Jordan & its people

 

My first Solo travel was to Jordan…..the Country in 2014. I had started to become very unhappy and burnt out being a Physician Assistant in Las Vegas. I was working 7 days a week 10-12 hours a day with every other weekend off. I didn’t feel like I was drained at the time, but I just felt like one of those workers on the assembly line that was treating patients and sending them home. The job started to lose its joy, I was fighting with my roommates all the time. And finally decided that life was too short to live so irritable and unhappy, so I started looking up cruises.

I have been on a cruise before and loved it, but came across this website called Cruise Lady, and this white haired bubbly looking lady popped up on my screen with a deal on a Land Tour through Jordan & a religious tour through Jerusalem. The wheels started to turn, and I ended up booking by just putting a down payment down first (I think it was around $300) and then calculated when they were going to leave (a year from the time I called), they gave me the option of paying into it like a bank account until the trip was payed for. There was a single supplement of around $500 for both Jordan and Israel, but it was worth it.

In the end I was able to get a ‘bunk mate’ and get that price decreased as well. Total for the trip, transportation, professional guide in Jordan, and a Professor with a Masters (or Doctorate) in Middle Eastern Studies, and the Cruise Lady herself and her Husband — was about $2,400 without my flight. So I put away around $200 a month towards the trip and saving for my airfare and was able to go on the trip. I used Delta, as it was easier for me to navigate their site, and I hadn’t had a good experience with American Airlines or Southwest Airlines; and I knew Delta partnered with Air France, which I haven’t had a bad experience with to date.

I have their Delta Skymiles program and wanted to get the perks with that too. I made the arrangements, made sure my flight was on time and timed it so that the flight arrived about the same time that the other members of our group arrived. I spent 28 hours in Airports…….and remember getting to Atlanta after a Red Eye flight & then couldn’t get into the gate because I had an 8 hour layover there from Dallas and they do not allow you to go through the gates, especially for international flights until 4 hours before the flight is suppose to take off.

I ended up sitting by the Wheelchair area—- in a wheelchair, put my sunglasses on and got my baby blanket I bring on every international flight, set my alarm for 4 hours and fell asleep. When I woke up and started going through Security again, I think I was stopped at every security place and asked to dismantle my carefully packed backpack (which was so heavy),

Traveler tip: don’t pack a bunch of wires into your backpack….apparently it looks bad on the luggage screening screen.

The flight from Atlanta to France wasn’t terrible, I met a man from Chad whose brother was in France and he was meeting him to go to his mothers funeral in Chad. Such a sweet guy, he ended up helping me get onto the train in France to head into the city for an 6 hour tour of Paris (See Frolicking in France for details).

On arriving at the airport in Amman Jordan, I found my travel group, with our guide who was a white haired fireball of fun. She had all of our Visa’s to travel in the country and I have to admit that standing there in the airport seeing mostly men in the airport in their traditional headscarves and garb, made me feel a little out of place. I was glad that I had decided to join a guided tour in the end. We arrived at the airport around 11pm Jordan time, and by that time I had been in airports for more than 28 hours. Our guide got us through the security, which was the heaviest I have ever seen in all the places I have traveled.

We boarded a bus, and there was an armed cop who was our escort, which was different. We arrived at our hotel in Amman safely. I was so grateful to have my own room, I don’t think I even showered, but plopped onto my bed after lugging the luggage up the stairs, and fell right to  asleep. I may have cried a little before actually falling asleep because of sheer fatigue.

I won’t comment in particular on all the places we visited in Jordan at this time. But I will comment on the people, my favorite memories and if I was to go again, what I would do differently.

The first thing to mention is our security guard, it was my mistake that I didn’t notice how gorgeous he was in the beginning. His name is Mohammad, like several other million people in this world, I found out later that this is not his full name, but a name he uses in public.

It is interesting how they name their children in Jordan, they are given a first name, then take on their fathers name as a middle name, and their grandfather’s name as a last name or additional middle name. I took the picture of him & his blue eyes with his dark hair outside the Hippodrome in Jordan. He was very quiet and reserved and polite man, with a cute little crooked smile. He was embarrassed to have me take his photo, but I’m glad I did in the end. He told me later, he was uncomfortable because the police are not suppose to allow foreigners to take their photos while in uniform, and his commanding officer had been talking to him at the time…..Oops……

While our guide told us about the Hippodrome and its history of Rome, chariots, and jousting games. I soon became distracted with the little boys and girls that were running amuck throughout the area, apparently a school outing.

I had always had this skewed view of Muslims that soon began to change the more I interacted with them and observed them. The girls there were fixing their head scarves, giggling to each other, glancing at the boys and giggling, take selfies, texting on their phone…..just as I had done when I was a child. The boys were totally oblivious of the girls, leaping and jumping over the ancient stones, and ruins that lay strewn about, jabbering in Arabic, and what I assume were heated discussions about Barcelona’s latest soccer match. I enjoyed seeing the ruins here, they were not fenced off like those in Rome and the natural beauty of the wild flowers, wandering goats and the beautiful sunshine likely contributed to my complete enjoyment of the grounds. I think having these things so closely integrated to something with so much history allowed my mind to wander and realize I was standing among things that were bigger than I was.

Our Next day was in Petra, I was so close to riding my Camel and seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World I could hardly sleep the night before. We took a bus to Petra (which is actually the city, not the name of the tombs themselves) and stayed at a Bedouin camp. In my mind camp always means tents, no running water, and in particular a camp in Jordan I assumed I would be getting a total body sand scrub down by morning. But to my surprise, we pulled up to very modern looking buildings with a gym and everything…..can I say happiness?

My room was lovely, it was a little cooler in the evenings than I expected, and despite how long I let the water run I couldn’t seem to get it to a warm level. But I was in Petra, and realized I was fulfilling my dreams, and for the first time I felt proud of the person I had become and for overcoming the fear of coming to Jordan. I put a sweater on and walked out to the courtyard after failing miserably trying to take a hot shower. I sat there looking at the stars, and appreciated the sounds of running water and livestock making their bleats and bahhh’s as they settled in for the night.

 

Now visiting Petra was such an experience. We arrived at the gate, paid our dues, and one of the uniformed guards asked me if I was single….. ‘ummmmmm, YEAH!’….I thought in my head, as I giggled and kept walking, he came after me and was polite but relentless, and he said, “I will give you 1,000 camels if you would agree to marry me. I am being very serious”. At first I thought it was a joke, and I was thinking, ‘how is it that when I travel I get hit on by every male I find attractive, but at home I am plagued with thoughts of insecurities and self deprecating thoughts because I don’t look as good as the next girl’. It was nice to play coy and be embarrassed by all the attention……little did I know, that was just the beginning of the marriage proposals I would get that day. American women, especially in Petra are known for their, ahem, loose morals……so consider yourself warned.

 

As we walked through the canyon towards the Treasury, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself. I was walking through sandstone canyons with beautiful colors & hundreds of tourists…..just like Las Vegas…..where I was living at the time. So basically I just traveled 7,457 miles and paid hundreds of dollars to come back to something that looked exactly like Las Vegas. We learned about all the history of the canyons, how they were used to trap armies and enemies in their walls. The treasury which was built and guarded by the Nabataens, who worshiped Gods, Goddesses and animals. Well I had no clue who the Nabateans were, and I will be quick to assume my readers don’t either. Well according to Wikipedia, lets educate ourselves:

were an Arab[1] people who inhabited northern Arabia and the Southern Levant, and whose settlements, most prominently the assumed capital city of Raqmu, now called Petra,[1] in CE 37 – c. 100, gave the name of Nabatene to the borderland between Arabia and Syria, from the Euphrates to the Red Sea. Their loosely controlled trading network, which centered on strings of oases that they controlled, where agriculture was intensively practiced in limited areas, and on the routes that linked them, had no securely defined boundaries in the surrounding desert. Trajan conquered the Nabataean kingdom, annexing it to the Roman Empire, where their individual culture, easily identified by their characteristic finely potted painted ceramics, was adopted into the larger Greco-Roman culture. They were later converted to Christianity.

So there you have it…. Now onto the treasury, the jewel of the area….. and where I met my favorite little Arab girl. I swear she was the best sales lady, and couldn’t have been more than 12. I felt like I was being hounded by the little children in Mexico selling the gum packets again, except this time, she was selling handmade jewelry. The jewelry were small polished colored rocks held together by string used to sew clothing together. She made sure to show me how the rocks reflected in the light, and said over and over how she would give me a good deal like any other. I couldn’t believe how good her English was. Our guide said that most of the Bedouin children and people in the area knew several different languages because that is how they make their money. I feel like this little saleswoman, could smell that I was a person that loves unique jewelry. Well I got suckered in and thought she did such a good job selling it & telling me I needed to appreciate the high points of the pieces that I ended up paying her double of what she was asking. She was so excited that she told me how beautiful I was, and that if I was going to wear a scarf I should wear it on my head, and she proceeded to tie the scarf on my head like the traditional Bedoin and Jordanians do. Apparently everyone ties it on their head differently, and people can tell where each person is from by how they tie the scarf on their head. Well the other members of our group when crazy with pictures, I felt like I was stealing the glory of the Treasury away by interacting with this girl. She showed me and 1 other member of the group around the immediate area and even brushed off my butt and legs after I crawled into a grave (totally legal there by the way, and it ended up being a lot creepier than I anticipated). She then had to go back to work, and said she needed to make more money that day to help feed her family. So I asked her for a hug, I gave her a big hug, and didn’t even mind her musty tobacco scent. I wanted to take her home with me, but I suppose that is the woman instinct to want to protect children like that from the hardships of life.

Just a piece of information for my readers, when you see the Treasury poking through the cracks of the Canyon…..the whole journey becomes worth it. Learning that it isn’t actually a building, but a tomb, that has been blocked off in a way that you aren’t allowed to go into it any longer to preserve it. You can trek up to other tombs and look inside them. Honestly, we only had about 6 hours here, its hot, but there is a store at the bottom with water and snacks and they sell a lot of souvenirs of course. Lots of calendars and photos. Be careful of the camera man by the treasury. If you are American they will literally lure you into an area by the treasury that is slightly secluded and when asked how much will expect a kiss…… NOT saying that I actually did, just warning you…..The Jordanian men are not exactly versed in kissing, and the Bedoin men have very prominent musty smells and I question that their hygiene is regularly practiced. After my extremely brief and uncomfortable interlude with the camera man, I ended up paying for a camel, make sure to bargain this price & try walking away before you agree completely on something…..they always end up coming down on the price. Well I got on my camel and it felt pretty stable and secure while it was on the ground, but when it was prompted to stand up, I felt like I was back on the mechanical bull in Las Vegas again trying to stay on. TIP: LEAN BACK WHEN IT STANDS UP & PUT YOUR LEGS ON ITS NECK BEFORE IT DOES TO HELP STABILIZE YOU. Camels don’t taste that great, and be sure the Bedoin men are watching your every move. If he asks if you want to jog with the camel…..don’t……this will get you comments such as, “hey you wanna ride me like you ride that camel?” Which made me blush about 14 shades of Red, and wished I was fending off the policeman with the 1,000 camels instead.

I ended my camel ride, and explored a little bit walking the ruins and such. It was hot and humid, and noticed our tourist guard over in the snack tent and decided to go and chat for a bit. He couldn’t stop smiling every time I came near him. I showed him pictures of Las Vegas and couldn’t believe how similar it was. I could tell when I walked up and after talking to him, he was a bit smitten with me….he ended up taking a picture of me, and just kept sighing saying how beautiful I was in my scarf. After being embarrassed by this, I told him I wanted to go explore some more.

After exploring a bit more, the group met up again, and started the long walk back up to the gates. May I make a suggestion…..hire a donkey to go back up…..walking through sand uphill for what seemed like 3 hours in hot, humid, body baking weather is not as fun as it seems when you still have to stay upright for the rest of the day. I’m not a super athlete, but could fend for myself in a soccer match, and let me tell you it was not just rough, but RUFF. I also really envied the other ladies I saw riding up the canyon in their chariots, especially with the beautiful Bedoin man with piercing green eyes, dark skin, lightly curly black hair with his whip……alright, less I digress…..bottom line……take the chariot, its worth the cost.

Last but not least, was the travel along the King’s Road and my departure. My Arab crush Mohammad, told me that he had gotten me a gift, and asked if it was ok if he gave it to me….OF COURSE! He walked down the bus (my claimed seat was in the back) and pulled out a green checkered scarf with tassels. He gave it to me and was so embarrassed, when the other members of our group oooohhh, cawed and awwweeed at him singling me out. He then gained some courage and asked if he could wrap it around my head. I consented, and then he wrapped it around my head with his fingers shaking and I think if his smile got any bigger it would have cracked his face wide open. I was so embarrassed by all the cat calling echoing in the bus that I didn’t even thank him properly & for the first time in my life was tongue tied. Well the bus started up, and we headed to the crossing into Israel…..a very precarious area that we were warned MULTIPLE times to not make ANY jokes, don’t make eye contact, and don’t speak when the guard entered the bus. This was also a point I was grateful to be in a group, and it forced me to sober up & start to regret not saying anything to Mohammad about how grateful I was for the gift, because I felt like I would never see him again, and it made me sad. Well, as we approached the border, I sneaked some shots of it, and the guard on our bus before he got to the back to interrogate us. I kept my eyes down until he asked for my papers, and he looked at me, and without looking at my papers said, “where did you get that” pointing to my scarf Mohammad had just wrapped around my head. I’m glad I was sitting down at the time, because I probably would have fainted. I told him it was a gift, and he asked from whom, I told him, “Mohammad” which doesn’t exactly narrow it down in that country. He asked what he did, I told him he was our Policeman that had been with us during the trip. The couple across the isle tried to defend me, but he didn’t seem to have it. He handed my papers back to me, and headed down the isle. He said, just a moment to me, and came back on the bus, everyone tense and waiting……with a colleague….the original policeman was talking rapidly in Arabic, and his friend asked the same questions. They both turned, and after waiting for 20 minutes, and our guide got back on the bus, fuming mad, and said that the bus had to turn back around and go back to the transfer station (where we had left Mohammad). I felt bad because I thought it was my fault with my stupid twitterpation and scarf. We took the long winding road back to the transfer station, and it ended up being that the papers didn’t have exactly the correct stamps or whatever on them, so that’s why we were turned around. Phew…..well now that I felt less guilty, here was my chance, I went into the Police holding area at the transfer station, and asked for Mohammad the Tourist Policeman. Went back to the bus and there was our guide (the local Arab one) and he was standing next to…..drumroll…..Mohammad. And what do you know, our guide handed me a piece of paper with Mohammad’s email and facebook address on it. I gave our guide and Mohammad a tip, and felt my magical moment was completed. But after a quick trip to the bathroom (where they charge you for toilet paper, so make sure you bring change) other guards and bus drivers noticed my scarf. One of them complimented me on it, and said, “Are you staying in Jordan?” which I responded no, and why….. and he said, “well you know what that means don’t you?” …”no”…..”it means he has claimed you as his, and wants to marry you”. I was shocked, and embarrassed and quickly went to the bus.

In the end, we ended up getting into Israel, and across the barbed wire, multi-walled border full of tensions. Having my sentimental gold ring stolen by one of the Israeli soldiers there, being singled out because of the scarf on my head, patted down in a makeshift changing room, held in the Jordanian side until the supervisor gave the go ahead for me to cross….we made it.

In a post script thought, I later learned that the scarf really had no meaning attached to it, other than a nice gift. After becoming friends with Mohammad, and my interactions with other Jordanian men since then…..one thing I know now…..Jordanian Arabs like to talk shit, scare foreigners and love the American ladies (mostly because they come with passports and green cards. And dancing in a Jordanian wedding will involve the Debka (a dance aimed to kill you from how crazy the dancing gets– see Youtube videos) and shooting hundreds of guns into the air which has since become illegal after some people were inadvertently killed.  All in all I love Jordanian people, their passion for life, their unfailing resiliency, their romance (even if it is only in words alone), and the rich history their country possess. I hope I will get to go back and meet old friends, and explore Petra again. I wouldn’t suggest doing this trip completely alone, as the men are pretty aggressive, but traveling in a tour group was by far the best experience I could have had.

 

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