So after intensive Hebrew wrapped up 3 weeks ago (and after the final exams threatened to destroy my soul), one of my friends from my fellowship gave me a call at lunchtime. “So I’m going to Jordan tomorrow,” she said. “You wanna come?”
Um, lemme think. Absolutely.
After working through all the details, we decided that, since I needed to get a visa at the border and thus had to cross through at a different checkpoint, we’d meet up in Amman the next day. So, after a few phone calls to various embassies to make sure I wasn’t going to be detained for violating some treaty that nobody knows about, I threw all the necessary accoutrements into a backpack, arranged a ride to the border, and was on the road early the next day.
Because I had to go way up north in order to cross into the country, I had two unforgettable taxi rides: on the Israeli side, the driver was a 55-year-old Palestinian guy named Jihad. (I’m not kidding.) He was really nice, and as we drove up through the West Bank, and he was sure to point out places like Hebron and Beit Jala when we went through them. The whole time we were switching back and forth between my broken Hebrew and his broken English, so most of the conversations were barely intelligible, but the good intent was there. At various points, you’d see Bedouin shepherds moving their flocks down the shoulder of the highway; at others, we passed by old mosques and towns that looked like they’d been there since the dawn of time. I found myself thinking “wow, that looks like it’s been around for forever,” and then realizing that it probably actually had.
Once I crossed the border, I then had to take a two-hour ride to Amman, during which time I was sure I was going to die. We were going up a winding mountain road, desperately lacking seatbelts, and the driver was smoking a cigarette and talking on his cellphone while he passed on all the curves. We narrowly avoided head-on collisions with busses three times, only to swerve back over and narrowly avoid falling 500 feet off the mountain. I just kept thinking “oh (insert expletive here), I’m going to die alone in Jordan. My mother will spend the duration of my funeral telling everyone that she knew this trip was a bad idea, but did I listen? Noooo.”
However, the great part of the ride was driving through a lot of small towns. We were definitely in backwater Jordan–the Arab world’s equivalent of Blair Witch. They were all basically dilapidated compilations of tin shacks, and the streets looked like a scene from a movie: people and livestock all in the street, men in the keffieh and women in the full shador, toothless old men hawking dusty shoes and mangoes. In most of these towns, I couldn’t see any signs of electricity or water infrastructure, which was indicative of how far behind a large portion of the country is.
But to say the least, I got to Amman in one piece, and once I got out of the Taxi of Doom (it really gave new meaning to the band name Deathcab for Cutie), I had a fantastic time. Being in Amman highlighted the stark division between Amman and the rest of the country. Amman is far more modern, Westernized, and secular than the rural areas (not a surprise), but it’s clear that the economic boom in Amman and its increasing participation in the global economy will leave the rest of the country in the dust–both literally and figuratively. The rural areas are very much isolated from Amman’s influence; Amman is full of educated professionals (London School of Economics even has a finance school downtown), while the rest of the country is uneducated and living in very primitive conditions. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as that gap widens, which it surely will.
The next day Minda and I went to Petra–it was everything I imagined it to be, which was, in a word, spectacular. The geology of southern Jordan is amazing, especially since the majority of the country is a desolate, brown desert that stretches as far as the eye can see. As you head south, suddenly a huge mountain range crops up out of nowhere, and the landscape changes drastically. Where there once was just sand, there are craggy mountains, narrow valleys–and incredible views. Petra itself was unforgettable, especially when thinking about how long it’s been there. The Nabateans created it in the 4th century B.C.E. as a sacred burial ground, but as time passed, it also became a center of commerce and industry. By the time the Romans conquered it (around the 1st century C.E. …flippin’ Romans, always had to be conquering somebody…), it was well-established as a commercial and industrial hub. The Romans maintained it as such until they left the area.
What remains of it now is the Treasury (the main picture people usually see of Petra) and a Roman ampitheatre, as well as hundreds of burial caves. Minda and I climbed around on all the rocks and explored a few of the caves; I didn’t want to do too much though, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was desecrating what was, at some point, somebody’s grave. I just don’t feel comfortable eating lunch where somebody’s grandma was once resting in peace. Call me crazy.
All in all, the whole experience was amazing. The Jordanians were incredibly friendly–we could hardly pay for anything, and got a lot of food for free–and there wasn’t even a hint of anti-Americanism. If anything, we were treated better one they knew we were American, which was a bit of a surprise. In any case, it was an amazing trip–I still have to remind myself that I really did go to Jordan and see Petra. Aaah, the beauty of the Middle East: you really can hop in a cab and go to another country.