My trip to Jordan – part 2
Queen Alia International Airport Amman, Jordan — As we taxi in the pilot tells that we will be required to show our boarding pass and passports in order to disembark the aircraft at the gate. I consider just staying in my seat and riding back to Paris but after 20 hours of air travel, the possibility of immigration issues and potential beheading as an infidel don’t seem so bad.
Fortunately, I notice a man holding a sign with my name written on it and I’m warmly greeted, whisked to the head of the visa line, had my luggage delivered to me and escorted passed customs. I am pretty sure that I’m getting the VIP treatment because I’ve been mistaken for Brad Pitt (AGAIN) but I’m not going to say anything until I’m safely in my hotel.
The road to Amman — I meet my official host, a business partner who also happens to be a Major General recently retired from the Jordanian Army, and his driver carries my bags to a waiting car. I figure these guys must be huge Brad Pitt fans. My butt cheeks remain clinched for the entire 30-minute drive to the hotel because the entire journey was a potential high-speed multi-car crash. Driving in Jordan is not for the feint of heart!
The Hotel — After clearing a checkpoint where armed guards inspected our vehicle we are greeted my very friendly doormen who open the car door and insist on carrying my luggage … all of the way to the airport-like security screening station inside the hotel door where I must, yet again, surrender my belt, shoes and ego before having my bags x-rayed and walk through another metal detector.
It was even more surreal this time because the security agent was a very friendly woman wearing a burka with a sidearm strapped to her hip. I know I’m tired and jet lagged but this struck me as odd.
The highway to Hell — After a shower and a few hours sleep I find myself back in the General’s car racing toward the remote desert air base where my business will be conducted. Jordanian traffic is more terrifying in the daytime because you can actually see how close you come to dying every time a horn honks … and there is always a horn honking.
I noticed that at every junction we always took the road that pointed toward Iraq and I began to wonder if I was ever coming back; what if these guys hated Brad Pitt, I might end up on a You Tube video! After passing Bedouins, camels and enormous UN refugee camps we finally arrived at the heavily fortified gates of the air base and, to my great relief, we are warmly welcomed.
The remote air base — We arrive at the office of the Base Commander where my host is greeted with hugs, kisses and I am met with warm handshakes and heavily accented welcomes. The Base Commander is a Brigadier General who speaks English much better than I speak Arabic, which is to say he speaks English, and as soon as we are seated in is comfortable office, a man appears with a very ornate serving tray offering me coffee and tea. I had been briefed that Jordanians are great hosts and are offended if you refuse their offer of tea or coffee, so I happily accept the first of what seemed like hundreds of cups of pure caffeine that I would be served over the next few days. The base commander drives me onto the flight line in his official SUV with flags streaming from his enormous hood ornament to show me the jets I have come to inspect; it was like something from a movie, the part just before a seal team blows up the place up … but that didn’t happen.
Life on the base — The business part of the visit goes very well and, as the general’s guest I am treated with great respect and courtesy everywhere I go. The base is very close to Iraq and Syria so it is quite austere and fortified but strangely formal in places. I was treated to formal meals tree times a day and stayed in an air-conditioned room with no Internet or contact with the outside world but, strangely, I had a great time!
Next week: heading home, getting my butt kicked by a 5-year-old and jet lag.
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.