Between Iraq and a Hard Place
8 months in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
This week has been pretty busy. I flew straight from O’Hare to Queen Alia International Airport in Amman. It was a 12 hour flight but it didn’t feel that long. We flew over Jerusalem and Amman so that was pretty cool. Those of you who were with me at Black River Sunday morning, before I had packed, know that I was in denial about leaving and, in a way, didn’t really want to go. Once I was airborne I spent an hour coming to terms with the reality of my situation and by the time I landed, I was getting excited.
Ahmad Abu-something met us on the other side of customs and all of us staying at the BelleVue Hotel got on the bus and left. Amman is freakin huge, a lot bigger than I expected but coming from Oberlin I had no idea how to put 3 million people into perspective. The landscape reminded me of Morocco in that it was dusty and the trees looked only half-enthused about being alive. But Amman itself is pretty hilly and all of the buildings are the same color limestone and more modern looking than a lot of the buildings in Meknes. The cars too are a lot nicer- I guess that’s because we’re closer to the gulf and oil wealth? At the hotel they took our passports, gave us our room keys, orientation packets, and had us buy cell phones. During that process Edward found me- it was nice seeing someone that I knew. He had already walked around the city a little bit and said everything looked good so far. (If any of you guys have landlines let me know, I can call you for pretty cheap and it won’t cost you anything). The rooms were really nice (it was a 4 star hotel). I got a corner room with windows on two sides, and there were two double beds. Like an idiot, I didn’t think to take any pictures. We all ate dinner, I met my roommate Liz, from Cambridge, and we passed out around eleven o’clock.
Oh, I almost forgot- the most exciting piece of information that they gave us that day was that part one of orientation would be at the Dead Sea. I can’t really explain what it’s like to look out your window, see a biblical bit of water and then go- oh yeah, that’s Palestine on the other side. Crazy. Jordan is the 4th poorest country in the world in terms of water and in ten years, the Dead Sea will probably be gone. We drove up to a panoramic, took pictures, and then went into the museum’s auditorium for part one of orientation. We did one of those get to know you games and learned that there are a crap ton of people from D.C. one fashion merchandising major, and not a whole lot of “hyphen-Americans.” We met our resident staff including a very blonde woman from Tennessee whose first time getting on a plane was to come to Jordan and she’s lived here ever since. After the meeting was lunch, and then finally, time to swim. We swam at a really nice hotel beach. I had decided to ignore the advice given to me and shaved my legs earlier that morning. As a result the salt stung the shit out of my shins the first five minutes or so, but after that it was fine. What resulted was the weirdest swim/float of my life. You literally walk in the water and you float once the water reaches your chest. It is literally impossible to sink unless you attach concrete to your feet or something. In a way it’s awesome because you don’t have to work to float- you just do, whether your feet are reaching towards the ground or to the sky- but on the other hand it’s kind of impossible to swim regularly and you can’t get the water in your eyes without being in pain. So after experiencing the salty bath water we took turns going back to shore to cover ourselves in mud from the “Free Mud” table. We all wondered whose idea it first was to drill into the Dead Sea and convince people to pay money to cover themselves in mud. When the salt became to much we moved to the hotel pool and hung out until it was time for a really boring Q&A session with alumni. They basically talked about why women shouldn’t walk alone after dark, or after dark period- and whether or not to lie to the Israeli’s when you’re going through customs. The conclusion: if you are of Arab origin- don’t lie, if you have plans to go to the West Bank- lie.
Wednesday was the morning of placement exams at the University of Jordan. The University itself is pretty big- it takes 45 minutes to get from one end of the other. But it was originally built in a forest and so it’s pretty well shaded. It holds about 40,000 students and is generally gorgeous. The placement exam was, for lack of a better word, a bitch. At least we all felt that way. I have no idea where they’ll put me though. After the written we went on a brief tour of campus which included Osama Bin Laden’s Cave (It’s a joke, but apparently one of the American student’s mom’s took it seriously and called to complain-ridiculous). Finally came the oral exam, which went much better; I talked to the professor about Akon.
After lunch we had a safety and security meeting which I was really impressed with. Apparently with CIEE they have plans in case of earthquake, war, terrorism, state department warnings as well as information on how to handle taxis, political rallies, and the secret police. We also have to fill out forms when we travel as opposed to ISA where we just called Moha and told him, “Hey Moha, I’m going to Spain- see you Monday.” But as our Resident Director keeps reminding us, we are in Jordan, it is safe, but we are between Iraq and “a hard place,” and we're in a rough neighborhood.