Thursday, November 7, 2013

Red Velvet Curtains to Desert Oasis

Transportation in Amman can be quite exhilarating. I spend my days hailing honking cabs, hoping that I know enough Arabic and the cab driver knows enough English so that I get where I need to go, and praying that he doesn't try to rip me off in the process. Just the other night I had a dream that a cab driver drove me all over the city and wouldn't let me out just to keep the meter running. I ended up dramatically jumping out of the moving vehicle. The impact woke me up, it wasn't pleasant. Now, I'm not afraid of this happening in reality, but apparently my sub-conscious finds this to be a real concern.

So far, I have stuck with taxis as my main mode of transportation. Before arriving I had this grand idea that I would use the bus system almost exclusively and save a ton of money. But that idea has proved to be rather unrealistic. Buses don't really have routes or timetables and a certain level of Arabic language skill is required that I just don't have. My solution: I adjusted my budget to allow for taxi transportation! This works great for getting to places within Amman, but to travel to neighboring cities taxi fares can be quite spendy. So, I tried my hand at bus riding this week and it was an adventure indeed!

My desired destination was King's Academy, a private boarding school located near the town of Madaba, west of Amman. I had an appointment for 10:30am and not having a clue how long it would take me to get there, I set out from my apartment just before 9:00am. There are a few large bus terminals around the city so I hailed a cab and told him I wanted to go to the South Bus Station. I had spoken with a girl who had successfully taken a bus from this station to Madaba in the past so that seemed promising. The taxi driver asked me which city I was going to and tried to convince me that he could take me all the way there, but I stood firm. "No, I will take the bus."

I made it to what I think is the South Bus Station... I can't be sure because as it turned out there weren't any buses to Madaba... I had about three people gesturing to the street and giving me directions on where I could catch an appropriate bus. I think they sensed my confusion and incompetence so a nice taxi driver took me down the road a ways (at no charge!) to a chaotic intersection and said I could catch a bus from there. Sure enough, a big bus pulls up and stops for just enough time for me to run up and ask if it was going to Madaba. It wasn't... but they assured me they could take me to ANOTHER bus that would, in fact, get me to Madaba. At this point, I'm not even stressed, just highly amused. I recalled all the seamless train transfers I had experienced in Japan and just smiled. Life in Amman is a bit different.

So, after two taxis and a bus, I made it to bus that was headed toward Madaba. Whew! Now, this wasn't your typical public bus. It's a cross between a bus and gigantic van, complete with red velvet ceiling coverings and matching tasseled curtains on all the windows. Luxurious or tacky, whatever way you want to think about it. Most buses, I believe, have a driver and a person I will call a "bus conductor". This person collects the money and rearranges people if necessary. A woman is never expected to sit next to a man on a bus, so it the bus conductor's job to make people move around so that women sit next to women and men sit next to men. This is cultural norm I really appreciate.

We got on our way when the bus was nearly full, but the bus conductor remained hanging out of the open doorway yelling "Madaba" to people on the streets. We picked up a few more passengers this way as we approach the outskirts of Amman. I sat contentedly taking it all in. However, my next task was to figure out where to get off the bus. I was told to look for a sign for King's Academy on the highway and get off on the side road that led to the school. In no time at all I spotted the sign! I jumped out of my seat and motioned to the driver and the bus conductor that I wanted to get off. And no problem at all, they let me off on the side of the highway and drove away leaving me in a cloud of dust.

As I walked toward the King's Academy gate, I spotted a nice little herd of sheep on the move. I didn't see any lush pasture around so I have no idea where they were headed, but it seemed somewhat fitting that I bump into these guys after my transportation adventure.

And believe it or not, I arrived at King's Academy RIGHT ON TIME! Upon arrival, I soon realized I had stumbled on a true desert oasis. I got connected with King's Academy through a Harvey Mudd professor and it was such a privilege to visit the campus. The purpose of my visit was just to meet people and learn a bit about the school. I received an incredibly warm welcome from everyone I talked to and I even came away with a few contacts to further my project here in Jordan. It was an amazing day!!

King's Academy was founded by King Abdullah II of Jordan in 2007. Like I said, it is an elite boarding school based off of Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts (where the King received his high school education). As a graduate of good ol' Oregon City High School, this is world I know very little about, but find quite interesting. King Abdullah II had a vision to bring the unique New England boarding school experience to Jordan and so a desert oasis was born.

The campus is absolutely beautiful. I think it was the first time I had seen grass in Jordan. And the grounds are complete with two helipads for when the King comes to visit. The architecture reminded me a bit of Pomona college, or perhaps it was just the clock tower...

I found myself thinking about what it would have been like to leave home as a 9th grader and attend boarding school. While I'm certain I would have enjoyed the routine, the challenging academics, and the college prep help, there is a certain family bonding that occurs during high school that would be lost. Regardless of how well I would have liked boarding school or not, I found King's Academy to be a really unique place that is providing an opportunity for girls and boys to learn alongside each other. In addition, almost half of the students are on financial aid which creates a unique socio-economic diversity uncommon in most private schools in the region. These are the kids that have the potential to be leaders in the region and in the world. In midst of a region where countless non-profit organizations and NGOs work hard to make a small bit of difference in education or quality of life, King's Academy is educating students in a rigorous and innovative environment that is sure to produce big results. Again, it was an extreme privilege to get a glimpse into the King's Academy world and I look forward to following their growth and achievement in the years to come. 


  1. LOVE it. and I love YOU. We just watched a fascinating film on the desert and how the animals find what they need.
    Thanks for posting!

  2. Makes you think that when Jordanians try to create something with high standards they just copy something from the west. The architecture, greenery, educational concepts are all copied from the west. Arabs don't seem to be able to create execellence from within their culture.