Monday, December 15, 2008

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

We just got back from the country of Jordan. Brett received a research grant from VCUQ in order to explore one of the many countries of this region, so Abbey and I tagged along. We learned so much which makes sense since this was research Brett was doing! One of those things we learned is that even though someone recommends you visit a country because they think it is so beautiful and wonderful doesn't necessarily make it so. There are many beautiful, even breathtaking places in Jordan, but our overall experience did not suggest beauty and grace. To me, Jordan is a very impoverished yet resilient country. The city of Amman is dirty and run down. The economy there is not as strong as it is in Qatar, so that is reflected in the older architecture and the unemployed citizens.

In contrast to the depressing scenery though, the people in Jordan are warm, friendly, and so proud to show off their country. A physics professor at VCUQ, Khalid, who is from Jordan and sold Brett on the idea of traveling there wanted us to come and visit him at his home in northern Jordan in a city called Irbid. He even told Brett he would cook for us. He also told Brett that instead of hiring a driver from a driving service we should let him find us a good driver, one of his friends who would know the better places to show us and be much less expensive. This was our first wrong turn on the road to a relaxing vacation!

After we collected our luggage and checked through airport security in Amman, we were greeted by Khalid's brother Ahmad (pronounced Ahkmud, heavy on the "h" and on the right in the photo below). Ahmad is a medical doctor and was quick to let us know this fact, because he recently passed the board exam in Jordan after finishing medical school in the Ukraine. I was quite surprised that a doctor would be taking the time to show us around his country, but I tried to take it all in stride. Then we walked out to the car and met our driver Abed (on the left in the photo below) who speaks hardly any English at all. By the way, the car was an Obed (who knows what kind of car that is, but it is something like a late model Toyota). So the three of us squeezed into the back seat of the Obed while Abed drove and Ahmad began explaining our situation. (Try to say that last line three times fast!) Now you must know that Ahmad speaks English but not as well as he speaks Arabic and Russian. From his explanation, we realized that Khalid was not yet in Jordan, still in Qatar, and would not be in Jordan until after our trip. So my mind began to detect a few flaws in the grand plan that had been cooked up for us.

As we drove into Amman I was very surprised to see the dusty scenery, the trash everywhere, and the impoverished conditions. From all previous descriptions, I had been expecting to see a green landscape filled with modern conveniences and nippy weather. That was not the case. Now I probably sound like a spoiled American who wanted the perfect vacation, but trust me, even the beige landscape of Qatar is more beautiful than Jordan's because the people take care of it.

Our first stop was a Roman ruins site in the heart of Amman. As we stepped out of the car into the filthy park/square we could see lots of boys and men milling around selling things to each other, riding broken down bikes, playing, grilling meat, and in one instance relieving themselves (luckily Abbey didn't notice the man zipping up his pants), which explained the urine aroma.

The Roman Theatre is part of the ruins of ancient Roman Philadelphia and served as a necropolis. Unfortunately it was closed because of Eid, but the "guard" at the gate named Mohammed was quite a hustler and gave us his "free" tour around the outside of the site and then guided us to the gift shop. We proceeded to admire the antiques there and the beautiful jewelry. Abbey was treated like royalty throughout Jordan with people calling her princess, and Mohammed ended up giving her a few little items from the store as we left (I'm sure his commission more than covered the freebies). He even posed for pictures with us and became our instant best friend. He was so nice to us but very mean to the little boys milling around us wanting a piece of the action, and he fiercely shewed them away. The best part of this site was being able to look up to the highest hill in Amman and see the pillars of the Citadel, and then look down at our feet where we were standing on moss covered stones thousands of years old. Mohammed called the Citadel the sister site to the theatre.

The next stop on our trip was the city of Irbid, Khalid's hometown. Even though our host was not in town, we were scheduled to stay in the "nicest hotel" there. On arrival, we realized that the mosaic in the lobby was the nicest feature of the establishment. We smiled through the eventful night of scary accommodations which were close enough to the elevator that we heard every sigh and electrical fuse popping with each elevator run. Brett didn't sleep much, but we made it through that night in one piece.

When the sun came up the next day I looked out our window and was struck with the contrasts of Irbid. The beautiful morning sun brushed the tops of the buildings around us, but the filthy empty lot next to the hotel had all the remains of the revelry the night before where men had been sitting around open fires yelling and carrying on. A slanted shelf that was hung on the wall in our hotel room seemed to be symbolic in some weird way. As we walked out of the Al Joude Hotel, we knew that we would be able to laugh about this experience soon, but we were happy to be moving on to a better setting.

So there you have our first day in Amman. I will have to blog later about the continued adventures of the Kearneys in Jordan, but for now that is enough to relive. I have to say this was a time in our family where we really pulled together to create a positive experience for each other. Brett was superman as he forged through all the hitches that came up. Abbey was so brave and so strong to smile through all the culture shock and lengthy stares from the native Jordanians. Even I surprised myself as I continued to see the beauties around us and recognize the enriching experience this would be for us. I hope I can in some way communicate the complexity of this trip in these posts, because it is already helping me to see the layers of understanding that are required when you visit a new country.


Kristy said...

Oh, thank you, Mom, for taking the time to relate these stories. What an amazing adventure! I can't wait to hear more.

ljanlyons94 said...


Anonymous said...

What an experience you guys are having! It's so amazing to read your blog and think of you guys here in little old Bountiful and then now having all these experiences, but good and bad. CRAZY!