Published: June 16th 2012May 28th 2012
I returned to the university the next day, by myself, to find it open. I uncertainly walked in to a man seated behind a desk. “Ahlan wa sahlan,” I greeted quietly. The man returned my greeting and continued to ask what I needed in Arabic. At this point in time, I was getting comfortable with understanding what people were saying, but still a bit shaky on answering them in Arabic. I am in serious need of a verb-vocabulary increase. So I just went to my mother tongue, “I’m looking for Stephen Bush?” I said with a questioning tone. It’s a bad habit to get into: making statements as if they’re questions. A woman was in the process of walking past the glass doors near the reception, but on the opposite side. She saw this sad looking girl (me) and opened the doors to ask if there was anything I needed. She and the man exchanged a few words I didn’t catch, and she expressed her “aha” moment to me in English.
“Oh! You’re looking for Stephen? One moment. She turned around and disappeared to the office space behind the doors. I stood awkwardly with my very touristy backpack
(shanta) shouldered tightly. I look around at the room. To the right, there is a tall bookshelf with all sorts of pamphlets on international safety, iNext, student discounts, and such and such. There were also a few trophies, nothing specific for winning events but several sponsorships and recognitions made up their collection. Touching this bookshelf are the mail slots. My mom said she had sent me my iNext card, which she received at home the day after I arrived in Jordan. (For those who don’t know, iNext is an international traveling student full insurance service and they can get you some good discounts on plane tickets, hotels, and certain companies as well.)
Stephen, a younger looking man in his late 20s with a neatly, close trimmed beard and thin-rimmed glasses appeared from behind the glass. He’s average sized and looks how Americans imagine an educated Jordanian man should look with a nice plaid, collared button up, brown belt to hold up his khaki slacks properly and a pair of office work shoes whose name I have no idea because I’m not really into men’s shoes. He greeted me with a warm “Ahlan, you must be Brawnlyn” in
the most American and perfect English accent that I’d heard since being in Jordan outside of Firas and his brother. I was more than jumpy inside: more perfect English with a combination of perfect Arabic was just perfect!
We chatted for a few moments about getting around by myself and what I already accomplished since landing in Amman. He was quite impressed with my laundry list of activities and of how many places I knew about, as well that I managed to get around just fine at night as a lonely female. He of course gave the good warning of being carefully downtown with that, and I took it with appreciation. Toward the end of our conversation, he asked if I had a phone, to which I replied no. He told me they could have one for me the next day if I would like that. I excitedly accepted that; I had several people to call, one of them being Ammar so that I could hook up with him and his friend Jad again. He also asked if I had a guidebook. Sadly, I tried to find one before I left, but to no avail. He told me that
they had a few that were a little older but I was welcome to borrow them for the time being. I gladly took two and, after some parting words was on my merry little way.
On the bus, I got so wrapped up in my new guidebooks with discovering all that Amman has to offer that I accidentally missed my stop and wound up at Raghadan Station, which is the downtown station. There is a large open market of food, knick-knacks, clothes and junk (cell phone chargers from the ‘90s, VCRs from the ‘80s, telephone cords without the telephone, etc). There’s a huge hanger with about 20 or so sections for buses to pull up and stop. I got off the bus a little overwhelmed. Even though it’s the downtown station, it’s surrounded and looks as if they carved out a place in the mountain for it just outside of downtown. I had no idea where I was relative to my hostel, nor anywhere in the city so I walked around the market to figure some things out. Looking like the most touristy of tourists (yet dressed very cute), I walked around looking at all of the things I
could possibly buy, but ignoring the urgings of the sellers to stop by their stand or tent. Downtown had nearly become my home and I felt safe with the people there, but I felt a little more threatened than usual. The stares of the dozens of groups of single, thirsty men seemed to pierce me even when I couldn’t see them. I tighten the grip on my backpack straps and pressed through the market.
I stopped at a falafel stand with a man that seemed to warm me from the ice cold stares of the women and shield me from the gazes of the men. He could tell I was a little uneasy and just kept smiling the whole time, especially through my American-accented attempt to order in Arabic. He made my falafel sandwich, but not as quick as he had made the man before me’s. I looked around cautiously making sure there were no signs of pick-pocketers, which are next to non-existent in Jordan. (If you get pick-pocketed here, it wasn’t by a Jordanian.) He could tell I was using the preoccupation of my time as a means to keep people off my back for a while, so
again, he took his time in giving me my fratta (change).
“Shukran,” I smiled and walked away unwillingly. I took out one of the guidebooks as I munched on the falafel and remembered something about a castle and some caves in this place called Wadi-Seer. The guidebook said that you could catch a bus from Raghadan to get there, so I figured what the heck. I looked up at this giant sign with all the bus destinations and for what terminals looking for Wadi-Seer. I already read Arabic slower than molasses in the month of January in Alaska, so it didn’t help that I stood there for about 8 minutes just trying to read only to find that Wadi-Seer was literally the last stop on the list at the last terminal in the station. I was a little perturbed. I made my way onto the bus and for 40 piastres (70 cents) was off on a 30-minute bus ride out of the city. The bus ended at the corner of an intersection in the town Wadi-Seer, nowhere near any caves and told everyone to get out.
Great. Now what? To make matters a bit
worse, there was a creepy older (30 something) guy who kept staring at me the entire ride. Of course he followed me off the bus and kept trying to talk to me. He asked the usual what’s your name, where are you from and do you have a boyfriend. This time I tried a little experiment. I told him my name was Aaliyah (first thing that sounded kind of Arabic but not really that popped in my head), I was from South Africa and I have a Jordanian boyfriend. Now this wasn’t a stop-and-talk type question and answer session. I was literally walking away from this guy and trying to concentrate on not getting hit crossing the intersection. I finally got away and entered a convenient store where yet again, I failed at asking directions to al-Qasr al-Iraq, which is roughly the name of the castle and caves. A taxi driver walked in and the owner of the convenient store exchanged some words with him asking if he knew anyone that speaks English. A younger man walked in, not cute but not bad looking, and immediately spoke the best, broken English he could. I told him where I wanted to
go and pointed at the name of the place in my guidebook. He turned to the taxi driver, they talked and before you know it, I was off in the taxi with a driver and a personal translator.
On the way to the castle, the beauty of the hills outside of the city captured my eyes, heart, and attention of my camera. We drove up and down, curving every which way. I saw so many farms and children playing football (soccer) with their bare feet in a barren field with rocks as goal posts. I saw goats and sheep being herded into a pasture. Irrigation systems hard at work as rice paddy workers stretched their backs in a break from a long days work. The sun sank lower in the sky and I could only imagine what these hills looked like at dusk.
We talked a bit along the way, me speaking Arablish with the translator. Turns out his name is Faisal and he actually attends the University of Jordan, learning English. I got excited that I would know someone there that hadn’t asked to be my boyfriend. He did make a modest gesture at one point though.
He asked what “Brawnlyn” meant in English. Although it really doesn’t have a meaning, every name in Arabic has one so I just say “strong” because of “brawn.” He said I should pick an Arabic name. He suggested “Amira” because I’m as pretty as a princess. That comment actually made me smile because it wasn’t vulgar or cheap or thirst-driven. It was sweet, just sweet, and he left it at that.
We finally arrived at the ruins. The towering remains of castle placed conveniently in the middle of farms and country homes. I thought it amazing that these so-called poorer people could have such a priceless view each and every day of their lives. Not a single “rich” home was in sight of this beauty. I got out and so did my taxi driver and translator. Faisal and I walked up to a very old Bedouin man who sat, leaned against the castle with another man who gave up on squatting and had plopped in the dirt. I gave a greeting without looking directly into his eyes and he gave a small nod and smile. His skin tanned and wrinkled by the sun more than his age,
his hand worn with the strain of working his entire life. He wore a red and white-checkered scarf with the black agaal (the circles that kept the scarf on the head) and a floor length robe. Faisal spoke with him as I snapped pictures left and right. The old man pulled a set of keys from his robe and motioned for me to go behind the bars and into the castle itself. Taken aback at first that he would let me walk through the castle, it took me no time to accept the invitation.
My pictures can tell the rest of the story as they are worth a thousand words. Faisal kindly offered to take pictures for me when he could see me setting a timer and then running to get to a good spot. He had fun with my camera, and I enjoyed that he was happy with it because he probably never had the opportunity to hold one like it. He directed me where to go and how to stand or sit for some of them with a large grin. Then it was time to go, the sun was beginning to set behind the hills
and I wanted to be back in il-balad by dark. At least I would know how to get around there. On the way back, I practiced more Arabic with Faisal and he ultimately gave me his number for when I start school. I still haven’t called him, but now that I’m remembering this story, Faisal will be getting a text tomorrow.
After all was said and done, I spend 10JD on the taxi to and from al-Qasr and from Wadi-Seer to il-balad, not bad for a girl getting along on her own. It was nice to get lost for a while and just see what there was to discover in plain sight. After such a long day, I just wanted to get dinner, take a shower and go to bed. I stopped at a café, ate for cheap, had a bit of sheesha, and headed back up the hill to Bdeiwi.
I was in my room in nothing but a towel when I heard a knock at the door. It startled me because I didn’t really have visitors. It was David, the manager. I stuck only my head out and he said,
“Your friend is here to see you.” I frowned at him. “Friend?”
“Yes, the black one from last night.” I sighed.
“Ugh, um. I’m not dressed. Argh! Can you tell him I’m taking a shower?” I begged. I mean it was true after all, but then I thought, no…then he’d just wait. David read my mind and frustration.
“I’ll just tell him you’re not here,” he said with a small smile. My mouth dropped with appreciation and I said, “Thank you so much!” He nodded and headed back downstairs. Even after I broke the rules and such, he was still an awesome manager. He takes care of his people. That’s the last I’ve seen of the French African thus far, but again, our schools are across from each other. Good thing UJ is entirely gated with gate guards and magnetized ID secured entry, too bad the common eating places across the street aren’t. Maybe I’ll run into him again, maybe not. But trust me when I say that he was not the African to worry about. Oh no. The other one, if you remember who is Ghanaian, has taken and is taking my entire world for a
Like I said, even though I’m still getting to it, I have Jad.
There are more photos below