Jun 19, 2004

Amman Trip – Part III - the last leg: Istanbul-Amman

Amman Trip – the last leg: Istanbul-Amman
By the end of the Monday 6-14-04, I made it to Gate 205, where the passengers were gathering to board the plane to Amman. Just being there, watching the mildly dark faces ornamented with a variety of facial black hair – from big moustaches to goatees to full beards and all that in between (I think I have to write a blog about the Art of Jordanian facial hair one day), hearing people talk in the typical middle-eastern way - “know-it-all” in attitude and theatrical in gestures, observing the continuity of life through the hoards of children of all different ages running around, crying and playing around an old grandmother trying to secure her clothe-bag underneath her leg, …, oh, I already feel home.

We boarded the airplane on time and I had the lucky to sit next to a very nice Iraqi professor going back to Baghdad after attending a conference in Istanbul. The conference was about The “Scientific” Water Problems in the Middle East (“scientific” to differentiate it from “political” – which is a totally different intractable issue) – a conference between scholars of five countries in the area, organized by University of Oklahoma!! (I think this is a good topic for another blog – the weakness of management skills in the Arab World. We always seem to need an outside manager to organize ourselves. An interesting example is the Al-Kindi music group from Aleppo, Syria, where the head of the group is a French man who sold all his belongings in France, moved, to Aleppo, and created one of the finest traditional Arabic troupes in the area … oh.. anyways, let’s keep that for another blog).

The Iraqi professor fascinated me. His eyes were bright, his head was high, but the scars of time have added heavily to the wrinkles of his 50-something years old face.

- كيف بغداد؟
- بغداد جريحة وصابرة ومحتسبة. ما كان وما سيكون في يد الله، لكن الناس غير راضية والتغيير قادم لامحالة.
- How is Baghdad?
- Baghdad is scarred, patient, and preparing. Of course what has been, and what will be is all in the hands of God, but people are not satisfied with the situation and change is inevitable.

After years of hardship, the Iraqi civilization is still alive and strong within its people. This poetic instinctive off-hand airplane-small-talk response from this water resources engineering professor carries so much culture and originality – it made me stop and think. It’s not just the meaning of what he said, but it’s how he put it – a style that one won’t learn in an engineering school, a style that I only remember seeing in ancient poetry from the Abbasid golden era – when Baghdad was one of the most advanced cities in the world. He learned how to speak like this because he’s the son of Baghdad of thousand years. These words were not his, but they were echoed through the years of civilization through him. I felt I was not talking to a man – but to a whole city – both in space and time. Baghdad was sitting next to me on the airplane and telling me that she has not given up. She is protesting now – not violently – but persistently.

The plane landed in Amman. I did not stop at the immigration counter this time – for the first time in 4 years. I was home. As I descended the escalator to the baggage claims area – it hit me. Yes, I remember you, Amman.

When my friends learned that I have 2 stops before reaching Amman, they told me to kiss my bags goodbye. They said I won’t see them before a week – in best case. Switching bags on international flights once is hard enough – two is next to impossible. Add to that changing my itinerary once in Seattle – where the bags had to be re-tagged to Paris, and then in Amsterdam, to be re-tagged to Istanbul, and then again to the earlier flight in Istanbul. Add to that the long transit time. I was standing with the other passengers, eyes fixed on the conveyer belt – truly asking myself if I should give up and just go or try and wait. The bags took a long time to come up because there was another flight right before of us … guess from where … Frankfurt! Ah… the irony. Lo and Behold! As the bags started appearing, I saw my 2 bags. I think I was the first passenger from Istanbul to get his bags. The happiness of getting my bags was only shattered by the thought of the Last Hurdle … Jordanian Customs.

Jordanian Customs
I’ve heard so many horror stories about the customs charging more money than what the items are actually worth. When people hear you’re traveling, they just pour a stream of “experienced advice” on dealing with Jordanian customs. How to take all gifts out of your bags and make them look “used”. They say NEVER show something wrapped. Put the cord in one bag, the machine in another, and the manuals in a third.

Oh wow – as I’m writing this blog, an accident took place in the main street in front of our house. A 6-wheeler just crossed the separator and went to the other side (wrong direction) of the street. I see one person being carried to a police car. I’m impressed – it took the police 2 seconds to appear. I hope all will be fine.

Anyways, so I walked to the customs counter. They had two paths – “nothing to declare” and “declare items”. I thought for a moment about my belongings - do I carry anything worthy of note? – well, I don't see a list of what is “custom-able” hanging in the airport - it's hard to remember what to think about. I couldn’t think of anything to declare, so I went ahead to the “nothing to declare” booth. The guy there looked at my bags, saw a “security check” tag on one of them. He said “what electrical devices do you have here.” Electrical devices!? … I truly don’t have any. Think, think.. think quickly. What could he be asking for…. Ah “It must be my external harddisk”. “Go ahead”, he said “welcome”.

Now, I was disappointed. That’s IT!! The “horror” of Jordanian customs.. 2 words!. Well, I guess either I’m a blessed person .. or people LUV to exaggerate. I think the second is more likely J Actually, given the whole trip. I can believe in my “guardian angel”.

I made it to Amman, in one piece, and both my bags, and saw my family as they waited in the airport. There’s nothing like hugging a familiar-looking guy, who is taller than you, and then learning he’s your little brother. Oh… what 4 years can do to a teenager.

I’m in Amman now, and it’s time to start blogging my adventures within the borders. Scenes from future blogs:
Standing in line at the US-embassy
Amman, the white city
Common objects found on top of Jordanian buildings
Stay tuned …

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