I’m Back

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I’m back.

I took a wee hiatus from the blog for …oh, about 8 months. Not that you were counting. But you missed me. Tell me you did.  I missed me. I missed writing.

A lot has happened since my last post in September. In short, Bret and I quit our jobs at RSICA, left Amman, and we’re now living in Alpine, Texas. WTF, you ask?

In short, the film school in Jordan where Bret and I were both teaching, RSICA, was in dire financial shape. It was a precarious situation for us. So, after many hours of careful (often tearful) deliberation, Bret and I decided to cut our losses and quit. It was a painful decision, but ultimately the right one. We gave our two weeks notice, packed up our shit, and moved home to the states. That was in mid-February.

And the end of our Jordan adventure. Poof!

It was surreal coming home for good. Looking back on it now, our time in Jordan feels like a distant dream. I had always compared traveling there to tumbling through the wardrobe and finding ourselves in Narnia. When we would return to the US for vacation, nothing much had changed stateside. We would reappear as if we’d never been gone. Although, we felt different, even if only in perspective.  And then vacation would end and we’d sift our way through the layers of the wardrobe and find ourselves back in Narnia.

This time, we were leaving Narnia for good.

In late February, Abby and I moved into my mom’s garage in Grass Valley while Bret went to Los Angeles in search of a temp gig.

There are few things in life more humbling than living in your mom’s garage. Abby and I slept on what was essentially a beach ball even though it was technically an “inflatable bed.” My mom did everything she could to make us comfortable. She gussied up the garage with shelving units, a rolling clothes rack, and a quaint turquoise trash can from Ikea.

But it was still a garage and I was still 36 and living in it. I had hit a low point.

But in many ways, my time in Grass Valley was an important interlude. A time to reflect and deal with my feelings about what had transpired in Jordan. It took me several weeks to process my feelings about our premature repatriation. When I finally did allow myself to feel, what I experienced was a mixture of sadness and relief.

Relief because we were finally coming home to the US! Land of the free, home of the brave. I could wear a tank top in public without being ogled and possibly groped. The drivers, more or less, follow the rules of the road here. Whole Foods! Trader Joe’s! In ‘N Out! Abundance! Equality for women! No more call to prayer waking me up at 5:30 every morning!

But sadness because I was leaving the people I’d met and grown to adore. My producing colleague with whom I’d developed a deep friendship and my wonderful students! The RSICA students and my Aqaba International students will forever hold a place in my heart. I’m so grateful for Skype and Facebook because if I never get the chance to see my students again in the flesh, at least I get to see them online.

And sadness that I had left behind this amazing adventure, this life of an expat; an identity to which I had grown attached. There was an intrigue to my life, a sexiness. I was the American woman living in the middle east. My friends and family and even strangers remarked on how brave I was to live and work in a muslim country surrounded by warn-torn Syria and Iraq and the instability of Egypt and Libya. How positively brave!

I knew the truth. Jordan was reasonably stable and living there was actually no riskier than living in Los Angeles. But the middle east was far away, exotic, unusual. And as a result, I felt special. I felt like people thought I was interesting. It’s taken me a few months to realize that I was no more interesting in Aqaba or Amman than I was in Pasadena. I’m still me. I had some cool experiences and certainly learned many things about the other side of the world. But wherever I go, there I am.

And here I am. In Alpine, Texas!

WTF?

Yeah, it’s weird. Much like our move to Jordan, totally unexpected and yet singularly awesome. Bret got an assistant professorship at Sul Ross State University and so now we’re living in a different foreign country known as Texas. The Lone Star state. A state in which I never thought I’d live. A state that Louise from Thelma & Louise refused to even drive through while she was on the run from the law.

Alpine is a tiny (population < 7,000) West Texas town three and a half hours east of El Paso and six hours west of Austin. There is no Starbucks, no Target, and the nearest Wal-Mart is 45 minutes away. We do have a drive-thru liquor store though.

You may have seen the recent 60 Minutes piece on Marfa, Texas. It’s the artsy enclave 26 miles west of Alpine, and I kid you not when I say it puts Silverlake to shame in the hipster department. Marfa is so deeply hip that it has a state-of-the-art drive-in movie theater and a boot company that makes only one style of unisex vintage boot. These boots cost $500 a pair and are backordered 10 months due to popular demand. Here’s a link in case you want to up your hipster ante: www.cobrarock.com/

Marfa is also the place where No Country for Old Men, Giant, and There Will Be Blood were filmed. Very hip.

Alpine is less hipster-ish, although we do have a food truck. It’s called Cow Dog and it’s awesome. www.cowdogdog.com

Here’s the thing. I grew up in Northern California and then spent my entire adult life living in Los Angeles. Aside from our year and a half in Jordan I’ve only ever lived in the Golden State. I’ve traveled fairly extensively to Europe and around the continental U.S. but never actually lived anywhere else.

I’m being terribly blunt when I say that I’ve always believed California was the greatest state in the union. It’s beautiful, it has culture, and fabulous weather. It has Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and the PCH! San Francisco and LA. And if you get tired of those places, you could always go to San Diego or Mendocino or Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz. California is beauty and more beauty. The Beach Boys wrote a song about its women and Jim Morrison too, although he was partial to the chicks in LA. My point is, California is amazing. Why would I ever leave?

Because it’s fucking expensive.

And if you don’t have a job, then it’s impossible to survive there. Unless you’re a trust fund baby. And while my parents have been more than generous with me throughout the years, trust fund baby I am not.

So, Bret and I were forced out of LA. Squeezed out like pus from a zit. Crass. Sorry. But it’s how I felt when we first left LA. I felt awful, pathetic, lame. I couldn’t hack it. I had tried and failed and was being kicked out of the club. A part of my brain still resides in the halls of junior high where I was the gawky new girl who didn’t belong.

But here’s what I’ve discovered since we moved here in April. I like Texas. At least, I like Alpine. It’s charming and interesting. It has yoga and pilates studios, some decent restaurants (albeit not many of them), a natural food store, and a park within walking distance from my house. There’s an ice cream and shaved ice shop called Murphy Street Raspa Company that my daughter adores and it’s housed in an old historical building made of wood and owned by a young woman with a dog named Rodeo. www.raspaland.com

Here are some photos of Murphy Street Raspa Co.

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And here’s a picture of Rodeo in his “cave:”

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There are train tracks that run through town, a volunteer fire department, and a tiny farmer’s market every Saturday morning. And I’m on a first-name basis with my local postmaster. She even stopped by our house to apologize in person when a package didn’t get delivered to us on time. This place has character. It’s unique and, while small, it has most of what one needs to get through the day. And then some.

As for the people, there are some rednecks. Like the owner of this truck (zoom in on the photo below to get a good view of those bumper stickers): Image

There are also big-haired anchors on the local Odessa news channel. And bugs the size of my arm. But there are also intelligent, kind, generous people here who come from all walks of life. One of Bret’s colleagues is from Ireland, and a fellow mom I met at the toddler library group hails from India. I’ve also met people from California and other states in the US.

And the people actually born and raised in Texas aren’t all closed-minded redneck bigots. I’m going to tell you straight up that that was my prejudice before we moved here. I had a deep-seated fear of Texas. I thought most Texans wore cowboy hats and shit-kickers and chewed tobacco and beat their wives. I knew that Austin had a cool music scene and prided itself on being a liberal-ish town. But Alpine? What was I to find here? Would my free-spirited daughter turn into a big-haired debutante who believes in creationism? And what about me? What on earth would I do in Alpine? Who would my friends be? Big-haired former debutantes who believe in creationism?

As a matter of fact, no. Not at all.

I’ve met liberal artists, writers, teachers, lawyers, and small business owners. I’ve also met and befriended some conservative folks and they have invited me into their home for dinner and made me feel welcome. And none of them have big hair.

See, Alpine is a college town. And while it’s not Harvard Square it has a student body of 2,000 and a faculty count just shy of 200. And where there are universities there are liberals. Incidentally, Alpine is in Brewster County and Brewster County is one of six (or so) blue counties in Texas.

Alpine is also starkly beautiful. It sits at an altitude of 4800 feet and is surrounded by mountains. Huge white clouds billow in a blue sky that goes on for miles. We have electric thunderstorms and the wind is not shy about making her presence known. I’m listening to the wind right now as she rustles through the trees outside my bedroom window. It sounds like ocean waves.

One downside is that it’s really dry and dusty here. I drink gallons of water and apply face cream a million times a day. But April and May are apparently the driest months. I welcome the humidity of summer.

And admittedly, I’m a city mouse so living in Alpine is taking some adjustment. I’m used to more noise, more places to shop, more people, more options. Life moves faster in the city. But these days, I find a little less of all of that quite appealing. Sure, I miss Trader Joe’s and the Hollywood Bowl but I like that I can get to the grocery store in literally 3 minutes. And I don’t hear helicopters flying overhead every night. Sure, the train that runs through Alpine a few times a day (and night!) isn’t exactly quiet but it’s a beautiful sound. Haunting. Like something from a bygone era. And the starkness of the landscape here is a constant reminder that the world is big and I am small. And that’s a good thing.

So, I’m back.

The evolution of a blog. First Aqaba, then Amman, now Alpine. Each place unique, each its own little world.

I will keep you posted.

And here is Abby. My girl. She’s almost three. Image

Back in the Saddle

We’re back in Jordan. We’ve been here since September 1st. I’ve been meaning to post something to the blog for three weeks but after several attempts and much editing I decided it was best if I was fully recovered from jet lag before posting something for all the world to see. Also, I didn’t want to write through the lens of negativity and anxiety I often feel when I move to a new place. Maybe it’s just me but the initial adjustment period of a move is often overwhelming and rife with cursing.  Therefore, I decided to hold off on publishing anything. Until now.

So, hello!

For those of you not in the loop, we no longer live in Aqaba. We now live in Amman. Same country, different city. Amman is the bustling capital of Jordan (located in the northern part of the country) and it has a population of 4 million. Aqaba is a sleepy seaside community in the south of Jordan with a population of 100,000. We lived in Aqaba last year and while it was fun, by the time we left I was ready for some good food and good shopping. Small towns can be lovely but the ones I prefer have names like Carmel and Mendocino.

When we left Aqaba for summer break back in May, I was so excited to be going home to the U.S. I was also looking forward to moving to Amman upon our return to Jordan in the fall but that felt far far away.

Summer vacation was amazing and cathartic. I haven’t been on vacation in years and certainly not a three-months-long summer vacation. I haven’t experienced that since I was a kid. We went to Tucson to visit my in-laws and Northern California to visit my parents. We spent time in Los Angeles catching up on doctor’s appointments and visiting friends. We went to Carmela, my favorite artisan ice cream shop in Pasadena where they have flavors like strawberry buttermilk, salted caramel, and honey lavender. We went on a road trip through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. We went horseback riding, Bret caught trout on a fishing trip in Bozeman and we ate it for dinner. We ate sweet corn on the cob almost daily. It was a real summer. And it was perfect.

***Little side note: I also read two awesome books this summer that I’m recommending. The first is called The Fantasy Bond by Robert Firestone. Read it. It’s amazing. The other is The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence by Rachel Simmons. I recommend this book to every woman (and man) on the planet, even if you don’t have a daughter. You should especially read it if you do have a daughter, but even if you don’t it’s an insightful book that examines the way in which we teach our girls to handle conflict. It’s a book about how to raise (and be) real girls, not “good” girls.

And then, the three months were up and suddenly were in a packing frenzy, stocking up on all the things we were concerned we wouldn’t be able to find in Jordan. Important, big things like my medications and little (but also important) things like pure vanilla extract and organic cotton tampons. In the weeks leading up to our departure, I was anticipating what life would be like in Amman. I’d never really spent much time there. One day, to be exact. Last year, we drove up to Amman to go shopping and then drove back down to Aqaba the very same night. I will never do that again.

But that one hellishly long day did offer me some insight into the Amman experience. I knew we would have ready access to more stuff, I just didn’t know the true extent of it. More significantly, I didn’t really know what it would be like to live in Amman. All I really knew was Aqaba. And despite its deficiencies, I liked it. I loved the Red Sea. I loved how clear blue and small it is. I loved living right on the beach and being able to walk outside our apartment and be mere feet away from the sand and water and tall date palms. I didn’t have any idea what I would love about Amman.

We arrived at the Queen Alia airport and already things felt different. The most obvious being was that we didn’t have to hop on yet another flight after 20 hours of international travel. I was relieved. It’s a short flight from Amman to Aqaba but at the 20-hour mark it aways felt like salt in the wound to have to board yet another plane. Also, Royal Jordanian Airlines could never seem to get our luggage to arrive in Aqaba when we did. Every fucking time they left at least one of our bags (usually mine) behind in Amman. I started to become accustomed to being without my clothes for the first few days in Aqaba.

Not this time. When we arrived in Amman, I chased Abby around the baggage claim area for less than 10 minutes before Bret appeared, sweaty and smiling, our suitcases piled high on a luggage cart. “Got ’em. Let’s go!” I was in mild shock. It had never been this easy before and I had prepared myself for disaster.

We walked out to the curb and were immediately greeted by a driver holding a sign with the word SCOTT printed on it. His name was Mohammad and he spoke English quite well. And he even had Abby’s car seat already waiting in the car. That made my heart swell.

Bret sat in the front seat, Abby was nestled in her car seat, and my sunglasses were still on my head. Life was as it should be and we were off to our new place.

When we arrived at our apartment, the landlady greeted us. The first thing she said in a thick Jordanian accent was, “Where are the dogs?” We explained to her that we had to leave them at home because of the heat embargo at the Tucson Airport. The airlines refuse to fly animals if the weather exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Tucson in the summer is waaaay hotter than 85 degrees. More like 110. In the shade.

The embargo was news to us as we’d never had to fly with animals before. We had no choice but to leave them behind with my mother-in-law. Now we realize leaving them behind was the best decision for the dogs. One of them, Sophie, has a chronic illness and is allergic to everything while the other dog, Ruby, is a chewer and afraid of people with dark skin. Bringing them here probably wouldn’t have been the right move for them. But our landlady was sincerely disappointed. Apparently, she’s a real dog person and was looking forward to meeting them. Generally speaking, in the Arab world, dogs are just one step above pigs. And pigs are haram (forbidden) in Islam. But there’s this portion of the population here (the progressives) who like and own dogs. They do have veterinarians here as well as pet stores. But generally, the locals have cats or birds as pets rather than dogs. Just a cultural difference. In Mexico, people cuddle with their chickens on the couch and watch soap operas. This is not a stereotype. I’ve witnessed it.

Our apartment is nice. It’s got engineered wood floors which is kind of unusual in Jordan. Mostly, apartments and houses here have tile or marble floors, or sometimes carpeting. Wood is very hard to come by in this region being that it’s a desert. Our apartment in Aqaba had tile floors throughout which made it feel a little cold, a little echo-y. Also, our apartment here is bigger than our joint in Aqaba.

We have 2 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, a large living room, dining area, a decent-sized kitchen and a backyard. What we don’t have is the Red Sea right outside our door. And 7 swimming pools at our disposal, which we had in Tala Bay (gated community where we lived in Aqaba). Pros and cons, right?

Amman is much bigger than Aqaba. Not just in terms of population density but geographically too. And while the Dead Sea is a mere 35 minutes away, the Dead Sea is no Red Sea. For starters, there’s nothing in it. It’s so salty that it’s completely devoid of life — no coral, no fish, not even amoeba. Just salt. This means you shouldn’t get the water in your eyes. It also means it’s impossible to be eaten by a shark. Pros and cons.

On the pro side, Amman has more availability of goods and services. There are several large grocery stores with fabulous American and European imports. Things like, Oscar Meyer Thick Cut bacon. This was a very happy day in the Scott household when we discovered Spinney’s has a whole pork section (we call it the haram section). Spinney’s is a big, western-style (by that I mean American or European, not cowboy-themed) grocery store. It’s located in the newest mall in town, called Taj Mall. Taj Mall feels like a slightly smaller (and vertical) Glendale Galleria.

I like Spinneys. I find their produce to be less impressive than the other grocery stores in town but they have a fairly extensive organic and gluten free section. You can also buy things like Stonewall Kitchen brand bruschetta for $17 a jar, if you’re so inclined. On our most recent trip to Spinney’s I found Horizon organic string cheese. Abby loves string cheese and I love organic food. I’m a bourgeois white lady from Los Angeles. What can I say?

The other grocery stores are nice. Cozmo is my favorite. They have things I never thought I would find in Jordan. Things like Bob’s Red Mill coconut flour, fresh blueberries imported from Belgium, and organic, unsulphured dried apricots. I know. This is the shit I care about. But it’s a good store. Miles is another awesome grocery store. It has wood floors, a nice variety of products, and if I squint my eyes I could be at Whole Foods. Miles is located on the basement floor of Mecca Mall, for those of you who live in Amman or plan to visit. They sell a fantastic olive oil liquid hand soap called Dr. Mak. It’s lightly scented with essential oils and it’s made right here in Jordan. It’s a little pricey but good to support a locally made product.

There are also American and European clothing and shoe stores here (Gap, Nine West, Mango, Gymboree, Tape A l’Oeuil). The only problem is that the prices are marked up about 30-40% because of import tax. So, a simple T-shirt at the Gap that would cost about $15 in the U.S. is more like $30 here (this number reflects not only the import tax but also the conversion rate, which is about .71 JOD to $1). I probably won’t be buying many clothes here. Just as well.

There’s this nice kids place called J’Imagine where I’ve taken Abby several times. She loves it. It’s an indoor play place that is quiet and clean and has wooden toys, baby dolls, a pretend city with a grocery store, veterinary office, a restaurant, a doctor’s office, and a fire house. There’s also a large water station with fish, fishing poles, and rubber ducks. Abby loves playing in the water and pushing the various baby dolls around in the stroller. She also likes to play cashier and ring up baskets full of play groceries. Here’s a photo:

Abby fishing at J’Imagine

Abby ringing up the groceries at J’Imagine

I’m glad J’Imagine exists. It’s a tasteful, thoughtful place for kids (and parents) with an atmosphere conducive to imaginative play, rather than forced bells and whistles like Chuck E. Cheese. We’re planning to check out the Children’s Museum this weekend. Hopefully, that will be another place Abby will like to visit.

A couple of things I’m not too thrilled about regarding our new digs:

1) Our apartment has rattan furniture with white upholstery. We have a toddler. This is significant for two reasons. A) Rattan rips easily, and B) Small grayish-brown footprints on the white couch are not as cute as you might think. We’re in the market for some grayish-brown slip-covers.

2) Our fridge is the size of an acorn. Our landlady cheaped out and furnished the kitchen with Fisher-Price Barbie appliances. The oven is literally the size of a breadbox and is not insulated. The first time we used it, the entire kitchen warmed up to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit and the oven itself started steaming. Bret has since disconnected the oven from the gas line and we now use the stove (which has a flat, glass cover) as counter space. We reluctantly decided to shell out the dough for a new oven, which we plan to sell when we leave. It’s a nice Italian model that is sturdy and insulated. It wasn’t as expensive as the German ovens (go figure) but it wasn’t exactly cheap either. Some things I just can’t live without and a decent oven is one of those things.

3) The traffic here is bad. Not only are the drivers batshit crazy, there are many many more of them here than there were in Aqaba. And Amman is laid out in such a ridiculous, Byzantine way that not even those who’ve lived here for years know how to get anywhere, much less give proper directions. Thank god for Google maps.

4) It’s noisy here. Much noisier than Aqaba — at least where we lived in Tala Bay. Most nights, Bret and I sit in the living room after Abby has gone to bed and either work on school stuff, write, or just hang out and try to relax. But the noise of the city feels as though we imported the 405 freeway to Jordan and parked it right outside our apartment. Not so relaxing. Also, the prime minister has a house (or an office?) on our street and his helicopter flies over us at least once a day. We figure it’s his hoo ride — not sure. Either way, it’s loud. And to top off the cacophony of honking horns and helicopter blades, we can hear call to prayer five times a day. And one of those times is at 5 in the morning. Every morning. Sometimes we’re even treated to dueling calls coming from different mosques. They’re just slightly out of sync which gives the already haunting sound a strange echo. Drop in some drum and bass and it would be the perfect comeback single for Enigma.

So, all in all, it’s okay here. I did have one dark day a few weeks ago. The protests in response to that stupid YouTube video were going on and I was nervous. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, then read the fucking news once in awhile. Bret kept reassuring me that we weren’t in any danger and Jordan is a very stable country. He’s right. Our embassy here was being watched by what looked like hundreds of military personnel, and, besides, most of the protesters (only a few hundred in a city of 4 million people) were the radical guys with beards and bad teeth. I don’t say that to be an asshole. We have radical guys with beards and bad teeth in the U.S., too. Interestingly, it’s the bad-toothed, bearded guys who hate each other while the rest of us coexist just fine and get on with the day. I haven’t gotten the stink eye from anyone or rocks thrown at my car (yet) so I’m optimistic that I’m safe here at the moment. Safe enough.

That’s the thing. What we see in the news is never the full picture. I read CNN and the Jordan Times online, among other news outlets, and while there are indeed protests happening throughout the region in response to what was basically a shitty home video, it doesn’t mean everyone in the middle east hates the U.S. Likewise, I remind all of you radical, anti-American types who burn our flag and call our president names, that one crappy video does not speak for or represent an entire country of people. Furthermore, and this is the most ironic part, the crappy YouTube video was made with Egyptian money by an Egyptian Coptic Christian. The bottom line is that people who don’t understand freedom of speech don’t fully get it that the government doesn’t endorse anything and everything its people create. In the U.S. blasphemy is just talk. And talk is cheap.

Things seem to have quieted down this week in terms of the protests. Although, I won’t be surprised if some other incident sparks the crazies and the flag-burning erupts again. It seems that someone is always pissed off about something. I think it’s that they weren’t loved unconditionally as children and they take it out on the world. No injustice is as great as a child rejected by his parents.

But that’s another conversation for another day.

I’m trying to enjoy this time in Amman. Some days, I feel cranky and fearful and I just want to go back to the U.S. But other days, I feel so grateful for this experience. I never thought I’d live in the middle east. For years I was afraid of this entire region and wouldn’t have even contemplated coming here for a visit. And now I live here. And most days, I really like it.

By the way, I’m keeping the name Aqababy even though we’re living in Amman. I’m not sentimental, just lazy. Now that we’re back here in Jordan, I’ll be posting here more often. We’re planning more travels. Stay tuned.

In the Valley of the Moon

So, you guys know about my trip to Petra. Now, I’m going to wow you with my trip to Wadi Rum. Or maybe I’ll underwhelm you. Whatever your reaction to the following, at the very least it may inform you about where to stay (or not stay) should you ever visit Wadi Rum.

We went to Wadi Rum earlier this month when my mom was visiting. I think we traveled more during her 10-day visit than the entire 8 months we’ve lived in Jordan.

Wadi Rum is a desert valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock about 45 minutes east of Aqaba. It’s the largest wadi (or valley) in Jordan. It’s also really fun to say: Wadi Rum. Waaadeeee Ruuuummm. Rum is pronounced just like Captain Morgan’s.

We chose to stay at the Rahayeb bedouin camp because it was hosting an Easter egg hunt that weekend. I, for one, have a hard time resisting an egg hunt in the desert.

We left Aqaba around 6 p.m. on a Thursday and arrived in Rum just after sunset (around 7). You can’t drive a non 4-wheel drive vehicle into the actual camp, so we parked at the Captain’s Camp parking lot and hitched a ride with bedouin drivers into Rahayeb. There are many camps to choose from in Wadi Rum, some nicer than others. Rum is a pretty well-known tourist destination. David Lean shot much of Lawrence of Arabia there. Bret’s colleague knows the owner of Rahayeb camp so we were able to score VIP tents for the night. More on that later.

The moon hung over the valley as we drove into Rum. It was stunning. And the sand is fine and soft, like a caribbean beach. Without the turquoise water and steel drums.

The surrounding towns of Wadi Rum are really poverty-stricken. Children with dirty faces run around playing with whatever trash they can find on the streets. Herds of goats wander and lone donkeys stand around munching on trash. All the women cover completely and you rarely see them out and about. As we drove through these depressing little towns on our way to Rum, I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in one of them. If it’s all I ever knew, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad? I don’t know.

We arrived at Rahayeb Camp by 7:45 p.m. and at that point I was ready to eat. Unfortunately, about 150 extras from Spring Break Shark Attack had descended upon the otherwise serene camp and were yucking it up around the campfire. Literally, one hundred and fifty teens dressed in the unofficial spring break uniform (t-shirts, miniskirts, shorts, flip-flops) were standing around, hooting and hollering at nothing in particular. They appeared to be children of wealthy Ammanis and were apparently a last-minute group who showed up at the camp just before we arrived. They were also supposedly leaving right after dinner. Either way, this was not the magical Wadi Rum experience we were hoping for. Yes, okay. I’m old.

After a lively 10 minutes by the raging campfire, we were escorted to our VIP tents by the harried host who kept apologizing for the Girls Gone Wild atmosphere. I told him I didn’t mind as long as I saw some titty.

The tents were rad. Bret, Abby, and I shared one and mom had one to herself. Here are some slightly blurry pictures:

The bed

The sitting area inside the tent.

The tents were lit by candlelight except for the bathrooms, which had their own electricity (and running water!). We had a king bed and a lounge area with a couch and sitting chairs. The bed had grains of sand in it, but was otherwise comfortable.

Unfortunately, we were asked to wait until 10:30 p.m. for dinner. The camp host thought it somehow made sense to make us wait until after the extras from Spring Break Shark Attack had finished eating. Fuck that. I had a hungry toddler to feed. I grabbed two plates (1 for me, 1 for my mom) at 8:30 and jumped into the line. I blended in surprisingly well with the spring break crowd. What can I say? I’m a MILF. I stocked up on hummus, salad, labaneh, chicken, rice, and vegetables. They even had a platter of middle eastern pastries. I scurried back to the tent where mom was waiting with baby bird.

The food was decent. At Rahayeb, they cook dinner on hot coals underground. Right before the camp host serves the meal, the guests gather around and watch as two men pull a metal box out of a sand pit oven with a dramatic flourish. They rip off the tin foil and reveal roast chicken and lamb. Everyone applauds and cheers, not because of the spectacle but because the food has finally arrived.

After dinner, Mom retreated to her own tent and Bret, Abby, and I fell asleep in our gritty bed to the sounds of howling wind and the echoes of drums and oud on the rocks outside. The oud (pronounced ood) is an Arabic instrument that’s a cross between a banjo, fiddle, and a mandolin. Bret’s colleagues stayed up late to enjoy the live music, while I fell asleep dreaming I was Brooke Shields in the film Sahara. What is it with me and that goddam movie?!

The following morning, we woke up around 7. My skin felt dusty and I was tired. I didn’t sleep as well as I had hoped. But when I saw the views outside the tent, I didn’t care. I was so impressed that it didn’t bother me that I was groggy and still had Maria Muldaur’s Midnight at the Oasis stuck in my head.

Here are a few images:

The view from outside the tents. The grooves and ridges in the rocks are formed from wind and sand.

Captain’s Camp, one of the other bedouin camps.

The view from one of the dunes overlooking the Rahayeb Camp.

More rocks and sand

Me outside the tent in my pajamas.

That background doesn’t even look real. It’s real.

Hand-carved benches at Rahayeb.

Wadi Rum is actually very big and seems to go on and on. It’s spectacular.

We had a quick breakfast of boiled eggs and hummus. We also had some Nescafe after five minutes of trying to explain to the camp host that we wanted American-style coffee with milk. The Arabic coffee is very strong and thick and is blended with cardamom. I’m not a fan. I like cardamom in baked goods but not in my morning joe.

Abby played in the sand with a friend’s 3-year-old son:

We were planning to stay for the egg hunt but then the camp host informed us they were expecting 300 people and a DJ. A side note: Jordanians love a DJ. Any chance they get, they throw in a DJ. Get married — have a DJ. Going out of business — have a DJ. Get a chest X-ray –have a DJ. Also, they moved the start time of the hunt to 2 p.m. when it was originally scheduled for 11:45 a.m. Rarely do things start on time in Jordan. Mom, Bret, and I all agreed that a 300-person techno-party egg hunt in the scorching desert sounded like hell on Earth. So, we packed up and left.

Readers, I don’t recommend you ever stay at Rahayeb. There are many camps in Wadi Rum and Rahayeb was not very accommodating. They refused to drive us out of the camp the following morning which is totally unacceptable as that’s the only way to get out. It’s not like you can hail a cab. Fortunately for us, Bret’s colleague had a 4WD vehicle and she drove us back to our car at Captain’s Camp. But part of the service guests pay for at these camps is a ride back to civilization.

Also, Rahayeb charged us 55 dinars (or $77) per person, not per tent. This included dinner and a meager breakfast. At all the other bedouin camps in the area the charge is per tent, not per person. I admit, we had the nicer tents complete with private bathrooms. But for them to make us wait for dinner and then refuse to drive us out the following morning was bullshit. I will not stay at Rahayeb ever again and I recommend you avoid it too.

But definitely go to Wadi Rum if you get the chance. And I also recommend falling asleep to the echoes of drumbeats on the rocks.

Jetlag

Happy New Year! I realize it’s almost February, but as this is my first post of 2012, I thought it appropriate to start off with a little well-wishing.

By the way, at which point is it ridiculous to wish someone a happy new year? After the first week of January? Once February rolls around? Is it always ridiculous? When does a new year cease to be new?

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. No, I’m here to talk about one of my least favorite things: jetlag. It sucks balls. And I’ve got a mean case of it right now. So does Abby and so does Bret.

We went back to the States for a month over the holidays and now we’re back in Aqaba. It was a nice trip, full of friends and family and bacon.

We celebrated Christmas. At least, our version of it. At my mom’s place in Grass Valley, we all trekked out in the freezing cold to select a Christmas tree. After about 20 minutes of tromping around and debating which one was the most appropriate height and pedigree, we decided on a handsome Doug Fir with long, full branches. Bret had the distinctive honor of cutting it down. By himself. Sorry, babe. Mom and I hightailed it back to the house where it was warm and cozy and coffee and cookies awaited. My stepdad, Gary, videotaped Bret hacking away at the poor Doug Fir.

Once the tree was properly mounted (thanks again, Bret) Mom decorated it with about 100 glass ornaments while Bret scraped the sap from his body. I tried to keep Abby from ripping the ornaments off the tree and biting into them.

In the end, Christmas was very festive and the tree looked lovely but the branches kept poking Bret in the face during dinner. He was so gracious about it. He would gently brush them away and keep eating.

But, again, I digress.

Jetlag. We have it. It sucks.

If you’ve never experienced jetlag, here’s what it’s like:

1) You wake up at midnight, ready to start the day.

2) You’re not sure if you brushed your teeth today. Or was that yesterday? Is today yesterday?

3) You accidentally lock your keys in your car while the engine’s still running and your toddler is strapped in her car seat.

4) You find yourself eating a steak dinner at 3 a.m. and it feels right.

5) It’s 10 a.m. and you’re ready to hit the sack.

6) You catch yourself humming “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley with no memory of how it got stuck in your head in the first place. I RickRolled myself. Without a computer.

7) You find yourself sitting in the dark eating an entire bag of Bugles and a tub of cream cheese. And it tastes amazing.

8) You pass out at two in the afternoon and sleep for 8 hours. Maybe 10.

If you’ve just traveled into a different time zone and you’re experiencing any of the above scenarios, you probably have jetlag. If you have not traveled anywhere at all and you’re experiencing any of the above, you probably have a drinking problem.

It usually takes me a full week to recover from the acute symptoms of jetlag, plus one additional week to feel totally normal again. Abby seems to fully recover in about 10 days. She’s a great little traveler, our girl. I’m so proud of her. She slept 9 of the 11.5 hour flight from Chicago to Amman. But then she was up all night in the hotel room in Amman. Bret and I ordered room service and took showers while Abby watched hours of Egyptian soap operas. She finally passed out at 3 a.m., one hour before our scheduled wake-up call.

I would have taken melatonin if I could. Apparently, it’s amazing. Bret took it when we went home to the States in December and he said it worked like a charm. It’s basically a “natural” sleeping pill that makes you pass out for eight hours whenever you need to sleep. Brilliant!

I decided I would try it on the return trip to Jordan. But first, I did my due diligence. I read the label on the bottle to see if I could take it while breastfeeding. Turns out, no. In fact, my health profile matches every contraindication on the back of the bottle.  Basically, the label should have read: “If your name is Marjie Scott, you’ll die if you take this stuff.” So, I’m just sweating out the jetlag naturally.

Aside from that, it’s actually nice to be back here in Aqaba. Although, I cried on the flight from Chicago to Amman because I was already exhausted and sad to be leaving ready access to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

More than anything, I was sad to be leaving my friends and family. It was so nice to see everybody face to face, person to person, in the flesh. I’m grateful for Skype but there’s nothing like being able to sit across from someone and look into her eyes or give him a hug. It was truly uplifting to be home. We didn’t get to see all of our friends because there just wasn’t enough time. We’ll be back in the summer. That’s what I keep reminding myself.

Being in the States was interesting after living in Jordan for almost five months. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. We are so lucky in the United States! We have access to so much variety.

I went into a Starbucks the day after we arrived in Tucson and as I waited for my cappuccino, I heard the guy behind the counter holler, “I have two artisan ham sandwiches for Paula!”

Artisan. Ham. Sandwiches.

Paula, dressed in head-to-toe Coldwater Creek snagged her artisan ham sandwiches and skinny vanilla latte and off she went, her frosty highlights glinting in the sun.

Does Paula know how lucky she is that she can walk into any Starbucks and order not one but TWO artisan ham sandwiches, made to order? Paula, wherever you are, I hope you savored those sandwiches, or at least said a little thank you to the heavens (or your capitalist, democratic country) for them. Because, here’s the thing. Even if you don’t eat ham, or sandwiches, you must appreciate the level of choice we have in the United States of America.

Even if you live in a small town where there is nothing but a windmill and an inbred family next door, you can have just about anything you want shipped to your house!

And the freedom! I felt free to speak my mind without worrying who might be listening. I could wear what I wanted without worrying that I might be offending anyone or sending the wrong message. I only saw an occasional headscarf in the States and it was always worn by an older Muslim woman chewing on pistachios while her younger, westernized family members texted on their smart phones.

The women in the States wear what they want. They go out in public with wet hair. They feel free to  wear sweatpants and tank tops, or fitted dresses and heels. The variety of dress in the States is only restricted by the individual woman’s taste and imagination. This has its own set of disadvantages too, by the way. A sense of decorum is always appreciated.

But the very fact that we are free to have good taste, or not, is so gratifying. Anything less is, quite frankly, soul-crushing. As a woman, as a person, I want to choose the clothes, job, husband, friends, the life that’s right for me. It was nice to be in a place, at least for a little while, that recognizes that.

It was nice to be home.

Your Burning Questions, Answered

When I moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and people found out I was from Oakland, they would invariably say something ridiculous like, “Wow, Oakland huh? Did you carry a gun?”

And, of course, I would tell them the truth. “Hell yes, I carried a gun.”

Okay, no I didn’t. Carry a gun. And most of the people I knew in Oakland didn’t carry guns either. Non-Oaklanders often assumed Oakland was this really dangerous place because of stories they read in the news. And while Oakland had (and still has) its share of drive-by shootings and gang violence (among other crimes), it was a pretty nice place to grow up.

In fact, Montclair, the Oakland neighborhood in which I was raised, is one of the wealthiest communities in California. It’s very pretty, with huge homes, fancy cars and million-dollar views of San Francisco. I went to a private school, had nannies and ballet lessons. It was far from rough.

I bring this up because, much like Oakland, there are a lot of misconceptions about Jordan that I’d like to clear up. I’ve been asked by friends, family and even strangers back in States a lot of questions about life here; questions that indicate a fair amount of ignorance about this place.

Additionally, I’d like to open the floor to any further questions you may have about Jordan (or, at least Aqaba).  Please feel free to email me or post your questions in the comment section below. I’ll do my best to answer each and every one.

Please bear in mind though that I’m no expert. My answers are based on some research but mostly on my own experiences (and Bret’s too) thus far.

In no particular order:

1) Do you have to cover your hair?

No. Most of the time, I wear my hair in a scraggly ponytail so maybe I should cover it. It’s only muslim women who wear hijab (headscarf) or chador (long robe), although some muslim women do not observe this practice. Non-muslim women are not expected to cover their hair in Jordan. Some middle eastern countries require all women (including tourists and non-muslims) to cover their hair in public; Saudi Arabia for example.

2) Can you drive a car alone in Jordan?

Yes I can (and often do) drive by myself here in Aqaba. I’m free to do so in the rest of the country as well. I’m not required to travel with a male companion or even a female companion for that matter. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that Aqabawis are shitty drivers.

3) What kind of animal do you ride when you’re in town? 

A Peugot, which is a french import. It’s also a car. And its horn sounds like a clown fart (thank you, Bret). In other words, we don’t ride animals at all. There are a few horses and camels in town that tourists can ride for novelty’s sake, but people here drive cars: Toyotas, Hondas, Chevys, Peugots, Mercedes, BMWs, etc. In that regard, Aqaba looks like any other city. Also, the roads are paved with actual asphalt. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that Aqabawis are shitty drivers.

4) Do people speak English?

Yes, many of them do. In Amman, many Jordanians (mostly teenagers and young adults) don’t even have an accent when they speak English. And the Jordanians who don’t speak English fluently at least know a few words.

5) Do Jordanians hate Americans?

No. Some Jordanians may disagree with US foreign policy, but this doesn’t mean they hate American citizens. It’s likely that some Jordanians have misconceptions about American people but then, plenty of Americans have misconceptions about Jordanians too. In fact, many Americans don’t even know where Jordan is.

6) Is everyone muslim in Jordan?

No. Jordan is a muslim country but there are many Christians here and even a smattering of Jews, Buddhists, Mormons, Catholics and Hindus. There are churches in Jordan (as well as many many mosques) and there’s even a Catholic school in Aqaba run by a group of nuns.

7) Can you find pork products or alcohol in Jordan?

Yes, you can find both. Although pork and alcohol are traditionally forbidden in Islam, it’s perfectly legal in Jordan to consume either one. There’s even a liquor store in Tala Bay and a pork store in Amman. That’s right. An entire store devoted to pork. In Aqaba, we buy ham and bacon at a local grocery store called Muhannad. Think about it this way, pre-marital sex is forbidden in Christianity but does that mean all Christians wait until after marriage?

8) Is the internet censored in Jordan?

Ummmm….I’d rather not say.

9) Are you able to find “normal” foods/products in Jordan?

I guess that depends on your definition of normal. My answer to that is, yes. Some of the “normal” food products I’ve found here:

Healthy Stuff (stuff that I eat): fresh broccoli and spinach, whole wheat pasta, fresh strawberries, sweet potatoes, organic milk, whole grain bread, Greek feta cheese, dried cranberries, organic quinoa, black beans, pinto beans, organic low-sodium chicken broth, brown rice, Swiss dark chocolate, Perrier, flax meal, oats, natural peanut butter, Rice Krispies, raw almonds, ricotta cheese.

Not-So Healthy-Stuff (stuff that Bret eats): Pop Tarts, Oreos, Bugles, Cheetos (although they taste like Doritos, which is odd), all kinds of Haribo brand gummy candies, marshmallows (Campfire brand made with fish gelatin!), Pringles, Snickers (I eat these too, on occasion), Ritz crackers, Cheez-Its, Skippy-style peanut butter.

The produce market is pretty well-stocked with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Seasonal means you won’t find sweet potatoes in July, but when they arrive in early October they’re wonderfully sweet. Right now, pomegranates are in season and they’re delicious. Bright red with the juiciest seeds. I eat them plain or mix them into yogurt or sprinkle them on salads, in case anyone’s interested. Poms are a superfood, apparently. This means they wear a cape.

While the traditional middle eastern food here is quite good, there are other kinds of cuisine here as well: Italian, Chinese, Lebanese, seafood, burgers, etc. There’s also a Burger King, Popeye’s Chicken, KFC, Pizza Hut and Gloria Jean’s coffee. But no drive-throughs.

As far as household products, the locals seem to really dig heavily-perfume soaps and aftershave (the muskier, the better). Fortunately they do have a few fragrance-free items. I’ve been able to find natural olive oil soap, fragrance-free laundry detergent and unscented baby wipes.

10) Do people really pray five times a day? 

Some muslims do, yes. Just like some Christians go to church a few times a week, some muslims pray five times a day in Jordan. Call to Prayer sounds five times each day (here’s a link if you want to hear it: http://gallery.me.com/bret.scott#100393) reminding muslims to face east and pray. People are free to pray, or not. . By the way, that video was shot from Bret’s office at RSICA.

11) Do women cover their entire bodies and faces in public? 

Yes, some women do. I don’t see many of them though. Most of the muslim women wear a headscarf and others wear chador (long black robe) but keep their faces uncovered. A few women cover their mouths and even fewer cover their eyes as well. How can they see, you ask? Well, the cover over their eyes is a gauzy fabric they can see through. I’m not sure how well they can see through it though as I’ve never worn it myself.

12) Do you feel safe?

I feel as safe here as I did back in Pasadena. The only time I don’t feel especially safe in Aqaba is when we’re driving on the highway between Tala Bay and town. And that’s because it’s typical to see some asshole doing something stupid like stopping in the middle of the highway and backing up. This happens all the time. That and people driving on the wrong side of the road. The drivers here are fucking insane. It’s something of an epidemic really. But in a nutshell, yes, I feel safe here. I don’t worry about terrorism, if that’s what you mean.

13) Is polygamy (multiple spouses) legal in Jordan?

Yes, it is. But according to Jordan’s constitution, the man has to treat all co-wives equitably and provide them with separate dwellings.  As this gets expensive and no doubt, exhausting, most men don’t have more than one wife here. Bret met a bus driver who claimed to have a wife in Aqaba and another in Amman but  that the two women were unaware of each other. I think that’s shitty. I don’t care if someone wants to be polyamorous but I think all parties should be in on it.

14) Are there terrorists and exploding bombs all around you?

Um, no. While there have been terrorist attacks in Jordan (one of them was in Aqaba in 2010 which unfortunately left one Jordanian man dead), they are not a daily occurrence. Furthermore, life is pretty normal here. People get up, eat breakfast, go to work or school, eat lunch, go to the gym, check their e-mail, hang out with friends, pay the bills, go to the doctor, visit with family, give birth, get sick, fall in love, and die just like they do everywhere else in the world. Aside from the crazy drivers, it really is a peaceful little town.

So there you have it. I hope this post cleared up any confusion you had about Jordan (or at least, Aqaba). If you have other questions/comments, feel free to post them below. I’m happy to oblige.

Until then, ma’a s salama!

Umm Abby

In the Land of Milk and Blood Tests

“We need to go to the government clinic tomorrow to get your HIV test.”

I looked up from my laptop. Say what?

“For your residency card. They won’t issue one without an HIV test. And a chest X-ray.”

Bret didn’t even look up from his own laptop while he informed me of this.

I groaned.

“It won’t take long,” he assured me. “And it won’t hurt.”

“I’m not worried about it hurting!” I snapped.

And I wasn’t. I don’t mind needles. I’m one of those weirdos who watches the needle poke through my skin and the blood pour into the vial. It’s not that I necessarily dig it. It’s just that it’s interesting to see my own blood. So, yeah, I guess I kinda dig it.

And I certainly wasn’t worried about getting positive results. I’m not exactly high-risk. Plus, I had an HIV test last year and it came back negative. Since I haven’t shot up any heroin lately nor do Bret and I have an open marriage, I figure my HIV results are more than likely status quo.

I groaned because I’m lazy and I don’t like dealing with bureaucracy. I hate the DMV. I thoroughly dislike the post office and filing my taxes. I would even break out in a cold sweat anytime I had to venture into the registrar’s office in college. I have an aversion to paperwork and government issued things. Bureaucracy is always so slow and lumpy and devoid of life. Like a bowl of cold, gray oatmeal.

To make matters worse, Jordan (as a country) is often a little disorganized about these sorts of things.  I’m not sure if it’s because they never sat down to write an official handbook, or they did but no one actually read it. But it seems like in Jordan, there’s a lot of confusion about rules and regulations. Did I say confusion? I meant blatant disregard.

From what I surmise, people make up their own rules here. Especially on the road. Oh my god. The stuff I’ve seen people do on the road here is totally certifiable. On the way into town yesterday, we came upon a group of idiots standing in the middle of the desert highway taking pictures of the ocean. That’s right. They were hanging out in the center of the road snapping pictures. Just standing there, totally oblivious that they were on a HIGHWAY! We narrowly missed them in the Peugot. And they actually looked shocked and irritated to see our car, like we were in their way. Oh sorry, guys, did we screw up your crappy snapshot of the glaring sun? Our bad.

But back to the blood test.

I knew about the HIV test already because Bret had had his blood test about a month ago. One of the administrators at RSICA took him and three of his colleagues to the government clinic.

The HIV test is a requirement to acquire a residency card in Aqaba. A residency card is exactly as it sounds. It’s a card that foreigners (like us) get while we’re living and working in Jordan. It proves that we’re not just loitering but that we actually live here. Residency cards also qualify us to receive discounts on things like entrance fees to Petra. Normally, it costs 40 JD (or, $56) for tourists to tour the ruins, but for residents it only costs 1 JD (or, $1.40). It’s like a driver’s license and KCRW fringe benefits card rolled into one.

“Can’t they just assume that because you don’t have AIDS, I don’t either?” I asked in all seriousness. I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if that were actually permissible here because women are often viewed as extensions of their husbands. Perhaps more in Saudi Arabia or the UAE than in Jordan, but still.

Alas, I had to get my own blood test.

So, the following morning, the Scott family took a little field trip down to the Center for Chest Diseases and Foreign Health. I’m not sure how chest diseases and foreign health got lumped together. It’s not exactly an intuitive pairing. Furthermore, are there really that many diseases of the chest that they require an entire building? Even half a building? Maybe they should open a few smoking cessation buildings in this town. Just a thought.

The Center for Chest Diseases and Foreign Health was hopping when we arrived at 8 a.m. I didn’t think the locals got out of bed before noon, so I was surprised to see so many people. Not surprisingly, most of them were smoking. Good thing they were right there at the Center for Chest Diseases!

The building itself was this crumbling, stucco gulag with a chaotic parking lot. It looked more like event parking in a seedy section of downtown Los Angeles than a medical building. We found a narrow spot to cram the Peugot.

Once inside, we made our way to the second floor. Thankfully, Bret had been there before so he knew where to go. I was still half-asleep as I hadn’t had my coffee yet. I was just following Bret around with a glazed expression. I was hoping this “neutral” face would mask my piss poor attitude. I really didn’t want to be there.

Bret led me to a cashier’s window not unlike the ones at the DMV. This was Window 1. An older Arabic lady wearing hijab was stationed behind the glass. She didn’t even look up at us, and she was talking but it was unclear to whom.

Bret patted my shoulder and announced, “My wife needs a blood test and chest x-ray.” I looked around the room. The place was swarming with Arabs. Many of them leered at us, which did nothing to improve my mood.

Cashier Lady gave me a cursory glance.

I offered her a half-hearted grimace. I didn’t mean to. I meant to smile, but for some reason all I could muster was a grimace. I really need coffee in the morning.

At Window 1, we paid the 30-dinar fee for the two tests. Then, Cashier Lady (who was still talking and it was still unclear to whom) gave us a piece of paper with Arabic writing all over it. Neither Bret nor I were sure what this paper said. It could’ve said anything. Perhaps something official or perhaps it read, “Take more money from these jackasses.”

We took this piece of paper to Table 1.5. Not even a window, just a guy sitting at a folding card table.

We were instructed to give him a quarter dinar and he handed us what appeared to be a postage stamp. No explanation. Just take the stamp and move along. I was hoping the stamp was for some sort of raffle. Bret told me that was unlikely. Oh, Bret. Where’s your sense of whimsy?

I think someone (Bret maybe?) affixed the postage stamp/raffle ticket to the piece of paper with Arabic writing and we were off to Door Number 2. Without actually looking at the paper, the guy at Door Number 2 took it out of my hands and handed it to a lady wearing rubber gloves at Door Number 3.

I was ushered through Door Number 3 and told to sit at what appeared to be a school desk from the 1950’s. It was one of those desks with the metal chair attached. I placed my arm on the desk and rolled up my sleeve. Miss Rubber Gloves told me to make a fist. Then without even swabbing the area with alcohol, she stuck the needle into my vein. She drew some blood and then handed me a piece of cotton she’d pulled from a giant ball of cotton next to her. She didn’t offer a Band-aid or even a piece of tape to keep the cotton in place. It kept slipping down my arm and I got blood on my shirt.

From there, I was hustled down to Door Number 6. Not sure why we skipped Doors 4 and 5.

At Door Number 6, I was summoned into a room by a young woman who turned out to be the x-ray technician. She looked more like a web designer. All black clothes and hipster glasses.  She told me to stand in front of the giant machine. I complied. Then, she stood next to me for a moment. “Pregnant?” she asked. I didn’t know what to say. As far as I knew I wasn’t pregnant, but what if I was? I’m not on the pill and well….you get the picture.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’m pregnant,” I said.  The technician paused for a moment and then shrugged. “Okay,” she said and stepped out of the room.

“Finished!” I heard her shout seconds later.

All rightey then.

After the chest x-ray we wandered around in the hallway until a small, but surprisingly stern Arabic woman looked at us and said, “Halas!” This means “enough” in Arabic. Basically, she was telling us to get the hell out of her building. She had chest diseases to attend to.

So, we left. Turns out there was no raffle.

My results were ready for pickup a few days later. We returned to the Center for Chest Diseases and Foreign Health. The parking lot was a zoo, so I stayed in the car while Bret went inside the building.  He returned all of two minutes later clutching a piece of paper. I was eager to see the results. Do I have tuberculosis?!

He slipped the paper into his messenger bag and hopped into the driver’s seat.

“Well?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” Bret said, buckling his seat belt.

“What do you mean you don’t know,” I said, a little unnerved.

“I mean I don’t know,” he said, “It’s all in Arabic.”

EILAT Part Two

There we were, at the entrance to Israel. And there they were.

More guards.

One of them was a woman: sturdy, attractive, no-nonsense with dark sunglasses and hair pulled back into an efficient ponytail. I once read that it’s mandatory for all Israeli citizens to serve in the IDF for three years (women for 2 years, or 3 if they serve in a combat position). I wondered, as I watched this female guard flip through our passports, if she got to choose her position, or if she was just issued an assignment, like a Mormon on a mission. I’d rather be a paper-pusher than on the front lines. I’m too much of a pacifist to shoot at people. Besides, I look fat in cargo pants.

So, after the female guard gave our passports a thorough inspection, she waved us on our way. I offered her cohort a quick smile as I passed through the security gate. He was a tall, fit guy wearing a polo shirt and shorts. He actually looked more like a tennis instructor than a border guard. Well, except for the machine gun.

We shuffled along to….another gate.

There were two male guards there, waiting, machine guns poised. One of them had pale blue eyes and couldn’t have been more than 5′ 4″. The other guard was tall and looked like a low-rent Daniel Craig. I wondered if the guards took their machine guns home at night. Or did they leave them at the border, in little cubbies with their names on them? David — Sarah — Schlomo.

The short guard inspected our passports. When he got to Abby’s, he chuckled and held up her photo to Low-Rent Daniel Craig. Low-Rent started laughing and the short guard pointed to Abby’s picture and said, “So cute.” I nodded. “Yeah, she’s pretty cute.” I eyed their machine guns which were at the same level as my daughter’s cute head.

We were then directed to a low, stucco building to pay an entrance tax (hopefully we’d get our goodie bag at this one) and pass through the metal detectors. There was an x-ray machine for our bags too. Israel doesn’t fuck around.

As we entered the building, I felt a blast of cold air and I started weeping. Hallelujah! Air conditioning! Thank you, Israel! And then, through my tears, I spotted a vending machine just beyond the metal detector. COKE! For those of you who don’t know about Bret’s addiction to coca-cola, he drinks several cans a day and has since he was 15 years old. And at this point in our journey, it had been a whole twenty minutes since he’d had a coke, so he was due.

I was feeling better. We were almost to Eilat, Abby’s cheeks were no longer bright red, rather a pleasant shade of peach, and Bret was about to enjoy a cold can of coke. Things were looking up for the Scott family.

I plopped the diaper bag on the x-ray machine and pulled Abby out of the stroller. Bret folded up the stroller and laid it on the conveyor belt. I watched him for a moment.

Poor guy. He was soaked with sweat.

Bret’s body temperature is naturally about 5 degrees hotter than the average person’s. So, when it’s just really hot to you or me, it’s like an inferno to Bret. He sweats a LOT and his skin turns a deep shade of pink. He takes it all in stride though. Cool as a cucumber. That’s one of the reasons I love him. He never panics. He could be caught in a hurricane while dangling from a trapeze above a pit of angry crocodiles and he would still maintain a calm, practical outlook. “Let’s just wait them out, babe,” he’d suggest matter-of-factly, tossing a handful of pumpkin seeds into his mouth (he also loves pumpkin seeds).

Sometimes, his level-headedness drives me nuts. But sometimes, I find it very soothing, and this was one of those times.

I kissed Abby’s forehead. The air-conditioning had cooled her skin. “Baby,” she said, pointing to the young girl ahead of us, passing through the metal detector with her family. “She’s a little girl,” I corrected her. I didn’t want the girl to get offended being labeled a baby by an actual baby. Abby looked at me, “Baby,” she corrected me. The little girl didn’t seem to hear. Or maybe she didn’t speak English? So, I nodded, “Yup, she’s a baby.”

We made it through the metal detectors without incident. I did wonder why they didn’t have bomb-sniffing dogs at the checkpoint. It would have been nice to see a dog. We have two labrador retrievers back in the states (some of you know them) and we miss them terribly. There are virtually no dogs in Aqaba. People here (and Jordan in general) don’t really keep dogs. Apparently, in Jordan, dogs are one step up from pigs.

After getting through the metal detectors, we paid some mysterious number of shekels ($3 shekels to the dollar, right? Something like that) for the entrance tax (alas, no goodie bag), flashed our passports to about 800 more people, one of whom asked what we were doing in Israel. “Um…to get a baby gate,” Bret said sheepishly. I smiled and bounced Abby in my arms. Why was I trying to appear innocent? I had nothing to hide. We needed baby gates and some frozen yogurt. What’s weird about that?

And finally, we were in Israel. We were standing in a desolate parking lot and it was 110 degrees but we were in Israel! We scanned the area for the bus that was supposed to take us into town. All we saw were two taxis waiting nearby.

One of the cabbies got out and walked towards us. “Eilat?” he asked in a heavy accent. Bret politely declined and informed the cabbie that we were waiting for the bus. The cabbie shook his head, “No bus. No bus.”

Bret and I looked at each other. No bus? “No bus,” the cabbie said again. Could he read our minds?

My heart sank. “How are we going to get into town?” I asked, looking down at Abby in her stroller. Her cheeks were bright red again and her forehead was dripping with sweat. She pursed her lips and said “Boo-boo.” Boo-boo is what she calls my breasts. Sometimes it means she’s hungry, but usually she just wants to inform everyone that the lopsided lumps on my chest are called Boo-boo.

The cabbie started ushering us into his car. “We don’t have the car seat, babe,” I reminded Bret. We’d left it in our car which was still parked on the Jordanian side. We assumed we’d be taking the bus into Eilat, so we left the car seat behind. Bret paused.” What do you want to do?” he asked. What could we do? Go back to Aqaba? We really needed those baby gates to help keep Abby safe in the apartment.

We also needed a baby bathtub, by the way, as our apartment is only equipped with showers. We do have two bidets though in case anyone’s interested. Is it gross that we never use them? I’m not even sure HOW to use a bidet. Bret watched an online bidet tutorial (of course he did) and apparently, you’re supposed to sit on the edge of the bidet and wash your butt et al using the little spout. You’re supposed to lather up with soap and everything. I think this sounds like a lot of trouble. Why not just hop in the shower? Also, I’m unclear if you’re supposed to wash after you go number one and number two, or just after number two? I guess it’s sort of a “to each his own” kind of thing. I just leave the bidets alone.

So, back to the cabbie.

He didn’t seem concerned that we didn’t have a car seat. He popped his trunk for our stroller and lit a cigarette.

But I was really concerned. Panicked, actually.

I stood there for a moment. What should we do? Should we forget the whole thing and just go back to Jordan? What if I sat Abby on my lap and put the seatbelt across both of us? Am I nuts? She’s never ridden in a car without being in her car seat. Bret and I even took a course in car seat safety and then spent $270 on a state-of-the-art car seat with side-impact cushioning, a five-point harness and built-in stereo system. How could we even consider letting her ride without it? Jesus Christ, how could anyone think straight in this heat?

Finally, after much waffling, we decided to risk it and have Abby ride on my lap. Don’t judge me. I still feel shitty about it. I was anxious the entire ride into Eilat, which was all of 3 minutes and topped out at 34 miles per hour. The cabbie drove carefully, not too fast or erratic like most cab drivers you encounter. Didn’t matter. I felt like a terrible mother. How could I deliberately put my child in harm’s way? She survived the experience, but what if she hadn’t?

As soon as we pulled safely into Eilat, I promised myself I’d never let her ride without a car seat again. But then I remembered we would need to take a cab back to the border on the way home. Crap.

The cabbie dropped us off in front of the baby store. Well, it was actually one of three baby stores in Eilat, but it’s the one the cabbie said was the best of the three. I thought it was interesting that this grizzled taxi driver had an opinion at all about the baby stores.

Bret asked what currency the cabbie preferred.”I have American dollars or Jordanian dinars,” Bret offered. The cabbie shrugged and said “What good are dinars to me? I take dollars.” Fair enough.

We got out of the car and Bret got the stroller out of the trunk. I kissed Abby’s head, relieved that the 3-minute drive didn’t end in disaster.

We stood on the sidewalk for a moment looking around.

I was struck by how different Eilat was from Aqaba. Women were dressed in shorts and tank tops. There were nice cafes, nail salons, cute little restaurants. The sidewalks were clean, the people seemed sophisticated even though they were dressed in beach clothes. There were no headscarves or chadors. No strange smells, no dirt parking lots filled with cigarette butts and broken glass. I didn’t see any men in long tunics and sandals. No dead goats.

I did see a dog though! He was an adorable little pitbull-dachshund mix (imagine that for a second). He ran up to us, wagging his tail. He was small and brown with a pitbull face and long, dachshund body. I think someone said his name was Coco. “Doggie!” Abby exclaimed.

At that moment, I felt a strange mixture of relief and sadness. Relief because it was so nice to be in a place that felt familiar. Everyone was speaking Hebrew (which sounds an awful lot like Arabic, by the way) but the look of the place, the style, the people. The feel. It felt like home.

I like western culture. I like being free to wear what I want and drive my own car. I like being well-educated and allowed to speak my mind. I like clean streets and nice baby stores and dogs. The sadness was because I wanted to stay.

We walked into the baby store. It was well-stocked with fancy baby furniture and children’s clothing. The sales clerk, a curvy brunette, greeted us with a smile.”Shalom,” she said. We asked her about baby gates and an infant bath tub and she produced several options.

We decided on a purple plastic tub and two wooden baby gates from a reputable brand. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a gate wide enough to accommodate the entrance to our kitchen, which is unusually wide. But at least we would be able to cordon off the hallway which led to the bathrooms and bedrooms. It’s important to contain a toddler as much as possible.

While Bret converted the cost of our purchases from shekels to US dollars (thank you, iPhone), I browsed the selection of toys. The saleswoman asked me where we were from. I told her California and she smiled, “Oh, very nice.”

I then told her we were living in Aqaba for a year though, so we would probably see her again. Her eyes got very big. “Aqaba? You live Aqaba?” I nodded, “Yes, my husband is teaching at the film school there.” She put a hand to her chest. “You’re not scared in Jordan?” she asked me. I thought this was an odd question coming from someone living in Israel. “No,” I told her. “Even at night? Walking around?” she asked. “No. I feel pretty safe in Aqaba,” I said. She gave me a sort of vague nod and I got the impression that she thought I was either crazy, or lying.

Weird. I might be a touch of crazy but I wasn’t lying. Also, it was weird how I was worried about traveling to Israel and this Israeli woman was afraid of traveling to Jordan. I thought of the movie, THE OTHERS with Nicole Kidman. No matter what we are, we’re afraid of the “other.” Danger is based on perception.

I mean certainly, there are things that are truly dangerous. Being a Navy SEAL on a secret mission in Afghanistan is probably pretty dangerous. So is driving drunk or poking a lion in the face with a stick while wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress. But is living in Israel dangerous? According to the saleswoman at the best baby store in Eilat, no. She felt perfectly safe there. But she was afraid of traveling to Jordan. So is living in Jordan dangerous? According to me, an American expatriate who’s been there for one month, no. I feel pretty safe there.

Perceived fear versus actual danger. Shark bites, lightning strikes, plane crashes, these are all pretty rare. They do happen, but not that often. If that saleswoman from Eilat went to Aqaba and walked down the street, the odds of her getting attacked are about the same as me getting blown to bits by a suicide bomber in Eilat. I studied the display of baby bottles. People are born in Israel every day. They grow up and live there for years and nothing all that bad happens to them. The same is true in Jordan. So what, exactly, is each side telling itself about the other?

“It’s going to be about $130, babe,” Bret announced, looking up from his iPhone. “Plus tax.” Sold. We asked the saleswoman if we could come back for our stuff after we got some food. We didn’t want to lug a plastic baby tub all over town. She nodded, “Of course!”

Once outside, we decided to go to the mall as it was within walking distance of the baby shop. Plus, we were hoping to buy a parasol. The sun was brutal that day and Eilat was easily 10 degrees hotter than Aqaba. How was that even possible?

The mall was busy and bright. It looked like a mall you’d find in the States, complete with a GAP, Nine West and a food court.

There were several frozen yogurt places but I opted instead for a smoothie. I know. After all that and I didn’t even get fro yo. Well, the smoothie had frozen yogurt in it. It also had dates, kiwi, fresh apples, lychee fruit and about nine other kinds of fruits. It was the biggest smoothie I’d ever had. It was delicious but I could only drink about two thirds of it before I started burping up kiwi seeds.

We looked through every single shop and there was not a single parasol or umbrella anywhere in that mall. I did find a bag of Craisins in the pharmacy though. It was the fanciest pharmacy I’d ever seen. It had everything: Ray-Ban sunglasses, hair products you only find in nice salons in the States, and Craisins! I was stoked. I always took Craisins for granted back home and I will never take them for granted again. You simply can’t get them in Aqaba.

After my monstrous smoothie and our failed attempt to find a parasol, Bret and I grabbed some lunch in the food court. I got a slice of mushroom pizza and a salad. It was good but I swear the pizza crust was made out of matzo. Like a giant pizza cracker. It was surprisingly good. Bret opted for traditional middle eastern fare (kebobs, etc.). He gave me his hummus though. Hummus is too healthy for Mr. Bret.

After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves, we browsed around a bit more and then decided to get our baby stuff and head home. Home. Was Aqaba home?

We made it back across the border without incident, although it took FOREVER! I was glad I had bought a can of peach Nestea in Eilat because it literally saved my life. I thought I was going to die of heatstroke while we waited nearly an hour for the Israelis from Haifa (the ones with the gold crosses and Vanilla Ice haircuts, remember?) to make it through the security post. I don’t know what the hold up was but I was nearing the end of my rope. But then I downed that iced tea in one gulp and, like a wilted plant, I sprang back to life.

At least the Israeli rappers were nice. They fawned over Abby, pinching her cheeks and cooing to her in Hebrew. And Abby was perfectly happy to engage them. She giggled and smiled and called them “Baby.” It made waiting in the heat a little less painful.

So, that was our journey. We got what we needed, enjoyed ourselves, and definitely plan to return to Eilat at some point. Perhaps when the weather cools down.

About a week after our trip, a group of terrorists shot up a civilian bus just 12 miles outside of Eilat. It was actually a bus from Tel Aviv that was on its way to Eilat. Several people were killed and many others injured. The terrorists, who were apparently from Gaza, also detonated a bomb that injured several Israeli soldiers responding to the bus shooting. When I read about this tragedy in the news, I thought of the saleswoman at the baby store. I wondered if she still felt safe.