to the collar. It’s a great shirt – shit colored, but for some bizarre reason it looks flattering. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole mix of people waiting at my departure gate. Next to me there was a woman who was completely covered with her young daughter who was wearing pink shorts and a white short sleeve top. At what age do Muslims who choose to wear the veil start covering up?? I’ll make it a goal to figure this out.

Across from me there was a girl who looked about my age wearing jeans and a sparkly low cut top. Next to her, a girl with a long-sleeved but very short dress and a facial piercing. Needless to say, I was glad I didn’t stand out in my outfit, but began worrying if I had packed too conservatively…

Getting on the plane, in front of me and behind me were these huge American and British guys with buzz cuts and tattooed arms. George later told me that they were military men off to Iraq. Creepy. Wonder what they were all thinking. The male flight attendant say ‘Hello’ to each of them and then gave me an ‘Ahlan, As-Salam Alaykum’. I look Arab! I blend in! Maybe it seems silly, but I was psyched.

Watched movies until the plane touched down in Amman just after midnight. I’m in Jordan!! Woot. So happy!!

Outside the Airport in Amman

Outside the Airport in Amman

Walking off the plane I saw pictures of who I assumed were King Abdullah II and Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi hung on the walls of the airport – I’m still not too familiar with their faces. However, I found out later from Uncle George that the photos were actually of King Abdullah II and his father King Hussein. Turns out that although they technically have a constitutional monarchy here in Jordan, it doesn’t function like the constitutional monarchies in the UK and Spain (with the prime minister holding all the power and the king or queen acting primarily as a figurehead). Here, the roles are flipped with the king holding all the power and the prime minister acting as more of a figurehead. Interesting…

King Abdullah II

King Abdullah II

King Hussein

King Hussein

Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi

Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi

My Jordanian Visa

My Jordanian Visa

I converted my remaining $15 American money into 10JD (Jordanian Dinar), I bought a visa and made my way through customs and baggage claim to meet Uncle George who was patiently waiting on the other side. Bizarre to think it’s been almost 2 years since I saw him last! Big hugs and then we hopped in the car to drive back to his home, just outside the small village of Subeihi, about 40 minutes from Amman.

Given that it was about 1am, it was dark, but I strained my eyes on the car ride through Amman and the neighboring village of Salt to try to see what I could. Initially, the signs were in Arabic and English, but after about 15 minutes, they were only in Arabic. I have no idea how George drives around here without being able to read Arabic.

The buildings all looked like those block houses that were popular back in the 70s. Square and rectangle shaped with those small square windows – all white with flat roofs. I guess with no rain in the middle of the desert you don’t really need a slanted roof for the rain to run off…

I was so psyched to be there and as George told me about the film projects we’d be editing I got more and more excited about working with film again. The rest of the drive, we talked about Jordan and random news – Susan Boyle’s post ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ breakdown, and the freaky and super-sad recent Air France plane crash over the Atlantic.

It’s so bizarre and cool to be here!! On the drive in there were signs to Saudi Arabia, we drove by the Iraqi border and saw Palestine off in the distance. From all the history that I’ve read, it seems like for the majority of Jordan’s history it was this place that people crossed through to get to other places. Because of that, the country absorbed a lot of different cultural influences, although it took a long time to develop itself.

Uncle George

Uncle George

George describes Jordan as the ‘Arizona Suburbs of the Middle East’. Arizona, because it really is just a big desert that for a very long time had very few people actually settling within its borders. Suburbs, because it’s so calm – nothing big ever really happens hear, it’s very peaceful, the people are relatively carefree.

He also explained how, in recent years, Amman and other parts of Jordan have rapidly developed with a huge influx of multi-national corporations. But the result is what he finds to be a very westernized country, that he wishes was spotted with more locally run shops as opposed to McDonald’s and Arby’s. I haven’t been into Amman yet, but I’ll let you know my impression once I see it for myself.

We arrived at the gates of George and Mariam’s house around 2am and George walked me down to the guest room. This place is beautiful!! In the kitchen there was food waiting for us so we chatted for an hour or so over Kibbeh, grape leaves, yogurt and fresh cherries from Damascus. To quote my Italian teacher, Christina ‘vedo la madonna!’

My room in Amman

My room in Amman

After our late-night snack, I had a glass of wine to help me sleep and George gave me some books on Jordan, a Jordanian newspaper published in English and a Jordanian magazine, also written in English, with Tina Fey on the cover and stories of destruction in Gaza, cultural attractions in Amman and the latest trends in eye-makeup. I loved it.

And now, I’m exhausted. It’s 3:30am, I can hear the chanting of the call to prayer from the mosque in Subeihi, and I’m going to try to get some sleep.

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