“When we get to Jordan, it’s Palestine, not Israel.” The first of many wise touring words said by Becca, our resident Jordanian tour guide (she’s from the States, but was actually asked if she’s Jordanian by our waiter our first day there). Many people who live in Amman, the capital city of Jordan and our first destination, are of Palestinian descent. Whether they themselves were born in Palestine, or their families are from there, they still largely identify as Palestinian, so it’s a sensitive topic. Becca spent all of last semester living with a host family in Amman, and her host dad is no longer allowed to go visit his home. Needless to say, she gained a whole other perspective during her short time there, and I got to see a glimpse of it this weekend. (Her blog about her time in Jordan is definitely worth checking out. Not only will it give you an idea about some of the stories I got to hear about, see where they took place, and get a better more informative feel of the culture, but also a lot of it is just plain funny.)
Getting to Amman
Getting to Afula was easy. Getting to Beit She’an was easy. Taking a taxi to the Jordan River Crossing was easy. Especially after meeting a French traveller named Oliver who split the cab with us too. When we got to the border, Corey had a freak out moment when he thought he forgot his passport (again). He unpacked his entire backpack, pulling out his t-shirts and his boxers and his pants and flopping them on the ground, digging deep into the depths of his bag, only to figure out his passport was in his pocket. And then he forgot to show the woman once he found it. At this point, they saw we had USA passports (and French) and let us right in.
We had to pay an exit tax of 107 NIS (ugh) and then get an ink exit stamp on our passports. Then there was a bus that would take us from Israel to Jordan. We had to wait SO long for the bus to fill up. But apparently we were really just waiting for the bus driver to eat food. It was 5 NIS for literally a 30 second bus ride to cross into Jordan. We literally crossed over the Jordan river. It was a bit anticlimactic but WE ARE IN JORDAN whusdzjnvcxlke!
Of course, it cost money – 40 JD – just to get into Jordan. At this point I got super cool old-style stamps from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in my passport, and an ink stamp for one month residency (one entry only). They then scanned my EYES. I had to look into a creepy eye camera and the people at the desk wouldn’t tell me why. Obviously security reasons, but I was really just curious as to what they do with our eyes…
We get out of the arrivals building and aren’t really sure what to do. It looked like only vehicles could really cross through. We had started talking to a group of some older people from Boston, who were traveling with their friend who just happens to work for the Embassy in Amman. I had actually noticed she had a diplomatic passport when we were getting stamped inside. She talks to the guards for a couple minutes and next thing we know we are easily walking through security and to the other side.
After securing a taxi for 36 JD to Amman, I hear my first “No broblem” from our taxi driver who spoke basically no English at all. The Arabic language doesn’t have the ‘p’ sound, which makes for some quality giggles.
The first thing I see as we pull away from the border and onto the main road- GOATS!! I was so happy and giddy, I freaked out a little. “I love goats!!!! I already love this country!!” Our taxi driver got a kick out of that. He smiled widely and I learned that maoz is Arabic for goat. Useful.
Becca’s subtle advice to learn culture nuances: Notice the ratio of men to women on streets. Now out of the few women you do see, notice if they are wearing a hijab, the different types of hijab. I saw a couple younger girls not covering their hair at all. That’s okay, but once they get their period they start wearing a hijab. I saw mainly middle-aged and older women on the street who were all wearing a hijab, and full modest dress.
Riding through Jordan, it’s weird to think it’s what Palestine would have looked like without being totally settled. And then you see sporadic UNHCR Syrian tents, and the refugee situation gets more than real. There are over half a million registered Syrian refugees in Jordan. We got to meet some Syrians (not necessarily refugees) during our short time there, but more about that later.
Driving in Jordan for the first time was like experiencing all the symptoms that lead up to a heart attack over and over again. Busy two way street? Sure, let’s drive head on into the other lane just to pass this tractor in front of us. Pedestrians? Psh, they too slow! Let’s maintain speed and dodge them real quick. Our driver, however, was really nice. He took us exactly where we wanted to go. “Al rassi,” he said, placing his hand on his head. This literally translates to “on my head,” but means “my pleasure.”
Finally in Amman
We got dropped off at Second Circle. The city of Amman is set up so there are bunch of circles, which are just round abouts. Becca and Corey got some infamous shawerma at this food stand on the street. We went around the corner and had the most delicious Jordanian dessert dough thing with powdered sugar on top. Mmmmmmmmm Jordanians know their sweets.
Rainbow street was our next destination. A taxi driver refused to take us there, so we opted to walk because it really wasn’t far. When we got there, it was much more apparent why the driver didn’t want to go there. He was probably religious, and Rainbow street is definitely a more Westernized part of town, with more tourists and more modern next generation Muslims who might match their hijab with a pair of jeans. Scandal.
We were almost hit by truck backing up!!! :O We then settled into Nara cafe and ordered some argelah. Multiple choice question of the day: How do you say ‘to smoke’ in spoken Arabic?
a. to drink
b. to smoke
c. to eat
Take your best guess and check your answer at the bottom!
The restaurant we were at was definitely a nicer one. Modern chandeliers adorned the ceilings and the prices were the highest we saw in Amman. Corey’s friend Ross, who has been in Jordan for a month, met up with us and we headed over to his place to drop off our bags. During the few minutes we were there, the Call to prayer (1 out of 5 per day) began. We stepped outside so we could hear it a bit better. The Call to prayer here is beautiful. It consumes the whole city and we stayed silent taking it all in. I thought about the uniformity of the same religion here and the same language and slightly varied cultures within Jordan. How this was in sharp contrast to where I had just come from, Haifa, a city of diversity filled with Arabs and Druzim and Russians and our international school filled with people from all over America, Korea, China, Germany, Czech Republic and more. As the call to prayer rang through my ears, I really marveled at the simplistic beauty of this Islamic country.
Ross took us up to his roof top view and it was more than incredible.
It overlooked like all of Amman and this picture only shows the half of it. All of the mosques light up green at night. Apparently this signifies good luck and good forture, or maybe it’s just the GO signal to help the Muslims find it at night. Or not.
We went to dinner at Al-Quds restaurant. Even the menu looked daunting :O Too. Much. Arabic. At. Once. The traditional Jordanian dish is called manstaf. It consists of some meat, typically lamb but this was chicken, cooked in yogurt sauce. When they cook it, they lay this bread that is thinner than paper on the bottom of the pan to absorb all the meat’s grease and extra yogurt. They served it with the meat laying on rice, the super thin bread laying over the meat, with an entire side bowl of yogurt sauce to pour into it. The epitome of the anti-kosher. Literally cooking a child in her mother’s milk. Totally combining life and death. This dish has been around for a while. Could this be the origin of this specific law of kashrut? Don’t do as those people do. As slimey and delicious as it might be. (Side note: I did NOT try the manstaf nor do I ever plan on it.)
While this may be TMI (Dad, you’ve been warned), I had my first “this public toilet has only a water squirting hose thing and no toilet paper omg what is life right now” experience. Jordan is a bidet culture. Which I don’t understand, because it’s like top 3 for countries with the most scarce amount of water. Regardless, it was, er, definitely an experience.
Before we went to sleep Becca got an email from her boss and had me read it. It talked about Hatikvah and raised really valid concerns. I had to begin to think over the words of the Hatikvah in my head…. The soul of the Jew… To be a free land… What is free if we continue to oppress other nations? Not only Jews live in Israel, whoops, Palestine, but this is still the national anthem. Where do the Jews belong then if not Palestine? Can there be a solution? So many more questions with no good answers.
Final thoughts about being in very foreign country
I felt very displaced, being in a country where I can’t speak the language and don’t know the culture. I was overwhelmed by all the Arabic that surrounded me, on every street sign and every storefront and every dinar and every tongue. But at the same time I’m so thankful that I’m with friends who speak Arabic, and are sometimes considerate enough to remember to translate/paraphrase for me, with an intrigued whispered nudge of “what just happened?” Overall, I’m so excited to be here and really gain a perspective I never even thought to have.
Can you believe this was just one day?! I can’t. More to come soon.
Answer: a. to drink; not only is the argelah so so smooth, and also like using a straw, but smoking is just as habitual and vital to them as drinking water.