Notes from a week of sightseeing, in three parts.
She said, “I need to have my work visa renewed and the closest place for me to go is Amman, Jordan. I don’t want to do this alone. Can you meet me there? It will take about a week…” I had just begun to recover after almost two weeks in Abuja, Nigeria for a hectic work engagement. By that Sunday, my Emirates flight touched down at a fairly quiet Queen Alia International. The wonders of online booking!
For the next few days we would play a waiting game for Sadia’s work to email her an official letter. This letter she had to use to make an online application. She was supposed to then get an appointment and then we needed to pick it up at the visa offices in Amman. Simple enough. But the online app kept on crashing as soon as she pressed the button to confirm. The nightmares of online booking!
But, meanwhile, we were in Jordan! Sadia and I had been to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. We had been to Turkey for a week. We had been to Malawi… But never to Jordan. And there is so much historical sites to visit in Amman and surrounding areas, we decided to make the best of it. After all, was it not Prefab Sprout who kept on reminding us “Jordan, Sweet Jordan. Hand me any cup you find that’s lying spare. Jordan waiting for me there…”
So how do you get see as much as you can, staying as close to the capital as possible just in case the letter arrives or you need to dash off to the embassy if all else fails? You get an uber driver, that’s what! But with a strong taxi lobby in Jordan, uber and Careem (a competing taxi app in the Middle East) now operate under the radar. So henceforth, when I speak of our uber driver, I will call him ‘Mr Amman’.
When Sadia arrived at the airport in Amman, it was the most convenient thing to use her app to get to midtown. She didn’t realise that uber wasn’t legit. When Mr Amman arrived to pick her up, he explained his position. But we are from South Africa. We’re quite accustomed to supporting the underdog. And so for our stay in Jordan, Mr Amman became our go-to guy.
For starters, he found us an apartment that was way more competitive than staying in midtown. I asked him, “Mr Amman, what is cost of living like in Jordan or at least in this town.” “Mr Adli,” he said, “it is too much expensive. To live ok, in an apartment and to eat everyday you need maybe 1000JOD.” Good with the numbers, Sadia adds, “That’s almost R20 000! A month!”
“Would that include a car?” “No! Just rent, food and so on.” Over the next few days I realise that public transport is virtually absent in Jordan. There are no trains and maybe public buses but not too many because, for all our drives through the city, I didn’t see any. The Jordanian Dinar (or JOD, pronounced JD!) is strong. You need R18,72 or $1,41 to buy 1JOD.
Sadia and I realised long ago that, whenever we travel, it’s a mistake to constantly convert currency when buying things. You allocate your money for food, accommodation, travel and so on and then you go about your travels. If you constantly convert, you will stay in your hotel room! The one good thing about the Middle East is that, generally, food is cheap. And when I say cheap, I mean street food!
So if you like shwarma, falafel, kabsa and so on, then you can survive quite well in Jordan. Of course, all over the Amman, there are also outlets for American food franchises such as KFC, McDonalds, Burger King and others I had not even heard of such as Popeyes. What is also very useful, is to rent an apartment and then stock up with your basics such as coffee, bread, cereals and so on from a local supermarket.
For the next few days, while waiting for the letter, Mr Amman took us all over his city. The hills of Amman gives the city an interesting character. It’s like Cape Town’s Bokaap but times 100. This makes for very many quaint streets with its many twists and turns in a city with mostly white buildings. Mr Amman tells us that this, the colour white, is a city ordinance. So if you haven’t been paying attention to the street names, you can get very lost in Amman!
One fine morning, a cool Autumn 24 degrees celsius, Mr Amman arrived at our apartment building. He said, “Today I think I will take you to see Jerash. You will see. You will like it too much!”