Allaaaahu akbarrr. Allaaaaahu akbarrr. Allaaaahu akbarrr.
There are a number of totally normal places to hear those words. In a mosque, for instance (or really anywhere within announcing distance of one if you happen to be in an Islamic country), or on one of those grainy videos made by people whose job description starts with T (a word I’m going to keep out of this blog as much as possible). Over the loudspeaker on a plane? Uh...
Air Arabia does this. “As we prepare to take off, let us begin our journey with a travel prayer.” Then two minutes of Arabic chanting. I looked around surreptitiously to see if I should be, like, clasping my hands or bowing my head or something, but nobody- even the women in burqas or the men in red-checked keffiyahs- was paying any more attention to it than the average airline passenger does to the safety announcements. Still. How bizarre. I guess it was as good an introduction as any to the Middle East.
This seems like a good time to point out that I did need that introduction, because as it turns out, Jordan is not nearly as similar to Turkey as I’d imagined. Turkey, over the course of three months, had become my comfort zone. I could do things. I know enough of the language to confidently order things in shops and restaurants, ask directions, read signs and figure out where to go, ask prices, all that basic stuff. I was no die-hard tea-drinking, backgammon-playing Istanbulite with a tattoo of Ataturk, but I could be reasonably sure that I wasn’t going to get lost or scammed.
In Jordan... well, not so much. I barely speak a word of Arabic, and even the ones I can spell, I often can’t pronounce (I just spent half an hour shut up in my room trying to pronounce ayn, sounding for all the world like I was about to throw up rather than speak). It’s dirtier, and hotter, and more frantic, and I don’t know how much anything is meant to cost- a problem compounded by the unusual fact that the Jordanian dinar is worth more than the USD by about 50%. Jordan doesn’t feel like home at all. But I like that. It’s interesting.
I was tired when I got here. It was 12:30 am, and I’d been flying for eight hours- five more than strictly necessary, but a direct flight would have cost me almost double what I paid to go via Sharjah. I was all prepared to take a taxi into downtown Amman (“It costs 19? So that’s probably what, like 11 dollars? Ohhhh wait, right, dinars... ugh, 30 dollars...” Not so economical after all!) but as luck would have it, the bus which Wikitravel claimed started running at 6 am was right outside boarding as I exited the airport. I got off downtown and took a taxi to find a hotel; the middle-aged driver turned up the hiphop on his radio and offered me a Styrofoam cup of coffee.
On arriving at the hotel and handing him a 10-JD note to pay the fare, though, I was less impressed with his friendliness. Our communication was not tip-top, but he handed me back my tenner and pointed at the meter (which read 316, no decimals anywhere) and much frustrated gesticulating from both parties ensued. I was confused; 3.16 JD would be a little high, but maybe make sense considering it was 2 am by that time, but why wouldn’t he just give me change? 316 JD would be absolutely right out of the question, as nobody would be insane enough to demand 500 dollars for a 10-minute ride. I could only guess he had started the meter artificially high and wanted 32 dinars. I had noticed that it had read 3-something when he first turned it on, but had assumed at the time that it was a minimum fare, like taxis do pretty much everywhere. But as they say, when I assume it makes an ass of... well, pretty much just me. Anyway, too bad, Scammy McJerkface, that’s highway robbery and I wasn’t about to pay it. After it became clear that I wasn’t going to just pass him as much cash as his heart desired, we managed to agree to go inside the hotel and find someone who spoke better English to translate for us. The guy at reception seemed to take my side; there was a lot more Arabic back-and-forth between the cabbie and the receptionist than there was English, but in the end the cab-driver got all red-faced and grumped off downstairs with my 3JD and we all lived happily ever after, so far.
I’m at a different hotel now- the first one was really cool, with a huge balcony overlooking a Roman amphitheater, but it cost 20 dinars per night, which is outside my meager budget. My new hotel has no view and a broken everything-in-the-bathroom, but I’m only paying 7 dinars per night for a private room, which I sort of accidentally bargained down from 20 (he quoted me 20 when I walked in, and I kept insisting on something cheaper, since I looked this place up online this morning and I know they have dorms. The dude seemed very very intent on not allowing me to stay in a dorm, first saying that they were full, which I’m inclined to disbelieve since there’s pretty much nobody here, and then quoting me lower and lower prices for the private room- 15, 10, and finally 7- with a look of absolute anguish on his face over the thought of me staying in a room where Boys Oh My God might or might not also sleep).
He- Jaber, according to his business card- keeps pulling me aside for long-winded warnings about scams and harrassment and unscrupulous shopkeepers. I appreciate his concern (I guess he’s used to providing it; he has 12 children), but I wish he’d think of a more concise way to express it, particularly considering that I really know all that already. The problem lies more in avoiding/dealing with the above, not so much in being aware that they exist in Jordan.
I bought a book on learning Arabic earlier today (1.5 JD! Cheap!) and I’m going to make it my mission to take in as much as I possibly can. Suddenly being in a country where I’m totally unable to speak any of the language at all is bewildering and kind of uncomfortable. So on that note, study time!