The summer is rapidly drawing to a close, and with it the end of my first year in Jordan. I moved back to Philip’s place last week, aired out the stale air collected in the dusty rooms over the course of the month. With Wajih’s help and financial backing, I threw a little bit of a “moving back” party at his house the day before I left, making my father’s famous Lasagna recipe for everyone.

Since returning back, I’ve been wrestling with Orange Telecom’s horrendous service and customer support, almost as if they’re cynically celebrating the one-year anniversary of when I made seven trips to their Shemeisani office to get internet hooked up here at the Cafe. The languid, lazy boredom mixed with the typical (but bland) Arab-world politeness infuriates me, and I’ve been spending an average of half an hour a day for the past week asking them why they won’t fix the obvious problem with the line when I’m paying JD50 a month for this “service.” As I get off the phone with them to yet another “We am sorry, sir, we check line you now,” I remember that the average American has no idea how good he’s got it in the customer service department, back there in the land of warranties and 30-day returns. Here, you’re lucky to get a one-year-warranty on a product over JD100, and a 24-hour return. 30-days? You’d be laughed right out of the shop.

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past two weeks at the Academy, where I’ve been hired back for a second year. This time, however, it won’t be just as a technical support provider but as a computer teacher as well, two days a week. They’ve been adding another level onto the building, bringing it up to 6 floors, and I tasked myself with making the entire network system wireless. Not an easy task in itself, what with all the desktops needing to be fitted with 802.11n cards, but made significantly harder by the constraints of the building. 15-centimeter thick walls, floors that can’t be drilled through, mean that although I’ll be able to remove many of the ethernet cables draped festively outside the windows, it’ll be impossible to remove them all. At least on the new floor I convinced the Egyptian construction workers to embed network cabling into the new walls themselves, which should at least theoretically make that the tidiest level in the building.

Ever since my 23rd birthday last month, I have been absent from my usual weekly Cycling Jordan activities. Sa’ad had been on vacation in America, and the temperature has been increasing to the point where only the most dedicated cyclists want to do any more than 30 kilometers. Today, however, was a good day to die – or at least, suffer from severe dehydration and exhaustion. Sa’ad planned the trip so we’d bike straight from Mecca Street to Madaba (avoiding the tightly-mashed packs of pale tourists being herded around the Church of St. George), and then onwards to the Ma’in Hot Springs. The wind was quite strong on the highways heading south, so we spent much of the ride drafting off each other, taking turns just like the pros would do it.

Single File Draft

The first part of the trip was easy road biking, but the second was a massive descent from the mountains above the Dead Sea (about 800 meters above sea level) to 300 meters. In 2 kilometers we had made a half-kilometer fall, which had thoroughly destroyed many of our wrists and my spine was telling me that it was going to start compressing my menisci in protest unless we found another terrain to travel. Several of us ran out of water due to an unexpected detour at around 1 in the afternoon: definitely not the time to be in the middle of the desert in August.

Rock bike descent

I was on the edge of hallucinations and I could feel my legs shutting down on the bicycle when I glimpsed the angular shape of a squat square desert house in the distance. I was in third position of the eight of us; the two leaders were both former military men from South Africa and Sweden, and both of them ate mountain climbing for breakfast. Ehrman noticed my…slight…discomfort and offered me one of his extra water bottles, which I gratefully accepted. He and Anton appeared no more bothered by the heat and dry, water-sucking wind than as if we were on a walk on the promenade.

We slowly made our way through the heat radiating off the ground towards the wavering mirage in the distance, which resolved itself into a house that looked like it was still under construction. Knocking on the door let us nowhere; there was no one here and there would be no friendly old hajji that would come to the door and offer us cold glasses of water. Some of the other bikers found a spigot on the side of the house, which yielded lukewarm gushes of water. We only barely hesitated before plunging our faces in front of the spray and filling our water bottles with it. Someone voiced what we were all thinking; it tasted it like rainwater. But this is Jordan; we hadn’t seen rain here for seven months. I held up my bottle and peered through in into the sunlight, watching little tiny silver specs float in the water and…move? We all looked at each other uneasily as we drank from our bottles, knowing that in any other situation this would be a very, very unwise decision. But our choices pretty much came down to risking dysentery, or spontaneously bursting into flame like ants under a magnifying glass.

Camel Security System

Feeling moderately refreshed, it was a relatively simple task to reorient ourselves to the Dead Sea (“somewhere over there” waves hand to the west) and we continued on our way, finding a paved road for the first time in an hour. We evaded overprotective camels who stood in the road and groaned at us (the sounds of their low, toneless murmurs followed us for half a kilometer after we passed), and ate fresh yellow sweet dates off a tree by the side of the road. At long last, after the last five kilometers of beautiful downhill that barely stretched our tired legs, we emerged like dust-and-sweat covered wildmen at the base of the mountain with the Dead Sea glistening in front of us, just 30 meters away. We parked ourselves under a highway overpass to wait for the bus to pick us up, right next to one of the military checkpoints that are so common on the southward route towards Petra and Wadi Rum. The soldiers gave us weird looks as we sprayed ourselves down with the remaining water in our bottles, but at least they didn’t try to arrest us or anything.