Saturday, June 4, 2011

Taxi to the East Side

This is my first blog, and I am writing from the desk of my apartment in Amman, Jordan.  Likewise, this is the first time I have traveled to Jordan and for that matter the Middle East.  For the next month I will be studying at a language school across the street from the University of Jordan.  On June 30 when I depart, I will fly to Beirut, Lebanon and will live among Palestinian refugees in the Shatila camp on the west side of town for another month.  In addition to my own studies, I will be teaching English to youth living in the camp. 
The flight from O’Hare to Amman was a twelve hour flight aboard a Royal Jordanian airliner.  Despite the fact that I had a window seat, I oddly enough had two people sitting next to me.  The two men, Ahmed and Sayeed (which means ‘happy’ in English), were taking turns in three-hour shifts between first class and coach.  They were police officers from Amman who had been in the U.S. for the last month training with police departments in New York City, Chicago and Detroit.  They spoke less English than I Arabic, but we still managed to discuss the basics: where we were from, the nature of our visits, and their occupations versus my areas of study. 
Once I arrived, exchanged some cash for Jordanian currency and obtained my Visa, I went through customs.  The customs agents were baffled by my box of some fifty plus pairs of those wonderful, cheap, colorful sunglasses that look like Raybans, and the bag of nearly thirty miniature, battery-operated fans that hang around your neck.  I did my best to explain to them that they were for my students once I reached Beirut, and once I showed them how the fans work they let me go.
 The school sent a driver to pick me up, and he had no trouble picking me out of the crowd before I even saw him.  His name was also Ahmed, and we had a lively discussion in butchered English and Arabic on the twenty minute drive from the airport to downtown Amman.  He laughed for a good half minute when we passed his house and I said I thought it was where King Abdullah and Queen Alia lived.  He took me to a shawarma stand downtown, and when we reached the apartment building gave me his business card so that I could call him if I needed a taxi ride anywhere. 
The apartment is quaint, furnished with a small desk, a love seat, coffee table, kitchenette, and a four-by-four bathroom that has no barriers between the toilet, sink and shower.  It is located on the fifth and top floor of the building and I have a nice view of the surrounding area.  There is also a ladder outside a door in the hallway that leads to a terraced roof, where I can climb to the top roof and set.  From there I watched the sun set over the surrounding rooftops in the cool dry air.  It was a truly melancholy moment  after nearly twenty straight hours of travel. 
Despite being a world apart from my family, friends and home, and the language barrier the divides me from the people I will call my neighbors for the next few months, right now I find myself perfectly at ease here in Amman.  As one of my old camp counselors used to say when we were out on trail and things got rough, “you can’t harsh my mellow.”
Eden is geographically attributed to an area near the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which is Iraq, though it is also purportedly in the area of greater Syria, which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and traditional Palestine.  In the Book of Genesis, God charged Adam with tending the Garden of Eden, where there lay two trees; the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life.  As the story goes, Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and then God banished them from the Garden forever and hid the Tree of Life.  In the Book of Ezekiel, he claimed that the Trees in the Garden came from what is today Lebanon.
Today, I am not only in the part of the world where this fabled utopia once existed, but I also am on a philosophical journey seeking both knowledge, and in many ways my own path in life.  It is for these reasons that I title my blog “In the Valley of Eden.”  I hope that you all will enjoy my writing and that I can share some of my knowledge and experiences with you.