Sunday, June 10, 2012

First impressions of Jordan

After anticipating my trip to Jordan for over a year, I've finally arrived in Amman. I left Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon and got here very early on Friday morning, after a total of almost 15 hours of flying and an 11-hour layover in Frankfurt (yes, it was horrible, but I had a chance to leave that confusing maze they call an airport and explore a little bit of the city). I'm still a little jet lagged, and everything is so new that I haven't gotten my thoughts together, and don't really know what to write. But something is better than nothing, so here are a few first impressions.

Because I arrived in the middle of the night, my first real view of Amman was from the top of my apartment building as the sun rose on Friday morning. Looking at a minaret while listening to the call to prayer kind of made me realize I'm actually in Jordan!
The view from the roof of my apartment
A lot of things will take some getting used to. The most obvious: being an American woman in an Arab country. We get stared at a lot, and honked at a lot. It's definitely a different experience to feel unwelcome at certain restaurants or cafes because I am a woman. (That doesn't happen most places, but it's uncomfortable when it does.) Men will roll down their car windows as they drive by and ask us in English if we want a ride, or yell "banaats!" at us (the Arabic plural of "girl" further pluralized by -s. haha). If you say so much as a few Arabic words to a cab driver after telling him where you'd like to go, he'll immediately ask where you're from and whether you're married. (We were warned about that, but I didn't think it would happen, till it happened to me!) It's also really easy to get ripped off by cab drivers unless you know what you're doing. It shouldn't cost more than a couple Jordanian dinars (about $3) to get from anywhere in Amman to anywhere else, but foreigners can get tricked into paying ten times more than they should. Luckily I didn't have to learn that one the hard way, although we did have a cab driver yesterday who drove us a few blocks towards our destination then decided he didn't want to give us a ride anymore, so he told us he needed to go to the mosque and asked us to get out. Also, street names and addresses don't mean much here. If you want to take a cab somewhere, you need to give the driver a landmark that's close to where you want to go (such as a hospital or a mall) and once you get there give turn-by-turn guidance.

Being a pedestrian here is next to impossible. Maybe I've been spoiled by living in Berkeley, where drivers willingly stop for pedestrians, crosswalk or not. But traffic here is nuts. The concept of right-of-way is a lot less well defined than it is in the US, and I can count on one hand the number of stop lights I've seen. We're learning to find locals waiting to cross the street, and follow them. 

We're also adapting to our living conditions. Overall our apartments are more than tolerable -- we have a big living space, a kitchen with a gas stove and a refrigerator, a washing machine, and satellite television. But the electricity hasn't been reliable (I still don't have electricity in my room!) and since Jordan is among the five driest countries in the world, our water use is severely limited. Our water tanks are refilled once a week, so it's actually possible that we'll run out of water if we're not careful to limit our showers to 3 minutes and to always remember to turn off the water while brushing our teeth or washing dishes. 

Although many things are different here, there is no shortage of chicken-related reminders of home, including a Popeye's restaurant, complete with play-places for children, and KFC's, translated into Arabic as "The chicken of Kentucky". Add to that Domino's pizza, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, etc. There's even a 24-hour Safeway a few blocks from my apartment, but with distinctive Arab flair:
The spice section at Safeway
In these first few days, we've mostly stayed in our neighborhood, a few miles northwest of the center of the city. Looking forward to exploring more of Amman before class starts on Wednesday.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! You're alive! I knew you were alive, actually, but it's nice to see real communication here. So, what is the driver's reaction when you tell him you aren't married, or is it better to say you are? How many of you live in each apartment, and are you able to be a vegetarian there without too much trouble?