Friday, November 2, 2012

Eid Break Part 1: First Impressions of Amman

Long time no write! I had a great trip to Jerusalem, Eilat, Petra, the Dead Sea and finally Amman last week with my mom and it was so much fun to show her the region. We did a lot so my mom and I are sharing the load (my first guest blogger!), and I will publish the posts gradually. PHOTOS COMING SOON! Cue guest blogger Amy Brown:

After a week with Marielle in the Middle East, my excellent and original tour guide always willing to go off the beaten path, I feel like I’ve truly gotten under the skin of this fascinating region in a way I never have before, despite two previous trips to Egypt. Thanks to Marielle’s growing ease with conversational Arabic, we made many friends during the week, from Bedouins to shop owners to children playing on the streets of Amman. Without her insider knowledge of the country, I’d never have tasted so much interesting and delicious food and gotten to hang out with her new Jordanian friends in their favorite cafes or eat Yemini mandi from huge platters seated on the floor!

My journey from Stockholm took me first to Vienna’s Airport, with its sleek black and frosted glass design, and comfy waiting areas, complete with cushioned leather beds for a quick nap or banks of desks and outlets for surfing and working. As we waited for our flight to Amman to board, I heard two young men in the row behind me, stretched out on those sofas, deep in conversation about life, career, cultures. Without a word, one of the men suddenly got up, put a piece of white paper on the floor, and kneeled to pray. Then he resumed his conversation with his friend. Yes, I was headed for Amman!

At Queen Alia Airport, my driver was waiting, thanks to the excellent arrangements of ACOR (The American Center for Oriental Research) where I would be staying while in Amman. I’m not a researcher but they offer a hostel at a great price, perfect for the independent traveler who enjoys communal meals and conversations with American researchers delving into all kinds of aspects of culture, like the survival of traditional bread-making in Jordan. In the drive from the airport, I saw wide expanses of dusty desert on either side and now and then a group of camels or fruit sellers with huge piles of pomegranates, tomatoes, avocados and other yummy things. Clearly, getting fruits and vegetables in Jordan would not be a probem. We drove past a sign informing us that an IKEA was going to be built along the highway-camels and Billy bookcases will have to learn to co-exist. When we got into Amman, we encountered some of the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced. The city has swelled recently, not least because of the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. It was also a couple of days before the start of the big Muslim holiday of Eid, and people were out shopping and making preparations.

When I got to ACOR, Marielle was waiting for me and we checked into our room and got dressed to meet her host family. Her host mom and one of her host sisters and host nephew took us out for a delicious meal. I liked her host mom and sister so much; they were so warm and friendly, thoroughly modern Jordanians while also observant Muslims. Marielle is treated like one of her own daughters and it was so reassuring to know my daughter is in such good hands while in Jordan. Her little five-year-old nephew was sweet and spoke excellent English, and was overjoyed with the toy US Air Force airport and planes I brought for him. Two days of travelling and four flights—Washington DC to Iceland, Iceland to Stockholm, Stockholm to Vienna, Vienna to Amman—had taken its toll and I was ready to get a good night’s sleep to be fresh for the next day’s adventure: Jerusalem!

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