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Friday, November 12, 2010

It was love at first sight and so I said yes…

I was on the plane heading over to the Middle East…The Middle East! It’s that faraway place you only hear about on the news?!  I was finally going there! First inspired by one of my political science professors, Dr. Nasr, I knew one day I’d like to go to his home country - Lebanon.  Jordan is not quite Lebanon but it was close. Other than the association with my prof, the only other knowledge I had about Jordan was what I saw on a 10 year running reality TV show in Japan called Ai nori where 4 men, 3 women, always random, travel around the world in search of love. (Yes, I like cheesy shows like that and quite bummed that they’ve ended the show!) Besides finding love, they visit with people around the world and see famous places. Petra and Wadi Rum, two of the most famous places in Jordan, left a lasting impression on me… After seeing that episode over a year ago; I knew I wanted to go there.

So I was going here. Usually before I start any trip, I always try to find someone who knows someone…especially if I’m traveling alone. Unfortunately, of all the people that I know, I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone in Jordan so I was going alone. Traveling to a foreign land alone can be quite terrifying; traveling to the Middle East alone can be traumatic. But it wasn’t! With a travel guide - where I must pause and thank my dear friend Stephanie again for buying me this book when I was staying with her in Breedon-on-the-Hill! Thanks Steph! - for the first time on this trip, I was reading about how nice the people were and how incredibly safe it was; this laid to rest a lot of my anxiety.

The hostel that I had chosen, Bdeiwi Hostel and Hotel, which I found on and was mentioned in my guidebook, offered an airport pick-up for JD20 ($28). Yes, the exchange rate is merciless to our dollar! I knew that I couldn’t afford that. I had emailed the hostel anyway to see if they were going to be there and I’d be willing to share the cost but couldn’t pay that alone. But I was told that no one would be picked up so I needed to find my own way there…45 km away.  In my guidebook, it listed the Airport Express bus which was only JD3.  The smartest move I did was after getting through immigration, I stopped at the Tourist Office. I stumbled upon the Tourist Office quite accidentally but decided to go there and ask a bit more questions about where the Airport Express was, how much it would cost, how long it would take; just to verify that the information in my book was accurate. I also didn’t know how much of the population was English speaking so better to ask my questions at the Tourist Office than struggle out there.  The girl at the desk offered to write down the name of the hotel for me in Arabic and even phoned the hostel for me to get specific directions. In doing so, what I didn’t realize at the time, was that now the hostel knew to expect me.
I got outside to curbside and noticed the times for the Airport Express, once every hour at the top of the hour. I looked at my watch and it was 8:07pm. Ahhh….did I just miss it?? That sucks…now I would have to wait another 53 minutes for the next one.  I later found out that I was standing at the wrong place so I needed to head over to Terminal 2. Got there and quickly spotted the bus. I asked the driver what time he was leaving and he said 8; I guess he got his numbers wrong?  Or maybe I did catch the 8 o’clock bus but it wasn’t leaving at 8…
Paid my JD3 as was told. The girl at the Tourist Office said that I would be charged JD1 for my luggage but I paid him JD3 and that was it…so I waited…The bus ended up leaving at 8:30PM. I was told by the girl at the Tourist Office that I would ride the bus to the 7th Ring Road and from there take a taxi. Easy enough…the people on the bus all seemed friendly though no one really spoke English. The guy next to me seemed curious and attempted to talk to me but I really had no idea what to say. My limited Arabic was learned from my best friend Abdil back when I was in college…many, many moons ago and even then they were just greetings I could recognize but not really say.  So I just smiled and he smiled back.  Then about 40 minutes later, we pulled over and it seemed that we had arrived. The driver told me that it was my stop and I needed to get off. But he wasn’t dropping me off at a ‘bus stop’ but rather, alongside the highway at a very busy intersection and it was dark. Luckily, he dropped me at the entrance to a shopping center near what looked like a Korean restaurant.  Worst case scenario was that I’d try to befriend the Koreans and have them help their East Asian sister out.
IMG_3929 Not a very good photo and not facing the right direction but photo of the Korean restaurant where I got dropped off
The driver was worried, I don’t think he wanted to drop me and leave me there but he still had another 4 passengers that he needed to take.  So he tried to help me flag a taxi but after 4 taxis that were already carrying passengers passed us, he encouraged me to wait there and that I’d be okay though the look on his face seemed to say he didn’t really think so. So I waited…and still more filled taxis passed me.  One taxi was empty but he said something to me which seemed like he was done for the day. But he was nice about it.  These people are so nice.
Finally after holding my hand out for about 3 minutes, a car finally pulled over. I showed the guy the slip of paper and he said ‘okay’. I asked him to turn on the meter, as the guidebook advises, but he said that he wasn’t going to use it. JD5 he said but I said ‘no’. And I thought, please don’t give me a price that I don’t want to pay because I will have to get out and stand on the dark road again to stand my ground (yes, I am a hardcore bargainer)!  So then the driver said JD3 and I agreed…that’s what the girl said it would cost me anyway but I later found out the real price should have been JD2. So I was on my way.
The driver tried to speak to me in his limited English and I think I understood what he was saying. He was also very nice. Only an hour here and I really loved the people here.  So unbelievably genuine! I really don’t know how to describe it. Maybe I thought this because I had read all about it in my guidebook on the plane ride over; how people are very nice and how frequent it is that people will invite you over for tea. No, but I think I’ve traveled enough to say that the vibe here was incredibly different. It was pure. We got lost a bit but were in the vicinity.  Then, just as I thought we were going in the wrong direction, someone on the side of the road, shouted out to my taxi driver.  They were speaking in Arabic so I had no idea what they were saying but before I knew it the guy walked up to the car and got in. Uh…is what I was thinking. Then he turns around to greet me, in English, ‘hi I’m Mohammad, the owner of Bdeiwi Hotel’. Talk about service!  Mohammad had been expecting my arrival and to be sure that I didn’t get lost, he came to the bottom of the hill to find me and my taxi thinking that we would probably be lost.
Mohammad brought me into his hostel and offered me my ‘welcome tea drink.’ Oh, I need to add in here too that before all of this, my taxi driver had also invited me over to stay at his house! I didn’t know if he was serious or what, so I just said ‘thank you’ and figured if he was serious, he would write down his contact information. I do think he was serious but maybe after Mohammad getting into the car, either forgot or felt out of place to make such an offer (he’d be taking away Mohammad’s paying customer), that I didn’t get no digits and I didn’t want to push the issue as well.  Oh well. I’m counting on Jordan to beat South Africa in the number of generous families that will take me in….South Africa 5 – Jordan 0.
So Mohammad and I chatted, turns out he is 1 month and 6 days older than me! So we already had a lot in common…our ages, running a business…as we were chatting, I guess I made an impression because Mohammad offered me my own room even though I only paid for a dorm bed.  SCORE! How awesome is that?  I don’t know what I did to deserve this but I’ll take it. It’s nice to have your own privacy especially when it’s limited on the road…I also found out that Mohammad is actually ½ Brazilian.  He grew up in Jordan until he was 19 then lived in Brazil until this year. He’s completely bilingual and totally uses the foreign card when he needs to. I’m not yet sure what a ‘Jordanian’ person looks like, it hasn’t even been 24 hours here, but I would say that he seems to fit in.  But he said that many people think that he’s different.  He also says, he’ll always tell people that he’s Brazilian so he isn’t looked down with disdain when he’s drinking and smoking in this Islamic country. Ha ha.  Smart.
Mohammad said that there were two more English guests who were coming in tonight and were getting picked up at the airport and that actually, he was trying to arrange for me to ride back with them but the girl on the phone said that I was in a hurry. Well, at least I had my own adventure! Mohammad said when the other two came, we’d discuss what we would do later but he wanted to take us to a fun bar where we could shoot pool. I was down for that. As I mentioned in my previous blogs, I don’t have too much opportunity to go out because I travel alone so any invitation is always openly accepted.
We waited around for the other couple up on top the rooftop.  Amman is a very hilly city but in a different way from San Francisco. It’s a bit more compact and lots of buildings built into the hills.  It was a beautiful sight up on the rooftop and the view somewhat reminded me of when I was in Jaisalmer, India almost exactly 2 years ago sitting up on the rooftop of Shahi Palace, talking to the 4 brothers who ran the hostel there.  The air was cool; it was exactly how it is in Hawaii. No more the cold of Russia, England, Southern Africa but a comfortable temperature with a breeze, just what I know and like.  The guests finally arrived at 10:45PM; about an hour after I got back so it was a good thing that I didn’t wait around for them at the airport. They were a bit tired though so it ended up being just me and Mohammad.
IMG_1584 The view from the rooftop of Bdeiwi Hotel
Mohammad has a driver, Khaled, so he dropped us off at Amigo. But it looked pretty dead; well it was Tuesday…but the guys at Amigo were generous enough to advise us to go to Hyatt where they have a club and couples get in free! So Mohammad and I took a cab and headed there and got in for free!
We had a good time and drank lots of beers. We had already started drinking at the hotel when we were waiting for the other guests because Mohammad said that the beers would be expensive so better to start drinking now. I think I had about 3 glasses (8oz) before leaving and then 4 at the club.  The ones at the club were also small but still…that’s a lot for me! For a predominantly Muslim country, it was interesting to see all these beautiful Arab women, so unguarded, drinking, dancing, smoking….we sat and drank our beers and talked.
Then, Mohammad asked if I wanted to help out at his hostel.  REALLY? I’ve been meaning and hoping to find work to prolong my stay and honestly, just because I really cannot NOT work!  I just want to work and do something! It’s been 9 months now (not counting my 2.5 months home but Census Bureau and waitressing? Oh and babysitting but yeah, I don’t consider those ‘working’ jobs).  I already love what I’ve seen of this country and I don’t have any real plans or places that I have to be.  So, I said YES! Maybe I’ve found my place to celebrate my **birthday…So, I don’t know the details of this job but I do hope that it will work out.  I think the deal is that I’ll stay here for free and get to take groups around and be able to see all these tourist sites for free! I’m down with that! So, we’ll see how that unfolds…
Before the night was over, they had played the Spanish version of Shakira’s ‘Waka Waka’ song. I just had to dance! So I got up by myself and danced and the 4 girls who were sitting at the table next to us were all excited that I finally got up and started dancing with me.  It was nice because sometimes you go to clubs and other girls give you the look; I think it really only happens in America though…or maybe just Hawaii.  
We also met a group of locals, mainly because they were a bit bothered that I just took their photos on the dance floor without asking…oops…they really don’t like that here…anyway, they turned out to be nice and said I could take it so long as I didn’t post it on the web for at least 10 years…hopefully my neglect to follow instructions will not get anyone in trouble…
IMG_1588 IMG_1589 IMG_1591 IMG_1592
We finally got back to the hotel and it was about 3AM.  Mohammad got more beers out of the cooler and headed up to the rooftop again. I couldn’t do it anymore though. I was pooped. So I excused myself and went to bed…I am definitely digging Jordan though…definitely love at first sight.

** I was a bit down about not knowing where and with whom I’d be celebrating my birthday. I’ve always been somewhere special and have always had someone help me celebrate. I couldn’t break the tradition now by letting my one day in the year pass without incident.

1 comment:

  1. Regina...I love it! I'm just curious to find out where you spent your birthday...Le Meridien, I'm sure...but what city...and how long did you stay in Amman. What....didn't make it to Lebanon....that is where Chadi is from. So in any case, I will stay tuned. Your travels are fabulous, and while I've been staying put...I will travel through you vicariously!! Aloha and carry on, my friend!! XO, Alana