Posted by: heatherlehrman | December 11, 2011

Amman, Jordan

13 rides later, I successfully traveled to and from Amman, Jordan!

Chip, Rina, Shayna and I got on a bus to go to Jerusalem on Friday morning. When we got to Jerusalem we indulged in Sufganiyot in the Central Bus Station. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it is a ball-shaped doughnut that is first deep-fried, then pierced and injected with jelly or custard,and then topped with powdered sugar. (Thank you, Wikipedia!) There were so many kinds to choose from. It was awesome. We were fat kids in heaven!!

After the doughnuts we headed out and walked along Yaffo Street until it ended, and then we made a left turn and continued on until we hit the Damascus gate of the Muslim quarter. Once we went through the gate, we made a left turn into a sketchy alleyway where we picked up a special kind of cab that took us to the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, which is the border of Israel and Jordan. Overall, the border was unexpectedly easy to cross. When we got there, the security guards checked our passports, we paid to leave Israel (this is a mandatory fee) and then we converted shekels into dinars (Jordanian money). Then we got on a big bus (similar to a Coach bus) and crossed the border.

We met a Jordanian girl named Noor on the bus who studies Psychology at the IDC in Herzlia. She said that she is the only Jordanian to study in Israel, which is pretty amazing. We were telling her about how it is so easy for us to get around in Israel except at the airport because security guards question and interrogate us. She told us that in the airport in Israel, Jordanians get what is called the VIP treatment. Security takes her bags (she doesn’t need to be there while they are being checked) and walks her straight to the airport. AND they give her cookies to make her feel better. It’s really a safety measure. I thought that was so funny! I ended up giving her my contact information because she is interested in getting her Masters in NY and I told her I might be able to help her find more information on schools.

A few fun facts/things I saw:

– Jordanians drive like crap!!!
– Saw a moving car with a little boy sticking his head out of the window – reminded me of my dogs!

Finally, we got to the hostel. In order to get inside, we had to use a really small, sketchy elevator with no 4th wall. Imagine touching the moving wall as we ascended up! Fun fact: Rina is closure-phobic.

The hotel appeared shady at first, but the people were extremely hospitable and super friendly. They gave us tea about 2 minutes after we arrived! Also, the lady who owns the hostel gave us this yummy bread and we dipped it in oil and in some type of Jordanian spice (I forget what it was called). She also gave us half of her egg omelet with mint, which was SO good. She kept saying, “More, more, more”.  As I was stuffing my face I said, “I love Jordan” (like a fat kid, obviously) and she said, “Jordan loves you!” As she left the room is yelled, “BYE BABIES!” This woman was not like a lot of woman we saw in Amman. Most woman are completely covered up head to toe, with their eyes being the only thing showing. This woman though, was dressed very stylishly, but had her hair covered. She was beautiful and was full of life and was always giggling and laughing as she talked. She seemed around 40 ish years old, maybe a bit older. It was very shocking that she owned the place and was successful because it seemed to us that women aren’t very important in society there.

Soon after, we went off to get some food. It took us about 6 hours to get to Amman so we ravenous! Rina and Shayna are vegetarians and so for dinner, we went to a vegetarian friendly restaurant. (Mind you, nothing in this area is in English so we were just kind of hoping we would find a good restaurant and that they would understand us – which they didn’t, really. There was a lot of showing of food and head nodding going on). For dinner, we got: falafel balls, delicious pita, fresh vegetables, hummus with a lot of lemon in it (yum) and tea! It was actually very filling – we were just glad to eat. For dessert we got Kanafe! It is a cheesey, sweet dessert with shredded crusty stuff on top. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanafeh). All I can say is that it was delicious and Chip got it about 5 times in 2 days. The girls got baklava and I got some cake thing!

A few things we noticed:

– Men say, “Welcome, welcome, welcome” everywhere!!!! Left and right.

– There were a lot of shops on the streets (lots of stuff on tables on the sidewalks) – we saw a lot of dolls in bags and brass knuckles (creepy)

– We saw a LOT of fried chicken restaurants – Chip and I were in heaven (fat kids)

– You really don’t see a lot of women around – this was one of the more unsettling aspects about Amman

– A LOT of creepy mannequins

When we got back to the hostel later that night, the woman who owns the place told us about how she was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and I stupidly asked her if she got really drunk and started giggling and she said, “I’m Muslim baby. Muslims can’t drink!” OOPS.

Later that night, I got fried chicken. That was the first of 3 times. I probably shouldn’t admit that… BUT my reasoning was that I haven’t had fried chicken in SO long, and it looked so good (and was). Also, you only live once so WHY NOT?!

The hostel room was colder than it was outside.  But, that’s what you get for $11 a night. I wore leggings under my jeans, a tee shirt, a long sleeve, a sweatshirt, my north face, 2 scarves, and socks to bed. And I was still cold. We had a heater but it didn’t really work; I fell asleep with no problem though. I woke up at 5AM to the CTP (call to prayer). It was cool to hear but I was not too happy about being woken up.

That morning we got up early, headed downstairs to get some breakfast and tea and went on a tour to the desert to see some castles! Our tour guide’s name was Jaffa. There were six of us going – two Italian women joined us. It turns out that Jaffa wasn’t going to explain anything to us – he just drove us to the castles and we explored on our own.

While we were driving out of Amman and into the desert, Shayna pointed out that she never thought that men actually wore head coverings with the band around the top. Seeing so many of them made us realize that we really were in the Middle East. Most of the head coverings were red and white checkers with two black bands around the top.

The first castle we saw is called Al-Kharaneh, the second is called Qsar Mara and the third is called the Aasr Al-Azraq. They were all very cool – the castles were not near each other – we had to drive to each one. They were all made out of rocks and bricks and each of them had nooks and crannies and you could walk throughout them. The coolest/weirdest/scariest thing about this part of the trip was a sign we saw. It said: Iraq 250 kilometer – Saudi Arabia 60 kilometers. Crazy, heh?

Random things:

– We saw a herd of goats in the desert

– Saw a lot of garbage all over the desert

– There are no rules when it comes to cars – In Amman, the streets are small and people just drive anywhere – on the highway, people pass cars every second – it seemed like a race to be in front. It is scary being in a car there.

– Chip called me an interactive baby doll. The kind little kids get that eat and cry and poop. Surprised?
When we got back from the desert we all freshened up and went out to get some dinner. Our first stop was the restaurant that had the kanafe and baklava! Chip got Mansaf, which is a Jordanian dish (lamb in a milk sauce) and I got a chicken and rice dish with vegetable soup. Since the girls are vegetarians we went back the place we went to the first night and they got falafel, veggie and fries. After they got their falafel balls, we realized there was SUCH a language barrier because we tried asking for vegetables and they gave us water and spoons instead. Eventually, I got up and pointed to the tomatoes. Fun fact: In Jordan, you can smoke inside restaurants and inside anywhere for that matter.

Later that night the girls stayed in (they didn’t feel well) and Chip and I explored Rainbow Street, which is a well-known street in Amman with restaurants, bars and stores. It seemed to be a street for tourists. I was really happy we explored this area because it was very upscale and extremely different from the area we were staying in, which is very run down. The area we were staying in gave us a sense of how Jordan is a third world country. The area of Rainbow Street on the other hand, was totally modernized and reminded us of D.C. We walked for a long time and eventually stumbled on a hotel. We asked the man there where the nearest mall was and he got us a cab and we went! This mall was just like the malls in America! It had nice stores and all kinds of American restaurants: Popeye’s, KFC, Subway, Starbucks, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Fuddruckers, etc. I forgot I was in Amman, Jordan. Chip and I, being the fat kids, were in heaven!!! On our journey that night, I stopped into a market to get a drink and 3 people on this long line let me go in front of them because I had one thing. It was so nice! We saw A LOT of Christmas stuff in this area. The guy at the front desk of our hostel said the Jordanians don’t usually celebrate Christmas. But then again, Jordan is only about 20-30% Jordanian people.

The next morning, we woke up at 7:30 AM and left by 8 AM. Before we left, we had some cookies and ate the clementine that Shayna unintentionally and illegally brought over the border (from Israel) without claiming through customs. It was a delicious morning snack! My backpack was so big that as I stepped up to get into the minivan cab, my bag (on my back) hit the top of the car and I actually fell back out of the car. No one but the cab driver and Shayna saw me. I couldn’t stop laughing.

In the end, all of the money we had worked out perfectly. In Israel, I took out a lot of money (way more than I needed – for safety) and converted 90% of it. In the end, Chip, Rina and Shayna ran out and I spotted everyone to get rid of my money, so I wouldn’t get charged for converting dinars back into shekels. In the end, we had 4 dinar left and there was a convenient store at the border, so obviously we were going to spend it on food. After about 10 minutes of walking around we decided on white chocolate Kit Kats. Yum!

We were excited to get back to Israel; we were excited to do laundry (we stunk of smoke) and shower (the showers in the hostel were pretty gross, so we let it go for 3 days) – no big deal. Crossing the border was cool – is a bridge over the non-existent Jordanian river that is completely dried out. This was my first international bus ride. It was nice to see IDF soldiers and Hebrew writing everywhere. Once we crossed, we got into a special kind of cab and headed back to Jerusalem. When we got there we stopped at Holy Bagels (a restaurant) and got some lunch. Then we got onto a bus and headed back to Tel Aviv.

Over the course of this trip, I thought a lot about how there is nothing like the Middle East. I am really going to miss the normality of seeing people dressed and acting so differently. I definitely have gained an open mind about people and their rituals. Another thing I will miss is the people! Of course, Israelis can be pushy, but they are so nice. When we got back to Jerusalem, everyone needed to use the ATM and this religious woman just started conversation with us while waiting on line. It was really awesome. In America, no one helps each other out. I will miss the hospitality of the people in Israel and in Jordan for that matter! For example, the woman at the front desk of our hostel who kept giving and giving and the juice man on the street that could have roofied us but didn’t; he simply just wanted us to try some juice! We probably shouldn’t have taken the chance but it was worth it because it was delicious juice! Back to my original point, the people in the Middle East are great.

Amman was an eye-opening trip. The four of us had an amazing time!

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