Sunday, May 23, 2010

Adventures in Al-Shem, The final installment: Amman, Jordan

I can honestly say that the border crossing experience between Syria and Jordan was the strangest border experience I’ve had, to date. The shenanigans began at the grand taxi station outside of Damascus, with a one-legged jolly fellow who seemed to be the boss of the gare. He bustled around, finding us a taxi, speaking in English that made me wonder if he was a British pirate in a former life. He used phrases like, “Son of a gun!” and “lassie” and “Chicago Bulls, alright!”. By the way, President Obama, he says hello to you.

Over yonder? Israel.

2.5ish hours and we were at the border crossing. Our driver took all our passports (scary) and handed them through the taxi window to various men who would come by an stare us down. It was quite unclear what the purpose of these men dressed in plain clothes was besides to get an eyeful of the Amreekeeuun in the backseat. They’d wander from car to car in the cue, shuffle through passports, hand them back, then sit and have a cigarette on the curb. And then we had to pass through security. Go exchange money into Jordanian dinar. Go back and purchase a visa. Stand in line at immigration behind French diplomats. Get questioned and stamped. Have our laptops searched. Hussle back into the car. 1 hour more and we were in the capitol of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Amman at night.

As one of the Jordanian FBers aptly described “Amman is the only city in Jordan.” It is a metropolis spread over 19 mountains. Fun facts: Amman used to be named Philadelphia until the Ghassanian era. In 1921, King Abdullah I named it the capitol of Transjordan (Modern-day Jordan + Modern-day Israel/Palestine), and ruled from out of one of the train cars at the train station because there was no palace. The city was relatively small until 1948, after an influx of Palestinian refugees. In fact, it is estimated that about 80% of the population are now of refugee descent, from Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait, ect. Basically, pick a conflict in the Middle East. The refugees ended up in Amman.

So, you’d think that Amman is incredibly culturally rich. And I’m sure it is. But unfortunately the purpose of our stay in Amman was for the Middle East/North Africa Region Fulbright Enrichment Seminar, so we were basically cloistered in a nice hotel in a businessy part of town. Any nightlife was at least a taxi ride away, though the neighborhoods were pleasant to walk around.

Some of my favorite Hashemites that we met along the way...

“Enrichment Seminar?” you ask. Basically the purpose was to put half of this region’s FBers in a room for 3 days to talk about our experiences and research and methodology. Topics ranged from painting in Tunisia, to women’s body image in the UAE, to Iraqi refugee services in Jordan, to medical care for Palestinian refugees, to research on aerosols in Israel, to spinning and weaving in Jordan, to the food crisis in Egypt, to obscure literary critique in Oman, to experiences teaching English across all countries. It was fun nerding out and learning about all these themes I have never explored. However, it was defiantly hard to sit in a fluorescent-lit conference room for 3 days after backpacking the region.

The site where Jesus was baptized. Maybe.

The FBers are such a cool bunch and I had an awesome time getting to know these people in a new setting. Highlights include:

-Legit jazz music at Canvas with Jordanians.

-Meeting Fulbright legend Jermaine Jones…and discovering that he is a Badger. Represent!

-taking an excursion to Mt. Nebo and the baptismal site of Jesus on the final day, let by an ornery Jordanian guide who somehow had the thickest Brooklyn accent. I lost it every time he said “Byzantine”.

-Hummus. ‘Nuff said.

-A pina colada. For real. And good conversation with Jordanian FBer Rachel.

-swimming in the Dead Sea! This is fun no matter which bank you’re on.

After every academic topic in the region was fully explored and analyzed, we caught a red-eye flight back to Maroc. We had had a wonderful adventure that opened my eyes and showed me just how diverse this so-called MENA Region is. I don’t think it is even fair to label this as a certain region because my end of the region (Morocco in the far West) is so terrifically different from anything others are experiencing in the Levant (central Midde East where I was traveling, also known as Al-Shem), or in the Arabian peninsula or the Gulf states. Even FBers from other countries commented on how different Morocco is. I for one left feeling so proud of my country, and more in love with the place. Corny? Oh well. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, I guess.

Honestly, being away had made me miss this place dearly. Of course, being back here means that I need to fit myself into a new routine, in order to give each day purpose and to give my overall experience meaning. I’m getting into new, exciting experiences and shenanigans (more on this to come). I realize how much I love the life I’ve built for myself here. I love the tiny community I’ve made. I was even so delighted to see my concierge and his wife again! I was happy to be back at my familiar market. Even the men hissing at me on the street didn’t get on my nerves. For about a minute.

Jazz! Legit Jazz!

Maroc pride at the Dead Sea!

As Sam said, "It's like the birthright trip I never had."

1 comment:

Lynda said...

Cath, so interesting to read each of your perspectives on the same experiences. Thanks for sharing!
Best, Lynda