Hello everyone back home and Professor Matthews’s students,
I was expecting to post my first blog in October for you but so much has happened within the first week of living in Jordan that I had to post a blog before all the juicy details escaped my memory.
Okay… a little bit about how all of this is set up: I am studying abroad through a program called International Studies Abroad (ISA) in Amman, Jordan at Al-Ahliyyah University and it is a private school. There are 12 students total, eight females and 4 males from all over the states, though the majority of us are from California. The female students live in two different apartment buildings in the district of Shmeisani. The male students live across town because we are not allowed to have the opposite sex in our apartment; they clearly made sure of that. Our apartments are quite unique. The first group of girls (Cassie, Sara, Anastasia, and Milo) have an apartment with three living rooms and two bathrooms and feels as if it were an actual house. My roommates, Caitlin, Alana, and Kate, and I have an apartment with lime green walls, two outlets, four clocks (none of which are operating) and one bathroom. The luxury in Jordan varies from building to building, but we still love our little shack. Finally, after we settled in we got to experience all the people and life Amman has to offer.
The first thing discussed upon arriving was the issue of safety and our well-being and how to be comfortable as well as approachable in this country. The program recommended that we dress a little bit more conservatively and be careful when choosing public transportation. The clothing was not an issue but the transportation system is quite intriguing.
There are multiple forms of transportation including buses, service cars and a plethora of taxis. I won’t get into too much detail about how each works but the main source of transportation for foreigners and students is the taxi. Before I dive into my little experience with a taxi, here are a few tips for anyone who is considering travel to the MENA region:
1. Make sure the meter is on! At least in Jordan it must always be set at 25 qirsh (about $0.35). This is key because if you do not they will rip you off. It usually doesn’t take more than 2 Jordanian Dinars- or JDs- to get around in all of Amman (about $2.85).
2. Secondly, if you do not speak a word of Arabic at least master the places you need to go in a decent Arab accent. Know the words ‘no’, ‘stop,’ and that’s it and you should be able to survive or they will assume you know very little and take you where they want or again, rip you off.
3. Be very cold. Act busy and do not smile, giggle, or engage in conversation. Many taxi cab drivers will assume this is an invitation to harass you.
Our first cab ride in Jordan was not too bad because our program director negotiated our fare and the cab driver was kind and funny. He was curious about homosexuality in America and the concept of Lesbianism. That experience wasn’t too bad and because he was so friendly we assumed it was okay to be friendly with every cab driver.
However, this is not the case. One day, my roommates and I wanted to walk around and explore the shops nearby in the Shmeisani area because we did not want to have to rely on a taxi to get around town. Unfortunately, the day we scheduled our expedition was on a Friday which is prayer day in Jordan and thus many shops were closed or expected to open later on in the evening. We finally came to a unanimous decision to call a taxi and declare that mission an epic fail. The taxi driver was quite friendly at first and we were all friendly in return and engaged him in conversation. Unfortunately, that is when he took us to the first of many destinations that were not originally what we had asked.
He knew we were hungry and took us to Jabal Al-Hussein, which has the best food and is the cheapest in town. At this point we were hungry and delirious and weren’t very clear of his intentions so we proceeded to jokingly let him know that he is our new best friend. Unfortunately, this sends a message to taxi drivers that it is okay to ask for your number in hope of seeing you in the future. We politely declined the offer to be taken out and did not give him our numbers. We asked to return to our original destination because we had an urgent meeting at 3pm with people from the program. We headed back towards Rainbow St, the original direction we wanted to go in. We realized in the future to be more firm and less friendly. The silver lining in all of this however, was that we got to go outside of Amman, discover a great street vendor, it was a free ride, and we learned a major lesson. Following all of this we discussed with our program director the public transportation etiquette.
Our program director, U.S. Foreign Policy professor, and her husband, the Lieutenant of the Police Force in Amman, let us all know that:
1. His actions are extremely frowned upon in Jordanian society and that many, but not all, taxi drivers are fairly respectful.
2. Jordan is a frowning nation; a smile or giggle can be perceived as an invitation to take things a step further.
3. Never smile or you will be harassed. Remain firm and cold with taxi drivers, shop owners and at night if you are out alone or even with friends.
Till next time…