I was on the last leg of my very long trip, going Frankfurt, Germany to Amman, Jordan. It was dusk, one of my favorite times of day. Not just any old dusk though, desert dusk. There is something really special about the sunset in the desert, if you have never experienced it, I hope you do. The lighting is different and the smells are different and even the air pressure is different. Now, my air pressure was definitely different because I was watching this sunset from inside an airplane, but you can see that it’s different from coastal sunsets or even mountain sunsets. The colors are different, pink and orange and bright and yellow and even browns and maybe red undertones. And the climate is visibly dry. From the right side of the plane (west), it was bright, that was where the sun was setting. And to the looking out the left (east), it was dark. What a cool thing to experience. I sat, mesmerized and exhausted after 40+ hours of travel, and was happy as a clam.
As I got off the plane in Jordan, I was hit by the smell of the Middle East in the summer. Allow me to explain. It smells hot with tar and petrol and there is always an undertone of cigarette smoke, there is musty men’s cologne mixed in, the smell of people’s bodies and a tiny whiff of home cooked food and spices. How all of these smells ended up on the tarmac of the Queen Alia International airport in Amman I don’t know, but that, my friends, is the smell of the Middle East in the summer. We rode a bus to the terminal and made our way to customs, to apply for visas. I got in line for the visa and got special treatment because I speak Arabic. I’m not trying to brag but it felt really nice because I have been on the flip side of things where I do not speak the language and do not know what is going on and spend a lot of frustrating time trying to figure out the very simple task (like showing the attendant my passport) that a 6-year old can complete, and I cannot. So the man told me I needed to get Jordanian currency, he kept my passport and took care of the visa while I exchanged my money. By the time I turned around from the money exchanging booth, the visa line was tremendously long, my new found friend gestured that I come to the front of the line. I did and my insides did somersaults with glee. I won’t be upset the next time someone cuts to the front of the line that I’m waiting in, that’s how karma works, right? I had a visa but now I needed a customs stamp to enter the country. Ok, next line. This guy didn’t understand why I had 2 first names. In the Middle East, most of the time, one’s middle name is their father’s first name. However, my middle name is Meriam which is clearly not my father’s name and the man was confused. I tried to explain to him that it was my baptismal name (that’s what the Christian-Arabs call middle names that are not the father’s first name). I don’t think he understood. He proceeded to make small talk with me, he asked what I studied and rather than tell him I had already graduated, my sleep-deprived brain responded “I don’t.” He laughed and said “then what do you?” I told him I have a job and he said to have a nice trip, with a chuckle. I think he thought I was an idiot.
Ok, next seemingly straightforward task at hand, claim luggage. I got to the carousel before the bags did and sat around and cracked jokes with some of the other people waiting. There was one suitcase that kept going around and around all by its lonesome self and we felt bad for it. Ya, we felt bad for a suitcase, weird things happen to you when you spend 3 days inside airports and airplanes.
I waited and waited, my bag is really easy to pick out: black, canvas, big and wheeled. Ya, no luck. Some people felt bad for me and tried to help. Clearly my suitcase was nowhere to be found. I went to the customer service desk to file a claim for missing luggage. A man in slacks and a neon yellow air traffic controller vest sat cross legged under a no smoking sign smoking a cigarette. A girl sat distracted behind a computer and the last guy was playing games on his cell phone. A man wearing a suit ran in carrying a prayer rug, shuffling his feet and sliding across the floor for the final few feet of his travel, like you do when you’re a kid and wearing socks on the linoleum floor. I began to file a claim but a woman approached me, she had been on my flight from Frankfurt and recognized me, her parties’ bags had also not come on the correct carousel but then showed up on a different carousel and she hoped I would have the same luck. I did another sweep through of all the carousels and lost my temper at a guy who insisted on helping me but then misplaced my bag tag. Eventually a different guy found me and he had my bag tag, but not my bag. I filed the claim. They said when they knew something they would call me. It’s funny, this happens so often to me that it doesn’t even upset me. I left the airport and found my cousin waiting for me. We hugged and I vented about the fawda (chaos) of the airport, the kids crying and the bags thrown all over the place and the lack or organization and the 40 people that want to help you because you’ll then tip them and the re-united family members who are talking over each other and people cutting in line (me) and the smoking in a “smoking room” whose door is wide open…
She laughed and said welcome to the middle east.