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Happy New Year!

Yesterday morning I returned from a 4-day trip to Jordan. It was a good trip, but there were definitely a couple of setbacks to my plan.

First of all, a filling in my mouth moved or broke a few days before I left. The bright side is that my colleague in Amman was able to get me an appointment with an English-speaking dentist. I was very lucky to be able to take care of it while I was there. And for anyone wondering about the cost, I had one ex-ray, a filling replaced, and a cleaning for $70.

The second setback was the weather. I was completely prepared for it to be cold with the possibility of snow, but in fact the temperature was mild. Unfortunately, it drizzled and was foggy almost the entire trip (very unusual weather for Jordan). This didn’t really bother me (as I was so thankful that it wasn’t freezing or torrential rain), but I didn’t feel inclined to go to the Dead Sea in that weather. However, the real blow was that when I went to the Forest Reserve they wouldn’t let me hike the trails due to the muddy conditions. (I did end up just walking on the road for an hour, but it definitely wasn’t the experience I was hoping for.)

The trip:

After my visit with the dentist, I toured around Amman. Can you tell my smile looks a little lopsided? (Yes, I am strategically turned.)

After seeing the Roman ruins, I walked through the “downtown” streets, which are lined with vendors.

I spent one day in Petra, which is about 3 hours from Amman. The city was created by the Nabataeans, unlike most of the historic sites created by the Romans.

The downside of making the site very accessible, with carriage, horse, donkey, and camel rides is that it’s extremely crowded in the section by the Treasury (yes, extremely crowded even in December on a week day). However, by taking the long hike up to the Monastery, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy the scenery.

Instead of going to the Dead Sea, I went to a very gentrified area of the city and hung out at a bookstore (this felt like quite a treat coming from Kabul). And on the last day with the clouds breaking, I went to Jerash (and then to Ajloun castle and Forest Reserve, but I’ve already told you how that ended…)


Throughout the trip, I couldn’t help but compare Jordan to Afghanistan and Amman to Kabul. These comparisons continued as I met with my colleague (who, after working in Jordon on and off for a few years, recently moved there with her husband and two children).

Both countries are considered Emerging Markets. The geography and climate are similar, although not the exact same. Both countries have a large majority of the population in their capitals, with nomadic people constituting the majority outside of the capital. The main religion is Islam; however, parts of Jordon are 10-20% Christian (and much, much higher in religious places like Mt. Nebo). They both lack reliable public transportation. It’s easy to get a taxi or bus in the capital, but outside the city people wait by the road for passing vehicles to take pity on them.

Jordon has consistent infrastructure, security, health care, etc. Women in Jordan wear everything from the black hijab, to head scarves, to nothing on their heads (while not as free as Dubai, there was definitely similarity). Jordon is not being propped up by American taxpayers. Amman is relatively clean (buildings are all a natural off white color). Using water to water a lawn and bushes is frowned upon (definitely not the case in Kabul, where it is no easier to make your landscape green). There are almost no beggars (I didn’t see any actually) in Jordan. Lastly, as an English speaker, I found it quite easy to get around, as almost all signs are in both Arabic and English. While cab drivers don’t speak English, it would only take a basic level of Arabic skills to be able to get around quite easily. My colleague mentioned that their daily life is much like the US (she drives to work during rush hour, her children take the bus to school, etc.)

One last comment I want to make about my trip is that it was unexpectedly expensive. There is no public transportation to the sites outside Amman and I wasn’t part of a tour group so I had to pay for a car & driver. All of the sites have increased their fees for non-residents. I had read that Petra increased their fee a few months ago, but since then, it went up again. Just the entrance fee ($70) was 4xs the cost of going into the Taj Mahal. If you aren’t planning on walking the entire time, it’s even more. Lastly, I felt like I was essentially paying a single supplement the entire time, simply because I didn’t have anyone to share the costs with. (This wasn’t the case in Turkey because I was paying for one bed in a hostel or just one bus ticket.) And considering that I wasn’t able to do the extra things I wanted to do (like hiking in the forest), in retrospect, I should have paid to do the entire trip by tour. The tour providers would have cut my in-country costs by more than half. Of course, I would have lost a lot of flexibility, freedom, and free time, but for this short of a trip, it would have made more sense.

I haven’t had much to report for the past 2 months.

In November, I spent a couple weeks in the US visiting friends and family. It was so good to be able to catch up with them face-to-face.

And, this month just keeps getting quieter here in Afghanistan as many of the expats return to their homes for Christmas vacations. About half of the people in my house are gone right now. And for those remaining few here, we are trying to keep ourselves entertained.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time thinking about where I want to travel and when. My project has been extended so I know I will be here a bit longer than I originally planned. I have a little bit of vacation time that I have to use by the end of the year so I’ve decided to make a quick trip to Jordan for a long weekend, which happens to be over the New Years Eve holiday. I have wanted to go to Jordan for several years; the city of Petra has fascinated me. I know it’s going to be cold this time of year, but I just decided that it’s still worth it to take advantage of my time. Right now, my plan is to visit Petra, the Black Sea, Jerash, the Ajloun Forest Reserve, & Amman, where I will be staying for 4 nights. Luckily, I have an acquaintance who lives in Amman. She gave me good recommendations for a driver to take me around. She also told me about a really good deal on a hotel, and so now I’m trying to decide if I’m going to live it up in a 5-star hotel.

I hope all of you are safe and healthy (yes, I’m recovering from another cold here). And, Happy Holidays!!!

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