READY, SET, GO - To Jordan

by Stefanie Elkins and Robert Bates

The Middle East is a civilization built on a magnificent legacy that dates back to the very beginning of written history. Science, the arts, written language, mathematics, a legal system, and other characteristics of civilization flourished in ancient Sumer, Persia, Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East, including Jordan.  This left a lasting influence on later cultures like Greece and Rome.

Today, the Middle East continues to offer the world a vibrant modern cultural and artistic life, a fascinating tradition of folkloric music and dance, a growing economy and a home for three major world religions.

Middle Eastern Culture

The Arab tradition of hospitality and kindness is deep within the very souls of most Jordanians, especially the Bedouin. Rooted in the harsh realities of life in the desert, these traditions are part of almost every aspect of social behavior. Traditional values have been mixed with modern Arab culture and a fun sense of humor making Jordanians are easy-going and fun-loving who love to meet new people and share their world.

The Jordanians are deeply religious and both the Muslim and the Orthodox Christians govern their lives based on these religious principles. They also have a deep commitment to their extended families. All family members are equally responsible for the reputation and integrity of the family, as well as for the behavior of other family members. Contrary to what many believe, this strong family unit creates a safe environment for tourists. Crime, violent or otherwise, is not very common compared with most Western countries. Indeed, most visitors to this part of the world often return surprised with their new outlook on personal safety in the Middle East. Statistically speaking, most major cities inJordan are quite safe to walk through at anytime of the day or night, especially when compared to any major city in the United States. Nevertheless, many visitors are still somewhat apprehensive. One must realize, however, that most of western views of Arabs and Muslims are based on the media. Frequently this picture is disturbing and gives the average American the viewpoint that all Arab nations and therefore Arab people, are unsafe.

Since Jordanians share deep ethnic and cultural ties with both Palestine and Iraq, many are frustrated and at times even angered by American and European foreign policy in the Middle East. Many Arabs believe that they are held to a different standard than other countries nearby. Nevertheless, Jordanians differentiate between the policies of a government and its people. Regardless of where a person is from, visitors are greeted with a courtesy and hospitality that can be quite humbling. Although the Arab way of thinking can often confuse and frustrate foreign visitors it is their rich cultural heritage and Islamic traditions that make people from the Middle Eastern both charming and gracious  hosts.

Religious and Moral Responsibility

There are many similarities between the practice of Islam and those of many Christians. Muslims have high moral standards and commitment to their faith. Islam forbids the consumption and the faithful do not eat pork (considered unclean) or use drugs. They are also inflexible when it comes to pornography – explicit sexual materials such as magazines, photos, tapes, or records, are totally illegal and likely to be confiscated.

Most of Jordan has very progressive attitudes toward women  and have very few restrictions. However, ticket lines might be segregated and women should line up with the other women (their lines are usually shorter anyway) and a public bus driver may ask a woman to sit in the front with the other women.

Most of the locals are quite accommodating and they will go out of their way to help or answer questions. However, some men may stand a little closer than westerners are comfortable and striking up a conversation might actually draw a crowd. This is especially true for women! Do not be offended, just smile and thank them for their gracious comments about your “glowing teeth“ and “flowing hair.” If you feel uncomfortable just excuse yourself and walk away.

Your Responsibility as a Tourist

A tourist is a guest in a foreign country. Each tourist should respect the values and practices of their hosts even when these cultural practices are different from western values. Remember, it is their country and they have a right to decide what works best within their culture. When tourists respect the culture and beliefs of their hosts they dispel many of the misunderstandings that develop between Arabs and Americans.

One way that tourists can show their respect is in the way they dress. Muslim culture encourages people to dress modestly. This is especially true for women. Although, most tour groups spend much of their time in areas frequented by other tourists where summer attire is appropriate (shorts, short sleeves, tank tops etc), there are place where modest attire would be a better choice. The locals will notice the way you choose to dress and simple modesty (often lacking with many tourists) will result in a much happier, less harassed experience during your trip.

One area where modesty and respect are especially important is at mosques or churches. Major mosques, especially those amenable to tourism, are open to the public unless services are in progress (the main service is on Friday at noon). Other mosques may never open to the public and are restricted to known Muslims. Please keep in mind that a mosque differs from a western church in that Christian churches are considered houses of God, while mosques are a gathering place for the faithful of Islam. Women and men are segregated and it is important to be respectful and reverent in these places of worship.

All who visit a mosque must remove their shoes. Hence, most Muslims walk around in their socks. Women are required to cover their bare arms and sometimes must wear a veil. In some mosques, women are given a hooded cape to wear but shorts are never allowed!

The Political Situation

One thing you should probably avoid while visiting the Middle East is engaging in a religious or political discussion. Proselytizing isillegal in the Middle East including Jordan and this may include overt expressions about the political situation in the Middle East, especially views concerning the Palestinians. However, many locals are very interested in what Americans think about their country and its politics. Some may ask for an opinion on Pakistan, George Bush, Barak Obama etc. When asked, give short, simple, polite answers and quickly change the subject. Remember, almost all Jordanians are devout and conservative Muslims and have very strong opinions about American politics. Do not engage in a long political debate or try to enlighten them on “American Foreign Policy.” Always keep things peaceful.

Staying Healthy

Before the Trip

The World Health Organization recommends that all travelers, regardless of the region they are traveling in, should be covered for the following: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio, and Hepatitis B. In addition it is recommended for travel to Jordan that you also get immunized for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Check with your doctor to make sure your boosters are up to date and that you are properly immunized.

Bring any prescription medications in their original, clearly labeled, containers. A signed and dated letter from your physician describing any medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a very good idea. If you are diabetic and need to carry syringes or needles, be sure to have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity.

The following is a list of other items you might want to consider packing in your personal medical kit:

While in Transit

Everyone has his or her own sworn-by personal testimony as to how one avoids jet-lag, but the truth is there is no real way to avoid it. You CAN however, lessen it and make the transition between times zones much easier, thus not risking getting sick. While some people swear by the stay –up-all-night-before-the-trip routine, this seldom works. Before the trip be sure you are well rested. Airplanes are exceedingly dehydrating to both skin and body in general. Bring a huge bottle of water on board with you and drink often. I cannot stress this enough. The number one reason for severe jet lag is dehydration.

Stefanie’s Jet-Lag Reduction Tips
During the Trip

Topping the list of travel maladies is dehydration. This can be a major threat to your health and can work insidiously over days to weaken you to the point of exhaustion without your ever showing any other signs of illness. Equally, if you are sweating profusely, even the most hardy can go from alert and vigorous to dizzy and lethargic in as little as 30 minutes, due solely to loss of body fluids. It will be essential for you to carry LOTS of water with you while we are sight seeing. You should aim for two to three liters a day and more if we are doing lots of walking. Drink more than you think you’ll need as the combination of the sun’s evaporation and your own sweating can pull water out of your body far quicker than your body can deliver thirst messages to your brain. You must drink a lot in order to avoid fatigue and splitting headaches.  Avoid tap water as it will not be safe for you to drink; this includes ice cubes. Stick to bottled water to avoid “mummy tummy.”

Another common health problem you may experience are intestinal difficulties.  Diarrhea seems to affect most travelers to foreign countries, largely because the bacteria in Middle Eastern food is different from, and more numerous than, bacteria in the West. Avoid local vendors and only eat meat that is WELL cooked and still quite hot. If you do get a case of “Tut Trots”, refrain from immediately loading up on Pepto or Imodium, which will plug you up. The best thing is to wait out the runs for 24 hours and let your digestive system adjust. If after a day or two you are still experiencing symptoms, then take your anit-diarrhoeals. It is very important that you drink lots of water as diarrhea is extremely dehydrating to your system. Flush out the bugs with lots of water and fruit and you should be fine.

We will be in Jordan during the mild season but it will still be quite warm. Again, lots of water is the key. If at any time during the trip you are feeling over-heated, dizzy, or out-of-breath, let someone know right away. Keep your cool with loose, light clothing, sunglasses, and most importantly – SUN BLOCK. Oh, and did I mention Sun Block? The best way to ensure a miserable trip (other than drinking Nile water) is to obtain a horrid sunburn the first day out. Sunburn will raise your skin temperature and put you at further risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. You don’t want that.

Even though being in the Middle East will be exciting, try and get a good night sleep every night. People tend to get sick near the end of trips and this is primarily due to the accumulative effects of staying up all night, eating different food, and not drinking enough water.

Money & Expenses

Upon Arrival

Your tourist visas for both Jordan are available when you arrive at our destination countries. Currently the cost for each country is approximately $15-35. In Jordan an exchange bank is near the desk where you purchase the visa. Exchange $100 at this bank to start with. As a general rule, our local tour guide will gather all of your passports and purchase your visas together.  However, this may change based on our circumstances so we will update you before leaving the US.

US currency can be officially changed at most commercial banks, foreign exchange bureaus and some hotels. But the safest way to transport money is by using credit or debit cards. ATM’s are everywhere in the major cities although not all are compatible with debit cards. If you have your PIN then virtually all machines will dispense cash on Visa, MasterCard, and any Cirrus or Plus compatible cards, but the cash will be in the local currency. Well known brands of travelers cheques should also present no problem although there will be a commission for cashing them.

The official currency of Jordan is the Jordanian Dinar (or JD). Prices can be listed by local prices or by US Dollars. As of now, the American dollar is stronger which means that Jordan can be quite affordable. However, most people from the Middle East see Americans as dollars with legs so tourist sites are likely to be overpriced. You can also expect constant attempts by locals to get you to tip them for seemingly polite favors, like offering to take a picture of you and your friends.  Unfortunately, Jordan is begining to experience an economic crisis as a result of a fuel shortage.  Prices may begin to rise over the next 6 months.

I should mention that in both countries US dollar’s are accepted more and more.

Phones & International Calls

The best way to make calls from the Middle East is to use an International Calling Card. If you have a GSM, quad-band or “world phone” you can purchase what is known as a SIM card for Jordan. This will enable you to place calls to America at the local rate (approx. $0.85/minute) and all calls coming in are free. A Jordanian SIM card will run around $20-40 with minutes and can be purchased at your local Jordanian cellular store like Orange, Umniah or Zain which is only a short walk from your hotel. You will need to have a GSM compatible phone and your passport. These SIM cards are usually good for a year and you can go back to the store to buy additional minutes if needed.  Check with your local provider to determine whether or not your phone can be used in Jordan. If not you can buy a cheap monochromatic phone there for around $15-40. You will need an adapter and converter to charge your phone if you do not buy it locally. 

Other Helpful Tips

Shopping and The Art of Bargaining

The Middle Eastern market is typically called a “souk”. Even if you are not into shopping, you will not want to miss the sights, smells, and sounds of the local markets. As an English-speaker however, you will find yourself a magnet for unwanted “helpfulness”, a “special deal just for you!” and locals wanting to show you their nearby papyrus factory and discount tickets to museums that don’t exist. Hospitality to strangers is very important to locals, but so is scamming. As an American, you are considered money with legs. While all this attention is pretty harmless, it can become very wearing. Be polite but firm, repeat “no thank you,” and walk away.

You will eventually want to buy a few things and bargaining is a part of everyday life and actually expected. Even in shops where prices are clearly marked, many locals will still be willing to shave a bit off the price. Here are a few tips that I have found helpful:

If you do find yourself feeling that one more, “excuse me, where are you from?” will make you want to gouge out your own eyes, remember to breathe, calm down, and be aware that acting brusque and offensive will never help the situation. The majority of locals are just trying to make a living and would never dream of hassling a foreigner.

Tipping

In Arabic, tipping is called baksheesh. Because salaries and wages in Jordan are much lower that Western countries, baksheesh is an essential means of supplementing income. This is a common practice in Jordan and is expected from locals as well as foreigners. However, if you are not used to continual tipping, demands for baksheesh for doing anything from opening doors to pointing out the obvious museums can be quite irritating. You will find this if you visit mostly in Egypt where tourism is high and baksheesh is a part of the culture. Jordan is still relatively “pure” in this sense as tourism has yet to taint the locals into taking advantage of foreign visitors.

Tipping for hotels and arranged tours will be taken care of and are included in your tour, but local tipping could take you off guard if your not prepared for it. One suggestion is to carry several US dollar bills with you when you visit tourist sites especially Petra. Keep these bills separate from bigger bills as flashing your cash will lead to demands for greater baksheesh.

Vegetarianism

Being a vegetarian in the Middle East isn’t impossible, just dull. Staples of falafel, fuul, ta’amiyya, hummus, tahini, baba ghanoush and some mezze are meat free. But main dishes are always meat based and even dishes labeled vegetarian are cooked in a meat base. Vegetarianism is a concept little understood, although there is a word for it in Arabic. If you are male say, ana nabaatee. If female, say ana nabateeyya. (I’m vegetarian).  Just be sure and bring some Bean-o or Gas-X as Middle Eastern dishes containing fava or garbanzo beans can cause serious bloating!

If you have strict dietary needs or habits, its best to stick to hotel restaurants or more upscale ones where the locals are familiar with Western eating habits. You might want to bring a bunch of energy or meal replacement bars if you’re a picky eater.

Fortunately, fresh produce is a abundant during the late spring and early summer months that we will be visiting Jordan. Not far from your hotel there will be small markets and trucks parked on the side of the road selling fruits and vegetables. This produce is generally inexpensive and if you wash them first they can be quite delicious.

Some Practicalities

Electricity: Electric current is 220V AC, 50Hz. Wall sockets are the round, two-pin European type.

Weights & Measures: Jordan (like every other country on the planet other than the US) uses the metric system.

Time: Jordan time is 10 hours ahead of PST (depending on daylight savings time). Therefore if it is noon in Cairo and Amman, it is 2am in California.

Language:  The official language of Jordan is Arabic, although local dialects can very widely. Most Jordanians have taken some English in school.

Toilets: Public toilets in Jordan are mostly Western with some Turkish toilets and are common enough. However as Jordan is still getting used to the tourist scene, they can be rather scary or are commonly known by Westerners as “squatty potties.”  Toilet paper is a mystery, as these toilets are usually not equipped to handle paper. A small wastebasket is usually provided for toilet paper and a water squirter or hose is used to wash down the waste. I suggest taking packets of tissue with you and using every available hotel or fast-food joint toilet you can find. Many toilets provide a small waste paper basket next to the toilet that you place your use tissue. Jordanian sewer systems can not handle the large volume of toilet paper waste common in the West. If a toilet paper waste basket is provided, place your toilet paper in the basket and flush bodily waste. This is especially true in hotel where you will be staying.

Important Contacts in Jordan

For Hotel Info Contact:
jordanfieldschool@andrews.edu

The American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR)
P.O. Box 2470, Amman 11181, Jordan
Office hours: 8:30 AM to 5 PM, Saturday through Thursday, Amman time. Answering machine during other hours.
Phone: (+962-6) 534-6117
FAX: (+962-6) 534-4181
Email: acor@acorjordan.org
Website: http://www.bu.edu/acor

United States Embassy:  Amman, Jordan Al-Hidab St., Amman, Jordan
Phone: (+962-6) 590-6950                                                                                                                                                                     Office hours: between 2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Jordanian public holidays and the last working day of the month.
After-hours emergency phone: (+962-6) 590-6000
Email: Amman-ACS@state.gov
Website: http://jordan.usembassy.gov

Maria Elena Ronza
P.O. Box 252, Wadi Musa, Jordan
Phone: (+962-3) 215-5336
Cell: (+962-79) 586-3312
Email: gigele@yahoo.it

photos by Mark Ullom and Sharon Prest

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