Aqaba was beautiful. It’s a smaller city, right on the edge of the Red Sea, and reminds me a lot of Key West actually–lots of seafood restaurants and kitschy tourist stores. We got there from Amman using the public bus, which was a bad idea. It was only 5 JD but took 7 hours and was pretty uncomfortable, smoke-filled, and with no ventilation (perhaps you’re noticing a theme on these last few posts). Luckily on the way back we took the Jett bus, which was only about 6 JD, took 4 hours, and had big, plush seats. It’s definitely the way to get around Jordan and from Amman to neighboring countries, and I think we might use it to get to Damascus for spring break.
We stayed at the Al-Cazar Hotel, which was a great choice. Right in the heart of downtown, with a 2 JD shuttle to Club Murjan, Al-Cazar’s resort on the beach, and most importantly, free breakfast every morning. One day when we missed the shuttle by about 3 minutes the hotel manager arranged for a private car to take the four of us, for the same price. Service! We stayed in two doubles, and it was 18 JD per person per night.
After checking in around 8 pm or so we found a Moroccan restaurant where we ordered pots of fish, lamb and chicken, drank tea, and looked out at the view across Aqaba. Halfway through the meal we heard honking, loud music, and yelling and cheering outside, and a sort of caravan of cars and camels decorated with flags and tassles passed by beneath us. Perhaps a wedding party?
The next day we took the shuttle to the beach and just sort of lounged around all day. I went snorkeling, which I had never done before. Of course we attracted a lot of attention, and I should’ve brought a t-shirt to wear over my swimsuit to go snorkeling, because the standard generally is that the women remain in hijab at the beach and some go swimming in the ocean with everything on. But since our pool was private we were fine there, although there were some shobab who unabashedly parked themselves outside the gate to our pool and would just stare. Uncomfortable, but you learn to ignore it.
The next day I walked around town in the morning, doing some shopping downtown and looking for restaurant owners to interview for my article on smoking laws in Jordan. Afterward we went to the beach for a couple hours and then caught the bus back to Amman. All in all a perfect trip, no major mishaps (another student, not in our group, had 80 JD stolen from her purse), and a chance to see another side of Jordan. There were tons and tons of not-so-gracefully-aging European tourists traveling in large packs. I was pretty proud of my friends for how discreet we were in comparison–no huge backpacks, no shorts, no cameras around the neck, no ugly sunglasses, no lost, bewildered looks or refusal to speak any Arabic.
Also, my articles came out! I’m pretty happy with how they turned out, although one of them (the pet shops article) doesn’t have my byline on it because it was just a brief. But the profile of the artist is a whole two pages, and has lots of pictures of the artist and her art. It’s definitely a good start, and I’m looking forward to having a more substantial news piece in the next issue. Once the Web site is updated I’ll post links or something. I wish I could put up a jpeg of the article itself but I’m not sure how to do that. I’ll ask around and see what I can find.
I think I also want to write an article about diabetes in Jordan. With people 18 and over, the diabetes rate is 16 percent, which is absolutely insane. Ten years ago the rate was 8 percent. About two-thirds of Jordan’s population is overweight or obese, basically the same rate as America. The official at the Ministry of Health that I interviewed yesterday told me about a pilot project they’ve established in Madaba to encourage people to be healthier, including paying them to lose weight and quit smoking. He said I could interview the doctor in charge and I think it would be a good way to look at the issue of health in Jordan. It’s funny–no matter how hard I try to escape and write about things other than health, I can’t stop. I absolutely love it and I understand it pretty well (definitely better than Middle Eastern politics) and the great thing is these issues are pretty universal.
Today is the Prophet’s Birthday and classes are canceled, so I’m just going to catch up on work and nap all day.
As an aside, check out my friend Molly’s brilliant blog. She uses her impeccable humor and wit to take up politics, music, cooking (she’s an excellent cook, that one, so I recommend following her recipes), and pop culture, and the result is funny, smart, cute and leaves you with a smile on your face–much like Molly herself.