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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day 15, Saturday - Beirut to Amman

Stop one on Isabelle’s Grand Middle East Tour – check! Now on to country number two: Jordan.

 I spent the morning double checking my bags and then I watched the end of Pirates of the Caribbean 3 while I waited for the taxi (they have had an interesting selection of American movies that I have caught snippets of, and I discovered that Grey’s Anatomy is quite popular and a good way to tell Lebanese locals where I am from. I did crush a poor guy’s dreams though when I had to tell him that it wasn’t actually filmed in Seattle). Then I was off to the airport.

Let me tell you, going through the Beirut airport was quite an experience. In short: I had to hand my passport to six people and was pat-down three times, including once on the airplane itself. I didn’t even know they did that. Being a girl, however, it was kind of funny for me because they take you around a corner and behind a curtain, even though it was a regular pat-down, but modesty for women is taken very seriously. The men just get the regular pat-down next to the metal detectors. 

When I arrived, I had to first choose if I was traveling East or West, which threw me off a little partly because I’ve never had to do that before and partly because the city of Amman is pretty direct South (see map above). I picked East because Jordan is more East, and I was right. After that, you put all your bags through an x-ray (this was where I had my first pat-down), then on to the ticket counter where I had a tricky time locating Royal Jordanian’s counter since the signs for it were rather small. I had to shift some things around in my bags because one was too heavy, but it all worked out. 

After that, I had to go through passport control where the guy asked for one of those immigration cards but an exit version (which I didn’t know existed because I have only used them for entry). Then I went through a “regular” security line (pat-down #2) before heading to my gate. When it was time to board the plane, you hand your boarding pass and passport to the ticket guy (who rips your ticket and keeps the big part which had a pretty picture of Amman on it and give you back the small stub with your seat number) and then give your passport again to a security guy before you head down the tunnel to the plane. 

Once you get just outside the plane there is a guy that checks people’s carry-on’s but I got to skip that step. By this point I figured I was through everything but once I stepped onto the plane one of the flight attendants had me step behind a curtain on the plane for the final pat-down. 

I guess I’m glad they have good security, though I found it a bit amusing. I guess your options are to be afraid or amused, I chose amused. I’m sure once you go through the process several times it seems normal, but for a first-timer is was quite a novelty. 

The plane was very comfortable, but I think the pilot’s real dream was to be a military fighter pilot because it was a rather interesting flight. When we were severed the in-flight snack, the plane was still angled up so that I had to keep on hand on the tray so that it didn’t end up in my lap. It was a very short trip and I was in Amman in less than an hour. 

In Amman, after changing currency, I went through a line to get a visa where I first got some sort of stamp from one guy, after I paid the visa fee, then got stamped and sent through by a second guy. By this point I was quite use to the idea that whenever someone spoke to me (inevitably in Arabic) they wanted me to do something, so when I walked past these two guys and the said something, I walked over and asked if they could repeat it in English. The one guy looked at me kind of funny and said “They don’t say 'welcome' at airports in the United States?” And I felt rather silly. 

I finally retrieved my bags, went through one final x-ray (they must be radioactive by now) and out through customs 

While in Jordan, I am staying with Mr. & Mrs. Azar and their daughter Tina. Mr. Azar met me at the airport and then we went to his office for a bit. Mr. Azar runs U C MAS Jordan (Universal Concept of Mental Arithmetic System) which is an amazing, innovating program for children which I hope to write more about in another post. 

I got a chance to change my clothes and settle into my room for a bit before going to Mrs. Azar’s parent’s house. We had tea and cookies (they have discovered that I like tea with milk and sugar which is fine but they seem slightly amused as they consider that rather Egyptian.

Back at the house, we put Tina to bed before we headed out for dinner around 9:30pm, to a restaurant owned by Mrs. Azar's parents. We had a wonderful meal and I learned how to play a few different card games. The weather here is also unseasonably hot, although not humid like Beirut. 

Sitting outdoors at night was a wonderful day to finish my first day in Amman. I am getting a lot of practice listening to Arabic, although it is hard because the colloquial is quite a bit different than the classical Arabic I have studied.

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