So, I'm on the last leg of my long day/night of travel, a flight from Dubai to Amman. I was anxious, nervous, excited, and extremely exhausted all at the same time. There were quite a few European families traveling with their young kids on this flight. Can't say Amman was ever on my family's list of vacations when I was growing up... Anyway, as we started the descent into Amman and dipped just below the clouds, one of the kids in front of me exclaimed, "Wow, look at that desert!! Is that Jordan!?" The expanse of desert out the window was indeed breathtaking and this kid blurted out my thoughts exactly. I had no idea what to expect upon landing in Jordan, I smiled quietly and thought "Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into."
The hostel I booked offered an airport pickup service. It was expensive, but as I planned for this trip I didn't think I would be ready to conquer a taxi or bus ride within the first hour of my arrival in the Middle East. I will admit though that even this took a lot of trust. I spent a good portion of the flight praying about logistics and safety that would get me to the hostel. I was so grateful to see an older gentlemen and his young teenage son holding up a "Jordan Tower Hotel Hannah" sign as I exited the airport, but was still praying that I would indeed be delivered safely to the hostel. They took me out to their older minivan and my introduction to driving in Jordan began. After offering me a cigarette, which I politely declined, my driver made his way to the line of honking cars waiting to leave the parking lot. Rather than waiting in the line though, my driver weaved around the lot and cut to the front of the line, honking his way onto the main street. Two minutes into the drive I recognized that driving in Amman is a giant free for all. With no lines on the roads, drivers smoke cigarettes, talk on the phone, honk their horns, and weave through traffic at the same time. Wide-eyed, I thought "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Tokyo anymore."
The driver didn't speak much English, but he spoke enough to say, "Hannah is Arabic name! Your parents, they are Arabic?" I shook my head and said no. He nodded and said, "Hannah is good Arabic name." Quick side note: I am continually thanking my parents for my awesome name. It was a perfect name in Japan too! Hannah means flower in Japanese and is actually a popular name there. So even though many western names are difficult, it was really easy for people in Japan to remember my name. Thanks Mom and Dad for picking a name that would be easy for people to pronounce and remember as I travel the world 22 years later!
Ok, back to the ride from the airport to the hostel. The scenery out the window was amazing. I couldn't peel my eyes away from the expanse of desert that gave way to nondescript, white stone buildings dotting the hillsides. We passed a small herd of camels and some sheep and goats too. There was so much to take in visually in addition to the chaotic driving, smell of cigarette smoke, and ubiquitous sound of honking.
At one point the driver pulled over and got out of the van. Now, I had seen pictures of the outside of the hostel and as I looked around I didn't see it. With a small bubble of panic in my chest, I notice the driver lifting the hood of the van. Apparently, the awful smell I had noticed, but attributed to the other old cars on the road, was actually our van. He made some adjustments, came back with a burnt finger nail, and proceeded down the road. "Everything ok?" I asked. "Oh yes, everything ok." I was only slightly reassured.
Before arriving at the hostel we had a minor incident with a HUGE bug, which the driver and his son casually shooed out the window. And then soon enough, we made it to the hostel in the heart of downtown Amman. As I walked up the steps with my bags in hand I had a sinking feeling that the hostel wouldn't accept credit cards. I had exchanged all my Japanese yen for Jordanian dinars at the airport, but I knew it wasn't enough to pay for my whole stay. Sure enough, I needed to pay cash... And given my trauma with ATMs in Japan, I was not thrilled about this... When I asked where to find an ATM, the nice guy at the hostel pointed me in the general direction. "Oh no problem, you go out and follow the main road to the first traffic light. Turn right and it's down the road." Nice vague directions that involved an exhausted, young, foreign girl crossing a busy street with the cigarette smoking, cell phone talking, horn honking drivers. Perfect! Well, with my senses on high alert, I made it to the ATM and back amidst the trinket shops, shawarma stands, clothing stores with oddly lifelike mannequins, and the ever present cat calls from men on the street. Whew!
While my first couple hours in Jordan were certainly overwhelming, it was also totally exhilarating. Instead of the emotions, tears, and anxiety that marked my first couple days in Japan, the culture shock I have experienced in Amman has been accompanied more by excitement than emotional instability. And now, with one week in the Middle East under my belt, I am an aggressive street crosser with an obsession for pita bread, hummus, and falafel. It's great!
A few more highlights of my first week:
1) Breakfast at the hostel was absolutely delicious. Endless bread with jam and hummus and the classic Arabic Platter. And black tea with mint leaves and sugar. So good!!
2) I made it to the Amman Citadel one day this week. This is the site of numerous ruins up on a huge hill in the center of downtown, with a 365 degree view of the expansive city all around it. Absolutely amazing.
|Spot the Roman Amphitheater! (slightly the left of the center)|
|What remains of the Temple of Hercules. Built around 165AD.|
3) I moved into an apartment! Stay tuned for the story and pictures. Coming soon!
So far, I am loving this beautiful city and I still find it so surreal that I am in the Middle East. It is utterly different from Japan in almost every way possible. I’ve exchanged the humidity for the desert, orderly and highly efficient trains for chaotic and aggressive driving, and plain green tea for highly sweetened tea. So far it’s been a refreshing (and delicious!) change. I’m enjoying adjusting at my own pace and am so excited to explore this unique part of the world for the next three months!