I heart Firefox.
Hat-tip from the Sandmonkey, who we all miss and who needs to go back to blogging SOON.
The road from the hills of Amman to the desert mountains of Aqaba is seemingly endless and exceptionally lonely. There are several scattered villages, each with a painfully low number of built structures and a conspicuously high number of nothing but olive trees, peeking miserably through fences of corrugated metal and beige mud walls.
Between each of these villages is nothingness; a drab, stony, desert of off-white hues, save for a gray line of phone cables that stretches on from the capital to the coast, and the only functioning portion of the once imperative Hejaz railway, zig-zagging across from the asphalt.
It is the hottest week of the year thus far, peaking past 40 degrees celsius, and the road gets hotter as the bus speeds closer towards the sea of Aqaba. I sit and stare outside, for I have no memories of the South of Jordan, and I am completely mesmerized by how the geography, the people, and even the architecture becomes more like those of Saudi Arabia than those of the North-West of Jordan as we move further South.
Finally, the mountains start getting whiter, coarser, and tighter, like they are closing in on us, and then they open up and lo, and behold, the world is white mountains, pale cyan sky, and a blue, blue sea.
“Welcome to Aqaba,” yells a cab driver, in English, as soon as we step down into the bus stop in the middle of Aqaba Downtown. “I take you to hotel for one JD!”
One JD. You really can get to anywhere in Aqaba for one JD, whether it is a 5-minute drive or a 15-minute “trip”. I am really amused by how tiny Aqaba is; from its highest point, you can see all of Aqaba, from its desert edges to where it meets the coast, as well as all of its neighboring Israeli Eilat, a lot of Taba and Dahab across the gulf in Egypt, and a peak of Saudi Arabia.
In the center of Aqaba, high and proud, waves the flag of the Arab Revolt.
Hello, Middle East, my flesh and blood. Related, by birth, bearing, or right (ungiven or so), to three of the places I am looking at. It’s both funny and sad how small the whole area is, how four countries almost hug each other while trying to hold onto the tiny gulf, illustrating the peak of a region under tension.
A liner is docked on the South beach, waiting to transport its passengers to the Egyptian coast. Apparently, Jordanian sailors are not allowed to sail further out into the sea because of drug smuggling problems with Egypt. We drive further South, and the cab driver points out that we are now driving on what used to be Saudi land, “They traded this land with an area which turned out to be loaded with petrol, but a mile on the coast is worth a hundred gallons of petrol.” I look back at the town from the back window, and the painful view of Eilat is particularly ironic, the agonizing distance between the two towns is almost nonexistent except for a small white space between the sunbathers of hotels on the coasts of both towns that holds a region of mines (picture below).
But I guess we are not in Aqaba for history nor politics, we are in Aqaba to tan and enjoy the sea. We spend the first day in the downtown area and at the hotel. The Intercontinental Aqaba is gorgeous, though the architecture very similar to what I guess is now Jordanian touristic architecture; a copy-paste model applied in several resorts such as the Movenpick Dead Sea, Marriott Dead Sea Spa, Teebet Zaman, Coral Bay, and Movenpick Aqaba; wood and buildings that look like they were built with mud.
The weather is not as bad as people make it out to be, it is actually much nicer than any other coastal town that I’ve been to in the region at this time of the year. The beach of Aqaba is a very pleasant experience, because it is sandy, and because the waves are calm and the light wind never stops. It is also exceptionally pleasant because of its famed marine life and coral reefs, which hosts about 230 species of corals and over 1000 species of fish.
Wanting to explore the marine life, we drive to the Royal Diving Center, which provides trial scuba diving sessions for first-time divers with trainers, and where I experience one of the most dazzling things I have ever experienced.
I never thought I’d ever say this, but it is really amazing what is under the sea. I can’t even begin to describe the exquisiteness of the colors and shapes of the fish swimming barely 6 meters below the surface, and the gorgeousness of the various coral reefs lining up the sandy and grassy floors of the sea. It was really amazing swimming between all the marine life, watching the schools of fish whiz around you, in their different sizes and colors.
I also enjoyed diving itself, although my body did not take well to it, so I don’t think I can do it again, but I definitely recommend it to anyone who gets a chance. At the risk of sounding like a cliché lifestyle magazine, it is seriously unmissable, and everyone should experience it at least once.
Otherwise, like I mentioned, the nature of Aqaba is very unlike that of Amman. The buildings look like they belong in Riyadh or Bahrain, and even the less affluent samples (that are not shantis) are in much better shape than those of similar status in Amman. There is a lot of construction going on, and the large-scale housing projects aimed at tourists seem to be going on at an insane pace. Regardless of the pace of growth, the 70,000 people of Aqaba still seem to live in a big village where everyone knows everyone. They seem much kinder and trusting than the people of Amman, more open to strangers, and very willing to share what they have and know. I couldn’t help but feel that they’re also classier than the people of Amman, at least as far as those involved in the tourist sector, from cab drivers to waiters and cops.
But I guess three days isn’t really enough to get past the surface, no matter how tiny Aqaba is. They are more than enough to get an awesome tan though :)
My mother and I are spending the rest of the week in Aqaba, and so I will be offline for a while. I haven’t been to Aqaba since I was a child, and I have little memories of the city. I also haven’t been to the seaside since summer 2004, and so its exciting. Not that I miss the sea itself much, I guess you can say I’m a landmass girl. My mother, on the other hand, spent a lot of her childhood in a house on the shores of Jeddah, and so she constantly misses the sea, the sound of the sea, the smell of the sea, and the fish in the sea. Personally, I’m excited about getting the chance to eat some fresh seafood, stare into space with absolutely nothing to do, and darken up a bit. I’m sort of dreading the heat, which according to Mr. Weatherman, is one of the hottest bouts of the year. Yalla, my body better remember that it spent most of its life in Saudi Arabia, where the 36-degree-Celsius induced national panic attack is something to laugh about.
After completing four years’ worth of credit hours, here are the steps you need to take in order to graduate:
Step1: Go to the Registrar and “stand in line” (read: fight your way to your turn) for 15 minutes to get the “Clearance form”.
Step 2: Walk 400 meters to the library, go to the second floor, stand in line for 10 minutes to stamp your form.
Step 3: Walk 300 meters to your department’s repository and wait for 7 minutes to stamp your form. Praise the Lord that my department is the closest department on campus to the library.
Step 4: Skip step number 4 because fortunately, the clause does not apply.
Step 5: Walk 500 meters to the Deanship of Student Affairs and go upstairs to Identity Card Section and wait for 10 minutes to give in your university ID.
Step 6: Go downstairs and wait for the man responsible in the Deanship’s repository for 15 minutes to finish his coffee and stamp your form some more.
Step 7: Walk 250 meters to the Financial Affairs and stand in line for 30 minutes to get another form stamped.
Step 7.5 (not mentioned in the “directions”): Walk 200 meters back to the Registrar to restamp the same form. Stand “in line” for 10 minutes. Sulk as he tells you that you need another stamp from your department.
Step 7.75 (not mentioned in the “directions”): Walk 500 meters back to your department, wait for 5 minutes as the department’s secretary finished her phonecall to restamp your form.
Step 8: Walk 500 meters back to the Registrar, stand “in line” for 10 minutes, and get the form stamped.
Step 9: Walk 250 meters to the Financial Affairs, stand in line in que 7 for 30 minutes to get your form stamped and pay a 100 JDs because you’re registered as an International Student.
Step 10: Stand in front of the que in the Financial Affairs that says “Sho3bat il Eeradat” for 10 minutes until someone bothers to tell you that you are standing in the wrong que and so go stand in a different que for another 10 minutes to place what you hopefully hope is the last stamp on your form.
Step 11: Walk 250 meters to the Registrar’s office, stand in line for 7 minutes, give in your stamped-to-death form to the registrar:
Roba: “Here! I finished all the directions on your paper.”
Registrar: “Ok, great. Come back next Sunday.”
What? Next Sunday?
Decide to skip step number 12, skip the goddamn graduation, cuss the summer heatwave, and walk another 500 meters to the car to get stuck in afternoon rush-hour traffic for 30 minutes, and prepare yourself mentally to spend another hot summer day hustling around with the bureaucracy.
They are Palestine’s front-page rap band, and one of the most interesting groups gatheringinternational attention today, but yet, its their first time performing in an Arab city. For you see, Tamer Nafar, Suhell Nafar, and Mahmoud Jreri were born in Il-Led (Lod), descendants of the Palestinians or “Israeli Arabs” who stayed after the forced exodus of their brethren in 1948, and thus have Israeli citizenships, making them unwelcome in the most of the Arab world.
That says a lot about the sort of music they were singing, “We’ve been like this more than 50 years, living as prisoners behind the bars of paragraphs of agreements that change nothing… You won’t limit my hope by a wall of separation, and if this barrier comes between me and my land, I’ll still be connected to Palestine, like an embryo to the umbilical cord.” Musically, DAM’s is a unique mix of East and West, fusing Arabic percussive rhythms, Middle Eastern melodies and urban hip hop/rap, as well as parts of popular music from both worlds. They’re also extremely creative and very charismatic. The sound system at Al-Hussein Parks really needs some tweaking though.
It has been almost two years from when I first blogged about DAM, and I’m really glad I got to hear them live, as a part of the now annual Fete De La Musique (one more reason to love to the French). For more on DAM, check out their homepage or the MySpace page (which also has some samples).
Eccentric, and I still really can’t get past trying to figure out why in the world would anyone want a Greco-Roman sword fight at their wedding. Historical influences that the Greco-Roman culture has left in Jordan? Too much of that 800 movie? Al-Resalah style Arab love of sword fights? Mind-boggling indeed.
Personally, I guess I side with the regular (and I suppose boring, I mean, what, no sword fight?!) zaffeh.
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