Yesterday I made the trip from France to Jordan. I hugged Alison, my mother’s friend whose place I stayed at in Montreuil, goodbye and climbed into the taxi. That was at 11:15 AM and my flight was at 2:45 PM, but Alison had recommended that I show up three hours early “in case something goes wrong.” Once the taxi arrived at Charles de Gaulle I paid the cabby, yanked my bulging suitcase out of the trunk and stepped to the curb. I reached for my iPhone to look up my itinerary but it wasn’t in its usual home in my right pocket. I smacked my left pocket and felt the impression of one lonely wallet. I spun around and saw my taxi driving away towards the highway. Leaving my luggage unattended, I ran after the taxi, waving my arms and shouting like a maniac. The taxi didn’t stop or slow down, but passed beneath the robotic arm of the ticket barrier and merged onto the highway. The arm came down in front of me as I watched the taxi with my phone inside of it disappear among the traffic.
My assertive side emerged in this panic situation and I tracked down the nearest timid-looking French guy and commanded him to lend me his phone. I called my sleeping mother to get Alison’s number then I called Alison to get the taxi company’s number and then I called the taxi company. In fifteen minutes the taxi drove back. The cabby handed me my phone and I handed him the last of my euros before heading to baggage check. On the way I called Alison and thanked her for getting me to the airport early.
I scanned my passport at the little touch-screen box by baggage claim. It spit out a boarding-pass-shaped piece of paper with a barcode and the message “WARNING: NOT A BOARDING PASS” printed on it. I waved this thing in front of the faces of a few airport personnel who all told me to just check my baggage and not worry about it, but their faces were concerned. When I finally reached the baggage check attendant and asked her what the implications of the paper were she said it was “difficult to explain in English.” Nevertheless, she checked my bag and told me to proceed to my gate and basically hope for the best. Fortunately, by the time I reached the gate this untranslatable problem must have resolved itself because the attendant at the desk there took my paper and replaced it with an actual boarding pass. From then on everything was smooth and uneventful, until I landed in Jordan.
The Jordanian authorities require entering foreigners to pay forty dinar (Jordanian currency) in order to get their visas and pass through customs. They have two ATMs and two currency exchange booths posted before the visa line to get your dinar. I went up to the closest ATM and popped in my card. A few minutes of waiting and button mashing later it ejected my card and told me to go somewhere else because it was in need of maintenance. I went to the next ATM, which told me that my transaction was “invalid”. Then I went to an exchange booth where my transaction failed again. I experimented, trying to extract different amounts from different machines and stations from different accounts, but nothing worked. Just before I entered into another panic an irishman tapped me on the shoulder and told me he was going to do his “good deed for the day.” He took me to the visa desk and payed for my visa himself. I shook his hand, thanked him and never saw him again. As I passed through customs I wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t show up. Would I have been stuck in the visa vestibule forever? My thoughts were interrupted once I emerged into the arrival area and saw a portly, balding Jordanian man holding a sign reading “Sam Copeland”.
This man was Mahmoud Edais, who was to become my main friend, guide and confidant in Amman. Mahmoud took me to his car and we drove off towards my apartment building. A full moon shone over the desert and the warm, dry night air was intoxicating after being cooped up in an airplane. The highway from the airport lay in the middle of an empty desert expanse, with a greater and greater density of buildings appearing as we approached the center of Amman. All kinds of unfamiliar architecture were lit up in red blue and green neon, with the occasional McDonalds of KFC making unwelcome appearances.
Mahmoud and I went over the usual getting-to-know-you stuff about hometowns and girlfriends and so on. We parked outside my apartment building and Mahmoud showed me around, pointing out where the Asia Development Training offices and the grocery store were. Then Mahmoud taught me how to cross the street, which ranks among the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. There are no crosswalks in Amman, nor do the drivers here seem to be bothered by the idea of pulverizing a pedestrian or two. So one crosses the street in Amman by stepping out into fast, unrelenting traffic and literally dodging cars. The mechanics of the procedure are identical to those of the old arcade game Frogger, where one’s frog avatar has to jump past cars and alligators in order to get from one side of the screen to the other. I survived my training with Mahmoud, and I bought some bottled water and toilet paper as a trophy. After braving the street again, Mahmoud and I went up to my apartment.
My apartment is big and beige, like Amman itself. The walls are spare and beige, as is the floor. However, there is a big couch and an armchair with a coffee table, a refrigerator, a television, a bathroom and the widest bed I have ever slept on. There is a kitchen section built into the living room complete with a sink, some cupboards and an oven. My only real concern with the apartment is this oven, which is connected via tube to a beat up looking tank of gas standing less than a foot away from it. The stove is coated in tin foil for some reason and the igniters make a loud, repetitive popping sound. Needless to say, any concern I once had about ISIS has been replaced by images of oncoming traffic and exploding ovens.
After Mahmoud showed me around my apartment he handed me the key and bid me goodnight. The last thing he said was that if I left the key in the keyhole after locking it “Nobody will be able to get in. Nobody.” I wondered briefly about which individuals had caused him to make that emphasis, but I was too tired to carry it through. I plopped into my wide bed and fell asleep for the first time under a Middle Eastern sky.
This blog is written by Sam Copeland, an intern with the Polus Center and Asia Development Training, about his time in Amman during the summer of 2017. It is meant to be read in a linear manner, so scroll down to the bottom and then go up for the full experience.