5:30 am- Amman, Jordan
السالام عليكم, أصدقائي!
Hello, My friends!
Right now I am sitting in the dark in the lovely Geneva Hotel in downtown Amman, Jordan. With equal thanks to Jet lag and the call for prayer outside I am wide awake. In a few hours I will be going to the AMIDEAST office for my Arabic placement exam and a blood test (HIV positive? Out of the country.) While I am anxiously awaiting my first official AMIDEAST interaction, my journey has already been an exciting one!
Denver, CO- August 20th, 2010- 1pm
I arrived at DIA for my 2:50 departure to find that my flight had already been delayed until 4:00. Confident in my originally 3 hour long layover in Chicago and my ability to navigate airports quickly, I was excited to see the delay because it meant extra time with my mom. We spent the extra hour walking around the airport and then I headed to my gate…to find that the flight had been delayed an additional 20 minutes. At this point I was unsure about my connection, but the lady at the gate said it wasn’t time to worry, so I sat down and began studying Arabic. It was only after another 20 minute delay that she came to me and said my connection in Chicago would not be possible and that she had rerouted me through London which would get me to Amman on the same day (the 21st), but 6 hours later than planned. She also pointed me toward an old Jordanian couple who spoke very little English and asked if I wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on them, since our once direct flight to Amman from Chicago now included a 6 hour layover in London. I don’t know what you think about Heathrow, but it is not a place I want to spend 6 hours in. The son of the elderly couple approached me about helping his parents. I explained in Arabic that my father is from Libya and I study Arabic in school. I don’t know whether it was his parents desperation to have help in the English speaking world, my flawless Arabic (hahaha, yeah right!), or more likely his confidence that an Arab Sister would take care of his parents better than some random American or better yet the airline, but he seemed confident as we departed. Another woman joined our group at the gate attendant’s direction and our posse of four boarded the airplane.
Chicago, IL- Aug. 20th , 9:00 pm
Now, realize, the only reason we went on to Chicago is because of the promise of a night flight to London, but as all good airport dramas go, this flight was, of course, canceled. Upon arrival we learned that we would be spending the night in the city of Chicago. Correction, the Hilton Hotel right next to the Airport, which isn’t really in the city. I collected our groups passports (أعطني جواز سفر, من فضلك ( and began arranging our hotels with the airline. Our daylong adventure had become more epic and I was now responsible for the travel of four. The elderly couple had wheelchair assistance arranged for them, and with the help of the airport personnel assigned to push them, I was able to get us checked in to the beautiful Hilton hotel with vouchers for meal passes. Most Muslims believe that it is acceptable to break your fast during travel for health reasons, but the older generations, including two of my new companions, are more religious with their fasting. I respect this decision, but it made my job much more difficult. Our meal vouchers were only valid during specific hours, meaning only the dinner voucher could be used after Iftar.
After placing our stuff in our rooms, we headed down to the sports bar to find some food.
My new friends-
The next 24 hours were spent killing time in a hotel. This is where I really began to appreciate the company I had. As we sat waiting for dinner I began learning about the people my trip had acquired before I left my state. The older woman was introduced to me as Um Tarik رقاط ام (which translates to the mother of Tarik) I learned that out of respect, women are often referred to as the mother of their first son. While their official first name remains what it was at birth, they are referred to, almost exclusively as the mother of their son. Um Tarik noticed the Palestinian flag keychain that Chris and I had made before our protest hanging on my bag. She said Filisteen, (the Arabic pronunciation of Palestine) and her eyes lit up. She then explained, in araglish (a new hybrid that was the official language of our trip) that she is from Palestine. WOW! Talk about right up my alley. It turns out that the people I had assumed were Jordanians were actually all three Palestinians. The elder couple showed me their Jordanian resident cards. Under country of birth was Israel. I said “Israel, ugh, msh qways” (No good) and they smiled. I knew we were going to be friends. For years I have researched the conflict in what most of the world identifies as Israel. I had read about the thousands of displaced people. These facts, which until a few minutes before had been just statistics on paper, had become so very real. To the best of my understanding, the elderly couple had left their home in Palestine in 1948 when Israel was first instated. Known as Al- Nakba النكبة (the catastrophe) in the Arab World this brutal period marked the displacement of more than 600,000 Palestinians from their homes. Many sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, and the other surrounding Arab states. Few realize that the creation of a home for the Jewish people meant a loss of a homeland that generations of Palestinian Arabs had worked to create. This history which I had read and quoted had materialized before my eyes in the form of my fellow travelers. The old man’s card said he was born in 1933, making him only 15 at the time of the Nukhba. Regardless of the fact that they had been systematically removed from their homeland when they were still very young, they still referred to Palestine as home.
The third member added to our group was Um Kalid خالد ام . She was born in Jerusalem, as were her 3 boys. While her boys were all very young, she and her husband had taken their family for a short time to Kuwait, and then on to the US. Much of her extended family still lives in the Holy Land. She had been living in the US for 27 years. Her husband had died ten years after they had relocated to the US. Um Kalid lives with her youngest son in Lakewood, CO.
Chicago- 6:30 pm August 21st (The date I was supposed to arrive in Amman.)
After spending hours laying around the hotel it was finally time to head down to the airport. That morning I had called the bell station to arrange wheelchairs for my elderly companions. The man assured me that plans would be made but to call at 5:00 pm for confirmation. At 5, I received a confused voice saying that my wheelchairs would be there at 7:30 and that my call wasn’t necessary. I corrected them that the chairs needed to be there are 6:30 and that we would wait in the lobby. At 6:30 the Bell captain explained that he could not get us wheelchairs, but that the shuttle from another Hilton was coming to drop us off at the terminal where there would be wheelchairs waiting. After waiting out in the sun for 20 minutes, we were put on a shuttle. Then the worst happened. The driver had not been instructed that we were going to the terminal, and he began to take us into the city only 2 hours before our flight was supposed to depart. Infuriated that the impatient bellboy had sent me miles away from the airport with two walking impaired elders, I called the Hilton and explained the situation. The lady on the end apologized in a “what do you want me to do about it?” sort of way. We hailed a cab and were relieved that the driver spoke Arabic. The same Arab family bond that obliged me to help my fellow Arab travelers tied the driver to us, and he got us to the airport as fast as possible. After minutes of persuasion, he agreed to take the fare that he was more than willing to wave for us.
Once at the airport, Royal Jordanian took care of us like the Hilton and American Airlines had failed to do. They provided wheelchairs, checked us in a timely manner, and best of all, spoke Arabic. We boarded the plane, slept most of the 10 hour flight, and arrived in Amman without any problems. I found the AMIDEAST representative and hugged my friends goodbye. We parted, but only after I promised that I would call them when I got a phone and arrange a dinner at their house for the best authentic Palestinian food. I can’t wait!
It is now 7:30. I must finish getting prepared for the day ahead. Until next time, habibi.
سلام من الاردن