The past three days of my vacation in Jordan have been hot and tiring, but very satisfying. I’m throwing myself back into my “old ways” of being in the country with great gusto, but perhaps with slightly detrimental results. I should have remembered that it took time for my body to adapt to Jordan’s food, water, heat, and my active lifestyle here. Sure, I’ve been biking regularly in America, but that can’t compare with the wadi hiking and constant walking that I was doing while I lived here. By the time I started hiking in the wadis in 2010, for example, I’d already lived here for a year and a half and my body was already able to cope with extreme heat and walking. By contrast, I think I’ve really strained my muscles with walking and playing frisbee this time around.
On Thursday morning, I stopped by Amman’s massive “City Mall,” where I knew my old friend Ahmad was working. The cavernous space hadn’t changed much, but I took the opportunity to buy a sack of Nescafe 3-in-1, a “coffee” drink that my parents and I both like, and isn’t available in America. Ahmad found me soon after, and the two of us headed to the new Entity Green office – new to me, I mean. Ahmad is another example of someone that’s had a lot change for him in the past two years. He’s gotten married, bought a car (he couldn’t even legally drive when I was here) and been promoted to overseer of six Entity Green recycling-sorting employees at City Mall’s collection point. I asked him if he missed working in the EGT office, his old job when I had been around. He sighed and reminded me that all the foreign employees, including myself, had left Jordan in 2010. “What job was there for me to translate for when you all left?” I was embarrassed that I had forgotten that the Arab “dream job,” according to Haitham, involved putting your feet up in an office and drinking coffee all day. It might have been a promotion to become a manager in my eyes, but to Ahmad this was debatable. I teasingly asked him if he and his wife Amani had any kids yet. “Not yet,” he chuckled. “Soon, insha’allah.” To be married and not have any kids at 24 is a bit “odd”; he’s probably asked this question by Arabs all the time, and probably with more seriousness.
Khalil greeted me warmly at the office, but couldn’t chat at the moment – he more or less manages the day-to-day operations of Entity Green now and always has many meetings to attend with the new director, Thomas. I had a chance to sit down with the two of them a little later, coffee in hand (the new office is directly above a Starbucks in West Amman, leading to a noticeable increase in the consumption of American coffee versus the Turkish coffee we all used to drink by the tank full). I joked with Khalil that I had half-expected Wusam, the starry-eyed young Palestinian who used to serve us coffee in Ein al Basha, (and tell me how famous I was, repeatedly) to bring it to me. He told me in complete seriousness that Wusam was still with the company, but working at the border to Iraq, hours away, in a new contract with BP that had been signed after I’d left.
The tall and serious-looking Thomas had time to chat with me about the overarching goals for Entity Green, increasing profitability and site locations throughout the country, and furthering the public’s knowledge of the company and recycling. Between Khalil’s long-time knowledge of the ins and outs of the company as Wajih’s right-hand man, and now as the same for Thomas, and the latter’s eye for the future, it warms my heart with pride that I was part of the foundation of the company. I hope Philip feels the same when he hears about it – Entity Green was his baby, after all!
It was only a short walk down the street from the Entity Green office to the Royal Automobile Club of Jordan, hidden behind high walls that I’d biked past many times but of course never set foot inside. I had always assumed that it was literally a car club, but I found out that it was created by wealthy Jordanians to sponsor the numerous car rallies that the former King Hussein had always enjoyed during his lifetime. There was nary a fancy classic car in sight, but I didn’t spend much time outside in the cool evening – the dinner was in a clean, simple dining hall. I didn’t know a single person there, but found out a little about my excited and nervous tablemates, who were from all over the world. The dinner was only available to people who had paid a JD80 “foreigner’s” entry fee; Jordanians and foreigners with residence permits only paid JD15 for the race itself, but didn’t get the dinner. My tablemates were from Portugal, Singapore, Brazil, and – after I was complimented enthusiastically for being a foreigner with “such an incredible grasp of the Jordanian accent!” – an Iraqi-Englishman.
I will admit to a bit of a white lie here. When my tablemates asked me what race I was running the next morning, the event organizers were right nearby, and I wasn’t sure what the policies were for a non-runner, non-racer who had just happened to be handed a ticket to the dinner from a friend. So I lied and said that I was running the full 50 kilometers from the middle of Amman to the Dead Sea. The Englishman and I chatted for half an hour after everyone else had left, and I was very embarrassed to continue the lie, but by that point it would have been weird to lean over and confess that although everything else I had said about my work with Iraqi refugees and Entity Green was true (even if it was from two years ago instead of now, another lie I spun so as to not mention that I was only here on vacation) – I wasn’t going to be running the race. He looked flabbergasted when I mentioned I was going out for drinks with some friends after this dinner. “But your 50 kilometers starts at 5 in the morning – don’t you want to get some sleep?” He gave me his email so I could send him a picture we took together – I’ll write to him when I get back to America and confess my deception and ask him how his race went. He had been looking forward to setting an unofficial speed record, because he was doing the half marathon (21km) on skates, instead of running. I hope the race administrators didn’t give him any trouble – Jordanian administrators love nothing more than creating hassles, after all!
It was lucky that I wasn’t running the next day, because a few pints of familiar Amstel beer at Rover’s Return in West Amman went a long way to causing me to sleep in the next day. My friends Mai and Hala, who also went to Austria with me in 2010, were some of my friends who came to the bar, and we had fun going over the old pictures from our trip on my laptop. I got to meet Mai’s fiancee Khalid for the first time, and my friend Rula gave me a free ticket to an Arabic instrumental concert at the Ras al-Ein cultural center that she and Mai play in. My old biking friend Rami is a mutual friend of Mai’s (they used to be coworkers at Intracom, the sponsor of my 3rd-placing Dead2Red cycling team in 2010) and so I’ll be able to sit with Khalid and Rami at the concert! I’m looking forward to that quite a bit.
Friday was a day to hang out with fellow foreigners again. I got an “American breekfahst” at the Waffle House near Rainbow Street, a new restaurant that several foreigner friends had recommended. I was amused to see that, like so many businesses in Jordan, the owners had opened up their restaurant right next to an identical restaurant selling the exact same thing – the Bake House, a place that Rami and I had eaten at many times in 2009 and 10. The intrepid Janelle my dear readers will remember from almost every wadi hiking trip I’ve written about was present at breakfast, giving advice and photos to my friend Grace and I, but I was sad to hear she wouldn’t be able to attend – a badly broken leg will prevent any major wadi adventures for quite awhile in her case. However, Janelle is always the queen of organization, and she documented how to get to the wadi and particularly dangerous or interesting points within to exact detail.
I played ultimate frisbee with Grace’s friends for a couple hours afterward at the Modern American School in West Amman, another place I’d seen many times (I often used to shout “You are welcome in Modern American School” in a stereotypical taxi driver accent when I drove past it) but never been in. My legs and ankles are still throbbing from the exertion of it now, a day and a half later! Afterwards, I decided to join my friend Margie and one of her friends at a nearby movie theater to see “The Hunger Games,” which I was a little unsure of (having heard from coworkers in Wisconsin that it was a chick flick, based on a chick book) but I enjoyed quite a bit, actually. I enjoyed it despite having Arabic subtitles taking up 15% of the screen, an annoyance which I’d forgotten about. Ticket prices had jumped 2 dinar since my last movie watching – it’s now about the same price as watching movies in America, although the screen and seats are better than the American average. Hollywood and its international distributors need to cool it with the price increases in the Middle East – they should know better than anyone that they walk a thin line between paying customers, and irritated people who will merely walk to a DVD store a block from their house, or a vendor on a corner, who will sell them any movie for a dinar. Theaters in Jordan shouldn’t be anymore than 4-5 dinar, really.
After chatting with Grace and Janelle and making plans for my last days in Jordan after the wadi hike tomorrow, it seemed to me that I would be moving out of West Amman activities and back into my old neighbor for Dozan wa Awtar, church, hiking meet-ups. I bid farewell to Dick and Robin, my exceedingly kind hosts on the West side of the city on Saturday afternoon (after putting together their new personal computer and transferring their data over from the old system, which was a lot of fun because there were plenty of things to fix and improve for them). My friends Mark and Jen had offered their guest room to me when I came over for a ride to Dozan practice on Wednesday, and I took them up on the offer. Their three kids are so much fun, I knew I shouldn’t pass up on the chance to have five housemates for a few days.
Getting moved into Mark and Jen’s before Saturday night gave me the opportunity to join them at church, too. Pastor Lex and his wife told me that the next time I was in the country, I had to be sure to let them know beforehand so that they could have me over for dinner, and as usual Lex gave a great Sermon on Palm Sunday. For those of you who don’t know, it won’t be Easter tomorrow, but Palm Sunday. Orthodox Christians have different dates for both Christmas and Easter than Lutherans/Roman Catholics, so to compromise, Christmas is celebrated in Jordan on the Western schedule, but Easter is celebrated on the Orthodox timetable – a week after us. It was a little bit of a disappointment when I rediscovered that – I originally bought the ticket and was excited to celebrate Easter in Jordan, even if it meant missing it in America, but as it turns out I don’t get to have Easter in either country!
I should probably get to bed. I’m meeting Grace and her friends at a little before 8 tomorrow morning for our big hiking trip to Wadi Manshalla, and I don’t know what I’m going to do for breakfast! Hopefully the Abu Jbara that I always used to frequent is open that early.