I am not sure exactly how I am going to get to Amman, a city that lies 4 hours north of Petra and across sparse, uninhabited lands. But travel is always full of serendipitous opportunities, and I am not surprised when, on my third evening indulging in the tasty Middle Eastern buffet, I meet Daniel, a Swiss banker. He happens to be traveling to Amman the next day with three Australian girls, and he suggests we all split the cab fare and travel at our leisure to the capital city. "Perfect!" When the three girls come down stairs the next morning, I bite my lip with a bit of disappointment. I had noticed the girls when they first arrived at the hotel, and I had already concluded that they were annoying and cranky. Unlike most Australians, they did not look like they were having fun, and they certainly weren’t funny. With unhappy faces, they pile into the back of the small car. I watch the colors of the earth change from grey to red to brown as we zigzag our way through the rocky desert that rolls on similar countryside as far as the eye can see. We stop at several splendid castles that were built at the time of the Crusades and at Mount Nebo, the death place of Moses. I am overwhelmed with a sense of history. We also make the necessary detour to the Red Sea, where I float like a boat in the salty, stingy water - I am amazed by how entertained I am when I pretend to be a giant cork.
The modern Arab world is soon upon us, and the last stop we make is at a metal factory just outside of Amman. I feel uncomfortable when we are ushered around the women’s daily workspace as gawking tourists. I take only one photo, with great respect, of a woman skillfully burning designs into a small piece of jewelry using a hot blowtorch. I see a similarly cut bracelet later in a corner market; it’s priced at $0.40. The Australian girls are grumpy (to no one’s surprise) when we check in to Hotel Sydney in Amman. They all want their own room, so Daniel and I share one. The room is filthy: there is a hole in the floor in lieu of a toilet, no toilet paper, a tin can of cold water, and no hot water. On the streets, hundreds of pedestrians crowd the sidewalks and even more fill the congested roads. Amman is typical of any third-world major city: dirty, loud, crowded, and smelly. I do not stay long enough to find its pleasant spots or unique features, although I am apprehensive if it has any at all.
I leave on an overloaded bus for the Allenby Bridge border crossing early the following day. I observe a Jordanian draped in a long dress and a headscarf riding a motorcycle along the scorched highway. I am struck by how my outlook has been altered from one week of travel in Jordan. The man on the motorcycle no longer appears so outlandishly dressed, nor does the desert seem so incredibly bleak. Instead, I see a man (a father and a husband) trying to make his way home surrounded by the beauty of a sun-kissed landscape. The border patrol room is practically empty when I arrive, and yet, it takes several hours for me to get my passport stamped and pay an exit tax. Unexplained and unnecessary hours of waiting are just something I’ve come to expect when dealing with any third-world "customer service." Finally, I am informed that I am allowed to board a bus that will take me across the border to what the Jordanians call Palestine and to what the Israeli’s call The West Bank. Of course, I must wait an hour more on the bus for it to fill up with more people. A soldier with a gun slung over his shoulder paces the aisle. In his hand are all of our passports lumped together with a rubber band. He puts mine on top, and I wonder why? The soldier never smiles. He never interacts with anyone. He just walks up and down the aisle looking straight ahead, our identities clutched in his hand. I wait on the shabby bus with sweaty people burdened with heavy bags piled on their laps. I become engrossed with the interactions of a large Indian family. The mother and father sit next to each other quietly conversing while their four kids scatter around in adjoining seats. I make eye contact more than once with the husband, but he pretends not to notice. In the oddest twist of circumstance, I see this family 5 days later on a crowded street in Jerusalem. It is the father who recognizes me, and we hold each other’s gaze for a split second. We do not smile at each other, but there is an undeniable connection felt, the kind only experienced by two strangers from opposite worlds linked together as foreigners in someone else’s land.