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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6 thoughts on “The Things I Feared

  1. Hi far away Marj!
    I’m loving your blog entries! Very funny and informative.
    Did your lost luggage show up yet?
    Your second hand smoke stories remind me of when I was about 12. That must have been the year I learned the dangers of second hand smoke. I was at a mall when some old guy started smoking next to me on a bench. I started to cough so dramatically he must’ve thought I was a little special. But, in the end, that man finished his cigarette elsewhere.
    I hope, at the very least, your balcony neighbors are soon replaced with equally tanned vacationers who blow bubbles instead of smoke.
    Love, Mark

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mark! I appreciate your support. The luggage did show up (see latest post). I love your story about the old guy at the mall when you were 12. People can be so clueless! I sometimes wonder if I was ever like that when I used to smoke. Probably. I was pretty clueless when I was an angsty youth.
      Our neighbors are still here. I’ve confirmed that they’re French and they have about 8 kids (not really, but it seems like it). I hope they read my blog and decide to quit smoking.
      I love you and can’t wait to see you when we’re home!

  2. Marjie- your writing is so great! i spent15 minutes reading your blog and only 2 scanning through CNN ;))) much more fun and much more information. love it. keep it coming. we are missing you girls!!!!
    did your suitcases arrive???
    can you drive a car alone there?
    tell us about all the sightseeing you do as well! i’m sure you’ll be getting out of the compound soon!

    i am looking forward to your next post!

    • Thanks, Eliza! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. I can drive a car alone here. I just haven’t done it yet. The drivers here really are INSANE. They just cut in wherever and whenever. And sometimes people just stop for no reason in the middle of the road. It’s awesome. It’s going to take some getting used to, for sure. Plus, they have all these roundabouts which are very of confusing. I’ll just have to put on my helmet and protective suit and practice driving.

      I miss you and Zoey so much. I hope you guys are doing well! Are you in New York yet?

  3. I found your blog while searching for expat information about Amman…this post is the best. So true!! We have been living in Amman since March 2013, and seriously..the smoking..!!!!! I asked at the Gloria Jeans in Baraka Mall “do you have a non-smoking section?” the barista answered: “you can sit anywhere you’d like!”

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