One Month in the Middle East

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Amman, Jordan

June 3, 2014

One car ride, three airplanes, and a bus ride later, and I’m sitting in my hotel room in Amman, Jordan, looking out over the balcony onto the night city skyline as fireworks explode on the horizon. It was not easy getting to this point, however.

This morning (God, was that really this morning?) I haphazardly threw together all of the last minute stuff into my suitcase and downloaded a few podcasts before setting off on my journey. The car ride to the airport was a little over three hours long, but already motion sickness was getting to me and I was feeling headache-y. Not a good start for 13 hours worth of plane rides.

At the check in counter, I was informed twice that because so many people from my group were trying to access our group check in that I was not going to be able to be checked in.

“What do you mean?” I asked, panicking. “I have to be on this flight.”

The woman peered at me over her glasses and sighed. “I can get your boarding passes for this flight and the flight out of Detroit.”

“Then what am I supposed to do when I get to Paris?”

“Re-check in and get the boarding pass for that plane at the airport.”

Great, I thought. Now I have to go through security twice. “What about my bag? Will I have to pick it up and transfer it to the flight myself?”

She slapped a sticker on my suitcase and tied a tag around the handle. “No, your suitcase is checked all the way to Amman.”

So basically the airline took better care of my suitcase than it did me. But that’s okay, because frankly I was worried sick about not getting my luggage back when I got off the plane.

The first flight was delayed a half an hour and was pretty much uneventful. I took a selfie with my professor who is basically the coolest guy ever.

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Selfie time!

The next flight, from Detroit to Paris, was also delayed. But because our previous flight had been delayed that was great news for us. There was still just a lot of sitting around though. I love traveling, and I even love airports and being on airplanes, but if you do not come prepared with enough things to do I can see how it can get really awful really fast. Fortunately, I had plenty of entertainment, but unfortunately, my motion sickness thing was making it impossible for me to read or play video games without a splitting headache.

I was determined not to sleep on the flight though because I wanted to be able to sleep when we got to Amman. I didn’t want to suffer from any more jet lag than I had to. We boarded the plane for the flight across the Atlantic to Paris, and I was lucky enough to be in the very last row with very little noise and less people to poke or prod me. I fell asleep almost instantly and didn’t even notice that our take off was delayed 45 minutes.

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Mountains from the sky

Because the flight was almost eight hours long we got dinner and breakfast. I’ll spare you pictures of my dinner because it was really disgusting looking (think nasty microwave TV dinner because that’s exactly what it was). Breakfast was a little more digestible.

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Does anything not come prepackaged?

We landed in Paris and since I had to go out of security to get my boarding pass, my entire group came with me. So technically my passport says I spent about fifteen minutes in France, even if those fifteen minutes were just in another part of the airport. The airline who helped me get my ticket was very apologetic and gave me a food voucher worth 8 Euro, which I was super grateful for to get that nasty airplane food taste out of my mouth.

Our flight from Paris to Amman was certainly the most interesting part of the day.

As I boarded the plane, I heard screaming. Oh God, I groaned inwardly. Someone with an uncontrollable kid is going to make this flight miserable. It was muffled and distant, like someone was screaming into fabric. As I very slowly made my way to the belly of the airplane, I could more clearly hear thick accents and broken English. I realized the shouts weren’t actually muffled by cloth, but by the sheer amount of bodies packed into this aluminum tube.

The people in front of me cleared away and took their seats, and I saw two young women in the rows farthest back of the plane, red in the face, shouting at the top of their lungs.

I don’t know enough about Middle Eastern culture or their traditional dress to know what kind of attire the girls were wearing, but their hair and their arms were covered in thick layers. Flanked on either side of each girl were two adults, holding them in their seats so they couldn’t move. “Captain!” they screamed, over and over again. Their voices were hoarse, as if they had been screaming for a very long time. “Captain, no Syria! No Syria, Captain!”

I was bewildered until I saw a bright orange armband on one of the adults– police. “We are not going to Syria,” the officer spat back. “We are going to Amman!”

“No Syria!” they shouted, undeterred. “Allah akbar! Allah akbar!”

I was hoping and praying that I wasn’t sitting to close to them, but of course we bought the cheapest tickets available. I shuffled awkwardly into my seat, only one row separating me from the young women. “Help us!” they screamed. “Help us, please!”

“Shut up!” the police officer ordered. She got down into one of the girls’ faces. “You will go free in Amman! Do you understand me? You will be free in Amman!”

“Help us, please! Help us! No Syria! No Syria!”

The police officer was growing angry. “Stop it!” she shouted. But the girls either didn’t understand or didn’t care. Their voices grew steadily rougher and hoarser. “If you don’t shut up, you will go to jail. Is that what you want?” They continued screaming. Just as the last passengers made it on the plane, the police officer had had enough.

“That’s it!” she cried, exasperated. “You are crazy! If you don’t shut up, I will take you to jail. Would you rather be free in Amman or do you want to go to jail?”

The girls panicked and said they would rather go to jail than Syria. The flight attendants opened a rear door as the officers hauled the girls upright and marched them off the plane. Sudden silence enveloped the cabin, and the flight attendants began the safety demonstration as if nothing had happened.

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What do you mean there were illegal immigrants on this plane?

Rumors quickly spread throughout the plane. I have no idea what is real or embellished or just plain false. I was told the girls were from Syria and were in Paris illegally. Since they were illegal immigrants, they were being forcibly deported out of the country. The police officer was going to take them to Jordan instead of Syria, but they were so desperate to not return to the Middle East that they would rather be in jail in France.

Yes, illegal immigration is wrong, and the line has to be drawn somewhere. But until you hear the desperate screams of two young women, held down by police officers and being forcibly deported to their war-torn country, you really don’t have much real context to place it in.

The rest of the flight was calm in comparison, aside from crazy turbulence and everyone in the airplane trying to use the bathroom at the exact same time. Even though this flight was only half as long as the flight from Detroit to Paris, it seemed to take forever. Because of the Syrian girls, our flight was delayed (surprise surprise) and we were super late arriving in Amman.

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Yay, airports

Getting off the plane was almost surreal. The minute I stepped into the airport, the speakers began ringing with a man’s voice melodically chanting. My professor informed us it was the Islamic nighttime prayer being read over the loudspeaker for all the Islamic people in the airport. He said the next one would be at three in the morning, because why sleep when you can pray?

Seeing all the signs in Arabic and hearing the chanting over the speakers was what finally jolted me into place. I realized I was somewhere completely foreign, totally outside of my comfort zone, at first made me nervous and then so excited I felt like crying. And I did almost cry when I saw my suitcase coming around the baggage carousel because I was so happy it had made it with me.

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Pretty sure we were all about to pass out.

Our tour guide, Sam, picked us up not long after and drove us in our bus to our hotel. He told us not to drink the tap water because it would make us sick, and to not eat lettuce unless we put vinegar on it first. He also told us most public restrooms don’t provide toilet paper, and we have to bring our own. Most importantly, he told us that it doesn’t matter what we wear. Amman is a huge city with many kinds of people and he said we should wear whatever makes us most comfortable. There is no dress code in Jordan, he said. Maybe in other countries, but not in Jordan or Israel.

Our hotel is a fancy hotel in the middle of Amman, the Cham Palace Amman. It’s probably one of the nicest hotels I have ever been in. My room has a balcony for crying out loud. It’s so big you could probably fit two more beds in here, but instead we have a lounge area and a mini kitchen. The bathroom is huge and stone tiled and did I mention that it has a balcony?

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Lap of luxury right here

I finally got my first taste of Jordanian food, which is very healthy and fresh and delicious.

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Look, hummus!

Obviously my strategy to overcome jet lag didn’t go exactly as planned, seeing as I’m wide awake and it is two o’clock in the morning here. But tomorrow starts my first big day of my big adventure, so I’ll leave you and go climb in my very soft and cushy bed.

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4 thoughts on “One Month in the Middle East

  1. calvin heng says:

    Wow, Ingrid, your journey to the Middle East was definitely more exciting than mine!!

  2. Grampa says:

    It’s good to hear from you I was getting worried.

  3. Mandy Thomas says:

    This was very entertaining, Ingrid, I’m glad you started this blog! I want to hear about the rest of your trip, so keep up the good work 🙂

  4. You have already seen and heard so much, Ingrid! Take it all in, and blog as much as you can. Wishing you bon voyage, bon chance and all that!

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