Good morning. Good afternoon? Good evening? Wherever you may be, hello! Fee Doyle here.
I’m writing from Aqaba, Jordan in the Middle East. I’m here for a short visit with my Mom, who teaches Screenwriting at a MFA program at the Red Sea Institute for Cinematic Arts. (Check it out) She’s been here four years, and this is my second visit. I first came for Christmas and New Years in 2008/2009 with the rest of my family. As far as the Arab Spring and civil unrest goes, Jordan is relatively peaceful. There were protests of support up in Amman, and several of my mother’s students joined their cohorts in Egypt when the time came. Jordan is a kingdom, and it is hard to forget. There are billboards and signs of the smiling king all over the place, reminding you who’s is charge.
Getting here was long, long, long. It takes a full 24 hours to get halfway around the world. I flew nonstop on Emirates Air from Los Angeles to Dubai, and then from Dubai to Amman, the capital city of Jordan. Unfortunately I did not get to go into Dubai, as much as I would have liked to visit the ski slopes and many shopping malls. The airport terminal itself was enough of an indication of the materialistic excess that characterizes the myth of this city: a huge Duty-Free shop, sunglasses boutiques, a jewelry shop, and even a Starbucks. It was like a chaotic marketplace, with dozens of languages hitting your ears.
When we arrived in Amman, I was half asleep, but the smells and sounds told me I was somewhere new. There’s a mix of cigarette smoke and diesel in the air, and the slightly dilapidated signs in Arabic and English spell out a scene of a defunct airport of the 60’s and 70’s. I met my Mom in the airport in Dubai, and after we gathered our luggage we grabbed a snack and coffee as we waited for one of her former students to pick us up. We dropped him off in Amman, and then drove the 3 1/2 hours south to Aqaba. We stopped by the McDonalds at the gas station for a road snack. The experience of walking into a McDonalds with Jordanian music blasting is surreal.
The experience of driving in Jordan is unique. Speed limit postings and lane dividers are mere suggestions. Drive in the middle of the road? At whatever speed you like? Sure! And I feel like the idea of cutting people off does not exist. Just swiftly swerve in front of the other car as you’re passing. It’s quite normal.
The first day I tagged along to school, and was given a tour and a introductions to her fellow faculty. Many of them Americans, and most of the staff Jordanians. One Syrian faculty member very enthusiastically offered me a cup of Yerba Mate. It was steeped in the cup, sugar added, and then we sipped through a metal straw that acted as a filter. (really a revelation to me!) I had only ever had Mate in teabags at coffeeshops. There was another Polish faculty member who made my jaw drop when he told me that “back in the day we used to get drunk and go check out what Grotowski was doing. Those actors were always doing some crazy shit. Screaming, getting naked.” He was living in Wroclaw, and apparently you could just walk into the theatre lab and see what the actors were up to. I knew there was a wild side to that work!
We went out to lunch at a bohemian-looking restaurant a block away. We ordered Fattoush (a green salad with fried pita chips), Labneh with garlic (like a sour cream, a reduced yogurt) and Fattah (an amazing comfort food. Pita bread stewed in yogurt, with pine nuts and tahini added. Served warm!) Yowwie. I had to take a moment to relish the taste of the olive oil that dressed each of the dishes. It is the best I’ve ever tasted.
Yesterday was a vacation day. My Mom lives on one of the beach resorts on the south end of town, next to the Radisson and the Swiss hotel chain Movenpick. (They make their own ice cream!) The population of these hotels and beach clubs are telling of the rest of the city. There’s A LOT of development for tourism, with plans for new hotels and shopping centers. But, the tourists? Not here quite yet, so lots of these places are barely half full. But I’m told on the weekends that everyJordanian from Amman drives down and the beach is packed like sardines.
I walked to the beach club where all the rest of the tourists hang out. Russians, Germans, English, French, and many others I couldn’t identify were all hanging out sunbathing. The beach itself it not so much of a beach. The beginning of the shoreline is a very uncomfortable rock scape, much like a naturally-occurring cobblestone. I read the Giver and got a sunburn. Not a bad afternoon.
Tomorrow I’ll be heading out to Wadi Rum for an overnight trip in the desert, the largest valley in Jordan. Wadi Rum is that picturesque Arabian desert: hills of sand, grand faces of rock that have been there since the dawn of Man, peppered with camels and wandering Bedouin. This is where the classic Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. Yes, think of me clad in a white turban, riding majestically on a horse for the love of my country England, in the throes of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire! Huzzah!
In actuality I will be swerving through sand dunes on a jeep, sitting around a campfire, and looking at the stars.
Shukran/Thank You for reading,