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.

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.

Anyway…

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 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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