She stepped out of the plane carrying backpack she thought was too heavy but relieved to have that hanging on her back now as it felt to be the one thing that calmed her. The bag annoyingly tugged her newly cut hair from time to time, but the annoyance was what distracted her from feeling judged by some wandering eyes around the airport. As she walked slowly toward the security while searching for her passport on her other bag, she had a deep sense that a set of eyes were following her every step but too afraid to look.
Once approved to enter the country that she only took an interest after her best friend in college moved there, she walked to a kiosk that sells sim card so her phone could function. She thought for a brief second what would happen if her phone were lost – this thing she often despised for how much of distractions and heartbreaks it stores was now the thing that gave her peace and one that dismissed her chaotic thoughts.
“Hey, I just bought a number and just looking for a cab to get to your place now” she texted the only person she knew in Jordan.
It was almost midnight and there isn’t any security around in sight. She exited the building and a man in the bright blue shirt with no company logo asked if she needs a cab.
“I do” she said almost in a whisper, unsure if this is a man to be trusted. But she followed him anyway not knowing what other options she may have.
The blue shirt guy then brought her to where the taxis were being parked and asked nonchalantly for money for directing her to the right way to her transport.
The city looks so dry and felt hot even at night – or maybe it was just her fretting over all things that could happen as the car drove to the narrow, dark, inhabited alleys.
Her phone vibrated.
“Are you okay? Are you already in a cab?” Cesi, checked up if she was in the right direction. She checked her Google map.
“Haha yeah I am fine! Already on my way.” She replied.
When she was 5 years old and chasing a kite, and climbing up a tree while waiting for her mom to pick her up in school, the current king of Jordan was just bestowed his thrown. She could never imagine what it would feel to live under a monarch country where things were given not based on merit but by birth. Is it a bad or a good thing that you wouldn’t get to hear speeches promising you heaven once every five years? She then longed for a better government – one that would actually do useful thing if she happens to be cornered to a bad place.
“You’re here!” her friend greeted her excitedly as she only began to put her one foot out of the cab.
They hugged then enter her house.
It was Friday night and her friends were hanging in her house seemingly just got out of some club. There were three or four guys sitting across from me and not long after, her two housemates came to introduce themselves. She has always been bad with names but managed to remember a guy’s face she found attractive – his calm demeanors but with a touch of “bad boy” vibe, completed with a pair of soothing dark eyes that could very well convince her to fly out of a plane without parachute.
She and Cesi then sit idly in Cesi’s room full of what she thought look like rubbish. She asked her and she proudly explained that it’s her recycling project. She remembered how this girl who sat beside her love earth more than its inhabitants.
They talked of the current and the past, and places to go to in the next 3 days.
Morning came and they rushed from waking up too late. They took a bus tour that would take them to touristic places. It was not a tour made for foreigners so the announcements were made in Arabic.
They took a bus tour that would take them to touristic places. It was not a tour made for foreigners so all announcements were made in Arabic.
The language being spoken sounds familiar, yet so foreign in meaning to her. Her mother made her read Quran almost
Her mother made her read Quran almost every day growing up but neglected to teach the language the holy book is written in – just like most of her friends back home. There was an Indonesian version of the Quran of course so she can know what the surah she read means if she wishes to – but most times she doesn’t.
She thought of a preach in mosque or people praying when she heard people in Jordan speak – because in her brain, she associated Arabic to the language of praying.
It’s a three-hours bus ride to Petra, the city that was once the capital of Nabatean Kingdom and a famous archaeological site in southwestern desert.
“Jordanians love to sing, huh?” she told Cesi in Indonesian as to not alert others of her thought.
Everyone on the bus, except them, were singing along to some songs being put on by the driver and clap loudly. All she made up of the song was that it’s a love song for the many times she heard “Habibi” clearly pronounced.
The bus stopped for security clearance and she had to show her passport to the officer entering the bus. This was the third time she had to look for her passport. “Does the security clearances mean safety or danger?” she mumbled only to herself.
The bus neatly parked and the guide told everyone to come back in 2 hours.
The guide on the bus stopped them for their passport as they would need – and pay – for a different kind of pass to enter since they’re not locals. It’s 50x the prices of what the local paid.
She was dizzy after only five minutes out of the bus for the smothering hot weather that she felt the sun had pierced through her head.
“Petra is one of the world’s richest and largest archeological sites set in a dominating red sandstone landscape” she read on her phone on the way to Jordan and she could see why. She thought first that the varied archaeological remains and monuments from prehistoric times to medieval times bear proof to the lost civilization, which found an ingenious water management system to allow settlements until she talked to the people with eyes so fascinatingly dark.
She found out that they put charcoal around their eyes to repeal sands and that they still live here, inside caves their ancestors carved in Petra’s landscape and they are people from the Bedul tribe. They invited them for tea inside their cave but politely refused for fears of unable to come to the bus on time and, well, just to stay on the safe side – being girls and all.
Throughout their walk in Petra, they were often asked or assumed by the kids and adults alike if they’re Chinese. They felt that the question was weird because their resemblances don’t mirror any Chinese they know.
“Maybe they don’t have much access to the outside world?” She assumed and Cesi nodded.
Her headache didn’t go away but at least she was inside the bus, off to the next destination: Aqaba.
Aqaba is a port city on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba. She didn’t know if it was because of the heat but she didn’t really enjoy being there and just wish that they could move on to the next place on the list.
After half an hour, the bus was on route to Wadi Rum. It’s where a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan. The bus stopped and some jeeps already wait for people from the bus. The Jeep drove around the dessert in deliberate chaotic manner and the place looked just as how she imagined Jordan would be given what she saw on TV.
Wadi Rum became the place where they spent the night. There was a party probably organized by the tour company playing music so loud. They decided to walked away from the crowd and walked around Wadi rum only guided by the flashlight from her phone and stars shining not too brightly that night. They then sat on the sand, chatting about the unforeseeable futures while from time to time look up to the sky.
Morning came. They woke up a bit earlier than the partygoers and decided to take a small hike. The windy and chilly weather of morning was a perfect friend for the picturesque sight on top of the highest rock they could climb.
They climbed down, got breakfast and got on the bus that would take them back to Amman. The bus made a stop first in Chinatown. “So they do have a number of Chinese living here.” she thougt confusedly.
It was dark by the time they got to Amman. It was her first time seeing the city of Amman. Contradictory to what the media told her of Middle East countries, the place was just like any other city she visited – bushing with people in and out of stores and mild traffics here and there.
They took an Uber home. She learned that someone has to sit in the front passenger seat since Uber is not a hundred percent legal to operate and so if asked, they’ll have to tell them that the driver is a friend.
The next morning they just wanted to have a more relaxed schedule. They walked around town and later on were met by a guy they met on their trip in Wadi Rum. We ate with him, although we already ate before, in the place made famous because Queen Rania ate there from time to time – or was it once?
Later that night they went out to a café to meet with Cisi’s friends. One she already met but the other hasn’t. It was a cool, modern café where young people meet. The friend she just met that night was in distraught mood from compilations of family and personal problems – aren’t we all? But his was a tougher case for he carries a burden of being something the tradition and family dictated to be wrong – to identify as gay. She was just silently listening and thinking of her article she wrote on the inhuman treatments received by the LGBT community in Indonesia and how much of backlash she received. Maybe Jordan and Indonesia are not so different after all – they advertise to the world as the more advanced and forward thinking countries amongst other Muslim-majority nations, but fall short on tolerations towards those who are different from what deemed to be the standard of “normalness”
They excused themselves as they have to wake early for the Dead Sea trip.
They were again stopped several times for security clearances.
Her excitement from being able to float around without effort was soon turned into an excruciating pain of having the sea water on her eyes. Two elderly women who saw Cisi guiding her out of the water for she can’t stand opening her eyes came with a bottled water and pour it onto her eyes.
They went to a pizza place that had a 50% off promotion for lunch and drove back home after.
She was just lying around on the bed while Cisi was drawing a sentence she wanted to be permanently put on her wrist. Cisi had a couple of friends who just starting out a Tattoo business and were coming that night to do one for her. The friend turned out to be the person she had a small crush on.
The tattoo looked great. She was debating on her mind if she wanted one but dismiss the thought knowing the person that she is – someone who changed her thought in a matter of minutes or seconds sometimes.
The next morning was her time to leave Jordan. She said her sappy goodbye and took an uber to the airport. The driver was rather talkative but she enjoyed it. He told her that in Jordan, you took the nationality of your mother. Her mother is from Palestine and so that’s his citizenship. He took his undergrad degree in Jordan but unable to look for jobs due to his being Palestine.
“Thank god for Uber” he proclaimed.
He asked where she is going and she told him that she’s going to Istanbul but New York would be her last stop.
“Are you from New York? He asked another.
“No, but I live there now – for a couple of more years that is” she answered.
“That’s cool! I’m working on my visa to go there.” He told her.
“See you in big apple!” as he was closing the car trunk after getting her luggage out.
“See you!” she said and went in to the airport.
On her way to Istanbul, she thought to herself of how much in common Jordan and her hometown have – the usualness of men examining stranger women, the daunting consequences of proclaiming one self’s identity as gay and the condition she remembered described perfectly by Adichie on her book Americanah. A script she remembered to say, “all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.