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The Road to Amman–A Reflection

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Actually, it’s the flight to Amman, but that didn’t sound as good.  International travel always holds the unexpected, no matter how well you master the game.  Going across several time zones is always sure to bring about some entertainment.

It started in Atlanta.  I’d just like to give a special shout out to American Airlines and their crappy service.  Absolute crap!  My route was taking me from Atlanta to Chicago to Abu Dhabi to Amman.  I’d expect something to go wrong in the middle east, but not before I even get on the plane.

American Airlines finally gave me my boarding passes and luggage tags--75 minutes later.

American Airlines finally gave me my boarding passes and luggage tags–75 minutes later.

My personal preference is to check in with an agent on international travel rather than the kiosks.  When you’re spending several thousand dollars, some human interaction should be included in the price, just like they give you free pretzels and a beverage.  But no, after standing in the agent line for almost 20 minutes some lovely agent named Botswana came over and railroaded me to the kiosks.  So I started to check in and the machine wouldn’t scan my passport.  Botswana appeared out of nowhere, huffing and puffing and rolling her eyes, and insinuated that I must’ve done something wrong.  So she tried it.  No luck.  So she asked where I got my passport.  I’m not sure what that meant, but maybe she thought I bought a do-it-yourself passport kit at Hobby Lobby or the gift shop at the border in Tijuana.  So she told me to enter all the info manually, which I did.  Then the American Airlines system kicked it back, saying I needed a visa to transit through the United Arab Emirates.  Having been through there more than once, I infomred Botswana this was incorrect.  She scolded me, telling me that I couldn’t travel without a visa, before stumbling off to graciously assist another confused customer.  I stood there feeling like an idiot, holding up a kiosk when someone else could’ve been checking in for their flight to Wichita.  So I finally gathered my bags and walked up to a differnt agent and explained the situation.  This agent summoned Botswana’s assistance, but I intercepted the situation before Botswana could come over.  So the new agent summoned her supervisor, Angola, who was much friendlier than Botswana, which wasn’t saying much.  Angola and the new agent basically told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about.  I pleaded for their help, which they begrudgingly offered.  I was led down a side hall to some gulag office, where I was told to leave my bags out in the hall.  This made me nervous, but I complied.  The gulag attendant basically looked at me, summoning my solution to their problem.  I pulled up Google on my phone and we looked it up.  NO, American citizens do not need a visa.  BUT…but…as if I somehow fabricated this whole thing in an effort to smuggle on more than 100 mL of shampoo, the gulag attendant looked it up on HER phone to make sure she got the same answer.  OK.  They took me back to the check-in area and checked my bags and gave me my boarding passes.  I was on my way to save the world.

That is, until I got to security.  It was quite the cluster on this early Wednesday morning.  But that’s to be expected when there are twelve lines converging onto only three lanes where they were scanning people.  After wasting almost 90 minutes with Botswana and her colleagues, now it looked like it’d be another 45 minutes.  With every turn in the long, twisting line, I expected to walk into the showers where they were dropping Zyclon pellets on everyone.  I finally got through and up to the line to be scanned.  My shoes and belt were in the bin, my carryon was on the conveyer, and I was next.  Until…the woman in front of me couldn’t follow instructions.  Feet on the yellow footprints, arms up, look ahead, don’t move.  She did none of that.  I’m sure that figuring out a vending machine that sold lottery tickets wouldn’t confuse her, but for some reason these new-fangled scanners just threw her for a loop.  The funny thing is that she would look ahead for a second, and then the TSA agent would tell her to stand still and look ahead, at which point she would drop her arms, look at him, and ask what he said.  If this wasn’t such serious business, it’d be funny.  After three attempts, they had to send her back and recalibrate the machine, which took a minute or two.  Personally, I think it was her gnarly toenails that were the problem.  My pet peeve is when people go through airport security in bare feet.  It’s nasty.  They looked like corn nuts and needed to be filed with a Dremel.  I’m sure this could throw a multi-million dollar scanner out of calibration.  Machine calibrated…woman back in…two more attempts…and Done!  I finally got through without a problem and went to the gate, where they were now boarding.

Again, American Airlines agents were a *class act* in customer relations.  I boarded without a problem, and I wasn’t holding anyone up, but Gary, the flight attendant, was preemptively scolding passengers by telling them, “The longer it takes everyone to get seated, the longer it will take to depart.”  He was obvioulsy peeved about having to work with such a caliber of passengers as Groups 3 and 4.  You should never scold your paying customers for a) something that isn’t their fault, and b) hasn’t even happend yet.  But Gary seemd particulary bitchy the entire flight.  I’m not sure if it was because he didn’t get accepted into cosmetology school, or he was angry about having to do an entire day of regional jet turn and burns, and might not get home in time to watch The Bachelor.  Either way, thank God this was only an 88 minute flight.  The good news is that I did get to Chicago in time and without delay.

Meeting my parents during a layover in Chicago.

Meeting my parents during a layover in Chicago.

It just so happened when I booked this ticket, it allowed for a four hour layover in Chicago, and my parents were able to come in and we had lunch.  They weren’t particularly excited about me going to Jordan, so this was a great way to spend some time on the actual day I departed.  We ate, talked, and took some pics, and then I was on my way to catch the flight to Abu Dhabi.

Foreign carriers are and have always been far, far superior in all aspects of air travel.  The service, the food, the fleet, the attention to detail…it’s just better.  So far my favorite carrier has been Emirates, and now I was set to fly the second of the three big Gulf carriers:  Etihad Airways.  I was excited to give them a try.  The gate agents were friendly as they explained they wanted to issue a new boarding pass instead of using the one American had issued, but it wouldn’t change my seat.  They thanked me for understanding.  They kindly explained how they would board the 777 for maximum efficiency, and everything went well.  I talked with a girl while waiting to board who was on her way to do research in Kathmandu on how linguistic dialects affect(ed) recovery efforts after the big earthquake there.  I have no words for that (no pun intended), but I hope she enjoyed her time there.   I settled into my seat for the 13 hour flight.

Abu Dhabi isn’t just a destination, but it’s a connecting point for much of the Middle East and parts of Asia.  I like seeing the various clothing people wear when traveling internationally.  Today, it looked like the clearance rack at Jo Ann Fabrics–quite bright and even a little bedazzled.   They also say that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 % perspiration, and this flight was apparently full of Einsteins.  At one point as I returned to my seat from the lavatory, I thought the crew were getting ready to serve Tuna Helper for dinner, but then I realized it was just the lady in 19-A.

Dinner was served and I settled in and found a great dance album to listen to on the in-flight entertainment system.  I had a drink and took a sleeping pill (which I generally just refer to as “Tuesdays” (just kidding)), and fell asleep.  I awoke somewhere over Dusseldorf and decided to watch a couple of movies.  First was American Sniper.  It was a good movie, but I actually wondered if some people on this plane knew people killed in Iraq during the war–during or since.  It was a very real possibility.  Then, it was time to watch National Lampoon’s Vacation–always a classic, followed by two episodes of Family Guy.  Then it was time for another trip to the lavatory.  There were people kneeling on prayer rugs in and around the galley.  I’ve seen enough in the world and traveled extensivley, so this didn’t shock me, but I did do a double take.  I guess I just have not resolved yet if this should take precedence over safe egress in the event of an emergency, given that passengers are repeatedly told to not loiter around the gallies.  But to each their own.  I just need to pee, and I’ll be out of your way.

Are we landing in Tehran? Maybe. OK, no.

Are we landing in Tehran? Maybe. OK, no.

As I was in my seat reading and watching the navigation system, it seemed as if we were flying very close to Tehran.  It seemed odd.  Then they announced that they were considering making an emergency stop there for a medical condition.  I was actually hoping they would.  I’m sure it would’ve been just long enough to get the person off, and we’d be on our way again.  OR, the Iranian authorities would make everyone get off and go through screening.  Either way, it would make for an interesting story.  I know enough Iranians to know that “Death to America” is the official tripe of the Ayatollah, but in reality the Iranians are personally some of the nicest people you could ever meet.  I figured at best I could say I was in Iran, even if only at the airport.  I wasn’t really too worried, as I’ve been in stranger predicaments.  But, alas, they decided to continue on the Abu Dhabi.

We got to Abu Dhabi and the temp was 40 degrees Celcius.  We had to do the whole bus/shuttle thing, and I had just enough time to catch my flight to Amman.  I’ve heard from many people that the Jordanians are some of the nicest peope you can meet, and this seemed true.  I talked to a guy named Asad the entire flight.  When we landed he asked if I had any currency exchanged.  When I told him no, he reached in his pocket and gave me all the small Jordanian Dinars he had–13 in total.  I gave him the requisite “You don’t have to…” but he insisted.  He gave me his number and told me to call him if we needed any help in Jordan.  That’s the thing with Arabs:  people confuse Arabs with Muslims (although he happened to be Muslim), but like the Persians (Iranians), they, too, can be some of the nicest people.

The last leg of the trip.

The last leg of the trip.

My point is that Asad was such a nice guy at the end of a very long journey, and the American Airlines employees (who were American citizens) were some of the nastiest people ever.  Think about that.

Anyway, we flew over Saudi Arabia, so no alcohol was on board the aircraft due to being in their airspace.  Also, I noticed that the navigation map showed all the cities/countries around Amman, but Israel was not on the map.  Asad informed me that they call it Palestine–the whole area–and not Israel.  Interesting.

Flying over Saudi Arabia.

Flying over Saudi Arabia.

All the countries and cities around Jordan are shown on the in-flight navigation system...except Israel.

All the countries and cities around Jordan are shown on the in-flight navigation system…except Israel.

I got off the plane, got my visa, and got one bag.  The other one was missing–and was missing until the day I left Jordan.  The Royal Jordanian agent (who handles baggage issues for Etihad in Amman) asked if it was an important bag.  Yes, it contained some important stuff, otherwise I would not have dragged it across the world.  Anyway…

My shuttle driver met me and took me to my hotel where I met some of the team members already there.  Together, about seven people arrived early to do a little exploring.  The driver and I talked about Mercedes the whole way.  Oh, and a little politics.  But he assured me that Jordanians love Americans.

The members already in Amman and I went out to eat and do a little walking around Amman.  I was dead tired, but as the team leader, it’d be rude to not socialize with them.  I’ve been emailing, calling, and putting together logistics with them for months.  This was the first time I would actually meet them.  After walking around for almost an hour and not finding anything in English that we could deciper, and not wanting to just order by pointing at pictures, we ended up eating at the food court of a mall.  I’m not sure the name of the place where I ate, but the 14 year old kid running the counter was so polite and trying so hard with his English, and just being a sincerely polite kid, I ordered from him.  I’m not sure what I had, and it was nothing spectacular, but I went back up and thanked him for trying to make our experience more comfortable.  He smiled and said it was his pleasure to serve Americans!

We all went back to my room, and found one more team member, and sat around talking for a while.  Then we went down to the front desk guy to get some info.  He seemed to only know two words:  Yes and No.

Anyway, we had a successful build in Jordan, and then spent another day or so doing some sightseeing.  Then it was time to go home.  Months and months and months of anticipation and excitement lead up to these builds, and then before you know it, they’re over.

In Toronto at pre-customs clearance.

In Toronto at pre-customs clearance.

Many flights do not leave Amman until the middle of the night.  Mine left at 3:10 a.m., with a short flight to Istanbul, then a five hour layover, then an 11 hour flight to Toronto, with a 24 hour layover.  Finally, it was time to make the two hour flight to Atlanta, which strangely seemed like the longest leg of the whole trip, coming or going.  In Toronto when you’re flying back to the United States, you can go through customs there instead of when you land.  There’s nothing sweeter when you travel overseas than seeing the big sign at customs that tells you you’re entering the United States.  It was good to be on my way to the USA!

Check out other posts in the Social Justice category, or posts about Habitat for Humanity in the Global Village category.

© 2022 Shane Werle