EILAT Part One

By the end of our first week in Aqaba, Bret and I decided it was time to take a trip to Eilat. Eilat is an Israeli resort town just across the Red Sea from Aqaba. The Red Sea is not that wide, so we can see Eilat quite clearly from the beach just outside our apartment. We can also see Egypt. Back in Pasadena, we were lucky to have a hazy view of downtown from the freeway.

Our reasons for going to Eilat were twofold: 1) We needed certain baby-proofing supplies that the shops in Aqaba don’t sell (like, baby gates) and 2) I hungered for a taste of western culture after a week of Arab overload. The chadors, the call to prayer, the dead goats. It was a lot to digest in only a week; to say nothing of all that Snack Maamoul. Eilat has an Imax, a Gap and lots of frozen yogurt places. Also, I was craving a bagel.

So, after much deliberation, we decided to cross the border.

It’s important that I explain the reason for our deliberation. As you probably know, there’s basically a war going on between Israel and almost every other nation in the region. It’s a war that spans thousands of years and, from what I understand, involves territory. I’m no expert on the topic but essentially many Arab countries don’t recognize Israel as a nation. So, if we try to enter say, Syria, with an Israeli stamp in our passports, Syria may turn us away and literally not let us enter.

The only Arab nation with a peace treaty with Israel is Jordan.

Frankly, I have no desire to visit most of the countries in this region. At least, not right now. Iran is no place for a foul-mouthed female like me. Iraq is out of the question. Syria is knee-deep in civil strife, so I’ll pass. And Libya is a total mess. Also, Saudi Arabia doesn’t recognize me as a human being, so I don’t want to go there. Yemen and Oman? Nope and nope. The only Arab nations I’d consider at this point are Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Dubai. I’m really hip on touring Jordan though. There are some amazing places to see here: Petra, Wadi Rum (vast desert), Jerash, the forest in Ajloun and of course the capital city of Amman.

We were advised by several well-traveled friends that if we wish to tour other Arab nations (i.e. Lebanon, Kuwait), we should acquire a second passport for travel to Israel. The only place to get that second passport is the U.S. embassy in Amman. Back in the States, we couldn’t get a second passport. I tried and failed. Earlier this summer, after our passports had arrived in the mail, I went to the post office to inquire about applying for a second passport. The pasty woman behind the counter shouted, “Are you a diplomat?! You can only get a second passport if you’re a diplomat! So, are you a DIPLOMAT?!” Everyone in the post office (it was crowded that day) stopped and stared at me. I felt my face turn red. I cleared my throat, and muttered, “Um…I, uh…no. I’m not a diplomat.” She pursed her thin lips and, helmet hair lacquered firmly in place, she shook her head. “You can only have one passport at a time, ma’am. Unless you’re a diplomat.” Then she shooed me away with a wave of her fake nails, which were a depressing shade of coral. I turned and walked out of the post office, humiliated by a Gary Larson cartoon.

But back to the deliberation. Bret and I discussed our options. We could just wait to go to Israel until we get the second passports. Well…. but we really need that baby gate and some frozen yogurt. Maybe if we drive up to Amman, the malls there would have the baby gate we’re looking for? But would they have frozen yogurt? Plus, Amman to Aqaba and back is kind of a long drive (3 1/2 hours each way) for the baby (me) and could get costly if we tire and decide to stay overnight. But if we go to Amman we could get those extra passports at the embassy. Hmmm….. but what about the frozen yogurt? We literally debated this for hours.

Finally, we decided it was best to just cross the border and worry about the second passport issue later. So, off we went to Israel in search of baby gates.

Marty (remember him?) had already informed us that we wouldn’t be able to drive our rental car across the border into Eilat because it wouldn’t be covered by insurance. Bret did some digging online and found out that we could park our car at the border and then walk across. And then, there would be a bus that would take us into the city center. Perfect!

We packed up the diaper bag and umbrella stroller and set out for Israel. In the back of my mind lurked the frightening thought that we would be victims of a terrorist attack while in Eilat. I imagined a bomb going off on the bus or in the mall. Body parts and frozen yogurt toppings flying everywhere. I shoved that image into the far corner of my mind and begged my imagination to stop with the worst case scenarios. We’re going to be okay, I told myself. We’re traveling with a baby, so everything was going to be peachy.

An hour later, after several wrong turns and a discussion about whether or not to forget it and just build a baby gate out of palm fronds, we finally found the border. The border is this desolate area with watchtowers and guards carrying automatic rifles. It’s also flanked by two oases of lush palm trees, which I found kind of odd. All this stark desert and then…a beautifully manicured forest of trees.

We parked in the lot and got out of the car. It was HOT. Oh my god, was it hot. It was so hot, my insides were sweating and while I was sure I was breathing, I couldn’t tell if I was actually getting any oxygen. As Bret buckled Abby into her stroller, I looked up at the striking Jordanian flag dancing in the wind. Black, red and green. And just beyond a series of metal gates, I could see the Israeli flag. It didn’t seem to be flapping, although given the wind that day, it must have been.

I stared at that blue Star of David for a moment. I associate that symbol with pride and solidarity. It dawned on me, as I prepared to cross into Israel for the first time, that for many people (especially in this part of the world), that symbol represents the enemy.

As we crossed the parking lot, I spotted a donkey beside a large dumpster. He was nosing through stray bits of garbage on the ground. He glanced up at us and then went back to his trash heap. “Look, babe!” I said, in an excited stage whisper,” A donkey!” “Don’t point,” Bret reminded me gently. I lowered my arm and glanced around. No one saw me. That donkey was something else though. If I hadn’t been so concerned with keeping my cool, I would have snapped some pictures. I’ve never seen a donkey eating trash at a Middle Eastern border crossing before, OKAY?

We arrived at the first gate. A lone Jordanian guard wearing army fatigues and a machine gun asked to see our passports. Bret produced them from his pocket and after careful inspection, the guard waved us on to the next gate. By the way, we had to pay 18 JD in exit tax. That’s right. 18 JD (or $25) just to leave the country! We didn’t even get a goodie bag. What a racket.

At the next gate, a pair of Jordanian guards, also wearing fatigues and machine guns, sized us up and checked to make sure we had paid that exit tax. One of the guards waved his hand at us, “Passport.” He had a thick, black mustache that looked like a caterpillar sleeping on his upper lip. Bret, ever-prepared, promptly handed over our passports. A side note: Abby’s passport is ridiculously cute. Have you ever seen a baby passport? It looks like an adult passport until you get to the photo. In Abby’s picture, she’s wearing a blue dress from Tea Collection and a huge grin. Her hazel eyes sparkle and she has the longest lashes you’ve ever seen. I don’t know how any border guard could refuse her entry, even if she had a Star of David tattooed on her bicep.

So, Mr. Caterpillar Lip inspected our passports while the other guard, who looked kind of like Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley, made cutesy noises at Abby. Watching a camouflaged Squiggy with an automatic weapon engage in baby talk is fucking surreal. That one deserved the F word, Mom.

Mr. Caterpillar Lip then asked where we were from. “Los Angeles,” I smiled, adjusting my shades. He ignored me and looked at Bret. “California. Los Angeles,” Bret said, wiping the sweat from his brow. Mr. Caterpillar Lip nodded and continued inspecting our passports. “It’s hot today, huh?” I asked, trying to make conversation. My feet were melting so I was hoping to speed things along. Mr. Caterpillar Lip still wouldn’t look at me.

I glanced at Squiggy, who was now pinching Abby’s cheeks. I didn’t really want him touching her but I was a little intimidated by the machine gun. I also wondered if maybe he and Mr. Caterpillar Lip literally couldn’t see me. Women are sometimes invisible here. Mr. Caterpillar Lip, still clutching our passports looked at Bret, and said, “I am Bedouin.” “You’re a Bedouin?” Bret asked, sounding genuinely impressed. I can tell when he’s full of shit, and he really was interested that this guy was a Bedouin. The Bedouin are a nomadic tribe of Arabic desert-dwellers who used to raise camels but now raise either sheep or no animals at all. Some keep a camel or two for the tourists who want a picture of themselves riding a camel.

Finally, Mr. Bedouin Caterpillar Lip gave us our passports back and waved us on our way. Squiggy looked genuinely sad to see Abby go. We were instructed to walk across what is known as No Man’s Land, which is this eerie stretch of lawless asphalt where you’re not in Jordan but not in Israel either. One false move and the guard at either watchtower could (and would) shoot you.

It was really really hot out there and our flimsy umbrella stroller had no sunshade. I felt bad for Abby, whose hair was matted with sweat and her cheeks were getting redder by the second. I gave her some cold water and moved as quickly, and inconspicuously, as I could across No Man’s Land.

I could see the Star of David up ahead, welcoming us to Israel….

A Few Updates

Okay, so the following is a list of updates on how we’re doing here. Overall, things are good. We’ve adjusted fully to the time-change and we’re more or less on a regular sleep schedule. I’m still not used to the heat though. Every time I go outside I freak out a little, as though I didn’t see it coming. “Jesus, it’s hot! What the…god, it’s so hot!”

Actually, the weather has cooled a bit over the past few days. It’s now 120 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 160. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I could still probably fry an egg on the pavement outside. It just might take a little longer than it did a few days ago.

By the way, I hope you all enjoyed Bret’s guest post from last week. I found it quite thought-provoking and I’ve asked him to elaborate on his topic, so look for more from Professor Scott. That’s what his students call him. Professor Scott. Adorable.

Okay, onto the updates:

1) Another jar of Nutella bites the dust. Okay, two jars. All right, three. Nutella (a.k.a. Satan) is banned from our household for a long time. At least until October.

2) Abby is full-on walking now. She toddles around our apartment and outside on the lawn. She can get on and off the couch by herself and if you ask her what her name is, she’ll tell you, “Abby.” It’s awesome and we try not to pimp her into saying it more than a couple times a day.

3) It’s nearing the end of Ramadan here in Arab country, and that can only mean one thing. That’s right, party people: Eid al ftr! For all of you non-muslims, no I did not misspell that. Eid (rhymes with “seed”) is basically a big, weeklong party celebrating the end of Ramadan. It’s a well-earned celebration, if you ask me. Fasting for a month is no easy feat. I mean, sure you can eat and drink after sundown, but if the sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 7:45 p.m., that’s almost 14 hours with no food or beverage.

I wonder if people lose a lot of weight during Ramadan. Probably not. They probably stuff themselves come sundown. I know I would. Screw that. I wouldn’t even make it to sundown. I have to eat every two hours or I shrivel up and die.

Anyway, so Eid (remember: rhymes with “tweed”) is a huge deal here as far as holidays go. It’s the equivalent of Christmas in the States. Families get together and sit around and eat and talk and eat and drink coffee. And eat. Children receive presents from relatives but they don’t get giant stockings filled with useless junk and candy canes. Nor does the family decorate a dead tree with glass balls and popcorn strings. And instead of eating a glazed pig or a turkey with bread crumbs stuffed up its butt, they prepare a dish called Mansaaf, which is lamb simmered in a yogurt sauce. I know, weird, right?

Apparently, every single hotel room in Aqaba (that’s 2,500 rooms total, mind you) books up with revelers during Eid (rhymes with “creed”). People even camp on the beach in little pup tents. All the restaurants here get really busy and people crowd the streets smoking and drinking non-alcoholic drinks. It’s like New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but with no booze and nobody flashes their tits  for plastic beads. I know. Bummer. Why no booze, you ask? Well, alcohol is forbidden in the Islamic religion. There is alcohol in Jordan. It’s not illegal to drink here and plenty of people do. It’s just frowned upon by uber religious types. Same with eating pork. It’s available here (although not as widely as alcohol) but it’s not commonly eaten. They’ll smoke cigarettes around children and babies though. Apparently, it’s not frowned upon to give your kids a jump start on lung cancer.

As a result of this impending Eid (rhymes with “bead”) holiday, daily life in Aqaba has been a smidge nuttier than usual. For example, Bret and I went to Safeway yesterday and it was like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in the U.S. Grandmas were throwing punches over the last head of cabbage, there were shopping cart traffic jams and all-out brawls over parking spaces. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but only a little. Point is, things are revving up here and I’m not happy about it. Apparently, Tala Bay turns into a giant Euro-trash party during Eid (rhymes with “peed”). Tourists (mostly Germans and Russians) basically take over our quiet resort to stoke their tans and blast their horrible taste in music.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

4) I’m still working on my post about Eilat. It’s turning out to be a little bit epic, so it’s taken me longer than I thought to write it. Also, I’ve divided it into two posts so I’ll post the first part in the next day or so. I know you’re super anxious to read it. I’m super anxious to finish it.

5) I’ve made a friend here! She’s an expat from England (we’ll call her Dee, although that’s not her real name) and she has a 2-year-old son. Abby and I have hung out with them twice now. In fact, her son kissed Abby on the cheek the other day and Abby burst out laughing (in a joyous, not scornful way). It was incredibly cute. My daughter just had her first kiss. And she’s only 1.

It’s been nice to connect with another mom here, especially a native English-speaker. I like it in Aqaba. Our apartment is starting to feel like home. I’ve been able to find most of the foods I like, even if I do have to go to 16 different stores to get them. But it’s the people back home I miss the most. My friends and fellow moms. It’s important for women to spend time with other women, laughing, bonding, sharing tips on child-rearing, and of course, having pillow fights in our underwear. I’m glad to have met Dee and her lovely little boy. We’ll be spending more time with them soon.

So, there you have it. I hope you feel enlightened. I’m going to go work on that Eilat post now.

Guest Post

Marj asked me if I’d like to guest post. I said, “Sure!”

…and was promptly overwhelmed with Blank Page Syndrome — so much to explain about this place, our transition, our move, my new job — picking a logical starting point is like being told to empty the water out of a swimming pool…and being handed a thimble to do the bailing.

I guess the biggest thing to hit me, or at least the thought that keeps recurring, is this:

In three weeks, I’ve learned that everything I thought I knew about the Middle East was either oversimplified, crudely generalized, or flat-out wrong.

And I know even less now than when I arrived. But at least I can trust the truth of what little I do know, now, as firsthand info.

There’s so much misinformation, propaganda, and confusion surrounding the middle east and its peoples (the plural is deliberate) that I marvel at the arrogance of politicians who have the temerity to toss terms like “the middle east region” around in the press.

Likewise “the Islamic culture.”

This place is more than a “region.” And the people who live here are so complicated and diverse that a label like “the Islamic culture” Is about as accurate as the label “Christian.”

A Baptist church in Alabama and a Lutheran church in Minnesota are both Christian, but I wouldn’t expect their respective congregations to agree on much.

The same applies in Jordan. And Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Dubai, Kuwait, and so on. Each of these places is a separate country with a distinct, clear, and proud cultural and political heritage.

You can’t lump them together. That’s like trying to generalize Canada, the US, and Mexico as a singular region. Geographically? Sure. But after a commonality of location, the differences become significant and important. We’re talking about three VERY different countries.

Well, okay, two. With apologies to my Canadian friends, Canada is essentially America Lite.

I’m in danger of veering off on a rant here, so I’ll see if I can steer back out of this opinion skid.

There’s a deep dignity and a kindness to the Jordanian people I’ve met so far. I don’t know if this is a regional thing, or a Jordanian thing, or an arab thing. But I do know that more people — strangers — have stopped to smile, laugh, and admire Abby in the short time we’ve been here than have stopped in the entire year prior in Pasadena.

I never expected this.

Marj might tell you I’m exaggerating this “Abby’s admirerers” figure, but my numbers are accurate. This is a country and culture that genuinely loves children, and I think that speaks volumes about the core beliefs of the Jordanian people. Take from this what you like. But when a grim-faced border guard armed with suspicious eyes and an assault rifle cracks a smile and bends down to pinch my daughter’s cheeks, I see hope in his actions.

We do ourselves and the world injustice, I believe, when we think in terms as general as “those people,” or “Muslims,” or “the terrorists.”

None of this negates the fact that there are bad people claiming to belong to the Islamic religion who want to bring great pain and suffering to the US and the western world at large. There are such people, and they do want to harm the west. I fear them, and their tactics make me angry.

But, like the Bloods and the Crips, the Fruit Town Brims and the Avenues gangs in LA, these angry, violent people aren’t the majority.

Or maybe I’m wrong again. Maybe I’m seeing this world though one visit to Israel and three weeks with the cultural elite — the highly-educated, the artists and some expatriates from other parts of the world.

Either way, there’s a gap between what I thought I knew back home, and what I’m beginning to learn here. The contradiction is a sharp one.

More on this when I can deliver a more coherent point-of-view. Good night, friends and family. I’m off to bed.


The Pier

To start with, I’m offering fair warning to my mom: there may be curse words in the coming paragraphs.

Now, down to business.

I’m terrified of sharks. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re heartless eating machines, or maybe it’s their cold dead eyes, or maybe it’s that creepy song that comes on every time they’re around. You know the one. John Williams wrote it.

It could also be the fact that they do things like rip people’s legs off or in some cases, SWALLOW THEM WHOLE.

Call me crazy, but sharks are friggin’ scary.

I promised my mother I’d at least cut down on the cursing in these blog posts, so I’m testing out words like effin’ and friggin’ and darn. I’ll still use the word cunt, though. I have to hold my ground on something.

Anyway, so sharks.

Bret likes to remind me that humans aren’t in the shark food chain. To that I say: Ha! Spiders aren’t in my food chain, but I’m really good at killing them. I used to be all sensitive and just try to shoo the spiders outside with a Dixie cup. But now that I have a baby, I’m like a honey badger. I get that rolled up newspaper or shoe and squish. Game over. Honey badger doesn’t give a sh*t!

So, even if I’m not considered a delicacy in the shark community, it wouldn’t take much for a 6-footer to do some serious damage to my bod. And yeah, I have a little cellulite, but I’ve grown quite accustomed to my bod. I’d like to keep it. Intact.

I’ve done some research on sharks, and the general consensus is that sharks don’t actually target humans, rather they often mistake us for an injured fish, or a seal. We’re apparently not very graceful in the water by a shark’s standards. To a shark, even Michael Phelps looks like a spastic tuna. Plus, sharks have really bad eyesight and they investigate things by biting them (kind of like toddlers).

So, if a shark wanted to confirm that the slightly-expired milk had indeed turned sour, the shark would take a huge bite out of the carton. And that poor carton would bleed to death.

So, while sharks don’t necessarily want to eat us, sometimes they just do, accidentally, while investigating. “Oopsie. My bad, Marj. Didn’t mean to bite your face off. By the way, welcome to Jordan! I recommend the dates.”

Yeah, I can’t negotiate with a fish. It’s not as if I can be like, “Hey, you dumb-ass, blind-ass shark, I’m not a fat-ass seal, so back the heck off!”  And then the shark would be like, “Did you just say Heck?” What’re you 12?” And I’d say, “No, I’m 34, but my Mom asked me cut back on the cursing.” The shark would then say, “Fair enough.” And then he’d swim away.

No, that’ s not how it would go down.

More than likely, it would be a sneak attack from behind. I  would get bitten in half and then bleed to death in the crystal blue water while some a-hole tourist snapped blurry pictures of the sunset behind me.

And that is NOT how I want to go down.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, we live at the beach here in Aqaba. I’ve never lived this close to the beach before, so it’s a new thing for me. We have the option of swimming in the ocean every day, if we feel like it. All we have to do is walk outside our apartment, saunter past our mammoth swimming pool (seriously, it’s bigger than the Atlantic), walk two feet and we’ll be on the beach. That’s no exaggeration, even though it sounds like one. Kind of like a shark that’s 30 feet in length. Sounds like an exaggeration but, in fact, quite possible.


There’s this pier at the beach. It extends about 50 yards out from shore. The first time we visited our beach (you like that? Our beach) we saw a group of Israeli tourists in Speedos jumping off the pier and screaming at each other in Hebrew. I thought they were having a knife fight, but it turns out that’s just how Israelis talk.

We knew they were Israeli because we met them the day before at the Jordan/Israel border crossing and they told us they were from Haifa. One of the guys had a squiggly design shaved into the side of his hair. It looked like something Vanilla Ice sported back in the early 90’s They also wore lots of bling; oversized gold crosses around their necks to be precise. I assumed they weren’t Jewish. They were, however, super friendly. They were all over Abby at the border, pinching her cheeks and playing peek-a-boo with her. It helped make the whole border-crossing experience much more pleasant. For more on this, see my post entitled “Eilat.”

So, there they were, the Christian Israeli rappers, jumping off the pier, yelling and hollering and having a grand old time. I admit, they made hurling oneself off a rickety, barnacled pier look pretty enticing. Bret took one look at them and said, “I want to do that.” (Bret wants me to note that by “do that,” I mean, “jump off the pier,” not “wear a speedo and a hip-hop size gold cross.”)

And so Bret waited until the Israeli posse had retired to the hotel bar nearby, then he walked across the pier and without hesitation, jumped. Just like that. SPLASH!

Abby and I watched him safely from the pier above. I stared at the blue water and imagined a pair of megalodon jaws ascending from the depths, a dorsal fin breaking the surface and with one single-

“Oh, this is awesome, babe!” Bret interrupted the horror film playing out in my mind, “I think you’re really going to like it.” He splashed and kicked and I thought of the injured tuna. Bret is no Michael Phelps.

“Oh yeah?” I asked, smiling sweetly. He looked up at me from the water and said, “Yeah.”

“It looks amazing,” I said, not entirely lying. It did look amazing. In truth, I wanted more than anything to have the courage to jump off that goddam pier. The sun was golden in the background, the warm wind was whispering through my hair, the water looked so inviting. And yet, I was afraid. Afraid of getting eaten.

I’m such a chicken. And I’m even afraid of chickens! The chicken, afraid of chickens. This is no joke. For those of you who know me know that I have a debilitating fear of ground birds: chickens, turkeys, peacocks, ostriches. Emus are the worst. Now you know that I’m afraid of sharks, which are like the emus of the sea.

Bret floated in the ocean for a few more minutes, oohing and aahing the whole time and I stood there on the pier feeling like a giant weenie. Abby watched her dad luxuriate in the water below. I wondered what she was thinking. Was she worried about sharks too? Probably not. She’s too young and blissfully unaware of that goddam John Williams score.

I watched the sun sink behind the horizon and thought about jumping off the pier. I wanted to be free, to let go, and hurl my body into the water like an Israeli rapper. I was thinner in this fantasy, and tanner too. But more importantly, I was unafraid. I was happy and calm. I knew everything would be okay. I would dive in, feeling the warm saltwater envelop my cellulite-free body. I would swim in the sea without fear. And then, I would climb back onto the pier, exhilarated and unscathed, ready to jump back in.

Why couldn’t it happen like that?

Finally, Bret climbed up the ladder on the backside of the pier and pulled himself onto the platform. Abby and I walked over and greeted his dripping body with a towel. He gave me a wide grin as he dried himself off. I handed him his glasses.

“Daddy!” Abby shouted with glee. “Abby!” Bret shouted back. Abby smiled and stuck out her tongue.

Yeah, yeah adorable. But then, Bret turned to me and said:

“You should try it, babe. You’d love it.”

My heart started pounding. No I wouldn’t!!! I’d hate it. I’d hear that goddam John Williams score in my head and I’d poop in my bathing suit. Poop is not a bad word, Mom.

Anyway, I’d poop and then have a heart attack. And then I’d get ripped in half by a shark. No way am I jumping off that effing pier! Let the Israeli Christian rap group be Mr. Dumbass Blindass shark’s buffet! I’ll stay nice and alive up here on the rickety pier, thank you very much!

“I’m okay,” I shrugged, adjusting my shades. I was trying to be cool.

“C’mon, babe. It’s not that high up, actually. And the water’s perfect!”

Yeah, neither of those things would prevent me from jumping in anyway. It’s that little shark thing.

I shook my head, “Nah, I’m okay.”

Bret smiled. He knew.

“Sharks don’t come this close to shore.” That’s when I broke, like a levy.

“That’s not true!” I shouted. I paused and pulled myself together for the sake of our daughter. “Sharks can kill people in less than 4 feet of water. And bull sharks can live in rivers! Did you know that? There are even sharks in the Potomac? Isn’t that awful?”

Bret is so sweet. So patient. He smiled and touched my shoulder.

“Shark attacks are so rare, babe. They almost never happen.” I knew he was right, but what if I was the one in a million? He assured me I’d be safe. There’s that goddam word again. Safe. Who among us is truly safe?

“I won’t let it happen,” Bret said, cleaning the water from his ears.

How could you protect me from a thirty-foot Great White with a taste for human flesh?” I scoffed. He laughed. “You’ll be fine,” he assured me. “Sharks don’t want to eat you. And remember when you went scuba diving in Catalina? Or when you dove into the roiling waves at Huntington Beach?” I nodded, and wondered how I’d managed to do either of those things. Was that really me back then?

So we stood on that pier for another five minutes and Bret kept pressuring me to jump off but I refused. “I’m not ready yet,” I said. I stressed the word “yet” but I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready. I just figured if he thought I would jump at some point, he would stop badgering me. Besides, maybe if I actually took baby steps, maybe I could actually take the leap. Someday.

Instead of jumping off the pier that evening, I waded up to my thighs just offshore. It was nice. The beach here is kind of rocky and I kept losing my flip flops in the water. They just floated up to the surface and I grabbed them and slipped them back on. There are really no waves on our beach so it kind of feels like you’re swimming in a lake. But it’s really salty. So salty in fact, it’s almost impossible to sink. It’s like a salty bathtub. With sharks. And Israelis.

Abby LOVED being in the ocean. Bret held her and together they swam out in waist-deep water. She giggled and splashed and clapped her hands. I loved watching her having so much fun. Her joy made me forget my own fear. How I wish I could be so brave.

But to Abby, it wasn’t necessarily bravery. She was just enjoying the moment. And in that moment, she was in her father’s arms, playing in the water. Her mother was standing nearby cheering her on. Everything was fine. Everything was good.

Later, as we strolled back home through the sand, I promised myself I would go swimming everyday. And little by little, I’d eventually work up enough courage to jump off the pier. My hands are shaking even as I write this. I don’t want to jump off that pier. I don’t want to put myself in what I perceive to be harm’s way. What if the one time I dive into the water is the one time a shark happens to be shopping for some human? What if he bites me? What if I die?

WhatifWhatifWhatif?! What if an asteroid hits the planet tonight? What if I slip on a banana peel and break my neck?  What if I slip on a banana hammock and break my neck? So many what ifs, why worry about them? They probably won’t ever come to pass.

So, my plan is to work up enough courage to jump off that pier before I leave Jordan. Even if it takes me six months, I’m going to do it. I’m also going to put on a brave face every time I set foot into the ocean.

And yes, I did just read about that poor British man who was mauled by a Great White in the Seychelles. I’m very sad for his widow and his family and friends. But there will always be some one-in-a-million story in the news just waiting to frighten me into avoiding life.

For my daughter’s sake, I want to be brave. I want to face my fear with courage and strength. I want her to see that life is full of risks but we must take them anyway (calculated ones, at least). I’ll do it for Abby because I want her to hurl herself into life with joy and abandon. And even though she will one day be aware that sharks live in the ocean, she won’t let that keep her from diving in.

The Market

First of all, I want to thank you all for reading this blog and for your kind and supportive comments. I’m glad many of you are finding our experiences both informative and entertaining. That’s really the whole point of this blog, to entertain our friends and family. It’s also a good way to KIT.

KIT, or “keep in touch.” I used to write that in people’s yearbooks in junior high.  “KIT! Have a good summer! Stay sweet!” How did we manage in those days without the internet, texting and Skype? I guess we didn’t actually KIT much back then.

Second of all, many of you have inquired as to whether or not I ever got my luggage back. Thankfully, I did. The airline, Royal Jordanian, found the bags in Amman and flew them to Aqaba via private charter. Apparently, our luggage got freshly baked cookies AND warm hand towels. WTF?!

Those rogue bags arrived in Aqaba two days after we did and Bret’s lovely colleague,”Marty” picked them up and dropped them off at our apartment. Wasn’t that awesome of “Marty?” He really is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to reveal his true identity.

Unfortunately, I was passed out cold when Marty brought the bags by. It was the middle of the afternoon and Abby and I were dead asleep. In fact, that particular day, Abby and I slept from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. I remember waking up, wondering where I was and who this baby belonged to.  Then I wandered into the kitchen and stuffed myself with more Snack Maamoul. And then I thought: This has got to stop.

By the way, nothing was missing from our bags. My fears about the guy peddling our stuff on the street in Amman was totally unfounded. That guy probably took one look at my wide-leg linen pants and was like, “Well, these are a hot mess.”

Okay, SO, I want to tell you about the food in Aqaba.

First, a little history.

I love food. I especially love fresh, healthful food, although I do have a mean sweet tooth and can polish off a pint of ice cream in a matter of minutes.  I’ve already inhaled a whole jar of Nutella since we’ve been here. In my defense, Nutella is the DEVIL.

But most of the time, I try to eat healthfully and provide nutritious meals for Abby.

Bret, however, is on his own. I’ve given up trying to get him to eat well. He sticks to meat, white bread (or more recently, pita) and coca cola. He also likes butter, potato chips and noodles.  Oh, and ice cream. He likes that too.

As for me, I eat pretty well: Several pieces of fresh fruit every day and salad and steamed or sautéed veggies. I usually eat fish about twice a week and I love beans and whole grains. I’m not a big fan of soda (or, pop, if you live in the midwest). I drink mostly water with occasional glasses of fresh juice or iced tea. I do drink coffee every day but sometimes it’s decaf. I know, I’m perfect.

Back in L.A., I was a frequent flyer at Whole Foods and the local farmer’s market. I derived great comfort just wandering through the aisles (or stalls) of fresh, organic food.

Health food stores are so quaint, aren’t they? They all seem to smell the same and their aisles are never large enough to accommodate full-sized grocery carts. It’s just adorable.

When I was young and single, I used to go to Erewhon which is a health food store much like Whole Foods, only smaller. I’d get a cup of pumpkin red lentil soup and then spend an hour meandering through the aisles, leisurely picking out organic trail mix and nontoxic household supplies.

This brought me great comfort and calm. Even now, as a relatively busy wife and mother, I enjoy going to Whole Foods. I don’t luxuriate there like I did at Erewhon when I was an unemployed actor in my 20’s. But still, Whole Foods is a kind of sanctuary for me. I’m safe there. Nothing bad could ever happen in a place where everything is organic, free-range, grass-fed, wild-caught and devoid of any toxic chemical known or unknown to man. There would never be a chemical spill at Whole Foods or an accidental overdose. Overdose of what? Gluten-free waffles?

Here in Aqaba, there’s no Whole Foods. There isn’t an Erewhon, either. But there are several vegetable markets — the Brits call them green grocers. Isn’t that cute? The first vegetable market we went to here was the big one in the old section of Aqaba. The old section of Aqaba is mostly locals and is a bit rundown. Most of the tourists and expats hang out in the newer part of town that has more upscale shopping. The central veggie market is pretty amazing though. It has also stalls where you can buy bulk spices, olives, cheese and freshly roasted nuts.

We buy certain essentials at the Safeway in town: household goods like dish soap and a broom, bottled water, some produce, and some dairy products. Safeway also has every kind of snack food you can imagine (except Munchos, Bret wanted me to tell you). They do have Tostitos though.

Safeway here is the same Safeway as the one in the States. Sort of. It has the same red, swish logo on the sign. It also has a small produce section, a dairy section and a bakery. There’s even a meat department, complete with a wild-eyed butcher who slams his enormous cleaver down on a side of mutton. He’s like a bloodied Judge Wapner trying to silence two squabbling roommates.

I think he’s actually performing a show, depicting the life of the crazy, lone butcher of Aqaba. Like the reenactments of the old West at Knott’s Berry Farm. He dons an apron and performs a Sweeney Todd show at noon, 2 and 4 every day. It’s very loud and draws a crowd of curious and slightly uncomfortable onlookers.

The point is, Safeway is good for basic sundries, but for the fresh fruit and veggies, the veg market (or green grocer!) is the place.

The first time we went to the vegetable market in Aqaba, I was forced to come to terms with my own bias as a “wealthy” American. You see, I’ve grown accustomed to the organic Disneyland that is Whole Foods (or even Ralph’s Fresh Fare) and this market in Aqaba is…different. I don’t say that pejoratively, mind you. I like the market, even though I’m still a little intimidated by it. Let me explain.

First of all, it’s hot. Aqaba is in the middle of the desert so temperatures typically soar way into the 100’s in the summer (today it was 108, for example). But for some reason, the Shwe market feels at least 10 degrees hotter than the rest of town. Like a freshly picked gardenia or unpasteurized dairy, I’m extremely sensitive to the heat.

Bret keeps saying I’ll get used to it, but I won’t. There have been times the heat was so intense here, I thought I was going to die. I get really dramatic and start swaying back and forth, threatening to throw up or faint, or both.

Abby, of course, remains adorable and pleasant even when her enormous cheeks turn bright red and sweat drips from her face. I force her to drink bottled water until Bret has to intervene.

“She’s had enough, babe,” he assures me as Abby gulps from my giant water bottle. “I don’t want her to dehydrate!” I shriek, making my tourist status even more obvious. “We’ve only been out here for three minutes,” Bret reminds me in a calm voice. “Dehydration can happen in the blink of an eye,” I snap. Bret shakes his head as Abby, now bored with merely drinking the water, dumps it into her lap.

So, anyway, it’s hot here. And the veg market is even hotter.

The market itself consists of several outdoor stalls which are basically partitioned areas covered with cloth tents. Each stall is filled with crates of fresh fruit and vegetables. There are also tiny shops that sell fish, eggs and sides of goat, lamb and beef. The place has a distinct odor of raw animal carcass, cumin and fresh dirt. Trucks constantly rumble in and out on the street in front of the stalls, delivering more produce.

And the market just teems with people, mostly older women in full chador. There are also men in floor-length tunics and some of them wear the red and white keffiyehs or hata (head scarves).

The old women fascinate me. They have weathered brown skin and dark eyes. Sometimes all I can see are their eyes because the rest of them is covered with a black robe and headscarf. They have gnarled hands and they don’t speak, not even to the vendors. There’s a lot of gesturing and nodding.

Bret admitted to me a few days ago that when he sees a woman in full chador, he assumes she has no sense of humor. He said he realizes that that’s a product of his own prejudice and some of those women could be real riots.

I know what he means.

Whenever I see a nun wearing a habit, I have the same thought. I assume she’s a real bore who would be furious if I made a fart joke. She’d purse her lips and try to hit me on the knuckles with a ruler. But what if that nun knows some really great fart jokes? My own prejudice has prevented me from ever finding out.

I admit I’m afraid to test these waters with the old Muslim broads in full chador. They’re small but they look like they could kick my ass. Anyone who wears a black robe in this kind of heat can survive anything.

But back to the market.

The first thing I noticed were the goat carcasses hanging in the shop windows. They weren’t just carcasses, they were bodies. With the heads still attached. With fur on their ears and faces. But their bodies were completely skinned and gutted. A few goat heads (sans bodies) lined the bottom edge of the windows.

I felt faint. Those poor goats. Just hanging there. They had faces and eyes and soft little ears.

But then I remembered that I eat meat. I eat hamburgers and chicken and lamb. I eat baby sheep!? What’s the matter with me? But it tastes so good. I even eat bacon sometimes. Sweet little Wilbur. How could I eat him?

At Whole Foods, the meat was always displayed in neat compartments in a giant refrigerated case. It looked clean and fresh and didn’t resemble an animal at all. It was easy for me to forget the fact that it was once a sweet little animal with feelings and a soul. Shame on me.

There’s nothing subtle or neat about a dead goat hanging by its ankles from a metal hook. It repulsed me. It saddened me. It reminded me that I’m a hypocrite. If I care so much, why don’t I stop eating meat? I don’t know. Something for me to consider. Or maybe just something to accept. Those goat bodies are brutal but at least they’re honest. This is where meat comes from, Marj. Like it or not.

We didn’t buy any goat that day.

Instead, we browsed the barrels of fresh fruit and vegetables. We bought some zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, a small pumpkin, some carrots, onions, bell peppers, plums, peaches, apples, kiwis, and bananas.

And it cost 3 JD, or $5. I thought the guy had miscalculated.

He hadn’t. I was stunned.

There are also these guys who sit on plastic boxes just outside of the actual stalls and sell fresh greens and radishes. I asked him in English if he had any kale and he shook his head and said, “No English.” I shrugged and said, “No Arabic.” He smiled and said, “Salad?” I nodded. He picked out several bunches of fresh greens for me. They smelled amazing and I paid 1 JD for them, or $1.40.  At Whole Foods that same purchase would have set me back about $55.

We also bought a kilo (or 2.2 pounds) of fresh chicken breasts for 4 JD, or about $6. That night, Bret made roast chicken with potatoes, carrots, onions and bell peppers and it was heaven. It was lovely to have a home-cooked meal after eating airplane and mediocre restaurant food for almost a week. I was haunted by those goats, though. I’ve been vegetarian before. Could I do it again?

Bret and I make weekly trips to the veggie market for all of our fresh produce. We buy a few things at Safeway too, like peaches, plums and bell peppers. Overall, the fruits and veggies in Aqaba have proven to be exceptionally fresh and flavorful. The plums are especially sweet.

There are some things I have yet to find here: sweet potatoes, avocados that aren’t brown and shriveled, really fresh broccoli (although they have cauliflower and it’s awesome), fresh blueberries, raspberries or kale. It’s funny how you get sort of desperate for something when it’s suddenly not available. In LA, for instance, I could go several weeks without thinking about kale, but now that I don’t have access to it, I’m worried that maybe I’ll die without it. I’m already planning to stock up on kale chips when we come home for Christmas.

This brings me to a point I want to stress to you. Don’t take anything for granted. Not even something simple like your toenails. Be grateful that you have those toenails, or if you live in Los Angeles, easy access to kale. Or fresh food in general. Aqaba is a nice city, despite quirks that an American like me isn’t used to, but lots of places are a lot less nice. Millions of people in this world go hungry every day.

I’m not trying to bum you out. I’m just asking that you be grateful. For whatever you have.

The Things I Feared

When we made the decision to move to Jordan, one of my first thoughts was, “What if they don’t have broccoli there?”

I actually worried about this.

Bret reminded me that if they didn’t have broccoli in Jordan, they would surely have something similar.

I was still worried. I know, that sounds stupid but see, broccoli has become a staple in Abby’s diet (about which I’m probably a little too proud) and I didn’t want her to forget all about broccoli and then decide when we’re back in the states that she hates it.

Plus, broccoli is one of the few green vegetables Bret actually eats and it’s ridiculously easy to cook. Its only drawback really is that it leaves the kitchen smelling like a fart factory.

Picture that for a second. A fart factory.

After about a week of worrying about broccoli, I realized what was really bothering me was my fear of being in a new and strange place filled with a host of unknowns. What if I was miserable? What if I hated everyone? What if everyone hated me? What if I had the wrong lunchbox?

While I was excited Bret had landed such a cool job, it also meant we’d be moving far far from home. I wouldn’t know the language, the local customs, or where to go for my yearly pap smear.

Do they even have gynecologists in Aqaba?

“Of course they do, babe,” Bret assured me, “They have vaginas there, so they must have vagina doctors.”

This from the man who, one week later, wondered if they had ice cream in Jordan. Ice cream, Bret? Jesus. Even tiny African villages with no running water have ice cream.

Nevertheless, I was worried about broccoli and my husband, about ice cream.

This brings me to the overall point:

To compare the things I was worried about before moving to Jordan with the things I’ve discovered since I’ve arrived.

1. Broccoli

They have it here. It’s not always available, either fresh or frozen, but they do have it. We have a giant bag of frozen broccoli in our freezer right now, in fact. And I feel much more secure. Abby even ate some steamed broccoli for lunch today. Our kitchen smells predictably farty.

They also have ice cream here, by the way. Lots of it. There’s a big ‘ole fancy Swiss hotel called the Moevenpick right next door to our gated community.

Moevenpick’s slogan is: “Passionately Swiss.” I’ve never thought of the Swiss as being a particularly passionate people. In fact, I think of them as being sort of indifferent. But I guess “Indifferently Swiss” is a pretty crappy slogan.

Anyway, Moevenpick also makes ice cream and it’s good. It’s no McConnell’s (best ice cream in the world!) but it satisfies.

Oh, and they have gynecologists here too. There’s one that even advertises his services on a huge sign on a medical building in town. I probably won’t go to him for a slew of reasons, but it’s nice to know he’s there.

2. Is It Safe?

This line was first made famous by Laurence Olivier in the film Marathon Man in which he played creepy Nazi dentist, Zell (inspired by Dr. Mangele). In the film, Zell would innocently ask his victims, “Is it safe?” and then proceed to rip out their teeth with a pair of pliers (no anesthetic, mind you).

If you have yet to see the movie, then shame on you.  Stop reading this post and go watch it. The rest of you, keep reading.

When anyone first learned of our plans to move to Jordan, they would invariably ask “Is it safe?” I could only answer, “I think so.” And now that we’ve moved here, my answer is…the same. I think so.

Is it safe? Well, yeah. We live in a gated resort community 8 miles from the city center. We’re surrounded by fancy buildings and swimming pools and people on vacation.

Aqaba is a town of 95,000. Crime of any kind is very rare here and while the drivers are batshit crazy, I don’t really get the sense that I’m unsafe.

We’re more likely to get hurt in a car accident or in our pool than we are in some sort of terrorist attack. Isn’t that what people mean when they ask if it’s safe?

This time last year, terrorists fired rockets at Eilat (the resort town in neighboring Israel, just across the water from us) and hit a part of downtown Aqaba. One person was killed and several people were injured. This freaked me out when I first heard about it.

But then, a crazy Christian extremist blew up a building and attacked a youth camp in Oslo, Norway just last month. And a friend of mine had his apartment in L.A. broken into twice in three months.

Even our own house in Pasadena was targeted by a burglar back in 2006. Luckily, our dogs chased him off and no one got hurt.

The point is, are we safe? Yes. We’re as safe as anyone else. We’re as safe as you.

Unless you’re in Darfur. Or Detroit. And then we’re probably safer.

3. The Chador

I knew from my internet research that I wouldn’t have to wear a headscarf in Jordan, but I wondered how many women actually would be wearing it? What about the full chador (black robe)?  Turns out, many of them wear the full chador, even though it’s 110 degrees outside.

Some even cover their entire faces with a thin gauzy layer of fabric over their eyes. Other women just wear a headscarf and modest clothes (a tunic top over jeans) and a few let their hair flow free.

The one thing they all have in common is beautifully groomed eyebrows.

The first encounter we had with the chador crowd was at JFK while we waited to board the flight to Amman. We were in the international terminal and we saw several women sporting the long, black robes and lots of dark eyeliner.

It tripped me out at first. In fact, I found it sort of creepy. It reminded me of the killer in the movie Scream or the priests at the Greek Orthodox church I went to occasionally as a child.

After the initial shock wore off,  I realized that I was creeped out because I wasn’t used to seeing people dressed this way. And the only people I had seen dressed this way were murderers (i.e. Scream) and old men who smelled like Frankincense. Naturally, with these kinds of associations, I wouldn’t automatically feel warm and fuzzy about the black robes.

But now that we’ve been here for a week, I’ve gotten used to them, more or less. At least they don’t give me the creeps anymore. In fact, I find them intersting.

I wonder how the covered women feel about the fact that they cover themselves. Do they dig it? Resent it? Feel naked without it?

As you can see, I have lots of questions. I’m working on it. I’ll get back to you.

4. Will I be miserable in Jordan?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: “Wherever you go, there you are.” I was reasonably happy in Pasadena and I’m reasonably happy here.

I still fret about money and whether or not I’ll ever have toned arms. I still have bouts of health anxiety and I still apply Burt’s Bees lip balm eighteen hundred times a day.

In other words,  I’m adjusting to this place, but I’m still me.

I mean, I’m sure we can all agree that some places are indeed nicer than others. First class is a much swankier place than the coach cabin, for instance.

But if the guy sitting in seat 1A is a d-bag, he’ll be a d-bag whether he’s in first class or coach.

If he’s in first class on our flight from LAX to JFK though, he’ll be a d-bag who gets chocolate chip cookies baked fresh on the plane. The Muppets in coach (us) suffered through the torture of smelling those cookies as they baked but we didn’t get to enjoy eating them.

Fresh cookies are for first class passengers, not Muppets.

Sam the Eagle and I spent six dollars on a stale, packaged cookie made from sawdust and choco-wax nibs on that flight.  The goddam aroma of fresh cookies was too much for us to bear.

Unfortunately, that dusty, waxy “cookie” did nothing but leave us with cookie blue balls.

By the way, Bo Derek was on our flight from LAX to JFK. I actually had this thought when I noticed her: “Well, this plane is definitely NOT going to crash. Not if Bo Derek is here.” WTF?!

So, the point is, am I miserable here? Some days, yes and some days, no. Same as I was in Pasadena. The biggest difference is that here I don’t have physical proximity to my wonderful friends and family. And that’s a challenge, for sure.

Instead, I have to rely on a scattered expat community (whom I have yet to actually meet), the local folks, and my husband and daughter for support. When all else fails, there’s always Skype.

5. Secondhand Smoke

This one flatout sucks. I was worried about it being a problem and it is. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke (even when I was a smoker) and now that I have a baby, I get violent when anyone smokes near my child.

Unfortunately, even the babies in Jordan smoke.

People here light up in restaurants, cafes, while having a heart transplant. I wouldn’t be surprised if whichever gynecologist I do end up going to offers me a Pall Mall while she lubes the speculum.

I swear, it’s a national pastime here, smoking. Like baseball in the U.S. or cutting corners in China, smoking is the favored family activity in Jordan.

I’m struggling to accept it.

Bret and I have, for the most part, been able to shield Abby from the clouds of secondhand smoke that engulf this town on a daily basis. I frequent the cafe, Gloria Jean’s, in town because they make a great cappuccino. Unfortunately, the place smells like your uncle who smokes three packs before breakfast. I won’t even let Abby venture into the place. Bret waits with her in our air-conditioned car while I scurry in and try not to breathe too deeply as I smile and order my coffee.

We had dinner out at a restaurant the second night we were here. It’s a place called Ali Baba and they serve seafood and middle eastern fare (hummus and the like). The food was delicious, and aside from the flies that kept buzzing around us, it was a pleasant experience. Except for the smoking. The patrons all around us kept lighting cigarettes and I thought I was going to lose my shit.

I asked the maitre’d if they had a non-smoking section. He just looked at me apologetically and said “No.” I wrinkled my face at him, like Kermit the Frog, and hugged Abby to my chest. He bowed his head and walked away. I think he got the message.

In case he didn’t, and in case he’s reading this blog (you never know), this is the message: DON’T SMOKE AROUND CHILDREN, YOU JACKASSES!

Normally, I try to maintain cultural sensitivity, but in this case, it ain’t cultural. It’s downright stupid and rude. Don’t smoke around kids. Period.

Our current neighbors like to smoke on their back patio, which is a mere ten feet from our patio. I call them our current neighbors because these apartments are typically used as short-term vacation rentals, so these jokers likely won’t be here in a week or so.

I think they’re French. Whatever they are, they’re incredibly tan.

Nevertheless, I shoot them a powerful stink-eye every time they light up on the patio and I happen to be outside. I cough dramatically and wave my hand as though I’m trying to see through a thick cloud of toxic dust.

They just smile at me, oblivious, while their infant son rolls his own tobacco. You think I’m kidding.

It’s hard to change thousands of years of habits. We call them ritual or customs but really they’re just habits. Smoking happens to be a particularly nasty, and dangerous, one. I hope the people here start to see that soon and quit en masse. I have a dream.

So, there you have it. My fears. I think, for the most part, we’re doing pretty well here. People are people everywhere. Everyone just wants to wake up in the morning and have breakfast and go on with life. The folks in Jordan are no exception.

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Welcome to Jordan!

So here we are in Aqaba. We arrived about a week ago; Bret, Abby, and me. Our little family. We’re holding up okay, considering what a HUGE transition this has been. If you’re like, “What do you mean by huge transition, Marj? What’s so huge about it?” Well, for starters, Aqaba’s in Jordan. And Jordan is in the middle east. The middle east. You know, that strange, warring place you hear about on the nightly news. The place for which every rapper used to wish peace back in the 90’s.

Luckily for us, Aqaba (and Jordan) is pretty peaceful. But there’s a 10-hour time difference between Aqaba and L.A. so jetlag was inevitable. We’re only just now getting on a relatively normal sleep schedule.

It’s been a tough week for Bret and me–lots of testy exchanges and general disorientation.  For the first few days, we were going to bed (or more accurately, face-planting) at 4 in the afternoon and awakening at 2 in the morning, ready to start the day. It was a bummer for those first few days, especially since Aqaba doesn’t really get going until 10 am, which makes finding an early bird breakfast damn near impossible. Even finding a cup of coffee before 9 am is tricky. Adding to the weirdness is the fact that it’s Ramadan this month, which means that everyone is fasting (no food or drink) from sun-up until sundown for an entire month. Plus, it’s illegal (ILLEGAL, I say!) to eat or drink anything on a public street until after sundown.

For the record, I’m not fasting and neither is Bret.

Luckily, we also live in a gated community called Tala Bay (8 miles from the town center) filled with German tourists where the same Islamic rules don’t apply.  But to that end, a whole other level of weirdness DOES apply. For example, Bret could rollerskate through the streets of Tala Bay wearing nothing but a purple Speedo and munching on a stollen and no one would look twice. More on that later.

A little perspective: For the past five years, we’ve been living a pretty uneventful life in sleepy Pasadena (California, not Texas). Sure, our little house was sort of falling apart and we constantly stressed over finances but it was an easy life. It was familiar. I knew where the grocery store was, I had a favorite Chevron and we had our daily routines down pat. It was home. Now, we’re seven thousand miles away in a resort town in a developing nation. It’s different.

A few months ago, Bret interviewed for a job as a professor at the only film school in Jordan: the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts (or, RSICA). It’s an MFA program not unlike the production program at USC in Los Angeles. The program here in Aqaba is actually modeled after the USC program but the student body is made up entirely of young adults from the MENA (Middle East North African) region instead of kids from the Mid-west (Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio).

When Bret first mentioned the gig to me, we were in the middle of the worst period of financial hardship we’d experienced since undergrad and I didn’t care if he got a job on Mars, as long as it PAID. And didn’t land him in prison. I wouldn’t want him becoming a pot farmer, for example. I have scruples. Besides, we have a baby now. But things were getting desperate, so if he were offered a job as a mule, I may not have objected.

So, when he got hired at RSICA, it sounded like a dream. The school offered a decent salary and benefits package and the best part (or at least a huge bonus) is that Bret would likely ENJOY the work. It’s easy to lose sight of personal fulfillment when mortgage and gas bills keep knocking you down like little monthly tsunamis. Bret spent three years at USC earning his Master’s in film directing and now he would get the opportunity to teach directing and maybe even have time to direct some of his own projects. After spending the last few years doing editing gigs for mediocre television and internet shows, he would finally get to exercise his intellect, creativity AND Arabic language skills all at once.

After a brief discussion that consisted of: Bret: “So what do you think?” Me: “I think you should take it.” Bret: “Okay,” we decided to pack up our little family, rent out our crumbling house and move to Jordan. Our families and friends were thrilled for us albeit sad to see us moving so far away. We were sad too. Or at least, I was. We reminded ourselves and our friends/fam: it’s only for a year. It’s like going abroad in college. Everyone did that, right?

The most provocative question I got was: “Is it safe?” At first, I had the same question. Would I have to wear a head scarf? Or worse, a full chador? Would I be allowed to drive? Would I be treated like a second-class citizen? Would I get groped by Arabic men on a regular basis? Important questions.

So naturally, I consulted the internet.What I discovered is that Jordan is a pretty relaxed country as far as the middle east goes. Women are not required to cover their hair and they’re allowed to drive. I don’t get groped but I do get stared at a lot. I think that’s just because I’m an obvious tourist.

Also, I’m traveling with an insanely cute baby who says “Hiya!” and waves at everyone. For those of you who’ve met Abby know what I’m talking about. She’s a little cherub with the charisma of Johnny Carson. People naturally gravitate toward her.

After touching down in Aqaba at around 9 p.m. August 4th, one of Bret’s collegues, a lovely Jordanian man, picked us up at the tiny airport. He immediately made us feel welcome and assured us that the two bags the airline had “misplaced” would turn up the following day. I had my doubts as I imagined all of the new clothes I had recently bought from Anthropolgie and Nordstrom and how I would never be able to find suitable replacements in a town where the women wear black robes and rubber sandals.

I felt a rising panic in my chest but decided to trust Bret’s colleague. If you’re wondering why I’m not telling you this colleague’s name, it’s because Bret asked me not to. So, in the interest of convenience and protecting said colleague’s privacy, said colleague will henceforth be referred to as “Marty” (not his real name. Not even close).  So, Marty told me our bags were likely still in Amman and just missed the connecting flight to Aqaba and we’d surely get them in the morning. All we had to do was fill out a claim form and the airline would contact us when the bags arrived. Like I said, I decided to trust Marty. He seemed like he was telling the truth. Besides, Bret assured me over and over that airlines don’t like losing people’s luggage and that we would definitely get our bags within a few days. I couldn’t help but wonder if “a few days” in Jordan was the equivalent of six weeks in America. I took several slow deep breaths.

Thankfully, I had packed a smaller, carry-on suitcase with a few outfits for me and some for Abby. Her giant suitcase was the other one that had gone missing. It was filled with her Funzi Bunz cloth diapers and adorable little dresses from Tea Collection and Baby Gap. I imagined some greasy man with bad teeth peddling our expensive American clothes on the street somewhere in dowtown Amman and I immediately felt like an asshole.

I decided not to worry about our bags and instead focused on the incredibly hot desert air that was choking the breath right out of me. I thought of Brooke Shields in the movie “Sahara.” She wore that awesome khaki jumpsuit and her hair was feathered to perfection. I was wearing black jeans stained with cream cheese and a sweater that smelled like b.o. and secondhand smoke (welcome to Jordan!) and my hair was in a greasy ponytail. Brooke Shields I was not.

After filling out claim forms for our “lost” luggage, Marty took us to our new apartment by way of a small grocery store in town called Mohannad (not be confused with the ever-popular Mohammad). Mohannad was awesome! We picked up some Quaker oatmeal, a block of feta cheese, some chocolate ice cream, apples, bananas and I grabbed a can of kidney beans for some reason. Marty had stocked our apartment’s fridge and cupboards before we arrived, which was incrediby sweet. He got us 3 cartons of milk, orange juice, apricot nectar, plain yogurt, labaneh cheese (a cross between sour cream and Greek-style yogurt), cream cheese, tea, coffee, sugar, toilet paper, garbage bags and a giant box of these cookies called Snack Maamoul. They’re basically the middle eastern version of fig newtons, only they’re filled with dates instead of figs. And they’re totally rad.

After Marty dropped us off at our apartment and we hauled in all of our bags (minus the two most important ones), Bret and I stood in the middle of the living room and stared at each other with bloodshot eyes. Then we polished off about sixteen Snack Maamoul cookies apiece. Exhausted and bloated, we flopped onto our new (king size) bed and fell asleep…for about 5 hours.

Then we sat bolt upright.

It was still very dark outside but our bodies were like, “C’mon kiddos! Up and at ’em!” By the way, our daughter, Abby, was an amazing sport about all of this. She slept for 9 hours of the 11 hour flight from NY to Amman and she was pleasant and happy for almost the entire journey. She’s a far better traveler than either Bret or I.  She turned 14 months on August 9th. I wonder if we’ll get hit with the dreaded “Terrible Twos” next June when her birthday rolls around. I wonder if the so-called Terrible Twos isn’t a myth. If any of you reading this are parents who either have a two-year old or lived through a two-year old, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. And you’re also probably grumbling and laughing at me right now, “Bitch doesn’t know what she’s in for.” Maybe I don’t.

But maybe my girl will skate through the Terrible Twos like she always seems to skate through everything else: smiling, laughing, curious and sweet.

Or maybe she’ll turn into a screaming, demanding little lunatic and it’ll be pure hell for her father and me.

Either way, we’ll get through it. Just like we’re getting through the adventure of moving to Jordan. We’ll get really cranky, apologize and then stuff ourselves with Snack Maamoul.