Working Class Arabs

06/22/08

I arrived in Jordan late — at around midnight.  I stepped off the plane, saying goodbye to my plush accommodations of comfortable, roomy seating, gourmet meals, and attentive and plentiful flight attendants.  There was also no recognizable air conditioning in the airport, but it didn’t need it.  The air, although a bit more humid, is much cooler here.  Trees actually dot the countryside.  But the highlight?  Working class Arabs.  Everywhere.  That’s right, folks, the people who work in Jordanian airports are, for the most part, actually Jordanian.  Take that, Kuwait!

First thing’s first.  Turn on my phone.  I have a text message.  It is from Adam.  I need to call him so we can figure out what’s going on [more on Adam later].  Some person should be waiting to drive me from the airport to downtown Amman, where the Palace Hostel is.

I call Adam to establish First Contact.  And then I realize that I’m clueless, moneyless, and bagless.  So I pull aside a security dude, ask him what’s the dillyo in mixed Arablish (or Engabic, if you so prefer).  He points me through the process.

Entering the country costs money.  Gee, I guess the ink we all use for all those fancy passport stamps is really expensive.  I head to the money change kiosque and present some travelers checks (which I don’t recommend).  The guy warns me, “There is a $5 fee for these.”  As if I have much of a choice.  Fortunately, I had more than enough Kuwaiti dinars with me (thanks, Mom!).  Unfortunately, the kiosque only had just enough JayDees left to get me through passport control.  So I need to head downstairs to the other money changer for the rest of the cash I need for tonight and tomorrow morning.

I pay my entrance fee, head downstairs and notice I’m at the baggage claim.  If you know me well enough, you are probably familiar with the (lack of) speed at which I do most everything.  Yeah, that’s right.  I just called myself “slow.”  (it also applies to my ability to interpret facial expressions, subtle jokes, and sarcasm).  I was the last person from my flight to hit the baggage claim.  Three carousels, all of them empty.  I head over to another security dude who was just hanging out, slumped sitting on a mini wall.

“Uhh, excuse me.  How are you?”  Instead of replying, he looks at me with an expression that says, “Yeah, ok bud, what do you want?”  I think he already knew.

I point to the carousels.  “Which was the flight from Kuwait?”  Again, instead of replying, he just points directly to my bag, which was just sitting there, off the carousel, leaning up against a square pillar, just…hanging out, almost in the same way he was.

Ok, now about that money that I need.  Found the booth.  Which leads me to my first “let’s rip the ignorant white guy off” experience.  Pull out a few more travelers checks.  This guy says, “There will be a 5% transaction fee.”  Whoa, I thought — that’s waaay more than $5.  I pull my fake money back a little.

“5%?  That’s crazy.  The guy upstairs said just $5.” He tilted his head over and down a bit, breaking eye contact.  A hand came up to scratch his cheek.

“Ummm…yes, maybe it is something like this…”  The guy was obviously…something.  Disappointed?  Embarassed?  Surprised?  Dunno.  But he gave me the $5 instead of 5%, and avoided eye contact for the rest of the transaction.  They probably still ripped me off…somehow.

Out past the final security check.  A dude was standing out there with my name written on a piece of paper.  My driver.  So far, so good.  We introduced ourselves and headed out to the car in the parking lot.  His name was Trevor.  Nice, warm middle-aged guy.  Didn’t speak a lick of English.  It was great.  I thought to myself, “Finally!  Forced to communicate in Arabic!”  We talked about the weather, politics and other obvious topics on the way into town.  Conversations with cab drivers would turn out to be one of the unforeseen highlights of the trip.  Here’s the one standout line from the night’s exchange with Trevor:

“Jordan is very nice compared to Kuwait.  Like air conditioning.”  Gotta love a sense of humor.

It was about a half-hour by car to the hostel.  By the time I was in my room, it was around 0200.  I made a quick note of all the crap I had to do tomorrow morning (daypack list, find local money exchangers, call Mufleh, Adam, and Abdel) and crashed.  Thus ends my first few hours in Jordan…or so I thought

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