Jun 13, 2004

Amman Trip '04, Part I, An eventful beginning

INS Registration

While I wanted to write about my journey to Amman, I never
thought I would start so fast. I come in early to the airport, cruising down
I-5 south. There is virtually no traffic at all. We get to the airport in 20
minutes. I wanted to get early to give enough buffer for the INS registration
procedure. All nationals of certain countries
need to register with the INS when they leave and when they enter the US.
Surprisingly, I checked in - my luggage is not above the 70-pound limit, thanks
to God. I get to terminal S, where the international flights get off, and I go
to the INS office. The Office looks A LOT like movies. The minimalist
official-looking signs lead you to an EMPTY HALL. You get there and look around
- there's nowhere to go. This is when you realize there is a sign pointing down
that says "press here and somebody will come to help you". I pressed the
buzzer and waited. Couple of seconds later, surely enough, an officer opens the
door and takes me in to "take care of you... in more than one way - if you understand what we mean". This is exactly what the
INS officer said! This got me thinking about the ultimate question in such cases
.... Should I laugh or be very very afraid!!

Luckily, the INS officer was a very nice man who was throwing
jokes right and left. The whole registration thing took less than 5 minutes,
and I was out. This is better than my previous experience when I had to cancel
my Canada trip because of the INS officer's false warning. Anyways, that's a
different story.

A bad chicken whopper

I went to the upper concourse, sat in the S1 terminal, and
started my "waste time" mode, trying to wait for 3:15 hours
until the 1:15pm flight. I got a burger (a chicken whopper - VERY BAD).
Waiting was not bothering me - given that I still had a 24 hour trip. I was
going to Amsterdam first on NWA/KLM. And then I would change to Lufthansa to go
to Frankfurt, and from there I would take the Royal Jordanian airlines to
Amman. I had transit time of 6 hours and 2 hours accordingly in Amsterdam and
Frankfurt. (complicated ticket - yup, and cheap. I got it through the
Travelocity's Flexible Dates search. I paid $1250, which is $300 less than
the best rate I got from an agent)

The call

And as I was having these nice thoughts ... the phone rang. It
was Mohammad Kaddoura, asking very calmly "I just wanted to check - nothing to
be afraid of - but I think changing planes in Frankfurt requires a visa to
German [note - I'm a national of Jordan]. You do have yours, right?", "No...",

I told him I'll check with the airlines and see what to do. I
got up telling myself they can't require a visa.. right.. I'm just changing
airplanes - not entering Germany... WRONG - came the answer from the KLM
attendant. and this is when I had this ... terrible feeling that I've never
felt exactly before ... let me describe it

I felt that my blood pressure was going up rapidly. I felt a
squeezing on the sides of my head, and my ears started humming badly. I felt as
if I was losing conscience - very similar to when I defended my thesis. I think
this is caused by a combination of little sleep, low sugar level, and then
stressful situation. Am I going to not see my family - yet for another year? am
I going to lose my 4-week vacation? I could barely hear the attendant giving me
KLM and RJ assistance numbers and advising me to go back to the ticketing
counter in the main terminal. I shook my head and went to a chair.

This is when my engineering head starting rolling. First, I had
to recover, so I just threw myself on the chair, and waited about 10 seconds to
calm down. I invoked the concept of "Tawakkul" in Islam. You live in this life
through events and challenges - one after another. You can only choose how to
deal with them. There's nothing you can do to affect the events themselves. God
will take care of that. All what you have to do is to always choose the right
morally-correct (at times more demanding) path. Slowly the humming sound went
away and my head relaxed. Wow, this feels much better. I started by setting the
worst scenario case ... I will take a cab back to my Seattle, get a 1-way
ticket to Amman that leaves within couple of days and that does NOT go through
Frankfurt. And then come back on the same ticket. This should cost me between
$600-1200. Just having this scenario made me feel much better.

Now my job is to look for alternatives that are better than the
worst scenario. I called KLM - they don't deal with visas. The German consulate
is closed. The Royal Jordanian have a $400 flight from Amsterdam directly to
Amman on Wednesday - which means spending 2 days in the airport there (didn't
seem very bad). I found a ticket on the internet through Turkish airlines. It's
Amsterdam-Istanbul-Amman. I was about to buy ($800) when the site refused
saying that it doesn't have time to send the paper ticket to me.

I looked at time - it was 10:30. This gave me around 2 hours
before boarding time. I went back to the main terminal and waited in the
"reticketing line" - which takes a LONG line, and everybody there is in a
hurry. I wanted about 20 mintues to speak with an agent. The conveyer belt got
broken all of a sudden, which made the whole ticketing area much more confusing
and crowded. The KLM agent was SO NICE with me. She apologized because the
first agent who checked me in should have told me about the visa and found some
kind of a solution. And then she called to check the type of ticket I have ...
and like an answer from heaven, she suggested I go through Paris and it'll cost
me only $200. I shouted YES ... please! Alhamdullilah (thanks God).

Re-routing through Paris

15 minutes later and million keystrokes, I had my modified
ticket. They sent a note to reroute my luggage, and I actually will get to
Amman 1.5 hours earlier. Great! I called Kaddoura and Amjad who got me to the
airport to tell them "no need to pick me up ;-)", and also called Hussein who
was very helpful in checking with the Turkish airlines and making sure I don't
need a visa to connect through Istanbul. I also called my family to tell them I
will arrive earlier.

(triumphant in the airport with the new tickets in my pocket - well,
actually very exhausted)

With all of this out of the way ... I'm sitting here now
waiting to board the plane. I'm so glad I came early enough to the airport. It
would have felt very bad to get stuck in Amsterdam or in the plane in
Frankfurt. Although I've paid this unexpected $200 - but I'm still getting a
price better than the best agent out there ;-). Hopefully the rest of the
flight won't be as eventful. I'm going for vacation after all...

(to be continued...)

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