Well I made it to Jordan! After an overnight flight I landed at Queen Alia airport at 2 am Jordan time safe and sound (passport included)! I was met at the gate by Farhana, a student who works with Denis and organized basically this whole trip for us, and the driver Bilal. My introduction to Jordanian driving was sudden and terrifying. Bilal’s car smelled sweet of tobacco smoke and bubblegum as we zipped down an unlight highway making our way to Amman singing Arabic songs to stay awake. It was a quick realization that road lanes and speed limits are of no use of importance and the basic rule of driving is to make chaos seem as casual as possible. I spent the night in Farhana’s apartment, brushed my teeth using the dregs of my water bottle and crashed just as the call to prayer resonated across the city.
After two hours of restless sleep I was nowhere near prepared to begin a full day in Jordan. But sure enough, after a water-pressure-less shower I was off to 4 hours of Arabic class, complete with yard games and drum circles. Everyone at SIT is super accommodating and worked to get me settled as if I hadn’t missed anytime at all!
I moved in with my host family yesterday as well, a large house located right near the American Embassy (Inshallah I won’t need it!), filled to the brim with my 4 host sisters, host brother, father and mother. Of course, my first act was to devour the large bowl of taboulleh, baba ghanoush, zucchini in béchamel sauce and yes, meat. Due to confusion, I am no longer staying at a vegetarian household so please forgive my temporary obsession with Arabic meats.
A short nap later and it was already time for another meal with another one being prepared in the kitchen. Due to jetlag and stress, we made it an early night. Despite the late meals, it seems that early bedtimes are quite common. Our home stay family enforced a 10 pm weekday curfew (which in a Muslim country means Sunday-Thursday). Before crashing I made time for one more meal, not sure what it’s called but some sort of dough baked and stuffed with thyme and haloumi cheese.
My second full day in Amman began unapologetically early. Not a single ounce of me wanted to get out of bed and drag myself to bed. But after a filling breakfast of last night’s leftovers, watermelon and a cake/gelatin pastry thing infused with mystica (a spice in vanilla extract like form), it was off to SIT and class. Our academic days are 4 hours long broken into sections with short breaks in between. Today’s material was a bit frustrating as it was mostly review of numbers but I expect the content to get much harder very quickly.
Our school day was shortened to 3 hours today to make room for a special trip to Mt. Nebo and the Dead Sea! Around 12 we boarded a giant tour bus and made our way out of Amman. I had my first, and best, falafel sandwich which only cost me .05 JD or around 25 cents. I could not believe how cheap it was! Here a typical falafel sandwich is on pita with hummus, yogurt and cucumbers, Persian pickles, tomato, herbs and chili sauce. I can’t wait to have many more! Next door to the shop was a bakery where I picked up some backlava like treats and knafeh which is stringy phyllo dough stuffed with some sort of cheese and covered in honey. Probably one of the best desserts I have ever had!
We drove through the outskirts of Amman and the Jordanian countryside, passing many small strings of shops, large houses, farms and the tents where the farmers live and hill after hill of dry dusty landscape. Coming from a region of America, however, where things are quite green, I began to appreciate just how accessible water is in my everyday life. For miles around there is no fresh water source or infrastructure for water transportation. Water towers are unseen here and the arid climate has left a coating of brown dust over nearly everything I own.
We reached Mt. Nebo quite quickly, climbing to the top of a large hill and maneuvering through downtown Madaba. Mt. Nebo, for those who don’t know, is the location where Moses first saw the Promised Land. From the top of the mountain it is possible to see Jordan, Israel, Palestine and the Dead Sea. The views were breathtaking, and so was the heat. It seemed that the farther from Amman we got, the hotter the climate. It was a quick drive down to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, where we were spending the day at a private beach complete with gourmet restaurant, sheesha by the infinity pool and a secluded access point to the Dead Sea. Because it was a private, tourist environment, a bikini was no problem and in fact, some of the European, male tourists were wearing MUCH less.
The Dead Sea was the most incredible thing I have ever experienced. Nature is a spectacular mystery. The minute you step off the rocks you are pushed to the surface. You could not stand even though the bottom wasn’t too far down. The water is thick with salinity and harsh but crystal clear and bright blue. They had warned us that it would burn, and that it did! If even the smallest drop got in your eye it burned like no other. Thankfully the lifeguards waited on the dock with fresh water in bottles to flush your eyes and you could continue swimming a bit longer. I even got the full Dead Sea mud experience, although no pictures. The mud was cool and grainy and within 10 minutes it had hardened and began to crack. Although you were supposed to reenter the water to wash it off, the salinity was too harsh for my blood pressure and I simply used a shower. My skin, however, is now astonishingly soft and my hair quite blonde.
The resort where we were also had a private infinity pool where the group enjoyed relaxing and smoking, bonding without the pressure of Arabic. Everyone on this trip is extremely nice and the ROTC group is super friendly! I had my first Jordanian sheesha and American sheesha doesn’t even come close!
After showering we made our way back to Amman where some of the group went to Rainbow Street for dinner at a nice restaurant. I was disappointed that the food was American however. Because of my late arrival I am super eager to explore and embrace the culture. I am hoping tomorrow that I will get to see more of the city after class!
Getting back to our host house in the dark with very little Arabic was an interesting experience but successful none the less. I was lucky enough to practice some of my Arabic with one of our other taxi drivers and I look forward to having small conversations more often. At least by the end of this trip I will be able to tell someone why I am in Amman simply from repeating it so many times!